Well my friends, somewhat unexpectedly, here we are again.
After writing that first sentence I stared at the otherwise-empty word document for the best part of a full Saturday morning trying to make up my mind on what to type next. (Alright, I also read a few random articles, walked aimlessly around the house, brushed the cat and procrastinated on twitter, but you get the picture).
I commented last year that the very concept of an ‘essential case’ had been rubbished on two scores. Firstly, that ‘essential’ is plainly not an adjective you can apply with credibility either to cider and perry or to any other sort of alcohol or luxury, and secondly that the original premise of the ‘essential case’ was as a guide to the new consumer and not, as it has become, an annual roundup of my favourite bottles.
This year, given everything that has happened in the world, given the deepening cost of living crisis in the UK and, yes, given, within that context, the price of some of the bottles listed below, that title feels all the more tawdry, and not for the first time I wondered whether I should dispense with the concept altogether.
What’s more, Rachel Hendry, in her typically thoughtful ‘Pethau Da’ on Burum Collective last year observed astutely that the act of ‘deciding who is deemed significant’ via listicles like this is inevitably a simultaneous practice of deciding who is not, a sentiment that has stuck with, and slightly concerned me, ever since.
Then of course there is the point that Cider Review has always been a collective; comprised not only of my co-editor James and myself, but of a growing corps of cider and perry-loving volunteers without any one of whom this site would be the poorer in colour and depth. So even if it ought to exist in the first place, why should this list be mine alone?
Part of the answer, to me at least, is in this yearly article’s emotional link to what I consider to be the genesis of my own regular cider writing and indeed Cider Review as it now exists more generally. Although I had written a couple of pieces beforehand, it was the initial essential case, written as part of an ‘anything but whisky’ week on malt-review.com that began the weekly column which ultimately mutated into this website. Each iteration since has been a nod back to that first essential case, and a reminder of how far the world of cider and perry has come in just three years.
Mostly though, this case stands, I hope, for the wonder and joy that cider and perry can inspire, and has indeed inspired within me. If Cider Review exists for any purpose it is as a rebuttal to the condescension and put-downs directed at these drinks; the notions that they are perhaps a little basic and twee, and that there isn’t all that much to find in them or say about them compared to the likes of wine or beer or spirits.
All around the world, producers are weaving little seams of magic capable of stitching themselves indelibly into the tapestry of our imagination and memory. Ciders and perries that take your breath away and haunt you for days, weeks, months afterwards with the ghosts of their brilliance. These are drinks which crackle with craft and care and patience and love, drinks which reach out and brush the soul; the sort of drinks that brought me back to Cider Review when I thought, last year, that I had left drinks blogging for good.
Per the fairly arbitrary ‘rules’, no producer has more than one entry, and only drinks that have been on sale this year, and that I tried for the first time in 2022, have been eligible for inclusion. Importantly, as ever, this list makes no pretence of being a ‘best of’. There will be, I am sure, entries you would disagree with, styles you might not care for and drinks you would have included instead. The more often I write this list the more I come to realise that I could probably write a second full case and feel every bit as justified in my selection; that the difference between ‘on it’ and ‘nearly on it’ is really just a bit of a gut feeling. An element of ‘heart over head’.
But then it is only feeling (and a little bit of context) that really drives this list in the first place, and if anything, the increasing difficulty in compiling it proves just how bountiful the riches of modern, international cider and perry are today. They have conjured so many, many moments of wonder and joy for me this year. But, in no particular order, it was the baker’s dozen below that glow brightest in my memory today.
1. Butford Organics Hendre Huffcap 2020
For the first year since this list’s inception, the perries on it outnumber the ciders (just). Perhaps I’ve just been paying perry (even) more attention, and it’s fair to say I’ve had exposure to a wider international range than usual, but I do think that some truly outstanding perries have been available in 2022, and Butford’s Hendre Huffcap sits, for me, right in the very top tier.
I’m not the only recorded fan on these pages; Ed recommended it as the pairing in one of his marvellous recipe articles, and if you whisper ‘Hendre Huffcap’ three times, Chris appears in a cloud of leucoanthocyanine. But I was bowled over when I tasted this perry — the best of this variety by far that I have ever tried — and I have thought about its explosion of luxurious fruit ever since.
I was particularly pleased that this made such a good impression since Martin’s creations were among those which first pulled me into the perry rabbit hole, yet because of the ravages of perry midge, his orchards hadn’t yielded a bottling for a little while. All I can say is that his Hendre Huffcap 2020 was more than worth the wait.
2. Oliver’s Aged in Old Barrels Vintage 2020
Another year, another essential case with an Oliver’s creation in it. Along with two other makers (more on them in a bit) Tom has featured in every one of these I’ve written, which could trigger accusations of commendable consistency, boring predictability or shameless bias, depending on how charitable you wanted to be.
All I’d say, looking back at the Oliver’s drinks that have featured in this case over the years, is that they have not only been unimpeachable in their quality, but almost remarkable in their breadth. Last year, for instance, we had a sweet perry; the year before that a single variety Foxwhelp, the year before that a dry perry blend.
This year the bottle that proved too gorgeously memorable to leave out was Tom’s Vintage Dry 2020. A secret blend of bittersweets and bittersharps aged in a former Islay whisky cask, it was a brooding, swirling, juicy blast of autumn. With its seam of smoke scything through the fruit and oak, it was described by Tom himself as ‘a bit marmite’, in which case colour me in the ‘love it’ camp. I adored this from first sniff and have made my way through several bottles. I now only have one left, and it will be jealously guarded for some time yet to come.
3. Haselberger 159 Jahre Grüner Pichlbirne 2020
One of the undisputed highlights of my year was the opportunity to finally visit Mostviertel in Austria, one of the world’s trio of great perry heartlands, and the only one in which perry has primacy over cider. It was a truly mind-broadening, eye-opening trip awash with stunning drinks, and it is testament to the quality of Peter and Bernadette Haselberger’s dry perries that theirs stood out in my mind as the very best.
Make no mistake, this couple constitute, to my mind, one of the finest perry producers in the world. Their single variety range was pristine, their traditional method (yet to be released) a wonder and their 2018 Pyrus was almost my pick for this list. They deserve nothing less than international attention and I wish them every success.
In the end though, my choice was an easy one. Grüner Pichlbirne, with its full body, electric balance of acidity and tannin and starburst of concentrated green fruit flavours, was my favourite of all the Austrian single varieties. And this bottling, the Haselberger flagship, drunk beneath the single tree from which it sprang — a tree planted over 150 years ago — gave me one of my favourite, and most delicious, cider and perry moments of the year.
4. Sail We Must Dabinett (Batch 1)
One of the biggest surprises this year, to me at any rate, was just how good the Scottish cider scene is right now. I was aware it existed, I knew it was growing, but nothing could have prepared me for the stunning aggregate quality I found in this tasting flight, easily one of the best and most memorable in a year of privileged tasting opportunities.
I said to Caroline and my cousin who were tasting with me at the time that I’d be amazed if one or two of them didn’t make it into my year-end favourites and so, four months later, it has proven. Firstly with this utterly voluminous Dabinett from Sail We Must, one of the most aromatic, compelling, intense and vivid ciders I can remember in this or any other year.
Since its fruit comes from Dorset, an interesting question might be raised over whether this truly counts as ‘Scottish’ or ‘English’ cider. As it happens, James wrestled with this very question in his article last weekend. Personally, as a wine boy, it’s the provenance of the fruit that always interests me most, and which I hold responsible for most of the flavour. But unlocking those flavours requires a maker, and unlocking them with the sensitivity, complexity and skill of this cider requires a very good maker indeed.
5. Seb’s Butt Perry 2020
Most of the best makers in the country can be found online these days but, besides a few of his bottles that used to be on Fram Ferment, Seb’s is one of the exceptions that proves the rule. To find his wares you really need to live in his corner of Herefordshire, or visit his stall at the Ross on Wye festival, which was where I bought this.
Butt Pear has rapidly become one of my favourite varieties — on par with Thorn, Flakey Bark and Plant de Blanc. Magnificently idiosyncratic, forthright of flavour and electric in its structure of vibrant perry tannin and gentle acidity, it belies the generalisation of perry as inherently subtle and delicate, and is surely one of the most complex and complete of single varieties, as well as one of the most archetypally ‘Three Counties’ perry pears around.
I’ve had several brilliant single variety examples this year, but none that captured my attention quite as this did. Caroline is a fellow fan of the variety, and after we’d opened this bottling at the festival bottle share we headed straight back to the well for a few more. You can be sure those few will be eaked out slowly until the next festival, when we can buy from Seb again.
6. Naughton Homage to Hogg 2020
Another ‘English fruit-Scottish maker’ collaboration, this time of Yarlington Mill in the hands of a producer based in Fife. Yarlington is by some mileage my favourite bittersweet variety, but rarely do I find it as beautifully, purely and arrestingly realised as it was in this stunning example.
Of all the cideries that have opened in Scotland in the last few years, Naughton might be the one that has most piqued my interest, since its maker, Peter Crawford, is famous in wine circles as one of the country’s foremost experts on Champagne.
You might expect then for Peter to be more focussed on the traditional method side of things, and indeed I gather he has a few cooking up, which I will be most intrigued to taste. But in his Homage to Hogg, he has produced that most classic of cider creations — the dry, still, oak-aged bittersweet — and has done it at a level of skill and respect for the fruit that almost nothing else I have tasted this year could match. Make no mistake, this is a producer to keep an eye on.
7. Kertelreiter Helden 2020
If I were to make a list of my top five perrymakers in the world, there’s no doubt in my mind that Barry Masterson and his Kertelreiter brand would be on it. The best perries are made by the folk most obsessive and invested, after all, and there’s no one who falls into that category more squarely than Barry.
This is yet another ‘single tree’ bottling for the list, again from one ancient specimen, and the perry it produced took an hour for me to write my tasting not for, such was its shifting, beguiling, constantly-evolving personality. In a lineup of brilliant perries it was my standout, and I had it penned onto this list more or less as soon as I had written it up.
Kertelreiter’s new availability on these shores, despite all the red tape and pain that Brexit has inculcated, is one of the great triumphs for the international cider and perry scene of the year. Perry is becoming less insular. It is more possible than ever to see over the national fence, to discover the cultures and creations of other countries and to learn what they have to teach. Both makers and drinkers will be inestimably the richer for it, and as the global perry movement grows, I am certain that Barry and the perries of Kertelreiter will remain at its heart.
8. Find & Foster Four Trees Perry 2020
I’m somewhat amazed that this is the first time a Find & Foster has been on one of these lists since their inclusion in the January 2020 original. Indeed I’ve generally not written as much about this cidery as I might have over the years, and I wonder if it’s perhaps that we’re so accustomed to metronomic brilliance from their keeves, pét nats and, especially, traditional methods, that I felt there wasn’t all that much more I could add to the paeans they regularly receive from other quarters — a little like the keeved perries from Tom Oliver about which I wrote last year.
But if anything was going to wake me up and shake me up a bit, it was a first-ever perry from Polly and Mat, which arrived in the form of the astonishingly good Four Trees 2020. A magnificent pét nat blend of Blakeney Red and Butt which showcased all that’s best of those varieties; the joyous fruit of the former with the coastal minerality and beautiful structure of the latter.
It was a delicious reminder to myself to keep an eye firmly fixed on this brilliant Devon cidery, and I can only hope that they augment their range with another perry or two in the vintage to come. With new makers of this talent turning their attention to perry, the future of the drink is bright indeed.
9. Eve’s Albee Hill 2018
We don’t do ‘cidery of the year’ pronouncements on CR, but if we did, mine for this year would go to Eve’s. Thanks to a family wedding I was finally able to visit New York and New York State this year, and my visit to the Finger Lakes and to three of the region’s world class makers stands as unquestionably the high water mark of my year in cider and perry.
But it was my trip to Eve’s for an article I wrote for Pellicle and the conversation I had with Autumn and Ezra that really felt like the pinnacle. A morning that single-handedly advanced my understanding of cider and perry, and of the fundamental importance of terroir to its potential, more than any other I can readily think of. Walking their Albee Hill orchard, feeling the crunch of shale beneath my feet, seeing the glacial cut of the valley and understanding how this orchard differed from any other, was an experience wreathed in magic.
I was lucky to try a swathe of Autumn’s creations out in the Finger Lakes, yet the bottling that burrowed deepest was the 2018 vintage of Albee Hill, drunk with Caroline back in our flat in Reading. I’m not sure how that vintage had previously passed me by, but the additional layer of maturity brushed onto that exceptional fruit selection and its inimitable terroir made for a glass of genius. I wax purple about the concept of ‘soul’ from time to time, and it’s because drinks like this exist.
10. Ross on Wye Thorn – Flakey Bark 2020
Talking of soul…
Caroline and I often go for walks in the countryside (though not as often as we’d have liked this year) and we always take a 750ml of cider or perry with us when we do. What we’ve found over the years is that no cidery’s wares feel as of-the-setting; as evocative of the very outdoors themselves, as those of Ross on Wye.
Something in their dry, lightly-conditioned embrace of the character of particular fruits, in the slatey minerality they so often exude, and in the rugged, rumbustious, structural element they bring to the glass, feels so distinctly of, and connected to, the land, their environment, their place.
The moment I tasted this perry, made from two of my very favourite pears, I felt that connection. Its mesmerising fusion of the deep earthy baritone of Flakey Bark, the fresh, clean gooseberry zing and leafy green crunch of Thorn, and the gentle wisp of barrel smoke that drifted ethereally through it all, spoke somehow of things ancient and intangible; of some deep and unplaceable resonance difficult to put into words.
I may have enjoyed other Ross on Wyes as much this year, but none have lingered with me as this perry did; a perry unlike any other I have tasted in recent memory; a haunting, soulful transubstantiation of place to drink; a lonely, hard, green, old earthy landscape made liquid in a glass.
11. Destillerie Farthofer Mostello Süss 2011
Absolutely no question about it: Mostello, from Destillerie Farthofer, is my favourite drinks discovery of the year. It’s long been documented in these pages that I adore fortified drinks; their depth, their richness, their intensity and sheer lusciousness. But all the fortified drinks I had found in cider and perry were mistelles, like Pommeau — drinks in which fortification of the juice took place before fermentation had begun.
What I always wanted to find was a true fortified cider or perry — a drink made like port, sherry or madeira, styles I have always adored — and this year, in Mostello, I finally found it.
My God was it worth the wait. Whether their Trocken, fortified after fermentation has been completed a la Oloroso sherry, or their Süss, where fermentation is interrupted by the addition of pear spirit, leaving rich residual sugar in the drink, these are without doubt some of the best products in world cider and perry full stop. Oak aged for a remarkable four years before bottling, they are some of the richest, deepest, most complex and entrancing drinks of any type that I can think of, and there is nothing I would be more excited to see brought to English shores.
I was lucky enough to try several different vintages during my trip to Austria, but the most memorable was the very first I tasted, the 2011, all honey and chopped nuts and tarte aux poires, paired brilliantly and imaginatively with a main course of venison, one of the best food-drink matches I can ever remember encountering. I have daydreamt about that pairing, and about Mostello, ever since, and I can’t see my new-found love dimming any time soon.
12. Little Pomona Brut Zero NV
Still. No, sparkling. No, still. No, sparkling.
This year, the two ciders which I have loved probably more than any others both came from the same producer. In fact, even more specifically, they both came, in the main, from more or less the same parcel of barrels, with much the same blend of varieties. A parcel of barrels, in fact, which has already (in 2020) produced an ‘essential case constituent’, and probably a ‘favourite cider of the year’. At least I’m consistent.
When I first tried Little Pomona’s Brut Zero NV I was pretty certain it was going to be in this lineup. Not only a return of those phenomenal 2017 Foxwhelp-Ellis Bitter ex-Ornellaia barrels, but the most layered, clever, considered and complex traditional method cider I had ever tasted. It blew me away.
But then I tried Sum of the Parts #2, reviewed here and it gave me pause. I loved it every bit as much — as I probably would, given the pretty similar components. In aroma, poise, complexity, depth and all-round brilliance, I couldn’t really pull them apart. Both are remarkable, remarkable ciders and if your preferences line up anywhere near mine, you should try both if you can.
But in the end, it is the fizz that tops my personal table for the year. Perhaps because it is a little further removed from a cider that has already featured in one of these cases, perhaps because of what it represents: the best traditional method cider I can remember tasting, perhaps simply because it is a time of year that calls for bubbles. Who knows? Whatever the reason, Brut Zero NV is my pick, and since it’s the only bottle on this list which I’ve not already reviewed, a tasting note is submitted below:
How I served: Lightly chilled
Appearance: Deep rose gold, fine mousse.
On the nose: Like a magic trick. At once chiselled, defined, pure and utterly precise in the delivery of each aromatic, yet also a broad swathe of heady perfume. Dried red fruit, toasty spices, pomegranate, rose petals, tarte tatin and deep citrus all interplaying beautifully. One to nose forever.
In the mouth: Just the most gorgeous fusion of fruit and method. The fizz is creamy and generous and never distracting, and the textural balance of ripe yet steely tannin, sinewy body and poised acidity is utterly divine. Dried strawberry and pink grapefruit mingle with bright red apple and blood orange pith. A rich toastiness underscores it all and a delightful prickle of bitterness invites another sip. This is a very grown-up cider of extraordinary elegance and genius composition, which will continue to reward drinkers for probably over a decade to come, if you can bear to wait. Heavenly.
In a nutshell: I’ve not said enough already?
13. Minchew Malvern Hills Merret Method Perry 2001
The bonus ‘13th’ in my case is always a wild card, and this year it is a cheat. I’m not sure this perry is on commercial sale anywhere; I only tried it myself because of a fluke and a lot of generosity (thanks Gabe!) and I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to try it again.
Yet it was, without question, one of the best and certainly the most meaningful things I tasted this year. Not simply for its astonishing perfume, opulence, headiness, depth and complexity — above and beyond almost any perry I have ever tried before, but for what it represents: a perry that has aged gracefully for 21 years, and which continues to drink beautifully in 2022.
Perry is a drink I have come to love, and whose future I have come to care about deeply. I wish more people knew of its quality, its fascination and its potential for greatness. It is drinks like this Minchew perry that have revealed perry’s greatness to me, and which could underline perry’s quality to any drinker without any doubt or question. Something which can age for over two decades and continue deliver at that level in the glass is simply too good a something to overlook.
I may not drink a Minchew perry again. Given the quality of perrymaking available today I don’t need to. But through this perry of the past, I see a bright future indeed, and at the end of this of all years, that is a very comforting thing.
Only the usual: to reflect on just how brilliant some of the ciders and perries released in the last year have been, from makers all around the world.
Looking back at my annual lists, I feel they genuinely reflect an increasing quality in cider and perry. I would take this essential case over my selection in any previous year, and I’ve no doubt that case five in December 2023 will be yet another upward step. I can’t wait to taste the bottles that will compile it.
All that remains is for me to wish you a very merry Christmas if you celebrate it, and a happy and peaceful end of the year if you don’t. It has been my absolute pleasure to share my thoughts on cider and perry with you this year; I am pleased beyond words to have found the joy in it again, and to have been given such a generous welcome back by the cider and perry community. This time last year I had intended to leave for good. Now I hope I’ll be staying around for years to come. There’s certainly plenty left to do. Love and thanks to you all, and I’ll see you back here in 2023.
Images of the Butford, the Sail We Must and the Naughton judiciously nicked from Cork and Crown and The Cat in the Glass respectively.
Thank you Adam and the rest of the CR team for another great year.
Adam please never stop doing an annual list, I mean… everyone loves an end of year list don’t they?! I know I do!
That LP Brut Zero though… goodness me, it’s delicious!
Merry Christmas to you all x
As one of the OG supporters of my cider writing it’s always lovely to hear from you. And I don’t think the list is going anywhere. Hopefully it’s sufficiently clear by now that it’s a personal favourites and not any sort of claim of bests, and people seem to take it in that spirit. A bit of fun to end the year.
I will be sad indeed when I finish my last Brut Zero. Especially since it found television fame and flew out!
Best wishes for Christmas, and catch you here in the new year. Maybe 2023 will be the year we finally meet at an event.
Thanks Adam for another great year.
Way too many on that list I haven’t tried!
Will have to remedy in the near future.
Thank you so much for your review! Very kind.
You must pop up and try my Traditional Method! I have really enjoyed making the Homage to Hogg (you also need to try the recent release Kingston Black 2021) but my heart lies in all things sparkling!
Hopefully see you soon. Have a wonderful Christmas!
Peter at Naughton Cider Co
My pleasure. As you can tell, I absolutely loved it!
Very much hoping that I’ll have a chance to get up to Scotland in 2023. I’m pretty flooded until March or thereabouts, but hopefully a window will present itself after that at some point.
Best wishes, thanks very much for commenting, and a very happy new year. I’m sure you’ve a bottle of something suitable to see it in with!
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