I don’t know an awful lot about cider, but I do know that I like the cloudy, interesting, farmhouse end of cider more than the clean, clear, sweet, macro ciders. Oh, and that Americans call apple juice “cider” and refer to actual cider as “hard cider”. By that logic, wine should be “challenging grape juice”.
As for Spanish sidra, my entire experience is limited to a visit to an Asturian-style sidreria on a backstreet in Madrid in 2009. Kate and I ordered two small sidras, whereupon the barman took out a 70cl bottle, attached it to something that looked like a hatstand, and poured a thin stream of cloudy, tart, still sidra into a small glass in a holder a metre below. I subsequently realised that this was a method of traditionally aerating the sidra by “throwing” it, and it seemed to add to the taste and liveliness.
When we were in El Bareto, my favourite Leeds tapas bar, I decided to try the new “Spanish cider” mentioned on the board. The barmaid produced a device that looked like a barrel with a car aerial attached to it, maybe some form of steampunk torture device.
It was actually a plastic, battery-powered cider throwing device, which you inserted into your bottle and, when you pushed your glass against a button, spurted a stream of aerated sidra into your glass. It seemed to work and the sidra, which I suspect was probably fairly unchallenging as the drink goes, went well with the delicious pimientos de Padrón, croquetas and Chorizo a la sidra.
Although I should say that the buzzing (like a battery-powered fan, an electric toothbrush or, um… similar) when you poured a glass did detract a little bit from the romance.
I’ve already written about the origins of our wedding beer, Summer Wine Covenant, and how grateful Kate and I are to James and Andy for suggesting and following through on their very kind and thoughtful idea. After the brewday we had tentatively left it in James and Andy’s capable hands until collecting two casks on the Saturday before the wedding.
Driving up to the venue, The Plough at Lupton, all I wanted to do was try the beer, but knew that we wouldn’t be able to do so until we were married. I knew what we intended the beer to be like; I just didn’t know if it would turn out as I imagined or whether our guests would like it. It was always a bit of a concern that we had to walk a line between a beer that Kate, James, Andy and I would be interested in, but that wouldn’t be too extreme for our guests to enjoy from the first sip.
We had made Covenant a central part of our wedding. The beer was free to all guests, but I wanted to make sure people knew about it and tried it. So I wrote a bit of blurb explaining the background to the beer and even a bit of a fingers-crossed tasting note (referring to “a rich citrus fruit aroma and medium bitterness“), which ended up on two blackboards in prominent positions in the venue, along with some photos of the brewday.
We also named the tables after the ingredients (eg: Amarillo; Crystal; Carafa; Chocolate; Godisgoode – because you can’t call a table “Yeast”) and the top table after the beer itself. We had told the priest about the beer and given him a bottle of Summer Wine Barista to try. He went on to mention the beer during the sermon, making reference to the Marriage At Cana.
The beer even ended up being represented in icing on the cake, decorated brilliantly by Kate’s sister Tess, as you can see. So it’s fair to say that we placed a lot of emphasis on Covenant and only later did I begin to worry a little about how much of a damp squib it would be if it wasn’t quite right for the occasion.
However, when I had my first taste about an hour into our marriage, it wasn’t in any way disappointing. Covenant, thanks to James, is a triumph. It’s a beautiful vibrant amber/red colour and has a superb aroma. Possibly because of the range of hops used (it uses an unusual number of hop varieties, although all were American), the smell doesn’t immediately conjure up one dominant descriptor to point to, but instead it has a wonderful and unique mix of fresh, fruity citrus and a little pine.
I was certain that the beer was going to smell good, because we deliberately asked for a low bitterness but a good aroma, so James put the emphasis on late and dry hopping rather than bittering. However I was a little concerned that it might be all nose and no teeth. Fortunately the beer didnt disappoint in this respect either, as it has both a great lightness of taste and just exactly the right amount of satisfying bitterness on the finish. It ends the experience perfectly, like a satisfying “ka-chunk” as a car door closes.
I was actually expecting a lower bitterness, but in the end I think it probably is considerably more restrained in that respect than a lot of Summer Wine beers, but perhaps on the more bitter end of what more mainstream British drinkers might be used to. But it’s just right for the beer and as a result our guests, who were not all experienced ale drinkers, reacted really very positively to it.
For a 5.2% beer with a strong aroma and flavour, it’s a very drinkable beer, in all the right ways. My friend (whose favourite beer is the excellent Moorhouses Pride Of Pendle) commented that I didn’t understand session ales, but our beer drank like a session ale. After having enjoyed beer all night at the wedding and again this week at Mr Foleys (with some work colleagues, Dean and Neil), I’d have to agree. It’s a beer that is meant to be consumed in long, refreshing mouthfuls; a great fruity waft at the front and a satisfying kick at the end.
My wife and I (*wait for applause*) think that Covenant is a great beer and are incredibly grateful to James and Andy for brewing it for us. It added a very personal note to our wedding day, which our family and friends really enjoyed.
Covenant’s been on already at Mr Foleys and I know it’s in a few pubs around the country including the Free Trade Inn, so look out for it at #Twissup. With all the weddingness Kate and I won’t be able to make it to Newcastle, but please do let us know what you think of it if you get to try some. Also, if you’re quick you may also be able to buy some bottles from the new Summer Wine shop!