Cidre Bouché de Normandie

Cider trends have changed dramatically in the UK in the past 10-15 years. When I was a teenager I didn’t like beer, so I only used to drink cider. I quickly developed a taste for the local produce- Weston’s Cider. Still some of my favourite, their cider has a very full apple flavour, as well as quite a full body. The factory was only an hour’s drive away, and the cider was strong stuff at 7-8% alcohol, which meant for many enjoyable evenings. The local supermarket stocked a range of their cider, as well as Somerset cider, French cider and a few specialist ciders, as well as the usual range of Strongbow and the like. Real cider drinking was a pretty niche thing back then, most people would just drink beers, and cider was usually just drunk by guys.

The changes in cider attitudes came in much quicker than I expected. I remember Magners Cider first arriving- a reasonable, crisp, well structured cider, but lacking some of the maturer apple flavours you would get in more traditional brews. Easy to drink, Magners and its contemporaries proved very popular, being seen in many pubs and bars across the country, especially in the summer. Cider drinking started to become fashionable, more popular, and so the cider section of the supermarkets offered more and more choice. But with these ciders came the fruit ciders. Starting with the pear-flavoured Koppaberg (which used to be found in Ikea), in came drinks like the pear or red fruit Jacques- fruity, sweet, low alcohol, and popular with the ladies. They weren’t really ciders, at least from a flavour standpoint, but they were called ciders, perhaps because it was easier to call them that than anything else. Now, these alcoholic fruit juices like Rekorderlig are most of what is left. I went to the supermarket the other day, and the ciders I liked were not to be found, despite plenty of drink on the shelves. Funnily enough, once again, real cider drinking has become a niche thing.

So I’d like to introduce some of my favourite cider, Normandy cider. Normandy has a long history with apples and alcohol, notably producing Calvados, an apple brandy. Of course, Normandy cider being a French product, they have their own process to make it. The cider is made through a special process called keeving:

In keeving (from the French cuvée), calcium chloride and a special enzyme are added to the pressed apple juice, causing protein in the juice to precipitate to the top for removal. This reduces the amount of protein available to the yeast, starving it and therefore causing the cider to finish fermenting while sugar is still available. The result is a sweeter drink at a lower alcohol level but still retaining the full flavour of the apples, without dilution.

This extra flavour, combined with the fact that Normandy cider is usually sparking, makes the cider very special, in my opinion. The texture can be very similar to some champagne, structured, yeasty, and with a full mousse. A wonderful summer drink, bringing an apple-y freshness and maturity.

The one I really like is The Wine Society’s Cidre Bouché de Normandie. It’s not cheap at £5 for 750ml, but it’s definitely worth it- I’ve introduced a few keen cider drinkers to it and all have agreed wholeheartedly. If you want to get a sample of what the region can produce, this is a great place to start. Sainsbury’s do a French sparkling cider, which is reasonable, but nothing special. Otherwise it is pretty tough to find- Tesco have none, and nor do Waitrose (who, admittedly, have a good selection of British cider). Despite this, if you do see the cider around in specialist shops, do give it a go- it’s really worth a try.


How to Make Your Own Mead

Mead has been around for a long time, even before ‘Game of Thrones’. Sugar wasn’t readily available until the 18th century, and so honey was used instead as a sweetener, and consequently also to make alcoholic drinks. Mead used to be an alternative to ale; soldiers had rations of it, and brewing it was popular in monasteries, particularly in Ireland. Queen Elizabeth I even used to have a royal recipe for mead, but looking at it makes you wonder if anyone actually drank it. Since sugar has become commonplace though, honey, and therefore mead, has fallen out of fashion- a pity in my opinion, as the latter is very enjoyable, and easy to brew.

At home, mead is about the simplest thing you can make- you are essentially just fermenting honey-water. It doesn’t take up very much space- just enough for a demijohn- and doesn’t require much attention while fermenting. The ingredients are easy to obtain, and the processes involved won’t easily go wrong. Also, once you’ve got all the brewing kit, it’s pretty cheap to make a batch, and a bottle of anything home-brewed is always a nice gift. Talking of gifts: people often think that men are hard to buy gifts for, but a home-brewing kit would make a great present for a lot of guys, in my opinion.

Kit you will need:
1 Demijohn. This is used to contain the mead you are brewing. These can be quite expensive to ship, so if you can pick one up locally it will be considerably less expensive.
1 Plastic Bung. To seal the demijohn off.
1 Airlock. As the mead ferments, it produces CO2, which will need a system to release.
Yeast. The yeast you use is actually quite important, as it will determine how alcoholic your mead will be. I would suggest using a white wine yeast, which will give you around 14-15% alcohol, with some sweetness still remaining.
Yeast Nutrient. Just to help for the yeast.
Finings. These are enzymes used to separate out the sediment once the brewing is done.
Bottles. Once your mead is done, you’ll want something to store it in.
Tubing. This is used to siphon your mead from the demijohn to the bottles.

Ingredients (makes 1 demijohn’s worth):
1.5kg Honey
4.5l Cold Water
1 Orange
1 Lemon

The ingredients I took from How To Make Your Own Drinks, a great book which has many weird and wonderful recipes. The type of honey you use is very important to the finished product, as this is where all the flavour comes from. An old, but still very useful, resource on mead, Making Mead, recommends using a single blossom honey- like clover, acacia, orange, rose, or rosemary- and to avoid Australian honey, as it can have strong eucalyptus notes brought out in fermentation which will make the mead bitter. For the tester batch I made, I used cheap honey, which had little flavour, but the latest batch has been made with orange blossom honey.


Siphoning the mead into bottles.

1. Put the honey and water in a large saucepan (or two). Heat to a simmering point and keep at that temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sterilise the demijohn by putting it in the oven at 150° for 20 minutes, then allow to cool.
2. When the honey solution has cooled, add the juice the orange and lemon, strain through a muslin/tea towel, and put in the cooled demijohn. Leave a gap at the top of the demijohn, as the yeast will form a foam which will froth over. Add the sachet of yeast and nutrient according to the instructions on the packet. Fit the demijohn with bung and airlock- if you are using the bubbler airlocks, put a small amount of water in the airlock which the CO2 will bubble through.
3. Leave demijohn until fermentation has finished: the yeast will stop bubbling. This will take around two months.
4. About a day before you plan to bottle, add the finings, according to the instructions on the packet. Move the demijohn to a counter or somewhere off the ground- you’ll need to have the bottles lower than the demijohn for the siphoning to work.
5. Bottle. Put the tubing into the demijohn, and suck at the end a little. With the tubing below the height of the demijohn, this should create a flow of mead, which can be directed into the bottles. You can stop the flow by just putting your finger over the end, to move from bottle to bottle. Be careful about the last dregs- they will contain yeasty sediment and will be undesirable to drink.

All that is left then is to enjoy the fruits of your labours. Best enjoyed with beard, tankard, armour and battleaxe.