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Cider - food’s perfect partner

PUBLISHED: 10:53 03 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:53 03 February 2015

Aspalls

Aspalls

Archant

Imagine sitting down to dinner and the waiter asking if sir or madam would like to see the ‘cider list’. Mike Keen at the Brewery Tap in Ipswich did just that. Linda Duffin went along to find out more

Mike KeenMike Keen

Chef Mike Keen slants a look sideways as he juggles pans on a hot stove and grins: “I’m using some really unusual, left-field ingredients. It’s going to be quite a challenge.”

He’s cooking a nine-course tasting menu at his Ipswich gastro pub, The Brewery Tap, and has invited Aspall, the Suffolk cider makers, to match each course with one of its range. That’s an unusual choice in itself – diners are more accustomed to being offered a wine list, or even, these days, a choice of artisan beers.

And the menu has ingredients that would have even the most experienced sommelier scratching his head – snails, pigs’ ears, lambs’ tongues and goat meat, as well as flavour combinations of sweet and sour, savoury and spicy.

But Mike is confident that Aspall is up to the challenge and that his customers will enjoy the experience. “The resurgence of interest in ciders recently means there’s increasing interest in matching ciders with different foods in fine dining,” he says.

AspallsAspalls

But not many people are doing it. So Mike, and John Hadingham, Aspall’s commercial manager, have put their heads together to come up with tonight’s event.

The Brewery Tap has a number of Aspall cyders – as the company has called them since it was founded in the 18th century – on tap. But John Hadingham has arrived with a carload of bottles, as well as Aspall’s chief taster and head of product quality, Colin Hamilton.

As the guests gather in a candlelit dining room, the pair pore over the menu and fine-tune their offerings. They’re men on a mission. “Three or four hundred years ago, cider was the drink of the nation,” John says. “It’s a very complex drink and it goes perfectly well with food. We’re changing people’s perceptions of how premium cider can work with food and giving wine a good run for its money.”

Cider drinking in the UK has undergone a resurgence in the last 12 years since brands such as Bulmers and Magners invested millions of pounds to change its image from, as John says, “wurzels and teenagers getting tiddly for the first time” to something more sophisticated.

Goat WellingtonGoat Wellington

“The most powerful thing that we do as a brand is nights like this, by putting our products into people’s hands and actually explaining a bit more about it,” says John. “Now cider is very in vogue and is often drunk more in pubs than the likes of lager these days, and rightly so.”

But pigs’ ears? Goat loin? Snails?

“It’s challenging for sure and there are some very complex flavours here but within our range we’ve got a mixture of different cyders with different characteristics around sweetness, dryness and acidity, different depths of flavour,” John says. “Our premier cru cyder is the flagship of our range. It’s elegant, clean and crisp. It goes very well with delicate fish dishes and white meats, but also with spicy and rich foods where the subtle sweetness and dry, crisp taste cuts through the spiciness of the dish, so it’s good with Caribbean, Indian and Chinese food. We go right through to a full bodied cyder like our Imperial Vintage, which is fermented with muscovado sugar, so it’s got a deep flavour with hints of dried fruit. We’d pair that with really strong dishes, maybe cheese, or dark meats such a venison.”

After a brief introduction John and Colin mingle with the guests to talk them through the different vintages they’ve chosen for the evening.

A buzz goes up in the dining room as the dishes are carried in one after another and the diners are soon laughing, chatting and comparing notes on a slightly off-the-wall, but nonetheless kingly banquet – oysters with sweet and sour fennel, paired with Aspall’s Draught Suffolk Cyder, snail stew with oxtail sauce and onions pickled in a sweet Aspall cyder vinegar, coupled with the firm’s new still draught cyder, Temple Moon, and pigs’ ear fritters with the Blush.

The diners go on to to sample monkfish with Clement’s Four, sea bass and lambs’ tongues with the Premier Cru, mallard breast with Aspall Organic cyder, a magnificent goat loin Wellington paired with the full-bodied Imperial, pineapple chops with the raspberry and redcurrant flavoured Isabel’s Berry, and finally a selection of local cheeses and cyder jelly skewers with a glass of Imperial.

The guests vote it a huge success and Mike, John and Colin take a bow on behalf of all the Brewery Tap staff at the end of the night. They’re already planning the next one. Watch this space.

n www.thebrewerytap.org

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