Cider’s come a long way from the clichéd local drink of old. Here’s why cider tasting is your guide to the best apples around.
If there’s one thing you need to know about Somerset, it’s that we love our cider. The Bristol Cider Shop is a minimalist cargo crate in Bristol’s Wapping Wharf, a symbol of the new found confidence in independent producers. It might be a world away from a farm, but the roots of the business stretch out for a 50 mile radius into the heart of cider country.
The shop runs weekly cider tastings, fuelled by an appetite for artisan and a rejection of the mass produced. If you want to taste the best of the West, you’ve come to the right place.
The team passionately champion rural producers from Somerset, and also Monmouthshire and Herefordshire. Farmers that produce the good stuff, as naturally as possible.
“His hat sprinkled with pips, and everywhere about him the sweet atmosphere of cider…an indescribable fascination for those who have been born and bred among the orchards.” Thomas Hardy, The Woodlanders
The best and most fun way to learn about cider is, of course, to taste it. Sitting down with a group of friends and strangers, we tried 10 cider varieties with rustic bread and Somerset cheddar. Like a wine tasting but better. The Somerset way. You can do that highly pretentious slurping thing with cider too, as it turns out.
From plain-as-you-like dry to cider champagne, the variety is wide and the quality high. Cider is our drink and we do it so well. With heart and character. Proper job.
The cider stories in this part of the world are legendary and anything but dry. They seep into our souls and form part of our identity. Even if you don’t drink the stuff, it spills out of you in unmistakable words like ‘scrumping’. Liquid gold woven into generations.
The Bristol Cider Shop is a great introduction to the mystic and scientific world of cider, but be warned. You’ll find yourself stopping at farm gates, poking around wonderfully dark and cobwebby farm shops. You might even develop a strange appreciation for old oak barrels.
One of my favourite Somerset cider farms is Burrow Hill, the apple dynasty behind the Glastonbury Festival cider bus. These guys fought for (and won) the recognition and protection of our unique Somerset Cider Brandy. Smell the apples in the shadowy, peaceful barns, see the old copper stills and visit the orchards. It doesn’t get more Somerset than this. Oh and don’t forget to breathe in the stunning view of the county from the top of Burrow Hill itself, with just a single apple tree for company.
If you’re on the Welsh side of the border, Apple County Cider Company in Monmouthshire is well worth a visit. Try Yarlington cider, smooth but not too sweet, and authentically appley. Take a three mile orchard walk, or even order a picnic and choose a spot to enjoy it whilst you’re there.
A visit to the Bristol Cider Shop will open your eyes to the sheer variety in this part of the world. Taste is an individual thing, and there are no wrong answers or prescriptions here.
If you remember nothing else (and after 10 different ciders, it’s a real possibility) raise a glass to the people who are standing up for quality. To the growers who pour their souls into apples and oak.
Who are your favourite cider makers? Any recommendations? Share with me below 🙂