The prolonged hot weather has had me reaching for a glass of cool, thirst-quenching cider from time to time. Each year it’s the next two or three months – high summer through to mellow October – that feel the most fitting for cider drinking, preferably outdoors on warm evenings in the garden, at least at first.
The recent rise of quality English ciders has been a joy to watch. Cider has always had its fervent fans, but now the drink seems to garner more respect, with fine, diverse ciders making an impact on a wide range of customers.
It’s less easy to caricature a cider drinker these days (it’s no longer the yokel with ruddy cheeks sitting on a hay bale). Look around the pub and you’ll see men and women, old and young (well, over 18), smartly dressed or not, ordering a pint.
I was a judge at the Breakthrough Cider Awards this year (my second go at it) and found it very hard to pick a winner from the brilliant, stylistically diverse entries. In the end we chose Moons medium sparkling cider.
The award, instigated by Barny Butterfield of Sandford Orchards, recognises smaller UK producers and offers mentoring as well as state-of-the-art kit to the winning entry. Tom Moon has been making cider for 10 years. He is now only 26, so you can easily work out how young he was when he found his vocation. My tasting notes on his cider are below.
Don’t just drink cider on its own. Depending on the style, it makes a great match with food. Cheese is its closest soul mate, perhaps, but crusty pizzas work with dry and medium ciders too, as do ham, sausages, pork pies and roast pork (think of it as an alcoholic apple sauce…), medium-spicy Indian curries, char-grilled barbecued chicken, while sweet styles ace it with hot fruity puddings like tarte tatin or blackberry pie, fruit salads and even chocolate.
Moons Medium Sparkling Cider, Somerset
5%, moonscider.co.uk, £3.50/500ml
There are more idiosyncratic, showy ciders out there, but this glowing orange-hued session cider won the Breakthrough Cider Award this year for its clean, balanced and easy-drinking character, with a note of toffee apple and a moreish juicy finish. It’s made from Dabinett and Yarlington Mill apples grown in restored mature orchards near Glastonbury.
Henney’s Autumn Gold Cider, Herefordshire
4.5%, Waitrose, £2.10/500ml, 2 for £3.50 until 30 August
Fully fruity, with not only the flavour of yellow apples, but light tropical notes of mango and pineapple too, some gentle tannins and a hint of vanilla on the finish. It’s medium-sweet, lightly sparkling and freshened with a crisp acidity.
The Newt in Somerset No.1 Kingston Black Cyder, Somerset
5.5%, thenewtinsomerset.com, £9.50/75cl
There are plenty of refined and impressive cyders made at The Newt near Bruton, which is also a country estate and hotel. The No1. Kingston Black single variety vintage release has a basket of orchard fruit – pears, quince and lightly stewed yellow apples and a just off-dry finish.
Aspall Premier Cru Cyder, Suffolk
Dry and very elegant, a pale straw cider with a floral whiff of white blossom, and citrus mingling with crisp green apple flavour. It should please those who love dry sparkling wines, including cava and brut Champagne, and partners up well with light fried fish dishes.
Sandford Orchards Wilde Cherry Cider, Devon
4%, www.sandfordorchards.co.uk, 12 x 500ml bottles, £32
A new release from Sandford Orchards and a clever take on the hugely popular fruit-flavoured ciders, as it has a decided sweetness but slight sourness to balance it out. Plenty of fresh red cherries and boiled cherry-drops flavour; it’s a dessert cider for light chocolate dishes or fresh red berries.
Read last week's column: Cooking with tomatoes? Here are the best wine pairings