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A conversation with Cider Explorer’s Natalia Wszelaki

There wasn’t all that much about in terms of regular cider content when I started burrowing down the online rabbit hole five or six years ago. The much-missed Cider Blog and Cider Pages would soon be downing tools, and a promising young chap calling himself ‘the Cider Critic’ was a year or so away from picking them up (whatever happened to him?)

As for the European scene, there was virtually nothing whatsoever to be found. Until I came across a blog called Cider Explorer.

Natalia Wszelaki, the brains behind Cider Explorer, is almost single-handedly responsible for fuelling my interest in the ciders of Central and Eastern Europe. She’s been writing about cider for over five years now, and was at it at least a year before James started and before I wrote my first (then one-off) cider article. As a reviewer myself I’ve always loved her uncompromisingly honest and candid approach, and between the two of us we must have covered over 1000 ciders by now, without (as far as I’m aware) a single overlap.

I’ve interviewed a lot of cider folk in the past for this website, but never a fellow reviewer. So I’ve long been keen to speak to Natalia, both to gain her insights into the continental cider scene from an educated drinker’s perspective, and to tap into her own long-standing experience tasting, judging and reviewing ciders. I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed, and even more delighted that our conversation was as open, frank and honest as her reviews would have led me to hope. It’s recorded in full below.

CR: Easy one first of all: introduce yourself and tell us how you got into cider?

Natalia: My name is Natalia Wszelaki, I’m an international cider judge and cider blogger. How I got into cider? It’s actually a very funny story because a few years ago I had a friend who would drink only cider, and when we went to a pub in Berlin they could only find cider in an Irish pub. So this was where we ended up. It was just a pint of Magners, so nothing special, but when we had to pay the bill I was quite surprised that the price of a pint of cider was double the pint of beer. I was trying to understand why on earth there was such a difference. So when I got home I started doing research, reading ‘what is cider? How is it made?’ And then it turned out that there is a fascinating cider world, and that there are so many apple varieties, so many cidermaking techniques and methods — that depending on the yeast that you use the outcome of your cider is completely different. Not to mention the soil where apples grow. So this was where I got into cider and I decided I had to do something about it!

CR: And that was what made you start Cider Explorer?

Natalia: Well I knew I wanted to do something with cider. I knew I didn’t have enough knowledge to make my own cider, because you need time and experience which at the time I didn’t have. Another option would be for me to open a cider shop, but then we have to have customers, and in Berlin at least at the time there were not so many cider drinkers — cider was not really popular. But I wanted to do something with cider, so the only option that was left was writing a blog.

And since I’m a scientist — a professional pharmacist — and since I did my phd in this field, I thought that if you want to share knowledge about anything, you have the results of your work and you publish it in English. So anyone — scientists from China, from Noway, from Italy, wherever — can read your work. So I thought ‘why not start writing about cider in English?’ Though obviously it’s not my mother tongue. In this way I could reach more people, spread the word about cider and also spread my love of this beverage. So that’s how it all started and why I’m here.

CR: It’s incredible that you’ve written it all in English — I’m very glad you have because as you say I wouldn’t have been able to have read about all the ciders in the central and eastern European regions if you hadn’t. And reading Cider Explorer early on was what made me curious about continental ciders. They’re quite hard to find over here but I definitely wouldn’t have put as much effort into trying to track them down and learn about them if it hadn’t been for Cider Explorer. So on that note — you’ve covered ciders from all over the world but you put a lot of focus on places that aren’t necessarily thought of as classic cider regions: Croatia, for instance, and also the growing scene in Poland. How important is it, do you think, to cover places like these?

Natalia: I mean, you’re from the UK, right? So your focus is mostly the UK, though you also cover other regions. I thought that since I come from Eastern Europe originally that I should spread the word about cidermakers who are extremely passionate about cider and maybe are still learning — sometimes their cider isn’t as great as cider in maybe France or England — but sometimes there is even more passion in these people. So that’s why I really wanted to be the person who described it. Because there was a niche — there was no one else who would do that. And I thought I’m the right person to do that because I had a feeling there was no coverage about these regions at all. That was the idea behind it.

CR: Is there anywhere that you think is especially overlooked and deserves more coverage than it gets?

Natalia: All these countries definitely have a history of cidermaking, but it’s not necessarily very strong. So there’s no particular style — if you thin about the Czech Republic there’s no particular cider style, the same with Poland or Latvia or Scandinavia. And these countries work with very similar apple varieties — usually they’re all German apple varieties. So if you look at these places you’ll find very similar apple varieties and very similar styles of cider. But in terms of ‘overlooked’, I don’t think we can talk about specific regions yet. But there are definitely cidermakers which are outstanding — Buzdovan in Croatia, Jaanihanso in Estonia, they’re incredible. So a cidermaker from a country like that can make outstanding cider.

CR: Can you tell us about the current Berlin cider scene? Has it grown in the time you’ve been writing?

Natalia: Actually there’s no cider scene. It has improved over the years — originally as I say it was just an Irish pub, nothing really ambitious, just Magners. But now almost everywhere you go there’s something. This weekend I visited several wine shops which offer natural wine and every single one of them offered a cider. From different regions — Austria, Germany, Scandinavia, but each of them offered at least one cider, or sometimes perry or a hybrid of quince or grape wine. So it is improving. But in terms of local cidermakers, from what I see there’s a trend that we can also see in France where there’s a group of people who don’t know how to make cider so they hire a cidermaker to make cider for them, and just fill it into a 330ml bottle to sell. But in Berlin it doesn’t taste as good as its counterpart in France. So no real cider scene in Berlin, but give it a few years and we’ll get there!

CR: I’ve had some amazing ciders and perries from Germany — thinking about Barry at Kertelreiter, and Patrick and Wendy’s at 1785, and a couple from Gutshov Kraatz — but obviously German ciders are more or less impossible to get over here for the most part. So I don’t know too much about German cider culture generally — what can you tell us about it?

Natalia: The thing with Germany is that if we’re referring to ‘cider’ in Germany it’s more or less a carbonated drink. There is a sort of history in Germany of ‘apple wine’ — you’d call it still cider — and this is what you can find in all the most important regions in Germany, like Hessen, the Frankfurt area, Baden-Württemberg. So all these regions offer still cider, and what I think is interesting about German cider culture is it’s usually single varietal cider or apple wine. Once I spoke with Florian Profitlich from Gutshov Kraatz and asked ‘why do you mostly make single varietal ciders?’ and he said that when you blend before bottling then you know how it’ll taste then, but you don’t know how it’ll taste after several months in the bottle. I’m not sure if that convinces me, because if you have a single varietal cider it’ll also taste different after a few months, but this is the trend in Germany. As well as the small bottles I mentioned produced by a hired cidermaker — so I would say marketeer’s cider.

CR: And who are the producers that we should really know about?

Natalia: Apart from makers you’ve already mentioned — Gutshov Kraatz and Kertelreiter — one important one is Andreas Schneider. He’s located in the Hessen region and he makes really fantastic organic apple wines. Usually a bit on the sweeter side, but still they have plenty of flavours. 

CR: What changes have you seen in cider generally and internationally since you’ve been blogging, and which do you think have been the most important or best changes?

Natalia: One of the best changes is definitely that cider has finally been recognised as, in a way, wine by chefs and sommeliers at restaurants — Michelin-starred restaurants. Finally you can find not only a wine list or beer list but also a cider list. Not just one cider but several ciders of good quality. So that’s a really good trend, at least in Germany, and in other countries I’ve observed that there’s at least one cider on the menu — a craft or low-intervention cider. So this is definitely a very good trend because cider finally gets the attention it deserves. When you’re eating something and pairing it with the perfect cider it’s great. You’re really like ‘oh my god I’m in heaven’. And this is also how people can try ciders of different styles and regions. So this is one of the good trends.

Another interesting trend is winemakers making their own ciders. So offering not only grape wine, natural wine, but also trying to do something with cider. And this is a trend I’ve been observing for maybe the last two years. And then obviously they get offered in wine shops. And people try them because there is an audience for things like that.

CR: And what changes would you still love to see?

Natalia: If you go to Normandy — or at least when I went in 2018 — you could purchase a big 750ml bottle for €3.50. So I’m not sure how people could make a living at that price. And I think cider should be appreciated in terms of pricing. For a producer selling a bottle for €3.50 you can’t make a living. And if you pay more for something you appreciate it more. So I think that’s something that people try to understand. And there’s a trend — even in Germany I can’t find a bottle of quality cider below €10. So that’s something already happening and considered normal. I know in the UK you can buy a half-litre bottle of cider at a really low price, and that’s something that I think it’d be good to one day change.

CR: We’re at an interesting stage with that in the UK, because we’re seeing an increase in people saying ‘yes, you know what, given the skill, the time, the effort, the rarity this does deserve to be priced at a certain level’, but there’s also an audience, maybe used to cider at a particular price, who maybe aren’t fully on board with the idea of prices increasing. So there’s an interesting debate being had there. And of course there’s also the question of ‘well are we financially incentivising growers?’ If something’s only a few quid, how much money are the folk growing the apples getting?

Natalia: Absolutely. If there is a quality cider, people will go back to buy it. Maybe not ‘whatever the price’, but they’ll pay more for it. Andreas Schneider, who I just mentioned, he sells his cider at €15-20, and I think that’s a fair price for what he’s doing with very old orchards and often very old apple varieties that you can’t find anywhere else, just in his orchard. So I think it’s a fair price.

CR: So tell me about the cider you’re drinking.

Natalia: It’s the Budzovan Buna cider from Croatia that I rated 6/6. As I mentioned in my review I was going to order it again, and this is it, just to prove that I reordered it and it was fantastic! The nose is so good. Very citrusy, refreshing. It’s still as good!

CR: I was very jealous of that when I read the review! I’ve had some fantastic Croatian wine before but never a Croatian cider, so that was really exciting to read about. What else have you been drinking recently? Do you find yourself drinking different things throughout the year?

Natalia: Well recently I’ve been drinking samples that I got and it happens to be a keeved cider from Poland. Usually different producers reach out to me, and this is what happens. But in terms of seasonal drinking, yes I notice when the weather gets colder I tend to prefer more tannic cider with less acidity. Something that has a strong body — more English style. And when it’s very hot outside in the summer I prefer something lighter, lower body, with more citrusy notes. I don’t have a preference — just me!

CR: I’m definitely with you. It’s got cold over here and I’m looking at oak casks, bittersweets, pommeaux.

Natalia: Tom Oliver’s cider goes very well in winter. Anything that’s aged in the barrel with the vanilla notes or coconut sometimes, goes better in the winter time, that’s my impression.

CR: Have your tastes and preferences changed over the five years since you started the blog?

Natalia: I could say so, because at the Irish pub I enjoyed Magners and now I would never touch it again! So yes, I think they’ve improved and changed. But I started appreciating quality cider — there is a structure, a balance and a length. It’s not just take a sip and the taste disappears. So with time I learned to appreciate and admire these things — because it’s also not easy to make a cider like that. So yes, they’ve changed. And this is why it’s so important to educate people. Because it shows that you might start with an alcopop, but if you move to a more sophisticated cider then your taste buds will also level up. So there’s hope!

CR: Tell me how you go about doing your reviews? How do you choose what to review, and do you have a routine?

Natalia: Well first of all I try to review something different — so not just reading about the same cidermaker, but a different one, often coming from a different country. Usually I try not to read anything about the cider I’m about to review. I’m afraid that I could get biased, so I prefer to just go ‘ok, this is the cidermaker who made it’ and then only afterwards, after getting all the notes, do I read whether it’s a blend, a single varietal, how was it made. And then I can cross-check whether my impressions are correct, or whether I said something different. I think this is a fair approach for the cidermaker because I’m sort of an open page. So that’s my approach in terms of reviewing cider.

CR: Something that’s always really chimed with me and drawn me to your reviews is your sort of ‘tell it as it is’ approach. How important is that level of independence and forthrightness to what you do?

Natalia: I think this is just my style. When you want to buy something you initially go through a lot of reviews. And usually you skip the good reviews and go to the bad reviews! Because you want to find if there is something bad. And that was my approach — if there’s something that doesn’t really fit, if there is a fault or something just not right about this cider, then I prefer to write it, to disclose it, not just to keep it to myself.

Because I also want to be fair to someone who is going to buy this cider. And with that I think I’ve built a bit of a brand, because now when I post a review and the cider gets 4 or 5 out of 6 then stockists actually reach out and say ‘ok, your cider got 5 from Cider Explorer, so we can take it without any questions’. I think it’s good, because many people agree with what I try and I don’t think people are afraid to hurt someone. Though I’m sometimes afraid to hurt someone!

CR: I think without that kind of full disclosure there’s no point to reviews, is there? You touched on scores earlier — what was it that made you decide to do scores and why out of 6?

Natalia: Well scoring is important because this is where you can really understand whether something is good or bad. Before I started blogging I reviewed other bloggers and how they tended to score products, and there was usually a scale of 1-10 or 1-5 and I thought I would prefer to go in a different direction. And since I’m Polish and went to school in Poland, I thought ‘why not use the Polish system?’ Where 1 is the worst score you can get and 6 is the best. Obviously I didn’t entirely implement it, because sometimes I give zero, which is really rare and not what happens with the Polish system, but somehow it was just easier for me to build this scoring system. And I think it is still understandable by most followers.

CR: That’s really cool. I’ve always wondered ‘why out of 6?’ — I had no idea it was the Polish system. For those of our readers who maybe haven’t read Cider Explorer yet, what would be the mark where you start saying ‘this is really good, I would buy this again and you should buy this’?

Natalia: As a rule of thumb I would say 4.5. This is where I would say ‘yeah, it’s not perfect but it has something to it and I would buy it again’. But then there are ciders, like a Basque cider that’s in Berlin and I can go and buy it, where sometimes I’m in the mood for something like that — I would give it 2.5 or 3 because it doesn’t have structure or length or depth, but somehow I enjoy having it. But I would say 4.5 is something I enjoy. It’s not perfect, something is missing that would really give it a higher score, but I enjoy it.

CR: For the last few years now you’ve been a judge, particularly at Cider World, and you’ve written really candidly about the experience. What are your thoughts on cider competitions generally, and is there anything you’d like to see done differently?

Natalia: It’s always easy to say when you’re not organising one! First of all it’s a lot of work. Michael, who organises Cider World in Frankfurt, puts tremendous work into running that. Obviously I don’t think there’s a cider competition that is perfect, for many reasons. I think there are just not enough categories. There’s still – sparkling, or sweet, or ice cider, but for example at the last Cider World, if I remember correctly, perry was in the same category as fruit cider, and you just can’t compare something like a hopped cider with perry. Especially coming from a country where perry is a very important beverage. It’s just not right. So I think more categories would be fair — things like hopped cider or botanical cider or a separate category for quince cider or perry. More categories.

Also, maybe not in the UK or France or Spain, but when I look at cider juries in Germany or Poland it’s usually people who specialise in making wine, or they do something in wine or beer or spirits. And asking someone to be on the jury just because they specialise in alcohol is just not the same. Because cider is cider, and making wine and cider might be similar but it’s not just a like for like. So I think the right people who should sit on the jury are missing. So I’d hope that people who are more educated, like Pommeliers, who have more background in cider, not only wine or beer, come on the jury.

CR: It’s an interesting one. I’ve been on juries with people who are cider specialists, and other juries with people who have excellent palates, but aren’t maybe so versed in cider. It’s hard to call. I’d hope I have an ok palate, and I know my way round cider, wine and spirits, but I suppose if I was on a beer jury for instance I’d only know whether I liked something or not, rather than if it was a good representation of a style, say. But then there aren’t very many cider specialists, so I guess it’s tricky.

Natalia: Is something a fault, is something acceptable, is something a good example of a style — if you were a beer drinker judging a cider you wouldn’t know, you’d only know if you liked it or not. And many people judging these competitions are just like that. So there might be a fault, but sometimes something that seems like a fault — in English cider, for example, you might get a leather note — that’s not a fault, it’s something that belongs to the cider. It might be something that you want! So that’s something that’s been bothering me.

CR: On Cider Review we’ve tried to talk about the need for understanding of varieties and styles beyond just ‘dry, sweet, still sparkling’. Do you think that’s something there’s need for, and that might maybe help with categories in competitions? Is it something you’ve seen improve?

Natalia: I think it’s more important to compare ciders that are a similar style. Because you cannot compare apples with pears. And even if you had a scenario where two ciders are dry, but one is maybe in the German style and then there’s another from the UK with notes of leather and some funkiness, and you have someone from Germany on the jury then that person will pick the cider that he or she is familiar with. And I think this is not fair — comparing German ciders and English ciders in one category.

CR: Talking of England, you’ve travelled through England and France in search of cider, and you’ve written wonderfully and candidly about your experiences of both places. I know it’s been a while with the pandemic, but what are your thoughts on English and French cider at the moment from your perspective in Germany?

Natalia: This is quite an interesting observation I have, that cidermakers from these countries mostly aren’t interested in how they make cider in the other. Most English makers aren’t interested in how they make cider in France, and French cidermakers aren’t interested in how these people across the Channel make cider over there! There is simply no interest, and it’s quite interesting because when you look at people from Northern Europe or Eastern Europe, they want to learn, they’re eager to explore new styles, new apple varieties. But have you ever heard of a French cider with Dabinett or Kingston Black?

Then again I think there are a few English ciders with French varieties — I think this is more probable. But these cidermakers tend to focus on their own styles — they don’t really want to explore, discover something new. That’s not a rule, but it’s the trend I’ve seen after visiting these regions. Sometimes I actually see more passionate cidermakers  in other countries. Though in England every cidermaker I met was passionate, when I was in France talking to a cidermaker they were talking about ‘the job’ — cidermaking was a job rather than a passion, something that had been done for generations. But somehow there was no feeling or emotion about making cider, and I thought that was sad. Because that’s what I love about these new countries, like Czech Republic or Croatia, when they speak about cider people are passionate.

CR: I guess if you’re a maker in one of those places you’re not doing it out of tradition, you’re doing it because you’ve found this incredible thing and you don’t care if no one else for hundreds of miles is doing it. Maybe in Normandy or Herefordshire it just feels a normal part of life to an extent? When I think back to before the pandemic, so much has changed in English cider. 750ml sharing bottles are so much more common now, loads of new makers are appearing on the scene or have boosted their visibility, lots of people are trying different varieties and methods. There’s more of a conversation. How easy has this development been to keep up with from Germany?

Natalia: In the UK, yes, because many cidermakers are on social media, so it’s not been that difficult to follow, though when you’re not there you miss a lot — I can’t find everything on twitter or social media. But I try to keep up; it’s been a while since I visited the UK so maybe it’s time to think about the Cider Salon next year!

CR: It’d be great to see you — I’d love to meet up. Maybe we could do a tasting or something — an event before the main Salon if you brought over some German stuff and we put some UK stuff alongside it! People are taking more and more notice of the international scene. I’d like to come back to something you just mentioned — UK producers are actually fairly good at social media on the whole. Is that something you’d like to see more of from European producers? Sometimes I struggle to find people on social media — maybe a bit on instagram, but nowhere in a very conversational way.

Natalia: Usually the English-speaking cidermakers in Germany are active on social media and post something, but apart from that not really. It’s difficult to understand, perhaps it’s just a cultural thing. I’d love to see more posts from German producers because this is how you learn that they exist, they make cider, that they’re available. Otherwise how can you keep up with the growing cider scene?

CR: You mentioned Tom earlier — do you have any other favourite English producers?

Natalia: Oh yes, plenty. It depends also on whether it’s an everyday cider or whether it’s something that’s exquisite. So something exquisite would be Pilton, that’s absolutely mind-blowing. Then for everyday cider it’d be Perry’s, and I also like Dorset Star, Dorset Nectar. Obviously I haven’t had a chance to try all the ciders, because they’re hard to get. Perry’s is available, and Dunkerton’s — these are some of my favourites right now. And Halfpenny Green, Tony Lovering is also a very good cidermaker in my opinion.

CR: Even before Brexit it was pretty hard to get European ciders over here — now it’s pretty much impossible. What’s the situation like, other than the UK, for getting ciders from other countries on the continent?

Natalia: Surprisingly, apart from UK cider, it is super easy. As I mentioned before, just this weekend I was doing cider shopping, visiting natural wine shops, and there was cider from Scandinavia, from Denmark, from Sweden, from Austria, from all of Germany. Even Polish cider, to my surprise. So yes, cider is becoming more available and from a large region. Even not really typical regions. So I think in that sense we’re in a better position than you are, but then I can’t order anything from the UK.

CR: It’s such a mess. Anyway — on a happier note — back to blogging. Thinking of things that have happened as a result of your work on Cider Explorer, what would be your favourite?

Natalia: Getting to know people. And getting to know people who are cidermakers, or are cider related, running shops or cider competitions. This is why, for example, I love coming back to Cider World — at the two-day fair you can meet up with a lot of fantastic, passionate people and exchange information, and you can see that there is a really lovely, close community. So I think this is the greatest experience that Cider Explorer gave to me — apart from cider itself. It’s a beautiful community.

CR: And, to put you on the spot: the best cider you’ve ever tasted?

Natalia: I should be consistent and say Buna, the Croatian one! I think it’s one of the best I’ve had. But then it depends on the category. So it wouldn’t be fair to say that Buna is the best I’ve ever had — sometimes it is ice cider, sometimes it depends on the mood, the weather and of course the food, because nothing goes well with everything. So now I’m very happy with Buna, but the best one? There are too many to name.

CR: Well you’re coming up to 500 reviews now!

Natalia: And there are so many I haven’t posted!

CR: So outside of Germany, who are the producers you most admire?

Natalia: There’s a Czech cidermaker, A.K. Cider, the cidermaker is Martin, and when I went to a cider festival in Prague I fell in love with his products. He’s really great — he visited Tom Oliver once. He made Limonka, which was from an apple variety that’s really citrusy, and he made one of the best ciders I’ve ever tried. So I hope next year I’ll go back to Prague and that Martin will be there. Also Buzdovan, the Croatian cidermaker, I hope they weren’t just a one-off kind of thing, that they didn’t just do one cider that worked really well. I’ll keep fingers crossed! Also Mr Plūme, the Latvian producer. I tried his ciders before, and they were good, but this year I don’t know what changed, but this vintage was fantastic. Another cidermaker to look out for.

CR: That’s great. My co-editor reviewed one of their ciders a year back, and I have a bottle sitting unopened, so I’ll have to try it.

Natalia: I could tell there was a difference. When you’ve been tasting a cider for two or three years, and you see such an improvement, wow!

CR: Then bigger questions about cider generally: why, in your opinion, should people be excited about cider right now?

Natalia: It’s getting better in terms of quality! And the more cidermakers make it, the more people try to sample it. And when there’s more competition it gets better. There are more styles, there’s more dry and still, so there’s more variety. So that’s why people should get excited about cider. It’s getting better and better and better.

CR: Something we slightly touched on — but besides Cider Explorer are there any blogs or writers about cider that you follow and enjoy?

Natialia: I enjoy reading your blog! Because you touch on very interesting topics. It’s interesting, because you’re also honest, but you’re also showing the cider scene from a different perspective, and this is what I like about it. I don’t know where you find the time to do it all like that, but I really respect your work and especially that you’re discussing the topics that no one else does. It’s really interesting — it’s not just writing a cider review. You have to have a know how to do that, but writing an article or having an interesting interview with someone who’s into cider — not everyone can do that.

CR: Do you think cider could do with more people writing about it? Because in terms of regularly posting cider sites in Europe, it’s almost just Cider Explorer and Cider Review. There are people doing amazing things in America, some people doing cool stuff on instagram and a few amazing sites that post about cider from time to time, but in terms of regular cider content there’s not as much as maybe the drink could do with.

Natalia: No. A few people do good job tweeting about cider, cidermaking, cider styles. You’re mostly covering the UK but I’d love to see more about France, for instance. Especially because France is French-speaking, so it’s really difficult to get information and knowledge. The same with Spain. There’s Ana Maria Viciosa Fuente at Cider Ayalga, who the other day posted a visit write-up on a fair in Asturias. She also writes in English and Spanish so in this way there’s a bit of a coverage of Spain [Ed: Haritz of Ciderzale also does a cracking job] but in terms of France I have no idea. Not as much as I wish I did. I learned a lot from the interview you did with Yann, so that was quite enlightening I would say.

So yes, we definitely need more people writing about cider, but it’s more important to educate people about cider in an active way. Because that’s my experience — when I do a cider tasting with friends or at work, and people have a comparison of different styles they’re like ‘wow, cider can really taste like this?’ So I think organising tastings like that is even more important. This is how you educate people and find new cider lovers.

CR: And if you had any advice for someone looking to get into writing about cider, what would it be?

Natalia: I would say be yourself, describe what you feel and never stop exploring — find your own way, your own path, and do what you want to do. This is how I did it; I just went my own way. I think this is the right idea to start blogging with.

CR: Lastly, what are your own hopes and plans for Cider Explorer and for your own journey within cider in the future?

Natalia: My biggest dream is to make my own cider. It’s been my dream since I started the blogging, but I don’t know exactly what, where and how! I’ve been experimenting with cider and the results are not bad, although the score would never go over 3.5 out of 6. So there’s still a lot of room to improve! But I think that would be the beginning of the next step — the biggest dream. Also I was thinking of starting a cider club, to educate people. So that would be the closest dream, to have a cider club. But I’m still not sure how to arrange that — it’s not that easy. But it’s sort of an idea I have. I know in London you have one,.

CR: Yeah, and then the big one in the UK is Manchester — that’s been really game-changing. It was doing amazing things before the pandemic, then did brilliant online sessions, which were great because I was never able to get to the club in person. And it’s sort of figuring out a hybrid model now. But they’re all over the place now. My friend Helen runs a brilliant one in Cardiff that I recently spoke at. So they’re really growing over here. It would be amazing if you set one up in Berlin and I’m sure any of the people who have set up cider clubs over here would be happy to give advice.

Natalia: That would be great, because I don’t know where to start. I know that there’s also a cider club in Torino, in Italy, and they have monthly meetings. So there are cider lovers everywhere — not only in the UK, not only in Berlin, but all over the place. I don’t usually get to try Italian ciders, and they’re also not active on social media, so it’s difficult to get hold of, but they’re doing some interesting things. It’s really exciting!

CR: Enough to keep you going for another five years!

Natalia: Oh yes!

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In addition to my writing and editing with Cider Review I lead frequent talks and tastings and contribute to other drinks sites and magazines including jancisrobinson.com, Pellicle, Full Juice, Distilled and Burum Collective. @adamhwells on Instagram, @Adam_HWells on twitter.

7 Comments

  1. Very interesting behind the scenes look at cider blogging – I really appreciate the insights and transparency.
    Personally, I do take issue with giving a points score – I much prefer the descriptive CR approach, without assigning a score. The perception and enjoyment of a cider is dependent on so many varying factors, both objective and subjective – how can that be captured in a single number? Even Natalia says she prefers a lighter cider in summer and a more tannic cider in winter – so the score would be different depending on the time of year?
    And where does the notion of being true to a certain style or regional expression come in? That Basque cider might be a 2.5 for quaffability, but a 5 as a representation of the style.
    Finally, there is the whole issue of “Parkerization” which such metrics are prone too.

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    • Hi TV
      Thanks as always for taking the time to read and leave such an insightful comment.
      Scores are such a difficult subject, aren’t they? I must admit I’ve gone back and forth with them a fair bit myself. We don’t (currently) score on CR, but that’s partially because we started life as a whisky website column and a. I didn’t have a sufficient bank of reviews I felt for the score to take on the additional meaning regarding my own preferences and b. I assumed most of the people reading would be totally new to cider and so I was more about sharing general insights.
      That said, I’ve scored whiskies in the past, to a framework that seemed to be understood, and I’ve scored ciders in the context of judging the IWSC, where judges award marks out of 100. I’ve read a lot of compelling arguments for scoring, and I’ve found a lot of the scores of certain critics to be very helpful. I also think it’s possible, when one has tasted sufficiently, to be able to take an objective step back and assess the merits of various different ciders according to their style and category. A pretty broad range of international styles falls within my own wheelhouse of preference for instance – my year-end ‘essential cases’ have featured dry, sweet, still, trad meth, pet nat, fortified and varieties and styles from a whole range of countries. So I don’t have any issue as a reader with assuming that Natalia has assessed the Basque cider in a sufficiently detatched way and according to its own merits.
      Regarding Parkerisation — I don’t think that’s likely to happen any time soon with cider. Firstly there isn’t the weight of expense in cider bottlings that would lead consumers to depend on the word of a critic before making their own purchase. Secondly the relative size of cider, and the lack of any internationally renowned critic within it. Thirdly, Parkerisation only really happened because a particular critic had such a strong and individual direction of preference. And as we’re seeing in wine currently, and as Chris commented in his ‘THorny Matters’ piece of last year, no single critic has claimed his crown, and space has been made for a wide range of preferences, which all — when the critic is reviewing sufficiently regularly — become pretty clear pretty quickly.
      I don’t really know if that addresses your point — or indeed if the point needed addressing, but the whole notion of scores and reviewing generally is of such interest to me (obviously) that it prompted a bit of a meandering thought!
      So — thank you so much again for commenting, and for inspiring a lovely lunchtime musing.
      All the best
      Adam

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  2. Talking about availability and natural wine stores – that would be another worthwhile topic. Indeed, more natural wine stores now also carry some ciders. But they apply their natural wine filter of no sulfite, no cultured yeast, and focus heavily on their existing producer base, i.e. wine makers that do cider on the side, versus pure cider makers.
    Natural wine stores won’t water down their focus on zero/zero – that’s why they exist and they are afraid of confusing and alienating their customer base. This is not a channel that cider makers in general can rely on.

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    • Another great comment TV!
      I think it’s inevitable that natural wine retailers will begin with ciders from folk they already know, though it’s frustrating as a cider lover that they sometimes don’t look at cider/perry-only makers.
      Regarding the absolutist approach, that’s something that frustrates me a little too. Most natural wine makers I know would concede that a trace of sulphites is virtually a requirement to avoid the likes of mouse etc, otherwise it will inevitably creep into occasional bottlings. But I suppose a lot of retailers are a. idealists and b. removed from the realities of production, so perhaps a more ‘absolute’ mentality can creep in, and whilst that’s their prerogative, and absolutely fine in a way, it’s certainly a barrier to a lot of makers.
      The whole matter of ‘natural’ vs ‘not natural’ and the incredibly frustrating polarisation of the two is something I’ve long wanted to write about, and probably will in the new year. But I certainly agree that natural wine stores can’t be viewed as a general ‘in’ for cidermakers.
      Best
      Adam

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  3. Pingback: Cider Review interviews Cider Explorer’s Natalia Wszelaki – Cider Explorer

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