Put two cidermakers in a room together and you’ll get at least three differing opinions on what cider is and how it should properly be made.
“It has to be dry”. “Medium is best”. “Keeving over cold racking”. “Bottle conditioning and pét nat are two different things”. “Bottle conditioning and pét nat are exactly the same”. “Traditional method is just bottle conditioning with more sugar and marketing”. “Tannin > acid”. “Acid > tannin”. “Acetic is the devil’s work”. “Acetic is mega yummy yummy and intentional but shhh.” “Put anything besides apples in it and your cider is disqualified And So Are You”. “Behold – dry-hopped triple ginger boysenberry cider aged on Xinomavro lees*.” You get the picture.
If we widen our lens a little more generally though, where cidermakers – and I’m talking full-juice cidermakers here, macro producers being a whole separate kettle of fish – can most easily be categorised (and where they often categorise themselves) is across the spectrum of intervention.
Intervention is inherent to cider. Apples will naturally grow on trees, but depending on the quality and quantity of apples the maker desires, a degree of intervention is necessary to push the tree in a particular direction. Considering our spectrum, those at the gentlest end of intervention may opt to use traditional, tall trees, widely-spaced in an orchard of multiple varieties, carefully pruned and tended without the use of pesticide sprays and so on. At the other end of the spectrum we might find densely-grown monocrops designed for maximum yield and subjected to significant use of chemicals. Both scenarios necessitate elements of intervention, but the difference in scale is obvious even to someone as agriculturally ignorant as me.
In the cidery, again, a certain level of intervention is inevitable. Apples have to be picked and pressed and choices have to be made about what to store the fermenting and maturing juice in, how often to rack and at what point to bottle it. For some producers, at one extreme of our spectrum, this is more or less as far as intervention should go. (Indeed it’s relatively easy to find websites on which some of these producers actively condemn makers who take any further action). As we move along the spectrum, additional interventions might begin with the use of small quantities of sulphites before fermentation to kill off bacteria. Producers might choose to pitch a specific strain of yeast rather than allowing the ambient yeasts in the cidery to just do their own thing. Sugar might be used to effect bottle conditioning or the traditional method. And as we go further along we might find fermentations arrested through the use of temperature rather than racking or allowing the cider to go dry, we might find filtration used to get rid of yeasts and we might find force carbonation.
It’s important at this point to remember that none of the above prevents a cider from being full juice. The majority of the interventions described are to do not with cynicism or squeezing product further to increase profit, but in the name of control. Ciders made with pitched yeasts, which use sulphites or force carbonation or which have their fermentations temperature-arrested can still be excellent drinks and can still reflect the apples from which they are made and the inconsistencies of vintage. To suggest otherwise is not only preposterous and snobbish but is actively misleading and arguably exclusivist.
However, it is perhaps unsurprising that the producers most dedicated to minimum intervention are, generally, the most lionised by the more engaged members of the cider community. Within which description, by and large, I include myself. The idea of a hand-picked, hand-sorted, wild-fermented and unfiltered cider captivates many of us on a theoretical level before the cider has even been poured into glass. The notion of tasting everything that the fruit “has to give”, in as un-interfered-with a way as possible is romantic and compelling, to say nothing of the environmental considerations which such producers are likely to practice and champion in the orchard. It suggests that a producer is prepared to an extra mile – to do something not because it is the simple option, but because they believe it has the potential to offer the best results to both drinker and planet. This is why the natural wine movement has found so much support and discipleship, and its results have included many of the best drinks I am ever likely to taste. Whilst lambasting producers for choosing to use, for example, filtration, is certainly snobbish, it isn’t snobbery to point out that unfiltered ciders will present more intense flavour than the same cider would had it been filtered. It is a simple statement of fact.
That said, whilst there is little more tedious than those who dismiss (or condemn) the natural wine and cider movement out of hand, if there’s one attitude that runs it close it’s the suggestion that “naturalness” in and of itself is sufficient to confer unimpeachable quality upon a drink. As James pointed out in his excellent article last week, exposed to oxygen and left to its own devices, cider will turn itself into vinegar. That’s not controversial opinion, it’s chemistry. The whole long history of drinks containers, through amphorae, barrels, corked bottles, screwcaps, plastic vats and stainless steel has been an attempt to thwart precisely this inevitability. When the subject of flavoured drinks arises, precedent is often cited in the form of ancient Romans having garnished their wines (and ciders) with sundry herbs and honeys and even lead. But if I were a gambling man I’d wager a shiny sestercius that this antique flavouring was motivated not by the sheer hell of it, but by a desire to mask the otherwise-offputting flavours of excess oxygen ingress and microbial spoilage. “Natural” drinks, be they wine, cider or perry, necessitate more direct attention, more scientific understanding, more personal control on the part of the maker, not less, precisely because the tightrope they walk is deliberately finer, and the risks of unwanted microbiological and oxidative interference inherently much higher.
Natural ciders are a wonderful, important thing which, as I say, account for many of the best drinks I have tasted. But it is frustrating beyond belief to suggest that naturalness puts them beyond question, or that unpalatable quantities of acetic acid, ethyl acetate, mouse, butyric, Brettanomyces or H2S are all not only forgivable but are to be championed as part of naturalness and cited as the fault of the drinker if their off flavours are not enjoyed. It is not only insulting to the consumer and damaging to the category, but it taints by association those producers who have taken the extraordinary care that bottling faultless natural cider demands and who quite possibly have taken financial hits in not bottling products which they feel to be below par.
I have always hated the “it’s not better, just different” line. It wilfully dodges nuance, strips the potential for consumer understanding and devalues additional work and care on the part of a producer. The Old Man and the Bee 2018 is a better drink than is Strongbow Dark Fruits, and I will argue that case with anyone who wants to refute it. But I would also argue that a cider which has, for instance, seen a certain level of sulphites – even a certain level of filtration – has used pitched rather than wild yeast and has resulted in a clean, expressive and tasty drink is better than a wild-fermented, unsulphited, fully “natural” cider which has been heavily affected by acetobacter and mouse taint.
If we are going to talk about natural drinks – as obviously we should – then we need to discuss them in just the same warts-and-all way that we are all happy to with drinks showing greater intervention. Just as we have no problem pointing out the objective truth when a drink has been diluted, sweetened, sulphited, made from concentrate, we need to be comfortable in accepting that sometimes a drink shows butyric or mouse or ethyl acetate, or is unacceptably explosive in the presentation of its fizz. Natural ciders are certainly the future, but if the future is to be as bright and delicious as we all should wish for it to be, then we collectively need to accept that they remain, at present, a wonderful work in progress, and that there remains work still to be done. Telling the consumers that naturalness confers inherent quality upon a liquid only works until they have opened the bottle. Telling customers that a mousey or heavily acetic drink tastes “as it is supposed to” is the surest way of guaranteeing they won’t come back to buy a second bottle. As Dr Andrew Lea pointed out in response to James’ article: “I really cannot believe there is a significant market anywhere in the UK for mousy, acetic and oxidised ciders, no matter how “natural” they are.”
Similarly, eschewing drinks which have taken measures to present the consumer with a full juice cider that is clean, compelling and tasty is the quickest way to both alienate those producers and narrow down the world in which we do our drinking. Fundamentally, as in all things, we need to consider and discuss cider with greater nuance. Whatever the scale of intervention, there are very few absolutes. And it helps no one to pretend otherwise.
Two cideries which sit at different points on our spectrum of intervention, but which have both attracted significant levels of deserved praise are Wilding and The Newt, both based in Somerset. We’ve covered both in these pages before, most recently in our Kingston Black flight of mid-May.
Wilding, from the start, have championed the most natural possible way of making cider. Everything – including, impressively, the apples for their eau de vie – is hand-picked from traditional unsprayed orchards. Their ciders are wild fermented without sulphites and often for significant lengths of time before bottling. Their website goes to admirable detail in discussing vintages and varieties, backed up by the level of clarity offered by their labels which, as an aside, are some of my favourite in the business.
The Newt is home to indisputably the richest resources of any full-juice cidermaker in the UK and, in addition to the direct market of visitors to its extensive gardens and guests at its lavish hotel, has enjoyed significant media coverage accordingly. Their core audience, therefore, is generally a more casual cider drinker rather than the most enthusiastic end of the spectrum, so it is perhaps unsurprising that they evince a higher degree of intervention and control. They’re open in their use of a selected wine yeast, use cold to arrest fermentation in their sweeter ciders and filter for clarity. James and I have both expressed admiration for some of their creations in the past, and indeed have both subscribed to their club for the last year or so.
For a chance at building the fullest picture of the differences their outlooks on production can result in, I’ll be tasting a hefty ten of their ciders today – six from The Newt and four from Wilding.
First up is the new vintage (2020) of The Newt’s Fine Cyder. I’ve previously reviewed its last edition (2018 – not sure why 2019 was skipped; perhaps because it wasn’t an especially great vintage) here, and the 2020 shares many of its characteristics, being a single variety Idared, bottle off-dry. In my previous article I suggested that The Newt might go further in explaining why this, rather than any of their other ciders, was considered “Fine”, and I’m left similarly puzzled today, as there’s no explanation on either bottle or website. (To be honest I’m more or less at the point of giving up hope that The Newt will ever increase the level of detail they offer. It’s more than some do, I suppose). A 750ml bottle, now in fluted form, à la German Riesling, costs £10.75 from their website. You can also get it from Cider Is Wine, where it’ll cost £11.50.
The Newt Fine Cyder 2020 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Sauvignon Blanc. Still.
On the nose: All the hallmarks of its predecessor vintage. Soft green apples and pears, a touch of white peach and lots of blossomy florals. The Newt’s copy says it’s Riesling-style, but to me this is much more ripe Pinot Grigio in its aromatics.
In the mouth: Acidity comes almost as a surprise after the softness of that nose – a real sherbet, tangfastic zinginess, offset by light sweetness. Green apple, lime drizzle, cut grass and gooseberry. Big Sauvignon Blanc vibes, particularly thinking of Sauvignon from somewhere like Elgin. Fresh, zesty, clean, vivacious and super summery. Lighter-bodied than the 2018, but big flavour and great acidity.
In a nutshell: Tasty stuff. And, as with the 2018, a very different style to Somerset’s norm.
Next up is the new edition of the Fine Perry, a bottling I always look forward to given Paul Ross’s previous credentials with his own Downside Special Reserves. The 2020 perry hasn’t yet appeared on their website – I got my bottle in my latest subscription case. The blend isn’t specified, but in our interview conversation last year Paul mentioned Thorn, Winnals Longdon, Plant de Blanc and Champagne Bratbirne, making it that rarest of things – a blend of English, French and German varieties.
The Newt Fine Perry 2020 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Similar to the Fine Cyder. Also still.
On the nose: Delicate aromatics here, but they open up with real precision and complexity given time. Herbs and lime chewits and rose bushes. A flutter of parma violet. Very steely and mineral. Quite restrained. Impeccable clean.
In the mouth: Fresh, bright, clean, precise. Doesn’t have the generosity of flavour I associate with Downside, but it is, after all, still very young. The citrus, herbiness and pear together with soft tannin, refreshing acidity and sinewy texture with pronounced minerality have me in Austrian Birnenmost territory. Certainly there’s no other perry quite like this in the UK. Another that’s fantastically refreshing.
In a nutshell: Bottle shape is a good call – a perry for Alsace white drinkers.
Continuing the theme, next up is the second vintage of The Newt’s Fine Rosé Cyder. This was my favourite of their initial ‘fine’ range, a naturally pink, all-apples cider made from single variety Redlove. I didn’t review it in these pages, but for a couple of educated opinions on that first edition, James discussed in on a Fine Cider Friday Instagram Live with His Excellency Gabe Cook, the Ciderologist. You can watch that here. As with the 2020 Fine Cyder and Fine Perry, the new vintage of the Rosé is packaged in a 750ml fluted bottle, and is available directly from The Newt’s website for £11.95 or from Cider Is Wine for £11.50.
The Newt Fine Rosé Cyder 2020 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Baby pink. Still
On the nose: Sweet red berries and confectionary. A pick’n’mix aisle meets a fruitmonger’s in summer. Strawberries, cranberries, raspberries plus sherbet flying saucers (A tuck shop staple – God they were great, are they still a thing?) fizzy laces and Haribo hearts. A little citrus too. This is aromatic, super-fresh, very clean stuff.
In the mouth: Fresh, zingy acidity – though not as sharp as last vintage I think. Glacé cherries, cranberries and more strawberry laces. Red apple slices and a squeeze of lemon. Needs that acidity to balance the sweetness, otherwise we’d be getting a bit confected. But the balance has been found, and found well. More fizzy haribo. This is very tasty, I must say.
In a nutshell: Fresh, fun, full-flavoured fare for drinking as young as you can get it, ideally in the sunshine with people who bring you joy. Get some.
Fine range covered, we now move on to a selection of their single variety ciders. Previously these were packaged in 330ml bottles, but this year has seen a shift towards 750s for their core of Yarlington Mill, Dabinett and Kingston Black. Today I’ll be tasting their Yarlington and Dabinett, the former an unoaked 2020, the latter given a spell in French oak vats following fermentation. Both are Somerset varieties which we’ve discussed here several times, but if they’re unfamiliar names, James’ article on Dabinett holds a lot more information, as does our glossary of apples by flavour. Both ciders are available from the Newt’s website for £9.50 each or from Cider Is Wine for £9.99.
Adding a wildcard to the mix, I’m also tasting their 2020 vintage Harry Masters’ Jersey, an exclusive bottling to their cider club subscribers. It’s packaged in a 375ml flute, and aged for a spell on apple wood. Hard to discern the cost, since it only appears in a pre-paid subscription case, but based on the cost of that case and the cost of its other constituents, we can assume about £6-£7. I’ve previously written on the mighty Harry Masters’ Jersey, a Somerset Bittersweet of prodigious tannin that offers gorgeous ageing potential, but can often be extremely astringent in its youth. So we approach a 2020 with due caution.
The Newt No.3 Yarlington Mill – review
How I served: Very lightly chilled
Appearance: Mid gold. Touch of fizz
On the nose: Richer and deeper than the Fine range, as you’d expect, though not actually particularly rich or deep by Yarlington’s usual standards. Fresh apple juice. A little classic Yarlington baking spice. A slightly austere element of copper pennies and an unusual touch of banana. Not an especially complex Yarlington, this.
In the mouth: Similar story. The fizz isn’t excessive, but there isn’t a huge amount of flavour in between the arrival of the mousse and the pronounced metallic pith of the tannins. Some sweeter apple juice, a flutter of deeper spice and a slight, almost disinfectanty tang. It feels a bit young, a bit rushed and a bit heavily-handled. Yarlington’s generosity hasn’t really been allowed to unfurl. It’s clean, but it’s a bit muted. A bit dull.
In a nutshell: A rather austere Yarlington. Not as good as their previous 2018, by my mileage, and has stiff competition at the price.
The Newt No.2 Dabinett – review
How I served: Just a few degrees below room temperature
Appearance: Richer gold than the Yarlington (you’d expect the other way round). Again, light fizz
On the nose: There’s a decent nose. French oak and Dabinett have dovetailed nicely – clove and nutmeg and vanilla pod on top of dark dried citrus and fresher orange and apricot slices. A nice, lightly-buttery malolactic character. Fresh toast.
In the mouth: Again, fuller, darker, richer. I find myself wondering whether they really needed to carbonate this – the fizz somewhat obscures the richness and depth of the flavours and clashes with the tannin – but I’m quibbling slightly. Nice toasty spices from the barrel, just the right dab of creamy malolactic and some lovely dried apple, vanilla and apricot. Again there is a slight metallic, chemical tang, and I wonder whether this is partially the effect of filtration or partially due to tannins clashing with mousse. Maybe both.
In a nutshell: The nose is ahead of the palate for me, and I think it would have been better if still rather than carbonated, but this is a generally decent oaked Dabinett.
The Newt Harry Masters’ Jersey 2020 – review
How I served: Same as the Dabinett
Appearance: Almost water-white. The lightest HMJ ever, ever, ever. Still
On the nose: This is HMJ? Really? Seriously? Wild. This smells like it’s from the other side of the country. We’re in Katy apple territory (sorry, I mean Katja – sorry Thatcher’s). Soft eating apples, blossom, almost soap. They’re also incredibly faint aromas, and HMJ is an aromatic fruit. Most unusual.
In the mouth: Ok, this is absolutely bizarre now. The lightest, faintest, most un-HMJ-ish HMJ ever. Tastes incredibly dilute for what I believe to be a full-juice cider. Like water that has had some apple and lemon slices in. The texture is watery too – more watery than literally any cider I can readily remember. Some vague pithy astringency, but nothing like normal HMJ tannin. If I had this blind I think I’d guess it was ciderkin – and pretty light ciderkin at that. Really not for me I’m afraid – something has gone awry here. I can’t tell you how bewildered I am by this cider.
In a nutshell: A ghost of HMJ. HMJ with the life and flavour stripped away.
Time to head northwards within Somerset and take a look at Wilding. The four ciders of theirs I’ll be tasting today are all described in fantastic detail, along with general vintage notes, on their website here and here. (Something I’d love The Newt to think about). I’d urge you to read what they’ve written, but I’ll submit a brief précis of each one below nonetheless.
Starting with the 2018s (a hugely ripe, sun-filled vintage right across the UK) we have Remnant, a cold-racked** and therefore medium sweet cider made from a range of apples which included “quite a bit of Ashton Brown Jersey and Kingston Black”. Kingston Black we’re very familiar with, but Ashton Brown Jersey’s a much lesser-spotted variety and one I enjoyed tremendously when Ross on Wye released their 2015 and 2017 bottlings last year. There’s not much Remnant left in the wild, but you can still find it at Hop Hideout, where it costs £15.15 for 750ml.
Wilding Remnant 2018 – review
How I served: Very lightly chilled
Appearance: Runny honey. Still
On the nose: I think this is only cold-racked rather than keeved, but I’m getting huge French vibes here nonetheless (if I’m allowed to make shocking generalities like that!) A deep nose of forest floor, red apple skins, hard toffee and a touch of toast and saddle leather. The Kingston Black component shows well, with a fresh streak of apricot lifting the cider. Lovely nose.
In the mouth: That is a deep, rich mouthful and no messing around. Loads of sweetness but some lovely, firm, ripe tannins. I want this with duck or rich game in a fruity sauce (I’m allowed to dream). Big apple juice, smoky lignin spice, a touch of malolactic creaminess and that streak of tropical fruit. Long finish – the tannins never lose their grip. Despite the KB there’s not all that much acidity – just enough to keep things fresh despite the depth. I really like this. The best Wilding I’ve reviewed here yet.
In a nutshell: A cider for when the food is rich and you’re feeling gluttonous. Pretty sweet, but if you love good French cider, it’s a must-have.
Reasons to be Cheerful (and haven’t we needed them in the last 18 months?) is the second 2018 up. Cold-racked and medium sweet again, it’s a blend of Ashton Brown Jersey, Improved Hangdown, Porter’s Perfection, Cider Lady’s Finger and Dabinett. So some familiar names, and a couple of outliers. The 2019 vintage is now easier to find, but you can still get the 2018 from Beer Zoo at £14.50 for 750ml.
Wilding Reasons to be Cheerful 2018 – review
How I served: Lightly chilled
Appearance: New pennies. Still or near-as.
On the nose: Higher toned than Remnant and very juicy. Has trebled down on Remnant’s tropical streak. Mango. Passion fruit. Pineapple. Bright peachiness. Some fleshy tangerine citrus too. A whisper of volatility maybe? Certainly not at an offputting level, if it’s there at all. Again, bright, fresh, juicy, fruity.
In the mouth: The yellow and orange tropicality continues. Full-bodied, and again we have pronounced sweetness on top of some pretty hefty tannins – this time more chalky and grippy in their expression. Juicier than Remnant, perhaps, but not as rich or quite as complex. Can’t really make up my mind about the volatility, so it’s definitely not at a level worth worrying about. A light touch of savoury brett adds nice complexity without going into brett’s sometimes-too-farmy excesses. Combined with the juiciness, tannins and sweetness I’m in mind of many a bottling from Artistraw.
In a nutshell: A tropical juice-bomb. Not quite flawless, but a cheery cider indeed.
Into the 2019s now, and we start with Nempnett Thrubwell, named for the village in which its orchard is based. It’s a blend of Frederick, Yarlington, Sweet Coppin, White Close Pippin and Somerset Redstreak, which (Yarlington excepted) sit at the lighter, less tannic end of apples than many of those dominant in the two ciders we’ve looked at so far. Another deviation is that Nempnett Thrubwell is sparkling (described as “a celebration cider”) and has gleaned its fizz through the zero-additive ‘méthode ancestrale’ (read: pét nat).
Before I get into the main review, time for an important aside, with advance apologies for grumpiness. I am now thoroughly fed up of sparkling ciders, predominantly, but not exclusively, pét nats, which gush excessively on opening, irrespective of how much care you take. It has become so commonplace that I almost approach pét nats in expectation of an explosion and find myself pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t occur. That expectation means I take extra care when faced with ciders made using this method; I gave Nempnett Thrubwell two days standing upright in the fridge, carried it to the sink as gingerly as I possibly could and opened it with anxiety aforethought. Upon which it promptly fired its crown cap in the direction of my face and erupted volcanically enough to douse our wall and even splash the ceiling, losing a full half of its contents in the process.
I’m sorry to single Wilding out in this regard – as I say, the problem is in no way unique to Nempnett Thrubwell, but it’s one of those respects in which natural cider needs to do better. It’s absolutely brilliant that a method exists which can make a cider sparkling completely without additive, but this will mean very little to the consumer if they have to redecorate their kitchen and lose half of the cider they paid for every time they dare to broach a bottle. As an incurable cider enthusiast, my tolerance for this sort of thing is far greater than the average customer’s would be, but I have to admit to being an unhappy bunny nonetheless. Something to think about please.
Wilding Nempnett Thrubwell 2019 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Hazy copper. Significant fizz
On the nose: Again very bright and fresh. Fruit tends in that apricot skin and dried mango direction, but it’s all less sweet than that implies, and the aromas here aren’t just of primary fruit. Lees have been impactful; big seashell and limestone. Something slightly odd too – like a t-shirt taken out of a plastic wrapper. This has big Orange Wine vibes, to me. Unusual, but on the whole I like it.
In the mouth: High-toned, bright. Very orangey, with a streak of zesty acid and a good bit of lightly bittering pith, with which the mousse happily doesn’t clash. There are some heavy reminiscences of a sort of marriage of East and West Coast IPA here in the delivery of its citrus and bitterness, but those Orange Wine-esque nuances are presenting too. Pretty much dry, lots of orange fruit, great structure.
In a nutshell: A complex, textural sparkling cider. Unusual, but I like it a lot. Would have liked a slightly fuller bottle even more, mind …
Still with me? Last up we have the new vintage of Wilding’s Run Deep (2019). A blend of apples that reads eye-catchingly closely to Little Pomona’s Old Man and the Bee, sharing the components of Harry Masters’ Jersey, Ellis Bitter and Foxwhelp, but swapping out LP Dabinett in favour of Yarlington Mill. Like the Herefordian this has been bottled still, and it was aged in a barrel which formerly held red natural wine, and had been filled with a different cider prior to holding Run Deep. The Fine Cider Company offers it at £40 per three bottles, or presumably just over £13 per bottle when ordered as part of a bespoke mix.
Wilding Run Deep 2019 – review
How I served: Room temperature
Appearance: Rich gold. Still.
On the nose: Only one apple away from Old Man and the Bee, and you can definitely smell the link. Harry Masters’ Jersey takes the aromatic lead, with big honeysuckle and waxy yellow fruit. Peachiness. Vanilla and pineapple and spicy oak. Straw. The more I nose it though, the more an acetic edge curls out and starts to override those other characteristics, unfortunately.
In the mouth: BIG structure. Full-bodied and bone dry, but those comparatively young HMJ tannins are really gum-grippy. Voluptuous, orangey, oak-spiced fruit with honeysuckle and a big yellow dollop of tropical tones too. But then that hefty dose of volatile acetic acidity oozes its way on top. Tannins stay with you forever – protein essential. God, there’s so much here that could have been great. Just had its party spoiled (for me) by too much volatility.
In a nutshell: Feels like a cider that had all the hallmarks of a right-up-my-street worldy if that acetic acid hadn’t been allowed to creep in. It’s not so much as to deter a lot of folk I know, but it’s too much to my taste. Damn.
And breathe. This was a fascinating flight to go through and, as I hoped, one that really makes clear the differences in liquid – as well as the strengths and fragilities – produced by mindsets occupying different points on our spectrum of intervention.
In both cases there are ciders (and a perry!) that I’d urge you to go out and buy and which I will be a repeat customer of myself. The Newt’s Fine range is very solid – it seems as a cidery that they’re generally happier with acid than they are with tannin, which I suspect is partially down to filtration. Wilding’s Remnant 2018 is an indulgent, complex joy that you ought to drink with something as rich and decadent as possible, and despite its assault on my kitchen I begrudgingly have a lot of time for Nempnett Thrubwell too. (Though my aside stands – it’s time we started calling out pét nat eruptions).
In both cases the challenges posed by their respective philosophies were showcased too. The bittersweets from the Newt all felt as though their mouthfeels and potential voluptuousness had been impacted by filtration and possibly by a fast-acting wine yeast and cold-arrested fermentation. Where their acid-driven varieties were fresh and elegant and sinewy, the impact of their methods on the fatter, riper, tannic bittersweets was to reduce their lusciousness, heighten the astringency of the tannins and bring in a metallic, slightly disinfectanty tang common to all three of the named-variety ciders, one which I also noticed in their Kingston Black, reviewed here, and which James has remarked upon when we’ve discussed them as well. Two weeks from tasting it I am still at a complete loss to explain the Harry Masters’ Jersey. My suspicion is either that there was some very underripe fruit in the blend (HMJ is a notoriously uneven ripener) or, perhaps more likely, that keenness to get a variety whose astringency demands time bottled as young as possible meant that filtration was even heavier than usual. I have to admit that I felt this was an experiment which shouldn’t have gone to glass and which certainly shouldn’t have been passed on to subscribers as a special edition. Given the resources and personnel at The Newt’s disposal it is certainly not representative of their best work.
Texture was where Wilding really excelled – I felt that all of them had been given the time and patience that the different apples asked for, and all offered tremendous body and intensity and mouthfeel in an admirable range of expressions. That being said, in a couple of instances the tightrope of the natural maker wobbled a little. I desperately wanted to like Run Deep more, but its volatility was just too much for me. And I think we’ve covered the gushing pét nat issue quite enough by this point.
Variety is the joy of full-juice, vintage based cider. My world is the larger for all the differing mindsets of all the different makers. Binary thinking – declaring a cider to be inherently of better quality because it has been made to a certain philosophy, and not because it is, simply, a better quality drink; overlooking drinks that have been made with cleanliness as the first consideration and have taken steps to ensure it – is what will put the brakes on the advancement of cider as a wholly high-quality category. The future for natural cider, in particular, can be and is so bright and exciting, but only if we start considering it seriously, critically and unconditionally. Acknowledging the challenges and potential pitfalls as much as we celebrate the joys and successes. In the long run, cider lovers will all be so much the richer because of it.
A few days after the publication of this piece, a box arrived unexpectedly from The Newt. No message, no explanation. It turned out to contain another bottle of the Harry Masters’ Jersey.
I must admit, given my review, that I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. Once, in all honesty, felt like plenty enough. But suspecting that it probably wasn’t a trap or some bizarre instance of trolling, I gamely opened the bottle and found what, despite ostensibly being the same batch, was obviously a markedly different liquid from that which I had reviewed.
As you can see from the photo below, the colour of this second bottle (whilst still pale) is distinctly deeper in hue than the liquid pictured above. Presuming that there had been some mixup in the bottle I was originally sent in my case, I thought I probably ought to review this new one.
The Newt Harry Masters’ Jersey 2020 – review (take two)
How I served: As above.
Appearance: Pale Gold
On the nose: We have aromas! We have a cider! Still on the simple side; green apples, fresh hay, honeysuckle, but it’s clean, it’s fresh and there’s a nice ripeness.
In the mouth: More going on here. Very juicy, nice medium body, a touch of well-judged sweetness. Flavours are still fairly light and tannins, by HMJ standards, pretty demure, but they’re there giving a little bit of grip. It’s nice. Fresh apple, white flowers, a little signature HMJ waxiness. A hint of wood. Very apple-forward in flavour; not super-complex, but very drinkable.
In a nutshell: Still not a “Good Lord” HMJ, not one for dyed-in-the-wool fans of the variety to pore over, but as a cider it’s clean, juicy, accessible and perfectly tasty.
Accidents happen, and it’s just The Newt’s bad luck that that first bottle ended up in the hands of probably the only person in their club who was going to go online and write about it. I’m happy to accept this second bottle as more representative of the overall batch, but I’ve left the first review up for posterity, as an interesting curiosity.
So what happened? Hard to be sure, but the best suggestion I’ve heard is that it was probably the end of the run and the bottling team underestimated how quickly water would fill the bottling tank when pushing the last cider through. I’m grateful to The Newt for recognising that an error had been made and for sending me another bottle unasked for.
*Bet you any money Martin Berkley will one day make such a thing or possibly already has. And I’m here for it.
**If “cold-racked” (or any other term we’ve used in this article) is unfamiliar, our Taxonomy of Cider has some translations which hopefully make things clearer.