One of the features of this hideous year has been the endless cancellation of plans and trips. Not exactly the bitterest hardship, I accept, but another in the extending list of struck-off pleasures nonetheless. As I write this I am reminded that, somewhere in a parallel Universe, another Adam is preparing to go to the Cider Salon tomorrow, my standout cider event of 2019. Had pandemic not frozen the country, exacerbated by every conceivable form of governmental inadequacy, I would have taken today off, hopped on a train to Bristol and been immersed in old haunts and new ciders before lunchtime. As it is, I’m just crossing my fingers that my family will be allowed to rent a cottage in a remote corner of the Highlands this August. At present, I am more in hope than expectation.
But the cancellation that I’ve really regretted so far this year was April’s CiderWorld, Frankfurt’s annual cider spectacular. I’d never gone before; hadn’t visited Germany since a school exchange trip in 2005, and I couldn’t wait to get to grips with the German apfelwein tradition. Apart from the show itself, I had already staked out the bars and shops of Sachsenhausen and, as is my wont (much despaired of by the geophysicist) effectively planned the whole trip down to the minute. Hey ho. It’ll keep for 2021.
I have commented before, or rather echoed Pete Brown’s comment, that cider is a startlingly insular drink. There is very little import and export of cider between countries, if we exclude (as we should) the watered down and sugared up pillars of dreary insipidness that haunt every British pub. When I visited CidrExpo I had a job convincing French cidermakers that England made any real cider, and most people I know in the UK have never heard of cider from Spain or Australia or Austria or Switzerland or indeed anywhere that isn’t Somerset or Herefordshire or Kopparberg or possibly Old Mout.
And so I had never encountered German cider in the UK, nor had much opportunity to taste any, other than a couple of bottles brought back by intrepid Euro-travellers. But for some time now I have followed Barry Masterson on twitter and watched his Kertelreiter Cider brand with increasing interest.
“Barry Masterson”, you will admit, is not an especially Germanic-sounding name. In fact Barry is an Irish ex-pat in Germany; a home brewer who stumbled into cidermaking in 2012 when he bought the rights to harvest from eight apple trees near Kleineicholzheim (which is halfway between Frankfurt and Stuttgart and looks as though it should be taxed on e’s and i’s.) By his own admittance, his first batch of cider wasn’t great, but eight years, a couple of orchard plots and I dare say a lot of trial and error later, Kertelreiter Cider seemed to be attracting the praises of that tiny portion of German cider twitter which intersects with my own.
So I was jolly pleased when, amidst the tsunami of new releases and online orders that the last few months has unleashed, an opportunity presented itself to email Barry and buy a mixed case of his ciders (and perries and quinces). No sooner had they landed on the doorstop then the geophysicist and I grabbed a handful at random and started working our way through. So you don’t get a huge pre-amble today, as there are five ciders to scribble up. All are dry, lightly carbonated, served in 330 ml bottles and, based on what I paid minus the cost of carriage, average out at €3.43 a bottle. Goodness knows what that is in sterling these days. I don’t really like to check.
Up first is Gloster 2018. Apparently, a German dessert variety bred in 1951, Barry has fermented it with a white wine yeast.
Kertelreiter Gloster 2018 – review
Colour: Deep Gold.
On the nose: Most unusual. There’s a duskiness that puts me in mind of Ross on Wye alongside a green, sappy freshness that has me somewhere in the Eastern Counties, though with the heft of something like an Egremont Russet. Nice depth of apple fruit, if not wildly complex. A teensy whiff of reductive sulphur initially.
In the mouth: Well now. That is a beautifully structured cider, that is. Dry, with fresh, snappy acidity and just a light, light touch of clean, pithy grip. Green apples with a nice, honeyed edge and a seam of slatey minerality. It is simply very, very refreshing. I could easily drink rather a lot.
Next up was Goldener Reiter, and a first for us on Malt, because this is a blend of apples and quinces. Quinces, on the off-chance they don’t form part of your regular diet, are another member of the pome fruit family that also includes apples and pears. However they are not currently within the same duty laws as cider or perry in the UK, and therefore are taxed incredibly heavily as “made wine”. I’ve had a few quince-featuring creations in the past, majoritively from Pilton or Little Pomona. Let’s see how this Kertelreiter compares.
Kertelreiter Goldener Reiter 2018 – review
On the nose: I adore the smell of quinces, and this has it in spades. So much so that the apple goes slightly missing. But never mind; instead we have a beautiful, billowing tandem of that which is tropical and that which is green and crunchy. Dried apricots mingling with lemon and tomato stem. Rosewater and dusky herbs. Dried seaweed and eucalyptus. Just fabulously aromatic, if young.
In the mouth: There’s a dry cider society and a dry perry society … do we need to complete the pome fruit trio with a dry quince society? This would certainly merit entry. The battle twixt green and tropical is even more pronounced here, indeed those stemmy, grassy, peapod and dandelion stalk notes verge on the slightly bitter, but that’s offset by citrus rind, pineapple and just-ripe mango. It’s crisp, it’s fresh, it’s zingy and I bet it’s a knockout with all sorts of Thai dishes.
Moving on we have a single variety Jonagold, another eating apple I’m familiar with from my Eastern counties consumption. (Pang Valley have done nice things with this variety in the past.) Let’s see how the Germans get on. Or the Irish perhaps? Whoever.
Kertelreiter Jonagold 2018 – review
Colour: Straw again, but ever-so-slightly hazy.
On the nose: Again the aromas are high-toned, bright, fresh and green. Grass trimmings, water reed, uncooked cabbage and white grapefruit. A little blossomy florality ad a peculiar touch of something not unlike gammon fat. Just a touch. A yeasty leesiness perhaps? I feel in Muscadet territory. The aromas aren’t intense; they’re delicate and ethereal.
In the mouth: Arrives with a real tangy zing – surprisingly pronounced after the nose. Flavour characteristics are all the same as aromas, but elevated by the acidity. That lees character and the gentle carbonation add some richness and body to the lean, green zest of the fruit. Pretty much totally dry. Another very clean, crisp, refreshing number. Aren’t things like this just so much more pleasant and appetising when they’re not weighed down with artificial sweetener?
For our last pair we’re into more serious territory. “Double Oak” feels more a term from my whisky drinking than from my apple bothering. In this instance Barry has taken a blend of one pear and seven apple varieties, barrel-aged them, then given additional ageing “on a special mixture of oak chips”. For the Double Oak Dark those chips were additionally toasted. What the varieties were I couldn’t tell you, nor what (if anything) the barrels previously held. I was a little wary going into these two; delicate culinary apples, such as Barry seems predominantly to be using, can be easily overwhelmed by excessive oak, and I wondered whether the crispness and verve of the fruit would have survived. Only one way to find out.
Kertelreiter Double Oak Light 2018 – review
Colour: Hazy copper.
On the nose: Some lovely, oaky vanilla right from the off. Oddly, despite being outnumbered seven to one, it’s the soft pear fruit that seems to shine through, perhaps offset better by the barrel. Buttered toast and a tropical, near quince-like character. Passion fruit and mixed skittles. Lovely aromatics here.
In the mouth: The oak really hasn’t shaved off that crisp and vibrant edge, merely ameliorated it with coconut, vanilla and butter. The quince and green apple notes are still here, too, with a bit of grated lime zest and even a touch of pomegranate. Some steely minerality at the death and an element of fattiness. It’s all rather exotic, yet there are flashes immensely reminiscent of good Franken Silvaner. Suggestion, perhaps, but this really does seem reflective of its German roots. Highly recommended.
Kertelreiter Double Oak Dark 2018 – review
Colour: Surprisingly near-identical to the light. Perhaps a semitone deeper, tops.
On the nose: That element of casky vanillin remains, but seems to have caramelised. Toffee. Runny honey. Almost the brandied whumph of Pommeau. Here the apples outmuscle the pear, presenting in baked and brown sugar-sprinkled form. Raisins and smouldering embers. Lovely depth.
In the mouth: Not sure what apples were used, but they don’t give up their freshness for anything. Encircled by toffee-caramel, baked pastry drizzled with honey, tablet and sultana, their crisp poise and streak of refreshing minerality persists, abetted perhaps by a seam of fine bubbles. Oak and fruit in equal, generous helpings. Apple, pink grapefruit and blood orange. Dry, full and intense. My pick of a very good bunch.
A good number of producers or prospective producers in England’s eastern counties would be well-advised to have a chat with Barry or taste their way through a number of his creations.
These are, without exception, crisp, clear, clean and brilliantly refreshing. I would order and drink all again. They are another validation for dry cider that is allied to freshness and acidity.
The Jonagold and Gloster were pretty and delicate, if a little simple, but the other three would have me back for fourths. Intensely aromatic, complex and worthy of contemplation. Delicious liquids that would show well in any company. If these are representative of German ciders and apfelwein in general then I am all the keener not to miss Ciderworld 2021. In the meantime, there will likely come a time at some point this year when I have to drop Barry another email. I strongly recommend that you do the same.