Features, perry
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Cider Review’s review of the year: 2022

On the whole, 2022 probably goes down as a year to look back on with some trepidation. Between terrifying heatwaves, cost of living crises, a turntable of political incompetence and endless misery besides — and that’s just the UK — I quite understand if you just want to sign it off and crack on with 2023.

But it’s been an eventful year for cider and perry — and an eventful year for Cider Review. It’s safe to say we have reviewed the hell out of cider in 2022, with 213 new tasting notes and a whopping 107 new articles written by nine contributors. Virtually everything you read here is offered by our writers on a volunteer basis, so enormous thanks from both James and myself to Barry, Chris, Ed, Helen J, Helen S, Jack and Mike, whose contributions have been gorgeous, enlightening and invaluable. Cider Review, and cider and perry in general, is lucky to have such a richly talented bunch of scribes. Thanks also to everyone who has taken the time to speak to us for an interview and by doing so enriched our content with their perspective and expertise. 

It’s also — good Lord! — been an award-winning year for the blog. James ‘did the CAMRA double’, following up his CAMRA Gold with the hugely prestigious Pomona Award. And though I came up against the might of Gabe Cook and James Crowden and their brilliant books Modern British Cider and Cider Country, it was a privilege to be among the nominees for the Guild of Beer Writers’ inaugural Cider Communication of the Year Award.

So many people to thank — readers, supporters, makers, partners, friends — the list could go on and on forever, so I shan’t even try to write it. But before we knock 2022 on the head and head to the fridge or the bottle rack for something to toast midnight with, we wanted to offer our contributors the chance to glance back at their ‘cider moments’ of 2022. The themes and bottles that have stood out. Something they’ve really noticed, or perhaps some growing concern that this year has raised. In no particular order, their thoughts are shared below. 

One last aside from me, which is that we won’t be posting in January. Like the apple and pear trees we’ve had a long and busy year and could do with a bit of ‘winter dormancy’ to recharge the batteries and come back raring to go for the next vintage. Look out for buds emerging on this branch again in February, and in the meantime a very Happy New Year to you and your loved ones.

James

We’ve talked about climate change on here before, but this year its reach seems to have touched so many cider makers. Recordings of some of the highest sugar levels on both sides of the UK, one of the driest summers on record leading to many areas of the world going into drought, which resulted in amongst other catastrophic impacts, smaller and earlier ripening fruit. There’s no denying the impact and pattern that has been seen over recent years across the globe and now more than ever ‘craft’ (for want of a better word) cider and perry need support in the face of many physical challenges, as well as financial ones, the new proposed changes to cider duty are concerning. But also the recognition that full juice cider is a vital component in affecting change; traditional unsprayed orchards are magnificent, biodiverse and climate change mitigating places.

It would be very easy for us to just review ciders and perries and forget all the thought pieces, but it’s those articles that really push cider forwards and broaden our understanding of these bigger issues. Mainstream cider has completely lost its connection with place and the natural environment. Helen’s piece mentioning how Heineken have used a treasured cider family name to try and create the illusion of ‘small batch, hand crafted’ is shameful and just illustrates that detachment. Whereas heartwarming stories of makers who are working to preserve and increase orchards are uplifting and restore faith in cider and perry and its positive impact on the planet.

Since Cider Review started, I’ve drilled into a few of the negatives; sugar, concentrate, faults, transparency. As I look forward to 2023 my resolution is to go back to the start and focus on the things that got me drinking it in the first place and why I still do. 

If I had to pick a few standout drinks I’ve had this year it would have to be: Two of the new releases at Ross Fest from Ross on Wye Cider and Perry – Deja’Bu and the Dabinett SVC 2020 (Caribbean Oak), the just-released Nightingale — Discovery (Whisky Barrel) and Hardangergutane — Vindpust (International Cider Challenge Supreme Champion). Not forgetting the wonderful case I got from Will and Anna at Smith Hayne Orchards as part of a bottle swap, they make some special ciders. The rich diversity of people and drinks is what makes cider and perry so fascinating. 

Cheers.

Ed

It’s been a funny old year (I say that about every year), busy all of the time with the kids, the day job and our sideline cider making project, Brollins Cider.

Things I’ve noticed this year.

  • It was hot, REALLY HOT!!! Now it’s really wet. 
  • I’ve not tried enough cider from producers that I didn’t already know about – most of the cider I’ve drunk this year has been from Herefordshire, partly down to the 25 litre box of Ross Cider I was given for my 40th Birthday – took a few months to get through that on my own.
  • There’s been a lot more talk about pears and perry and I’ve tried to include more perry and pears in the recipes that I occasionally write for Cider Review (all two of them – the pear pancakes and the pear and gorgonzola tarte) — I wish I had more time to write more and share more of my ideas with you but with two kids under 4 it’s hard not to be drawn to the sofa and terrible telly when they finally go to bed. 

Stand out drinks of the year (in the order I sampled them and not in order of preference)

  1. Caledonian – Islay Cask
  2. Greggs Pit Thorn
  3. Ross on Wye – Dabinett 2019-2020
  4. Ross on Wye HMJ SVC 2019
  5. Artistraw – Foxwhelp SVC
  6. Artistraw – Duffryn
  7. Long Mynd Cider – The Staverton Barrel
  8. Butford Organics – Hendre HUffcap
  9. Nightingale Cider – Songbird No.1
  10. Wilding Cider – Dabinett and Foxwhelp 2019

Personal favourites on the list were the limited run Foxwhelp SVC from Artistraw, Greggs Pit Thorn Perry and the Butford Organic’s Hendre Huffcap. I’ve also fallen in love with cider aged in Bourbon casks – there’s something really moreish about these that I simply cannot get enough of, so much so that I’ve been experimenting with bourbon oak chips in my own pressings.

What next? A look to 2023.

I’ll be trying to hit my target of one article a quarter with a recipe and drink pairing. I’ll also write that article on cheese. [No rush on that one — Ed]

There’s also a hope to make a return to the Ross on Wye Cider Festival. We’ve missed the last two due to Covid and kids. If you see us there, do say hello.

Finally, I’ve got designs on expanding my own cider making project to increase the amount I make but also to pick more fruit from the trees in the private gardens around Birmingham. We made 100 litres this year which felt like a lot because of the time it took to produce (everything was done by hand). Maybe next year I’ll invest in a bigger press and a motorised scratter.

Mike

If I have learnt anything from my Boxing Day binge of the Bonds it’s that I like an explosive opening. So here’s one — I like beer. Der der de de. And I have probably drunk more beer than cider (it’s probably best we don’t actually count totals). Der Der Der. 

But cider is better. It has a much better story, a wider flavour range, and taste profiles that can’t be matched. Beer should be getting chased across rooftops as a low hanger in the honcho hierarchy, whilst cider should be sitting in a leather chair stroking a cat. 

But beer has the confidence. I have watched the beer scene evolve from Carling and Fosters to double dry hopped IPAs, and super clean pilsners. Low abv session strength 3.6ers, to plus 8’s. There is no self doubt in the beer world. 

As a cider fan, drinker, maker and now very junior writer I am starting to see cider shrug off its slight shyness, its “not too bad” ness, its classic Englishness, and tell people about the products. People are ready to listen.  

And as we come out of the enforced isolations of the covid years I have seen a much greater acceptance of trying new ciders at markets. Consumers might not yet know their Yarlingtons from their Dabs. Or their cold racks from their pét nats. But we can teach them and guide them. 

Remember it’s taken 20 years for beer to evolve from Fosters. Cider is just starting. It might feel slow — but it is happening. We keep the positive, we avoid elitism, and we continue to spread the word. The drinks scene is being shaken. People are stirring.

Chris

2022 has been a great year for Cider Review. Perry Month was a resounding success and included interviews with a much wider range of producers from across the world than has ever previously been attempted, showcasing perry as a truly global drink that deserves a lot more attention and respect than it currently receives. In fact, the site has greatly expanded its international coverage across the board, not least because of Adam’s inspiring visits to America’s Finger Lakes and Austria’s Mostviertel, and Barry’s fascinating articles about the past, present and future of German cider and perry. In other triumphant news, James won a prestigious Pomona Award from CAMRA for his tireless work promoting cider and perry, which has further cemented his status as one the UK’s leading cider advocates. Alongside the increased international coverage, we have discussed and reviewed a multitude of fantastic new releases from renowned British producers such as Oliver’s and Ross on Wye, as well as lesser-known up-and-comers like Ascension and Four Acres Estate. To cut a long story short, 2022 has been a fine vintage for cider and perry writing, and I fully expect this year’s output to mature gracefully. 

As we look back on the year that was and remember the energy and excitement generated by the cider scene, we might well be forgiven for thinking that the British craft cider industry is going from strength to strength. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. As cider enthusiasts, we unsurprisingly tend to focus on ciders made by the most accomplished and aspirational producers, but it’s important to sometimes remind ourselves that they form the tip of a very large iceberg. In the UK, this iceberg is rapidly melting due to the current energy and cost of living crisis. The challenges facing craft cider producers today are multiple and severe: Over 400 British pubs closed in the wake of the pandemic lockdowns, and many more are expected to shut their doors for good as the costs of gas, electricity and food soar to unprecedented levels. Sharp increases in the cost of living, which were significantly exacerbated by the government’s catastrophic September ‘mini-budget’, have left customers with far less disposable income to spend on little luxuries like cider and perry. Britain is a poorer place than it was this time last year. The cider industry will not emerge unscathed from this economic downturn. 

The  combination of surging energy costs and falling demand for non-essential goods has already proved lethal for a number of cider-related businesses. This year, we lost the long-standing and much-loved Scrattings, as well as Yeovil’s excellent Cider Shack. As the UK slips further into recession, the steady trickle of cider-related businesses going into administration could fast become a flood. I fear that without government assistance, not least in the form of an extension to the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, the UK’s craft cider industry will not survive in its current form. Getting this assistance will be easier said than done, because many other industries find themselves in the same boat, and there will probably not be enough subsidies to go around. Matters won’t be helped by the government’s reluctance to splash too much cash for fear of sparking inflation. This means that if the cider industry is to secure its slice of the pie, it will have to fight tooth and nail for it. Craft cider must become political if it is to survive. Producers, retailers and publicans will be obliged to come together to campaign for the craft cider scene’s continued existence, and us cider advocates will have to transform ourselves into cider activists. 2023 will be the year in which the cider industry either takes to the barricades or faces inevitable decline. As the New Year approaches on the horizon, let us resolve to stand up for the producers and retailers that make and sell the drinks we love. 

Jack

Oh for a time capsule, to send back to myself at the start (or indeed the first 7 months) of 2022 – just a little snapshot with useful things like, what your job will be at the end of the year; how much cider you will have made by the end of the year (690 litres); how much perry you will have made by the end of the year (135 litres). There has also been 1 cider apple tree planted in a friend’s orchard (White Norman – thank you Welsh Mountain Cider nursery), with more planned for 2023. All useful headlines that make me particularly proud to see the how the year has progressed. It’s been a joy writing articles for Cider Review, and using my Top 5 Ciders and Perries of the year as catalysts – it’s time to look back and reflect. 

Find & Foster’s Mêlé 5.5%abv

To discover this juicy, tannic, full-bodied cider, from a producer known predominantly for their much-loved 750ml output, in a dinky, back-pocket-sized, 250ml can right near the end of the year has been a real joy. With this tasty cider sitting on the market, alongside 330ml and 440ml cans, you can go to an end-of-year party with everything from 250ml right up to Magnum (1.5ltr). Haven’t seen any Jeroboams (3 ltr), Methuselahs (6 ltr), or Balthazars (12ltr) yet, but give it time. And try this cider, it’s lush!

Nightingale Cider’s Highland Disco 8.1%abv

I’ve loved seeing the emergence of the Cider Nouveau scene these past few years with Little Pomona, Halfpenny Green, Bushel + Peck, Rull Orchard, and Ross on Wye all releasing a first pressing of one variety or another. Now that Discovery has rooted itself as a firm favourite of mine for cider, I longed for something showcasing what the apple could do outside of plastic and stainless steel – perhaps in an ex-whisky barrel? Along came Sam Nightingale at this year’s Ross on Wye Festival with a bottle for us to try in Albert’s orchard. It juxtaposes a barrel-aged mellowness, alongside a sprightly, acidic ceilidh-esque jig! Everything I could have wished for and more.

 Little Pomona’s On The Beech 2020 7.3%abv

A revisit for me of this marvellous cider, released last year, which spurred me to buy that White Norman (aka White Beech) tree I mentioned above. Going by Untappd, this was my highest rated drink of 2022. It’s just got even better with age, and is a bottle I would buy more of (if I can find anywhere with it still in stock) to show to friends new to cider, just how well certain bottles can mature over time. 

Brennan’s Perry Woodstock 7%abv

This perry was a real icebreaker moment in the Meet The Makers part of Ross on Wye Festival. As the Brennan Brothers passed around the first perry they’ve ever made to us all, you could see the look on everyone’s faces: wow, this is good! Using Conference and Yellow Huffcap pears, my mind was drawn back to this perry as I stood underneath a substantial and heavy-cropping Yellow Huffcap perry pear tree in Whin Hill’s Orchard a month or two later. It’s great when a drink can transport you back to a specific moment in time like this.

Ross On Wye’s Dabinett SVC Oak Barrel 2020 7%abv

By now on my list it’s become apparent what a great event the Ross on Wye Festival was this year for exposure to outstanding drinks. This rum barrel-fermented and matured Dabinett does something to this familiar and well-known cider variety: it elevates it further. I didn’t get to try this cider ’til after the festival but bought a bottle as I’d sold so much of it on the bar at the event, I had a feeling it was something special. Sitting on my balcony, with Hummingbird Hawk Moths darting around the Verbena flowerheads, sipping on this glorious, tropical cider, was a real highlight of the warmer months of the year that was 2022.

Adam

After a few years of going absolutely nowhere, I’ve been immensely fortunate to have travelled more this year than in any of my previous 31. (Albeit mainly to Ireland to snoop merrily around barley fields). It’s been a privilege to visit several cider and perrymakers overseas, from the stunning glacial wilderness of the Finger Lakes to the rolling Alpine foothills of Mostviertel, studded with ancient pear trees, to the sloping coastal orchards of Killahora in Cork. And every time I have been struck by the richness and variety to be found among makers beyond the brilliant producers I know from my own country.

Cider Review and its contributors may be largely based in the UK, but it has always existed to take an international outlook. Our strapline reads ‘insights on world cider and perry’, and I believe we are always the richer for looking beyond our borders, connecting with drinkers and makers of other cultures, and creating a shared bank of cider and perry knowledge from which the whole international community can draw.

Without the international scene the delicious world of fortifieds is all but ripped out for instance, with the Pommeaux of Normandy, their counterparts in Brittany and Maine and the stunning Mostellos of the Mostviertel such a glorious jewel in cider and perry’s crown. No Canada, no ice cider, and what a tragic loss that would be. No Brännland in Sweden, probably no popularisation of ice cider on this side of the Atlantic. Thanks to the likes of Natalia, who spoke to us brilliantly the other week, and Meredith, who unbelievably has now blogged at Along Came a Cider for a decade next month, we have windows onto these cultures across the Channel and the Atlantic, and what indispensable windows they are, too.

I am always struck by the individuality of apple and pear varieties to each culture’s cider and perry. Though there’s a little crossover between France and England, for the most part the varieties and flavours of each country’s fruit are entirely its own. The Thorn, Gin, Butt, Hendre Huffcap and Blakeney Red of the UK, the mighty Plant de Blanc, Antricotin, Vinot and Fossey of France, the Grüner Pichlbirne, Speckbirne, Stieglbirne, Dorschbirne and Landlbirne of Austria, the Gelbmostler, Bayerische Weinbirne and Champagne Bratbirne of Germany to name but a few — and only pears at that.

Yet just as exciting are the new takes on these varieties being found by creative makers around the world. I look with thirsty eyes on the huge Kingston Blacks of Australia, for instance. The quartet of Pommeaux from South Hill, three from classic English bittersweets, was one of my tastings of the year, and I’ll never forget the sight of Butt Pear and Brown Snout trees growing in Finger Lakes orchards. There is a vast and fascinating world of cider and perry out there; so much to be found and tasted, and the most exciting thing of all is continually discovering that we have barely scratched the surface.

From cider and perry’s ancient heartlands of France, Spain, Germany, Austria and the UK to the vibrant, dynamic scenes in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Norway and so many countries besides, the international cider and perry scene has never been as exciting, delicious and ripe for connection as it is today. In 2022 we have endeavoured to cover it here as fully as we can; you can expect our global focus to intensify in 2023. 

This entry was posted in: Features, perry

by

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.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Shorland says

    I have loved reading everybody’s work. So much thought and time goes into penning a piece, so a big thankyou.

    Like

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