I’m invited to a wedding in Norwich this weekend. After avoiding being ripped off at Whistlestop, Liverpool St, who want to charge £2.79 for a can of Strongbow, I find some much more reasonably priced ciders in Marks and Sparks (incidentally, Westons make the M&S cider). I’m now milling around Norwich Train Station, awaiting a pick-up by my friends. This is my first visit to Norwich, but I think it best to stay near the pick-up point, so I cross the bridge to find a couple of municipal-looking pubs. I choose the less daunting looking Compleat Angler. It’s a basic, tradtional, John Barras pub, but has a little beer garden overlooking the River Wensum. Lovely.
Inside, There’s a choice of Strongbow and some bottled ciders. I had been hoping for some traditional, local ciders but no such luck here. So I ask the friendly barman for the familiar, old Strongbow and head outside. Quite a few people have opted for the beer garden on this sunny afternoon, but one timid couple are quickly scared off their picnic bench by a wasp, so I pounce on the still warm seats. I keep an eye on my cider, knowing a wasp never pays for his own.
My friends are delayed in traffic, so another cider is required. Looking along the selection of bottled ciders in the pub fridge, I decide that I’ll choose the very Belgian, Stella Cidre. (it’s not cider, it’s cidre). It’s offered with ice, but I decline – preferring not to have flavours disguised by ice, nor end up with a watery cider at the bottom of the glass – and decant myself and the cidre to the riverside seat, where I watch some bloke remove all the valuables and flammables from his boat. I assume it’s his boat. We live in dangerous times.
The bottle tells me the 4.5% cidre is made from 50% hand-picked apples (the Stella website claims at least 70%). I wonder if the other 50% are just thrashed off the trees by giant spinning wheels with chains, or perhaps from battery-farmed apples, or just a bit of Morrisons Hi-Juice. The cidre is also in a 60% recycled glass bottle, so I can feel smug that, while getting pissed, I’m also saving the world. I imagine what the bottle was in a previous life, perhaps a urine sample jar or a glass display, filled with rats in formaldehyde…
After checking the Stella website, I find I haven’t been offered the recommended ‘Cidre Chalice’ for optimum temperature and sparkle retention. Never mind.
I look to see where it’s made, to see if it’s actually Belgian. The only provenance I can find is ‘produced in the EU’. Fair enough, Belgium is in the EU. The cidre is a pink-gold colour, filtered and carbonated. I have a smell, but can’t smell much in there. I’m expecting a Carling-style cider, but Stella cidre has a bit of a sharper taste than other bottled keg ciders. It’s medium sweet and refreshing o a hot day, I’ll give it that, and it’s made an attempt to be a bit different. Thinking about it, I’ve never tried nor heard of a Belgian cider before Stella came out.
However, AB INBEV seem to want to get in on the British cider renaissance, and they’ve done some powerful marketing on this mainstream cider. Well, makes a change from Magners. Still wasp-free, but no sign of Alan Partridge, I chug the dregs, and run to the station to meet my friend. A brief, but pleasant introduction to Norwich.