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.


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.


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!


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….


……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.

Eurovision Cider Contest. Part 1

Eurovision is looming, so I’ve been into my cupboard, and dusted off a couple of old posts from last year, that never saw the light of day – it takes some time to set up that stage, and  sweep up all the empty bottles afterwards! Anyway, the fist half of the show goes a bit like this….

It’s Saturday night and I’m watching telly, but after there’s just shite on. I suddenly remember someone telling me it’s Eurovision tonight! I grab the remote and click through the channels. There it is! I’ve missed the opening ceremony, but the meaty bit is still to come.Eurovision Cider Contest

I settle into the sofa for an evening of what looks like Christmas decorations engaged in mild porn, fake smiles and frequent warnings of flashing lights. The best thing about it is Graham Norton’s sniping commentary. Australia are, strangely, also in it. But then, so is Israel.

Scoring seems to have been streamlined since I last saw it, and now each country only announces their top three scores. The scoring pattern still does not seem to have changed, in that you are required to score highly, those countries that you border, or who speak your language, or who you don’t wish to bomb you. Unsurprisingly, Russia hold the lead throughout the Eastern Bloc voting, but then neutral Sweden surge ahead and are announced winners even before the end of the scoring!

I suddenly have a moment. I have a glass of water and it goes away. Then I have an epiphany, like a voice speaks to me. Maybe God or someone. The conversation goes like this:

God: Ciderman

Me: Hiya

God: You like cider, right?

Me: Yep.

God: You like Eurovision, right?

Me: Well….yeah, it’s ok.

God: You have several ciders from around the world, in your kitchen, right?

Me: Errrrm…yeah, I’ve got some

God: Well? You know what I’m thinking, right?

Me: You want to wipe out the human race and see what happens if cockroaches rule the earth, cos you heard they survive everything?

God: Ohh,   never mind

Me: Bye

Suddenly, I have a great idea. How about a Eurovision Cider Contest!

My ciderkick tonight will be making up the other half of the judging panel. First up is Switzerland. Wearing traditional dress, in the colours of the Swiss flag, Suure Moscht is performed by Ramseier. Ramseier Suure MoschtThe can makes it look a bit dangerous, and the ‘Cidre Trouble’ at the bottom, does not help the image. However, all these words are strange, Swiss words. My Bavarian ciderkick tells me Suure Moscht, means something like ‘sour mash’. It’s not looking good, though, at only 4%, it seems its bark is worse that its bite.

The performance from this naive, bare-footed mountain girl, is fruity and fresh and sweet. This cider is a little cloudy, in true continental form, the ingredients have been listed, showing apple concentrate, so its dirndle is bolstered with apples. Well, who could resist that!

Heidi is warmly applauded, and Sweden prepare to take the stage – Rekorderlig Dry Äpple Cider

The Swedish entry was discovered in Yogi wine, dressed up like a hipster. Rekorderlig Dry AppleBreaking away from the usual, fruity, colourful Rekorderlig style, this minimal, ‘straight up premium dry cider’, seems to be looking to break into the London cider scene.

As the skinny-jeaned Swede takes the stage, it’s looking promising, but on opening  there’s a smell of fart. Both judges agree, someone has dropped one in the bottle. The colour of this 5% cider is pale, like a pear drop. As the fart recedes, it is replaced by spray paint. The next verse is sweet and bubbly with a classy prosecco aftertaste, and finishing with straw and wood. Well, it’s kind of captivating, like a car crash. Maybe there’s too many flavours going on in this one. Farting in an alcopop doesn’t make it a dry cider.

The Eurovision Cider Contest 2015 goes to a break, (this isn’t the BBC). Join us, tomorrow, for the next instalment.

Snails Bank at the Euston Cider Tap

I’ve been walking round London town, looking at stuff all day – photos and the like, pretending to be cultured. My lungs will be black by now, so I’d best get some antioxidants.

The handiest place for a pint of antioxidants in the Euston locale, is the Euston Cider Tap. It’s a bright day, as I wonder through the towers and traffic of Euston. Oh look, there’s the BT tower!

The cider menu, chalked up on the back wall, lists what’s available today. I’m going to go for the Snails Bank, it’s still, medium, and I haven’t yet tried it. “Cash only bar” is painted on the counter in Tipp-Ex, so I pay my four quid, (Cheap for London), and head outside. It’s a Saturday afternoon, so still too early for the ravers to be out and there’s plenty of room outside. A nice day to sit and sup and breathe in the nitrous oxide from the Euston Road.

I take a pew amongst the reasonably civilised, still-sober cider drinkers, and see that my Snails Bank looks, by far, the most mental drink at the table – like a pint of thick, frothy piss. Everyone else is on pale, sugar water. Snails Bank is an opaque, dark orange colour, and though it’s supposed to be a still cider, it came out with a bit of head on it. Snails_Bank (3 of 4)

Snails Bank is a 5.2% cider, I’m expecting it to be rough and dry, but it tastes as caramel as it looks. Not too sweet, but it’s cider apples dipped in honey. Actually a very mild flavour, a smokey-sunshine taste. That’s my lungs fixed, then.

A shaven-headed Harley fan and his lady, sporting his-and-hers Harley jackets, cross the road towards us. Cider drinkers, I bet. They return to the tables with some proper-looking cider. I notice the chap next to me is reading “Suicide, a modern obsession“. I’ll recommend the barman give him a plastic glass next time, just in case.

Snail’s Bank website tells me that this is a Herefordshire cider. It’s called the Appley Dappley, which adds “the more contemporary Russet apple” to the blend. They’re aiming traditional ciders at modern tastes. I can see where they’re coming from and I’d recommend this as an easy drinking cider, if cider rookies can get past the initial shock of the colour. Snails Bank also make a keg cider, which they claim is made of pure pressed apple juice. I’d like to have a go on that!

Via my eavesdropping, I find out the Harley fan is down from the Midlands, to fix his sister’s curtain rail. A string of winos file past, asking for spare change. The suicidal gives them all a bit of change, he seems a kind man. Well I suppose he won’t need it where he’s going.

Snails_Bank (4 of 4)

The only printable bit of graffiti

I’m actually surprised by the mixture of drinkers at the Cider Tap, I expected there’s be more elderly, toothless men. However, now I have the taste for something stronger, something that might knock my teeth out. I’m about to go and ask what is the worst cider on the menu, when a bunch of young lovers arrive, which reminds me I’m old and alone, so I decide to leave it for another day. A quick visit to the unisex bog, before getting on the bus, offers several minutes of entertainment, in the form of insults, and advice. Most are not printable here.

Verdict: 4/5

Thundering Molly

The final, in my Tri-Nations Cider Tournament.

My workplace is a perfect subject for a documentary; full of characters. One of the characters is Ollie. he gets me to book his National Express coach trips, in exchange for cider. Well, I can’t really complain – seems like a fair deal.

He’s given me a bottle of Thundering Molly. I notice the M has been professionally scribbled out with a biro; “Thundering  olly”.Thundering Molly

This is a 5.2 cider by, erm, either Abrahalls, or Celtic Marches. It’s either a quaker drink, or a Glaswegian protest, dunno. Well, it seems like it’s a family business originally from Wales, now stationed in Herefordshire.

Back to the cider. Molly is described as ‘well rounded and medium’, nothing like our Ollie then – bald, svelte and bordering on the extreme. Camp as a row of tents, he is.

Molly is sugary, but in an adult way.  A delicate flavour, gently sparkling, with a light, fruity taste. there’s something Christmassy about her, like the slight sherry whiff of your auntie’s breath at 11am on Christmas day after a course of Fools and Horses seasonal specials. She is rather medium, though. Despite the sexy packaging – which you can now purchase as a tee shirt, (sadly without the Molly Picture) – I’d like Molly to surprise me, a bit more like Ollie’s drag version of Donatella Versace.

I wonder why she’s thundering. headache; bad mood; massive thighs? Mind, Celtic Marshes, with their Celtic symbol logo, mixed with a selection of 1990’s student-project prostitute adverts, and God knows who Abrahalls is, maybe the grandad, all suggests it’s a company in need of some brand identity. Is this cider aimed at women, or elderly bikers?

Though I would’t mind trying the 20L box of still Molly. Then I could die happy.

And probably would.

Verdict 3/5


Coles Carmarthen Gold

With my Tri-Nations Cider Tournament under way, next up is Wales.Carmarthen Gold

I received a bottle of Coles Carmarthen Gold from my Welsh brother, (brother of a brother-in-law). He’s from Carmarthen, and, as everyone in South Wales seems to be from Carmarthen, he’s probably related to the Cole’s Family Brewers (Established 1999). This 6% cider one has won a Great Taste Award.

My only Welsh drinking vessel is the cwrw (beer) tankard, but that will do.

Smells like it’s going to be a dessert apple cider, (like Aspalls), and it’s sweet, sweet, sweet! Or as the Welsh would say: ‘megafuckinsweetasfucklike’. Well, the label did say ‘Gold and Delicious’. Get it? Like the apple? Well, I think this must have been made from golden delicious apples, it’s not a bitter sweetness like some dessert apple wine, more of a pure sweetness, like apple juice. Quite refreshing, actually.

It is a pale gold, lightly sparkling cider. A good cider for those who think they might not like a scrumpy, but not for those who like a more savoury beverage. I’m sure it’s one of my five a day. The bottle says it’s the true taste of Wales. So, this is what dragons taste like. I always wondered. A bit like watching a Wales rugby match, you first get a rush but eventually, it does make you wince a bit. Best wait a week before the next one.

After finishing the bottle, I run around my bedroom for ten minutes, jump on the bed, cry and then fall asleep.

Verdict: 3/5