Let’s get something straight, first of all. The Newt In Somerset is probably the most mouth-wateringly exciting cidery that has ever been built in England, and anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves.
The money that has been thrown at it makes my brain wobble. Visit it on a sunny day, as my mother and I did last September, and you feel you’ve accidentally wandered into a set from Sideways; as though a hurricane had swept up a Californian winery and then dumped it in Somerset rather than Oz. Inside loom scores of tanks glimmering with bright stainless steel and bulging with new French oak. There is, quite simply, no other cidery in the country like it, and there is no cidermaker who wouldn’t give their eye teeth for the kit and resources at The Newt’s disposal. What’s more, they’ve even snapped up Paul Ross, whose Downside Special Reserve 2016 remains as good a perry as I’ve had the fortune to taste.
In short, if The Newt don’t end up producing some of the best ciders that have ever been made anywhere in the world full-stop then, in this writer’s opinion, it’ll be something of a disgrace and a wasted opportunity of the first order. The potential at their fingertips is, as I’ve said, mouth-watering.
The cidery makes up part of a sumptuous tourist Xanadu rustled up by a gazillionaire couple from South Africa. And I think it’s rather wonderful. English sparkling wine’s flying at the moment and they could easily have jumped on that bandwagon, but the beating heart of Somerset is cider and that’s what they’ve chosen to make; proper, full-juice cider on a scale and at an expense that simply hasn’t existed before.
On which basis I thought it would be a reasonable idea to join their new cider subscription service. (I refuse to spell it “cyder”. We’ll put a pin in that and rant about it another day.) Such things are ten a penny in wine and beer, and a pretty good notion. You automatically pay a fixed rate every few months or so and a new box of booze pops up without your having to do anything. They’re particularly handy for those who wish to be spared the agony of personal choice, as they tend to offer a decent range of different things which someone has already picked out. Until recently there haven’t been many options for cider lovers, with Crafty Nectar and France’s Calyce being the only two I can think of off the top of my head. But with The Fine Cider Company’s “Pommelier Club” and The Newt having started in the last month the idea is clearly starting to gain some traction.
My first box having turned up the other week I thought the time was ripe for a proper dive into The Newt’s early efforts. We’ve met their Kingston Black previously, when James wrote it up in our joint piece on that apple. Today we’ve three other single varieties: Yarlington Mill, Somerset Redstreak and Falstaff, the last of which I’ve not previously tasted on its own. Indeed we have two Yarlington Mills, as my box included both the 2018 and 2019 vintages. We’ll also be digging into The Newt’s dry, medium and sweet ciders, all of which are blends from 2018.
All (I believe) were fermented using a wine yeast and force carbonated. I’d hazard a guess that filtration was on the thorough side, too. My subscription cost £40 for a box of 13 plus a 750ml bottle of their new rosé; buying these bottles individually would work out at £3 per 330ml.
Righto. Lots to get through – let’s press on.
The Newt Dry 2018 – review
On the nose: Big, clean, bright and very pure – not the hint of a hint of any off notes. On the straightforward side – we’re talking pure apple, perhaps a hint of honeycomb and sweet spice. It’s very inviting, I must say.
In the mouth: Fruit’s expressed really well. Follows the nose more or less precisely, flavour-wise, accompanied by a great rasp of tannin that saws through the juicy red apple. Again, it’s clean as a whistle. Not a huge amount of complexity, but very tasty stuff – a winner with roast meat, I’d have thought. A little tooth-sticking sugar at the death suggests this sits slightly on the naughty-step end of dry, but that’s no huge grumble.
The Newt Medium 2018 – review
Colour: See Dry.
On the nose: Mimics the dry, but here we’re going more into the aromas of fresh-pressed juice. Which, given its “medium” status comes from arrested fermentation, is hardly surprising. Again, everything’s very pure and juicy, if not crazy complex.
In the mouth: If the Dry was on the sweeter end of “dry”, this is definitely on the drier end of “medium”. That’s helped by those grippy, tremendously-defined tannins, which do so much to add structure to the juicy red fruit. A little brown sugar and baked apple. Another that would be tremendous with a good roast chicken.
The Newt Sweet 2018 – review
Colour: See Medium.
On the nose: This could get a bit dull to read, I’m afraid. Clean? Buzz. Well-defined fruit? Buzz. Pure? Buzz. Not wildly complex? Buzz. Very apple-forward and inviting? Buzz. Even more apple-juicy than the medium? Well what did you expect?
In the mouth: Aha! A change! That extra sweetness has outmuscled the tannins somewhat, which only really register now towards the finish. It’s all pretty well-balanced for a “sweet” though – doesn’t feel too cloying to me, with little dabs of freshness from the mild acidity. Nicely rounded stuff. Should change a lot of minds over what proper Somerset cider can taste like – even if those minds go on to look for something with more complexity and dimension.
The Newt Falstaff 2018 – review
Colour: Good lord, something different. Pale gold, this one.
On the nose: Teasing, delicate and floral. Elderflower, grass trimmings, ripe green apple. A little wilted blossom and a flutter of rose petal. I’m reminded of Pang Valley’s Royal County somewhat. Again it’s pure, clean and pin-bright. Shall we just assume these adjectives for the rest of the bunch unless I tell you otherwise?
In the mouth: That florality is even more pronounced here. Almost to a slightly soapy degree. A little lemon zest, but I wouldn’t call this acid-led by any means. It’s sort of medium in every respect, other than that of tannin, of which it has none. A little pithy bitterness on the finish. All the usual adjectives, but I must admit I’m fairly lukewarm about this. Fans of prosecco should get a kick out of it, mind you.
The Newt Somerset Redstreak 2018 – review
Colour: Back to caramel.
On the nose: Big, juicy apple fruit with a seam of crisp, woody, lignin spice and a touch of brown sugar. Tremendously inviting, nice intensity. I won’t use all those you-know-what adjectives again – you can’t make me. But they’re there.
In the mouth: Redstreak is such a charming, genteel apple. Nothing’s in excess, but there’s plenty of appealing flavour. This is medium-dry, with a decent thread of those nice firm tannins and a really pleasant weight of fruit. Wonderful poise and balance, actually. A touch of clove and a little phenolic woodiness Medium-bodied, with a well-judged level of fizz. Another good foodie methinks.
The Newt Dabinett 2018 – review
Colour: Maybe a tone lighter than the Somerset Redstreak.
On the nose: There’s some similarity to the Redstreak here in that forthright apple fruit, but the aromas are bigger, more pillowy, a little less defined, but perhaps a touch riper and fruitier. What spices there are are sweeter too – less woody and lignin-led, with a good bit of orange oil and vanilla. A little tea leaf as well.
In the mouth: Bigger, more mouthfilling than the Somerset Redsteak, so the tannins feel riper, more velvety. Comes across slightly sweeter too, though this still sits on the dry side of medium. Doesn’t quite have the definition and class of the Redstreak, and the specific characteristics of Dabinett seem to be a little reticent, if not hidden, but it’s tasty nonetheless. Apple skins, ripe citrus, vanilla pod and black tea. Pleasant stuff. It’d be cracking with a hog roast.
The Newt Yarlington Mill 2018 – review
Colour: Polished brass.
On the nose: Nice, deep, spiced-apple Yarlington aromas. Studel and sultana. A little tarte tatin. Blood orange, star anise. Tremendously varietal in its fruit-forwardness – as have they all been.
In the mouth: A little more towards the medium-sweet end. Has this been done to reduce the perception of those big, bold tannins slightly? They’re certainly there – I can hear them shouting away beneath the residual sugar. Again it’s deep and rich and fulsome – probably the biggest crowd-pleaser of the whole set – but I do think some potential complexity has been lost slightly by an early-arrested fermentation. It’s properly tasty … but a lot of that is just apple juice. I’d have loved a go at the fully-fermented beast.
The Newt Yarlington Mill 2019 – review
Colour: See 2018.
On the nose: Hmm. Very different. This might be a bit fermentation-fresh, actually, that savoury, nutty, yeasty character is still playing around. A little playdough. It’s the least fruit-forward of the lot and its apple notes don’t match the depth of the 2018’s. Nonetheless, some nice ligniny spices, polished wood and pink grapefruit rind.
In the mouth: Again, some of the depth and richness of the 2018 is gone. It must be said that this has been bottled rather on the young side for Yarlington Mill. It’s higher-toned; less “complete” than the 2018 somehow. Nutty, almost russet-esque apple tones. A little yeast. Still a good it of ripe orange satsuma fruit and a lot of rounded tannin, but this is probably my least favourite Newt. Perhaps one to revisit in a year or so.
I can’t overstate how refreshing it is to taste a lineup of eight ciders that are this pristine. Utterly without faults or even hints of faults. No one will leave The Newt and tell their friends that tired and tedious story of the rough, rank, vinegared scrumpy they endured on their holiday in Somerset. These are fruit-driven, hygienically-made, clear, bright and flavourful drinks that should appeal to large crowds of people and, given the reach and clout of the owners, have the potential to significantly recast the popular reputation of full-juice cider.
The next step, of course, is a bit more complexity. These are all young-bottled ciders fermented with the same single yeast strain and without oak. But they’re a good start – a marker laid down for the road ahead. They’re certainly enough to give me great confidence in what is to come. I remain very excited indeed, and highly recommend that you give these a try. The 2019 Yarlington and the Falstaff are the only two that I wouldn’t be entirely prepared to buy for myself again, and the latter is largely personal preference.
Yarlington Mill 2018
Yarlington Mill 2019
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