It was a conversation about cross over flavours, ciders and beers, the impact of yeasts, and how to recreate wildness and funk. It led to an evening of tasting a wide selection of ciders, with matching food nibbles and some superb beer.
At a CAMRA Christmas party at the wonderful Runaway Brewery and Tap, a conversation sparked up over a magnificent Saison they had brewed. I remarked how, as a cider drinker, that was my sort of beer and that I was giving beer another chance.
My local bottle shop in austerity ravaged, working class Ashton had started to introduce me to Lambics and Farmhouse style beers. Simon at Browtons has become my beer mentor. Leading up to Indyman Beer Con 2018 I asked for beers for a cider drinker guidance, and Twitter responded with some wonderful ideas. Then I discovered the Independent Salford Beer Festival No.5 in October. It was the best festival I had ever attended.
So now I was on a mission to find beers with cidery flavours, crossover flavours, wild yeasts and wild sours and sharps, wild farmhouse beers, Saisons and Brut IPA’s.
Well it turned out that Runaway are a curious bunch and they wanted to find out about Ciders and the range of flavours to be found, so the germ of an idea for a cider tasting began.
Then coincidence took hold. Standing at the bar at the Torrside Tap in New Mills, I invaded a conversation. Someone was talking knowledgeably about the Independent Salford Beer Festival, I interrupted with “well we loved that festival” only to find out that the person I was talking about it with was called Jim, and he had organised the festival. As luck would have it, we met again and another germ of an idea about discussing cider and beer crossover flavours started to grow, and Jim got invited to the Runaway cider tasting.
We were worried that we had planned too many bottles, but no, we had underestimated how much a Brewery team and a festival organiser could consume, every drop disappeared. But we learnt so much and gained so many insights from their very fine palates.
Dry and astringent – Raison D’Etre Cider and Flakey Bark Perry
We started dry, and we started high quality. Raison D’Etre had been one of our favourite ciders of the year. Cath has posted a review elsewhere. But this is what Ross on Wye have to say about a cider they are understandably proud of:
Bone dry, conditioned in the bottle, fermented in an oak cask and aged, patiently and quietly, until perfect.
It is created solely from Dabinett & Michelin apples grown in our orchards, fermented in oak barrels using the wild yeast from the farm, and matured for two years until the tannins reached their peak complexity.
The presentation of the bottle is with a label detailing the method and ingredients used (99.5% juice, 0.5% sugar, trace sulphites) and a map of the farm as the artwork to highlight the orchard-based nature of this natural cider, a term chosen to separate our cider from ciders produced using artificial methods.
We agreed that this was a fine dry cider with spicy notes which everyone enjoyed. A discussion of ‘methode traditionnelle’ and Champagne production.
We followed with a Flakey Bark Perry. There are Estery and farmyard aromas then it starts with a light tangy flavour, low bitterness and then the dry taste takes over. It just grips your mouth and certainly does its damn best to dry it out. A critically rare variety, known only to Ross Cider as five trees growing on the iconic May Hill. A unique variety for its high astringency, but which retains the natural sorbitol sweetness of all perry pears.
We discussed the difficulties of making perry compared to cider and the consequences and nature of sorbitol as a natural component of pears.
Sharp and fresh – C1 First Press Foxwhelp – and a 2017 Foxwhelp
This one season Ross on Wye Cider Foxwhelp, bottled after six weeks of warm weather fermentation is a unique product of the exceptional autumnal weather in 2018. Foxwhelp is a very dry sharp with a characteristic flavour, it is more often used as a Bittersharp in a blend. Blended young it takes on a high energy, youthful freshness with the aromas of green strawberry. It’s a proper lip-smacking drink.
The 2017 Foxwhelp was more acidic, citrus oaky, in contrast the C1 was considered a more complex drink with strawberry aromas and fresh strong youthfulness which won out.
Sours – Graft Ciders, US and Trabanco Sidra Natural, Asturia
Graft Ciders from the US ferment wild yeast ciders aimed at the craft beer market, or rather the sector that enjoys the style of sour beers. We had two small cans, one of Farm Flor, described as tart and earthy; the other Lost Tropic was a juicy sour with floating citrussy zests. Both were youthful and spritzy, presented in a modern design can. In these the apples were not centre stage!
But they both got squeezed between the Foxwhelp and the Spanish sour to follow.
Trabanco Sidra Natural features in the ‘Cider Insider’ book as an excellent example of the Asturian sour style, and we all took a turn at attempting an Asturian pour by raising the bottle over one's head and into the glass held tilted by one's waist. It is poured this way to allow air bubbles into the drink, and generally a few drops are spilt on the floor in the process, and yes we made good use of a bucket. Indeed, the sidra was fresh, dry and sour, with acetic notes and caramel butterscotch sweetness but consensus was that the one season Foxwhelp from Ross Cider carried a lot more youthful punch.
Saison – Saison Perry and a Runaway Saison Pale
The ‘La Saison des Poires’ by Tom Oliver, Johnny Bright, Alex Cook and Gabe Cook was a real shock to the Brewing team. It’s a unique drink, a blend of beer wort and pear juice, fermented with a Saison yeast. Dry and slightly sour with umami and spicy notes but also refreshing. These were flavours the team were familiar with, indeed they commented that in a blind tasting it would take a lot of study to tell a Saison Cider or beer apart. The Runaway Saison matched in perfectly.
Co-Fermentation – Rose Cider
While appreciated for its fine wine like quantities the Once Upon A Tree Pinot co-fermentation was an error on our part, a cider wine surrounded by beery flavours.
Sweet – Hazy Ways and Ice Cider
Again, the Little Pomona was misplaced in the tasting. It would have been enjoyed more as a welcoming drink. A gently and naturally sparkling semi-dry, kept sweet. Beautiful bittersweet Dabinett (91%) and a little Ellis Bitter (9%) were fermented slow by wild yeasts, racked often and bottled early without filtering, capturing natural sweetness. In my view juicy pure gorgeousness.
The Ice Cider from Burrow Hill held itself up better, after a long night of dry, sharp sour, saison flavours; its unctuous sweetness balanced by hints of acidity.
Jim summed up the evening, for him the Saison des Poires was the most recognisable of flavours but the Bittersweet Dabinett ‘Raison D’Etre’ and the Bittersharp Foxwhelp ‘C1 Fresh Press were the two standout exciting flavours, with the latter polling top.
However, if he were to take two bottles home to drink separately, he would probably have picked the Little Pomona ‘Hazy Ways’ and the Once Upon a Tree ‘Rose Cider’ / Pinot.
The last surprise of the night was a tiny tea spoon of Tom Oliver Cider vinegar, an absolute star, but only in very tiny doses.
Final comments were that previously existing prejudices had been well and truly banished!!!