After reading about the recent resurrection of Rochdale Cider at the McCashin’s brewery in Stoke, we decided to drop into the bottle store and check out the offerings. Our timing was good, as the Rochdale Cider and the Ginger and Lime Cider had just started pouring that very morning.
We were surprised by the fresh flavors of the medium style Rochdale, and thought it would be fun to compare it to the other ciders on the market. We dropped into Fresh Choice thinking we’d have a couple of options, and were stunned by over 10 varieties to choose from. Several of them were brand new offerings, and a number of choices were locally made. Skipping the new releases from Macs and Montieths, we decided to sample a variety of smaller producers. Locally available products range from the cider based drinks like McCashin’s Frute, through to Martin Townshend’s purist vintage Rosedale offerings.
Maybe having so many choices should be no surprise, given that Nelson and apples go together so well. The district has had a commercial apple industry for over 100 years, and is second only to Hawkes Bay in apple production, generating over one third of New Zealand’s annual apple crop.
Though some of those apples have long been made into cider, that cider got a bit of a reputation as a cheap buzz. However, cider has an ancient established tradition in both France and England, likely thanks to the Norman Conquest. Traditional ciders are made with a blend of cider apple varieties to get just right mix of tart, fruit, and tannin. The French style is generally more fruity than the drier English style. In neither case does the cider taste like alcoholic apple juice, having a wine-like complexity as a result of the fermentation process. Most ciders on the market today are made from commercially available juice of fruit apples, but should still exhibit a good balance of flavours and a crisp finish.
We weren’t able to try everything and still we found an amazing variety of styles and quality. Clearly, making cider isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many were enjoyable, and amongst the highlights of our survey were the locally produced Rochdale “Medium”, Tullybarden Fruit Wines’ Autumn Strong, and Weka Apple Cider from Blenhiem’s Moa Brewing Company. The Rochdale cider tastes of fresh apple, has nice golden colour and generous carbonation. It finished dry after a medium sweet fruit. We found the Tullybarden on tap at the Moutere Inn to be drier, in part due to the higher acidity of the finish, giving it a green apple bite. The bottled Weka cider is the most complex of the three. It blends apple and pear juices, with a hint of oak and chardonnay from barrel aging.
During our explorations, we also discovered a local mini-boom in berry ciders. A couple years ago we tasted our first berry cider at the Sprig and Fern Tavern. In talking to Tasman Brewing co-owner Craig Harrington, he said he was first inspired by an apricot cider he tried at a Blues, Brews & Barbeques event ten years ago. After trialing several fruit combinations, he has now settled on the very popular sweet and fruity Three Berry, with boysenberries, strawberries and currants. At McCashin’s, one of two flavors of Frute, their new real fruit beverage, is the pulp filled Berry which has a distinct cider finish. And we discovered on dropping by Redwood Cellars that they also have just launched the drier styled Boysencider in their Old Mout line.
The Dead Good Beer guys are also exploring the cider phenomenon by offering a separate Cider Bar with five ciders on tap plus tastings of McCashin’s Frute at Saturday’s Beer Fete in Founder’s Park. In addition to local Old Mout Boysencider, Rochdale Ginger and Lime, and Pomona Cider, they are also bringing in Nally’s Cider from Invercargill and Benger Wild Cider from Cromwell.
Originally published in the Nelson Mail.