That is the view of Sharp’s Brewery beer sommelier Ed Hughes, who has worked at the Cornish brewery for 12 years. And the statistics for Cold River Cider are exceeding expectations as well. It has more than 1,500 installs and is registered at 2,500 pouring taps across its heartland in the south in just four months, won a silver award in the international cider category in the first month of its launch, has been taken on by more than 250 sports clubs and, based on CGA Vol PoS data 2020 P03, Cold River Cider is currently one of the best performing ciders on the market in terms of rate of sale.
Cold River Cider is a product of its surroundings and yet blends its south-west roots with the traditional ciders from the east coast of England. Using its bitter-sweet apples and a touch of Cornish Sea Salt, the 4.5% ABV cider also harnesses the more refined qualities of apples from the east side of England.
Hughes explains Cold River Cider’s balanced taste profile makes it a refreshing drink, suitable for cider drinkers and even non-cider drinkers – and one that stands out from the crowd.
But a cider is not necessarily what one would expect from Sharp’s, which is famed for its beers such as Atlantic Pale Ale, Wolf Rock Red IPA, Chalky’s Bite – named after celebrity chef Rick Stein’s beloved dog – and, of course, Doom Bar Amber Ale. And the expertise came from friends at Suffolk-based Aspall.
Hughes explains: “We’re beer brewers so we wouldn’t attempt to make Cold River Cider at Sharp’s as the brewery is not set up to produce cider. But we have our extended family at Aspall and those guys know more about cider than we ever will. We saw the cider market and massively respect the history behind cider. If we think of the imagery of the 4.5% ABV cider, it evokes tractors, farms and orchards, which is completely correct. However, that doesn’t work for Cold River Cider. Being Cornish, my colleague Nick White and I talked about tributaries of rivers and where the river meets the sea because we are on an estuary and you can, figuratively, follow riverways up to our extended family up at Aspall. Water connects all of us. This is where the river meets the sea and it’s a bit of a disrupter in what is a very traditional image.”
Hallmark of balance and elegance
He continues: “The history behind Aspall is incredible. The Chevallier Guild family came over in the 1700s as barley farmers and it’s an absolute dream to work with them. They produce, for me, the Champagne of the cider world.
“For Cold River Cider, it’s Sharp’s hallmark of balance and elegance and we wanted it to be refreshing rather than over the top or extreme. As simple as it sounds it’s a really good cider. We’ve done a huge amount of competitive set tasting and I realised that there are plenty of ciders out there that don’t have the same balance of sweetness and acidity and that’s where we’ve got it just right with Cold River Cider. It’s apples right the way through from the aroma to the finish and there’s a good amount of flavour but nothing over the top”
He adds the variety of situations Cold River Cider can be drunk in is huge. Whether it’s having a pint with friends to treating it more like a wine where it can be paired with a variety of foods from the simplicity of matching with cheese and onion crisps to using it to cook with the wonderful seafood available in the south-west such as scallops or even pairing it with a tomato-based curry or lamb tagine.
The reason the cider is so versatile is “because of that fuller mouthfeel”, says Hughes. “Without that fullness or middle palate that can match bigger flavours other ciders can, sort of, pale into a little bit of insignificance while Cold River Cider matches them but doesn't compete with them.”
Meanwhile, he compares the apples used in Cold River Cider to those used in world wines. Hughes explains: “What we found is Cold River Cider offers a balance between east coast and west coast ciders. The west coast uses a lot of bitter-sweet apples that are quite high in tannins while the east coast, and Aspall, are archetypal and are very refined, even restrained. One analogy would be to say the west coast would be a sort of New World wine – big punchy flavours – and east coast would be the very refined Old World sort of wine. It would be a New Zealand versus France if it was a grape variety. We wanted to combine both culinary apples that are mainly used in in the east and bitter-sweet apples in the west to make the perfect balance.”
Remember the face of cider was changed by adding ice to a pint glass and that was the buzz for the UK for a couple of years when it came to summer? Hughes reminds us cider drinkers do not stop drinking their favourite drink during winter and neither should those who enjoy the occasional cider.
A drink for all year round
On the clamour for adding ice to cider, he says: “That craze changed cider all those years ago but I think it has conditioned people into thinking going outside on a summer’s day to enjoy a cider is the only time people should drink it but you have to remember cider farms are working all year round. And if you drink lager then you drink lager all year round.
“Just because something has the imagery of summer, I think we sort of fall into that trap a little bit too much. I know in beer, people often switch styles according to the season, for example, a stout in winter and a pale ale in spring/summer, but cider lovers tend to drink it all year round and so too can occasional cider drinkers or those that like to switch between categories. And that’s where Cold River Cider fits in – it’s right for so many social situations as well as food occasions, all year round.”
Hughes, who believes the romanticism that wine has should also be introduced in cider and beer by serving it in smaller samples in a similar style to put those drinks “on a pedestal”, says there are a multitude of reasons why operators would be wise to add Cold River Cider to their armoury.
He reveals: “I'm always flavour first. For me, it stands out from the crowd when it comes to balance and real sort of incredible apple right from aroma through to finish and I think the other thing is supporting the on-trade at the moment is massively important. Then there’s a need to premiumise cider to a certain extent and in that way, we really respect cider.
“Cold River Cider can play a big part in making people think about the cider category differently. There’s a wonderful conversation starter in the design and the concept for this cider for any licensee or restaurateur. The brand brings a different energy to the 4.5% ABV cider category as well as a bit of buzz around a new product that looks modern yet is also steeped in the wonderful history of master cider making, with our partnership with Aspall.
“On flavour profile, Cold River Cider can sit alongside some of the ciders already in the market, or replace some. We have massive respect for existing cider brands, so it can either be a great addition to other ciders on the bar or equally, can become the sole cider because it ticks all the boxes of a balanced cider, accessible to all.”
For more information about Cold River Cider, visit Sharp’s Brewery by clicking here.