What’s your checklist for a really good cidery?
I don’t have many cast-iron rules, but I dare say my top two points would be a demonstrated reverence for fruit and a diverse array of ciders (and/or perries). That their creations should be delicious goes without saying.
By those metrics, Eden is probably in my top five cideries in the world and has been now for some time. They’re perhaps most famous for their ice ciders, a couple of which we’ve covered on Malt before, but what really made me fall for them was the tranche of table ciders released early-ish in 2019 through Scrattings. Bottles such as Goodwood and Ezekiel (both Kingston Blacks), Guinevere’s Pearls, the superb single variety Foxwhelp, Oliver’s Twist, stellar champagne-methods and, perhaps best of all, King in the North. The metronomic excellence of the outturn utterly captivated me; had they been first released in 2020, cider’s official “year of the 750”, I have no doubt that Eden would be far more discussed across UK cider social media than I feel they currently are. I filed them immediately high up in my “buy on sight” list and waited impatiently for more Eden ciders to be shipped across the Atlantic.
That finally happened in the last third of 2020, when a number of mostly new expressions appeared on Cider is Wine. I filled my boots as soon as payday allowed, and it struck me that it would be a good excuse to finally reach out to Eden’s Eleanor Leger and speak to her here on Malt. Our conversation is below, and I couldn’t be happier with it.
Malt: So first thing’s first: tell us who you are, what you do and how you got into cider.
Eleanor: My name’s Eleanor Leger and I and my husband founded Eden Ciders in Northern Vermont in 2007 after we had tasted ice ciders in Montreal and said “why is no one making this in Vermont? We should do that!”
Malt: And tell us about Eden as a company?
Eleanor: So we are driven by a real passion for growing interesting apple varieties and supporting other small orchards that do the same. We really like discovering what the fruit has to offer every season, and figuring out what would be fun to make with it. So we do make a broad range of different things, because that keeps life interesting and lets us do what the fruit is most interested in doing itself every year. And along with that we’re really dedicated to making cider from a wine point of view, using all the traditions of wanting to express the fruit.
Malt: What’s the cider scene like in Vermont generally?
Eleanor: Well we have an incredibly robust cider scene in Vermont given that we are one of the smallest states – our population is 620,000 in the entire state. And we’re very rural. Apple is our state fruit, it’s one of the three main agricultural points of focus, dairy and maple being the other two. We produce a lot more than we consume. And Vermont is the home of Woodchuck, which was pretty much the only cider you could find on the shelf for a lot of years in a grocery store or wherever, and that accounts for a lot – there’s not a correlation between that and apple growing in Vermont – it’s primarily made from concentrate from other places. But it certainly means that Vermont has been on the map when it comes to hard cider in the US longer than most. There were a few small wineries dabbling with some apple things in 2007 when we were getting started, and there was Flag Hill, so one other small cidery. There are now 20, which is a lot for our state. And some really big ones – Citizen Cider, Stowe Cider, Shacksbury. Primarily in cans and out to a broad audience.
Malt: You’ve already touched on apples, but that’s something I wanted to ask. I’ve had Eden ciders made with what I would consider traditional English bittersweets and bittersharps as well as ones made from varieties I’ve never seen in the UK, like Kerr Crabapple and Northern Spy. Do you have particular preferences? And in terms of apples grown in Vermont, what sort of fruit is generally available?
Eleanor: There are two broad distinctions to start with. One is grocery store apples that are grown commercially in the commodity grocery store market and then the other weird things that aren’t. Primarily we’re focussed on the weird things that aren’t, but McIntosh is a traditional north-eastern variety; the North East of the United States was famous for McIntosh when McIntosh was very popular and was being shipped all over the world. 80% of the commercial apple crop in Vermont is McIntosh. Which is very different from like Washington State. And then Honeycrisp is another favourite eating apple variety. We work with one of the larger orchards in Vermont. And when I say ‘large’ – 100 acres. That’s about as large as it gets, not like 11,000 acres out in Washington State!
And that’s really driven by topography. We have a lot of topography – there’s no such thing as 11,000 acres in one valley in Vermont. So that’s sort of the dessert fruit side of things. On the interesting fruit side of things for cider, Steve Wood at Farnum Hill was one of the first to come over in the 80s and get scion wood from English bittersweets and start growing them and he’s about an hour and a half down the highway from us in New Hampshire. And then there’s Scott Farm. Basically, there are small growers who have been growing interesting fruit here for a number of years. And when we got started we didn’t plan our orchard until the spring of 2008, ’09 and ’10. So we started to make ice cider from apples from other orchards around us. And they were all small ones who had interesting fruit, because that was the first thing we did, was “oh, if we’re going to make ice cider we should actually go out and figure out what apples would make a good ice cider”. As opposed to just sort of just getting stuff from a grocery store.
So you ask about what varieties are we really interested in and I guess I look at that from a couple of points of view. One point of view is: what grows really well in our area? And another point of view is: which type of cider are we making? We actually don’t put any tannic apples in our ice ciders. Just don’t feel like bitter is something you want in a dessert wine; it isn’t traditionally part of a dessert wine experience. We like to taste things like ice wines and Sauternes and Tokajis; great sort of classic dessert wines and figure out how can we take an apple and make something that’s equally worthy? So we really avoid tannic apples in our ice cider. There are a couple of apples we work with that give it some nice structure, but really not anything you would identify as tannin in a significant way. For those, apples that have a good acid and sweetness balance are great; Northern Spy is one that’s wonderful, we do a single variety oak-aged. It’s got an enormous amount of acidity so it can handle the micro-oxidation and still have a backbone to it that’s fantastic. And in our Heirloom Blend there’s some interesting varieties every time that include things like Esopus Spitzenberg – again, great acidity, wonderful aromatics – Cavill Blanc d’Hiver, classic French baking apple, Ashmead’s Kernel. And then wonderful old New England varieties like Blue Pearmain and Black Oxford. Black Oxford has some soft, woody tannin quality, just gives it a little structure – not really bitterness.
Then for our dry ciders, it’s been really driven by the growers we work with and what fruit is just delicious that fall. So for example 2019 for the first time we made a single variety Belle de Boskoop cider, because the fruit that came from Scott Farm was just absolutely gorgeous and aromatic and we were like “we can really showcase that apple”. Tannic varieties, in our own orchard, it’s a function of what we can grow. Because we are way north. If you look at a map of Vermont, above Vermont is Quebec, we’re 8 miles from the border. And actually the cidery is 4 miles from the border; you can see Canada from the cidery. And we’re at elevation – 12-1300 feet. So it’s a really brutal climate, and a lot of the English bittersweets have not been happy here! Interestingly some of the old French ones have been. So these are the varieties that are growing well and we’re still now trying to figure out “how good are they for cider? To blend them?”
One that we like a lot is Stembridge Cluster. So it’s a bittersharp – it’s not super sharp, but it grows really well, reliable producer and it’s got really nice acidity, tannin and aromatics. We only have five trees of it, so we’re trying to top-graft some of the varieties that didn’t work so well with that. Muscadet de Dieppe is producing really well for us. It’s quite bitter and so we’re sort of figuring out what proportions are good for that in terms of blending – I wouldn’t do it as a single variety, that would be like drinking liquid aspirin I think! So yeah, it’s “what’s growing well? What works well for a particular cider? What produced great fruit in a particular year?” We love the Kingston Black that Scott Farm grows, I will say that too. And it’s different from the Kingston Black that Steve Wood grows. And I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s a mutant or something else.
Malt: I remember you talking about that when we reviewed the Goodwood last year. It’s really intriguing.
Eleanor: Yeah, that was the whole story of that cider.
Malt: That’s really fascinating though. Because you’d really rarely hear about modern French varieties growing in the UK. So it’s fascinating to see those varieties used in ways that aren’t perhaps the traditional French way.
Eleanor: One other thing is that there’s a new apple here called the Franklin, which is from Franklin, Vermont. There was a small orchard – there was a wild tree on the corner of the property that the guy who ran the orchard said he’d tasted and thought “this would be great for cider”, and he made some cider from it and brought it round and we said “definitely got tannin in it, can’t quite tell how good the cider’s going to be,” but we went ahead and bought some trees that had been produced, because he’d got it licensed and propagated. And we’ve got 25 trees and starting to get a bit of fruit off it, and we’re very excited about it. It’s a bittersharp; it’s going to take a while to get into production, it’s not a fast bearer and the fruit is pretty small, but the flavour is fantastic. So that’s another one – I feel it’s going to be exciting to have a Vermont cider apple. We’re not trying to make cider generally in an English tradition or in a French tradition. We’re trying to make really great cider full stop.
Malt: Let’s talk about ice ciders. You touched on having got into them through Montreal. Could you talk me through the process a little bit?
Eleanor: There are two approaches. There’s working with frozen fruit – crushing frozen fruit – to yield a little bit of sweet juice. Or freezing the juice outside and then melting the first part off that has lots of sugar to it. We’ve never done a “taking apples out of cold storage and then freeze them and then press them”, which I think quite a few Canadian cideries have come around to. When the apples hang on the tree they start to decompose slash ferment. And when you squeeze something that’s been sitting on the tree for a number of weeks after freezing and thawing a bit you get a very pale juice that doesn’t taste all that much like apple. And we’ve done this; the Pomme de Glace that we made is harvested off the tree. But there also aren’t that many apples that will hang – most of them fall off. Cortland, Golden Russet, Spartan will hang a little bit into the winter. And it makes a very delicious ice cider but it tastes more like white grape and apricot and less about a particular, complex apple. And since we’ve worked and paid for all this amazing heirloom fruit, we really prefer for that to use the cryo-concentration method, because it really preserves all the qualities in the juice, by pressing the apples, putting it outside to freeze.
This is going to be the first winter where I don’t think we’re going to be able to make any ice cider at all. We have fruit that’s waiting for us to press for ice cider, and we may end up pressing it and putting it in a commercial freezer. Which I guess is what everybody in Europe does anyway, except for Andreas¹ in Sweden, but for us it’s usually just stick it outside and it freezes. Our average daily high temperature in January where we are is 16 Farenheit, which is minus 8 Celsius – that’s our daily high temperature. But not this year. So normally we can press the juice, put it outside, and the natural freezing outdoors is way better than in a freezer.
People often ask this question: “what is the difference?” Because the temperature fluctuation that you get with natural cold weather really helps separate out the water from all the sugars and the flavours and the acids. Ice floats, so the water starts moving up, and everything else is heavier, so gravity does its thing and it all starts moving down. So we put the container of juice outside, it’s all the same colour, and after about four to six weeks it’s really white at the top and really dark at the bottom. And then our yield is about 20-23% of what we start with. And it’s got all that flavour – everything is concentrated. It’s not just the sugars, it’s all the acids and everything else. If you just stick something in a freezer and you bring it out and you put it under a tap there’s still a lot that’s caught in the ice and I don’t think you get as good a yield or as intense a flavour. So that’s the argument for natural cold and why it should be paid attention to as a requirement for ice cider!
Malt: I guess at least specified on labels! So the other thing – and we’ve already touched on it a little – your labels and your website are incredibly proactive in naming the orchards that you use and the growers who tend those orchards. So what was the thinking behind that?
Eleanor: This sort of gets to the mission part of the business, which is: Vermont is a beautiful working landscape, and it has lots of small farms, and none of them can compete in global commodity agriculture. The apples we work with for our cider are rare and expensive. It’s very different from you guys in the UK; you have wonderful growers who grew all these fantastic tannic apples for Bulmer’s who’s now reneging on its contracts and people have to tear up their orchards … that’s the same kind of feeling I have about what’s happening to orchards in Vermont, although that’s on the dessert fruit side.
The tannic stuff over here is so rare it’s incredibly expensive, and the same with all of the heirloom fruit, because everything moved to global commodity agriculture and so it’s very hard to find interesting apples – why would you grow them if there’s not a market for it? We love being a market for that and giving people a reason to keep those trees in the ground and to keep propagating them. Something like the Roxbury Russet which is the oldest native American variety of apple, that was named and chosen in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in the 1640s. Why? It looks like a little brown rock – why was it so important? It’s because, coming off the tree in October it was a little brown rock, stick it in your cellar, where there’s no refrigeration, come back in January-February and it sweetens up. And the fact that you could get something sweet in January and February was amazing. So people have been propagating that apple for about 400 years, almost. And there are probably only 20 acres of it in existence, and if nobody buys them they’re going to get cut down and it’s gone from the face of the earth.
So this is the stuff that keep us excited. And there’s a lot of brouhaha or excitement about foraged apples – but nobody gets paid to grow them. It’s only our cider, and the fact that we’re making high-end cider that commands a premium price, that means we’re able to turn around and pay small orchards a price that makes it worth it for them to keep those trees in the ground.
Malt: Linked to that, and in addition to keeping these varieties going, there’s this real sense that you’re trying to connect the ciders to not just the apples but also to the place. You touched on the topography of Vermont earlier – can you expand on how that topography affects the ciders? And do you think that’s something that cider needs to talk about a bit more or explore a bit more?
Eleanor: So there is none of the research that the big, gargantuan wine industry has had the money to spend on for decades around the connection of place and flavour in apples. We just don’t really know. I don’t know why Steve’s Kingston Black and Scott Farm’s Kingston Black taste so different when they’re an hour and a half apart, on the same river valley, similar climate.
I feel like the apple varieties that we work with are as much, if not mostly driven by things that pique the interest of the people who planted them in that particular place than by centuries of knowledge about which apple grows well and tastes best. The only apple that we have all of that information about is the McIntosh, because that was the Vermont crop.
Northern Spy is a commercial crop because it is a pie apple bar none – once you bake with a Northern Spy apple you don’t want to bake with anything else! It’s got all that autumn spice quality in the flavour of the apple, and it holds its shape beautifully so it looks gorgeous too. So that apple has a following, and is grown in a number of places commercially. But, by and large, it’s really been hobbyists who have gotten excited about apple varieties and planted a bunch.
Brad Koehler, at Windfall Orchard, teeny three-acre orchard, two hundred old trees that are about 60 years old, he’s got at least 100 varieties. And most of them were planted by this guy, a doctor, who had this small farm, who just got really excited about apple varieties and wanted one tree of each type! So I think it’s kind of random.
Malt: I suppose more broadly than talking about varieties to specific terroirs, you’ve mentioned a lot of the challenges of working in Vermont, but what is it that makes it an idea state for apple cultivation?
Eleanor: Well I do think topography. If you plant in the right place where you’ve got good air drainage and good soil drainage, apple trees like that. So that’s helpful. Cold is good, apples generally like to be cold in the winter – they go dormant and produce better and do their thing. Apples have such extreme heterozygosity; they’re very adaptable to all kinds of climates and places, they really want to survive. And we have a very tough environment.
We notice, for example, in our orchard we have a pretty holistic management, so we’re not using commercial sprays or anything like that, we’re making our own compost teas, we’re using liquid fish and making our own compost with no commercial fertiliser. And the trees really have to fight hard. They don’t always win, or the fruit is not always beautiful – but it doesn’t need to be, it’s going into a press. But what we’ve found is, even between our orchard and Scott Farm’s, which is a more conventional orchard because they do grow fruit for farmer’s markets and co-op stores, so they do care about big, beautiful fruit, we find the intensity of flavour quite different.
You read about, in the wine world, stressing the vines producing a more intensely-flavoured fruit, and every time there’s a little bug or something that lands on the skin of the apple, is there a phenolic response to that that’s helping create more flavourful fruit? Possibly – haven’t done any research other than to say “we can taste apples from two different orchards side by side, same variety, and feel like the intensity of flavour that’s coming out of our orchard is just amazing.”
Malt: It’s amazing just how much research there is to be done – how much we don’t know.
Eleanor: Oh yeah. Let me tell you – anybody who says they do know is just full of it! Because there really hasn’t been any research.
Malt: You mentioned earlier that this year you’re not going to be able to make any ice cider because of the conditions. Is that a one-off, or with climate breakdown, is that indicative of the foreseeable future?
Eleanor: Any one season, weather patterns can do their own thing, but the inexorable march of climate change is absolutely happening. When we first got started, 2007, among the first five years, four of them we hit minus 35. We’d have a week-long stretch in the minus twenties. And I haven’t seen that in five years. Usually, we get a patch where we’re down around zero Fahrenheit, so minus 15-16 celsius. And we’d have a couple of weeks of that going on. This year, not even close. Last year, barely. So it feels to me like it’s happening faster than predicted. The only time recently when we had a lot of cold was when the polar cold, these polar vortexes you’ve heard about, the polar cold slipped off the North Pole and came down to us, and it was warmer at the North Pole than it was where we were! That was 2018 – the winter of 2018-19. I don’t want that to be the way that we get our cold weather!
Malt: Moving in a totally different direction … tell me about your Cellar Series. What is it, what’s the idea behind it, what ciders go into it?
Eleanor: The Cellar Series started with the first time we had enough fruit from our own orchard to make a batch of cider. And it was a field blend because we were just like “any fruit we can get – great! – stick it in the tank!” So that was the first Cinderella’s Slipper from the harvest of 2014, and was great. At that point we were just feeling like we didn’t have enough to put through our distribution channels – the distributors out to various states – and so we needed to give it a reason for people to buy it online or in our tasting room. Make it clear it was a small batch. And then we were like “oh – we could do this with a lot of other things too.”
Generally, we work with wine distributors who historically have been good at dealing with a lot of different products but stuff coming in and disappearing is hard for them to manage. Because you get a customer interested in it and then you’re out. The world has changed a lot – I mean it’s SKU-maggedon now, everyone wants new stuff, it’s all about “what’s new? What’s new?” So I guess the Cellar Series lets us play with that. The one downside to it from my perspective is that our Brut Nature, which is Champagne method, does go through distribution, and I feel like it’s the right one to go through distribution in the sense that it’s so food-friendly and versatile and balanced, and isn’t sort of an experiment – it’s really reliable. But I also feel like it doesn’t have the lustre of the Cellar Series as a result, and it’s one of the best ciders that we make all the time. And I don’t get paid as much for it either when, you know, we’re hand-disgorging every bottle! So I have to figure out how to sort of reposition that at some point. If cider ever becomes a thing – high end cider, fine cider, becomes a thing – then maybe we’ll get the price we deserve for that. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Malt: It’s funny that you mention the Brut Nature, because it’s in our review lineup. Before we talk about it specifically, you make a couple of Champagne method ciders – what was your inspiration for that and what apples do you prefer to use?
Eleanor: That was the first non-ice cider we made, when cider was first sort of becoming a thing in the US. When we first started making ice cider there was Woodchuck and that was kind of it. We were like “that’s not who we are, that’s not who we want to be, we’re in the dessert wine business.” So we were in the dessert wine business for the first four years or so. And then around 2011 Angry Orchard entered the market from Boston Beer and sort of filled up all the Boston Beer channels, and cider was growing like crazy because of that, and everyone started coming into the cider industry. Lots of new startups.
So cider was becoming a thing and we were like “well, we’ve now built up these relationships with all these great orchards that are growing really interesting fruit, and that fruit’s going to be interesting for dry cider as well”. And Scott Farm was growing Kingston Black and they didn’t have anybody who was really interested, and we’re like “oh yeah, we’ll buy your Kingston Black, let’s try that!” The other thing was carbonation – ice cider wasn’t carbonated, carbonation was a whole new thing. And of course champagne method is something you can make in extremely small scale without any equipment, other than something to pop the top off when you’ve disgorged. So that’s why we started with the Brut Nature, which originally was just our “Sparkling Dry”.
Its balance is 50% tannic apple varieties and the other half is a mix of sweets and sharps. And the particular varieties from the growers that we work with – the blend is always a little different from year to year, based on biennialism and the weather, but it’s pretty much always 50% tannic, the other 50% a mix of sweets and sharps. So I think it’s pretty balanced.
Malt: For the benefit of those who might be less familiar with it, talk me through the champagne method with regards to the Brut Nature.
Eleanor: So basically we press pretty much at harvest. The juice that is going to go into the Brut Nature is fermented to dry, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes with just white wine yeast. And then aged for maybe eight months, some in stainless steel, some in big old oak puncheons that are twice the size of a regular wine barrel. Then it goes into the bottle with champagne yeast and a sugar source. People get all excited about champagne yeast – “is that what makes it taste like champagne?” – no, champagne yeast is a unique strain that does a specific job, which is it starts fermenting in a liquid that already has alcohol in it. Which is hard to do with regular saccharomyces cerevisiae. But saccharomyces bayanus, which is what ec118 – champagne yeasts – are, can get going from a standstill in a liquid that already has alcohol in it for a secondary fermentation. That’s why you use champagne yeast.
It needs the sugar source in the bottle to do that second fermentation. I believe in Champagne they use cane sugar, because it ferments very cleanly. In our case we use our ice cider – an innovation that others have now caught on to! – because it’s 100% apple then. We tend not to use anything you can’t grow in Vermont and we certainly can’t grow cane sugar in Vermont. And we happened to have a bunch of ice cider sitting around, so that’s the sugar source. Fermentation, in the bottle, on its side, usually takes three to six weeks and then resting on the lees is about 18 months. We don’t have fancy equipment because we just don’t have the budget for it, so we shake the bottles, put them upside down, let them sit for about another month. And we don’t have a neck-freezer – our cidery is all underground. We literally are in a cave. It’s the lower level of what was a department store, and we’re one storey underground in the front and two storeys underground in the back. There’s a freight elevator in the loading dock. So everything’s always cellar temperature.
Then we disgorge the bottle, which is just popping off the top, the yeast is in the neck, it’s under pressure, it spurts out. We try not to lose too much of the cider, we top it off and re-cap it. So it’s unfiltered, unpasteurised, naturally sparkling but clean. It takes a lot of time! And we don’t put a cork and cage on the top – people are always like “why don’t you put a cork and cage on?” – that’s so much damn labour I don’t have any money left for putting a cork and cage on top! If I could get three more dollars per bottle from a distributor, which would then make it nine more dollars per bottle at the retail price then I’d put a cork and cage on it!
Malt: Talk me through Origins?
Eleanor: Origins is a cider that we made specifically for the UK. Speaking with Alistair and Roddy at Cider Is Wine, they said “do you have any cider that we could sell for less than £10 a bottle?” And we said “yeah, we can do that”. So it is primarily McIntosh with some heirloom and a little bit of tannic fruit. In a blend that we designed, that we thought was pretty delicious. And then it’s bottle-conditioned, which means that it does the first half of the champagne process – it has a secondary fermentation but we don’t disgorge it. And the reason that makes the price lower is because if you force carbonate something then bottling takes a long time, because bottling under pressure, with the bubbles, you have to go slowly. Otherwise it’ll just all spill out of the bottle because of the bubbles. We can bottle a bottle-conditioned cider super fast, because it’s basically still wine when it’s going in. And then we don’t disgorge, so that’s it, we’re done.
Malt: And Siren Song?
Eleanor: Siren Song is tannic and has residual sweetness. It’s in the Cellar Series, and it was one of the first ciders that Garrett, who’s our cidermaker, produced after he joined us. And it instantly won a gold medal at GLINTCAP² and we’re like “ok, we’ll do that again.” The 2019 version sold out really fast – it’s delicious; great tannin and sweetness. It’s carbonated, because pretty much anything, if it’s got residual sweetness, we can’t do a naturally sparkling one. Keeved ciders you can do that, I think Martin at Pilton now uses a cross-flow filter to produce a keeved cider reliably, but we don’t have that. We made a keeved cider, it was really hard, and we’re trying again. But we’re doing it the old-fashioned way and figuring out how that fermentation stops with some residual sweetness in the bottle is a challenge!
Malt: And talking of sweetness, the last one I wanted to ask about is the Queen Mab.
Eleanor: Yes, so I guess this is our Shakespearian Cellar Series! It started with Falstaff, the original one, which was when we were based in our farmhouse, before we moved to the cidery that we’re in now. And we were blending the ice cider for Heirloom Blend and we had about 100 gallons that was too much for the tank we were going into. So we were like “well we’ve got to get all the heirlooms in there, but we’ll take the extra MacIntosh cider, Empire, base cider that was going to go into the ice cider and stick it in a barrel.”
And we let it sit, we lost it, it was behind stuff, forgot about it. And we started tasting it at year five and it’s like “oh, it’s kind of had this oxidation process, I don’t know, do we really like that?” or whatever. By year six distributors would come up to visit, we’d do a barrel taste, start pulling that out and they’d go “oh you have to bottle that.” So finally, year seven, we did. So that was an ice cider that sat in one barrel for seven years. And it became quite amazing. That was a 2008 barrel and lo and behold we had a 2009 barrel or ’10 barrel. I’m not good with the years!
Queen Mab was like that except that it’s a 100% Ashmead’s Kernel ice cider that we made one year as an experiment because we had a beautiful crop of Ashmead’s Kernel from Scott Farm, and we were like “let’s just try this”. And it was way too high-acid, it was totally out of balance – as you can imagine. So we thought “ok, that needs barrel ageing”, and we stuck it into two wine barrels for another seven or eight years to do its thing. It’s got all this golden raisin and fig and caramel quality to it with this backbone of acidity, that’s just been there … I mean we didn’t top up these barrels or anything, they lost a bunch of volume by the time we bottled them. So there’s like 500 bottles of it – it’s gone, we don’t have any left. Every last bottle’s been scrounged!
Malt: How has Eden specifically, but also US cider in general, been affected by the pandemic? And what’s the response been in both cases? Because in the UK it’s been disastrous for the on-trade, obviously, but in the off-trade what we’ve seen is this sort of surge in 750ml bottles, people talking about high-end, aspirational cider. Has there been anything similar in the US?
Eleanor: Cider in the US has mainly been a phenomenon in recent history in cans. And so pandemic hit, restaurants shut down and cans at retail, that’s what’s gone way up. The other thing that happened was online shopping. So people who knew our stuff, who might have gotten it in a restaurant, started buying online. People who may have bought from us once also started buying more. So our online sales tripled. From a small base – so nice, but not enough to make up for restaurants!
We launched some new cans at the end of July as the result of getting a nice Cares Program loan that really helped us survive – we would not have survived without it. And the cans have done really well, the new Peak Bloom and Deep Cut, we put Eric Lewandowski, gorgeous art on them, they really speak to heirloom apples and what we’re all about. We put all the information on the side; most cans just have really funky art and we’re like “ok, but don’t you care what’s in it?” I will say, I think 750s at retail are doing better at high end craft shops. But the vast majority of the movement in the market is cans at regular retail.
Malt: And finally, what are the short and longer term aims for Eden?
Eleanor: I guess our ambition centres around this mission of supporting small growers growing interesting fruit, and keeping them in the ground. We want to grow to be able to support more of that activity. In Vermont, maybe in part of New England. And we’d like to maximise what we can produce out of our facility, for efficiency’s sake too. But we also recognise that getting the word out is not something that we’ve got a lot of money to spend on. And having cider in a can is a low-cost way of introducing people to our product and getting out to a broader audience. So that’s why we’ve moved to cans in the past couple of years. Not as a substitute but as a way of trying to spread the word about the kind of cider that we make and get people introduced to the brand in a way that might make them interested in trying the bottled stuff too. Our ambition is not to be a major player in canned cider. But we’d like to do a healthy business in cans to get people excited about interesting apples and where they’re grown.
Immense thanks to Eleanor for talking me through Eden in such forensic detail. I think it’s about time that we put some into a glass.
I’ve four Edens in front of me at the moment, all currently available from Cider is Wine (the Brut Nature is also still in stock at Scrattings.) If you’ve read this far you’ll know all about them, as they’re described in full above. The first, Origins, is £9.95, Brut Nature is £16 (or a few quid cheaper via Scrattings at £12.50). Siren Song clocks in at £17, and all three of the above are presented in 750ml bottles. Last, but (I fervently hope) not least, is Queen Mab. An eight-year-old Ashmead’s Kernel Ice Cider aged for seven of those years in a wine barrel, presented in a 375ml and costing, drumroll and deep breath, £40 a bottle. We’ve talked before about ice cider economics – a yield of just 20%, before you consider the volume lost over seven years to evaporation and its rarity as a batch of just 500 half-bottles. But that is, nonetheless, a lot of money. £13 clear at the top as the most expensive bottle of cider I’ve ever bought. Not just Sauternes money, but very good Sauternes money. Expectations, accordingly, are calibrated to the highest possible level.
Let’s pile in.
Eden Origins – review
Colour: Very pale, lightly hazy straw.
On the nose: I’m in Muscadet sur Lie territory. Green apples, light bready leesiness, white flowers, honeydew melon. There’s a crispness here that prevents the florality from slipping into soapiness. Simple, but clean-lined and fresh.
In the mouth: Really zippy, green, snappy palate. Good fresh nibble of acidity beside flavours that cleave closely to the nose. The lees have added a nice sort of salty-doughy-breadiness to the green fruit and blossom petals. There’s a slight almost plasticy note in the background that I’m less sure about, but it’s very, very minimal. A nice, clean example of cleverly made culinary fruit cider. Worth the entry fee.
Eden Brut Nature – review
Colour: Bright mid-Gold
On the nose: Loads going on here, whilst remaining tight and refined and precise. Preserved lemon, russeted apple skin, honey and toast. Orange rind. A little mature Riesling. It’s very complex and nicely encompasses higher and deeper tones.
In the mouth: Lovely weight. Body and mousse working with, rather against each other. Really fine bubbles. Acidity and tannin in lovely harmony, neither overbearing. It’s clean and focussed and again what’s striking is the marriage of deeper and lighter notes. Orange rind, warm lines, toasted sourdough and crunchy apple. As it warms, the lightest pull of something straying in a more tropical direction. Almost apricot. For the price it’s well up there in the pantheon of champagne method ciders.
Eden Siren Song 2019 – review
Colour: Same as the Brut Nature, more or less. Bright gold.
On the nose: Big, apple-led aroma. Fresh-pressed juice, melon, pear. Perhaps a little white peach and blossom. It noses on the young and high-toned side, given the burly nature of some of its constituent apples. Something of the unoaked Chardonnay about it.
In the mouth: Very mouthfilling mousse. Nice acidity, and the flavours have moved into a pear and citrus and wet stone direction. With the off-dryness and the florals I feel dragged into Alsace white territory. The tannins are very integrated – it’s the acidity that stands out more to me. It’s clean, it’s expressive, it’s intense. I’d perhaps like slightly less obtrusive mousse and a little more development, but this is still a very nice cider.
Eden Queen Mab 2012 – review
Colour: Hazy flat cola.
On the nose: I don’t even know where to begin. Ice cider meets Pedro Ximenez sherry in the most decadently gorgeous marriage ever. Raisin and date and baked apple and char and walnut and sweet spices and fig and dark chocolate. Somehow there are still fresh apple slices in there, cutting through all that age and oak and richness. You could keep coming back to this for hours, and find something different each time.
In the mouth: Somehow even better. A tempered skewer of gorgeous appley acidity cuts through the unctuous sweetness, keeping everything deliciously fresh and balanced. Clinging to that skewer is a sort of malic Christmas pudding. Sherried whisky, sticky raisins, brown sugar, cola syrup. Fruitcake and dark cherry compote leading to a finish that is ridiculous in its length. You could name notes forever and you wouldn’t sum this up. Good grief, what a cider.
The first (and, I suppose, most salient) thing you should know is that I’ve bought at least another bottle of everything above.
That being said, I’m not sure that the first three (with the exception of Brut Nature) quite hit the same heights as the ‘out-turn’ that arrived in the UK in 2019. Origins, obviously, has been made to hit a specific price point, and features fewer of the really top-tier apples, so is a slightly different kettle of fish. It’s still certainly worth what’s asked. I like Siren Song, but I’m not quite left in the same raptures as I was by the likes of King in the North, Goodwood, Oliver’s Twist. Nonetheless, it carries my recommendation. All three are good to very good ciders.
And then there’s Queen Mab. The most expensive cider I’ve ever drunk, and yet I’d ordered another bottle before I had finished the first. I can’t really think of a better way to describe it than appley Pedro Ximenez with acidity. By the indices of balance, length, intensity and complexity it is an absolute masterpiece. It is complete validation of Eleanor’s philosophy of considering what sort of cider each apple wants to be. I could never have imagined a single variety Ashmead’s Kernel turning into something as spell-binding as Queen Mab; the vision, care, patience and understanding of fruit it evinces is extraordinary. Yes, it’s a special-occasion bottle, but if you’re in a position to buy it, do. Because when it comes to those special occasions I can’t think of many drinks of any sort that match its quality at the same price. Only the tiniest handful were shipped to the UK – I don’t expect there are more than five or six left, so I recommend you get your skates on. Since no amount of florid hyperbole would quite do it justice, I’ll keep things simple: Queen Mab 2012 is, by some distance, the best cider that I have ever had.
And on that note, a quick amendment. I said in one of my opening paragraphs that Eden was probably in my top five cideries in the world. I misspoke. There’s no ‘probably’ about it.
¹Andreas Sundgren, of Brännland Cider, interviewed on Malt here.
²Great Lakes International Cider And Perry Competition.