It was at the Silver Cross Pub in London, near Trafalgar Square, where I had my first real English cyder. Before then I had only experienced Woodchuck Cider, the cloyingly sweet American version of a true English cyder. I wasn’t a cider fan. I had been ‘carnival barking’ at a trade show in the Midlands all week and now was spending a fun weekend exploring London. My somewhat hoarse voice needed something alcoholic to bring it back, and I had to kill time before seeing a show at the Trafalgar Studios across the street.
To my surprise I see a cider on tap, front and center of the bar, called Aspall Suffolk Cyder, which, oddly enough is the area in Suffolk England (Monk Stonham Aspall) from which my mother’s paternal line hails. So I had to taste the drink of my Yeoman ancestors and I asked the bartender for a pint. After one sip I fell in love. Like most English cyders, Aspall is a dry cider with a bit more bubbly than our versions. It’s a heck of a lot more drinkable than most sweet American ciders.
So after getting back home, I totally immerse myself in English Cyder culture – well, to the extent that I can in Midwestern America. I find another pub near the ancestral town on Facebook called the Nelson Head in Horsey-next-the-Sea in Suffolk UK, and friend them.
To my luck I find Aspall Cyder at Findlay Market Wines, and depleted their stock every time I went to Findlay Market, much to the delight of Michael, the owner. Then a few years later, the Party Source in Newport, Kentucky, started carrying a full line of Aspall Ciders, including my favorite Isabell’s Berry – a dry bubbly cider with a lingering aftertaste of redcurrent and raspberry. It is so good to drink in hot weather. Aspall recommends drinking it alongside gooseberry crumble, summer pudding, and white Stilton cheese – none of which are in my regular picnic repertoire, but hey, why not?
In the meantime, Cincinnati has gotten into the craft cider craze, like Rhinegeist’s Cidergeist line, including one of my faves – Bubbles – which is similar to the Aspall’s Isabell’s Berry, only with cranberries and peach. Then, I a week or so ago I get an invite from Nelson Head Pub back in the UK for their Beer, Cider and Music Fest in September. They had a list of about 20 cyders, categorized as ‘draught’ and ‘scrumpy.’
I had never heard of the scrumpy category, which included Weston’s Wyldwood and Gwynt ye Ddraig Pyder. I found that there was a whole new category of cyder I needed to explore.
Scrumpy is a term used to refer to cyders made in the West of England, particularly Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire, and Herefordshire. It also refers to rough or harsh ciders made from unselected apples. Today, however, it also refers to locally made small batch ciders from anywhere in the UK using traditional methods.
So now I have a list of scrumpy ciders to look out for at the Party Source, and I think I’ve got a wild hair to try to ferment some scrumpy cyder of my own!