Best known for its strong, cloudy, scrumpy ciders, the West Country offers a wide range of dry and medium-sweet versions. But in recent years there has been a revival of interest in artisan cider production elsewhere in the country, utilising regional styles and apple varieties.
Even the soil on which the apples are grown can influence the taste – just like wine with its terroir. In Yorkshire, historic orchards are producing some spectacular ciders using a mix of dessert and cooking apples.
Norfolk is an area many would not immediately associate with cider, but it is also producing award-winning varieties. Thistly Cross in Scotland offers a range of innovative drinks using local fruit, while over in Northern Ireland, Armagh Ciders utilises produce from a century-old orchard.
Apples grown high in the Welsh mountains, meanwhile, produce a tangy, delicious drink. There can be little doubt that this is a market that has moved on significantly from the sweet cider boom of a few years ago, when the most talked-about tipples were Kopparberg and Rattler.
It’s easy to enjoy this renaissance in cidermaking, whether you’re looking for a variety to accompany a meal, or you’re just enjoying a relaxing drink.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, we settled down to testing a range of craft ciders. We wanted our selection to bring together a range of flavour profiles, ABVs and different price points, reflecting the extensive choice now available.
Prices reflect the alcohol strength and the size of the bottle, and do note that it can be cheaper to buy a box direct from the producer – many cideries only sell direct, in fact. The variations in aroma, flavour and sweetness are vast. Palate cleansing, smooth, sweet, acidic or tart; British ciders offer plenty of scope for exploration.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Dunkertons black fox, 6.8%, 500ml x 6
Very refreshing, this honey-coloured sparkling cider from the Cotswolds inclines towards tartness rather than sweetness. It is ideal to accompany very sweet desserts or spicy food, as the sharpness helps to cleanse the palate. Full of flavour, it is smooth and rich on the tongue. Unsurprisingly, it has won a lot of accolades, including a “Taste of the West” gold award. Black fox is a cider to savour and enjoy all year round.
Buy now £16.50, Dunkertonscider.co.uk
Thistly Cross whisky cask cider, 6.7%, 330ml x 24
An extremely smooth, soft, yellow drink from Scotland, this is a tipple to be savoured. The hint of whisky and oak from the casks in which it is matured lingers the mouth, creating extra warmth. Full of flavour, it can be enjoyed all year round. One of the latest products from this innovative company, it joins a line-up that also includes flavoured ciders and even cider liqueurs.
Buy now £38.40, Thistlycrosscider.co.uk
Carsons crisp cider, 4.5%, 500ml
Based in Northern Ireland, Armagh Ciders uses apples from its historic orchards for its drinks. Dark amber in colouring, Carsons Crisp is a very gentle, light, smooth cider that glides over the tongue. There is a sense of freshness – of biting into an apple – before the drink turns sleek and silky. It is almost like imbibing a touch of light. A good session cider, it is great with food as the flavours never overwhelm, and it is very cleansing on the palate. It’s also available in some M&S stores.
Buy now £2.50, Armaghcider.com
Lyme Bay jack ratt vintage dry 2019, 7.4%, 750ml
A classic Devon cider using traditional apple varieties like dabinett and kingston black, this is a full-bodied beverage. Jack ratt is a very clear, rich-gold liquid with a sharp aroma. It is slightly dry and tingly on the tongue with a strong apple taste. Smooth and tangy, it is very refreshing. A perfect accompaniment to a meal, or for a leisurely drink with friends.
Buy now £3.99, Lymebaywinery.co.uk
Kent cider yowler, 5.2%, 330ml x 12
The gentle apple aroma and lovely amber colouring here are reminiscent of a summer’s day spent amid Kentish orchards. The unusual name derives from traditional wassailing ceremonies in which people would welcome good spirits around the orchard trees. A sparkling cider, the slight fizz is very refreshing. Definitely moreish, yowler is full of flavour.
Buy now £40.00, Kentcider.co.uk
Hendersons toffee apple, 5.5%, 750ml x 12
This is an unusual cider from Kent that is surprisingly sharp and smooth with a distinctive taste. The lovely aroma hints at toffee without overwhelming the apples, while the blend of sweet and tart is sheer perfection. The initial smooth sweetness develops into a lingering sharpness, bringing to mind bonfires and autumn days. This is a tipple that goes well with desserts.
Buy now £75.00, Kentcider.co.uk
Orchards of Husthwaite galtres gold apple cider, 6%, 500ml x 12
For over three centuries, Husthwaite has been the orchard village of North Yorkshire: it has recently been revitalised with local apple varieties, and generates funds for local community use. The cloudy, gentle amber galtres gold is unusually floral in taste while also being warm and smooth. It is a very refreshing drink, with a lovely balance of sweetness and sharpness.
Buy now £24.00, Orchardsofhusthwaite.co.uk
Ampleforth abbey cider, 6.5%, 500ml x 12
Another traditional North Yorkshire cider, this variety has a slightly cloudy appearance. The tawny gold liquid is produced using the first dessert apples of the season – a combination of discovery, james grieve and grenadier. We could really taste the combination of apples.
A bittersweet cider, it has hints of dryness along with the sweetness. Despite the strength, it is a light tipple with a very silky texture. A palate cleanser, it goes well with food as well as being ideal as a standalone drink.
Buy now £40.20, Abbeyshop.ampleforth.org.uk
Cranborne chase smugglers dry, 6%, 500ml
A traditional Dorset cider, smugglers dry is sparkling, dry and tart with a hint of sweetness. This is a very drinkable, pleasant and refreshing drink with a gentle aroma of apples, while the taste of crisp fruit lingers on the tongue. The sparkle combined with dryness also makes it ideal as a thirst-quenching drink on a warm summer’s day.
Buy now £3.00, Shaftesburywines.co.uk
Norfolk raider wingman, 6.2%, 3l
A still, cloudy cider from Norfolk, Wingman is slightly sharp but not overtly so. Made from dessert apples, it’s very smooth at first, but when swallowed there is a sensation of sharpness at the back of the mouth, making it highly refreshing. Rich and smooth, it is full of tangy flavour. Best served slightly chilled, it is a tipple to be enjoyed all year round.
Buy now £20.00, Norfolkraidercider.co.uk
Welsh Mountain cider borders bittersweet 2017, 6.8%, 750ml
Made from a combination of dessert, cider and cooking apple varieties grown at an altitude of 1,115ft in the Cambrian Mountains, this is a very distinctive beverage. A rich golden yellow, it is sharp then sweet on the palate with surprising hints of crisp toffee apples. Nicely balanced, it has great clarity of taste and is an ideal accompaniment to cheese or sweet courses.
Buy now £10.50, Welshmountaincider.com
Lilleys select, 4.8%, 500ml
A medium dry, lightly sparkling cider produced in the heart of the Somerset Mendips, it is rusty gold in colour. The aroma and taste of apples is strong, while its light and refreshing taste makes it an ideal summer drink, especially on hot days. The flavour positively sparkles with every mouthful.
Buy now £2.52, Lilleyscider.co.uk
Sandford orchards devon red, 4.5%, 500ml x 12
Named in honour of the rich, red Devon orchard soil, devon red is a light, pleasant and refreshing drink. The soft, mellow, yellow liquid brims with the aroma of apples, evoking long lazy days in the sunshine. Thirst quenching, it is bittersweet with a tang that stays in the mouth. Easy to drink with or without food, devon red is a lovely, relaxing drink.
Buy now £27.50, Sandfordorchards.co.uk
Napton cider no 4, 5.4%, 500ml x 12
Slightly cloudy and golden yellow in colour, this refreshing cider has a tinge of effervescence but with a touch of sharpness. Slightly on the dry side of sweet, the apple tang stays in the mouth a long time. There is a warm aroma to this flavourful tipple, making it an ideal summer drink, especially when accompanying desserts.
Buy now £35.00, Naptoncidery.co.uk
The verdict: British ciders
Our best buy is the readily available Dunkertons black fox, which is a good, traditional strong cider with a rich apple taste and aroma that makes it perfect either as an accompaniment to food or as a relaxing drink on its own.
When looking for something slightly different, Thistly Cross whisky cask cider is definitely worth considering for its flavour. And, with a superb balance of sweet and sharpness plus an unusual floral taste, Orchards of Husthwaite galtres gold is also worth seeking out.
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