CAMRA Cider and Perry Trip, Sussex 2017

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) don’t just shout about beers. They also have an Apple Committee, for all things cider (and perry). I missed out on the very popular Cider and Perry trip last year. It’s advertised in CAMRA’s monthly ‘What’s Brewing’ magazine, or e-zine or whatever they call a pdf newspaper thing.

Crawley Train Station

Sunny Crawley

This year, I had success. The meeting place was Crawley train station, zone 5, south London. The time? Saturday morning, 11am. As I trundle across the London railway, I’m reading the book ‘Hellraisers‘ about the great British drinkers of Hollywood in the 50s–70s.

I’m already a bit hungover as I arrive at the beautiful, sunny Crawley train station. As I exit the station, I see a large group of people already formed on the steps. The cider t-shirts are a bit of a giveaway. So, this surly-looking bunch will be my own Hellraisers for the day.

Everyone is in high spirits, as a cider drinker would be. I’ve already met some members of the Apple Committee (they talk about making cider). On the coach I read the details of the locations we’ll be visiting: Wobblegate, Kissingate and Village Green. What brillant names! We sail through the verdant Sussex countryside, and I look out the window at the cottages and quaint, old road signs. It’s like being in a Postman Pat film. Except I’m on a bus full of hardened cider-drinkers on the lash.

Old Mill FarmThe bus gingerly tiptoes over the prehistoric bridge to Wobblegate at Old Mill Farm. Primarily in the fruit juice business, the family-run farm has turned its hand to cider making. The Hellraisers pour off the bus, past vast crates, full of red apples and into a barn. Quite a few boxes of cider are presented in a row, with some plastic pint glasses at the end. It’s a free-for-all and I take my time before squeezing in among the other cider-piglets, suckling at the Wobblegate teats.

There’s a wide variety of ciders – fruit-flavoured ciders, hopped cider, and just cider. The nice chap what runs it tells us about the business and shows us round the cider press. They use dessert apples, and fruit from the south east and have now given the cider its own distinct brand: Wobbly Press.Cider-Perry-Trip-2017-3

I learn that the reason east England ciders are made with dessert apples stems only from the history of orchards growing apples to supply the London demand for eating apples. I always thought it was the climate! I also learn that if you want to commercially preserve a cider you either pasteurise it or add sulphites. Wobbly Press are pasteurised, though one wily Hellraiser tells me that pasteurisation takes the edge off, and flattens the tatse.

Just enough time to buy a few bottles at the shop and water the plants, before getting back on the wagon only slightly tipsy – it’s still early.

Wobblegate Apple Crate

Cider before it’s cider

Kissingate Brewery
Next stop Kissingate. This is actually a brewery that grew from small beginnings and is now expanding. Kissingate is an award-winning brewery, but they do stock some local ciders and perries. I make a mental note (never a good thing to do when drinking cider) to try some of the Kissingate beers in the future, but for now, we’re on a cider and perry trip – I have work to do. With a licenced bar, they also hold various booze-based events.


The Hellraisers are warming up now, as the sun almost comes out. Still, no chairs or fists are flying as everyone respectably queues for the food; a mini banquet kindly put on by the Kissingate team. Some hit and miss ciders here, but each one worth writing about. However, specifics are not on the agenda today. One kind CAMRA member has bought a set of bottled beers for the coach driver, so he’s looking forward to trying those, just as soon as he’s dropped off a load of Scientologists after our cider trip!
I hope he survived.

Village Green Cider

Village Green
I’m starting to nod off on the coach as we cruise towards the final destination. We pile off the coach again, crunching acrons underfoot as we walk down the country road to Fen Cottage. This is the home of Village Green ciders. it’s actually a garage in which two guys have built a cider press with 50 tonnes of squashage. Some of the Hellraisers get stuck in to the apples with a shovel; they can’t wait.

There’s a rather endearing video on their website, of the cider-making process, though my favourite bit is the music. In fact it’s the music that will be my incidental tune, while I go about my daily business. Try playing it on your headphones next time you’re out. You’ll want to doff your cap and wish “Good morrow!” to all, as you stroll in britches and feathered cap, puppet-like, down the high street. Probably what the world needs right now.

Anyway, like all cider makers, Ben is a very nice young chap, who now sells his award-winning cider in local pubs. After a tour of the facility and asisting in some cider pulping (and trying to cane as much free cider as possible), the Hellraisers stumble back to the coach.

It’s back to Three Bridges train station, where, while staring at some birds flying in the sky, I miss the train that is right in front of me, slope off to the local pub for a bog standard, and watch the local ruffians being manhandled by the barmen. Then back on the next train to solace and safety. I haven’t quite acheived the notoriety of our original Hollywood Hellraisers, but if there’d been a telly in one of the cider farms, I’m sure it would have gone through the window.

Same time next year?


Bignose Beardy Early Doors and Boars Head

Bignose Beardy? Whch cheeky git gave me this? Oh, it’s ciders from Mother Kelly’s Bottle Shop? Let’s get on it then!

I read that the real Bignose and Beardy are Phil and Steve who both work full time, but invite locals and customers to go and help them make the cider. Nice.

Bignose & Beard Ciders

We’ll begin with Early Doors, a 5.7% Sussex cider – it’s kind of local and it’s only available in half pint bottles, it seems. It’s tangy and sweet. Everything an east coast cider should be. The name Early Doors is because it’s made with several early season varieties.

Verdict: 3.5/5

One thing about real ciders is that the flavour can change between batches – the London Rooster has both a low mark ad a high mark on The Sense. Every real cider experience is a new adventure. Or said another way, you can’t trust anything I say.

So, let’s move on to the Boars Head

The Boar immediately smells a bit more ‘hospital’. I’m quite glad it’s going to be different.
Ooh, quite perfumed, a little antiseptic. Hints of Dettol with some Old Spice. Or maybe a fruit squash. Now it’s becoming like an elderflower wine. Like a beard – it’s growing on me.

Boars Head, at 6 %, is a lighter flavoured cider , but feels more sophisticated than Early Doors. Apparently salvaged from too many apples that couldn’t be sold to supermarkets, Cox Bramley and Howgate. This one isn’t a cider for everyone, but for those with a big enough nose.

Verdict: 4.5/5

You you never know, the next batch might be completely different.

Giggler Suffolk Cider

I’ve been out with work at the Taproom, Islington. I got a taste for the cider; a ‘safety third’ as I like to call it. 1 or 2 – you wake up in the early hours and can’t get back to sleep. 3-4: just enough to send you off into a drunken stupor.

My colleague, Ollie, has given me a bottle of Giggler cider, after his trip home. It’s from the Suffolk coast, so probably quite a sweet one. Oh, after I open it, I see that one should pour gently to avoid the sediment. Nowt wrong with a bit of sediment. In fact it’s making me sedimental!
Nice, simple logo. I wonder what will make me Giggle about it.

Giggler Cider

The original photo was corrupted, but you can hardly tell, with this cleverly blown-up thumbnail

Looking at this, it’s a 2013 vintage, which makes me wonder if it’s new, or has it been sitting on the shelf for four years? Bottle conditioned though, but without a pop, this one needs a bottle opener, not a corkscrew.

It’s pale, hazy and slightly sparkling.
Wow, the smell is like a strage wee. Something of boiled vegetables in this one. Maybe a bit of broccoli that’s been burned round the edges.
I can almost taste it, yes, I’ve tasted it before. Maybe it’s… yes, it’s echinacea. Proper echinacea is foul stuff, but it keeps you healthy. Apparently. Well, I’ve always said, alcohol is the cure of all ills.

So, what’s to giggle about?
The peaty, toilet smell?
The Holland and Barret health food store taste?
Nope, probably the 5.9%.
I think the good folk of Suff have created some kind of health-tea cider.

Unfortunately, the photo I take has become corrupted and I’m unable to retrieve the full file. However, I’ve cleverly blown up the thumbnail and added a logo, so I don’t think anyone will notice.

Four years old. I try to think back to what I was doing four years ago. Probably starting this cider blog! What was happening in Suffolk four years ago –

that’s what I should be worrying about. Someone’s gone and laced that orchard with echinacea. At least I won’t have a cold for the next four years.


I’ll still drink it

My apologies for the “sedimental” pun

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.

Hoxton Cidersmiths Harry Masters Jersey

Some time ago, I reviewed the Interesting Cider, by Hoxton Cidersmiths. Though I gave it less than full marks, due to not being particularly interesting, the nice people at HC thanked me for the post, and graciously sent me samples of one of their other ciders, Harry Master’s Jersey.
Hoxton Cider

I’ve been waiting for a perfect moment to review these ciders, ideally somewhere in Hoxton. However, rather than sit in the rain on my own in Hoxton Square, surrounded by hipsters, I’m at a barbecue on a sunny day in London Fields. Don’t worry, barbecues are allowed in the dedicated barbecue area, complete with fire buckets and water, just in case your barbie turns into a raging inferno.

I’ve brought my last remaining bottle of Harrys, intending to take in the ambience of the hipster-filled park. I assumed London Fields would be a good compromise, but we know where assumptions get us. I’m a little disappointed that, apart from a punk in a shiny suit, carrying a bag of leeks, it seems to be more full of creative director dads and multifunction buggies than sockless wonders with trousers turned up beyond reason. Hipsters can no longer afford the rents round here. I expect Class War will pay a visit, chucking paint on the barbecue bins, before knobbing off to spend their Nat King down Top Shop and KFC, in support of the diversity of community.

Oh well, the lack of interesting characters does not have to detract from the enjoyment of a cider. Harry Masters is a 4.5% cider, made using somerset apples (Harry Master’s Jersey variety). This one is more of what I’d expect from a cider. It has more depth and  tannins, but is not too dry.

The Hoxton Cidersmiths do admit that they are not aiming to make a cider like ‘that scrumpy Grandad used to make’, and their market is the person who’s looking for an easy-drinking cider, but not bog-standard chain-pub fare. Well, Harry Masters ticks the boxes. Hoxton’s have partnered with Sheppy’s cider makers, to create something that is well on it’s way to being something Grandad would be proud of. I’d like to see it on draught. In Hoxton. Maybe it is, my turn-ups are too short to be allowed in.

Myself, we’ll I’d still like to meet their Grandad.

Verdict 3.5/5

Cider Crawl, North Central London. Episode 3: Euston Cider Tap

I’m making my way though Euston train station, on a cider crawl. This may be the first ever cider crawl, in fact, I’ll trade mark the term. I’m on a Cider Crawl® . I’m making my way through Euston Station, with a quick stop for my ciderkick to get some plasters – his new shoes are killing him. Always wear sensible shoes when out on an all-day lashing. You could even buy this sensible pair, called Marc.

The Euston Cider Tap is part of a pair of little pubs, housed within the old ticket offices of the first Euston station. I won’t describe it too much, as you can read more about it on this previous post. Go on, it’s quite good.Euston Cider tap

We arrive at the Tap at twilight, though that is of no significance to this post. We choose from the wide range of ciders chalked up on the blackboard. There’s more scrump in here than you can shake a Tom Putt at. I decide on the London Cider “Bushpig”, my ciderkick chooses the Twisted Cider “Misty“.

We translocate to one of the tall benches within the bar. the Bushpig, like its cuddly name, is fragrant, like apricots in summer picnic. I see the my ciderkick’s face turning at the taste of the misty. We make a swap and he’s much more content with the Bushpig. Unlike the summery cider, Misty feels more like a spicy winter drink. Like a weird winter candle scent, it’s dry, herby, coriander, tomato vine, mildew, burned stuff… I can’t quite put my.. I know! It’s like when, on bonfire night, your mam can’t afford a pumpkin, so you have to make a hallowe’en lantern with a  swede. Then it’s too small for the candle, so the top gets burnt. Misty tastes like that smell.

Euston Cider Tap InsideMisty is heavier on the nose than the Bushpig, which, despite its name, does not smell much at all. By heavier, I mean minging. There’s a lot going on in that mist. It’s made with all local (Dorset) apples, and the Twisted strapline is “Don’t get Wasted, get Twisted’. ‘Don’t get Pisseded’, would also rhyme.

It’s Good Friday, and it’s a bit quiet round these parts, but is surprisingly full in this cosy little bar. I observe the barman telling a punter what ciders are on offer. I hear an American accent in reply, ‘That doesn’t mean anything to me’. He asks for something apply, something sweet. Halves please. Another customer arrives, just down from Royston Vasey. He asks for anything weak. The barman points at me.

I think people are missing the point of The Cider Tap. Hanging around a bus station, drinking weak, sweet cider is what 14 year-olds do. If you come to the Tap, you really have to get into the spirit of things and try a proper pint. So, rather than watch a load of middle aged men looking like they’ve just tried an oyster for the first time, we drink up and knob off through the dim, drizzly Fitzrovian streets, heading towards our next Cider Crawl® target: Oxford Street and The Green Man.

Verdict: 5:5

A dedicated cider bar, in a disused ticket office outside Euston bus station? You couldn’t make this stuff up!

London Drinker Beer and Cider Festival

It’s not often I get day release to go to a cider festival. I found there’s one that’s close to home–the 31st London Drinker Beer & Cider Festival at the Camden Centre, so I knocked off work with a valid excuse–massive hangover–to head down to Euston.London Drinker Festival

After warming up at the Euston Cider Tap, I head for the building behind Camden Town Hall (just off Euston Road, not actually in Camden proper). Outside, there’s a queue of balding middle aged men (and seven women), with scraggy beards and jamjar glasses. I add my own scraggy beard to the queue, and we wait like excited kids in dandruffed anoraks, for the doors to open.

London Drinker Festival  HallThe room is grand inside, it’s a 1937 ballroom, with a large chandelier hanging above us. Around the edge of the room are various bars and food stalls, with the odd table set up in the middle of the floor to lean on. It’s a few quid to get in, but for that you get an LDBCF pint glass (you can ask for halves at the bars), and a handy guide to the festival. According to the guide, they have zebra and camel burgers on sale here. London Zoo are among the sponsors.

Time to get stuck in. I immediately gravitate towards the Campaign for Real Cider and Perry stall. I choose a pint of Ventons Apple Whisky Cask. A 6.3% Devon cider. It’s pretty dry, but not tongue-stripping. However, there’s a strong note of silage, with smokiness from the whisky cask.

I try to remember to pace myself, and wander over to the CAMRA merchandise stall. You can not only buy the t-shirt, but also the bar mat, keyring…you name it. I can’t find a walking stick plaque, though.London Drinker Stall

Next I go for the Williams Bros Hooker. A 6.3% cider from Glamorgan. It’s a very nice medium cider, a little tarty, a little sweet, lightly sparkling with a dryness. Apparently it’s a new one from Williams, a proper 36-24-36 of the cider world.

My alarm beeps to tell me it’s time for my pills. I buy the biggest cheese bap I ever saw and another pint of something or other–my memory’s not what it was. The atmosphere is warm and buzzing, the bar staff are friendly. I notice some youngsters in the crowd and wander over to a table to chat to some young brewers from the Beer Hive, near Brixton. ‘Beer Hive’, get it? Those crazy kids.

After 4 pints of scrumpy, my legs are starting to give out and I decide I should quit while I can still see. I dry off my souvenir pint glass, so it doesn’t wet my shopping trolley and head off for the bus.

Same time next year?