Norwegian cider! Gosh – but for a few I tried at the Cider Museum’s Ciderlands event in 2019 this is very much a first for me.
Indeed my knowledge and experience of Norwegian drinks generally is shamefully lacking, mainly because my predominant spheres of interest are cider, wine and whisky. I read a fascinating article on kveik yeast by Claire Bullen, and indeed covered a pair of Kveik-fermented ciders here the other week, but beer more generally is a world into which I have only made the most tremulous of dabblings. So this is the first time I have ever written about any sort of drink from Norway, and jolly excited I am about it too.
A little pootling around on google suggests that much of Norway’s cider industry is based around its two biggest fjords, Hardanger and Sogne, and it is on the northern shore of the latter that we find today’s producer, Balholm. Their admirably information-heavy website tells me that their orchard was originally planted by Andreas Eitungjerde in 1922, and that the company was predominantly about the manufacture of apple juice. In 1999 Andreas’ grandson, Åge, grafted a range of cider apples from Normandy and Somerset onto approximately 1,000 trees – the first time cider apples had been grafted in Norway. And today the range boasts a broad selection of different ciders based on French and English bittersweets and Norwegian dessert varieties.
I picked my bottles up in a CiderWorld sale to which I was alerted by my co-conspirator, James, back in November. I can’t pretend that my research at the time went any further than “ooh – Norwegian cider”, and at the time of tasting these (early April) I still hadn’t looked up any of the details above. Neither is presently available in the UK market, but CR writes for the international drinker, especially in this month of anywhere-but-England, so we march into the glass in the hope that our Scandinavian and other continental readers will find something of interest. Besides, as we have repeated ad infinitum, a global outlook is what cider needs if it is to continue building its momentum as an interesting and respected drink.
First up, and named for its no-doubt achingly beautiful home, is Sognefjord. A blend of culinary apples such as Gravenstein, James Grieve and Bramley’s Seedling with bittersweets including Major, Somerset Redstreak, Ellis Bitter and Bellefille. Several familiar names in that mix, but this is the first time, to my knowledge, that I’ve encountered them all occupying the same bottle.
Balholm Sognefjord – review
How I served: Room temperature
Colour: Rich amber
On the nose: There are aromas in here that make me think of a brusquer version of some Eve’s Ciders. Bitter orange, copper, bark. Very visceral and bracing, somehow. Apple peel and grapefruit pith. A dry, spicy depth. The lightest whisper of oxidation? Yes, I think so. Just a tiny, tiny touch.
In the mouth: Good Lord. Huge, pithy tannins – very astringent: food or time are essential here. Behind the cheek-scraping there’s real juicy pineapple, orange rind and chalky minerality. Seems much drier than the 18g/l sugar asserted on the label. The oxidative touch from the nose has vanished. A big, bracing, teeth-gnashing, outdoorsy cider with so much to unpick. Fascinating.
In a nutshell: Pretty good stuff here. Wants protein and time to breathe, but well worth it.
Next in line is Aldin. A traditional method (see taxonomy for translation) cider from a blend of culinary and cider apples, with the emphasis this time on the former. It is described on Balholm’s website as their “most exclusive cider”, and my bottle, the 2016, spent two years on its lees before hand-disgorgement. Exciting stuff. Let’s have a taste.
Balholm Aldin Traditionelle Brut 2016 – review
How I served: Lightly chilled
On the nose: On the deep, musky end of traditional method ciders. Bruised apple, woodiness, clove, burned caramel. Another cider that speaks to an autumnal outdoors. Earthy stoniness. Again there’s a little oxidation – a bit more this time. Touches of cardboard and Amontillado sherry.
In the mouth: Big boned again – pithy tannins (though not to the degree of Sognefjord) colliding with enormous mousse. Not a traditional method to pair with smoked salmon, roast meat or cheddar needed. A juicy apple note and spiced wood sit on top, brushed with that sherried oxidation. Perhaps just a bit too advanced in years? Big, phenolic, tannic finish.
In a nutshell: A wild ride, but one with a few rough edges.
Ooft. No shrinking violets today. These are big, intense, make-a-statement ciders and I am very pleased to have tried both of them.
I would absolutely buy another bottle of the Sognefjord, were I to find one, and I would have it with the meatiest, richest roast or steak I could find, ideally in the depths of late autumn. There was real, big, juicy fruit behind those tannins. With a few years or the right food there’s something very special here indeed. As it is, I think it’s lovely, but this is one to drink at room temperature, or those tannins become biting indeed.
Aldin? Again, big, boisterous, intense. Definitely not a traditional method that’s trying to ape champagne, and that’s something I salute. That said, the level of oxidation was a little too much for my personal taste. Just too far on the sherried side for me, personally. Hard to tell whether that’s just the impact of time, or whether oxygen got in at an earlier point in its life. Fascinated to have tried it, but one bottle was enough.
Most of all, I’m thrilled to have added Norway to the growing roster of countries whose output we’ve tasted for Cider Review. I know James has a few of his own to write up at some point, and here’s hoping that I’ll find another few to scribble up myself. The geophysicist is desperate to visit Norway once the world’s a safer place. Another holiday I can now hijack for cider purposes …