Hype and cider have long been like Scots and sun-loungers. It’s not so much that the two are incompatible, per se; more that they’ve seldom historically moved in the same circles.
And yet today I have a selection of ciders, perries and quinces, four of which, at the time of writing, aren’t even released yet and which I am nevertheless genuinely worried will have sold out by the time we go to digital press four days from now.
There are very, very few cideries capable of generating that speed of sell-out status. In fact in this respect Little Pomona may well be in a class of one, although Find & Foster’s champagne method bottlings might discreetly clear their throat there, and it’s hardly Ross on Wye’s fault that they make their ciders in batches of more than seven bottles at a time and thus take longer to clear them.
But whence cometh this sort of hype? It’s obviously too simplistic to suggest that it’s just because their bottlings are generally good to very good, or because they use entirely full juice – you could say the same about dozens of cideries whose products hang around on digital shelves months after release date. An obvious factor is the often-miniscule size of their batches, but again that’s true of any number of cideries. You can’t even ascribe it to the manifold weird and often wonderful curveballs their creations throw – there are plenty of other innovators currently operating in the cider world.
They do, certainly, have the tremendous advantage of distribution from both the Fine Cider Company and Re:stalk, the UK’s two pre-eminent distributors of aspirational cider. And Susanna’s work across drinks categories and around the broader national and international cider community – extensive to a degree that is tiring to think about – is no small generator of goodwill. But being well-liked is, again, not a guarantor of general ‘hype’.
It does make a difference that they are very active within the bubble of cider-wonk social media across all platforms. Not simply in the form of retweeting compliments or adding pictures to their instagram story, but in directly engaging with people about their ciders, perries and other creations. Answering questions. Asking follow-ups. Saying ‘thank you’. Through their cider club and the regular emails they send to members they have built a lively and switched-on community that is all-too-happy to be weaponised as a speedy sales tool when it’s new cider o’clock. Club members see releases a day or two before the general public, and I dare say, if I’m any example, that we do a pretty thorough job of stripping the shelves in advance. (Which, of course, is how I’m able to get this review written in time.)
Another point of general approval is the amount of information Little Pomona provide on their bottles, a field in which, among cidermakers, they were early pioneers. It’s not just apple varieties, it’s the difference and flavour that each variety brings to the cider as well as the way they were processed and why. The modern cider drinker wants this information, not simply because she is interested in transparency, but because she is, simply, interested in cider as something that goes a little further than “a tasty drink”. It’s not a case of information out of suspicion that things might be suspect, it is a case of being intrigued to know what has caused things to taste as they do. Cider drinkers are increasingly curious characters, and Little Pomona do a great deal to satisfy that curiosity.
There is also – and many a purist won’t want to hear this – the degree to which Little Pomona bottlings stand out on the shelves. It’s no longer just the 750ml factor, important as this might be to what Gabe Cook often calls “High Value Perception”, it is the labels themselves. And I think this is one area in which Little Pomona stand out from much of their direct competition, because their designs, whilst immediately impactful, also carry a genuine sense of fun. They are colourful. They are imaginative. They don’t take themselves too seriously, but neither are they gimmicky. There’s a lot going on and there’s no sense of hifalutin po-facedness or attempts to simply ape the packaging style of wine. The neutral punter feels drawn in rather than pushed away. And then, on picking up the bottle, they get that impressive level of information to boot. Reasons not to buy are pretty thoroughly managed, even at an ambitious price.
Look, the point here isn’t to blow smoke, long-standing though my affections for Little Pomona creations are. The point is that I occasionally see low-level grumblings at the degree of public affection Little Pomona get relative to other makers, and I suppose my response would be that what they’re doing is nothing unfathomable or irreplicable; nothing that dozens of other cideries couldn’t do too. What it boils down to is good, interesting, sensitive liquid packaged in an appealing way with as much information as they can cram in, direct contact with their most loyal customers and thorough engagement with their wider drinking audience. Boiled down further you could simply say that it is absolute and direct care for their customer on every level to a degree that only a couple of other cideries even attempt to match. But it is the sum-total of equally attended-to parts, and the net result is hype. It’s really not rocket science. But it does take an awful lot of sustained effort on a large number of fronts. There are a few cideries who do certain things as well as, or better than, Little Pomona. But I can’t think of more than one or two who come close to their comprehensiveness across the board.
Anyway. The unfortunate upshot of this hype is that there’s often little point reviewing a Little Pomona, as they can be all but unfindable. But this week they’ve launched five ciders, perries and pome-fruit-based ‘country wines’ and I thought I’d do a roundup, as there’s still a chance you might be able to buy some. One we covered this morning, their delicious Disco Nouveau, so we’ve four more to do here. And as an added bonus I’m writing up the 2018 vintage of their Cry-Conditioned, the 2017 of which I tasted in January as part of my ‘essential case’. The 2018 is predominantly Dabinett, with a very small portion of Chisel Jersey and Harry Masters’ Jersey. As with the 2017, a touch of intensely sweet ice cider fermenting with wild yeasts was added to barrel-aged dry cider at the time of bottling, continuing its fermentation in the bottle to provide a natural sparkle. Bottles are, at the time of writing, still available for nationwide delivery from O’Briens for £13.75 Though, having now made that public knowledge, I predict this will not be the case by the end of the day. (Confession: I also spotted it at the Good Spirits Co, but I’m afraid my tasting note was so convincing that my editor nipped in and helped me clear them out of it yesterday.)
First of this week’s releases is the finale of their year-long experiment with Egremont Russet. Where their previous two bottlings were released still, ‘Col Fondo’ has had a second fermentation in bottle for a natural fizz before being released undisgorged (so expect a sediment.) It’s a 2019 vintage, fermented in tank before a short spell in barrels which previously held the best ciders Little Pomona have released this year. £15 a throw from their website.
Next up is the second edition of their Do It Puritan Quince. We’ve encountered quince before, via Kertelreiter and Pilton and Ramborn, but curiously, given their obsession with the fruit, we’ve yet to review anything quincey from Little Pomona on Malt. This one is a co-ferment of quince with Dabinett and Harry Masters’ Jersey, blended with perry and ice-cider before bottling. So obviously very run-of-the-mill – the sort of thing you can’t move for, these days. The heftiest pricetag of the lineup at £17 for 750ml.
The third new release is something of a curiosity, as it’s a straight perry but bottled under the Do It Puritan label, normally reserved for ciders and perries into which the Little Pomona team have
chucked other mad shit carefully blended selections of alternative fruit. It’s the third perry from Little Pomona, predominantly 2019 Gin pear, aged in an ex-Burgundy and ex-Sauternes barrel. My inside information is that the barrels took the perry in such a bonkers direction that the Do It Puritan brand felt appropriate. We’ll see what we think on tasting. £14 gets you one of any remaining bottles.
Last up is the one that excites me most. The 2018 vintage of Little Pomona’s annual Art of Darkness. Regular readers may remember that I expressed a passing fondness for the 2017 editions, part 1 in particular. 2018 is a very different creature, having been aged entirely in whisky casks rather than red wine barriques. More significantly, proportions of apples have changed dramatically from the 2017s; this one is 98% Ellis Bitter and only 2% Foxwhelp, thanks primarily to the latter’s biennialism as a grower (and not because James and Susanna have lost their marbles and sense of good taste). All the fruit came from Little Pomona’s home orchard and bottles are available at £11 each.
Since all but the Cryo-Conditioned are unreleased to non-members at the time of writing, I can only guess at where they’ll be available besides the website. The Fine Cider Company will sell you all four of the newcomers, plus this morning’s Disco Nouveau and the Little Pomona Kingston Black 2019 (not reviewed on Malt, but covered here by Malt’s Mr James Finch in one of those new-fangled video things) in a mixed case of six for £81 here. The Fine Cider website also has each one (other than the Cryo) separately. Scrattings also have them individually here. And I dare say they’ll all pop up (briefly) elsewhere too.
Little Pomona Cryo-Conditioned 2018 – review
Colour: Hazy Copper-gold.
On the nose: On the burly, rich and developed end of Dabinett. Orange peel, dried mango, tea leaves, dried oregano and bark. Hulking and autumnal. Solid intensity; real breadth and depth. A good bit of spicy oak, but the fruit’s very much the star.
In the mouth: A full-bodied, chewy mouthful of muscular, fleshy fruit and wrapped-up tannin. The nose’s burly theme continues, though this is super juicy – orange pith, apricot, more dried mango. Very close to the nose actually; the black tea leaves, dried herbs and cinnamon bark really come through in the grippy, drying tannins and creamy mousse. Despite their grip the tannins are kept in check by the cider’s enormous-bodied juiciness. It’s a textural, fruit-filled, rollicking blockbuster.
Little Pomona Col Fondo Egremont Russet 2019 – review
Colour: Hazy pale Gold.
On the nose: One of the closest noses to a young traditional method sparkling wine I’ve encountered on a cider (even though this isn’t traditional method). Egremont Russet, I suppose, performing a similar role to Chardonnay as a relatively malleable, not excessively aromatic base across which the lees can make themselves known. It’s all here: green apple, lemon zest, light almond. A touch of florality. It’s quite delicate. Cider seldom smells much like any sort of wine, but this one certainly reaches out across the chasm. “This smells very champagney,” said the unprompted geophysicist, not knowing what we were drinking at the time.
In the mouth: Fuller-bodied than the nose implies, though the theme of soft green fruits, lightly bitter lemon, grated almond and a sort of gentle sourdough lees character continues. Not quite at ‘toasty’ yet, but getting along that road. A little vanilla. Still shows incredible parallels to a trad-meth sparkling wine – a young crémant de Bourgogne perhaps. Poised, delicate, but with surprisingly good acidity for Egremont and a lovely broad base. Going out on a limb I reckon this might age surprisingly well.
Little Pomona Do It Puritan! Quince, 2019 – review
Colour: Hazy lemon.
On the nose: Big, tropical quince aromatics, though they’re not so dominant that the apple is fully obscured. Less sure about the pear. A glassful of young, exuberant sunshine and a certain tang – not quite acetic perhaps, but certainly volatile – that has me in mind almost of fruity sour beers.
In the mouth: Yes, all the adjectives you’d expect. It’s a tangy, fresh, young, surprisingly full-bodied, juicy fruit bomb. The quince is a little more dominant here, though I suspect it’s the bittersweets that are giving it that heft. Lots of fizz, but its creamy effervescence chimes with the fruit. Certain shades of the tropical, pineapple end of the Basque cider spectrum actually. And I think that volatility is a certain degree of acetic, though it’s just a touch, certainly not vinegary, and dovetails reasonably with the quince. Don’t age it. Drink it now in the blooming throes of its youth.
Little Pomona Do It Puritan! Perry, 2019 – review
Colour: Hazy lime juice.
On the nose: Those are some intense, high-toned aromas. The Sauternes has certainly had an influence; lime jelly, pear pastilles, candied lemon. A little ethyl acetate? Yes, I think so. Just a bit of peardrop amidst that very sweet fruit. It’s not what I’d call an archetypal Gin pear nose.
In the mouth: If anything the fruit gets even bigger here. Tastes green, but in a juicy, sweet way rather than a grassy, lean sense. Lime marmalade. Ripe green pear. All the haribo gummy bears shoved in your mouth at once. Just a gobful of sweet, fresh, slightly untamed asnd wild juiciness. Again a slightly volatile tang on the back palate and it’s not the most Gin-like Gin. Plenty here that lots of people will like, but not my pick of the bunch.
Little Pomona Art of Darkness 2018 – review
Colour: Lightly burnished Gold.
On the nose: James and Susanna have often described Ellis Bitter as a welcoming base and the whisky casks have certainly painted their stylings upon this one in vanilla and peanut and malt and coconut husk. But they’re alongside a juiciness that spans the fruit flavour octave from snappy green to waxy yellow to a touch of the tropical. It oozes its fulsome aromatics – not as intense as the 2017s or the Cryo-Conditioned, but complex and pillowy.
In the mouth: Sinewy, medium bodied with plush, mouthfilling yet well-toned fruit giving way to some big, pithy, gripping tannin. Still lots of tightness on the finish – super concentrated. The profile is similar to the nose but here the fruit, particularly that waxy yellow and orange sort – are bigger than the cask, which mainly pays its respects on the nutty finish. Really great expression of fruit and cask that rewards time and contemplation in the glass. But do give it what ageing you can – this has loads of time in the tank.
Usual disclosure, first of all: samples were sent of Cryo-Conditioned, Col Fondo and Art of Darkness. This doesn’t have any bearing on our Malt writeups, but we always mention it in the spirit of transparency. Taking that spirit a little further I should tell you that I’ve since bought multiple bottles of all three. Which is to say that you can buy them with confidence, like what I did.
The Cryo-Conditioned is glorious. My pick of the bunch, just nosing ahead of Art of Darkness ’18. It’s an enormous, wonderful showcase of apple for ploughing into on a cold night with a steak and a roast. Probably in my top three Little Pomonas of the year, if I stop to think about it. Buy whatever’s left this instant if you can.
Art of Darkness itself? Well it’s a world away from the 2017s, particularly part 1, but it’s still delicious, thought-provoking, sinewy, wine-like liquid that I am very pleased to have bought several bottles of. It’s not as defined and exuberant and aromatic as its immediate predecessors; Ellis Bitter unfurls where Foxwhelp billows. But for length, breadth, complexity and varietal precision it’s pretty much faultless. An easy recommendation, and the weirdos who aren’t so keen on Foxwhelp will understandably (if incorrectly) prefer it to the 2017s. There is plenty of room for all of them in my life and bottle rack. In short: another stellar AOD. And another that really wants a steak.
Col Fondo’s pretty gorgeous, but I really feel as though it’s at an early stage in its life. I’ve a suspicion, shared by Mr Sam Nightingale, that Egremont is a variety that rewards time. Given the closeness of its palate to young traditional method wine I would be very surprised if a deeper, toasty, nuttiness isn’t your reward for squirrelling a bottle or two of this away for a couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super now, but I really hope some people hide theirs for a while, as I think this will age very interestingly indeed.
I like the Quince, though perhaps not so much as part one. It’s insanely fruity, and the volatile component stays the right side of the acetic naughty-step and actually works reasonably in tandem with the quince. It’s pretty bonkers stuff, but as I say, I like it. Just perhaps not as much as I like those previous three.
Some people will love the perry; another that is enormously, wildly, fruited, but amidst that wildness there’s an elbow or two sticking out. A couple of rough edges when set against the precision, definition and varietal stamp of the three ciders. There’s massive Sauternes influence, but there’s also some volatility here, particularly on the finish. I was compelled enough to finish my bottle, with geophysical assistance, but on balance I’m fonder of the two perries LP have released previously. But those caveats aside, I can recommend trying both of these new Puritans. As I say, there will be people less
fussy about sensitive to their more volatile tones to whom they will both have tremendous appeal. On the acetic richter scale neither measures more than a smallish rumble.
So. Five releases, each a million miles apart and collectively celebrating the mind-boggling diversity, intensity and complexity of pome fruits. Confirmation, to my mind (not that I needed it) that the team at Little Pomona deserve all the hype they get. Excellent stuff, particularly the ciders.
Adam’s order of preference:
1. Cryo-Conditioned 2018
2.Art of Darkness 2018
3. Col Fondo Egremont Russet 2019 (I’d put this morning’s Disco Nouveau in equal place here.)
4. Do It Puritan! Quince 2019
5. Do It Puritan! Perry 2019
As stated, samples of Cryo-Conditioned, Col Fondo and Art of Darkness were provided for review. But that never stops us picking nits.
Lead image from Little Pomona, with the other from the Good Spirits Company.