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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Cider of the Week

Gregg's Pit Chisel Jersey, Dabinett & White Close Pippin

When most beer bloggers/writers/ communicators write about cider they write about Tom Oliver. Why is that you may ask? Well, he is one of the best cider (and perry) makers in the country for a start. He's also a UK pioneer, perhaps the only UK pioneer, of a craft beer/craft cider crossover.

However great cider and perry doesn't start and finish with Oliver's - there are numerous equally good makers out there and, in line with this blog's new policy of branching out from Dutch beer I bring you Gregg's Pit.

James Marsden and Helen Woodman have been making cider and perry at Gregg's Pit farm on the outskirts of Much Marcle (the home of Westons) in Herefordshire since 1994. They have subsequently gained an enormous reputation for their products (and they are pictured here on the right of the photo receiving one of their many awards), I've been lucky enough to have visited several times.

They specialise in single varietals (that's to say a cider or perry made from the juice of just one variety of cider apple or perry pear) but also make some excellent named blends. They are all exceptionally elegant drinks, helped perhaps by the Gregg's Pit practice of milling the fruit and then letting the pulp stand overnight before pressing to extract the juice. This not only softens the pulp and increases juice extraction but also removes some of the tannin, this aiding a fuller and more rounded mouth feel in the end product.

This is one of the named blends (says he stating the bleedin' obvious) and uses the juice of:

Chisel Jersey - a "bittersweet" cider apple originating in Somerset. Its juice is high in tannin and sugar but low in acidity.

Dabinett - this very popular cider apple also originated in Somerset and is another "bittersweet". Quite a few cider makers use this to make a single varietal cider.

White Close Pippin - this was a new one on me. It's a pretty old and fairly rare variety (although stock is commercially available should you feel the urge to plant a tree) and it's another "bittersweet" too.

This cider is also slightly different from the crowd as it's keeved. Keeving is an old method of making naturally sweeter, sparkling and lower gravity ciders - it was widely used in the West Country here in the UK and also in northern France. It pretty much died out here (but is clearly making a bit of a comeback) but is still commonplace in the production of Franch cider and perry. The process involves the formation of a pectin gel that floats to the top of the fermenting tank and forms a sort of crust. There are lots of technical details here:


So, what's it like then? First the glass - if I try traditional cider at home I usually opt for a Belgian lambic glass - after all ciders and perries are the UK's home-grown spontaneously fermented drinks. It's the colour of  a late autumn field of ripe barley and has a full fruity nose with just a touch of "funk". It's full bodied with plenty of apple fruit and almost a  buttery richness to the texture. The medium-sweet finish brings a touch of dryness with it - wonderfully moreish.

Do look out for Gregg's Pit cider and perry - most of the outlets are in Herefordshire but there are some in London - including Claridges!

Happy New Year everyone - back next week.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Here we are again

Well hello again. It's been a while hasn't it? Returning to this blog was like prising open the door of a long locked room. Will the pigeons have found a way in and covered everything in a foot of droppings? Luckily a quick flick around with the duster and it looks good to go,

It's been a busy two years and I thought long and hard before returning here. If I re-start I really have to keep going but I have some more free time now so with a bit of luck we'll avoid the previous hiatus. I'll also be broadening the scope of this blog as well and venturing outside the Dutch beer scene from time to time.

So, with a suitably retro logo, let's get back on the road with Golden Pints 2017.  I've seen one or two of these already and there are quite a few long essays out there. These will be suitably brief.

Best UK Cask Beer
Many great cask beers have passed my lips over the last 12 months but one I keep returning to is Hawkshead Windermere Pale. It's one of those classic sub-4% beers that the UK does so well (and in the same field as Marble Pint, Track Sonoma, Fyne Ales Jarl and numerous others) and never disappoints. At the other end of the spectrum are two dark beers. In Stalybridge Station Buffet I came across as Stout by Squawk. Unlile many other of their stouts and porters this one came in at a heftier 7.4% and was stunningly good.  A heads up too to a brand new beer from a rebranded brewery. Dan's Brewery in Manchester has become Wander Beyond Brewing and among the launch beers was Cave Dweller a 11% maple imperial stout. Too sweet for some apparently but I thought it was glorious stuff.

Best UK Keg Beer
One beer stands out. By a mile. This is Chorlton Brewing's Cherry Sour. You've got to like sour beers but if you do you'll recognise Mike Marcus and his team are inspired brewers and I really don't know why Chorlton hasn't become a cult name.  This was tried at one of their all too rare brewery taps and it's a beer I could drink all day. At the time I likened it to a British Rodenbach - OK if you put them side by side they'd be quite different but it really was that good and the comparison is still valid. Mike tells me he sells most of his beer in London and Edinburgh - it's about time Manchester bars got behind this local star.

Best UK Bottle
Well, UK bottles actually. The imperial stout and old ale range from Marble in all its various iterations has been nothing less that magnificent. They have all been good and I'm not going to choose one above the other (yes, I know, what a cop-out). Also a big heads up to Marble's Pugin - one of the best, no, the best UK version of a Belgian blond bier I have come across.

Best UK Can
Back to Hawkshead again - their Key Lime Tau is a thing of joy and has become one of my all time favourite beers.

Best Cider or Perry
I've had some excellent ciders and perries this year, particularly on a trip to Hereford in November. Our party called in at the excellent Yew Tree at Peterstow which is owned by Ross-on-Wye Cider & Perry. After lunch Mike Johnston of Ross-on-Wye gave us a talk and tasting in the attached shop. We all came away with lots of good stuff but for several of us the Moorcroft & Bartestree Squash perry was the star of the show.  It's a blend of two perry pears - Moorcroft from Worcestershire and Bartestree Squash from Herefordshire. The result is deliciously fruity and balanced with just the right amount of dryness.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
I drink a fair amount in Belgium and the Netherlands and this year have had some superb beers. However one that sticks in the mind was tried here in the UK. In December Brouwerij Kees had a tap takeover at Manchester's Kosomonaut and his Barrel Aged Caramel Fudge Stout was knock-out.

Best Overseas Bottled Beers
I see in my last Golden Pints I referenced Tommie Sjef Koenen as  "one to watch". He was a home brewer then. He's professional now as Tommie Sjef Wild Ales. Having subscribed to his crowd-funding for a new, larger barrel store I now get advance notice of all the releases and try not to miss one. The beers are truly great and turn heads whenever they are tried.

Another Dutch outfit making waves (and naturally below the radar here in the UK) is Brouwerij Demoersleutel which is run by four young (check out the Facebook photo - www.facebook.com/moersleutel)  brothers from Heiloo. I first encountered their beers  at Gents Bierfestival and then picked up some bottles in Amsterdam. Their dark beers are notably impressive. Moersleutel means spanner by the way and they badge themselves as "beer engineers".

Best Pub or Bar
I spend many happy Friday nights in Stockport's Ye Old Vic (sanctimonious disclosure - I actually own a tine fraction of the pub having subscribed for shares in the community company that bought it from the previous owner). Beer quality is excellent as is the atmosphere - and it has become the haunt of numerous brewers and beery people who live in Edgeley.

In Manchester it's difficult not to call in at Cafe Beermoth but perhaps my favourite haunt is the cellar bar underneath the Beermoth shop. 

Best Beer Festival
I seem to go to more beer festivals in Belgium and the Netherlands than I do in the UK.  At home I try and never miss the Hawkshead beer festivals - two a year in March and July (usually) and great days out with superlative beer choices. Two other "never misses" are Liverpool Craft Beer Expo and Leeds International Beer Festival

However my favourite remains Gents Bierfestival. Not only is Ghent a great city to visit for history and culture but it also has perhaps one of the best beer scenes in Belgium. The annual beer festival is in mid-August an always boasts a very imaginative list - what was on offer for 2017 is here

And finally....

Best Book
Like many I have been beguiled by Peter Brown's Miracle Brew (and for the record  his The Apple Orchard was also inspirational).

Well that's it folks. Back next week.