I tell you what, New Zealand is a pretty awesome place to be during the months of February and March. Whilst the UK has been deluged by snow storms, locked in the freezer, and then left to undergo a full, sopping thaw, I have been basking in Southern Hemisphere sunshine for the last 8 weeks (smug factor dialled up to 11 – I know, you hate me).
Last year when I took The Ciderologist full time, I assumed that the beginning of the year would be pretty quiet in terms of work opportunities, so I planned this sojourn back to my old stomping ground of Nelson, at the top of the South Island. The plan was to have a bit of holiday, do a bit of writing and pick up a few dollars of boozy work. All of which has come to pass, but the greatest thing has been connecting with people. It’s been awesome seeing dear friends like Timmy and Shane, and meeting wonderfully generous people such as Rob, Kylie and Ryan. Even folk like the delivery guy, Tickler, a silverback of a man with a gold tooth and a wicked grin. I never quite plucked up the courage to ask how he acquired his nickname. His real name is Colin. Maybe that was reason enough?
But top of the list old is my old mate Trudy. Kind of heart and foul of mouth, Trudes is one of the finest wine makers in New Zealand, having won over a hundred medals across the globe for her wines over the years, and is now waving her magic wand for Middle Earth in Nelson. We’d always thought about making some cider together, so this (Southern Hemisphere) autumn, we’ve given it a crack.
Using Trudy’s two decades of expert and award-winning fermentation knowledge and skill and calling upon my track record of…er…being loud, we hatched a plan to make some ‘aromatic’ ciders. Through utilisation of specific yeasts and enzymes originally destined for use in aromatic white wines, and super-ripe, highly ester driven heirloom apple varieties, such as Gravenstein, we had a bloody good crack at making something half decent.
Being light, floral, acid driven ciders, rather big bold tannic behemoths, they are very much more at the ‘drink fresh’ end of the spectrum, rather than demanding an extended maturation process. This style of cider making has been a first for me, and it has been utterly fascinating. People of New Zealand, keep an eye for the Capital Cider Co., coming to a bar/supermarket near you in 2018!
But Trudy is not alone in seeing the awesome opportunity that cider can afford. Two years ago, almost to the day, as a departing paean to this land, I compiled a top 10 NZ Ciders. And some great ciders there were, too, but there weren’t a huge number of producers to choose from. Well, that’s changing. There’s still the awesome usual suspects doing their thing, such as Peckham’s and Zeffer. But, now we have a raft of new brands in the market place making waves, such as the supremely elegant Nelson-based Abel and the sour beer influenced offerings from Auckland’s Outlier Cartel.
My opportunity to assess whether there had been an increase in quality, as well as quantity, of NZ cider came in the form of an invitation to be the Head Cider Judge at the New World Beer and Cider Awards. I just wish that all cider events could be undertaken with the same professionalism as these awards – cider is treated on a par with beer, and it’s a pleasure to be part of.
Spread across two days, judging took place at the inspiring Westpac Stadium, home to the local rugby team (go Canes!). Myself and my fellow judges had the full spectrum of styles on offer to asses: acid, tannic, fruit-flavoured, hopped and barrel aged. There were some brilliant crafted standout products, but also interesting to note, a number that were somewhat faulty. Sulphides abounded, with the waft of cabbage and drains coming frequently coming through. The words ‘improve yeast management’ were written quite a few times on the feedback notes.
To bring this NZ cider odyssey to a close, I managed to wangle an appearance on national TV, to spread the gospel on cider. Maybe testament to cider’s, current, relatively lowly standing in the Kiwi mindset, I had but a mere 2 minutes to advocate an entire industry. But I did get to meet Courtney Act, winner of Celebrity Big Brother, so it can’t be all bad. Things definitely are sunny cider up at the moment. Long may that continue.