There's a mix of very small orchards and cider companies to very large industrial operations. Most places had one or two cider choices, and I always opted for the cider I had not tried before. When I did have more choices, I consistently aimed for the most local and the driest cider. Here's what I found in the order I found them.
Northcoast Apple Cider http://ncwine.co.uk/collections/cider
I found this at a tiny wine shop called Moreno Wine Merchants in London because it happened to be across the street from the Air Bnb room we rented. it has the most beautiful label and I wish we'd had more light to capture it properly.
The Northcoast smells like bruised apple, a little phenolic, sweet. I love the dark copper color. This cider has only very light carbination; the sparkle is barely there and presumably entirely natural. Immediately, I notice tongue-drying tannins, but this cider is not sour. It has very low acid. It tastes sweet, warm, tannic, astringent, a little phenolic, a little acetificed. There's a very small hint of sweaty olive in the phenols I noticed, but not much and not bad. This is how I imagine English craft cider tastes. I especially like the long minerally finish. 4.5% ABV There's quite a big different between sips and quaffs: sips are a distinct, puckering and relaxing with its thornier characteristics, and a big drink brings out the apples more, especially in the aroma—whatever freshness and malic acid seems only available in this way. Not a clean fermentation. Complex while still quite sweet. Unlike any American cider we've had. Allegedly aged in bourbon barrels, according to the wine store gent, but I can't taste it or smell it.
Healey's Cider Rattler Original http://thecornishcyderfarm.co.uk
I had this cider at a pub in Penzance with a seafood-oriented menu and I had it with whole makerel. I want to note that the Rattler was offered at more places than most other ciders I saw on this trip, and I've learned since that it is more an industrial offering. My tasting notes definitely reflect that. It tastes very sweet and bubbly, far more soda like than most English style ciders. It wasn't bad but goodness is it a sweet one that tastes more like a pear and apple carbonated juice than anything else.
Cornwall Cider Co. Lyonnesse http://cornwallciderco.co.uk
This cider had the best context of any of the entire trip because I found it at a little snack shop about three quarters of the way through one of our first full hiking days. I'd been expecting a nice little afternoon pick me up in the *cough cough* hot english sun of ice cream, but I was able to choose between 4 different ciders instead! The Lyonesse has great deep burnished copper color, and very French-cider-esque aroma with sweetness and darkness. It smells a little soft, like cooked apricots and stones. I was thrilled to find that this cider is indeed a semi-dry! I'm afraid many of the semi-dry ciders I taste on both sides of the Atlantic are more sweet than dry. This one is a little acetic. The bubbles clearly come from force carbonation; the Lyonesse has a higher level of carbonation than most UK ciders. It tastes best to me in larger drinks. I am just endlessly impressed with its bright, high-acid, medium high tannins; this cider is really balanced. It's full mouthfeel is almost oaty while being fruit-oriented and so drinkable. Extremely well balanced with rich mouthfeel. Nice rounded extended finish with hay and tropical fruit notes. The Lyonesse is definitely the best drink of my vacation to that point.
Shane's Cider from the Seven Stars in Penzance (no official website)
I had Shane's Cider at the Seven Stars in Penzance. This is one pub that is decidedly NOT run by regional chain St. Austell. The Seven Stars pub plays a fascinating range of music: the Cult, Giorgio Moroder, Village People, and Christina Aguillera. The decor is similarly eclectic and campy but more homey. Now for the cider. It's colour is light polished brass but distinctly hazy. It is served cold and bubbly with a big head that dissipates quickly. It smells dusty, cheesy, yeasty and subtly perfumed. The first flavors I get are so interesting: bright, pear and peppercorn, zesty green apples. Med to high levels of sparkle, tastes only mildly alcoholic, offers medium tannins, semi-dry, and medium high acid. Overall, the cider strikes me as mild, well balanced, with quick finish a little enjoyable bitterness. I spoke with Shane about his creation and here's what he told me. The apple blend varies on season. It is fermented in oak vats. Shane mixes in something special that he won't reveal! Curious! The ABV is unknown. I really enjoyed this one and stopping in at the Seven Stars was awesome.
Norcott's Cider Original http://www.norcottscider.co.uk
In terms of aromas, this cider offers up yeasty, soft scents with a few sharp notes that strike me as clean, like aftershave, with spice and menthol. The cider is sweet with high acid and medium tannin levels. It reminds me of some French ciders, especially with the honey flavors. One neat note of funk on first impact keeps it from being pedestrian. I do enjoy its clean bright flavor though it could be more distinctive. The Carbonation consists of many small bubbles that are not too intense. The bigger the sip, the faster it all disappears. Take small sips to maximize the funk and interest, since the big sips go so fast. Balanced-ish, but one notch sweeter than is strictly necessary. The ABV is 4.5%. We enjoyed this one with wood-fired pizza.
Thatcher's Gold Draught Cider http://www.thatcherscider.co.uk
On at least one night of vacation in the UK, I have to have fish and chips. This was my cider for fish and chips night because I expected a crisp and bubbly easy drinking semi-sweet cider from Thatchers. And my expectations weren't far off. The cider smells to me like a dry well powdery, minerally, stones. It smells very little like apple. In terms of taste, the Thatcher's Gold was indeed semi-sweet with a creamy mouthfeel. Comparatively, it isn't very tannic. It reminds me of spicy warm applesauce. Big sips are more like applesauce. Tannins become more apparent if you chew it a bit. I'm also noticing lots of notes of orange juice with a slight malt aftertaste. Not bad with fish and chips but not the most interesting either.
Symond's Founders' Reserve: http://symondscider.co.uk
When I sniff this cider, I smell yeast and mild tannins along with understated fresh apples. The flavors when I taste it are more varied: underripe strawberries, red bell peppers, and nuttiness. The Founders' Reserve offers high levels of acidity and tannins in a very balanced and pleasant way. This cider definitely strikes me as off-dry. Like most of the ciders I've tried on this trip the level of sparkle is gentle and medium to low. This one was a big hit with everyone at the table! It paired well with fish pie, Sunday roast, and pasta with brandy cream sauce.
My ciders were varied, but largely tasty. I enjoyed checking out what is easily available when walking the Southwest Coast Path in Cornwall. I wish I could have had car access to visit orchards and cideries, but that will have to wait for another trip. Keep your eyes peeled for my last England post about my trip to the Euston Cider Tap in London. Cheers!