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Cider and the Marble Arch dinner

John Clarke explains the magic of cider and introduces a special Marble Arch meal

Published on September 28th 2010.

Cider and the Marble Arch dinner

Cider is cool again – even without the ice. What we’re talking about here is “real cider” or scrumpy if you like (although aficionados will shudder at the term). No longer the preserve of dung stained rustics, traditional cider is putting in an appearance on more and more bars in and around the city.

As you might imagine, pubs which are the haunt of the real ale crowd also sell real cider. However it’s spread out of that ghetto and can be found in the Kro chain, The Knott on Deansgate, and in Chorlton bars.

It’s a drink with a long and venerable history and was at one time the drink of choice in the highest circles – Queen Elizabeth I was an enthusiastic consumer. For decades it has teetered on the edge of extinction but now thanks to a new wave of younger cider makers entering the industry together with growing public interest in local crafted products with history and integrity, cider’s time has come again.

Unlike the more industrial products, real craft cider is simply made from the fermented juice of cider apples, nothing added and nothing taken away. Unlike eating apples, cider apples are small hard things with often exotic names – White Norman, Kingston Black, Foxwhelp and the wonderfully named Slack-ma-Girdle are among the hundreds of known varieties.

Each type will have different levels of tannin, acidity and bitterness and so many traditional ciders are blends of the juice of several different types of apple. In recent times there has also been a trend for ‘single varietal’ ciders made with the juice of just one apple – Kingston Black in particular is know for making exceptionally drinkable ciders.

Of course, hand in hand with ‘real cider’ is ‘real perry’ – the fermented juice of perry pears, as unlike their domestic cousins as are cider apples and your average Granny Smith. Delicate and elegant, real perry is a treat to both the eye and the palate. If you see this then try it – but remember, it’s always perry and never ‘pear cider’ (which can be an industrial and processed product whereas real perry is a thing of joy).

That’s enough of the technicalities – what you need to know is how to spot it and where to get it. Like real ale, real cider will often appear on handpump or there might be a small five-gallon plastic cask lurking behind the bar. ‘Bag in a box’ is also commonplace.

One of the biggest makers is Westons and despite their ubiquity they do make some very drinkable ciders, which are pretty easy to encounter. Look out, though, for the smaller makers (basically anything that’s not made by Westons or their similarly sized competitors Thatchers) for the real taste of real cider. Some of these can be challengingly dry, whilst others are rich and smooth. All are worth trying.

As you might imagine, pubs which are the haunt of the real ale crowd also sell real cider. However it’s spread out of that ghetto and can be found in the Kro chain, The Knott on Deansgate, and in Chorlton bars such as Pi, Electrik, Dulcimer, Oddest and the newly opened Parlour are among the city’s cider outlets. Explore – and enjoy.

Or you can join CAMRA's Cider & Perry Month Dinner. This will be held on the evening of Tuesday 12 October from 7.30pm at the Marble Arch on Rochdale Road. There will be five courses designed to match the accompanying cider or perry, a glass of which will accompany each course. In addition there will be a cider expert on hand to talk those. The meal will finish with a glass of cider brandy. Price, including drinks, is £40 per head. Book on 0161 832 5914.

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