A naturally sweet cider with a dry finish, made the old fashioned way
As its name might suggest, while this cider may be made in Hampshire on the Topp family farm, cidre bouché is really a child of France. “It is essentially a Normandy-style cider made using a process called ‘keeving’,” says Mary Topp from behind the counter of The Cider House. “It used to be made this way in many parts of northern Europe, including here, but it fell out of fashion when industrial cider-making took over. But a strong tradition of making it the old way continued in parts of France.”
Keeving is the act of adding a natural enzyme to newly pressed apple juice to help remove the naturally-occurring pectin—an essential part of cider-making. “Once the enzyme is added the pectin separates naturally, over a two-week period,” Mary explains. “We have to be very careful about when we start the process because the weather conditions are crucial to success. We need a low-pressure system combined with low temperatures for the duration of the process. The separation will not happen properly if the juice is too warm. Some cidermakers chill the juice to facilitate the process, but we don’t. We just keep a close eye on the weather.”
The separated pectin forms what the French call a ‘chapeau brun’ or ‘brown hat’, which is a thick brown crust that rises to the top of the tank, pushed up by tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide, produced by the fermenting apple juice. Once the process is finished, you are left with a wonderfully clear, mildly fermented juice under the chapeau brun. “We then take the juice and put it in tanks, where it continues to ferment very slowly. This slow fermentation helps develop the flavour,” Mary says. “After the right amount of time in the tanks—which will change from batch to batch, as we are dealing with a living thing—we hand-bottle the cider. The fermentation continues in the bottle, so that the final drink has that nice natural sparkle.”
Natural sweetness, dry finish
Unlike sweeter French varieties, the cidre bouché found at The Cider House has quite a dry finish, which is controlled in two ways. First, there is the choice of apple. Mary’s father decided on the kingston black, which has a lower sugar content than some cider apples. “Then there is the specific gravity at which you bottle the cider,” Mary continues. “We let it fall a little bit lower than we do in some other ciders, which also contributes to producing that drier taste.”
“I would say it is great for that afternoon drink kind of vibe,” Mary says with a knowing smile. “It is really good as an aperitif on its own, or it goes really well with good cured meats. It is also a great first step for those who like mainstream cider and want to try a craft cider, but don’t want to go straight down the full scrumpy route. It has the fizz that they are used to, but with the natural sweetness and dry finish of a more traditional drink. It is a great introduction to the world of artisan cider.”
When you get it home store it in a cool dark place as you would with wine but be sure to chill it before opening. “It is a bit lively at room temperature and you could find yourself with a cidre bouché fountain in your hands”—something which I think we can all agree would be a terrible waste.