Ross Cider Festival 2019

“One more song, one more song,” the chants filled the air, the atmosphere pulsing with excitement. The coloured lights flickered across the ceiling, occasional shimmers of gold reflected off the crowd from a certain bold jacket (you know who you are). You could be forgiven for assuming that I’m at an arena but I’m not… this is the closing night of Ross Cider Festival being rocked by ‘Burnside’. Hidden away in an idyllic Herefordshire valley this annual event captures the heart of a small (by festival standards) but dedicated and extremely friendly crowd. My first visit with family and friends in tow certainly increased our love for Broome Farm and cemented what will from now on be our annual pilgrimage.
As I sat in the main barn the following morning listening to Floaty & Special, whilst eating one last amazing stone baked pizza, I reflected on what was a marvellous weekend.
Thursday’s Cider Club was the perfect start, with Haritz (aka Ciderzale) leading us on a wonderful Basque sidra journey. Acid led Sagardo naturala’s (natural ciders), a marvellous sparkling sagardo ararduna (mellow cider) and a sublime sidra de postre (dessert cider). This was followed by Albert sharing 6 of Ross Ciders’ latest releases including the hotly anticipated Raison D’Etre 2017 and Pet Nat, both of which if you haven’t tried yet, I can assure you are something very special.
Friday was the main arrival day, and despite an already bustling site, the crowds kept coming. The sun was shining, the ciders were flowing, the atmosphere was fantastic. Thanks to a cidermakers slot, I had the privilege of sharing some of my own creations with some of the other cider makers and festival goers in attendance. Beardspoon, Brennans, Naked Cider and Four Acres Estate to name a few. It was humbling to share and receive honest feedback. It was also fun to do a bit of an experiment with Albert, comparing Dabinett ciders both made from Ross Cider apples. Same juice, from the same apples, from the same orchards, the only difference being that I took some home last year and fermented it in Lincolnshire. There was a definite difference and I still can’t figure out exactly why. The evening of music and sharing cider with friends new and old passed by too quickly.
If Friday was cidery heaven then Saturday was euphoria. Firstly it saw the arrival of 10 different cider makers, each sharing their own creations. I could have happily spent hours in the cider barn and I did, discovering new producers and their creations as well as reacquainting myself with past favourites. A few stand outs for me:
1.      Bartestree Cider: Along Came A Cider, a keeved, pure juice, bottle conditioned, medium cider. Sumptuous natural sweetness.
2.      Greggs Pit: 2017 Brown Snout, Chisel Jersey & White Close Pippin. A manifestation of pure blending skill to create an outstanding cider.
3.      Four Acres Estate: méthode champenoise whiskey barrel aged. It was smokin!
4.      Palmers Upland Cyder: Rioja Cask. Wood, red wine and tannic apples, what’s not to love.
Later a further unofficial makers share was organised in the orchard. Sitting with some of the UK’s best craft producers sharing and chewing the fat was inspiring. Another evening of festivities passed by culminating in joining the chant for “one more song”.
In between all this there was wonderful food from Broome Farm Kitchen and orchard raised lamb. A morning trip to the local butterfly farm with the family, glitter face painting, too many goes on the tombola, fun with the fair games and a stealthy Indy (cider dog) stealing my bed. Can’t wait for next year. Wassail.

The ‘C’ Word

I have this flight of fancy, I walk into a pub and I ask “Do you have any ciders?” The response I get overwhelms me, “Certainly sir (it’s a very polite flight), we have traditional ciders, fruit ciders; both on draught and bottle, full juice and concentrate, single variety and blends. We’ve also got ice cider and a good selection of Perries.” Chances are if you live in Bristol, Manchester and maybe London, there might be a few establishments that could respond in a similar fashion to that. For the rest of us and particularly on my side of the Midlands (East) there is no chance. The reality for most of us if we say the ‘C’ word the response we can expect is “We’ve got a fruit cider and an apple one on tap and a few other fruit ones in bottle”. As I’ve encountered recently, sometimes they only have a fruit one on tap. They may also have no idea how they’re made or what they’re made from.

Depending on your age you will have your own impression of what cider is. Perhaps it’s of very sweet and fruity combination flavours, or a large cheap plastic bottle of strong abv. Maybe you recall holidays in the south-west where local scrumpy was purchased and ended in some sort of headache due to the infrequency of consumption and the strength of the offering. Or you may have some fondness for Babycham (which I was surprised to see you can still get).

Why am I getting you to reminisce potentially negative memories of cider? I hear you ask. Well what I’m actually trying to highlight is the variation of those memories. You see cider has become a multifaceted beverage and that position presents both opportunity and hindrance. 

It’s a hindrance because it’s spread itself a bit thin and that’s resulted in mixed views and misconceptions. Revisiting those memories again highlights how people can get a tainted view of cider from an encounter with one facet and close themselves off to the chance of more. Basing your opinion of such a diverse drink on one particular encounter means you’re missing out.

That brings me on to the opportunity because no other drink can compete across such a broad spectrum. Cider can compete with and be drunk like wine, beer, alcopops and in some cases sipped like a spirit. None of the aforementioned can do all that, wine and beer can do it to a certain extent but not to the breadth of cider. That’s something to be celebrated, something to embrace. 

So my point is this, you and I may not like all ciders, we may not like the way some ciders are made or the ingredients in them. However I recognise that for cider to continue to grow, it needs to appeal to as many consumers as possible, and that means acknowledging all its manifestations as part of a wider goal. Quality and provenance will win out in the end I have no doubt, but consumers need to go on the journey from dark fruits to real fruit.  My friends sometimes ask me why as the ‘Cider Critic’ I’m not more critical in my posts and articles. My view is that as an ambassador for the beverage I’m like a tour guide, pointing out the good landmarks. Focusing on the negatives only serves to put off the tourists that I want to come back again and again. 

Cider Salon 2019 sneak preview!

With this year’s Cider Salon less than a week away and the fringe events starting tomorrow, I thought I’d give you a sneak preview of three fantastic creations to look out for at the Salon itself. Bear in mind there’s 20 producers, pouring 60 creations, so pace yourself but make sure you get in quick…it’s only two hours and I ran out of time last year.

First up: Ganley and Naish –  4.6%


This was pressed back in 2016 and is a blend of Yarlington Mill and Ashton Brown Jersey from an old low nitrogen orchard. The fermentation lasted a whole 12 months before being bottled in May 2018. Andy himself will be at the Salon pouring this one, so be sure to ask him all about it…it’s been over two years in the making.

It pours a hazy light amber colour, the aroma is woody, with scents of tobacco. There’s medicinal qualities in there as well as some hints of barnyard from those rich tannic apples. There is almost zero acidity in the taste and a gentle mellow bitterness from the tannins which gives the mouth feel a robust level of astringency. The finish has a very subtle sweetness that peaks through as a fruity little hit. A wonderful step into “fine cider” for Andy and a brilliant encapsulation of what Somerset cider is all about. 

Second: Pilton – Pomme Pomme 4.8% (Keeved Cider & Quince)


Martin Berkley doesn’t really need an introduction, being one of the creators of the Cider Salon (along with Tom Oliver). This creation however adds a new ingredient to the Pilton party; Quince…and what an addition it is. Make sure you ask Martin how he managed to blend the tart astringency of the quince with the natural sweetness of his keeved cider to create perfect harmony.

It is a striking crystal clear gold colour with scents of tropical fruit (think guava and cantaloupe) along with vanilla, caramel and a hint of apricot. In the initial taste there is a slight acidity with light citrus notes, this then flows into that wonderful keeved sweetness that reminds you of biting into a sweet apple full of rich apple skin. The finish brings with it that quince astringency which dries the sides of your mouth with a tinge of bitterness, leaving you craving for another sip. Hats off to Martin, this is a masterpiece. 

Third: Find & Foster – Woodrow, Vintage 2018 5.5%


Polly and Mat have stormed onto the fine cider scene with their exquisite ciders crafted from some of Devon’s forgotten orchards. Woodrow orchard is hundreds of years old with only a few bittersweet cider apple trees still standing. This cider was bottled before the fermentation had finished to capture some natural bubbles. In the interest of full transparency, I’m not 100% sure Polly and Mat will be pouring this one as they haven’t confirmed, but even if they aren’t, they will be bringing some other phenomenal ciders…look out for the Russet.

In the glass the Woodrow blend is a radiant amber colour with a slight haze. It smells like apple pie along with raisin and and some tannic phenolics that gove a woody note. It’s got a bold fizz that dissipates quickly leaving a ring of delicate bubbles in the glass. The initial taste is one of gentle acidity, then followed by an astringency that starts to dry the sides of your mouth and tongue. The finish is natural sweetness and essence of pure apple. It is glorious!

I hope that’s given you a little insight into the quality and craftsmanship you will experience over the next week. There are so many other amazing producers attending (such as Little Pomona, Tom Oliver, Jaanihanso, Kentish Pip, Hawkes, Once Upon a Tree, Brännland…I could just name them all to be honest), all of whom will be bringing fantastic drinks.

If you see me wandering around the Salon, make sure you say hello. Wassail.

US delights from The Cider Salon 2018

With this years Cider Salon in Bristol just over two weeks away, I thought it was time I let you all know about some wonderful creations from across the pond, that I was lucky enough to get samples of at last years event. Now the Salon isn’t just about the ciders, it’s also an opportunity to meet and talk to the makers, which is a fantastic chance to hear the real stories behind their creations and hear the passion they have for their craft.

Ryan Burk – Angry Orchard

First up is ‘Edu’ from Ryan Burk of Angry Orchard, a homage to a friend from Asturias. The bottle describes it as a complex cider made from bittersweet and sharp apples, taking its cues from Spanish cider makers. Ryan was sharing this cider along with his “Understood in Motion” collaboration with Tom Oliver, and another, but embarrassingly I can’t recall…it has been nearly a year…

3F6AA9B4-ED9D-45CF-8C50-D52E32698185Angry Orchard Edu 6.9%

Popping the crown cap I’m greeted by green apple and slight citrus aromas and there’s some volatile acidity in there too. It pours a dark straw colour with a satisfying level of fizz. The initial taste is of both acidity and tannin bitterness, but in harmony and balance. It has a sour crispness that cleanses the palate, but then the finish is something of a journey; vanilla, candy floss, dipped (almost toffee) apple flowing into a residual subtle woody smoke at the end. 

It is glorious in so many ways. I’ve tried many sidras over the years and this really captures their signature, but then goes on to add a marvellous twist. I’m really looking forward to what Ryan brings over this year.

Eleanor & Albert Léger – Eden specialty Ciders

The next two are from Eden Speciality Cider, who are based in Vermont. Firstly Eleanor and Albert are lovely people, so passionate about what they make, how they make it and wanting to share it. As well as the two below, they had a very limited Cellar Series: #2 The Falstaff, aged for 6 years in French Oak Barrels. Why am I mentioning it? Because it was exquisite and if they bring anything like it this year… make sure you grab a taste.

The Dry Heritage (below) is bottle conditioned, hand disgorged and naturally sparkling. This is the embodiment of fine cider; time, terroir and skill.  Made from local heirloom and tannic apples (such as Kingston Black, Mcintosh, Roxbury Russet & Dabinett), it’s got a smidge of their ice cider for a lovely residual sweetness.

7B94B948-A6C7-4FED-B3B6-A8ABF3FAE80DEden Dry Heritage Cider – Extra Sec 8%

The colour is a rich golden straw colour, the aroma reminiscent of white wine; full of green apple, floral scents and tropical fruits. It has an intense fizz which dissipates quickly and the initial taste is one dominated by acidity. It’s light, crisp and those tropical fruit notes start to touch the palate. Subtle velvety and silky tannins come through that lead to an astringent finish. Wonderful.

Third and final is Eden’s Heirloom Blend Ice Cider, which is made from a blend of traditional and heirloom apple varieties all grown in Vermont, including, Empire, Macintosh, Russet (for full bodied sweetness), Caville Blanc (for acidity & citrus notes) Ashmead’s Kernel (natural tannin structure). It’s clear thought, time and skilful blending have more than gone into this one.

1F5EEB5F-54D2-4543-A403-9FBB6003DCBDEden Ice Cider – Heirloom blend

It’s a deep rich amber colour with aromas of candied fruit, apricots and brandy. It smells alcoholic which I think is coming from the phenolics of those tannic heirloom varieties. The texture is syrupy  and the taste starts with a slight acidity which leads into intense sweetness. There is pure essence of apple along with caramel. It is absolutely sumptuous.

If those three don’t whet your appetite enough, look out next week for my three ciders to try at this year’s salon from three UK producers.


Downside Special Reserve Perry 2017


I’ve written about Paul Ross’s Perry before for Crafty Nectar and it was a marvellous drink. This creation of his however takes it up a notch he answered a few of my questions to reveal how this exceptional fine perry was created.

Paul likes to use a combination of British and French perry pears and this bottle is no exception with Plant de Blanc, Antricotin, Hendre Huffcap, Thorn and Rock varieties.  

The process is as complex as the drink; Paul explained how picking time is critical to ensure maximum tannin and acid and how milling and maceration duration is different by variety. The fermentation is low temperature and is followed by a complicated schedule of racking and blending. Two things stand out; time and passion,and Paul gives plenty of both. As Paul says, the emphasis with all his perries is “fruit concentration and quality, excellent cellaring practices and bold blend”. If you have the chance to taste this perry you will see how the quality and boldness shine through like a beacon. 


Pulling the cork I’m greeted by a spirit like smell of lemon balm and citrus peel. You can smell that it’s a stronger drink and at 8.2% it seems more like wine than perry.

I pour into a wine glass and the initial taste is filled with fresh floral notes, including elderflower with a background of acidity. Then the citrus taste comes in, intense at first but then starts to mellow, to me it has a hint of orange or mandarin. The finish is smack in the middle, with a little sweetness and a little dryness but it’s not too astringent. It goes down so smoothly, like a crisp white wine and with those citrus notes it is an absolute gem to pair with fish and seafood. 

Paul explained that “the key to this perry was identifying what each variety had to offer and using that as a basis for what could be achieved. The result is a really fresh, vibrant perry with well-rounded pear tannins in the aftertaste”. 

I couldn’t put it better myself.

Check out Downside’s website at:

Sandford Orchards – Yarlington Mill ‘On Leaf Fermentation’

5308FB94-80EC-4734-82FD-C7B76981D2F5A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Bristol Cider Salon (thanks to Crafty Nectar) to see a showcase of sixty different ciders from twenty producers. Some were sharing tasters of long established products, but for many it was a chance to launch new and innovative ones. So that’s where I met Barny Butterfield, Chief Cidermaker at Sandford Orchards. Barny was there with a cider made from an entirely new technique: ‘on leaf fermenting’. 

Barny is open about his obsession with cider-making history and tradition, and thanks to a comment on a trial of adding leaves to the cider-making process that he came across, his experiment began. I’m simplifying here, but he took leaves form a ten year old Sweet Alford cider apple tree, tied them in a press cloth and added them to Yarlington Mill juice. In reality there was a lot more to it than that and you can read more about it using the link at the bottom. Barny describes the result as “astonishing” and the small taste I sampled on the day at the Cider Salon was fantastic. Thanks to Barny’s generosity, I was able to bring a bottle home of this first very limited batch of only 100 cases and give it a thorough tasting. 

9894089F-88CB-4F75-AE43-428C84AF19D3As I open the bottle, I’m greeted with a cheesy dry smell, with underlying scents of fresh wood and wet leaves. It pours a gorgeous amber colour with a wondrous amount of bubbles. The initial taste is of slight acidity and the fizz comes through, this is followed by that cheesiness which is almost oaky smokiness. The finish is really complex; woody and dry then yeasty with a sweet acidity right at the end. Yarlington Mill is already a bold flavoured cider apple, but the on leaf fermentation adds a whole other level of complexity to this fine cider. Comparing to Yarlington Mill single variety ciders I’ve drunk before; the flavours seem deeper and more reminiscent of a blue cheese, like the stilton of ciders. I wonder if the extra yeast strains introduced by the addition of the leaves has brought this complexity out…?

So how do I summarise? Well firstly to congratulate Barny and Sandford Orchards on a really special, innovative and unique fine cider. The depth of character and complexity rivals any robust red wine, I’m not comparing, but I’m saying drunk with a rich pork dish, this fine cider will give you so much more to your meal. It was a joy to sample.

You can read more about Barny’s innovative process and his collaborative work with Exeter University here:

James Finch

Lyme Bay Winery’s Ammonite Range


For anyone who’s visited Devon or an English Heritage site or indeed your local large farm shop, chances are you’ve come across some of the many wines, liqueurs or ciders that Lyme Bay Winery produce. They are a multi (and I mean MULTI) award-winning producer, including from the International Cider Challenge. 

They have been making cider from their home in Devon’s Axe Valley for over twenty years. Starting with traditional more simple varieties, such as their Jack Ratt Scrumpy or Vintage and now expanding it to more innovative flavours and combinations. Firstly a few years ago by expanding into the fruit cider arena with their Annings range, named after Mary Anning the world famous paleontologist who’s fossil finds along the Jurrasic Coast adorn the walls of the Natural History Museum in London. More recently they have launched a range of flavoured ciders called the Ammonite range, so named after the plentiful fossil of a long extinct marine mollusc. There is a theme here and it’s one of history and heritage that Lyme Bay Winery are rightly proud of. 

So on to the three ciders of the Ammonite Range…well they all use Jack Ratt cider as their base, which is made from nothing but freshly pressed local cider apples, including Dabinett, Yarlington Mill and Kingston Black varieties. 

719F4984-A9D3-4DDC-AA75-DE14AE10673F1. Botanicals

I started with the Botanicals and opening the bottle I’m met with floral and citrus notes; to me it seemed predominantly orange scents, blossom, juice and pith. My initial taste is one of acidity and fizz, which then leads into those citrus notes but is followed by the distinct flavour of juniper. The finish feels slightly dry but full of spice and cider apple bite. This then is a really complex cider, where each mouthful is like a journey of taste. As I made my way through the 330 ml bottle, I found myself picking up extra notes, some I couldn’t quite work out, so it was a shame the bottle was small as I wanted to continue to explore. The finish seemed to develop into sweetness the more I drank. 

My verdict then on this one is a refreshing, innovative and complex cider. One which challenges the palate in a really good way and makes you re-think the art of the possible in terms of flavour combinations. This feels like the perfect cider to start a Gin enthusiast on and convert them over to appley goodness

240DE4B1-E02C-4433-9A3D-012618109F3B2. Hops

Second was the Hops cider, which had really distinct bitter citrus scents on the nose. Not surprising when the hops used are the classic American Simcoe and Cascade IPA varieties. The first taste is mildly bitter and has a sharp astringency with a quite a bit of fizz, which is then followed by a burst of those citrus hops. The finish is very clean and feels medium dry, but the dryness is only slight. So it’s a little sweeter on the finish than the Botanicals and appears to have a tad more carbonation; there was a larger head when poured but it dissipated very quickly. 

My verdict is that this is a clean, crisp and wonderfully palate-cleansing drink. I’m not normally a fan of hopped ciders, I don’t drink beer and I find the citrus hop flavour a bit too bitter for me. That being said I’ve tried quite a few different ones and the balance Lyme Bay Winery have achieved here is spot on. I think it slightly overpowers the cider apple taste compared to the Botanicals version, but if you like hopped ciders then this is a premium example.

26B76A64-E9B7-4D3A-AC50-EF4912C213103. Sour Cherry

Third and lastly was the Sour Cherry version which as you can see from the picture has much more rose colouring compared to the other two. I’m not sure exactly what has been added to the cider to create this but I can imagine some juice and cherry stones given the flavours. The smell is distinctly of apple at first with an after hit of cherry bakewell, which is quite subtle, I had to get my nose right into the glass to pick it up. The taste starts with a really fizzy fizz…the bubbles run along your tongue. You then get this wonderful almond almost marzipan taste with cherry starting to come through. The final taste becomes a sour sharp tang which is almost sherbet-like and then becomes a dry finish. 

My verdict for this final cider is that it is a sweet, desert-like fizzy hit with a sour twang to put a smile on your face. I’ve had the misfortune of trying some very artificial tasting cherry ciders in the past but there is no comparison to this creation from Lyme Bay Winery. If you want a sugar loaded artificial fruit cider then this is not for you. If on the other hand you’d like a more sophisticated nostalgic trip through a classic british dessert followed by a childhood sweet treat with an underlying cider apple taste, then you don’t want to miss this one.

In summary, I have to say I wasn’t sure what to expect with this range of ciders from Lyme Bay Winery. I’ve had many of their Jack Ratt and Annings range and all have been very good, so I’m not surprised in the quality of this new Ammonite range. I am however astounded at how well the flavours have combined with traditional cider, particularly in the Botanicals and Sour Cherry. I would certainly drink both of those again and hope to see them available near me soon. 


The Cider Critic