Tom Oliver

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.

New stuff in store: 20 May

Somebody say MOTHERLODE? Hold on to your hats, beer lovers - this week is a veritable gold rush of new and exciting brews. (They're being delivered today and tomorrow, so all should be on shelf by end of play Thursday unless something goes horribly wrong.) 

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin. 

  • On the South-East side of things, we've re-upped in time for the Bank Holiday on all your favourites, as well as recent additions from Brew By Numbers (their White IPA has all the beer geeks talking), Kernel (their Black IPA = likewise), a brand new Single Hop Citra from Hop Stuff, Orbit's ever-popular Nico Koln-style lager in cans, Weird Beard's Little Things That Kill, plus the entire One Mile End range is back on shelf, spanking fresh from the brewery.

  • Looking further afield to the rest of the UK, good tings agarwn here too:

    • Three new barrel-aged beauties from Siren Craft Brew - BA Day Dream, Siren's Mikkeller collab, an imperial white stout aged in bourbon barrels; BA Shattered Dream, an imperial stout brewed with coffee, vanilla and cocoa nibs aged in banyuls and bourbon barrels; and Long Forgotten Journey, a golden barley wine aged in Grand Marnier barrels for more than two years with added orange peel. Never say we're not good to you. Never. 

    • You loved the beers from new Manchester brewery Cloudwater so much that we simply had to get more. We've got their IPA in bottles, with their Session IPA set to hit flagon-fill soon. (See what else we've got coming up on flagon-fill here.)

    • Our love for Tom Oliver's miraculous way with cider knows no bounds - we've been gorging ourselves on samples of his Fine Dry Perry over the past couple of weeks and now we're finally sharing it with you. Think you don't like pear cider? Think again. We'd pick this 750ml beauty over most champagnes any day of the week.

  • And, arguably saving the best for last, looking even further afield to Europe and across the pond it's time to get very excited indeed:

    • From the US, we've nabbed a case each of Founders' Blushing Monk, brewed with a ridiculous amount of raspberries and Belgian yeast, and the infamous KBS, an imperial breakfast stout brewed with massive amounts of coffee and chocolates, then cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels for an entire year. Are you visibly salivating in an embarrassing fashion yet? We are. 

    • We also welcome new beers from Prairie (their Funky Gold Amarillo, a mix of tropical fruit and sour Prairie funk); canned heaven from Ska (just how cool are the Rudie Session IPA cans?), the exotically hopped Two Roads Li'l Heaven, made with Azacca, Calypso, Mosaic and Equinox, and Evil Twin's gloriously tart Nomader Weisse; plus Yankee classics in the form of Laguitas IPA and Brooklyn Sorachi Ace in 355ml bottles!

    • From Denmark, we've got three newbies from To Ol - F*** Art, The Heathens are Coming saison, Friends With Benefits APA and another impressive addition to our already-impressive gluten free range, Reparationsbajer GF Pale Ale. That GF shelf will surely be groaning under its own weight soon... Plus we've loaded up on more Mikkeller cans and added the Spontandryhop Citra to the top shelf.

    • Finally, last but not least etc, from Belgium, we say goededag to Rodenbachs in big bottles - the Vintage and Caractère Rouge - and the much-vaunted Straffe Hendrik Wild.

Is that enough for you? If you can't see any of these on shelf, just ask - we too are wondering where the hell we're going to put all of it. See you soon.

New stuff in store: 9 April

A quick round-up of all the AMAZINGNESS that's new on shelf this week. It's been a bumper week.

  • The stunning sours from Chorlton Brewing Co have been such a hit that we've extended the range - you definitely need to check these bad boys out.
  • Orbit's new seasonal, Peel (named after one of HB&B's heroes, the late great John), also hits the shelves - a delicious session blonde.
  • Siren's delectable peaches and cream IPA Life Is A Peach sold out in record time both times we had it on flagon-fill - don't miss it in 330ml bottles.
  • Three very special new releases arrive from Buxton Brewery - one we weren't allowed to name until it launched on Friday 10th, the mighty Two Ton DIPA,, plus two exceptional barrel-aged numbers, Very Far Skyline, a Berlinerweisse aged in chardonnay barrels, and BA Dragon Tips, brewed with maple syrup, chilli and "dry-baconed" with actual bacon.
  • Plus - hold on to your hats - we've got Burning Sky on flagon-fill AND bottle. Burning Sky was named one of the world's top five breweries by Ratebeer this year and is always incredibly popular at HB&B.
  • Be quick... Also on flagon-fill - Magic Rock, Tempest and Beavertown Gamma Ray and Bloody Ell (!!!). We're also now doing cider fills - first up, the delightfully dry Oliver's Gold Rush #3.
  • Oh, did we mention new bottled beers from superstar breweries Stone and Mikkeller?

It's a wonderful time to be alive, people.

The genius of cider

 

We're not just about craft beer at HB&B - we love craft cider too, and when it comes to cider, there's no greater craftsman than the Herefordshire genius that is Tom Oliver of Oliver's Cider.

If you've bought cider from us, you've probably been steered in the direction of one of Tom's amazing concoctions - from the glorious Gold Rush, fermented with lambic yeasts, to his delightfully dry Shezam or the stunning hopped cider At The Hop.

It was love at first gulp for us, so we're thrilled to welcome Tom to the shop on Sunday 29th March for an afternoon of tastings, talk and tunes. (When Tom's not creating the UK's finest cider, he moonlights as the tour manager for the Proclaimers and will be sharing some of his favourite tunes with us, which may or may not include plenty of Mott The Hoople. Check his wonderful Top 30 playlist here - featuring many of the bands Tom has worked with.) 

Tom says, "I was born and brought up on the family farm in Ocle Pychard, Herefordshire, and I took my first cider on top of a fully loaded hay wagon when I was eight. Growing up, I enjoyed cider (lots of Westons) and making it with local cider makers such as Ted Jones at Stanford Bishop and Roger French in Checkley, where I had a 'moment' when drinking one of his bottle conditioned Kingston Black ciders. I became determined to plant trees and make my own cider and perry.

"I now make cider in a very 'hands off', minimal intervention manner using proper fruit when it is at its best for cider making - ripe and sweated - using wild native yeasts and no sulphites until packaging. It's all about balance, making the cider not just refreshing but interesting and frequently challenging, so the blending is crucial."

Tom will be sharing his exquisite ciders at HB&B from 1-4pm on Sunday 29th March. We hope you'll be able to join us for a glass of the country's best cider in the sun with the man who made it.