Artisanal products have done wonders for beer, and now a similar movement is looking to have the same effect on the cider category, says Clinton Cawood

With its inherent sustainability credentials, food-friendliness and freedom for producers to create a variety of interesting expressions, it’s no surprise that craft cider is beginning to receive some of the recognition it deserves. And the number of those producers is growing. 

“We’re noticing an explosion of small makers springing up all over the UK, from the Scottish Highlands to Cornwall,” says Lydia Crimp, co-founder of Artistraw Cider in Herefordshire, where ciders are made with low intervention, without the addition of any sugar, water or sulphites. 

James Forbes, co-founder of fellow Herefordshire cidery Little Pomona, is seeing the positive changes in the category. “Cider is finally shedding its negative image and being increasingly seen as one of the gems of UK agriculture in terms of the sheer quality, diversity and versatility,” he says. “There is a lot happening at the moment. It feels very exciting and dynamic, with new producers, new drinks and new events.” 

One such event was the recent Orchard Wines & Spirits Tasting in London, organised by Cider is Wine, where the majority of bottles were indeed akin to wine in every aspect but their raw material. 

Among the diverse offerings, from around the UK and further afield too, were a large number made using the traditional Champagne method. Among these was Hampshire’s Chalkdown Cider and a trio of ciders from Tinston in Sussex. 

It’s a style that’s definitely on the rise, but there’s plenty of room for other innovation in the category too, and producers are making the most of it. Sour Cherry from Blackmoor Orchards in Hampshire was a case in point at the Orchard Wines tasting, made by co-fermenting apples with cherries. 

Ramborn in Luxembourg, meanwhile, presented a cider aged in barrels from peated Scotch whisky Laphroaig, as well as a 100% quince offering. 

“Craft cider makers have the ability to be more agile and flexible, where runs of interesting and varied ciders can be produced on smaller scales,” says Al Collar, co-founder of Pulpt in Somerset. “It helps the whole category because it showcases what cider can be, bringing new drinkers in.” 

QUALITY CUES 

Pulpt represents a different face of the craft cider movement, with contemporary branding and packaging more reminiscent of craft beer than fine wine. Collar believes that the prerequisites for craft cider are “high juice content, fresh pressed British apples and no additives”, adding that he’s also seeing a growing number of good examples of lower-alcohol and flavoured products. 

He describes Pulpt, which has listings in Tesco, as “scalable craft”, saying that the team have sought out “that elusive space of creating something that can be produced in volume without compromising our craft principles – not easy but just about possible with some applied effort”. 

In addition to its core range, Pulpt has been working on some small-batch, short-run ciders, the first of which, a blend of wild fermented and single variety cider, will be available from April. 

“We want to flex our cidermaking muscles, to innovate and take risks,” he says. There’s no shortage of innovation at Little Pomona, says Forbes, who gives the example of some recent sparkling ciders with noticeable residual sugar, “borrowing techniques from our French cousins in Normandy”, adding that work has also begun on pommeau, vermouth and amaro. 

REGIONAL STYLES 

As the category develops, Crimp is seeing some regionality emerge. “With full-juice cider undoubtedly influenced by terroir, we are beginning to see clear cider regions being established,” she says. 

“From clean, bright, acid-driven Kentish ciders, to the rich earthy tannins of Herefordshire’s bittersweet varieties, there is a cider to suit everyone’s palate, offering a unique opportunity to taste the terroir of the whole nation.” 

Crimp highlights some of craft cider’s other inherent benefits. “Wild-fermented natural ciders made solely from apples handpicked from ancient, traditional orchards, such as the type we make at Artistraw, are benefiting from increased consumer interest in provenance and sustainability,” she says. 

“Small-batch, natural cider has the capacity to become the drink of choice for the sustainability-conscious consumer interested in high-quality wine-like drinks.” 

Forbes believes there are a number of reasons for the growing acceptance of still, dry ciders and perries. “They are brilliant lower-abv alternatives to wine, alternatives in which you don’t have to trade away alcohol at the expense of flavour or interest. They look and taste great, and are super-versatile with a wide range of food, often where there is no embedded wine match, such as vegetarian and vegan food,” he says. 

“They come with all the nuances of wine and craft beer too – provenance, terroir, varietal differences, seasonality and myriad styles and techniques of production.” Fortunate, then, that there’s a growing number of producers leading the charge, and making some seriously good drinks along the way.