Three Kiwi cider-makers get the nod
With sales booming it's interesting that a leading English drinks writer argues cider is the world's most misunderstood drink.
As well as making that claim in opening line of his latest book, The World's Best Ciders, Pete Brown has penned several blogs and recorded a BBC radio programme on the subject.
At a public cider tasting event in Chicago last month, Brown gave a presentation subtitled "The world's most misunderstood drink" to 4000 people. 4000 people at a cider tasting? That number would be unimaginable in England, which regards itself as the spiritual home of cider, let alone here in New Zealand.
But I digress.
Brown reckons one of the biggest areas of misunderstanding seems to be around what cider actually is.
"You might think this is the most straightforward aspect of what on the surface seems to be a robustly uncomplicated drink. Go into any pub and ask anyone at random what cider is made of, and you could be reasonably certain the answer would be ‘apples'. If only it were that simple."
According to the Oxford Dictionary, cider is "an alcoholic drink made from fermented apple juice".
The Northwest Cider Association, the group which organised the Chicago tasting and has similar events scheduled for Berkeley, Portland and Seattle, agrees.
"Cider can range from light, delicate and sparkly to rich, dark, and full of complexity. There are hundreds of varieties of cider apples that can grow a wide variety luscious flavours, fragrant aromatics and intense tannins. These are the building blocks for good cider. Cider makers carefully select their preferred varieties to get the flavours they seek."
But all ciders are not equal. Labelling laws are slightly different around the world but in America the bottle label on one cider brand lists its ingredients as "hard cider (water, apple juice concentrate, dextrose), water, sucrose, natural flavor, malic acid, sodium citrate, natural colors".
As Brown points out, this so-called premium cider "is mainly water, with some added apple juice concentrate and sugar. Then, as far as I can understand it, they've added more water and sugar and other stuff to this ‘cider' to premiumise it".
Here in New Zealand, the cider producers group the Fruit Wine and Cider Makers of New Zealand, argue: "A product made from apple concentrate, sugar, and water is not real cider."
But that doesn't stop Rekorderlig. The Swedish brand's products contain little or no apple juice and its website proudly claims its "ciders" are created "with the purest spring water". Yet they sell in New Zealand labelled as cider.
If you're looking for high quality traditional ciders from New Zealand I'd concur with Brown's choices in World's Best Ciders.
Just three Kiwi cidermakers - Peckham's and Townshend, both of Upper Moutere, and Zeffer of Matakana - get the nod.
If you haven't tried any of the above, there'll be an opportunity to sample four of Peckham's ciders at Nelson's MarchFest on Saturday, March 22. Alex and Caroline Peckham will also be on hand to discuss how they manage their own cider apple orchard and create their tasty ciders.
Along with an elderflower cider and a blackcurrant kir, Alex Peckham has created a special MarchFest cider called Indian Summer.
He describes it as "aromatic, alluringly spicy-sweet, this is a blend of apple ciders combined with a splash of fresh green cardamom. Cardamom makes a refreshing, palate-cleansing cider. Medium-dry, exotic and deliciously different". I can't wait to try it.
In The World's Best Ciders Brown is optimistic for the future of New Zealand cidermaking.
"As in various other New World countries, there's a race to propagate more cider fruit alongside the drive to educate drinkers on what real cider is".
He also predicts "New Zealand cider will develop along similar lines to that of New England and the United States: big and wine-like, crisp and refreshing, and increasing in complexity as new apple varieties are nurtured and explored."
As New Zealand's apple harvest gets under way and our cidermakers begin pressing this year's fruit, I'll raise a glass of cider to that.