Cider, fundamentally, is a treat. It isn’t an essential; we could get by perfectly well without it and many (most?) people do just that. It is something that has, quite simply, been specifically made with the intention of giving the drinker a moment, however fleeting, of joy.
Joy, it need not be said, has been thin on the ground in 2020, irrespective of who you are and where you have been. At the time of writing this it’s not entirely clear whether the British government plans to U-turn on its promised three-home bubble plan for Christmas, such is the post-lockdown, post-vaccination announcement surge in case numbers. The week of the year which, irrespective of beliefs, has come, in the United Kingdom, to be synonymous with joy, is looking bleak. I don’t for a moment, dispute the importance of maintaining social distancing rules and curbing the spread, but I cannot begin to imagine what the cost of Christmas 2020 will be on so many, many peoples’ mental health. If there’s the remotest chance that one of those people could be you, then please, please gather in whatever way you can, however virtually, around whoever makes you feel the happiest version of yourself.
Looking back at the year, so many of my most joyful moments have been interwoven with cider. At the most simplistic, I have been lucky enough to have tasted a lot of good stuff, and have had the privilege of writing to you about much of it here on Malt. But more than from the liquid that manifests in bottle and glass (we’ll celebrate that properly next week for the last cider Saturday of the year), my joy has come from cider’s bigger picture; from the wonderful spirit ineffably wrapped around this wonderful drink.
Before we went into lockdown it came from an evening at Ross on Wye, taken into a cidermaker’s house, having only met him three times before, for a runthrough tasting of single variety ciders which has shaped and influenced so much of my consideration and understanding of cider since. It came in France, having the door to a new world opened to me thanks to Camille’s recommendation of the magnificent CidrExpo. It came in Spain, with the opening of another door, this time to the Basque country’s ancient and fascinating cider tradition and to the unparalleled theatre and festival of txotx.
It came, when the world locked down, in seeing how cider drinkers clustered around the makers they wanted to support and protect, bought bottles, tweeted messages of encouragement, found new ways to celebrate and share that which they love. It came from watching Full Juice march seamlessly online, from joining the editorial team at Graftwood, from watching impassioned initiatives like Discover Cider and Apples for Autumn spring up out of nowhere, buoyed by the energy and desire that bubbles among this determined, remarkable community. It came particularly from watching the levels of communication crescendo to unprecedented volume, with new voices joining the chorus and old voices growing in strength. You’ll find many of my favourites here.
I have found so much joy, this year, from the monthly Manchester Cider Clubs, which I had never been able attend until they went digital. They are a monthly highlight; a place cider lovers can gather to be raucous and enthusiastic and unabashed and excited among likeminded hobbyists. If you’ve yet to attend, please, please sign up for the next one. Even if you’re not drinking the ciders that month, the meetings will bring you joy.
Because more than anything, it is the people within it who are the bricks and mortar of our cider community. In a year when the world has been shut down, people I barely knew in 2019 have become close friends I talk to almost daily (sorry). People I didn’t know at all are now people I would like to know much better. So many people have, through cider, brought me joy this year, so many people have made life not just bearable, but vibrant and funny and complex and dazzling. There is so much here for anyone to explore and discover and revel in, and so many remarkable folk who will welcome you into this world and fill it with wonder. And underpinning it all are those bottles full of magic which will flare in brief candles of joy whenever you open them.
I have a funny relationship with ice cider. I don’t drink it as often as it deserves to be drunk, partially because it’s an expensive treat, partially because I don’t eat puddings much, if at all, and partially because someone I used to know adored dessert wines, and drank them with me from time to time, and I can’t taste them now without thinking of him and feeling sad and introspective. But although drinking ice ciders has a mournful, votive quality to me, locked in the sumptuous depths and hues of their mesmerising flavours is the unmistakeable essence of joy.
Windfall Orchard comes from Eden, in Vermont, who make some of the best ice ciders – and regular ciders – in the world, and who we have met in these pages three times before. It’s named for an orchard tended by Brad Koehler (Eden’s Eleanor Leger is admirably brilliant at name-checking the growers she works with) and is made from thirty heritage varieties grown within that orchard. Bottles are available from Scrattings and Fram Ferment, and cost £24 for 375ml.
Eden Windfall Orchard – review
Colour: Deep amber.
On the nose: Really syrupy and sweetly spiced. Deep, fresh apple, caramel. Lashings of cinnamon. A bit of caramelised peach. Lots of sherried raisin. All the in the lower register but with enough precision and freshness not to feel heavy. It’s actually not the most complex nose Eleanor’s ever conjured, but it is intensely pleasurable.
In the mouth: The theme of syrup continues. Tarte tatin. Tinned nectarines. Apple sauce. There’s just a touch of acidity – nowhere near Brännland levels, just enough to freshen the unctuousness and dried fruits. Like all of Eleanor’s creations it’s dangerously easy to drink. Gorgeous, fruit-driven ice cider.
“Pure yumminess” said the geophysicist. Everyone deserves drinks like this in their life. If you feel in need of a special treat, I can strongly recommend considering this one. I prefer it to the Honeycrisp I reviewed a few months ago – Windfall Orchard is deeper, richer, more luxurious. It easily competes with dessert wines for the same price; it is one of those glorious statements of the capabilities and possibilities of fermented apple juice.
However you spend this Christmas and whoever you share it with, I do hope you open a bottle which brings you as much joy. I hope it brightens your day for however long you need it to. Cheers.