The German cider world sometimes feels kind of small, at least when you step outside of the state of Hessen and the region surrounding Frankfurt, which is the only region that seems to be known internationally for its living and thriving cider or Apfelwein tradition. But in the past few years there have been more new makers rekindling traditions almost lost in other regions of Germany, and the number of these small makers making truly artisanal cider, rather than mass-produced products, seem to be increasing as cider grows as a trend here. I mean, if Bitburger releases a cider on the market, it’s a sure sign that someone in a high place thinks cider is a growing market trend in Germany!
There are quite a few cider brands that have been started up over the past five or so years, usually produced under contract by large Mosterein, often gathering cult-followings due to marketing expertise, but I’ve been lucky enough to start to get to know smaller makers that are doing everything themselves, with more of a focus on terroir and the vagaries of vintage production. I would like to introduce you to a few of these, to show the breadth of German cider tradition, and a breath of something new, starting with 1785 Cider, down in Unterkirnach, in the south-west, Black Forest corner of the state of Baden-Württemberg.
When I say small, in this case 1785 Cider make about 3-to-4000 litres annually. Actually quite tiny in the scheme of things, but I personally favour such small operations and the attention to detail that it affords. The balance between cider and perry varies annually with the local yields, as they do not wish to buy in fruit from outside their locality, so in 2021 about 60% of their production was perry, while this year it looks like cider may make the bulk of their production.
I got to know Patrick and Wendy by chance a couple of years ago. I think it was via Instagram, and we arranged an online chat, as they also didn’t know many other people in the same cider start-up situation and wanted to share experiences. I could quickly tell that we were very much on the same wavelength in terms of our philosophy and connection with the local landscapes, with Patrick obviously having much deeper roots than I, having grown up in the Black Forest. Wendy is originally from Seattle, and that’s where the couple met and first got involved in cider (if you don’t count Patrick helping his father make Most when he was a boy). We stay in regular contact and have been growing a group of like-minded German makers for exchanging ideas and, well, basically acting as an informal support network for each other.
But even more important is what 1785 Cider makes. Consistently qualitatively excellent, and very tasty too! But we’ll come back to that in a moment. I asked Patrick and Wendy if they wouldn’t mind having a little interview, so let’s meet them both, and learn a little about what they do down there in the Black Forest.
Barry: I know you both got involved in cider while living in Seattle. Can you tell us about the cider scene there and how you got involved in the first place?
1785: We’ve been away from Seattle for four years now, so things may have changed, and our memories become slightly tinged with nostalgia. What really struck us at the time was the level of collaboration and mutual support between makers of all levels, even from the big guys like Schilling and Seattle Cider Company. There was just huge enthusiasm for cider and a spirit of “a rising tide will float all boats”. Consumers are open to and curious about new experiences. Certainly the ground had been prepared by craft beer, and there seemed to be an audience for every kind of cider style.
We fell in with a group of dedicated amateur makers and apple enthusiasts via an urban orcharding non-profit. We used to meet in a garage-cum-cider-shed with a bit of a speakeasy feel to it, to sample and critique our latest creations. It was a very supportive and encouraging community, which really helped us to develop our palate as well as our cider-making skills.
Barry: What was the draw to return to Germany, and start up a cidery, given there probably wasn’t much of a cider scene outside Hessen at the time?
1785: Several things aligned for us to decide to make the move: we were keen on experiencing something beyond our work sphere of the IT industry; craft cider was booming in Seattle, leading us to believe that this trend might jump the pond and be picked up in Europe as well; and finally, the family homestead in the Black Forest was in need of some helping hands to keep things going. Starting a micro-cidery on the 7 acre property seemed like the obvious thing to do.
Barry: I know the answer already, but can you tell our readers why 1785 Cider?
1785: 1785 is the year our old farmhouse was built. These were mainly subsistence farms and – much like in the pioneering days of the US – they usually incorporated a small orchard of apples, pears and plum trees. Fruit was used for human and animal consumption and, of course, to make cider. We like to think that we are continuing a tradition of cider-making, reaching all the way back to those first farmers in 1785. Conveniently, the name 1785 Cider works both in German and English.
Barry: Wendy, I don’t know very many women making cider in Germany. In fact, I’m struggling to think of any others right now, apart from my wife, Ines, without whom no cider would be made in our place (she’s the harvest manager)! But I often get the impression that German cider outside of Hessen was considered a kind of old man’s drink. Given that the craft cider making community in Germany is rather small, is this something you notice as a woman? Or even as a fellow immigrant. Do you think it is changing?
Wendy: I am only aware of a few female cider makers here in Germany, Ines being among them, I really ought to talk to her sometime and learn about her experiences. There is Kira Rehberger from Obsthof Brueggenwirth up north, she and her husband were kind enough to take our ICC entries to England with their own submissions! There is also Andrea Vogel from Fuerth, who focuses on French varieties and making calvados – though we still haven’t tried any yet.
As a woman in this work, I encounter men who direct looks and comments of bemusement at me slinging bags of fruit, hauling crates out of the orchards, driving with a fully loaded trailer out of the muddy fields, wrangling pallets of glass or full IBCs with our little manual jack or up on a ladder scrubbing IBCs in the cold winter months. When I’m running a public tasting often people assume I’m there only as a salesperson, but then I mention that I am one of the makers and they are very surprised. I don’t know why that is, but it happens often enough to make me wonder if it’s my gender or that I’m an immigrant, I just don’t know.
As an immigrant from Seattle, WA, having had the experience of a flourishing craft beer and cider scene I’m a little surprised when people encounter our products, how often they don’t know cider or only in reference to French cidre or a negative association to the old farmers “Most”. It leads to some interesting exchanges once they taste some of the ciders and perries we’ve produced.
I do think it’s changing, just very, very slowly!
Barry: You’ve both mentioned craft beer as a kind of scene that helped prepare the way for craft cider in Seattle. Over the past ten or 12 years, we’ve seen the “Craft Bier Bewegung”, the craft beer movement, also washing over Germany. I’ve often felt this might be an opener for cider, as craft beer fans tend to like to try new things. I also know that you both love beer very much and also home brew. Do you see any parallels in the craft beer scene here and what can happen for cider? Or is your target market elsewhere?
1785: It is hard for us to comment on the craft beer scene in general, since we are somewhat isolated in our little valley. We have met a handful of brewers making craft style beer and their products seem to be finding an audience. IPA is no longer a cryptic TLA in Germany, even though it is still difficult to find a top-notch west coast IPA or porter. However, the scene is still in its infancy when comparing to the US. We haven’t seen the hoped-for spill-over effect to cider yet. I will say that the brewers we know personally are very interested in what we do, so maybe it will happen a little further down the road.
Barry: The German “Mostapfel” is quite a different beast to what most people think of as cider apples elsewhere, being very much acid-led. But given I know nothing about what kind of fruit is used in Seattle, how did you adjust, if at all, to the properties of the fruit in the Black Forest? And Patrick, what were your recollections of the local apples and cider from when you were growing up in the region where you again make cider?
1785: Our m.o. in Seattle was to glean from unused and abandoned fruit trees and that is pretty much what we do here as well. In Seattle it was the remnants of the west Seattle dessert fruit industry, which disappeared when irrigation opened up today’s growing areas in eastern Washington. Over here we work with the old trees that are still remaining from the bygone days of family farming. The challenges are remarkably similar: we have very little information about the varieties; and what’s available changes quite dramatically from year to year, as the trees crop very irregularly. The big difference are the perry pear trees, which do not exist in the US. Lately we have focused a lot on learning how to work with these pears, which have the potential to produce really excellent perry.
Barry: The south of Germany, especially Baden-Württemberg, is famous for traditional meadow orchards, the Streuobstwiesen, with big standard apple and pear trees. I know you are using fruit from these types of traditional orchards. What influence do you think these types of orchards have on your ciders and perries?
1785: There are many reasons to celebrate and nurture these old orchards. From the perspective of low intervention cider-making they have the advantage of having never had pesticides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers applied to them. The fruit is naturally low in nutrients, lending itself to our style of slow, low temperature fermentation. As you noted, the fruit is high in acid, which gives the cider both freshness and great aging potential. We find that extended aging, MLF, and aging in wood are very beneficial to these ciders.
Barry: Do you each have favourite local varieties of apple (either for eating or for making cider), and if so, why?
Patrick: we haven’t had the chance to make any single-varietal ciders yet, so that’s a hard one to answer. I like the late season russets both for eating and cider – they have nice aromatics and good keeping qualities.
Wendy: I’ll add Boskoop to be more specific about one of the russets Patrick mentioned. And Goldparmäne for eating.
Barry: I love Goldparmäne (King of the Pippins in English) too! It can also make a nice mild single variety cider, so I’m always happy when our trees decide to carry fruit.
Your motto is “respect the fruit”. How do you get the best expressions from the fruit you use, and do you find yourself adjusting your approach based on the fruit?
1785: Since we harvest and process all of the fruit ourselves, we are very much in tune with the vagaries of the seasons and the qualities of the current harvest. There is a lot of in the moment decision making: when to press, what style of ferment, aging in tank or in barrel, when to bottle, etc. I imagine it isn’t really very different from what happens at other small cideries. We definitely embrace the variation from year to year as an expression of our terroir, rather than striving to produce a uniformly consistent product. And we allow every batch as much time as it needs to hit its peak – in the case of our high-tannin perries this may take up to 2 years.
Barry: So to stick with perry for a moment, as it is perry month at Cider Review, and you both know I have a bit (just a bit!) of an obsession with perry pears and perry, tell us a little about how and why you started making perry, and what your expectations were from your local fruit.
1785: Adam Wargacki from Empyrical Orchard and Cider gave us our first taste of perry, back when we were taking our first steps in cider-making in Seattle. It was made from wild pears and unlike anything we had experienced before. I was rather sceptical, but Wendy immediately understood the magic of perry. She still declares that this is the best perry she has ever had. So when we discovered the wonderful old pear trees here in Southern Germany, we obviously had to try our hand at perry. We didn’t know what to expect, but really loved some of the results of those initial ferments and knew this was something we needed to explore further.
We are still building our understanding of the different varieties and how to best work with them. The gamut of flavors, level of tannins, and the way they evolve in aging is amazing.
Barry: That’s fascinating. I often see US makers using dessert fruit like Bartlett pears to make what some of them call pear cider, and a few making use of wild pears like you mentioned. Would those wild pears be tannic in nature, and comparable to the perry pears we have over here?
1785: As I recall, these pears were very tannic, much like our perry pears; though less sweet. Being wild seedlings, there is of course a lot of variability. I see a few makers like Eve’s, for example, foraging for wild pears. Unfortunately, we’ve not had a chance to try any of these products yet.
Barry: There seem to be very few perry makers in Germany, meaning those making perries from 100% perry pears, and not pear flavoured cider, which seems to be becoming more popular with the more industrial makers. In our region, which is covered in perry pear trees, there’s little to no living memory of perry being made, but rather perry pears being used as an addition to the cider, or being distilled into pear brandy. Patrick, what are your recollections from your region, and did the older generations speak of perry being made at all?
1785: It is the same story in the Black Forest: old-timers would add 5-10% of pears to mellow the acidity of the cider and add a tiny bit of residual sweetness. Today, the tannic pears are almost exclusively used for brandy, if at all. It’s quite surprising really, since the perry-making regions of Switzerland and Austria are not that far away.
Barry: I know you have access to Gelbmöstler and Oberösterreicher Weinbirne, two varieties I am also very fond of. What varieties are you using that would be considered typical for your region, and what do they bring to your perry?
1785: Most common are Gelbmöstler and Schweizer Wasserbirne. They produce a light, fruity, easy-drinking perry. Other varieties we find here – as far as we have been able to identify them – are Grüne Jagdbirne, Knollbirne, Wilde Eierbirne, Bayerische Weinbirne, Luxemburger Mostbirne and Pastorenbirne. They contribute exuberant tannins, citrusy acidity and bold flavors that are both a challenge and opportunity for the perry-maker.
Barry: Perry certainly is a challenging drink to make well, but I’ve found it well worth it just to see the faces of people as they try it for the first time. I’ve really enjoyed the 1785 perries I’ve tried, but how have you found their reception in general, compared to your ciders?
1785: Interestingly, our perries have been much better received than our cider. I think it is because people generally don’t know perry and so have no preconceived ideas. With cider, they usually think about French cidre, which is commonly available in supermarkets around here – it is typically very sweet with caramel-apple flavors. Locally there is also the association with the traditional farm-style cider, which has a bad reputation as being acetic and barely drinkable. Our ciders are very different, so we have to engage in a lot of consumer education to help people understand the wider world of cider and encourage them to be a little more adventurous. The challenge we face with perry is appropriate pricing – again we need to do a lot of explaining so consumers can appreciate the level of time, effort and care that goes into making it.
Barry: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. If you are in rural southern Germany where every farmer used to make their own Most/cider, there’s a certain preconception that you often have to overcome, but then you also meet people who get really excited at the prospect of drinking Most again! But I agree, it’s often the perries that create the biggest wow factor as they have more levels of complexity and are just a delight on the tongue. Unless you don’t like tannins! I’ve heard there are people like that…
So I have several bottles of your perries in my possession, some of which I bought, and some more recent ones that that I got as part of our “inter-maker exchange programme”. I know a couple of these are pre-releases or may not be finished, but could you take us through them, and I’ll be having a little taste later on.
1785: Yellow is a single variety Gelbmöstler perry, which is the first pear to ripen for us. It is very sweet and aromatic, with subdued tannins. 2021 we decided to make more single varietals to better understand and showcase the fruit, and Yellow is one of them. It is really easy drinking and didn’t require a lot of aging, which is why we bottled it pét nat.
Cobalt Lake is one of our favorites from 2020, which was a standout year in our area. A press blend of Luxemburger Mostbirne and Pastorenbirne – more by happy accident than by design. It has some unique grapefruit pith aroma, that sets it apart from any of our other perries. This was fermented dry in tank and bottle conditioned.
Perry Reserve is our first oak-aged perry. It started out in tank in 2019 and was fermented to dry. Early 2020 we transferred it to an oak cask and forgot about it for a year. We then blended in some 30% of our 2020 Perry Cuvée to give it a bit more fruit and complexity before bottle conditioning. We really weren’t sure what to expect of oak-aged perry, but are quite pleased with the result. The oak is very present, but offset and balanced by the fruity acidity.
Schweizer Wasserbirne is the 3rd of our 2021 s.v. batches. It is an abundant pear in our region and a bit similar to the Gelbmoestler in being lower in tannins. This pear has caused us some headaches as it does not play well with our favored strain of perry yeast. It was nice to be able to compare to Kertelreiter Schweizer Wasserbirne, which confirms that you can make a lovely s.v. perry from this variety. We’ll be trying some different fermentations this year and hopefully come up with a winning combination.
Thank you very much Wendy and Patrick, for taking the time to be grilled!
And now to the part I dread, as I’m not exactly known for writing tasting notes (note the lack of them on Kertelreiter bottles), but in for a penny as they say, and it seems only appropriate to actually tell you a little about some of 1785 Cider’s perries. The ciders can wait for a non-perry month. [For another take on some of 1785’s creations, see Adam’s notes here — Ed]
I’m going to jump straight in with Yellow, as Gelbmöstler is a variety I know well, as I’ve also made single variety perries using it. It’s a lovely pear, quite tannic when unripe, but softening as it turns yellow (hence the name, roughly translating to yellow perry pear). The fruit when ripe has quite spicy notes, in an apfelstrüdel with cinnamon kind of way, and I’m always interested if this comes through in the fruit (it certainly can).
1785 Cider, Yellow 2021 – review
How I served: Hotel-room temperature (21.5°C)
Appearance: I suspect it is normally clear, but a train journey had agitated this pet-nat, so it was lightly hazy on serving. Pale gold with a very active carbonation.
On the nose: Rich and inviting. A hint of mildly spicy peach sorbet, overripe apple and candied peel.
In the mouth: I swear, if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought this was oak-aged. Broad vanilla tones underlie a rounded fruit base, all tinned peaches, candies pineapple, lychee and overripe apple. That makes it sound sugary sweet, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not. Verging on medium, gentle tannins keep it in order, but the finish is long and candy-like, tempered with a bite of green apple peel.
In a nutshell: A satisfying, if somewhat surprisingly deep perry for such a bright, fresh perry pear. Very nice.
Next is Cobalt Lake, a 50/50 mix of Luxemburger Mostbirne and Pastornbirne. I’m familiar with Luxemburger Mostbirne, which is a real heavy hitter on the tannin side, but I haven’t had the pleasure of trying Pastorenbirne before.
1785 Cider, Cobalt Lake 2020 – review
How I served: 15 minutes out of the fridge
Appearance: Straw-gold, crystal clear.
On the nose: Juicy fruit. Peach, strawberry, all on an almost crème caramel base with a herbal hint.
In the mouth: Smooth with an almost creamy texture thanks to the gentle carbonation. More fruit. Apricot jam and an almost (digestive) biscuity background with a salty touch. A dry, gently grippy finish, like baking soda, with a suggestion of pear drop sweets and a brush of thyme.
In a nutshell: A wonderfully aromatic and flavoursome perry, though the finish is a little unfairly abrupt.
Then onto the Perry Reserve. As a maker, I’m often a bit afraid of putting my perries into oak casks, as to me it just increases the chances of something going awry, and in that regard I’m risk averse. To be honest, it interests me, but I can’t recall having had any barrel-aged perries, though this is a cuveé with 30% non-barrel-aged perry added.
1785 Cider, Perry Reserve 2019 – review
How I served: 25 minutes out of the fridge, but on reflection, room temp would have been even better.
Appearance: Green-tinged gold with a slight chill haze. Considerable head-retention!
On the nose: Spice and oak. Rich. Almost a hint of cardamom, light vanilla, mandarin orange pith and fresh hay.
In the mouth: Absolutely bone dry. A touch more acidic than I expected, perhaps accentuated by the dryness, but it’s exactly as on the nose: mandarin orange, but with a hint of green apple and multi-vit tropical fruit. The oak plays along the edges, a lick of vanilla and a suggestion of cherry, not dominating, but supporting. As it warms, the vanilla notes are more pronounced, bringing more structure while the mild acid edge fades, Chalky tannins dry it further on the finish, which is long! More mandarin pith, with green grape skin and a lingering spicy note. Absolutely clean.
In a nutshell: Comforting and refreshing all at once, Perry Reserve has hidden depths that reveal themselves as you drink, making it quite hard to put the glass down.
And finally on to a more recent perry, at the time of tasting a pre-release single variety pet-nat Schweizer Wasserbirne. This is a hugely common pear in southern Germany, but I wouldn’t say it is particularly well regarded in terms of making perry on its own, and timing of pressing is tricky. So how did 1785 manage?
1785 Cider, Schweizer Wasserbirne 2021 – review
How I served: Cool, but not chilled. Later paired wth homemade chorizo pizza.
Appearance: Slightly hazy pale gold. Very low carbonation.
On the nose: Remarkably deep and fruity. Blackcurrant cordial, baked apple, candied orange peel and a suggeston of fresh hops.
In the mouth: Almost an oily texture. As above, baked apple, this time with raisins, taking the foreground, followed by ripe, spiced pears, chased by a blackcurrant finish that persists. Low tannin, as expected, just hitting on the swallow and fading away. Tinned fruit cocktail from my childhood. I suspect a fair amout of sorbitol, though being almost still and not chilled, this may heighten that sense of full-bodiedness.
In a nutshell: Given the source material, remarkably rich and lucious with unexpected darker notes. I’d have liked the carbonation to be dialled up a notch to lift it up, but so hard to judge when to bottle a pet nat Schweizer Wasserbirne.
And there we are…
I have a lot of respect for Patrick and Wendy and what they do, and I know they put some considerable thought and care into their products. And it shows. I’d be very happy if the trend in Germany was to see more small makers like these popping up, so if you get the chance, do try out their perries and ciders.