I don’t know; you write a piece one week saying “would love to see more of these”, and the next week two come along at once. Apparently cider outturns are like buses. Or, as James Crowden and Gabe Cook have proven, cider books.
Today’s offerings hail from opposite sides of the country; five bottles from Herefordshire’s Little Pomona and three from Kent’s Nightingale, both of whom we’ve met here before on more than one occasion. And since the third rule of Perry Month is “You’re allowed to interrupt perry month for an interesting outturn*”, that’s just what I’m going to do today. Pear freaks, my apologies. But we’ve given you two posts already this week, you’ll get another one on Wednesday, and I dare say you’re all still full from Barry’s Wednesday epic in any case. (Go back and read it now, if you haven’t already, by the way.)
Since we have eight exciting bottles to get through, each with a strikingly individual story to unpack, I really ought to pile straight in, but I get sternly worded messages if I don’t include a preamble in my articles** and in any case I want to talk briefly about labels.
Take another look at the lead picture, just for a second. I think it’s fair to say that even despite my incompetent photography skills, those labels – from both cideries – look gorgeous. (And not just because of the timeless exposed brick and iconic microwave in the background). Huge amount of thought has gone into their design. They have what you would call ‘shelf appeal’. They stand out. They are labels at which your friends will cluck and coo when you plonk the bottles on the table. They are labels ready to take on the worlds of craft beer and natural wine when it comes to Instagram pizazz. They are labels, in short, which are far too cool for the likes of me.
They are also labels which contain a level of information about their interior product which few other ciders – indeed few drinks in any category – come close to matching. Labels which tell me ingredients, vintages, production methods and maturation vessels – all the primary points of interest when it comes to communicating flavours. In Little Pomona’s case, this is achieved through an almost story-like description on the side, always so engagingly written that it barely registers with you that you’re taking in a huge amount of detail in a short space. If I just distilled the bare facts from them and recited those facts to my friends it would be glazed looks all round. But I’d bet a shiny penny I could give a Little Pomona label to anyone, and they’d feel they had a sense of what to expect when I poured them a glass – irrespective of how much they knew about cider/perry/country wine beforehand.
Of course for Little Pomona, this is fairly well-trodden ground now, but the trio from Nightingale represent a huge new step for the team in Kent. The designs are a major departure from previous Nightingale bottlings, but not only do the labels include the basic details needed by the customer – apples, vintage etc etc – they also contain QR codes which take the more obsessive enthusiast to a webpage stacked with additional information galore (or will do when its up and running – at present it takes you to a video of Sam Nightingale talking about them). This strikes me as a brilliant idea, and one which I’ve seen other cideries, such as Cwm Maddoc at Hollow Ash, take advantage of as well. In the last 18 months the vast, vast majority of us will have downloaded some sort of QR scanner onto our phones, if we hadn’t already. It’s the work of a second in the aisle of a shop to point, click, and find out all the information we could wish for. And it doesn’t overload the back label with details which, though interesting to someone like me, might come across as dense, mystifying and difficult to navigate to another consumer. QR codes give us the option to choose how much detail we want. But, critically, the fullest level of detail is made available.
I accept entirely that the first sip is with the eyes, and that an otherwise uninterested consumer might well be persuaded to buy a bottle of cider if its front label is sufficiently arresting. Drab, pale, plain-text front labels don’t have that pull. Design matters. I get that – totally. But I find it frustrating beyond belief – frustrating to the point of arrogant – when a drink of any sort boasts an eye-catching label and offers no indication whatsoever as to what is actually in the bottle. Transparency matters; customers care. Cider drinkers are an interested bunch and are becoming more so; customers arriving at cider for the first time appreciate guidance as to what they can expect from a drink and cues as to why they might have liked it or otherwise – cues which will aid them in the selection of a second bottle.
This outturn (like the Ross on Wye offering of last week) proves that you really can have it both ways. That you can offer a visually gorgeous label as well as that level of detail and transparency. That the detail doesn’t have to be presented in a dry, blocky list of facts and that it doesn’t have to compromise the visual impact.
Producers, as James pointed out in his excellent article on the subject, are perfectly at liberty to do whatever they want with their own labels. But consumers are equally at liberty to vote with their wallets for the sort of labels they prefer. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that the makers offering this double bill of design and detail will be the chiefest beneficiaries.
Of course none of the above matters at all if the stuff inside the bottle doesn’t back up the label’s promise. So let’s see how these all get on. Since all are so newly released at the time of writing I’ve only linked to their respective cidery’s own webshop. But by the time you read this they may well also have been picked up by the usual retail suspects, who you’ll find on our resources page.
We’ll let Little Pomona open the batting, since their outturn was released marginally first. The five today constitute their “Autumn Releases” and are as stylistically mixed a collection as we’ve come to expect from Susanna, James and Blair. You can buy all five as a mix, plus the latest batch of their Table Cider, directly from their website for £80. I’ve included links to the individual bottles in their respective writeups below.
Little Pomona Hard Rain Hot Pink 2020 – review
The latest in Little Pomona’s ciderkin range, a style with which they’re becoming increasingly fascinated (and on which I must write a fuller piece one of these days). In brief, pressed Pomace is rehydrated and then pressed a second time, yielding a much lower-strength drink traditionally knocked back by workers in the orchards. Little Pomona tend to blend their ciderkins with hops and other fruits – in this instance the Egremont Russet base has been blended with Blackcurrant wine. Bottles are £10 for 750ml.
How I served: Well chilled
Appearance: Clue’s in the name. Delicate effervescence.
On the nose: Straight to childhood ribena cartons, this one, with a good dash of Robinson’s Pink Grapefruit and Barley cordial too. Big blackcurrant plus green blackcurrant leaf – even tomato stem. Super aromatic. Tremendously fun.
In the mouth: Ooft. Wasn’t expecting such a tangy arrival, but I’m here for it. Super fresh blackcurrant, cherry tomato, zesty pink grapefruit. The apple base seems fuller than in the previous ciderkins and the fizz is spritely and exuberant.
In a nutshell: A less autumnal drink you’d be hard pressed to find, but there’s lots to like here.
**Tasting note postscript: Caroline felt there was a trace of mousiness in it. This didn’t come across to me, and from bitter experience I know that I’m not among the lucky people who can’t taste mouse. But Caroline is certainly more sensitive to it than I am, so I dutifully mention it here as a potential caveat.**
Little Pomona Do It Puritan Damson and Perry 2020 – review
The Do It Puritan range is where Little Pomona file their deviants from straight cider or perry. This one blends Damsons (shock!) with Hendre Huffcap and Thorn perry pears, all carbonically macerated and then barrel-fermented together before the addition of some fresh pressed pear juice from French varieties and the juice from 40kg of medlars (an idiosyncratic-looking fruit given quite a rude name by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet). Oh, and bottled pét nat. You know. Simple stuff. £17.50 gets you a 750ml bottle.
How I served: Well chilled
Appearance: Hot purple. Lively mousse.
On the nose: Plums, plums, plums, plums, plums. And plum pudding. And deeper (maybe dried?) summer berries. And a little bit of Christmassy spice. This is a deep, fruity nose and no mistake. I’ve had some pét nat red wines that weren’t far off. Has a wonderful freshness though, and the perry pears do come through – fleshy, almost-jellied orchard fruits amidst the purple.
In the mouth: Another very zesty arrival – the spear of Thorn through those rich red and purple fruits. More plums. Tune cough sweets – the blackcurrant ones with a touch of eucalyptus. Dark cherry jam. A bit more of that wintery spice and a low, distant rumble of tannin.
In a nutshell: Absolutely delicious mouthful of deep reddish-purple fruits. A riot. Worth every penny. Buy.
Eccentricities dispensed with, onto the three pure ciders:
Little Pomona Harvest 2019 – review
LP’s attempt to capture the essence of their 2019 vintage in a single bottle. 60% Browns with roughly equal proportions of Yarlington Mill, Dabinett and Harry Masters’ Jersey, blended from six barrels and bottle conditioned. £14 for 750ml.
How I served: Chilled
Appearance: Lightly-hazy mid-gold. Spritz of fizz.
On the nose: Barrel comes through first – vanilla and exotic perfume. Yellow fruit both fleshy and fresh with a greenness behind it almost of salad. A smidge of butteriness too. On the bright-deep octave of aroma it sits just on the bright side of the middle. And somewhere between citrus and tropical fruit. Lemony. A nice nose, if not a showstopper.
In the mouth: Those yellow fruits, gummied and enrichened by the vanilla (and probably white wine) of the barrels is to the fore, with a good nibble of lemony acidity. Medium bodied, but the bittersweets give it some fleshiness and a trace of tannin. Again it straddles brightness and depth nicely with those juicy fruits and some pretty florals.
In a nutshell: Reflects the most positive aspects of a tricky year. Browns with a bit more lusciousness and barrel. Not a blockbuster, but a nice cider with plenty to mull over.
Little Pomona On the Beech 2020 – review
Made predominantly from a super-rare Herefordshire variety, White Beech (only previously seen on Cider Review here) blended with Major and Browns and aged in a variety of casks before being bottled still and dry. I happened to visit the cidery the day after they had pressed this and remember how excited James was about both the apples and the resultant juice. So great things expected. £15 a bottle.
How I served: ‘Cellar temperature’ (Half hour in the fridge)
Appearance: Rich gold. Still.
On the nose: Oh yes please. A huge waft of fresh-pressed apples with a glorious deep waxiness of skin. Peaches, honey, dried citrus and a leatheriness of spice. The oak has burnished the fruit superbly – centering and elevating it. That is a glorious, complex, deep yet exuberant nose.
In the mouth: Big, hugely juicy, ridiculously ripe delivery that follows the nose to perfection. Orange and yellow wine gums, stone fruit. Beautiful sweet spicing from the barrel – not in the least intrusive. Just a whisper of tannin through all that juice.
In a nutshell: This is a glorious riot of flavour and a current contender with Orange Cider and Old Man ’18 for my Little Pomona of the Year. Why aren’t more dry, still ciders like this?
Little Pomona Dead Flowers 2019 – review
The return of a bottling first released last year when it was pure Dabinett from the 2018 vintage. That 2018 was reviewed here by James who felt it was a little too much on the acetic side. But it sold out as quickly as any LP bottling, and another prominent reviewer described it as their favourite cider ever. So, you know, matters of taste and all that. The 2019 is again dry, still and barrel aged, but in this instance is 67% Yarlington Mill backed up by Harry masters’ Jersey and Browns. So I’m expecting something quite different to last year’s. £16 from the LP website.
How I served: Room temperature
Appearance: A tone deeper. Amber. Still.
On the nose: Deepest of the three ciders, the Yarlington bringing orange oil and woody spices that combine beautifully with the oak. Dried tropical fruits. Clove. Polished oak. The fruit is huge, but in a deep and brooding way. Much more baritone than On the Beech. A gorgeous and eminently autumnal nose, if not quite as aromatic as Beech.
In the mouth: Again, huge-bodied, rich and indulgent. Powerful. Bigger in the mouth than on the nose; those dried tropical fruits just growing and growing, the broad juiciness, pumped up by sweet oak spice and the orange and rancio and leather of former cask constituents. Fullest-bodied of the set. Evolves and develops in the glass, brooding and shifting. Voluptuous tannins – absolutely no astringency.
In a nutshell: A deep, profound, complex creature to spend hours of a long evening pouring over. Superb cider. I prefer it to the 2018 by some margin.
Crossing the country now we head to Kent and to Nightingale, whose thought into the contents and presentation of their range this year has been tangibly energised. A few months ago we covered their incredibly visually dramatic new canned range, which I thought was generally good and one of which (Wild Disco) was tremendous.
Today’s trio arguably represents an even greater surge forward in confidence and belief from Nightingale, as well as a desire to showcase their fruit at its fullest expression. Readers of my previous article may remember that, whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the cans, I commented that I’d love to see the ciders bottled without the addition of water or sugar. Enter these three, all of which are fully fermented, full juice and therefore have my fullest attention. They stood out in a room of great ciders at the Cider Salon in August, but events like that – with tiny tasters in a crowded atmosphere whilst you’re chatting away and trying however many others – don’t always give you the best impression. So I’m very excited to give them the attention and conditions they deserve.
In the usual spirit of disclosure, Sam Nightingale kindly sent me a bottle of each of these, though as veteran readers will know, such kindnesses never affect my opinions or the writeup. You can buy the mixed trio directly from the site here for £45; I’ve linked to each of the individual ciders in their respective writeups. Oh – and since a few people have asked now with various degrees of friendliness – we get no commission from any of the links we post and never have done. In fact they take quite a while and are a bit of a pain. But they seem important. Thank you for your interest in this matter.
Nightingale Fledgling No.1 2020 – review
In effect the grownup sibling of Falstaff and Bramley, reviewed here. In this instance the same varieties, floral Falstaff and zingy Bramley, have been fermented almost to dryness and then allowed to finish their fermentation in bottle for a bit of pét nat sparkle. You get three bottles for £45 from Nightingale’s website. 1000 bottles available.
How I served: Medium chilled. Hour or so in the fridge
Appearance: Lemon green. Vivacious mousse.
On the nose: Instantly and unsurprisingly hails to the canned version – that bright green apple and lemon, the crushed blossom, seashell and smoky-toasty lees à la Muscadet Sevre et Maine. But here everything’s purer, more intense and detailed, as though you’re drinking its stablemate, but in high definition.
In the mouth: Feels like the meeting place for Muscadet, Prosecco and light Champagne. Bright, nippy, super-refreshing yellow and green acidity. Lemons and kiwi fruits. Sherbet. Pronounced florality, riper white peach and pear and then that washed-pebble seam of pure minerality and those toasty, doughy, perfectly weighted and integrated lees.
In a nutshell: It’s gloriously refreshing, really switched on, pulsing with life and flavour. A glorious aperitif. Reminds me of Welsh Mountain’s Pét Nat Pippin.
Nightingale Fledgling No.2 2020 – review
Another 2020 pét nat, this time from the Red Love apple, a rare example of a red-fleshed apple that has given this cider its natural gorgeous colour. The only previous Red Love I’ve had has been The Newt’s Fine Rosé Cyder, reviewed here. I rather liked it, and I liked the previous vintage even more. Let’s see how Nightingale’s stacks up. Again, it’s three for £45. 800 bottles available.
How I served: Same as Fledgling 1
Appearance: Haribo lovehearts. Delicate mousse – less than No.1
On the nose: Strawberry in every shade. Fresh, laces, dried. Cranberry sauce and red apple skins. A seam of garrigue herbs lends it depth alongside an almost Ross on Wye-ish slateyness. Raspberries, summer fruits and fresh lemons. All so vibrant. Glee in a glass.
In the mouth: Electric delivery. Foxwhelp fans (hello!) there’s something you need to taste here. That brilliant, citrusy bolt of acidic lightning, all beautiful, mouth-puckering pink grapefruit and glowing red with raspberry and strawberry and the cherries from a pack of tangfastics. No tannin to speak of. Long, long, super-vibrant finish.
In a nutshell: Addictive stuff. So vivid and intense and packed with red flavour and life. I love, love, (Red) love this cider.
Nightingale Satakieli No.1 – review
A still, dry blend of Discovery, Egremont Russet, Bramley and Malus Crab Apple from a selection of three different vintages. 45% 2016 Egremont, 45% 2018 Discovery, with the Bramley and Malus making up the difference. No oak. Effectively a cuvée built to showcase the best of Nightingale’s home varieties. Gets its name from the Finnish word for Nightingale. Bottles cost the same as the two above, and 800 are available.
How I served: ‘Cellar’ temperature
Appearance: Oaked Chardonnay
On the nose: Big, complex, wine-like aromatics with real depth for the varieties involved. The mature Russet nuttiness and dried apple dovetails beautifully with the reddish blush of Discovery. Almost amazing that this isn’t oaked. Lovely, full, ripe development of orchard fruit plus melon and nectarine. Just oozes complexity and elegance.
In the mouth: Lovely texture – that fullness of Russet giving it beautiful velvety-sinewy body. Again, super wine-like; I don’t often like using that description but here it genuinely is. (“Are you sure this isn’t a wine?” asked Caroline, before I’d told her anything about it whatsoever.) It’s in good Chardonnay territory. Again the fruit is a lovely marriage of orchard and stone, fresh and dried, and blushed with Discovery redness and strawberry too, which adds a dash of acidity.
In a nutshell: The most voluptuous, indulgent, complex and complete Kent cider I can remember. Outstanding blending and showcasing of fruit and time.
Well, I’m sorry for interrupting Perry Month, but I’m not sorry for tasting these two outturns and I’m certainly not sorry for shouting about them very, very loudly.
There are some utterly epic ciders (and fruit wines) on show here. I’ve started to think about what my favourite things in 2021 have been, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the year something from each of these outturns made the cut. The Damson and Perry is my favourite Do It Puritan ever, On the Beech is a glory-be fruit-bomb riot and Dead Flowers is a thunderous autumnal blockbuster.
Then those Nightingales. The Nightingales I’ve been waiting for. Every one of them a glassful of full-throttle, no-holds-barred, unabashed, whistle-clean brilliance. I will be buying at least two sets of each; they’re not only by miles the best Nightingales I’ve had, they’re the best Kentish ciders I’ve had – probably the best ciders I’ve had from the Eastern Counties full stop.
Fledgling One is the stuff aperitif dreams are made of. A cold glass in the garden, a toast, a foil for fish – bring it on. There might be those who point you that you could get three of the cans – almost twice the volume – for a fraction under the same price as one of the bottles, but honestly, nice though the cans are, I’d take a bottle any day. It’s the difference between watching a film on your phone and watching the same film in a cinema (in this analogy please assume there is no one throwing popcorn, sneezing on you or asking questions about what’s happening in the plot after a bit of a chat).
The other two though are my picks of the trio and, with the On the Beech and Do It Puritan Damson and Perry, make up my top four of the octet. The Fledgling No.2 is just alive – by miles the best rosé cider I’ve ever had – a turned up, more flavoursome version of the Newt’s, and without the lingering sugar. It’s a blast of red fruit – the sort of thing that a new drinker would never ever forget, the sort of thing that tells people they don’t know everything about cider; that there is something unexpected and brilliant and electric here. It is livewire stuff – it plugs you into joy.
The Satakieli though is just a statement of confidence. It is sensational blending. Assured, profound – a journey in a glass that marries balance, length, intensity and complexity and which offers high tones and depth, primary fruit and mature development. A completely different beast to the Red Love, and I can’t pick a favourite right now. You absolutely need both in your life.
Incredible cideries, incredible drinks. As I said the other day on twitter, it’s a glorious time to be a cider drinker.
*The first rule of Perry Month is “tell everyone you know about Perry Month”. The second rule of Perry Month is “tell EVERYONE you know about Perry Month”.
**Interestingly, from time to time I also get sternly worded messages asking that the preambles all be scrapped. Because the internet.
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