Looking for the best cider to try? Want to learn about this summery drink? Check out our guide then find out about summer beers to buy.
Cider has been made in the British Isles for centuries, as far back as the arrival of the Romans in around 50 CE. Apples were easier to cultivate in the UK’s chillier climes than grapes for wine, and farm labourers would even get cider as payment for their work.
Its popularity has waxed and waned, however – the 20th century saw the rise of mass-produced cider, often made from diluted concentrated apple juice and bulked out with water, sugar, preservatives and other additives (cider legally requires a minimum of just 35% apple juice). In contrast to the meteoric rise of craft beer, cider has struggled somewhat with an image problem – all too often seen as a cheap, low-quality, sickly sweet drink.
Happily this has changed in recent years, with a wave of exciting new producers that champion the sophistication of the category, creating seasonal, small-batch, naturally fermented ciders made with 100% apple juice that easily rival wine and beer when it comes to nuance and complexity – and often in the process doing sterling work when it comes to reviving lesser-known British apple varieties and conserving the country’s many ancient cider orchards.
Cider is now made across the UK but traditionally there is a rough geographical divide when it comes to style. Producers in the west of the country (Somerset, Devon, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire) make ciders from bitter, tannic cider apples – either in a blend or as a single-varietal drink. There are hundreds of cider apple varieties, many of them evocatively named, from Kingston Black and Somerset Redstreak to Foxwhelp and Dabinett. Ciders made in the West Country style tend to be full-bodied and richly fruity, with complex tannins.
While the West Country has historically long been associated with cider, there’s an equally robust cider-making scene in eastern counties such as Kent, Sussex, Suffolk and East Anglia. Here, mainly sweeter eating and cooking apples are used (think varieties that you’d find in the supermarket such as Cox and Gala), resulting in crisp, sharp, acidic ciders. As well as this, cider has also traditionally been made across Europe, from Brittany in France to Galicia in northern Spain.
There are many ciders to explore across the country, but here are a few of our favourites…
Best British ciders
This award-winning outfit makes small-batch, minimal-intervention ciders using apples sourced from orchards across Cornwall and Exmoor, and each batch is divided according to its geographic origins. Exmoor Mellow is a lovely example of a West Country cider, easy-going and full-flavoured, with mellow funk and subtle spice.
Fans of still, cloudy, scrumpy-style cider will enjoy this highly gluggable, bone-dry number. At 6% ABV it’s dangerously easy-drinking for something you’d likely have by the pint – those looking for a little less punch can try the sparkling version, at a more sessionable 4.8%.
We loved this full-bodied cider and its rounded, seductively smoky, earthy character – an essential bonfire or campfire tipple.
A sparkling blend featuring Chisel Jersey apples, this is an easy-going affair with crisp apple aromas and a fresh sweetness balanced by well-judged acidity.
A blend of bittersweet Michelin and Dabinett apples, this is completely dry, bottled conditioned and fermented in ex-Scottish whisky barrels. The end result is a rather special cider – complex and interesting, with evocative peaty, smoky, earthy funk.
A blend of cider and dessert apples, this is gently sweet and easy-going – light oaking brings vanilla notes alongside caramel and tropical fruit.
Released in rolling seasonal batches, this is designed to be drunk with food and you can expect juicy fruitiness, a little funk and pleasing tannins – natural wine lovers will have a particular affinity with this. Listen to Little Pomona founder Susanna Forbes chat all things cider on the olive magazine podcast.
An easy-drinking, single-variety cider (made with Kingston Black, popularly regarded as the ‘king’ of cider apples) with gentle tannins, elegant dryness and citrussy notes. A classic Somerset cider, enjoy with a wedge of cheddar.
Blush-hued ciders have become increasingly common on the drinks scene and this example is a great choice for everyday drinking. Smooth, gently sweet and sparkling, it’s best enjoyed extra chilled, preferably in a sunny garden or park.
Made from hand-picked Breton cider apples, this is a nattily packaged, winningly juicy cider with lots of lively apple flavour, a crisp, clean character and gentle bubbles.
A fresh and elegant fizzy single-variety cider made from Katja dessert apples, with summery green apple and strawberry notes.
Made using a traditional method of naturally sweetening cider called keeving, this elegant, toffee-hued cider has lusciously mellow, stewed apple flavours. Would be delicious with a cheeseboard.
Crisp, dry and gently tangy, this crowd-pleasing cider is one for those who prefer traditional scrumpy-style varieties. Widely available, it’s a great option if you’re looking for a decent cider in a hurry.
Have you ever tried perry?
An alcoholic drink made from pears, perry is not as well-known as cider but enjoys an equally long history and rich heritage, made in a similar way but with typically a lighter, more floral character (although many perries can have surprisingly hefty ABVs). Here are some of our favourites…
Tom Oliver is a renowned and award-winning cider maker but his perries are equally worth seeking out. This perry is seriously juicy and drinkable, with vibrant pear and gooseberry notes.
A soft, rounded mouthfeel, summery elderflower and citrus notes, and an almost creamy edge make this a supremely enjoyable perry to drink.