Cider is a fraught voyage of extremes.
There’s super-crisp Normandy cider as the sun sets over the fields of Northern France, or bursting-yellow pints in glorious midsummer Somerset. Then there’s big green plastic bottles of the stuff, and a bad evening-in with Willie Nelson and the eels of self-loathing.
A friend of mine calls this bad gear Boomerang Cider. On account – I think – of it being so bad it hits you in the face, or you give it a go and it comes back to hit you, or you drink it and throw up … something like that anyway.
Like vodka, cider suffers from some wildly polarised quality. You get some cider that is utterly sublime, astonishing, bright and pippy, and quite a lot that is like Apple Ribena and battery acid. This kind of cider can have a thousand apples on the label, but it’s still sweetened turps.
Thistly Cross Cider is made in East Lothian and I came across it in my local supermarket. I’d never tasted Scottish cider before – or at least can’t recall – so loaded up a few bottles of their Original and took them home. No idea what to expect.
Thankfully, Thistly Cross Original isn’t the methylated Boomerang stuff. It turned out to be pretty exquisite, and proper cider. In a time when even ostensibly credibly branded cider can be Boomerang in disguise, this was a cause for glee.
For some reason, the floating quality of memory most likely, when I open the Thistly Cross the aroma as it escapes is reminiscent of Special Vat. The old stuff, the bottled drier stuff – those brown bottles with gold foil from long ago. I misremember maybe, but I’m convinced that used to taste nice.
To drink, Thistly Original is of course nothing like old Special Vat, which probably wasn’t nice, and is initially a surprise because there is a real murmured honey depth lying there. It’s also not especially carbonated, with something of the flattish West Country ciders. It has an orchardy, bashed old fustiness about it. Fustiness, in a good way – apples bulging with ripeness, slightly thick like a dessert wine almost.
It’s not a clear drink – darker and headier in the glass than I expected – and as you drink on, there continues a deep appley sweetness, and more of the slightly bumped apples, apples from Granny’s sideboard on a summer day. Still that honeyed flavor – and an almost meady, benkled sort of taste that has the kind of medicinal ping to it to that marks out really spirited, proper ciders for me. Did I say it was sweet? It gets sweeter all the time.
After a couple, super cold, drained with ill advised brevity from the glass, you get a warm bombarded feeling in the brain, and a faint reminiscence of the first time you tried Appletiser as a kid. In the 80s. Which may well be just a tipsy sentimentality creeping in already, because Thistly Cross Original is 6.2%, and not for mucking around with.
If you’re not used to it, a few of these and you’ll know about it. That’s not to say you couldn’t have a few bottles of the stuff, but like all ciders, the returns will diminish by the glass if you’re not careful and you’ll wend your appley way into the nearest ditch. Have one or two, maybe with some Manchego would be nice, then a lie down. If you sup a case of these watching the football, you won’t remember the second half. The lighter, fizzier Thistly Cross Traditional looks like the drink for less manchego moments. I’ll give it a go and find out.
Thistly Cross also do a whole range of different ciders, including Traditional, Ginger, Strawberry, Whisky Cask and Elderflower. Now that I’ve discovered it, I see their bottles in lots of shops all the time, and speaking for the Original, recommend it highly.