As a precursor to my article on the value of orchards on Sunday, I wanted to showcase some ciders I have had the fortune of purchasing over the last few months that have been created using donated fruit, otherwise wasted fruit or community orchards. What I find exciting is the not only the spread across the country of these groups but also the variety of taste. There are a number using typical cider varieties, but also culinary and dessert varieties too. Despite the challenges of working with what you are given, these makers and groups have still managed to create interesting and very drinkable blends.
Recognising the value of orchards to the economy, environment and our health and well-being are crucial for craft cider’s growth and the preservation of these spaces. Fruit left to rot in the best case scenario feeds the wildlife, but in the worst causes the orchard owner to rethink the use of their land. If you read Adam’s interview with Eleanor from Eden Cider, she explains the value of working with many small producers to preserve orchards and secure their future. That work is invaluable to preserve these trees, all of those producers mentioned below are working either to maintain the demand for those trees to exist or actively working to plant more trees and increase orchards. So more on all that on Sunday, but for now, let’s taste some ciders.
The Cumbrian Cider Co – Fell Cider (6.6% abv 2019 vintage)
The Cumbrian Cider Company collects apples from gardens and small orchards across Cumbria, including cider, dessert, wild and cooking varieties. Apples received by donation are repaid with cider.
Colour: bright straw gold
Nose: green apple, lemon rind, floral and tropical. Pineapple, with a hint of vanilla.
Taste: so juicy, very well balanced. Crisp acid front, hint of grapefruit which is also bitter. Then a sweetness that reminds me of Turkish delight, like rose and vanilla. There’s also a bit of a malolactic component with a creamy vanilla and buttery note. Finish is crisp and creamy.
In a nutshell: an extremely moreish bottle, well blended and balanced. Grab a bottle or two now.
Orchards of Husthwaite – Galtres Gold (6% abv)
Husthwaite has been known as the ‘Orchard Village’ since the early 17th century, supplying apples all over the North East of England. Sadly by the 1960s nearly all the orchards had gone so the community group was formed in 2009 to replant the disappearing orchards and use the fruit to make juices, jellies and cider.
Colour: cloudy straw.
Nose: a sweet shop filled with pear drops and lemon bonbons. Green apple, kiwi, cucumber and mint mojito without the rum.
In the mouth: I’d say medium sweet rather than medium dry. There’s a tropical Um Bongo-esque side to this that made me think of sweetener but the ingredients list only “apple juice, yeast” so I assume back-sweetened with juice? Pineapple and guava. Really fruity and tropical but also very sweet, too much for me. Dangerously like drinking fruit juice.
In a nutshell: It’s sweet enough for the Candy Man “who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it chocolate and a miracle or two?” Orchards of Husthwaite can.
The Orchard Project
Established in 2009, the Orchard Project is working to help London rediscover lost orchards. The sales from their cider helps fund this work to plant new trees and care for existing ones. Their ciders are also made using donated apples, where supplying 3 kg of your surplus garden fruit will get you a bottle of cider.
Local Fox Rambled 2018 (6.3%)
A limited edition cider created to tackle farm waste by utilising surplus cider apples, including Dabinett and Yarlington Mill, from an orchard in Worcestershire. Pressed and fermented in London with native yeasts and blended with Local Fox Original to add acidity and balance.
Colour: 18 carat gold.
On the nose: orange rind, winter spices (cinnamon, clove), wooden barrel.
In the mouth: the drier end of medium, citrus like acidity, think blood orange. Sandwiched in the middle are medicinal woody tannins which bring a bitterness to the cheeks. The finish is fruity with a gentle sweetness.
In a nutshell: two of my favourite apple varieties coming together perfectly, found myself wishing the bottle was bigger than 330 ml.
Local Fox Medium (6.2%)
A new release for 2020 and a sweeter version to their ‘Dry’ which they’ve been making since 2016. Medium is a full juice sparkling cider, pressed in Walthamstow and fermented using native yeasts. A blend of unsprayed, collected and donated apples from gardens and community orchards from across London.
Colour: dark straw.
On the nose: green apples, honeysuckle and lemongrass. Very fresh and clean.
In the mouth: quite nicely balanced, juicy apple, tart lemon like acidity, and a sherbet sweetness. It’s got a cutting sharpness that is tempered before it over powers. Marvellous with fish or asian cuisine I would say.
In a nutshell: bright, crisp and refreshing, this could be my go-to sunny thirst quencher.
Hawkes – This is London (8%)
Hawkes have been collecting unloved London apples since 2013 for use in their flagship cider: Urban Orchard. In 2019 they received an unprecedented amount of donations and so decided to create this cider with all profits being donated to Social Orchards and urban planting organisations. Described as low intervention apple wine, it has been crafted with no filtration or back sweetening and minimal preservatives.
Colour: cloudy straw.
On the nose: pineapple, citrus, smidge of volatile acidity, there is some stone fruit like nectarine, it’s quite perfumed and floral.
In the mouth: tropical fruit follows through, it is crisp, lots of green apple acid, some vanilla and buttery notes from a bit of malolactic fermentation. Then that acetic acid creeps in, just skirting the cheeks mind, rather than catching the throat, but it’s there. Finish is fairly dry.
In a nutshell: underlying fruit and character are lovely, marred slightly by a whisper of acetic acid.
Apart from the smidge of acetic acid with “This is London” (which is not characteristic of Hawkes), these five ciders are all interesting and enjoyable. For me it was a tough call between ‘Fell Cider’ and ‘Local Fox Rambled’ for my favourite, I am a bit of a sucker for those bitter, medicinal and spicy tannins. Plus with the added ‘feel good factor’ of knowing you’re supporting orchard regeneration, preservation or creation, drinking cider has never felt so wholesome. Be sure to return on Sunday for an in-depth look into the value of orchards and why everyone should plant an apple tree