Oliver's Cider

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.

No More Heroes XXXV – Thornbridge/Brooklyn/Oliver’s Serpent

This will be the last No More Heroes column I pen for Hop Burns & Black. We’ve been running this column since August 2015, which kicked off with the now defunct Fourpure Amber Ale. Our original aim was to champion beers we thought were underrated and eventually we started talking about music we loved and liked to drink along with these beers too.

That original aim went out the window pretty quickly, we just picked out beers we loved that we thought you would too – and we think we did a pretty good job of that. We even ran some pretty cool events, which included raising more than £500 for Mind – The Mental Health Charity last year.

But things change and we’re not the kind of folks to sit on our hands or rest on our laurels. We want to keep this column engaging and informative, so we’ve decided to change it up a bit. Our new column – Fundamentals - will launch in a couple of weeks' time. Its aim is to focus on a specific ingredient within a particular beer and find out what influence that has on the way you perceive its mouthfeel, flavour and aroma. I’ll also be rolling out a live version of this at the end of April, where I’ll be joined by my fellow Hop Burns & Black columnist and food sorceress Claire Bullen, so keep your eyes peeled for that one.

For now, we’ll leave you with one final, incredible beer with which we’ll toast this flaming ship as it bows gracefully over the waterfall of time. Serpent is a collaboration more than two years in the making that was born out of the minds of Thornbridge head brewer Rob Lovatt and Brooklyn Brewery’s inimitable brewmaster, Garrett Oliver.

Serpent began its life as a Belgian-style golden strong ale that was then blended with lees (leftover apple skins, yeast and byproducts from cider fermentation) donated by Herefordshire cider supremo Tom Oliver. The beer was then aged with the lees in Four Roses bourbon barrels for two years. After ageing it was artfully blended before being packaged in elegant, 750ml, Prosecco style bottles.

The resulting beer is a marvel: it can taste as simple or as complex as you wish, depending on what mood you’re in. It packs in layer upon layer of intricate flavours, recalling cider, wild yeast, vanilla, oak and bourbon. It can be enjoyed with little thought – but give it an inch of grey matter and it’ll take you several miles. It’s an incredible journey of a beer – and the time it’s had in the bottle since release, almost a year now, has merely improved it. Drink some now or hoard to drink whenever you feel it’s appropriate.

Music Pairing: The Stranglers – No More Heroes
We’d be doing this column a disservice if the last music pairing was anything other than this 1977 belter from one of the greatest bands to have ever existed, The Stranglers.

The beauty of The Stranglers is that, just like Serpent, their music can be as simple or complex as the way you feel. If you just want to enjoy the jangly punk riffs casted by Hugh Cornwell offset with the snarling bass of Jean-Jacques Burnel while banging your head, then off you go. However, delve deeper and you’ve got the complex, keyboard layers added by Dave Greenfield adding a prog-like depth to the track – one that even ardent punks love, but often refuse to associate with its long haired, bell-bottom sporting origins. It’s the perfect track to enjoy with a bottle of Serpent, whatever mood you’re in.

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. You can find the mighty Serpent at HB&B - get it in store or head online to get it delivered to your door.