Well for one week only, the Nottingham Beer, Cider & Perry Festival is where it's at, everyone knows that! But despite England and Wales having a truly world-class reputation for traditional cider and perry, particularly in its current 'revived' state, it's my experience that no 'one' place truly fulfils the role as a 'centre of excellence' for actually drinking the stuff. I think I know this because I've been looking long and hard at the subject for the best part of 40 years. In that time I've come across some truly excellent pubs that specialise in cider and perry, a good few producers of the drink that welcome visitors, and a handful of museums with good local displays on the subject. But it's all rather dispersed, the majority of pubs even in the west country and three counties have either no truly crafted cider or perry on the bar, or at best a token national 'brand' that's hardly worth travelling for.
Of all the towns in England and Wales, Hereford might be regarded as something of a shoe-in for a cider and perry based mini-break. It's certainly not always been this way. I've been holidaying in Hereford for 30 years or more, and I can say with some qualification that the choice on offer has often been unbelievably poor for a city that prides itself on being at the centre of an orchard county, a county literally steeped in the traditions of cider and perry making. So have things improved in 2019? Well, yes and no...
Alongside the current excitement around 'craft' beer, it's largely the smaller, newer bars and micropubs that are driving interest in the very best ciders and perries. Micropub Beer In Hand has been open for a few years now, and is already something of an established fixture in the town. A highly regarded venue with a reputation built mostly around the excellent beer offering, but with a cider and perry board (above) that's without a doubt the best in town. Standout for me was the range from local perry specialist Oliver's of Ocle Pychard, of which I tried one or three over the course of the weekend, most memorable of which was the...
Oliver's At The Hop #8 (5.5%)
Hop-infused ciders were pioneered by Tom Oliver, the first example I tried being one of his hopped ciders back in 2014. I have to say I found interesting but slightly unconvincing. Five years later I was still waiting to be convinced when, like buses, two absolute stunners came along at once, and both from the originator, Tom Oliver. First-up a Cascade & Kazbech hopped Cider which was to die for. Then this Simcoe infused perry, literally the bottle that convinced me the future may well be lightly-hopped.
At The Hop #8 is a solidly medium perry, but in that nice frothy-fizzy sherbety way that’s refreshing without being cloying. There’s a fresh grassiness in the nose, a rich honey sweetness, zestiness, some grown-up mouth-puckering tannin, and here come the hops... a very subtle new-world aroma citrus hoppiness that blends beautifully with the perry rather than dominating it. Lovely!
I partnered this with Pizza and an impromptu traditional music session, because that's just the way the evening was going...
Ross Cider & Perry has been my go-to producer for 20 years or more, and I highly recommend a visit to their pub and shop, the Yew Tree in Peterstow village. I first tried their Bartestree Squash Perry at an early Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival, a rare treat then, as indeed it is now. Ross produce what must be the widest range of single variety and blended ciders and perries in the world, and I'm more than happy to try any one of them whenever I get the chance. Many of their bottled ciders and perries are naturally conditioned, as this one is, and it really does make a difference. This one has a nice prickle of condition, a lingering off-dry sweetness, full-bodied, melon , a straightforward, quite robust perry.
Left Bank Village quite the funky enclave in an area of quite traditional boozers. Overlooking the wide expanse of the River Wye, the outdoor seating and fire pits attract a young crowd. Young by my standards of course! De Koffie Pot Café was the main attraction for me on what was a cold, wet evening. I like the place a lot, and can recommend the DKP Burger which I partnered with this bottle of organic perry.
I've been a big fan of Dunkertons ciders and perries since the late 80's when their classy corked and bottled drinks were relatively easy to find in the Delis and Wholefood shops of Leicester. In fact I used to always get a few cases in for the Leicester festival, something to take away, and if they didn't sell out, well I was happy to underwrite the stock. I still miss those early 'still' bottled ciders, but the current sparkling range is great too.
Dunkertons Organic Perry 6.9%
This bottle poured with a slight (reassuring) haziness, possibly the result of a slightly longer time in bottle as the current release of this perry is at 7.5%. It has a long, lingering medium sweetness with soft Elderflower and Melon, and some balancing acidity.
I really couldn't find anywhere else to drink good locally made pure-juice cider and perry in Hereford, which is still something of a surprise to me given the reputation the county has for this, our most traditional of drinks. If you're still hungry for more, as I was, and want to take home some of the best that Herefordshire (and the three counties) has to offer, I'd highly recommend a visit to the cidery jewel in Hereford's crown, the Museum of Cider (below), which I'll be coming back to with some pretty pictures in a forthcoming post.