Thursday, 31 December 2009
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Merry Christmas to all our readers and drinkers.
Sunday, 20 December 2009
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Hmm! Let's dig a little bit deeper into this one.
The truth of the story is less about giving the green light to bacchanalian excess, and more the plight of a rather rare little Moth which happens to have a strong affinity with Mistletoe. The Mistletoe Marble Moth (Celypha woodiana) is struggling to find enough of it's favourite mealtime delicacy owing to a decline in Mistletoe, which in turn is due to our sharply declining orchard stock. I think you may be able to see the connection now.
Having read the news feature again, I still can't see where Naturalists have made any specific mention of cider, instead they seem to be urging us to support British apple growers. It's a minor technicality, the result is the same whichever way you get your 'English Apple-a-Day'. A greater appreciation, and less destruction of old orchards, Mistletoe galore, and happy, happy Moths.
The image accompanying this post has been kindly made available by oldbilluk under a Creative Commons licence. Thanks Bill.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Somerset Cider Brandy is a real home-produced treat, created from the distillation of fine Somerset cider at Burrow Hill in deepest Somerset. When Julian Temperley wrestled a licence to distill from a highly reticent HM Customs in 1989, the scene was set for the recreation of a style of Brandy which had all but faded from memory in this country. The bottlings which have been released up to now have been exceptionally well received, and as time has crept by, older and more mature Brandies have been released, including most recently, the stunning 15 year old Somerset Alchemy.
For preference I favour the 5 year old brandy, less fiery than the youthful 3 year old, but retaining more appley flavour than the smoother 10 year old bottling. Unfortunately, we don't have any of the sublime 5 year old to hand, so we'll have to slum it with a limited release 10 year old Single Cask Somerset Royal Cider Brandy. This version has a slightly higher alcohol level at 45.8%, and was matured in new Limousin Oak which will probably give creamy vanilla notes in the flavour.
If you can't get hold of a bottle of Somerset's finest, I'd also recommend the much easier to find Sainsbury's Calvados Pays d'Auge XO. This 12 year old spirit is deep golden in colour, slightly medicinal on the nose, but beautifully smooth on the tongue. There's rosy apple, vanilla, spiciness, and a Rum-like demerara sugariness. A great way to end the day, and if you can find a little more room, pair these two with a generous slice of Christmas Cake. If you can't, perhaps the cake itself would appreciate a drop or two!
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
I've said it before on this blog, and for those that may have missed it I'll happily repeat myself. Cheese & Cider, or to put it another way, Cider & Cheese, a marriage made in heaven. Yes, contrary to the opinions of the wine trade, most of which seem to believe that the only proper accompaniments to cheese are a Robust Red or a Zingy White (well they would say that, wouldn't they!), cider is the perfect partner to the Christmas cheeseboard. Now don't get me wrong, I'll certainly be rummaging around our small, carefully cellar'd collection of Ports for something special to go with the Stilton, but a really good Cheddar needs something far classier than mere Vintage Port, and that'll be Cider of course!
Bottled Luscombe Organic Devon Cider (4.9% abv) is as close to the taste of a proper draught Devon Cider as makes no difference. It's quite a chunky, rustic, and dare I say, unsophisticated cider. It's also unfiltered, and can therefore pour a little cloudy, something I'm not usually too fond of, but in this case it just adds to this ciders 'Farmhouse' charm. Pour into your glass from a height to help remove the slight sparkle, and you'll have the perfect accompaniment to a proper piece of tangy Farmhouse Cheddar. Close your eyes, pop a generous knob of cheese in your mouth, then swirl and nose a glass of this Devon Delight. Think Devonshire Summers, warm hay-lofts, cool cider barns and generous farmers wives. Lovely..... you can open your eyes now.
Luscombes Cider can sometimes be found in upmarket Cafes and Deli's, alongside their excellent range of soft drinks (the Ginger Beer is great for the day after if you know what I mean!). Ours came from The Case Wine Shop on Millstone Lane, Leicester. Another excellent alternative which is more widely available is Henney's 2008 Vintage Cider (6.5%), a still, full-flavoured medium cider, easily the match for a chunk of Keen's award-winning Cheddar. A sweeter cider like this would even hold its own alongside the pungent saltiness of a good Stilton. Ok, so these ciders may be a little too robust for gentler tasting cheeses, so my advice is... 'Don't buy any gentle tasting cheeses'. It's too late in the day for subtlety, it's a tongue-tingling whopper of a cheese you're after, not a prissy little soft goats cheese. Since when did Brie & Chardonnay transport you anywhere so nice on Christmas Day!
Monday, 14 December 2009
Pour yourself a generous glass of Duchy Originals Organic Dry Reserve Cider (it could be a long speech this year*), and settle down for the traditional post dinner royal roundup. This robust, earthy, grown-up cider is more medium/dry to my taste, but with a good dry finish. The very light sparkle accentuates a spicy, almost sherbet-y character, which seems to be a house style of Worcestershire cidermaker Knights (now owned by Aston Manor) where this cider is made. You'll find this excellent cider in larger branches of Waitrose. If you don't have a Waitrose nearby, you might like to try it's lighter-weight cousin, Tillington Hills Premium Dry Reserve Cider, also made by Knights and available in many Co-op stores.
If you're finding it hard to concentrate on the speech, you may prefer to picture the bucolic scene in the 'Royal Ciderhouse'. Camilla working up a sweat grinding the apples in the old wooden Scratter. Charles bent double over the twin-screw press, the Royal Smock stained brown with apple juice, rubber-gloved hands carefully spreading the pomace out to the corners of the cheese. Prince William, slumped in the corner by the massive oak barrels, a drinking horn nestled protectively in folds of tweed...
* and no, we won't be watching it either!
Thursday, 10 December 2009
I wish you well in your search for a good quality Perry. It's not the easiest drink to find outside of the Three Counties area, and even there it's not exactly common. If you don't a have a Waitrose on your doorstep, I think you'll struggle to find anything other than inferior Pear Ciders, which I can't recommend in all honesty. Online you might like to try Orchard Hive & Vine, who specialise in Three Counties producers, many of which produce excellent Perry.
Next: A Toast for the Queen's Christmas Message
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
How about the 'Warming winter Pint in front of the crackling log fire after a long walk in the countryside', surely everyone loves that one.
A recent addition to the 'Memorable Pint' list is the 'Gosh, we appear to be snowed in and can't get to work so might as well go to the Pub... Blimey, everyone else in the village seems to have had the same idea, Mine's a Pint'... This one is a particular favourite of ours, and one we look forward to repeating some time during this years greatly anticipated Winter freeze.
Then there's the occasion which this post is all about, the 'Christmas Day lunchtime local Pint', always a little special, and as important a part of our Christmas Day as the Turkey and Tree (actually, nothing is more important than the Tree for our Karen).
We're very lucky to have a good draught cider available at all times in our village local the Red Lion, Middleton. When our own cider has ran out, we supply a range of quality alternatives from near and far to keep the 'Real Cider' flag flying through any shortages. The current 'Guest Cider' is from Hecks of Somerset, a proper West-Country cider from an award-winning producer. I'll probably go for the smooth, dry Tremlett's Bitter straight from the cellar, rather than the sweeter blended cider on handpump. A pint or two of this 6.5% beauty should set us up nicely for the Christmas Dinner.
Can't get to the pub! There's probably still time to order a bag-in-box of Real Cider for home consumption. Many of the larger regional cidermakers can deliver their draught ciders to your home, and the bag-in-box method guarantees that the cider will stay fresh and tasty throughout the Christmas period and beyond. Our good friends at Ross-on Wye Cider & Perry have recently set up an online sales website which I can heartily recommend, and for a wider range of West-Country ciders you might like to try CiderPunk.com.
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Champagne or Cava are generally considered the traditional Christmas Breakfast Drinks, which is fair enough I suppose. A bit of fizz in the morning can be a great way to waken the senses and put you in a party mood. Sherry seems to feature too, though for what purpose I'm not sure. Perhaps it's the traditional way of polishing off what Santa couldn't finish the night before.
Now I'm all for tradition, but the problem with Champagne and Sherry are their 'weight'. I want the fizz, and I certainly want a grown-up drink, but let's face it, this Christmas Day thing, it's rather long isn't it! Too much alcohol and there's a very real danger of peaking early and missing the Queen's Speech! I want something bursting with zingy flavour, but relatively light in alcohol...
Which brings me to my first Christmas Cider recommendation. Something fruity and fulsome, lightweight and approachable, yet a cider of exceptionally high quality. I'm talking Classy, Sassy, and a little bit Gassy. I'm talking about something French! Yes, polish up the Champagne glasses, ease out the mushroom cork, and treat yourself to a delicious Cidre Traditionnel from across the channel. It's le jour de Noël...
I've chosen La Bolée du Père Raison (5.5%) from the Breton cidre maker Loïc Raison. It's a sophisticated, traditional sparkling cider, labelled as Brut but with more sweetness than some I've tried. Breton ciders tend to be more full-bodied in style than those from Normandy, and the slight sweetness helps to balance the full tannins and slight toffee-apple richness in this example. There's a lovely zesty fruitiness too which benefits from the restrained sparkle created by the Methode Traditionnel. The smaller bubbles created in the bottle enhance this cider, unlike the harsh fizziness found in most of our more commercial bottled 'ciders'.
I was lucky enough to come across this cider at Sergi's Deli in Spalding, Lincs. They also have a Sweeter (Doux) version which weighs in at a minuscule 2.0% abv. You might be forgiven for thinking this low level of alcohol can only be achieved through the generous addition of water, but in fact those clever French cidermakers have perfected the art of arresting the fermentation before all the sugars have been turned to alcohol, resulting in a naturally sweet, naturally low alcohol cider. Too sweet for my taste, but very good nevertheless.
If you can't get to Sergi's Deli, try your own local Delicatessen, many of which will have a good quality French Cidre. I would also like to recommend the excellent single apple variety Duche De Longueville Cidre... I would like to, but since I haven't come across it in a Sainsbury store for some time now, I can't. Decent sized Waitrose stores also sell a French Cider, but I haven't tried it so can't really recommend that to you either... An internet search should find a number of online retailers of French Cider.
So, the French have it, but not for long! It's time to shove the bird in the oven, scrub the Parsnips, and put little crosses in the Sprout stalks. Set the oven timer, wrap up warm and hit the road. Your local pub needs you now more than ever. It's almost time for the traditional Pre-Dinner Snifter...
Saturday, 5 December 2009
Wine recommendations come thick and fast in the build up to Christmas. The weekend colour supplements and top-shelf foody mags are full of festive wine talk ahead of the big day, though quite what's so 'Christmassy' about any of the recommend wines is rarely explained. Wine seems to be the only currency the UK media are happy to deal in, particularly during the festive season when you'd be forgiven for thinking that no other alcoholic drink merits a place at the Christmas table. The well-worn path from Champagne to White to Red, with a fortified and a distilled grape-based drink to finish is hardly original, so why do we get the same dull formula year on year!
Beer rarely if ever gets a look in on these 'Festive Lists', this despite the fact that dozens, if not hundreds of Yuletide special beers make their appearance at this time of the year, both in bottle and on draught. Do wine writers drink nothing other than wine? Assuming they do, why on earth don't they write about it? A warming Winter Ale can be a real joy at Christmas, add in a crackling log fire and the buzz of your local at lunchtime on Christmas Day, and we're talking an essential part of the Yuletide experience. I can only assume that wine writers and foody journos rarely visit pubs. It's probably the lack of spittoons!
Which brings me to the most ignored of all alcoholic drinks, whether at Christmas or any time of year for that matter. Outside of the main Autumn cidermaking months, Cider and Perry are well and truly off the radar as far as the mainstream media are concerned, yet most Cider and Perry is consumed throughout the Summer months. Cider and Perry does perhaps suffer from the lack of range available in the larger retail outlets, but this is a Chicken and Egg situation. The more that drinks writers venture out of their cosy comfort zones in the Home Counties, search out fantastic artisan drinks producers in the wild scary countryside, and write positively about them, the more demand there's likely to be for drinks which originate closer to home than Stellenbosch and Hawkes Bay. Greater demand might just encourage supermarket buyers to increase their meagre range of ciders and perrys, thereby giving the drinks writers more to write about.... Instead we get the usual 'Ooh-arr, Scrumpy' press trotted out in October, predictably littered with 'hilarious' Wurzel references, and that's it for the year. Great!
So in the interest of greater balance, over the next few days I'll be presenting my own Cider Recommendations for Christmas Day. Six great ciders and perrys, all chosen to match critical moments on the big day. From the early morning Breakfast Pint, something Rich and Classy for the Queens Speech, through to a final 'Wafer-Thin' digestif to help the latest Harry Potter movie go down. So polish up your best glassware and throw the corkscrew out*. It's going to be a Cider & Perry-tastic Christmas this year, and you're all invited... To your own homes that is. Not round here, we haven't got the room!
*Actually, don't throw the corkscrew out. That would be very wasteful, and besides, you might need it on Boxing Day!