10 cracking craft ciders that can be delivered to you during lockdown
Craving a scoosh of the good stuff but unsure where to find your fix? Fizzy, flat, dry, sweet; West Country producers should be the first port of call
Craving a scoosh of the good stuff but unsure where to find your fix? Fizzy, flat, dry or sweet, West Country producers should be your first port of call, and below are a few favourites to get you started...
1. Hecks' Keeved Oldfield Perry, aka 'Cider Royale':
There's speciality cider and then there's cider "fit for kings, queens and all inbetweens" – and this is a top tipple for socially distanced toasts, lockdown birthdays or simply showing off down the weekly virtual pub.
The Cider Box – Bristol's first cider taproom which recently opened in a Victorian railway arch and makes its own cider on site – is doing a limited range of Hecks' keeved Oldfield Perry, available for delivery this week. The mixed boxes include single orchard creations, bottle conditioned beauts AND bonus cheese to match.
"The Oldfield is the queen of perry pears – its fermented juice once considered a better rival than the fine wines from France – so a fitting member of our royal family of ciders," says Dan at The Cider Box. "An ancient single variety, harking from sunny Gloucestershire, she makes for a fine table cider – full of fruity punch and tang, almost like a good white wine, but far better obviously."
Anyway, champion cidermaker Will Hecks only magicked up 220 bottles of the stuff, so don't sleep on it.
Check out @theciderbox on Instagram
2. Rich's Medium
Way back when I was a wayward twenty-something, I worked on Bristol's eminent cider barge selling West Country nectar – in creative cocktails, straight up and sometimes only by the half-pint due to well-founded concerns over potency (Old Bristolian 8%, I am looking at you).
By far, the consistent most popular apple-based beverage was Rich's Medium, and – hurrah! – they're now delivering their drinks as well as bread, milk and other essentials such as... pork scratchings. Delivery is free for orders over £10 that come from within an eight-mile radius of the Highbridge farm and orchards (which ordinarily are open to visitors to tour).
A fruity, easy-drinking medium farmhouse cider, Rich's is a real crowd-pleaser. While you're at it, and the virtual basket is begging, you might also want to try a box of the Legbender (steady now...)
3. Wilkins' Dry
Wilkins is without doubt a West Country institution to those in the know, and every spring and summer sees scrumpy gangs making their pilgrimage to Mudgley and spreading themselves out languidly around the hay bales to sit and sup.
The most seasoned hire a minibus to take them for the pleasant jaunt via the winding roads to the still-working and somewhat famed Somerset farm – doing away with designated driver debates and hopping off hassle-free to queue beside the floor-to-ceiling barrels in the cider barn and have their tankards filled. (If you're a true disciple, you'll probably have your own Wilkins-made stoneware flagon, of course.)
To order cider for delivery, call the gruff yet affable, often red-nosed Roger on the farm phone – "I don't do any of this e-commerce stuff," he says – one lunchtime or teatime during the week only (not weekends) and he’ll quote you the costs.
The jazzy juice will arrive in a plastic vessel resembling a petrol can, and, indeed, is its own kind of rocket fuel. In need of cheese too? Expect the proper stuff – toothsome un-pasteurised Cheddar and lip-smacking Stilton. Roger can even deliver to Europe "but the cider probably won’t last the delivery time to Far East or North America (an’ nor will your wallet)."
4. Marmalade Sea Cider
Alert! Brief departure from the South West! It's okay, it's all in the name of Sea Cider – founded by Mark Francis who started out as a brewer in Brighton.
Mark toured Sussex delivering his beer to pubs and driving around the local countryside, and soon noticed an abundance of apple orchards that were left unharvested, as well as a lack of local cidermakers and local varieties in pubs. Realising just what he could do by infusing natural fruit juices into the cider, before long he had made over 20 different fruit ciders ranging from strawberry and Seville orange marmalade to black cherry, Bakewell tart and lemon meringue pie.
When Mark realised there was a bounty of untapped apple orchards in Sussex, he set about incorporating other natural fruit flavours for a new cider brand (image copyright Sea Cider)
5. Orchard Pig Pink
This is a must-try, made with purple carrots – the farm pigs' favourite – and combined with bittersweet West Country apples to give a rounded mouthfeel. Inspired by the light, fruity elements of a rosé wine with the medium dryness you’d expect from a Somerset cider, it pinky-promises to "put a curl in your tail" and is available via Ocado among other sellers, as is Orchard Pig's perennially popular Reveller cider. They also do a spicy still variety with ginger and chilli...
Also worth a punt:
Representing Devonshire, Sandford Orchards' ice cider – ice-fermenting, a method widely used in wine-making, makes the apple juice sweeter and more intense.
Hallets' Deviation – dry, sparkling and champagne style, made using the Charmat method and good with tapas and antipasti – from Caerphilly's Blaengawney Farm.
Avalon – a Spanish-style sidra, slightly sweet with a dry finish, available by the single bottles or case of 12, and being delivered in Bristol by Hyde & Co.
Somerset Cider Brandy Somerset Pomona – from the vintage apple orchards of Kingsbury Episcopi on the River Parrett, aged in oak barrels and best imbibed after dinner, like a port.
Celtic Marshes' damson pulp cider – medium-bodied with a soft apple nose. The seven-generations-strong Herefordshire maker is offering free UK mainland delivery, will donate 5% of your order total to the NHS Charities COVID-19 Appeal, and they can throw in some hand sanitiser to boot!
Okay, it says 10 cracking ciders but I love you, so here's a bonus boozy contender that you might like to consider for a special occasion.
Thatchers Family Reserve – this sparkling apple wine, from the makers of widely quaffed Thatchers Gold, festival favourite Haze and their utterly delicious sibling Old Rascal, embraces a rediscovered century-old recipe crafted by William Thatcher in 1904 at the family farm. It's a classic cuvée made with the moreish juice of the Katy apple and with its gentle effervescence, it's a fabulous flute-worthy celebration alternative. Crack out your best crystal.
P.S. Don't forget to join the Ciderologist for the world's biggest virtual cider tasting, featuring everyone from Aussie apple masters to Argentinian makers, via Instagram Live at 8pm on 2 May!