Starting a commercial cidermaking business anywhere takes a certain amount of bravery. A leap of faith. The market, certainly for full juice cider, and especially for full juice cider priced at say, above £5 per 750ml bottle (below which it is difficult to build a sustainable business without additional income) remains nascent. Understanding and appreciation, outside of the bubble, remains basic. And although most pubs in the UK serve at least one cider, most only offer the macro brands, and even where full juice cider is served, it’s demoralizingly common to find bag-in-boxes being kept in sub-optimal conditions.
As many have rightly commented in one place or another, finding a way to capture the imagination of the pub-goer in the manner that the drinker-at-home has been snared in the last two years is a vital next step for the rethink movement. It’s why several of us are so excited about the potential for live, keg-conditioned ciders and perries, expressed perfectly by Ben Thompson of Cider Voice.
But at least if you are in the UK, or France or Spain or Austria or the USA, there are networks you can tap into. Peer relationships you can build. The British cider community is, by and large, an incredibly friendly and welcoming one, and is astonishingly generous in the sharing of its knowledge. Polly Hilton, for instance, responsible for some of the best ciders I’ve ever tasted, freely acknowledges the wisdom and inspiration that the likes of Martin Berkeley and Tom Oliver offered at early stages in their journey. Little Pomona, frequently praised here and elsewhere, are also quick to talk of the help they’ve had from Tom and the Johnsons of Ross on Wye. The Cider Women group, interviewed by Helen here, is an inspiringly tight-knit one in which an enormous amount of knowledge is shared and support offered. And in the last few years generally I’ve seen makers become increasingly less isolated and tap increasingly more into a growing network of conversation, enthusiasm and collaborative thinking. It’s the sort of thing that inspired CiderCon on the far side of the Atlantic, and which went on to inspire CraftCon over here. In France there’s CidrExpo too, and both the Basque and Asturian regions of Spain have their own comings together for camaraderie and encouragement. To an industry outsider like me, it’s a wonderful thing to see.
But what happens when you’re making cider somewhere that doesn’t offer that network, that support group? How hard must it be to beat a path on your own without close-to-hand wisdom and experience to call upon? To be a solo banner-carrier for an unfamiliar drink and approach to making it?
That seems to be the position occupied by Ukraine’s Berryland. Since 2017, Vitalii Krvayha has been trying, in his words, to “bring back all the cider made from juice”. I must confess here to almost absolute ignorance on the state of Ukrainian cider. It had been hovering around my mind to research for a couple of months, as Ukraine sits as comfortably the third biggest audience for Cider Review outside the UK (USA and Germany are the only two ahead of it, and that’s likely because we’ve covered a fair few American ciders and Barry Masterson has a substantial fan club). But I couldn’t find a huge amount of concrete information besides that it sits only behind Poland in terms of Eastern European consumption (if we discount Russia) and that most of what was drunk and made there came from concentrate.
But a little while back Berryland Ciders and Perries appeared on the Cider is Wine website, so I thought I ought to investigate. Vitalii kindly shared with me that he currently makes his drinks (including ciders, perries, quinces, wines, meads and co-fermentations of various combinations of the above) from fruit picked from old orchards in the Kiev and Bukovina regions and that he hopes to investigate orchards in the Transcarpathia and Donetsk areas from next year onwards. 95% of what’s made in the Ukraine is from concentrate, he said, making his endeavours lonely indeed. He makes his drinks without sulphites, uses oak barrels whenever he can, and tends to bottle his creations pét nat for a natural sparkle.
The apples and pears in Berryland Cider seem to be a mixture of international and traditional Ukrainian varieties, with apples including Snow Calvil, Jonothan (and derivatives), Macintosh, Antonovka, Pepin, Renet and pears featuring Noyabska, Bukovinka, Bera and others. Vitalii also uses wild apples and pears that he finds in the forest or in the mountains, rather like Eve’s in the USA.
To give you some sense of the depth of Vitalii’s experimentation, I thought I’d share with you the list of drinks that he sent me as “what I currently have in stock”. And bear in mind that he has only been releasing since 2018. *Deep breath*:
Kyiv Cider 2020
Quince Apple Cider 2020
Cherry Apple Cider 2020
Black Currant Apple Cider 2020
Cider with Pinot noir grape 2020
Cider with Cabernet Franc grape 2020
Cider with Rkatsiteli grape 2020
Hopped Cider 2020
Rhubarb apple cider 2020
Cydromel (Cyser) 2020
Cider 2019 Cuvee
Wild Pear Perry 2020
Wild barrel fermented Cider 2019
Appele Pet-nat 2019
Ice Cider 2018
Birch Sap Sparkling Mead 2019
Birch Sap Sparkling Mead Rose 2019
Elderflower Sparkling Mead 2019
Rhubarb Sparkling Mead 2020
Cherry Melomel 2019
Quince Sparkling Melomel 2020
Mulberry Sparkling Melomel 2020
Red Currant Sparkling Melomel 2020
Gooseberry Sparkling Melomel 2020
Black Currant Sparkling Melomel 2020
Cranberry Sparkling Melomel 2020
Lingonberry Sparkling Melomel 2020
Strawberry Sparkling Melomel 2020
Strawberry Rhubarb Sparkling Mead 2020
Guelder rose Sparkling Mead 2020
Blackthorn Sparkling Melomel 2020
Apricot Sparkling Melomel 2020
Clearly he’s someone determined to single-handedly make up for the country’s lack of full-juice drinks. (Melomels, by the way, are blends of mead with fruit, like the Berryland Cidromel previously reviewed here by James.)
You’ll be greatly relieved to hear that I’m not planning on reviewing all of the above today. I bought one of each of the Berrylands that appeared on Cider is Wine, but since we’ll be spotlighting perry all the way through September I thought I’d save those for the time being.
So first up is the Pét Nat Cider Brut 2019, made from an unspecified blend of apples harvested from Berryland’s own unsprayed orchards in Makarisvska Buda, near Kiev. Bottled just before fermentation ended, 750ml will cost you £13.
Berryland Pét Nat Apple Cider Brut 2019 – review
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Pale gold, fine mousse
On the nose: Really pure, clean, clear aromatics. Fresh-pressed apple juice with a lovely honeyed edge. Green pear, cut grass, lemon and hedgerow. More than a little reminiscent of Welsh Mountain’s Pét Nat Pippin reviewed here the other day. All enriched by a leesiness that adds a light layer of breadiness rather than overwhelming with yeast, as can sometimes be the case with this style. Despite being pét nat I’d say this noses rather like a light champagne facsimile. Elegant, defined, and I love that honeyed note.
In the mouth: Fresh, vibrant and full of bright flavour which mirrors the nose really well whilst adding a lemony citrus to the honey and green fruit. Pretty much totally dry, and without any tannin to clash with the well-judged fizz lifts everything splendidly. Lovely sherbet and almond hints on the finish. Again, I’m reminded of Welsh Mountain’s Pippin and of things I’ve had from Duckchicken.
In a nutshell: Delicious, elegant, flavourful aperitif cider you could confidently serve anyone at any celebration. Yum.
Sticking to apples-only, next up is the barrel-fermented brut of the same vintage. No clues as to how it differs otherwise, as the Cider is Wine description suggests that the apples came from the same area. So whilst I wouldn’t like to just assume that it’s effectively the last cider plus oak, there’s every chance that might be the case. Perhaps tasting it will give me a clearer idea. Bottles also cost £13 for 750ml.
Berryland Barrel Fermented Cider Brut 2019 – review
How I served: Lightly chilled.
Appearance: A tone deeper, but still lightish gold. Similar fizz.
On the nose: Again tremendously clean, clear and aromatic. The barrel has not intruded on the brightness of the fruit at all, rather it has brushed a layer of vanilla and sweetly-spiced pastry on top of it. Fruit is green and yellow and tangy. Mixed skittles and tangerine slices. Some confectionary but not too much so. Again, very nice.
In the mouth: I’m getting into broken record territory here, but again the zingy, zesty, citrusy brightness is the star, overset with that vanilla and sensitively managed polished oak. Again, no tannin but there’s vivid intensity of flavour and good body to which the fizz adds a creaminess without being excessive. Green apple. Lime chewits. Fizzy strawberry laces. Cloudy lemonade. This seems to have similar vibes to some barrel-fermented Kertelreiters I’ve had (though admittedly I’m tasting them a long time apart). Those who’ve followed my reviews here will know that’s some compliment.
In a nutshell: Shows how good so-called “culinary apple” cider can be. Expressive, polished, stylish and very tasty.
And now for something completely different. (I’ve been rewatching a lot of Monty Python lately.) Last up is a 2020 co-fermentation of apples with Cabernet Franc grapes. We’ve met, and thoroughly enjoyed, cider-wine hybrids here in the past, but Cabernet Franc, a grape commonly used in the Loire and Bordeaux, but which isn’t always my favourite, is a first for me. (Though I was very intrigued to learn that it grew in the Ukraine; another demonstration of my ignorance, despite working in the wine industry – they’re coming thick and fast today).
Since this was made outside the UK, it wasn’t created with one eye on our draconian duty laws concerning “made wine” and so this has been bottled at the same strength as the ciders – 7.5%. It’s also pét nat and is also listed as brut. Let’s see how we get on. In a nice piece of consistency, this too is £13 from Cider is Wine.
Berryland Cabernet Franc Apple Cider Brut 2020 – review
How I served: Lightly chilled.
Appearance: Ribena. Similar fizz again (three well-behaved pét nats – what a time to be alive!)
On the nose: Blackberry and apple jam in a glass! Nice tartness-depth balance from the Cab Franc. Black cherries, freshly-crushed black grape skins, a smoky herbiness in the background. The apple is definitely second fiddle, but it’s there providing ballast. I really like this nose – joyful stuff.
In the mouth: Brambly fruit and brambly bushes. More of that smoky herbaceousness and apple-and-blackberry jam. Despite its depth it doesn’t lose vibrancy and energy and verve, aided by fresh acidity and a joyful, frothy mousse. This drink makes me smile. Summer fruit, sitting in the garden with the smell of grass and fern around you.
In a nutshell: Wine is the star, but the apple has its say. Fans of pét nat red, roll up. Again I say yum.
What a delight this trio was to taste. Bravo to Vitalii, and bravo to Cider is Wine for bringing them over. The first pair show how vibrant and aromatic and fresh and flavourful dessert fruit ciders can be – easily a rival for the best in the English Eastern counties, and (dare I say it?) better than most. The wine hybrid is just glorious fun, and I will certainly need at least another bottle. I send a picture of it, with accompanying tasting note and enthusiastic comments, to Rachel Hendry of Burum Collective and J’adore le Plonk as soon as I’d finished my review, and I can’t pay a wine-related drink a much higher compliment than that.
If this is the sort of quality that Berryland continues to produce, I don’t think it’ll be long before other folk in the Ukraine take notice and follow suit. As for us over in the UK, another wonderful, natural, international producer whose wares we can buy for ourselves. Another excellent player in cider’s international orchestra. They deserve your attention and custom; they certainly have mine.
Between Berryland and Saturday’s Welsh Mountain Cider I seem to be on a bit of a review hot streak at the moment. Long may it continue! I can’t wait to try some Ukrainian perry in September.