Of all the countries I’ve visited in the world, Norway has some of the most breathtaking scenery. Nothing compares to sailing into a bright blue fjord surrounded by lush green mountains and waterfalls. I visited Norway many years ago, well before I discovered cider, and apples are not something I realised was a part of the crop portfolio. My visit definitely focused more on the bounties of the sea rather than the land. Yet here I am several years later with bottles of glorious cider grown and pressed on the steep sides of those lush green mountains.
As Adam pointed out a couple of weeks ago, there are two main cider regions in Norway, Sogne and Hardanger, which is where the two I have today have come from. Both were kindly sent to me by Thomas Digervold of Festikjeften, whom I first met at Hawkes a couple of years ago. We did a cultural cider exchange during lockdown and these were part of his very generous offering. I must confess that despite getting to know Thomas, my knowledge of Nordic cider is still very lacking, so this review is a tad brief on the background as I really want to get a full interview with Thomas on here at some point and then hopefully an “in conversation with” over on Instagram Live, so keep an eye out for both of those.
So, all that leaves is to get stuck into the drinks themselves. I do love tasting ciders from across the world, but there is something both disconcerting and exciting at the same time when you open a bottle you know very little about and cannot read the label. Tag in Google Translate again…which I have to say struggled somewhat and my Norwegian is non existent.
Store Naa Siderkompani is based on a farm called Keldavik that has been in the Aga (random coincidence with below?) family on and off since 1724. Over the years it has served as a dairy farm and cheese producer, but always had fruit trees. From the 1950’s to the 1990’s the number of apple trees multiplied by 10, from 150 to 1,500. The website has a quote from 1625, saying the farm land is “mediocre” and only for fields and meadows, well the generations that came after sure proved that wrong. The cider making now takes place in a converted chicken house on the farm and harvesting takes place as the different varieties ripen from September to November. A 3 tonne belt press takes care of the next stage and the juice is fermented under temperature control in stainless steel over many months. 57.2 is named after the address of the farm and is described as a “classic Norwegian cider” with a balance of sweetness and acidity. Interestingly it’s force carbonated and then put under cork and cage.
Store Naa Siderkompani – 57.2 (7.5%)
How I served it: 40 minutes out of the fridge in a white wine glass.
Colour: pale straw with a very slight blush
On the nose: tonnes of green apples, it’s like juicy perfectly ripe granny smith. Floral notes from the discovery, and a very slight hint of a solvent aroma (if I’m being picky), but then grain spirit. There’s some tropical fruit but I can’t place it, maybe kiwi or green mango.
In the mouth: balanced and juicy, starts with a slither of acidity and finish with a fruity sweetness. In between there’s: elderflowers and strawberries intertwined with guava and mango. It really is very fruity. There is definitely a creaminess to it as well, perhaps some malolactic fermentation character as it’s like vanilla yogurt.
In a nutshell: A very fruity little number but not my favourite of the two.
Aga Sideri was created by Joar Aga, who returned to take over the family farm after living in the bustling city of Bergen. His focus on preserving tradition along with modern innovation can be seen very clearly in the bottle I have today where traditional apple cider meets added hops.
The Aga website is minimalist, with very few words on the story or how they make cider. Although, I had to laugh at the Google translate of their homepage, particularly their brief description of the cider making process where the apples “get a wash before they are torn into rags and must until the juice splashes” quite a picture that creates in your mind. I imagine thats how the Nordic Gods created cider with their bare hands all those years ago. I want to say they Humplepung translates as Honeybee given the label, but my translator has failed miserably.
Aga Sideri – Humlepung (7%)
How I served it: cold in a stemless wine glass.
Colour: honeybee orange
On the nose: lots of immediate citrus notes; tinned mandarins, kumquat, grapefruit. Followed by green leaves and herbaceous notes of sage, mint and bay. There isn’t much apple to be found here though.
In the mouth: starts and finishes with acidity. Firstly it’s all that citrus fruit, exactly as on the nose starting with grapefruit and kumquat, then leading into those green notes, but here it’s juicy apples. Then we’re back in citrus territory and those sweet tinned mandarins for the finish. Despite the acid focus it’s not sharp if that makes sense, it’s more tingling and bristling intertwined with layers of apple skin and sweetness. I have to say I’m not normally a fan of hopped ciders, especially those with citrus qualities like Cascade as they tended to overpower. Here though it seems to work really well, Nordic acid dominant apples partnered with citrus notes and kept at a medium finish.
In a nutshell: hop diggity dog! Its more hops than apples, but what a pairing.
I can’t keep finishing these international cider pieces saying I must visit, but I really must, again. As I said at the beginning, Norway remains one of the most naturally beautiful countries I’ve had the pleasure to visit, and in this case I had no idea about the apples or cider at the time. So a return visit for a different purpose in this case is certainly on the list. As for these two ciders, well my favourite was the Humplepung, the juicy, aromatic citrus fruit coupled with acidic apples just delighted my senses. I would also recommend the 57.2 if it is indeed a “classic Norwegian cider”, but I still have a few more bottles from Thomas and a couple from CiderWorld, so I’ll await making a final verdict until I’ve sampled those. If mine and Adam’s talk of Norwegian cider has left you wanting more, then you can watch a Fine Cider Friday tasting I did with Thomas back in December 2019 here. Cheers.