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Friday, February 05, 2016

The Range of Cider

On Wednesday evening, Nat West started uncorking bottles of cider and perry made by Hereford cider-maker Tom Oliver ten years ago. Nat managed to score them a few years back and has had them squirreled away waiting for the right occasion. And what better occasion than the arrival of the cider-maker himself for CiderCon?

Tom Oliver (left) and me.
Photo: Steven Shomler

I'd seen Tom earlier in the day, and he described these bottles, fearfully, as "the most oxidized cider in the world." In the event, they were not oxidized much at all; the flavors were deep and intense. Unlike IBUs in beer, tannins do not disappear. Cider, as a chemical solution, seems more well-suited to age than beer, too. The biochemistry changes but does not destroy the best flavors in cider. As I held it under my nose, it created the immediate impression of soil, or earth. Good, healthy soil is alive; you know it immediately by the scent. Tom's cider had that quality; the tannins were earthy and complex. Sally said, "daikon radish." Since we had the cidermaker on hand, I put my phone out and had him describe what he tasted.

"What I was anticipating was a removal of any sort of sweetness. By that I don't mean a sugar-sweetness, I mean what I call 'apple sweetness.' It's perceived for me as apple skins, but over time oxidation will remove that and turn that apple sweetness to cardboard--which has the effect, when you drink it, of there being a massive hole in the drink. What you're expecting to get--you instinctively do that [gestures] to your tongue because you're trying to find something that doesn't exist. But there's none of that.

To me, this is like a German dry sherry. It's slightly intensified and it's got that dryness which is--Germans do this dry sherry which is sort of oxidized. Hungarians do one as well that's a bit like that. It just has a lovely charm of its own. And this is--I have to say, I'm so relieved. Everyone's standing around and I don't mind them drinking this stuff now."

I have basically stopped cellaring all but a few beers I know handle age well. Nearly ever beer--and I mean all but a tiny handful--will begin pass their peak after a couple years. They might evolve into something interesting and even tasty, but they will be lesser beers than they were at birth or peak age. Cider seems to be different. I've only got an intermediate understanding of the flavors cider can and should produce, so I leave a big asterisk next to this statement. But that cider--and the perry, too, which was wonderfully balanced and lively--I could drink it all day long.

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