Besides the fact that we’re not posting about whisky six times a week and no longer angering and confusing anyone by writing about cider on Saturdays, our primary departure from our ‘parent site’, Malt, will be these review-only flights of tasting notes, posted on weekdays.
No long pre-amble, no big rant, no angle in particular*. Just a few notes on a few ciders that we happen to have tasted. In effect, cutting the bottom 10% of the standard Malt article off and posting it in isolation, leaving the remnant 90% for our longer articles and thought-pieces on Saturdays and Sundays.
There are a few reasons behind this slight shift. Firstly, it gives us a lazy-ish way of getting two days of content for the price of one. Secondly, whilst we love writing the long articles and hope that you enjoy reading them, we realise that some folk just come here to find out what xyz cider tastes like, and whether we reckon it’s worth a punt. You don’t want to read 2,000+ words before getting to the payoff, and that is absolutely fine, and we hope that posting these rather-more-to-the-point reviews will hopefully make life easier.
My main reason though is that, in always needing a preamble – an article to give the reviews context – some ciders would often sit for months on the shelf, staring at me as I thought “well I want to drink you, but I’d better not, because otherwise I might think of a great article for you in a month’s time and I’ll be stuck”. Which is hardly, I hope you’ll agree, a normal, healthy or enjoyable way of deciding what you can and can’t drink.
Posting these review-focussed “mini-articles” is my solution. My freedom from the tyranny of preambular dictatorship. Simply writeups of whatever we want, whenever we want, though always in flights of at least two, as I tend to feel that offering a bit of context is important, especially when we’re not giving scores. Just my take.
So, having concluded that pre-amble about how I’m getting rid of pre-ambles, onto today’s flight of fancy. Suitably, they’re ciders that have been sitting in the wine rack eyeing me judgementally as I um and ah over the angle. And I have even less excuse than usual in this instance, as there is plenty to talk about as regards these three, but what could I possibly say about Find & Foster that hasn’t been covered in some detail already?
By some mileage Devon’s most talked-about aspirational cidery, responsible for one of the best champagne method ciders this correspondent has ever tasted and lionised by just about everyone for just about everything they do. This pair of articles, by Anthony Gladman on Good Beer Hunting and by Helen Jerome on Pellicle are easily worth half an hour of anyone’s lunch break.
And yet, there are not all that many actual reviews of Find & Foster’s actual ciders out there on the interweb. So today I thought I’d write a few.
None of their excellent traditional method bottlings in this lineup – today I’m all about the pét nats. (Our taxonomy has some explanations of these methods, should you wish for them.) Since I’ve been tardy in writing these ciders up you may have to be both determined and creative in finding them online, but at the time of writing all are still available if you look in the right places.
First up is Snicket 2019, a pét nat “fermented in contact with the skins of vibrant yellow apples”. My understanding is that skin contact fermentation makes less significant difference to cider than to red or orange wine, as the phenolics of an apple are evenly distributed throughout its flesh, rather than concentrated in its skin**, but this is nonetheless a nice detail to have. My favourite point about this cider is that its name derives from the taste having been considered as ‘Lemony’. Bottles are still available in a few places, sitting around the £17 mark.
Find & Foster Snicket 2019 – review
Colour: Lightly hazy straw
On the nose: Yes, no need to report marketing malpractice here, definitely a lemony note. Of the sun-warmed, hot day in Sicily sort. Lots of freshness here. Grass and stalks and hay and meadow flowers. It’s not a huge nose, but it’s pleasant and lilting.
In the mouth: Very zingy on the palate, that nip of lemon (juice and zest) and white grapefruit. The florals and faint hay continue. Dandelion stalk. Pretty close to dry, with just a light whisper of tannin. It’s lovely and fresh. Don’t save any for ageing, if you have it. Today is the best day. Outside, for preference.
In a nutshell: I like it a lot, but at £17 I’m not sure I’d buy it in multiples.
Moving on, we’ve a mini-vertical of the Huxham 2018 and 2019. One of the Find & Foster flagships, certainly their flagship keeve, it’s a blend of orchards and apples. Generally speaking for English ciders 2018 was a huge, blockbusting year whereas in 2019 sugars were on the low side and so ciders have tended to be lighter. That said, when you’re hand-picking fruit, being as scrupulous in selection as Polly and Mat, and bottling lower quantities, it’s possible to make ciders that are only minimally affected by a trickier vintage. Let’s see. I could only find the 2018 at Beer Zoo, where it will cost you £18.
Find & Foster Huxham 2018 – review
Colour: Rich and ruddy copper
On the nose: I’m instantly put in mind of Smith Hayne Special Reserve, which as keeve noses go is a jolly good start. Ginger and spice and wood and baked apple and soft peach and a little citrus pith. A flutter of farmyard. Just a tinge. It’s an excellent keeve nose.
In the mouth: The mousse is very pronounced but what’s underneath is as fulsome and ripe and juicy as you could want. Big apple and orange juice, a crack of pepper, a little forest floor. Big-bodied, and although it’s rather sweet, the tannins (which are superb – soft, but with just enough structural grip) balance it perfectly.
In a nutshell: A textbook keeve that deserves its reputation. Fans of Normandy cider, form a queue.
On to the 2019 now, which is still available in a few places for £15-£16.
Find & Foster Huxham 2019 – review
Colour: Similar to the ’18. A tone lighter.
On the nose: Good Lord. Well this is as niche as tasting notes go, but when I smelled this I instantly thought of Bimber whisky, particularly that which is matured in ex-bourbon casks. (They’d have loved that at my old gig). Unpacked for a bit more clarity that means we’re talking big, clean orchard fruits, honeys, vanilla, a dab of orange oil. A big hit of Canada Dry Ginger Ale. Lighter than the 2018, but really lovely. As clean and fresh as keeves get.
In the mouth: Same story here. So much fruit, all of it clean and bright, lovely ripe tannins that grip without biting and manage the sweetness. Distinctly less tannin than in the 2018 though. It’s very soft. Beautiful lilts of soft apple, vanilla, honey and tangerine. A rare touch of keeved cider acidity. Definitely lighter than the 2018, but again it’s very delicious.
In a nutshell: Keeves aren’t often “elegant”. This is a wonderful exception.
Polly and Mat deserve all the hype they get. This line-up is confirmation that some of their ciders rank with the best made anywhere in the UK. Huxham, in particular, is gorgeous whichever vintage you find. I bobbed back and forth between the two for my pick, eventually landing on ’18, but the clean elegance of ’19 is all but unique in a keeve. Buy both if you can find them. Or I will.
I liked the Snicket, though I think at £17 it’s one of those ciders that I’m very pleased to have had without feeling the need (or having the wallet) to buy in bulk. It’s fresh, it’s tasty, I don’t begrudge a penny I spent and I certainly recommend it. But one bottle’s enough for me.
Overall though, this flight is a reminder that Polly and Mat’s output isn’t just about repeatedly stellar quality, but that it boasts incredible diversity of flavour for a very small range. The apples are given wonderful voice and the blending is tremendous. Sure, they’re priced aspirationally, but more often than not the liquid quality matches the tag. Certainly enough to make Find & Foster one of my few buy-anything-on-sight cideries. A delicious way to kick off reviews in my new digital home.
*That was the plan, anyway. As you’ll see over the next few weeks, pre-ambles swiftly ambled their way back in. James is more disciplined than me.
**Correction here of a misunderstanding on my part. Although polyphenols and tannins are distributed throughout the apple, they are more concentrated in the skins. Many thanks to Polly for flagging this point.