Herefordshire

Fundamentals #12 – Oliver’s Cider and Perry

A year ago I wrote about how I thought British cider had something of an image problem – an opinion that not every agreed with but I still stand by it to this day.

On the one hand you have mass-produced, sweet and fizzy ciders and on the other you have very traditional scrumpy. My worry is that these represent the perception of what cider is to the majority of people – and that’s fine – yet I fear it has been preventing low intervention ciders, such as those produced by Tom Oliver, from having their “craft beer moment".

However, after spending the last year learning a lot more about cider and perry production, including a recent visit to Oliver’s Cider and Perry in Herefordshire, it feels like cider’s moment is beginning to happen. Tasting through Oliver’s range of ciders and perrys was eye opening – there’s simply a bewildering range of flavours available, which is all the more impressive considering each is made up of more or less a single ingredient, albeit different varieties of each.

These flavours are produced through a combination of maturation in oak barrels – Tom enthuses how rum barrels are his favourites, although he’ll use more or less any barrel he can get his hands on – and skillful blending. Only through constant tasting will he know when a cider is ready to be blended and packaged making the whole process more akin to wine-making than say the production of beer or mass produced ciders.

Tom has been producing cider and perry on his family farm for almost 20 years now and has built up something of a cult following – particularly in the United States thanks to its very progressive drinks market. However it really does feel like his cider is finally getting the more widespread appeal that it deserves and that as a result, low-intervention ciders like his will become ever more popular, just like craft beer did around a decade ago.

Hopefully this will lead to the discovery of other great cider makers who can sit alongside Oliver’s as the popularity of this fantastic beverage continues to grow.

Three to try:

  • Gold Rush #5 – A cider produced in collaboration with Ryan Burk of New York State’s Angry Orchard and one I think that beer lovers can easily appreciate. The balanced acidity is almost IPA-like in the way it presents itself at the back of the tongue. Expect plenty of rounded tannins, flavours of just-picked apples and funky fruit from the malolactic fermentation.
  • Yarlington Mill Medium Dry – This is the perfect entry point to low intervention cider. The Yarlington Mill apple provides a backdrop of bittersweet notes to this light and spritzy cider. Pairs incredibly well with hard cheeses such as Aged Gouda, Parmesan and Lincolnshire Poacher. [Back next week in the shop.]
  • Keeved Sweet Perry – If you think you don’t like sweet drinks then this exceptional perry will have you thinking again. A complex, yet balanced acidity leads the notes of sweet, juicy pears as this perry cascades over your palate, finishing with a sharp, lingering sweetness.

Matthew Curtis is the UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and you can also find him on Twitter @totalcurtis. Huge congratulations to Tom Oliver for being named a finalist at the BBC Food Awards this month and putting great cider on the national stage. Find the Oliver's range in store or online.