Did you miss my blog posts? I hope so. Cause I’m about to give you a recap of my recent visit to a few cider places in London incl. the Williams Ale & Cider House, The Cider House and Hawkes Cider and Taproom.
Coronavirus outbreak is now on everyone’s lips but when I came to London two weeks ago, I didn’ see a single person wearing a mask and the tube was as crowded as always. When I reached London on Wednesday evening, all I could think of was to have a pint of real cider. What more can I say, I’m a cider addict.
The Williams Ale & Cider House
For that purpose, when in London I would normally head to The Williams Ale & Cider Pub in Spitalfields. I have been going there for at least 4 years now, every time I had to come to London for a business trip. I loved their fish n’ chips and an amazing for London selection of ciders from Perry’s, Gwatkin or other UK cider makers. As I already said earlier, that day I was really looking forward to getting a taste of a decent UK cider. Especially, when I heard that the Williams Ale and Cider Pub was awarded CAMRA Official Cider Pub of the Year 2019 for East London and City. The bar was set high.
Imagine my surprise when instead of proper UK cider I saw 4 offerings from Lilley’s and two from Westons’ on tap. For those of you who are not familiar with Lilley’s, Lilley’s is a British cider producer, making cider from apple concentrate. Definitely not real cider! And, Westons is a family-owned cider maker that makes cider at a commercial scale. Not bad but something I can buy almost everywhere. I left the pub frustrated and angry with a feeling of huge disappointment as if I were cheated. So these are CAMRA’s standards that a Cider Pub of the Year can sell a cider made from concentrate? Do you think it would ever happen in a beer place? No, never! Looks that CAMRA’s recommendations reg. cider are misleading and can go straight to the bin.
This situation led to a lot of thinking about the current position of cider in the UK. I’m honestly confused, as, on one hand, I can see a strong cider movement and will to promote and educate about cider. Just look at the #rethincider and magazines that are made available to a broader audience such as “Full Juice Magazine“. But I’m afraid and sorry to say that the impact is only “rural” and doesn’t affect big cities such as London to that extent. I left The Williams Ale and Cider House hugely disappointed and will not be coming again. The fish and chips were no longer as good as I remembered it.
The Cider House
On the next day, my conference finished at 2pm so I headed straight to the Borough Market, the home of The Cider House, which is open only until 5pm, and Fridays until 6pm. In a nutshell, the Cider House is a stand selling mainly the New Forest Cider. I visited the Cider House briefly also last year and quickly fell in love with both cider and the location. This year, they must have moved to a new location within the Borough Market, refurbished their stand so now they also offer some sitting area too. Also, what’s new in contrast to the last time is that they seem to offer also cider on tap from other cider makers such as Ross-on-Wye, Capercaillie, Hawkes, Celtic Marches, Kentish Pip but also Thistly Cross.
Apart from New Forest Cider, a decent traditional English cider, many bottled ciders from various UK regions but also a few offerings from continental Europe were on offer. Due to my cider craving, it was a huge pleasure to drink the New Forest Kingston Black. My partner wasn’t that fond of traditional cider and went for their mulled cider.
Hawkes Cidery and Taproom
My cider urge wasn’t gone until then but I quickly realised that I have never visited Hawkes Cidery, London’s first cidery so far and their taproom in Bermondsey. Hence, I quickly reached out to Radim, assistant cider maker at Hawkes Cider, whom I met last year at Cider World in Frankfurt and arranged for a cidery tour for Saturday at 4pm. Radim couldn’t be there in person as the Hawkes Team was busy with the Craft Beer and Cider Festival BrewLDN taking place in Shoreditch (apparently becoming a very trendy area).
The surrounding area of Hawkes Cidery looks rather like suburbs, a housing area with no tourists in sight. Long story short, you’d never expect a cider place in such an area. Hawkes Cidery is located under two arches of the railroad tracks, which gives it a quite industrial feeling. From the outside, you don’t expect what you get inside. The area around Hawkes Cidery looked rather abandoned as I said earlier, so I didn’t expect crowds that I found at Hawkes Cidery! It was 3.45 pm and it was quite a challenge to reach the bar area. But we made it and found our tour guide, Angus. Angus gave us a tour to the cidery and let us taste 5 of ciders from the Hawkes lineup.
But let me give you a snapshot of the history of Hawkes Cider first. As the name indicates it all started with a hawker, a person who moved from one place to another to sell products. It was Simon Wright who at first made his own ginger beer and moved from one pub to another to sell his ginger beer. He eventually moved to cider. In 2018, Hawkes Cider was acquired by BrewDog, an independent Scottish craft brewer, which opened many doors to London-based cider maker. Since then guys from Hawkes have had the wind at their back and been attending international cider fairs and craft beer festivals. just like CiderWorld or BrewLDN.
At the beginning of Hawkes Cider, their ciders were made with apples donated by people living in London. Now their ciders are made mostly with apples that are not good enough for supermarkets to stock them. As for apple varieties, they usually work with eaters and cookers such as Bramleys, Gala, Braeburn and Pink Lady. All ciders are made under one of the two arches of the cidery. In the production area, one will find an apple mill along with an apple press, tanks and a few wooden barrels. Everything is done at the spot. Currently, Hawkes has 6 cider makers who experiment with various apple varieties, fruits and ageing in different oak barrels. Also, they frequently collaborate with other cider producers. You may remember their cider made in collaboration with Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider & Perry. As noticed on the label on one of the fermenting tanks, a new exciting collab will be rolling out sooner or later. Not sure if I can reveal who the collab is with so I’ll just tease you that it sounds very promising!
As mentioned earlier, I got to try 5 different ciders from the Hawkes Cider lineup. They all tasted different, so everyone will find something to their taste. Starting with a cider that was made with eaters and resembled a little bit more sweet version and less sparkling version of prosecco, going through Kentucky bourbon barrel-aged cider, fruit cider and finishing with a tannic cider made from cider apple varieties. My favourite one was the Kentucky bourbon barrel-aged cider that actually tasted like a rum-barrel aged cider with lovely notes of tropical fruits and vanilla and coconut followed by Big Wow, a tannic cider. But other people who took the tour with us preferred lighter offerings from Hawkes. Some may criticise Hawkes for not doing cider the traditional way but crowds that I saw that Saturday speak for themselves. Many consumers seem to be looking for a natural, light, session or even alcohol-free beverages and guess what, at Hawkes all of them are available. Even those for hardcore, traditional cider drinkers like me will be pleased. I guess the acquisition by a BrewDog did them well after all.
On the way back to my hotel, I passed a pub called The Miller that also seem to have real cider on offer. Unfortunately, the place was closed until next Tuesday so I couldn’t pay them a visit. But judging by their website and their cider line up incl. Oliver’s, it could be a pub to visit next time I’m in London. Has anyone ever been to this pub? Is it any good?