Sometimes here at Cider Review we don’t have an angle or a story, or even a bigger point to make. As Adam pointed out back in March, sometimes we just have a group of ciders that we want to enjoy and share our tasting notes. That’s where we are today with a collection from Llanblethian Orchards. I was first introduced to their creations back in October 2019 when I did a cider swap with Gareth Watkins, aka The Cider Searcher. I can’t remember what I swapped but it might have been a Downside Perry, in return he gave me a Kingston Black Ice Cider made by Llanblethian Orchards and he was raving about their ciders. I have to admit it was superb, but I never found the opportunity to try any more of their releases until now.
I’ve got four ciders and Adam is adding two of their Perries.
Summer Meadow (6.7%)
“Cold racked Dabinett has been blended with fully fermented early sharp apples from our orchards in Llanblethian. This gives a rich and easy drinking cider balancing a trio of Dabinett’s tannic body, preserved fruit sugars and fruity sharp notes. A perfect summer tipple”. Batch 001 (from the label).
100% juice, no added water and no artificial sweeteners.
How I served it: fridge temperature
Colour: orange gold
On the nose: plenty of Dabinett; orange, vanilla and cassia bark. Juicy pressed apple flesh from that cold racking interlaced with wooden barn. “Summer Meadow” is an interesting name, for me it’s like ‘Autumn Orchard’, it’s got all the aromas of ripe apples, pressing cloths and wooden barrels. Lovely nose this.
In the mouth: the bottle notes are bang on here, nice chalky textured tannic body which starts to dry the cheeks but parts for an absolute juice bomb. Really well balanced, with a light acidity and gently sweet finish. For me the Dabinett is the star with lots of oranges and clementines as well as some delicate spicing of star anise, a whisper of clove and some vanilla. The early sharps are in the background with a hint of green apple, but it’s all tannin and those rich natural sugars.
In a nutshell: a full bodied tannic juice bomb of a cider, lovely stuff.
Breakwell’s Seedling Sweet Craft Cider (4.3%)
“Characteristically fruity and fragrant. This single variety cider is made from Reakwell’s seedling, a 19th century cider apple from Perthyre, Monmouthshire. An early September variety with a naturally low sugar content. Ideally suited to make a lower alcohol easy drinking summer cider.” Batch 002 (from the label).
100% juice, no added water and no artificial sweeteners.
Colour: pale gold
On the nose: apple blossom and green apple skin, lemon rind and pollen. Wet orchard leaves and cut grass. If the above is “Summer Meadow” then this is definitely “Spring Orchard Showers”. If I really strain there is a slight hint of ethyl acetate, but it’s tiny, like a whisper of pear drops.
In the mouth: creamy vanilla and juicy green apples. Another well balanced bottle, but this time with lemon-like acidity and juicy green apple sweetness. It’s fresh and lean with some malolactic character. After the acidity a floral perfumed note joins the party mid-palate and then sweet toffee apple bon bons lead the finish.
In a nutshell: complete contrast to the Summer Meadow; fresh, sweet and lean.
La petite grange du cidre (2020)
“Sweet, fruity and complex with a rich depth of flavour. A traditional sweet keeved cider in the French tradition made with late cider apple varieties from our orchards around Llanblethian.
Varieties: Ashton Brown Jersey, Black Tom Putt, Bramley, Dabinett, Golden Knob, Sweet Coppin & Yarlington Mill.” Batch 001 (from the label).
Wild yeast, 100% juice, unfiltered, unpasteurised and no added water.
Colour: pale hazy amber
On the nose: earthy and metallic like autumn leaves and rusty nails. Orange skins and burnt caramel along with spices of cinnamon and clove. As well as some apple brandy. There is a very faint hint of oxidation on the end.
In the mouth: very gentle carbonation and acidity. The chewy tannins are there, a faint hint of their chalkiness starts to show itself before its quashed by the sweetness. I feel that the Yarlington Mill and Dabinett are on show the most here, with their juicy orange flesh and spice notes. Apple desserts start to come through, tarte tatin and apple turnovers. Caramelised sugar and rich fruit. The level of sweetness is bang on, not too much, not too cloying.
In a nutshell: rich and decadent, this is a cider to drink at times of joy.
Ice Cider – Katya & Morgan Sweet (7.4% – 2020)
“An extra special sparkling dessert ice cider made with hand picked apples from our orchards in Llanblethian.” Batch 001 (from the label).
Colour: cloudy orange squash
On the nose: intense ripe apple aroma, sweet shop and golden syrup. Cinder toffee and caramel.
In the mouth: all sugar and acidity. There’s enough acid to give it a little sharpness and lift the overwhelming sweetness. The sugar just hits the tongue with a punch and almost overpowers the taste buds. Toffee apples, sugar syrup and caramel coupled with dried fruit of raisins and apricots. Although it’s lower alcohol than many of the other ice ciders I’ve tried, it still has that viscous glass-coating texture that fills the mouth. The gentle sparkle also helps lift it but one for sipping and sharing. I’d love to know the residual sugar.
In a nutshell: too full for dessert? This sweet little bottle will go down very easy and fill the gaps.
At which point Adam jumps in on perry duty, from which James long-since retired.
I’ve a couple to taste today, which I bought from either The Cat in the Glass or Cider Is Wine — afraid I can’t remember! The first is a blend of the two more famous ‘huffcap’ pears, Hendre Huffcap and Yellow Huffcap, with a touch of Brandy (the pear, not the spirit) and Potato (the pear, not the delicious tuber), the second is a single variety Butt, which is noted in these parts as a particular favourite of mine. Both are pet-nat, meaning bottled before initial fermentation was finished for a light natural sparkle.
Somewhat quirkily, whilst both have the ‘drink by’ dates on the side of the bottle (something I’d gently suggest doing away with, partially because these perries will certainly age well past the suggested December of last year(!) and partially because there are legal issues with shops selling them past that date) neither offers a vintage on its label, which I’d consider the more important point. My guess would be 2020 or possibly 2021, but a guess is all that is.
Utterly ridiculous that neither James nor I have reviewed a Llanblethian Orchards cider or perry to date (besides one solitary ice cider three years ago); glad we can put that right before James hits the road.
Llanblethian Orchards A Tale of Two Huffcaps – review
How I Served: From fridge
Appearance: Buttery gold, light haze and sparkle
On the nose: Tremendously balanced, archetypal British perry pear nose. Varieties entwine splendidly; the juicy stone fruit of Hendre given a lime leaf and lemon and savoury hedgerow tempering by the Yellow. A little petrichor too; a brush of pear skin. Nice aromatic intensity. Lovely freshness. This is the kind of perry nose I’d use to show someone what classic British perry noses are all about.
In the mouth: There’s such a super cohesion, clarity and elegance to that delivery. Everything is in balance and highlights the quality of everything else. The body is just right; plump without being heavy, lean without being wispy. The acidity is a delicious medium; fresh and zesty without being too spiky for the anti-Foxwhelp/Thorn set. Tannin adds weight without any sort of astringency, flavours are clear, seamless and complex. Waxy lemons, peaches and peach skin. Lime juice, nettle and even a touch of mint. Despite the label it feels close to dry, and quite right too.
In a nutshell: Classic British perry. A perry-lover’s perry. And one for Goldilocks when she grows up, as everything is just right. So accomplished and impressive.
Llanblethian Orchards Butt – review
How I served: From fridge
Appearance: Lightly hazy peach juice. Very light sparkle.
On the nose: Can only be one pear, that nose, and what a splendid and beautifully-rendered Butt nose that is. (All you filthy predictable jokers can go sit at the back). Fresh lime, pine needle and that iconic, idiosyncratic natural gas. Pear skin, lemongrass and a long deep stare into a rockpool. A beautiful capturing of one of the truly great single varieties.
In the mouth: Electric, beat-to-quarters Butt delivery. BIG in every respect; some grippy tannins, though certainly not astringent; gorgeously fresh, juicy, sour-mix acidity; huge flavours of bright perry pear, lime, wet rock — think walk along a river bank in one of those countries where there are rivers the Tories haven’t ruined — and a hint of classic left-on bunsen burner (though actually not as strongly as in many perries of this variety). I absolutely love it, and so will all other fans of this top-tier pear.
In a nutshell: A gorgeous rendition of one of the world’s greatest and most idiosyncratic perry pears. Vibrant, intense, utterly without fault and endlessly compelling.
I don’t drink enough Welsh cider, I’ve tried a handful from a small number of producers and they’re always fantastic and these from Llanblethian Orchards are no exception. Truth be told, I’m finding it hard to pick a favourite, it’s not the delicious dessert of an Ice Cider and it’s not International Wine & Spirit Competition 2021 Gold & Trophy winner. For me it’s between the Summer Meadow and the Breakwell’s Seedling, and I like both for totally different reasons. On the one hand my preference for tannin over acidity leans me towards the Summer Meadow, and after much deliberation I’m going with that as my choice. However, come the next gloriously sunny day I’ll be thinking about that Breakwell’s Seedling.
Echoing my co-editor, I’m much remiss in not writing up Llanblethian until this point and even more so in my general neglect of Wales’ sterling output. Something I’ll be attempting to make up for over the coming months.
Two brilliant perries which showcase both the qualities of individual varieties and the tunes that can be played by considered blending. I love both, I wish I’d reviewed them earlier and bought more. They’ll be high in my thoughts when I come to consider my year-end best-ofs, I’ll wager.
On final final note which is just to say that I’m very pleased to be riding shotgun on James’ final set of reviews (though not his final article – come back on Saturday for that). We’ve been writing notes together since before Cider Review even existed, since the days we were just a column on Malt, and I’ve loved every minute of it, learning so much from James as a taster along the way. Though he’s signing off scribbling duties I know we’ll be passing notes on ciders (and, in my case, perries too) back and forth between each other for years to come. In the meantime: thanks for everything James.