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cider scene O

ne lesson Steph Culpin says she has learned from this year’s Great Taste is never to doubt the cider-maker’s palate. While its Vilberie Medium Dry took the Welsh Golden Fork and all the plaudits last year, Apple County Cider’s Dabinett Medium also won a highly creditable two stars. This year, the Monmouthshire company’s chief cider maker – Steph’s husband Ben – was convinced that the latest The bittersweet vintage had “something Dabinett apple special”, and that they is very robust – should re-enter it. probably one of A “grudging” Steph the best for cider was happy to eat making, because humble pie when the single varietal secured a it has a high spot in the top 50 and sugar and tannin then a Golden Fork to content boot. Making a single varietal that can hold its own is no mean feat, but Ben has discovered that from this apple he can produce a wellrounded, not-too-sweet, lightly sparkling cider with body and richness from honeyed caramel notes. “The bittersweet Dabinett apple is very robust – probably one of the best for cider making, because it has a high sugar and tannin content,” explains Ben. He also uses a wine-maker’s yeast, and allows the cider to cold ferment for seven months. “Whereas most cider makers bottle in April, we bottle in June, and over the winter months it is just sitting in a barn outside,” he says. “The yeast gets less active the colder it gets, which slows down the rate of fermentation.” This year’s crop produced 20,000 litres of the Dabinett cider, most of which ends up on the menus of local destinations like The Bell

at Skenfrith and the Michelin-stared Crown at Whitebrook. However, on the back of last year’s Golden Fork for its Vilberie cider, Apple County has struck a deal with the prestigious Hankyu department store that will soon see the brand on sale in Japan. Ironically, although Apple County’s cider making talent has been recognised by the


Japanese equivalent of Harrod’s, high-end department stores closer to home haven’t yet come knocking. “I’m hoping this will change if Japanese tourists come to London and look for the brand,” says Steph. “Breaking into London stores, bars and restaurants is high on our agenda.” One of the challenges that Apple County comes up against is that cider is often overlooked by top class restaurants, many of whom “just serve Magners or Bulmers”. But Steph is convinced that the craft cider market is about to explode in the same way as craft beer already has. And when it does, you can be certain that Apple County’s sparklers will be in high demand.

How to use: WORKS well with spicy food such as chilli-roasted NUTS


Great Taste Book 2016-17  
Great Taste Book 2016-17