Tag Archives: cider

Traveling in Europe: Horley, England

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Six Bells--You can see how low the ceiling is.

My recent trip to Europe began with flying into Gatwick airport, which is south of Victoria Station by a half-hour train ride. I stayed in Horley, Surrey (a suburb next to the airport) because I was only there for a day and a half. The first night, after a nap to reset my clock, I just wandered down the road to Ye Olde Six Bells. It was quite dark with inadequate lighting. I also brushed against overgrown nettles. Luckily it was just a light brush because my leg itched for about an hour.

The history of this pub goes back around 700 years, when a man named Norman Lord want refreshment to get through the long sermons at St. Bartholomew’s. A place that old has whitewashed walls, huge dark wooden beams, low ceilings and rambling rooms. I imagine that over the centuries the rooms were added one at a time, the wooden floored ones being the oldest, though no floors would be original. The first floor might very well have been packed earth and straw spread  over it.

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A conglomeration of woods.

Buildings throughout the medieval era were white washed to preserve the mortaring and stonework and to add light to dark structures only lit by candles and oil lamps. Six Bells was all of this, with a note on the ceilings saying “Duck or Grouse.” Above the bar it said, “Before you ask, yes we have hit our heads a lot.” Since this seem to be the normal height for old pubs I must assume that people were shorter at one time, plus I imagine the places were time consuming and expensive to build, and space wasn’t wasted on high ceilings. It may have kept the warmth in as well.

Unlike North American pubs, many British ale houses or public houses are part restaurant and you’ll see people bringing their children. The central and oldest area is the bar, and rooms jut off in three directions for diners to sit.

The Six Bells menu is quite extensive and I had  a fish pie, since it seemed traditional British fare; a mixture of peas (the English love their peas), potatoes, shrimp, smoked haddock and cod in a white wine, coriander cream sauce, with a salad of red onion, tomato, spinach and tongues of cucumber in a simple vinaigrette. It was tasty and filling, costing around 10 pounds. I was too full to try dessert, which some British just call puddings in a generic way. I like to sample new ciders and England is the place to do it. I tried the Aspall Suffolk cider at 5.5% alcohol (higher than most of the beers on tap). This drink worked very well with the smoky taste of the pie and I think the food brought out the cider’s flavor. Aspall is a light golden color, light on the tongue (medium effervescence), crisp apple taste and not overly dry. The flavor isn’t too strong but it’s more noticeable than Strongbow’s nondescript taste. Of all the ciders I tried on my trip this one remains one of my favorites.

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Aspall Suffolk Cider

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The fish pie at Ye Olde Six Bells

I would recommend Ye Olde Six Bells. The rest of Horley seemed rather small. The second night I had Chinese food and though it was a simple fare of broccoli, chicken and mushrooms I found the chicken tasted old. Not bad but not fresh, and I’m quite sensitive to the change in meat flavors. It could have contributed to the stomach unrest that hit me the next day as I arrived in Amsterdam.

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Six Bells at night: a conglomerate of eras

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And Another Review of Cider

I treat my ciders like others treat beers, getting into microbreweries and flavors and styles of beer. It’s partly because I cannot drink beer, being allergic to the hops, that I got into cider. Cider is my summer alternative to wine and having a cold cider is just more refreshing at times.

But ciders don’t have as many varieties nor are cideries as multitudinous as microbreweries. So it’s often hard to find a new cider to try. As well, some coolers and other alcoholic beverages masquerade as a cider because apples are the base. In some ways, these are still ciders but in my opinion there is very little that really makes them a cider. True ciders are made with cider apples. Cysers are made with honey and there are a host of factors that make them flat or effervescent, clear or thick, sweet or dry.

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Crispin Hard Apple Cider

So, it was with interest I saw three bottles of Crispin Hard Apple Cider, which I had never seen. (In Canada when we say “cider” people presume it’s alcoholic; in the US we have to say “hard cider” or people think it’s nonalcoholic.) One was labelled as being made with honey, really a cyser called Honey Crisp, and since I don’t really like honey or mead, I decided against that one. The second was called The Saint and was made with Trappist yeast (as in Belgian Trappist monks famous for their beers) and maple syrup. I thought that might be too sweet as well so I decided on the one that looked all dark, dour and gothic, called Lansdowne, made with Irish stout yeast and molasses.

What is nice about the Crispin brand is that they use organic apples and other ingredients, make their ciders gluten and preservative free and I don’t think there are any sulfites as well. These three ciders are part of the Crispin artisanal reserve and they make a “blue” regular cider line as well. There is a fourth artisanal cider called Cho-Tokkyu made with sake yeast but I didn’t see it in the store. Crispin uses a blend of apples, with their blue line being made with the West Coast type apples, but the artisanal ciders are unfiltered with no grape or malt flavoring added, which is used in a lot of the overly sweet supposed ciders (BC has Growers and Okanagan brands).

Crispin should be given kudos just for trying the unusual, with these cider mash-ups. They also have limited releases and if I could I would definitely be buying those to try. Their operations are in California and Minneapolis. From the write-up on their site these guys are truly a cidery and very much into experimenting with apples.

The Lansdowne experiment was…interesting. Now the caveat is that I don’t drink beer and have never had a Guinness or a stout. The hops allergy and overall pungency of beer has kept me away. I actually didn’t think the stout yeast would be so…stouty. After all, beer battered fish or other foods cooked in beer rarely taste that beery to me. But this drink was heavy. I now know what Guinness drinkers mean about chewy drinks. Lansdowne is unfiltered and cloudy, dark like a watered down stout, and not effervescent at all. I immediately didn’t like it; it shocked my taste buds. However, I did some more sipping and shared it with someone who is a beer drinker. After a few sips he said it was growing on him and quite liked it. The drink was strong in all senses, tasting both of the yeast and the molasses, a lot.

However, while I didn’t like it, I did drink it all and it was okay to my taste buds. It was not sweet at all. The 500 ml (22 fluid ounces) of Lansdowne has 6.9% alcohol. I would think you wouldn’t want it with a particularly heavy meal and for me one was enough. The Crispin cidery has intrigued me and I just might try those other artisanal ciders to see how they come out. I’m more curious about their limited releases if I can find any in Canada.

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Another Short Review of Cider

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Samuel Smiths Organic Cider

This last weekend I was in Ferndale, Washington and found a couple of ciders I had not seen before.

I picked up a bottle of Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider from the grocery chain Haggen. The bottle is the 550 ml size or 27 fl. oz. The alcohol content is 5%.

I like my ciders slightly sparkly but this one was flatter, with only the very slightest effervescence. The color as you can see is of a medium amber, consistent with most apple ciders. The glass is the lightest blue-grey so it could have affected the color slightly.

The flavor was a little too yeasty or musky for my taste. It didn’t have much aroma nor did it taste strongly of apples.Your basic hard cider.

Overall I found this cider lacking in flavor even if the apples were organic. I forgot to check the ingredients but often companies don’t list the types of apples they’re using. It’s very possible that Samuel Smith’s doesn’t use cider apples, which are specific and can make a difference in flavor and dryness.

This wasn’t a repulsive cider and if there was no other cider but this or Hornsby’s, then I would definitely choose this one. It just wouldn’t be that high on my list.

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A Short Review of Cider

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Rekorderlig Wild Berry Cider

My first taste of alcoholic cider was in England, lo these many years ago. It might have been Strongbow but I actually don’t remember anymore. I’ve become quite the cider connoisseur over the years, taking every opportunity to try as many as possible. Strongbow, once it was available here, became my standby and you can find it in most Vancouver restaurants with it or Rock Creek on tap in many.

Most of the US ciders I’ve had tend to be flatter in taste and effervescence, and slightly sweeter. Next time I try one I’ll do a review.

I’m always on the lookout for a good dry cider. When I first tasted cider in England I could barely get it down and it almost tasted like beer to me. (I don’t drink beer because I”m allergic to the hops.) I think that was just the dry aspect of it. But as it turns out, it would be my first love and I would search the world over for another cider as dry and crisp.

Common in Vancouver, cider is served with a slice of lime, just like the British do it. (Addendum: When in Britain last year they told me they never put lime in their cider, but I’m sure I drank it there first. So either they no longer do it, or I drank too much cider.) When I was in Ireland, enthused to be able to try all the types of Irish ciders, I asked for lime with my drink. I was given a subtle look and then my cider would arrive with no lime. After the third time I realized, oh, the British do that, not the Irish. Bulmer’s cider was the brand and it’s one company in England I believe that makes and distributes it with different names depending on the country (Magner’s and Bulmer’s is the same). It was pretty much the only cider in Ireland, except for Stag’s Head, which was by the same company, as well as an extremely sweet Danish cider that I tried in Dublin.

Once in a while our liquor store gets in other ciders. The BC ciders made by such companies as Okanagan and Growers are fruity alcohol drinks that have as much in common with traditional cider as ketchup has with mustard. I can’t drink them anymore because they are just too sweet. They’re made to cater to the younger college crowd and women but some of us have refined our tastes.

The other day I picked up a can (500 ml) of Rekorderlig wild berry cider ($2.99). As you can see from the picture it’s a pleasant pinky color. Like most Canadian ciders it comes in at 7% alcohol/volume. This is as much as or more than some beers. Rekorderlig is a Swedish pear cider.

I don’t tend to like pear ciders in general. They’re too sweet and indeed this was sweet but not as bad as I thought it would be, and not as sweet as most BC ciders. There is a distinct taste of berries and a good level of effervescence. Over all, it went down nicely on a hot day, served over ice with a slice of lime. Why the lime? I’m not sure why the British first started doing it but I find it can add a slight tang and if the cider is too sweet the lime cuts that a bit.

I don’t know if this cider is made as a true cider, which requires cider apples, but for someone who likes fruity or ciders not too dry, it’s a good choice.

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Dublin and Keating’s Bar

This is the last day in Ireland, before we flew back to Glasgow, in October 2007.

Sunday October 14, nearing the end of our trip and our last night in Ireland. We had come back to Dublin a day earlier hoping to have some time to see a few more sights but what with getting lost over and over again, we really had time only to pack, drop off the car and get something to eat. Driving into Dublin after two weeks of driving, you think would be easier. But there were multiple lanes, the signs were unclear and once we got off the highway, we proceeded to meander with the streets.

I think we stopped twice to ask for directions and finally found the same B&B where we had stayed before, the Charleville. Whereas this place had very nice rooms when we arrived we were given one in the basement this time. It smelled moldy in the corridor, the light didn’t work right, the door knob was loose and the water cool. It wasn’t as impressive but we were only there for the one night. (So if you’re planning on staying there, don’t let them put you in the basement.)

So after wasting part of the day getting into Dublin we decided it was wise to drop of the car first, knowing how signage just doesn’t match reality. We got lost, typical by now, went the wrong direction, finally got directions that took us to the Liffey (river) where the dropoff for the car was. The guy who gave us the best directions said, take the last road before the Liffey and turn left, then go one block and turn up. Not only were the names of the streets wrong but we couldn’t turn left on the street he said we could, nor go up the street that was next (because it was one way the other direction). It seems even the Irish don’t know their city that well.

After driving in large circles for about an hour, we finally found the entrance, not marked in any discernible way to say it was the right place. And then we were hungry. We were downtown on a Sunday and couldn’t find much. Many things were closed, or looked very cheesy. So we ate at a diner with unremarkable food.

We then caught a taxi to Keating’s Bar because my friend Will in Glasgow had said check it out. We could have walked as it was only a few blocks away but we didn’t know that after our long adventures in Dublin. It turns out to be an old church that fell into disrepair. Eventually it was bought by a local restaurateur and restored, keeping both the history of the place preserved. Part of the deal was to keep in in good repair and it has more parishioners of food than anything else. The crypt in the basement (with tombs in the floor) is the wine bar, which was closed that night. The large open-space bathrooms are on that level, where you walk in and go right if you’re a man and left if you’re a woman. When you’re at the sinks you can see men and women equally. Very Euro trendy.

The main floor has a long oval bar down the middle, and the top floor, overlooking the main floor is the dining area. If we had known there’d be food we would have eaten there and had a better meal. There are plaques and tombs in the walls to different personages. I wonder if people from two hundred years ago would roll in their graves to know a church had been turned into a bar, but then I thought, it’s the Irish. They tend to be more relaxed about drinking as part of life and religion.

We had an early flight the next day so we caught a taxi back to the B&B (not risking getting lost again) and that was that. Although there were a few things I didn’t see in Dublin I would probably skip it the next time. At the least I wouldn’t rent a car in the city and would the very least take a bus to a neighboring town and rent there to save on the confusion.

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Dublin or Bust!

Here’s another Ireland installment, first written on Oct. 7, 2007 while I was in Ireland. I’ll be soon posting some of the blog pieces with pictures or you can go over to my blogspot blog, link listed on the sidebar.
We’re in Kilkenny, which turns out to be a hopping college town, or at least where all the young people gather to party. Yeegods, we almost didn’t get a B&B but lucked out on try 3 with a very nice place and very nice people.

There’s been so much and not enough time to even find internet cafes which some of the small towns don’t have. We got into the habit of sometimes eating the breakfast–a full breakfast will come with two cooked tomatoes, sausages, ham (bacon but it’s like back bacon), toast, eggs, cereal and fruit, maybe potatoes and black and white pudding. Who could eat all that? We were down to ham and toast and tomato and skipping it some days as it’s too much and eggs over more than 2 days don’t sit well with me.

We would skip lunch as we were always running about trying to fit in the most by the end of the day. Some castles and sites close at the beginning of Oct. Boo! Most disappointing site–Ormonde Castle, a mostly Victorian manor house, closed off completely. Not exciting by architectural standards and why it was in the guide book, I don’t know. Nicest castles–Bunratty, and errr…another I can’t remember right now.

We’ve been eating dinners that are around 15-20€ and a pint of cider and a rum and coke have cost lowest at 7€ for both in Dungarvan, to 15€ in Dublin. Not cheap but the food portions have been substantial and quality mostly very good. My celiac sister hasn’t had any problem getting food adapted and it turns out Ireland is only second to Italy in number of celiacs.

We stopped at Blarney castle, which is mostly a shell but I didn’t kiss the stone. Rather, while snooping down some dark, tunnelly passage, I saw light and stairs to my left, and went to cautiously look down. I ran my nose right into a ridge of stone and nearly broke it. It’s still bruised but feels okay. Reminds me of Lorna’s year of the broken nose.

I have many many photos and I’m always into architectural details and the small stuff. I’ve taken pictures of some very old tiles from some cathedrals and castles as well as some gothic and earlier carvings. Much in stonework, not as much in wood, of course.

We’ve come to want to avoid the bigger cities like Limerick (though we went to the castle there) and Cork where we spent an hour going a few blocks. We’ve just done Kilkenny castle, restored by the Irish gov’t and once owned by the very rich Butlers for over 500 years. No photos inside were allowed and most of it is done now in 18th century style as it went through several changes over the centuries.

I also realize that I’ve been trying to live up to being Irish and I’ve drank cider every day since I’ve been here. This could be a personal record. Last night we met some gents from the North who had been down for the races. One was a Belfast cop and we ended up drinking more than we would have. Then got lost in the fog going back to our B&B.

We’re about to head up to Dublin and flight out godawful early tomorrow to Glasgow. Then it’s, sob** home on Wednesday. We’ve lucked into great weather except for one rainy day in Carrowmore and when driving out of Dublin. That’s made it much nicer. Ireland is truly beautiful and kinda laid back about driving even if the speed limit is 100km on winding country roads built for carriages originally. I’ve come to love the inherent use of and living with stone of the Irish. Stone plots in cemeteries, stone castles and homes, the wonderful stone walls everywhere and the megalith tombs and dolmens. Oddly enough it’s the stones I will miss most.

And now it’s time to drive off to Dublin.

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Travel: We’re in Belfast

I was hoping to post something else today but by my late hour, I’m swamped at work. So here’s another one from my Ireland trip. First posted on Blogger on 9/30/07
Well, we spent till Friday in Dublin and went to pick up the car on Friday morning. Then with at least six people asked for directions we seemed to cross the Liffey and cross back so we were on the south side when we should have been on the north side. We did Baggot St. and lots of Dublin that we never meant to do. Plus we went far east before ending up going south and north again. A 15 minute drive took about an hour and a half.

The Charleville was very good to us and didn’t charge us for being late. We also had to get her to show us how the reverse worked in the car, which even she couldn’t find so we had to call the rental company. Signs in Ireland and in Dublin can be nonexistent, or on buildings, and covered by trees. Not to mention no streets are parallel. This city wasn’t planned, it grew. Many intersections have five or six streets off of them too.

Randi drove and I navigated and it was a big big mess. Finally we got directions out of Dublin to go north but they gave us the N1 when we needed the N2. We tried to get over but they have all of these semie routes (R123, R153, etc.) and somehow not on one of the three maps we had was there any R132. The ones that showed on the map petered out into townships and at one point we asked a woman at a petrol stn. where to go and she said turn left at the garda stn. (police) and right at the cemetery. Maybe they moved it because all we saw was a subdivision with children playing so maybe they were zombies. Eventually, four hours later we made it to Newgrange, 45 minutes too late.

We drove into Slane, a cute little town with a castle and asked if there were any B&Bs and it turns out there was a wedding in town so that there were no openings. But we got a place just 2 km from Newgrange and Roughgrange farm with a lovely woman, Irene, and her husband. Clean, cheapish, and friendly. We went into Donore that night for dinner at Daly’s a pub and a restaurant.

Next day, Saturday, we went to Newgrange and Knowth (neolithich passage graves), then on to the Hill of Tara (soggy soggy weather), then on to Trim Castle and St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral in Trim. We drove into Kells but were too late and would have had to wait till 2 pm today. So we drove back to Slane and had a drink at the Village Inn Bar (disappointment is that there is only one type of cider so far in Ireland–Bulmers) then across to the Old Post Office Restaurant and B&B, one of only 2 places in Slane that serves food. It was pretty good but food is not cheap here. (Meals can be about 20€ average though you can get pub meals for cheaper.) We also had a good, not cheap meal in Dublin at Fitzers; very yummy and good for celiacs which my sister is.

I should say that I took over driving on Saturday and we’re both much happier. My sister tended to scream and freeze if she saw a car coming at her. The Garda swerved into our lane to get around traffic and the streets are very narrow and windy and the speed limits relatively fast. Except for getting down that center line thing and not going too far left, I’m doing okay. The care we have is crap and very hard to shift into the correct 1st or 2nd gear. And we couldn’t find a way to open the gas tank today, nor the gas jockey. Turns out you just push the lid.

This morning we did Monasterboice and Mellifont Abbey before heading north.

Time’s nearly out but we’re hoping to see the Crown saloon here and go off towards Giants Causeway tonight. Whoo and we made it into Belfast without a map of the city.

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