After you’ve lived in the West Country for a while, you inevitably pick up the cider drinking habit and fall in love with it. The cider worship in this part of the country is contageous.
I remember when I first moved to Bristol for university, I knew almost nothing about cider except that I hated it. All my previous dalliances with cider had been as part of “snakebite” (lager, cider and blackcurrant) where it’s preferable that the blackcurrant flavours overpower everything else. In the West Country, I was only offered “cider and black” if I wanted to adulterate my drink.
Over the course of my degree, I learnt to love the drink and frequented The Coronation Tap for its extensive collection of ciders including the frozen Thatcher’s Ice Gold and the extra strong Exhibition cider. By the time I was leaving Bristol, it had become a drink of choice. Now whenever I spot ciders on my travels, especially the artisanal kind, I always raise a glass to my time at Bristol.
So I was curious to hear that Magners, the Irish cider giants, are launching a new range of ciders – an addition to their original, light and pear ciders. These new blended ciders are called Magners Specials and come in Pear and Ginger, Spiced Apple and Honey, and Spice Apple and Rhubarb.
While Magners are made in Ireland rather than the West Country, they are one of the biggest producers of cider in the UK. Their parent company also owns the likes of Bulmers (in Ireland), Gaymers, Blackthorn, Addlestones and more. I guess that means they know a thing or two about making ciders.
I was invited to the basement bar of Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes to learn more about Magners ciders from Aoife Sheehan, an expert on the Magners Sensory Panel. She was part of the team which helped to develop the new ciders and has a PhD in Flavour Science – pretty swish.
On the night, Sheehan talked about the whole complex process of cider production and blending and then led us through a sensory experience of cider.
First we dabbed blue food colouring on our tongues to help count our taste buds and determine whether we’re a none-taster, taster or super-taster. This was followed by tasting spoonfuls of cinnamon sugar first while holding our noses, then without – try it at home, you’ll be surprised. Both of these little exercises were designed to show us that flavour isn’t just taste but also aroma.
Before we got into the cider though, we still had to taste different apple juices. Magners, we were told, is made from fresh apple juice rather than from concentrate. Finally, it was on to the most important part of the night – the cider tasting. Of course I was already familiar with Magners original and pear so was very excited to get into the new flavours. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The Pear and Ginger, Magners Pear cider blended with ginger, is described as “a lightly spiced cider which is fruity and warm and has a very refreshing taste on the palate”. While the Spiced Apple and Honey, Magners Original cider blended with honey, zesty orange peel and a touch of cinnamon, is “an elegant, smooth cider with refreshing hints of citrus”. And then there’s the Spiced Apple and Rhubarb, Magners Original cider blended with a light spice and rhubarb, which is “a distinct, subtly sweet cider with gentle cinnamon notes”.
Just like for Sheehan, it was very difficult for me to choose between them. Each had their own unique angle but my favourite was definitely the Spiced Apple and Honey. Its sweetness and force of intense flavours is both warming and refreshing at the same time – something I imaging could work both warm and cold.
On the way home, I considered the cider. How different these flavours are to the other ones on the market and what a way to adulterate the cider.
Below is a few snaps from the cider tasting: