Cider Tasting The Reliance, North Street, Leeds

Article from Yorkshire Evening Post.



CIDER? Made in Yorkshire? This is a joke, right - surely cider is only made by bewhiskered, besmocked West Country types who say "ooh arr" a lot and pronounce "Somerset" with zeds?

Well no, it's not. Apparently there are at least three commercial cider makers in Yorkshire, and while I can't comment on their dress sense, facial hair or pronunciation, I can confidently announce that their products are proving increasingly popular on bars across the north.

It's all down to something called the Magner's Effect, according to Phil Kennedy of the Real Cider Company, based in Hebden Bridge:

"Cider was often be seen as a young person's drink - one for those who are just starting out and developing their tastes. It's an easy drink to get into, when your palate isn't so well developed.

"But Magner's ran this brilliant campaign persuading people to drink cider over ice. It really turned a lot of people back on to cider and now they are discovering that there are a whole load of different, interesting ciders to try. After a while you become more discerning and look for new flavours and perhaps go for a cider that's more hardcore.

"It's just like with ale. People will start off on something like John Smith's Smooth, progress onto a mainstream real ale like Black Sheep, and then perhaps onto some of the more unusual beers out there."

His company started out with a cider festival at the Stubbing Wharf pub in Hebden Bridge. From there, business boomed and they now distribute all across the north. The Reliance in North Street is one of their regular customers, and here Phil has lined up 11 for us to taste - the attractive display of bottles showing off the full range of colours from off-white to bright-golden and pink.

We start dry and get gradually sweeter. The first, the aggressively dry and sharp Gwatkins Foxwhelp was almost undrinkable, but we soon moved on to the much more palatable oak-aged WM Watkins Oak Barrel, blended from a selection of Welsh apples. Next up, Rum Cask from Ross-on-Wye derives its distinctive rich softness from its fermentation in old rum barrels.

Just three selections in, and we've already experienced a host of different tastes. Which sort of begs the question, what exactly IS a real cider?

The Campaign for Real Ale, always hot on their acronyms, set up a sub-group, the Apple and Pear Produce Liason Executive (APPLE) who have defined the best real ciders and perries as being made with only freshly-pressed fruit, unpasteurised, unfiltered, with no enzyme treatment, preservatives, dilution, colouring or fruit concentrate.

So essentially it is the fermented juice of the apple with nothing added and nothing taken away. And unlike brewers, who add yeast to kick-start the beer's fermentation, cider-makers rely on the fruit's natural yeast.

"It takes about three months from pressing to drinking," said Phil.

"It's a very simple process. You don't need to use heat - you simply put it in a bucket and ferment it." It is the many different varieties of apples which create the wonderful range of flavours.

Next up was the easy-drinking, clean tasting Olivers Medium from the evocatively-named Ocle Pychard in Herefordshire. Then was the full-bodied, bigtasting Janet's Jungle Juice from Westcrofts in the Somerset Levels. "Somerset ciders do tend to be less sophisticated than those from Herefordshire, but they're very popular," said Phil.

The next one was the only Yorkshire one on the tasting. Moorlands Farm in East Yorkshire turned to cider-making after the bottom fell out of the beef market. One meeting with a friend who had 200kg of apples to spare - and a quick trip to the Monks of Ampleforth for some advice - and farmer Rob Gibbon was suddenly a cider maker.

Encouraged by good feedback from local restaurant The Star at Sancton, they expanded rapidly from there - and by 2010 they had pressed nearly 5,000 litres for the summer season. This first year of production culminated in their Medium Sweet Cyder being named

Champion at the Yorkshire Cider Competition 2010. Good it is too, very pale, quite tart, with some surprising sweetness in the finish.

From here we were over the Pennines to try Ribble Valley Gold - so clear and golden that Phil queried whether it may have been filtered, breaking one of APPLE's core laws. This had a real palate-cleansing nature to it, despite an aroma not unlike blue cheese. "When you're tasting cider you have to remember that you're drinking a very different thing to beer," said Phil. "It can smell awful but still taste great, and while you wouldn't normally want cloudiness in your beer, in cider it often adds a lot to the body."

At 4.6% ABV Monty's Double was one of the weaker examples we tried, but it looked gorgeous, the colour of Red Streak apples giving it a pink tinge. This, and its lovely refreshing nature, made it rather like drinking a gentle rose wine - it would be a perfect accompaniment to cheese.

Unlike the Gwatkins Norman which was dark and cloudy, and just too sweet. Sorry Gwatkins, we've not liked yours at all.

We finished off with two perries, starting with the pale, easy-going but at 7.5% deceptively potent, Broadoak, CAMRA Champion Perry of 2009.

Pear

There's actually a pear tree on the Queen's coat of arms, dating from the time when conflict with France and Spain had all but ended the supply of wine to the tables of the Royal household. Perry replaced it as the favoured drink of the English court.

And we finished off with the dry, caramelly Two Trees from Gwynt Y DDraig in Wales which uses filtration to achieve its attractive sparkling colour - and it is clean-tasting on the palate too. "It suits the modern taste - and is a real big seller at the Reliance.

You can imagine that on summer afternoons, this one is just great."

The revival of cider making in Britain has not been without some issues. The Common Agricultural Policy had already seen a number of orchards flattened into fields.

In the States it was prohibition which killed cider-making off and it is really only getting back on track now. But just as America has become a world-leader in the brewing of interesting crafted beers, so their cider-makers are now getting up to speed.

Phil is the ideal evangelist for the product, though he does add a small health warning: "Sometimes these ciders are stronger than you think, and getting drunk on them can be a strange experience.

"It affects you differently; it gets your legs."


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