Rich’s Farmhouse Dry, at the Queen’s Head

I’m back at the Queens Head, near Kings Cross, London. It’s a lovely, but blowy Sunday afternoon and I’m meeting my friend who likes a whisky. I know this is a good pub for a cider, but apparently also for whisky. I hate whisky, though.

I arrive to find an eclectic bunch of older folks and a band is setting up. It’s a pretty chilled out place. The barmaid talks me through the boxes of cider, sitting behind the bar, and I decide on the Rich’s Farmhouse, a dry, 6%. It seems to be the last of the box and, like a nurse helping an old man pee, the barmaid gets a collague to help squeeze and shake the last dribbles of thick, orange fluid from the spout, before shoving the wrinkled, empty sack back through the little hole.
£4.20. Not bad for a pint of grandad’s finest in this part of the world.

I check for floating things, and take the glass out back, to the tiny beer ‘garden’. I feel like I’m at an interview, sat in the centre of the table, with a big graffiti queen staring down my pint. The toilet windows open onto this little yard, so the scent of urinal cakes should perfectly complement my cloudy sample.

Rich’s is a Somerset cider, from a family-run orchard. This dry is very dry, like sandpaper. Initially, not much of a taste – not sweet enough for me, but this is where one can really pay attention, reaching an almost medatative state, focusing intently on the flavours.
And try not to fall over.
Having a sniff and a gargle, the imagination kicks in. I can detect caramel, nettles…. well, what I imagine nettles taste like, probably more like the rough texture of nettles. A deep vegetation taste, bitter like dandelion. Again, I’ve never tried dandelion, apparently nettles and dendelion are both edible and healthy foods, but in my mind it’s like eating grass.

I knew I’d tried Rich’s Farmhouse before, but it ws the sweet one, last time. This time, it’s the complete opposite. Next time, it will be the medium. Should be perfect!

The singing has started up now, from inside. The clouds are gathering and my drinking buddy is on her way, probably time to head inside. Just time enough to nip to the loo and recreate the scene from the old people’s home. Hopefully I won’t need the help of a nurse, at least not after the first pint!

Verdict: 3/5

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Cornish Orchard’s Trilogy

It’s been another hot day, I’m sweating like a… well, I’ll let you choose. That box of Cornish Orchards, I got for my birthday, will be a welcome guest.

Cornish Orchards Box

Cornish Orchards boxed set. Game of Thrones got nowt on this!

I stick them in the fridge. However, when it comes time to try the first, it’s still a bit warm. That’s not such a problem for cider, as it doesn’t taste too bad when warm, unlike lager – uuurgh! No wonder they try to make it extra cold, so it freezes your tastebuds.

Now is a good chance to try out those ice rocks, that I was also given for my birthday. These Sagaform rocks seem a bright idea to chill your drink, without the ice watering it down. Just freeze the rocks and shove them in. Why didn’t I think of that?

Episode I: Vintage
Cornish Orchards VintageI put half the rock cubes in a half-filled pint, but after a while it’s still not that cool. I put the rest of the cubes and the cider in, but it’s still not as cold as ice. Probably a bit colder than without, and getting colder, but maybe all the cold is at the bottom of the glass. Like in the sea, when you dive down a bit on a hot day and suddenly get really cold, and have a weird rush. This only works in hot countries, don’t try it in the North Sea. I think these rocks just work for drinks ‘on the rocks’. I’ll get them out for my gin and lemon – they’re more of a breakfast-time utensil.

Anyway, on with the sensing.

Just a moment – while I’m looking up a link to their website, I want to make a point. Normally alcohol websites ask you to put in your birthday, as this would obviously fool any under 18 year old, into being refused entry to the website, repeatedly, as they won’t realise that if they add a few years to their entry, they’ll get in. But Cornish Orchards, only ask me to tick a fucking button to say I’m over 18. What is the point of this, but to waste mine and several million other under-18s’ time? 

Vintage is an almost clear cider, lightly sparkling, but that might be the reaction of the rock cubes! There’s a bit of leather and washing up liquid in there, and a tart taste, like a fine, lime marmalade. This 7.2% cider from Duloe, Liskeard, Cornwall, apparently goes well with a platter of cheese. Well, it will just have to make do with a tin of Moomin biscuits from Finnish duty free. Very acidic, but a pleasant drink.

Episode II: Farmhouse.

Cornish Orchards FarmhouseThis 5% cider smells more cold and musty, like a farmhouse. It has more of a burn at the back of the mouth, a more oaked cider. It tastes stronger than the last one, though it apparently isn’t. Very drinkable, though. I read that this one goes well with a Cornish pastie, or a ploughman’s platter. Well, as long as that ploughman’s platter only includes Moomin biscuits, I’m well on track.

It’s a broader, less sharp taste, than the vintage. A pretty good for one. A bit of old cardboard in there. It’s funny what you can smell when you put your mind to it. Cornish Orchards say they use 100% pressed apple juice. It makes you wonder why people drink the keg ciders, but then you sometimes risk getting off your nut on the real stuff.

Episode III: Heritage
Cornish Orchards HeritageThe final espisode of the trilogy uses windfall apples, like Cornish Kingston and Tommy Knight. Though they sound like low-budget UK porn stars, they are respectable varieties of cider apple. 
This one is darker, and had the caramel taste of the traditional medium sweet, but with a certain dryness. Heritage has a rich taste. This is what I want my own cider to taste like. My own cider is a work in progress, and probably won’t taste anywhere as good as this.

Verdict
Vintage: 3.5/5
Heritage: 4/5
Farmhouse: 4.5/5

Worley’s Red Hen at The Euston Cider Tap

I’ve been walking round london on a photo tour. After 2 hours of walking in 27° heat, I’m sweating like Fred West in a Time Team special, (thanks to John Hamilton, for that one), and I’m ready for ‘something on the lips’, as my dad says. I head to the Euston Cider Tap, to my favourite roadside beer garden, and soak up some particulate matter.

Passing through the district of St Pancras, I see a whole weekend’s worth of pubs that I’ve not yet tried. I’ll leave that for another weekend, but I realise I’m seriously lagging in my quest to visit every London pub before I die. I’ve just decided that I will take on this quest. I don’t yet know when I will die. Probably while I’m on a pub crawl.

I reach the Cider Tap, there’s plenty of room inside and out. What appears to be a stag-do of super heroes – if super heroes had to put their own makeup on while drunk – is just about to leave.

From the wall menu, I pick the Worleys Red Hen. It’s a 6% medium dry, from Somerset. It sounds perfect.

Worleys Red Hen

Golden and still, it perfectly compliments the evening, probably with something like “hello evening, that’s a lovely blouse”. It smells like warm toffee apples and the taste is much the same, but rather dry. A bit watery for me, needs a sugar lump. Worleys do make a medium sweet, too. I might have liked that one more.

A French girl in a baseball cap has been standing outside for a while, and eventually asks me where The Rocket is. The sun is thankfully, dipping behind the Grant Thompson building. Behind me are a bunch of Italians, the other side seem to be a bunch of students saying hello in different oriental languages. The obligatory, toothless junkie comes begging for money. She seems to get an audience with the Italians and well-pleased with her new-found crack money, she skips off across the station to find her dealer. There’s also  large contingent of Warrington Wolves fans, steadily arriving

Station pubs usually attract the weirdest of folks, the Euston Taps (there’s two of them!) are the best station pubs.

Red Hen cider, with it’s dryness, does have a bit of a peck to it. I wonder what would happen if I mixed this with a London Rooster! That would be a post for after the watershed, but I am getting rather eggcidered about it. Haha. Ah, I always say, if you can make yourself laugh, you don’t need friends.

Probably time to go

Verdict 3.5/5

Ryan's Bar Facade

Bad Apple at Ryan’s N16

I’m waltzing round Stoke Newington, looking for somewhere with Sky Sports. And Cider

Past the KFC that used to be a pub many years ago, past the Tea House, that used to be a pub until a year ago, past the hour long queue of people waiting to get into the on-trend Good Egg coffee shop, even though there’s another twenty, (I counted them), places you can have coffee on this street, not to mention countless others round the corner, on the High Street! Good Egg coffee must be fucking amazing!

The cloud is burning off, and I’m getting a thirst on. I notice that Ryan’s has reopened. What used to be a fairly traditional Irish pub, with some live gigs in the basement and a massive beer garden out back, has recently had a facelift and is now a slick, dark bar inside, with the same beer garden outside.

Ryan's Bar Facade

Ryan’s: Keeping Stoke Newington drunk, since 1996

It does have a sports screen.
It does have cider.

The staff are friendly, well it is still early afternoon. The barman recommends the Bad apple cider and offers a taster, but I opt to go straight for the main course: a pint.

Bad Apple CiderIn a branded glass, looking very ‘bad’ and apply, Bad Apple is a lightly sparkling golden orange cider. The taste is not far from a usual keg cider, medium sweet, but with more of refreshing bite of sharpness. It’s bad in a good way, probably melting my teeth. There’s a little of a dessert apple to it as well. Maybe a little too sweet.

I hoped Ryan’s still has live music, open mic night was a laugh in the basement. They seem to have done away with many of the seats upstairs, standing room, maybe, but they do advertise their basement as available for gigis, quoting an impressive array of musical equipment, that reads like a roadie’s wedding list.

It seems they also do food now, with a Thai menu, but also, some locally-named burgers.

Ryans N16 Beer Garden
Ryan’s beer garden stretches into the horizon
Ryan's Bus

An evil ghost, drives the Ryan’s Real Ale Bus

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beer garden is much the same as it was, a vast tract of picnic benches, beneath a few trees. It’s a huge garden – always plenty of space and beneath some large trees. The neighbours need to tidy their garden up, though, a right mess! There’s a strange London Bus painted on the side of the fence, in which a sinister, smiling old man requests everyone to come aboard. Maybe the Bad Apple is taking effect, but as I feel his gaze caressing my neck, I decide I’d better get back inside, to the sports screen.

I hope I won’t have nightmares

Verdict: 2.5/5

(for the cider, not the venue)

Headless Man

I’m mincing down Stoke Newington High Street and my friend points out a new-fangled ‘bottle bar’. Mother Kelly’s.Mother Kellys

It used to be a nice toy shop, where I’d go to buy gifts for a burgeoning population of friends’ children. Anyway, that place closed down, and I expected the site to become another on-trend coffee shop, but now I see it has, thankfully, turned into a bottle shop. Praise the Lord. Another small victory for responsible alcoholism.

Though they mainly do beers, down the back passage, they do have a reasonable array of ciders and perries. It’s like being a kid in Fenwick’s toy department at Christmas again. I don’t know what to pick up first.Mother Kellys Ciders

It is still my favourite toy shop.

My friend laughs at the Headless Man cider. After some tough decisions, I walk away with three bottles, including a Headless Man. The staff are friendly, I now also have a loyalty card! There’s a small gaggle of folks enjoying a beer at the table in the front of the shop, which serves as a kind of tiny bar.
At £4 a bottle, (for the cider – some big bottles of beer are over £20), you’re paying pub prices, but it’s good stuff, often from far-away places, like Belgium.

Headless Man comeas all the way from Ross Ciders in Herefordshire. I take him home, put the telly on, and we watch the football together. Well, I do, he doesn’t have a head. Headless Man is fragrant, like a nice cologne. I’m thinking around the level of Acqua di Parma, rather than Lynx. It smells sweet but oakey. Dry but toffee-like, almost chocolatey.Headless-Man

In fact, this is what I’d imagine what whiskey would taste like, if I liked whisky. Unfortunaely, whisky tastes like wino vomit. Headless Man is warming and sweet, but gob-stripingly dry and as it warms up, it becomes more apply, tingly on the lips.

I begin to wonder why the ‘man’ is headless. Maybe a local myth? Maybe after too much Ross-on-Wye cider one evening, someone got lashed and robbed the head off a sculpture? At 6.4%, it has the potential. I just hope I won’t lose my mind as well.

Verdict: 4.5/5

a fine malt

Jolly Judge Menu

Morningcider at The Jolly Judge

The Edinburgh Festival is in full swing. My friends have taken me to see a bit of everything at the Fringe, so far, but on my final night, I’m let loose in my own.

Andrea-Craig-Ilford

The Meadows at Twilight

The sun is setting over The Meadows, and an African drum band is practising next to some acrobats and a woman in a bowler hat, who is rolling colourful balls up her arms. Like circus folk do. There’s also the odd alcoholic staggering round, with a can of Tennents and a sleeping bag.

I’ve an hour to kill before the gig at George Heriot’s School (BBC venue). Thankfully, a couple of cider fans have created a handy cider venue map for just such an occasion. I check out the Edinburgh Cider View map and head for the Jolly Judge. There’s not much on the website of this pub, but I head up the Royal Mile, and down one of the little passageways, and descend the steps, to a low-ceilinged, cosy pub. It’s not that big, but there’s enough room this time.

Andrea-Craig-Ilford-5

Up The Back Passage For The Jolly Judge

I’d attempted this pub last year, but on a hot day, and being quite busy, thought better of it. The Cider View tells me that there should be some real ciders on, here. I see the boxes at the end of the bar, they have Morningcider! I’ve read about this one. It is also coincidence that I’m staying in Morningside, the well-to-do suburb of Edinburgh, and namesake of this cider. It’s a must-see, then.

I ask for the Morningcider, but I’m saddened to hear that it may be off. The barman seems dubious about its quality and allows me a taste, telling me he’s “been told it’s fine”. It does look horrendous, but, “It tastes ok”, I say, after a sip of deep brown, opaque liquid, so I order a pint. It didn’t look like this in the photos. I take the glass of what looks like sewage water, over to a table, wondering if I will be producing something similar, myself, in the morning. Well, there’s only one way to find out!

Andrea-Craig-Ilford-3

Morningcider On A Bad Day

It has a ripe smell, like a septic tank in a forest. But I’m determined to finish it. There’s something delicate under the dark mask and at least it will make a good story. You wouldn’t get this with a Strongbow, this looks set to be a proper festival experience, even if it may be my last. At least I’ll die happy. And probably televised, live on the BBC.

After the initial farmyard taste, it’s quite a pleasant cider, a little bit of dry, just enough sweet and the slightest of stings to the aftertaste- perfectly blended, I’d say – just the wrong side of dysentery brown. It reminds me of a crab apple cider I once tried. Proper home made stuff, in fact, Morningcider is picked from fallen apples of gardens.  I can taste the Auld Reekie, however, it does make a change from the sweeter, dessert apple-style ciders that normally seem to come out of Scotland. Made with traditional, ‘heritage’ Scottish cider apples, I’m apparently supporting the ciderisation of Scotland. I reckon this unfortunate batch must have been oxidised, or something scientific like that. Where’s Brian Cox when you need him?

There’s a good mix of people in here, and colourfully painted ceilings. It’s filling up now, I’m sitting between some Americans and some Germans. Edinburgh, at festival time, brings the world together. My glass should be enough to start a conversation, but no one seems to notice that I’m drinking a pint of ditchwater. Probably too polite to give a second look, or maybe it just looks like a watered-down stout. Well, £3.50 isn’t bad for a 5% Scottish cider from John Hancox. Cheers, Mr Hancox.

I’m wondering where the toilets are, my dad always said cider was “gut-rot”. Though he also says it’s a good thirst quencher. It depends if I’m drinking it, or he is. An exhausted looking woman comes down the stairs. I presume the toilets are up that way, I also wonder if she’d just had a Morningcider, too.

Twenty minutes to go. Best head up the stairs and bag a space at this gig. A strange warm feeling is spreading across my midriff….

Verdict
3.5/5

……if I close my eyes

Eurovision Cider Contest. Part 2

Well, I hope you enjoyed the first half of the show. With the show about to start, get your platformheels and cheap party dress on, crack open a proper one, and let’s get in the mood…

Welcome back to this very first episode of the Eurovision Cider Contest! We’ve already seen performances from Switzerland and Sweden, and coming up are the ones you really want to see — Spain and the UK. Due to time limits, Finland and France didn’t make it into this year’s contest. And, well, there aren’t really any other big European cider-drinking countries. At least, not that I know of. Estonia?

Anyway, next up is the UK. The UK are always a bit shit in the E.S.C. and their song entry this year, (2015), didn’t disappoint. Like something from a children’s continental fruit juice drink with added vitamins. It’s just bad.

London VelvetHowever, tonight’s entry shows much more promise. It’s a London Velvet from William Sharvatt (by Silasu), made in Derby. Scouted in Tesco, Highams Park, this was something very different, Porter Ale and Fine Cider!

Ok, so it sounds like a hipster snakebite. However, I do like a porter ale. Introduced in the late 1800s for all the ‘porters’ in the docks and warehouses of the cities, this dark beer has a sweetness and strength to it. According to the label, Mr Sharvatt was a timber merchant in The Old Kent Road, London, and would mix the cider brought by his timber suppliers with a porter, to produce his London Velvet. Seems to be genuinely for the fun of it.

On with the show. London Velvet arrives on stage in muted, dark, fashionably vintage style. The performance is syrupy sweet, thick with the molasses of the porter, with a kick of the tangy apples. Perhaps the porter is too strong a partner, for this to be rated in a cider sense. It is a great performance, but I can’t really detect that much cider in it. A bit like the UK song performance, I couldn’t detect much music in it. The cider is under the thumb of the stronger, more belligerent porter.

The London Velvet head offstage back to their east London bedsit. On a bus. Hoping they don’t have a snakebite hangover tomoz, cos the ex is dropping the kids off. Bloody LEGOLAND®, inni?

And finally, Spain. Or more accurately, the Basque country. IZ Sidra Natural is from the north of Spain, by Izeta Sagaroda S.L. I was warned to “give it a week before opening”. It waited a lot longer than that, but tonight is its chance to shine. On the bottle, all the writing is in Basque, which is like the Spanish version of Welsh: mentalo.

IZ SidraSpain looked like it would cause a bit of a storm, so we left it ’til last. The design iz modern, but understated. This 6% cider iz full bodied, fruity, firm but fair. This iz proper apply stuff, I keep seeing flashes of the cloudy bottom. Probably the yeast. Too late, I see that the drink iz meant to be poured  from a height of 30cm. Well, I’d miss my gob at that range, so straight in the glass will do me.

“Euskadin ekoiztutako sagarrarekin egina”. Yep, your guess is as good as mine. The unintelligible cider takes a bow, and the contest is at a close. All that remains is to score tonight’s performance. In true ESC style, I’ve complicated the scoring. I can’t vote for my own nation, and my ciderkick can’t vote for the cider she provided.

Without a lengthy, satellite-delayed session of gaudy earrings and over-exposed cleavage, the results are in.

Suéde, deux points. Sweden, two points

Suisse, Trois points. Switzerland, three points

Grande Bretagne, cinq points, Great Britain, five points

Espagne, huit points. Spain, eight points

So, there you have it. IZ Sidra steals the show for Spain. Now it just remains to clear away the flags, see if I can get a full glass out of these dregs, and dance round half a bowl of popcorn, in front of the telly, to some Balkan power ballads.