It’s rather a testament to how much excellent and interesting cider is now available that I’ve barely touched on Nightingale in a year and a half of writing and tasting. Sam Nightingale’s handiwork has long had a place in my heart and fridge, yet I’ve thus far only investigated his Kentish perry, in an article all the way back in April of last year. (Which reminds me that I’m rather criminally behind on my coverage of Kent in general). James also dug into a vintage vertical of Nightingale’s Egremont Russet when he shone a spotlight on that apple.
I was given a spur to improve my Nightingale record slightly when Sam re-released some of his range in bright, bold new 440ml cans alongside a “Cider? Yes!” campaign aimed at highlighting the current positivity around the aspirational cider scene.
High-end cider in cans is probably worth an entire article in and of itself. I must admit that I don’t really have much of a horse in the race beyond thinking that they look very bright and cheerful, fit into my fridge in larger quantities, offer an easier one-person serving, tuck more comfortably into a bag or pocket and are rather lighter and more picnic-friendly than a glass bottle. So, in short, and for their occasions, I suppose I must like them! (Though I could never live up to the can-thusiasm of my craft beer pals who I reckon would move into a can given half a chance.)
But would they move into these? I should admit, first of all (because we’re keen to generally offer full disclosure at CR) that all three were sent to me free of charge as part of a press and trade tasting that Sam held for their launch. Second of all, a moment to say that I’m impressed with the level of transparency. My cans had the limited-edition ‘Cider? Yes!’ labels on them, so are missing the vintages which will be listed on the others (though Sam gave us the breakdowns, which I have included below) but they are wholly open as regards ingredients. All three are made from fresh-pressed juice and have been slightly sweetened and diluted to ‘sessionable’ strengths of 5.5% for the first two and 4.9 for the Night Bird. And as a consumer I appreciate having been told this. I also appreciate the recommendations on serving temperature, which is something I’d like to see more of on cider labels generally, and which we have started adopting for our reviews accordingly. (In this instance, all three are best served chilled.) Bravo all round, Nightingale.
Cans are available from the cidery directly, at £23.50 per six-pack or individually through The Cat in the Glass.
First up – and canned for the first time – is Falstaff and Bramley, a blend Sam’s worked with since 2013. Falstaff’s a variety I struggle with occasionally, as its particularly flowery profile sometimes, to my palate, lacks a little definition and structure and can come across in extreme cases as slightly soapy. So Bramley, with its firm, malic seam of acidic structure, seems an eminently sensible blending partner. Let’s find out.
Nightingale Falstaff and Bramley 2019 – review
How I served: Chilled
Colour: Hazy pale straw
On the nose: Both varieties show nicely. The florals of Falstaff are given definition and zest by the green, appley streak of Bramley. Pear and hawthorn. A touch of bright citrus. Simple, but very clean. It’s like walking between two hedges in late Spring.
In the mouth: Bramley streaking away with a zesty lemon’n’lime whipcrack, garlanded with daisies, seashell and grapefruit zest. Bright, piercing and just a touch off-dry, though the acidity balances what sweetness there is marvellously. Great blending. Demands smoked salmon or oysters or any other seafood really.
In a nutshell: Super refreshing. Like a marriage of Sauvignon and Muscadet given an electric shock.
Next up is Wild Disco, a – would you believe it! – wild fermented single variety Discovery. My love of this apple has been documented in the past; I think it’s my favourite British “culinary” variety for cider (maybe alongside Egremont Russet) and one of the best varieties full stop. I thoroughly enjoyed the Little Pomona Disco Nouveau and the Kentish Pip Discovery last year, and was a fan of the previous iteration of this cider, though never got round to writing it up. The 440ml is a blend of the 2018 and 2020 vintages, 2019 having been, to Sam’s view, a less successful Discovery year.
Nightingale Wild Disco 2018/2020 – review
How I served: Chilled
Colour: Crystal clear light gold
On the nose: Beautiful pink Discovery nose. Raspberries and cranberries but most of all big ripe strawberries in every form – fresh, jammy and fizzy lace. A flutter of sweet lime too. Both rounded in its red fruit and direct in its citrus. Billows from the glass. Great nose.
In the mouth: Almost surprisingly focussed in its zesty, tangy, limey skewer of acidity, but that skewer is enfolded by a pillow of big, plump strawberry yoghurt. Mojito meets Daiquiri (cocktails are creeping increasingly into my tasting notes I’ve noticed, probably c/o Rachel Hendry). Loads of in-mouth perfume. So fresh and broad in its fruit. Just a touch of sweetness. Could drink it in dangerous quantities.
In a nutshell: My pick of the three. Classic Discovery. Gorgeous.
Last of all is “Night Bird”, a blend of Falstaff, Cox, Jonagold and Bramley that serves as Nightingale’s ‘entry level’ expression. The sweetest of the trio, judging by its ‘Medium’ designation, and the lowest in alcohol too.
Nightingale Night Bird 2019
How I served: Chilled
Colour: Super pale. Prosecco.
On the nose: The lightest. Floral again, a little bit of honeysuckle and soft apple. Aromatics are really delicate and a little estery. Pear drop. Tangerine skin. The simplest of the trio.
In the mouth: Follows the nose pretty closely. Delicate again – eating apple flesh, pear drop, sparkling mineral water and seashell. Definitely the sweetest of the bunch, though there’s some balancing acidity. Pretty refreshing, easy-going fare. A light, light tang of sour acetic acid on the finish.
In a nutshell: Bright, medium, approachable, but the other two are more for me.
Nightingale is possibly the cidery I think of first when I think of Kentish cider and on the evidence of this tasting that will remain the case for the time being. Sam mentioned that his can sales have far outstripped his bottles in the last year, and based on the quality and presentation evinced here, I can imagine that will continue too.
All of these ciders are bright, refreshing and demand to be drunk cold in a sunny spot. I’m greatly enamoured of the Falstaff and Bramley and especially of the Wild Disco and can see myself drinking a lot of each. Both are packed with flavour and although their cans now nod towards the craft beer drinker, their flavours offer much that would appeal to lovers of good rosé and unoaked white wine too. Though, as Sam is the first to point out, these are fundamentally cider to their core, and excellent showcases of his orchards’ varieties. Even irrespective of this batch’s touch of acetic acid the Night Bird is less for me stylistically, but then I am hardly representative of All Cider Drinkers. Many will no doubt find in it a great deal to enjoy.
One general quibble – and again it’s a personal one that not all folk will share – I do think these could have been offered and sold-through at natural strength (and probably unsweetened). Obviously they’re Nightingale’s to do with as they will, but the cidery’s reputation is such that I feel confident they would have had no problem shifting these without either dilution or additional sugar. What’s more, these apples are bright, flavoursome and modest in alcohol enough as they are, by my measure, without extra adjustment. I agree with and wholly endorse Sam’s rallying cry that cider has the individuality of character to stand on its own merits, and I’d love to see his gorgeous, full-juice creations presented entirely “as they come”, with their flavours and textures given full tilt in these no-doubt-audience-broadening cans.
But, as I say, that’s a personal nit-pick. These are good ciders and wonderful advertisements for Kent. I will buy a great deal of the first two and recommend that you do likewise.