A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about seven Kentish ciders I picked up from a Co-Op whilst on a trip to Rochester. Sadly many left me disappointed, but none more so than two of the three from Kentish Pip, whose ciders I have enjoyed many times in the past. After publishing, Sam Mount got in touch with me and asked for a “redo” as he suspected the cans I had purchased were from old batches where they had some difficulty during the pandemic. Intrigued and appreciative of Sam getting in touch I agreed and so he kindly sent me cans from their latest batches along with a bottle of the soon to be re-released Foxwhelp + mixed vintage. He also agreed to chat with me so we’ll start there and get to the ciders in a just a moment…
Sam, firstly thanks for agreeing to chat with us at Cider Review, our readers love hearing from the cider maker themselves.
CR – I’ve visited before but to set the scene, can you tell us a little bit about Kentish Pip and how you got into cider making?
SM – I am the fourth generation of a fruit farming family from near Canterbury in Kent. I didn’t join the family business until I was in my 30s, I grew up on the farm but left and worked in the live event industry for 12 years. Kentish Pip was started by my father Mark around 2012 and I first got involved with a re-branding project in 2015 before catching the bug and joining full time in 2016 to take over the cider from my dad.
CR – you’re one of a small group of makers that caters across a really broad range of tastes, from fine cider to fruit cider to traditional, is that part of a fixed purpose or has it just evolved as you’ve grown over the last few years?
SM – Our product range has been through a major evolution in quite a short space of time and there is nothing to say that that is over. I would say though we are now much closer to where we want to be.
Back in 2015 we had a range of 5 seasonal still ciders all in bag in box and 500ml bottles, this range included Craftsman and Vintage but also three flavoured ciders Firespice, Wild Summer and Forager. We also had a few bottled conditioned or what are now known as ‘fine’ cider projects on the go.
When we launched Skylark in key keg in 2016 it was hard work to change peoples minds and get them to even consider ‘craft’ cider in kegs let alone key kegs! I like to think that has changed quite a bit now and that we have been part of that in our own small way. We are now very focussed on kegs and cans and our core range consists of three ciders and one fruit cider, Forager.
As far as 750s, we will always play around with limited edition and specials and can package these in anyway we like. We aren’t evangelical about what cider should be or how it should be presented. We simply aim to make transparent, honest drinks that people enjoy.
CR – When you talk about heritage varieties on your cans which are they in particular and why did you choose to plant those?
SM – We have four orchards of what we call heritage cider apples plus some young orchards of modern cider apples developed at Long Ashton. The heritage varieties include: Dabinett, Kingston Black, Crimson King, Major, Browns, Broxwood Foxwhelp, Yarlington Mill and Stokes Red.
The choice of varieties came from my dad, heavilly influenced by people like John Worle and some of the first cider books he read. The desire was to create a signature blend, incorporating good acidity and distinctive flavour profiles, which they certainly have.
Cropping rates for these varieties have been highly variable though as the trees establish and therefore we don’t quote the individual varieties on the labels as some batches don’t contain them all.
CR – You released some 750s in 2020, what made you decide to go down that path and how has it worked out? I notice you’re sold out on the website.
SM – Yes it was Christmas 2020 we launch three bottle conditioned ciders. A Pet-Nat Discovery, and two traditional method ciders Brut SE and Foxwhelp +
We have always dabbled with 750ml ciders usually in very small batches and usually they remain un-marketed and consumed on-site. You might remember one called Between The Woods you sampled at the first Cider Salon? We decided to go a bit bigger with our 2020 batches as we had built up a really good online customer base through covid and wanted to offer some new products in different formats.
We actually have some of the original Foxwhelp + remaining which we took off sale after it re-fermented the tiny dosage we had added when they were disgorged. It has needed a bit of time to settle down after this unexpected turn but is now tasting great in my opinion and will hopefully be back on sale very soon.
Both the Brut SE and Foxwhelp+ first releases only had 6 months on lees but the majority have been put away and are now approaching 24 months so watch this space for the second release alongside a number of new bottled ciders which are currently in progress.
CR – So tell me about the last couple of years, you mentioned some difficulty with High Diver when we messaged after my last review, how has it been for Kentish Pip?
SM – It has been an incredibly difficult time for everyone over the last few years, each business and individual has had their own challenges. For us the challenges were from many different angles; staff changes, the serious financial pressures the pandemic presented, not to mention logistical challenges coming out of our ears. On top of this we were expecting a very big year in 2020 and were therefore carrying a lot of stock which just wasn’t moving fast enough. Specifically this lead to a few batches slipping out that just weren’t up to our usual standards. Frustratingly, but importantly, these things can hang around in the supply chain for a while and keep coming back to haunt you. All you can do is face up to this and make it right, which is exactly why I got in contact.
We have worked so hard in the last 18 months and made some painful but necessary decisions. We have a whole new team in production, we have chosen to dispose of over 150,000 liters of base cider that was below standard and I know we are now producing the best cider we ever have.
CR – it feels like it’s going to be a bit of a bumper crop this year, how is the fruit looking down at Woolton Farm? Which varieties are you most excited about?
SM – One of the best general indicators of the coming harvest for me are often the old apple trees around The Barn garden at Woolton Farm. This year they are laden and it certainly looks like the season for it. We are also in for a big crop of cider apples and our first of the Long Ashton varieties Fiona, Vicky and Gilly will be producing so I’ll be looking forward to experimenting with these.
CR – what are your ambitions going forward? Will you be extending or growing the “fine cider” range or is the focus more on the session strength cans and draft?
SM – Our focus is very much on our core products High Diver, Skylark and Craftsman. However, as I mentioned we have a number of new 750ml bottled products to be released this year. I’m sure you will be one of the first to find out. We have also been producing some lovely keg conditioned ciders which has been a great process. So far these have been sold directly through The Barn but we hope to make some available via our trade store later this year.
As far as ambitions go we haven’t changed we want to bring the joy we have experienced with cider to as many people as possible, from the cellar door to your local pub.
Huge thanks to Sam for chatting openly with us about the challenges of the last two years and plans for the future. Now to the ciders…
High Diver (4.8%)
Made from a blend of Cox and Bramley and described as “medium dry, marrying fresh acidity with bright aromatic fruit”. Ingredients listed as “apples, water, sugar, malic/citric acid, yeast and sulphites”.
Colour: light straw
On the nose: fresh green apples and lemon sherbets. Some kiwi fruit too but above all lots of lemon flesh to me. Maybe a little wisp of vanilla for good measure.
In the mouth: tonnes of green apples, more Cox than Bramley to my taste but the pair work well. It’s got more of the balance and structure of the Cox along with with the tingling bright acidity of the Bramley. The citrus lemon character comes through in the mid palate along with more of the vanilla (than was on the nose) and a creaminess here which the mousse enhances, definitely like a bit of malolactic character going on, which I like. Finish has a sweetness to it that adds balance, it’s a bit sweeter than I’d normally like but it’s not cloying.
In a nutshell: a little on the sweeter side but still crisp (as in biting into an apple), clean and very refreshing.
In contrast to the High Diver, this has dessert apples and some cider varieties and again described as “medium dry”, but fermented slowly to create depth and complexity. Ingredients listed are the same as for High Diver.
Colour: dark gold
On the nose: the cider apples dominate the nose for me with leather, medicinal TCP and those wet press racks I got last time, plus some of the pomace for good measure. Absolutely clean and very complex. A little fresh cut green apples also shines through after a while.
In the mouth: red and green apples collide as acidity matches the chewy tannins. The acid is gentle but fresh and those tannins almost fur the tongue but the sweetness on the finish just sees them off. Not as much of the vanilla I picked up last time, but in it’s place is more of the apple fruit. Orange, spice and medicinal notes from those cider apples plus little hints of pineapple and more citrus from the dessert fruit. I remember Skylark being a darker colour when I first tried it, but this takes me straight back to it, so perhaps my memory deceives me. It’s super juicy, well balanced and very quaffable.
In a nutshell: no larking (sorry not sorry) about with this one, a very moorish, easy drinking but complex cider.
Like the Skylark, this has a blend of dessert fruit and “heritage cider varieties” to create another…you guessed it…medium dry (feels like a bit of fence sitting to me).
Colour: light gold
On the nose: green apples, lemon zest, spice and leather. Some cider brandy too as well as a smidge of wooden barrel. Really interesting and complex nose.
In the mouth: I feel like the dessert fruit is more of the star here with the cider varieties as the back up singers. It’s got an instant zing of acidity that shoots down the tongue and refreshes the palate, followed by fresh apples (like the first bite) but also some crushed fruit fresh off the press. There’s elements of lemon and creamy vanilla as well as hints of spicy and savoury tannins, it’s like High Diver and Skylark combined to create a juicy middle point. Not as sweet as the High Diver to my taste but again super refreshing and very quaffable. This is going to sound rather odd but the finish has this kind of honey oat flavour to it, like appley cheerios. Cider for breakfast, now there’s an idea…
In a nutshell: super accessible, perfect balance of dessert fruit meets cider varieties.
A blend of Broxwood Foxwhelp (2019), Woolton Cider Apples (2017) and Zari (2018).
Sam mentioned that this is the same batch as the original release which had a dosage of 4g/l which re-fermented and caused some initial off notes which is why it was taken off sale [Ed: I thought it had sold out to Cath Potter…]. However, Sam said these had now gone and they would be releasing them again soon. Took every once of self control not to read Adam’s tasting notes from 2020 until after I tasted this one.
Colour: light gold, pours with an excellent mousse. Slightly hazy due to the lees deposit.
On the nose: wild floral notes of jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon rind, vanilla and a smidge of woody leather elements. Along with lots of fresh green apples.
In the mouth: Those extra months on the small lees deposit has mellowed the lemon like acidity considerably and added some bready character (it’s evolved from the light brioche to a toasted sourdough if you will), whilst still preserving juicy, apple fruit forward notes. There’s a good amount of structure and hints of bitterness from the cider varieties that make this a hearty mouthfeel. When it comes to traditional method ciders there are some interesting differences between acid led and tannin led. This cider bridges the gap and brings the best elements of both to the method I think. Enough acidity to lift and create freshness and enough tannin to bring structure and bitterness, both combined with time on the lees to bring savoury character. The remaining fruity character adds a perceived slight sweetness to the finish.
In a nutshell: one I will be buying for sure, if you all don’t beat me to it.
Well I’m certainly glad that Sam got in touch and we got to do this redo. Judging by the four I’ve tasted here I can only agree that the three I reviewed previously were some leftover batches, that I was unfortunate in picking up. Particularly the High Diver and Skylark which are in a different league here, and much more like the Kentish Pip I remember.
Over the years we’ve reviewed quite a few ciders that have had off flavours or faults, but Sam is the first producer I can recall to get in touch, engage with us about the issues and request an opportunity to try again. I think this article highlights a key opportunity for the growth of cider and our progression of the discussion around these challenges. We need to acknowledge issues when they arise and be open to a conversation. By doing so we will help consumers understand the ciders and perries they’re drinking even more.
In a way this does not surprise me as Sam (Mount) is such a credit to Kentish Pip and Cider in it’s wonderful broadest sense and James (Finch) has tackled a thorny topic in a very open, mature and rewarding way. Congratulations both, one of the most positive things i have read. Well done.
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Thanks for reading Tom and the kind words