Cider and perry are really simple, but only on paper and only if you have no skin in bringing them into being.
Behind the term “minimum intervention” and behind the “just pressed apple juice plus yeasts” lie a thousand brain-wrangling decisions and natural shocks that turn this “simple thing” into a brutal, consuming, exhausting and heart-wrenching endeavour. Make no mistake: cider is hard.
It is, as we’ve pointed out, physically hard. Out in all weathers, hauling baskets of apples about, pruning trees, picking fruit, often manually pressing and, as Gabe Cook put it “moving stuff and cleaning stuff”, all of which takes time and a lot of sore muscles. (Believe me – I helped out for two days of picking and pressing and that was more than enough to put in my head the notion of how physically draining a four-month harvest and pressing season might be, never mind all the work that goes into preparing the orchard beforehand.)
But the mental and emotional work that goes into getting full juice cider into your glass cannot be overemphasised. This is, after all, a calling – often a financially-dependent job – that can involve a random frost in late May wiping out your potential to make money in a given season. One in which a decades-old pear tree, perhaps only just into the window in which it might provide a significant crop, can suddenly catch fire blight and have to be hacked down. One in which you might not get a decent harvest from a particular interesting variety for a few years, because a certain sort of moth takes a fancy to it.
The management of orchards is a huge topic deserving of many hundred thousand more words than we have space to offer here; suffice it to say that it comes with immeasurable frustrations and challenges and brutal quirks of fate that can laugh in the face of any amount of effort and time and care on the part of the orchardist. And that’s without going into the decisions involved in planning the orchard and the way in which you manage and care for the trees, the sustainability of your agriculture and so many factors besides, all of which add their contributions to the quality and flavour of the cider in our glass.
The full juice cider maker has to manage the harvesting and pressing of various different varieties of apples and pears, each with their own idiosyncrasies and windows of ripening. There are decisions pertaining to blending – before or after the pressing? Which varieties with which? Is there enough of xyz variety to fill xyz container, or does it need to be blended with something else to make up that container’s volume? How will that impact the sort of cider or perry I am trying to make? And that’s before the additional hand-wringing commercial decisions – “I want to make a dry cider, but do customers want me to sweeten this thing that I’ve made; if I don’t, will I be able to sell it all?” “This cider naturally ferments to 7.5% abv, but will drinkers accept that or will they think it too strong – do I need to dilute my cider to hit the commercial palate?” “I want to put this in a wine bottle and aim it at that market, but will wine drinkers go for something that is only 7.5% – should I chaptalize it to bring the alcohol more in line with what they are used to?”
Ultimately, bringing a dry, full-juice, unvarnished and unadorned cider to market is an act of time, skill, physical exertion, belief and no small bravery. We don’t think about all these things, we civilian drinkers, when we look at a bottle on a shelf or a website. We are far more likely to be struck by a fancy label, by exciting packaging, by one digestible hook which grabs our attention, be it a cult variety like Foxwhelp, a fancy-sounding technique like the traditional (champagne) method or the use of an eye-catching adjunct. And all this is natural and part of how selling works; cider in and of itself isn’t the easiest sell, and we are simply not at the point yet when a vast crowd of people will say “ooh, dry Dabinett”, and buy something impulsively for no other reason. There has to be a degree of shelf-appeal. Hooks are important and are not to be dismissed. But it’s also important to bear all the background effort and detail and thought and work in mind, because ultimately it is why your cider tastes as it does. Full juice cider, presented without dilution, artificial sweetening or fault is not a simple thing, nor something that is easy to bring into life. Quite simply, good intent and good practice; care for fruit and for what that fruit has to say for itself, translate into flavour. And deserve to be recognised.
On which note, let me introduce Germany’s 1785 Cider. They certainly espouse the values alluded to above; their website’s strapline and opening gambit reads: “respect the fruit”. Originally from Seattle, Patrick Mann and Wendy LeBlanc are now based in the Black Forest, where they make full juice cider and perry from their own and local orchards in a farmhouse that was built in the eponymous year. Much of the information on their “about us” page reminded me of Devon’s Find & Foster; the restoration of abandoned orchards, the revival of an imperilled cider culture. And indeed the gorgeous-looking bottles have something of a Find & Foster aesthetic about them too.
Patrick first reached out a little while ago, telling me about the cider scene in Germany and how many of its challenges mirror those encountered by makers in the UK; the temptation to cut corners, to reduce ciders from their fullest potential in the name of broader commercial appeal. I’ve since followed 1785 keenly, and was very pleased when Patrick touched base again to offer to send a few of their new perries over for review. So – full disclosure – the perries covered below were free samples; the ciders I paid for.
All the creations below are full juice, naturally carbonated and are made with hand-picked fruit from trees up to 200 years in age. Does this mean that the ciders and perries will automatically be good? No – of course not. But it does show a dedication to presenting cider and perry at its fullest. It evinces that bravery and care. It shows that flavour is given the highest priority, and as an interested drinker that’s my uppermost concern.
Let’s start with the perries. First up was a single variety curiosity from the 2018 harvest of an unidentified single tree planted 40 years ago by Patrick’s dad. The harvest was so small that only a few bottles were made, so this is a review more of curiosity than commercial relevance. The juice was fermented to dry (or as dry as perry gets, given its sorbitol content) and then bottle conditioned. As ever, see our taxonomy for translation of unfamiliar terms.
1785 Unknown Single Variety perry 2018 – review
How I served: Quite chilled. Aiming for the 10-12 degrees suggested by their website.
Colour: Pale Provence rosé
On the nose: Lovely. Crushed raspberries, dried cranberries and pink-fleshed pear. That rain-on-rocks quality. Love Hearts and crystallised tangerine rind. I’m still very much in a Provence rosé headspace. Very nice.
In the mouth: Everything seems amplified here – the crushed berry notes heightned by the residual sorbitol sweetness and a big, candied floral petals aspect given life and zest with just a light orange citrus and mouthfilling mousse. Then, very Red Pear style, some really fine-grained, intense, grippy tannins come into play. This is a gorgeous example of perry doing that thing that no other drink quite can – be at once delicate and ethereal in the presentation of its flavours, yet structurally robust enough to pair with serious food.
In a nutshell: Love this. Here’s hoping for bigger harvests in future.
Perry number two is a pre-release called Cobalt Lake 2020. It’s a bottle conditioned blend of two as-yet-unidentified perry pears, fermented to dryness.
1785 Cobalt Lake 2020 – review
How I served: See previous
Colour: Cloudy lemonade
On the nose: Lots of freshness, in a citrusy, lemon’n’lime, gooseberry way. Puts me in mind of Thorn, but the aromatics here are broader and not so piercing. There’s a pear skin roughness and depth too, and a little Lilt-esque pineapple and grapefruit. Smashing summer nose.
In the mouth: See “on the nose”, really. Lemons and limes – but it’s fuller bodied and not as sharp as that description makes it sounds. There’s a good body here with just a touch of tannin and the level of conditioning is really well judged. There’s something to the weight, and the pear skin depth of it that reminds me also of Flakey Bark – like a Thorn-Flakey hybrid, somehow. It also has what few perries have – the real flavours of a slice of a pear right off the tree. Big, ripe and the citrus again takes a Lilt turn.
In a nutshell: A delicious, fresh perry with real heft. Thorn meets Flakey Bark for sure.
Last of our perries is the Cuvée 2020, blended from Schweizer Wasserbirne and Oberösterreicher Weinbirne, two varieties that I’ve seen crop up in German perries before, but which seem to hint at the migratory nature of the Central European pear, since the former cites itself as Swiss, and the latter hints at Austria. There’s something to be written more broadly about central European perry here, I feel. We’ll get round to it one of these days. Patrick and Wendy have blended in three additional unidentified varieties to make up the cuvée, and again this was fermented to dry and bottle conditioned. 750ml costs €15.95 from the website.
1785 Perry Cuvée 2020 – review
How I served: As above
Colour: Pale gold, ever-so-lightly hazy
On the nose: Very pear-forward. Ripe, juicy pears and honeydew melon. Some cut grass and pineapple chunks. Really fresh and vibrant, and the most instantly aromatic of the trio so far. Touches of lychee. The main note is that big, fresh, rounded pear though.
In the mouth: Lively! Big flavours to match big mousse and more big tannin. We have an epic food-pairer and a candidate for ageing here and no mistake. If you can bear to leave it, that is. The lovely fresh fruit sits somewhere between a fuller young Riesling and something like a Macon-Lugny in its character; ripe pear, melon, soft able, a dab of lime, even a little grape and a mutter of banana. Just a touch off-dry, and again that’s just the sorbitol. It’s super fruity, it’s impeccably clean, fantastically structured, full-bodied and just generally fabulous.
In a nutshell: Absolutely superb perry. Buy as much as you can, European readers!
Moving on to the ciders now, and first up is Chipseal 2020, described by Patrick as “an orchard blend of old heirloom apples from old standard trees. It’s named for “a rough path worth exploring” and is part of the 1785 ‘Touring Series’, inspired by Patrick and Wendy’s love of bicycle tours – the idea being to link to an exploration of cider’s landscape. Chipseal is bottled pét nat, and again should be more or less completely dry. The website has it at €8.95 for 750ml.
1785 Chipseal Cider 2020 – review
How I served: Again, fairly chilled, trying to get close to the 10 degrees the website suggested.
Colour: Orange juice with sparkling water. (I love this drink so trust me here)
On the nose: I feel like I’m writing “vibrant and fresh”” a lot today, but Here They Come Again, Pals. Orange skins, yellow citrus, really ripe, fresh apples. A glass full of sunshine – I’m reminded of the Ross on Wye Spanish Apples blend (which I should be reviewing shortly.) There are some blossomy florals too. Lovely stuff.
In the mouth: It’s zingy, its zesty, it’s full of flavour. A lovely seam of racy acidity – Browns meets Discovery (I nearly added ‘meets Foxwhelp’, but we’re not at that level of sharpness, quite). A (very) light brush of tannin and enough bright oranges and lemons to keep the bells of St Clements merrily pealing all summer. Just so thrilling and refreshing and full flavoured. Dry, well-judged fizz. Where is my seat in the garden please?
In a nutshell: A tangy, full-flavoured bottle of exuberant joy. Another win for dry cider.
Nearly there! (Though I’m not sure I want this flight to end). Last on our list is the Hopped Cider 2020. “Hopped Cider” is a category we’ve not touched on at all in our Cider-Review-née-Malt-Review-Column adventure. In well over 300 ciders reviewed between us I think it’s only in Pilton’s Scarlett Sharpe that hops reared their beery head, and Scarlett Sharpe is (though totally smashing) a long way from being a cider.
Inevitably it’s a category that’s met with a great degree of scepticism, as are all things adjuncty by certain cider fans. My own hot take is that hops and apples so often grow side by side (including in the original home of the apple, the Tien Shan mountains) that they’re a perfectly reasonable pairing, and unlikely to remain any more than a niche of a niche anyway. My two predominant gripes are firstly, that the hops, being such a strong flavour, can occasionally (though by no means always) overwhelm the apple, and that English duty laws being what they are, these creations fall under “made wine” and, as such, are often watered down to 4%. But hopped cider as a concept? Fine by me. And I’ve enjoyed a fair few in practice, too.
That hot take dealt with, onto the 1785. The hops used here are Centennial, which hail from Washington State as a nod to Patrick and Wendy’s old home. I tread warily into hop descriptions – not my field at all, and there are bound to be a few beer readers who could put me right – but an assiduous google suggests Centennial to be a “dual purpose hop” with high “alpha acidity” and good potential for both bittering and aroma. Websites I fluttered through suggested that it should be used more sparingly than Cascade. So now we know. (Really must get a beer person on to help with an article one of these days …)
A 750ml bottle cost me €11.95, and is available from the website here.
1785 Hopped Cider 2020 – review
How I served: As above
Colour: Pretty similar to Chipseal
On the nose: Yep, that’s hopped! Need a beerista to help me with these aromas really. Lavender, keylime, grapefruit. Pine resin? The character of the apple isn’t totally obscured, there’s some of that orange-yellow citrus coming through, but these hops are certainly mighty.
In the mouth: Ooft. That is intense. Dry and full-bodied (as an aside, it’s refreshing to have a full-strength hopped cider) but if anything the hop flavours and characters are even bigger here. Intense florality and pithiness that with the pronounced mousse gets just a little too bitter for me. Again, bright, fresh, full of flavour but I’m a little hop-overwhelmed. That said, the base cider is clearly high quality and without fault. I’d just like to taste it more.
In a nutshell: Super intense and flavoursome, but one for someone with higher hop-tolerance than me!
Tasting through this flight was just an absolute pleasure. Fully fermented pure fruit, treated with care, bottled without fault, coaxed to its fullest expression. All were pretty young (besides the 2018 unnamed SV) but I think that worked perfectly for the apples and pears being showcased here. A joyous riot of fruit and acid and tannin and life. Keep a bottle or two of the Cuvée back for a few years, but drink the Chipseal and the Cobalt Lake now, whilst they’re at their most alive.
The Hopped was the only one of the batch that I didn’t absolutely love. Just a bit too heavy on the hops for my taste – perhaps a less intense hop, or fewer of them, or less time in the cider? Or perhaps this is simply more about me than it is about the liquid.
Overall though, this was that most wonderful thing – an introduction to a producer and a range of ciders and perries that remind me what I love about these drinks at their best, and why I bother writing about them. These are things that have been made the hard way, that have not cut corners, that have taken sweat and toil and nurture and anxiety to bring into being, with the sole aim of letting the fruit speak as eloquently as it can. Drinking through them I was immediately reminded of Kertelreiter – I think both of those producers sit a little apart stylistically from many of the other German ciders and perries I’ve tried. Needless to say, if anyone in the UK has plans to import Kertelreiter (and I happen to suspect that they do) I would heartily advocate a few cases of 1785 being added to the shipment. Producers like these are the reason cider’s future could yet be so exciting.