Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

#ShrubItUp - heat 2, Brighton

20th June 2016


​Oh how I love Brighton. Years ago, we would come down here during half term because my parents would exhibit at a Health Food Exhibition there, and the holiday would pass in the slightly stifling interior of the Exhibition Centre – albeit accompanied by excursions to the pier, and suppers in a fantastic fish restaurant called Wheelers. It had a tatty charm back then, wearing the clothes of a town that really had seen better days.

Fast forward a decade or 2, and I would race down every other weekend on a Friday night to court my future wife who had been living there for nigh on a decade. And what a difference a decade (or 2) had made on the place. The slightly moribund Brighton I had experienced in the ‘80’s now had a lot more confidence and a sparkly energy; trips down were like going on a city break every other weekend – great food, great parties, top music and a plethora of new friends.

So, happy to be making a return to the south coast and having got my eye in in Bristol, I was all excitement and none of it nervy. Bohemia in the South Lanes was tonight’s venue. Not somewhere I could confess to having frequented, and I was sorry that I never had.  It has a great open area around a central bar island, and then an intimate upstairs venue where the competition was to be held. Joining us on the judging panel was bar manager and owner Lukas whose hospitality was magnificent.

Just the 6 entrants this time, 4 of whom were Brighton locals and then entries from Lavistock and Ipswich respectively, and sartorially – I guess as you may expect from Brighton – they were certainly a stylish bunch, and good on the drinks as well.

I guess as you may expect from Brighton – they were certainly a stylish bunch, and good on the drinks as well. 

Shrubs were again varied; some more strawberry – this time with basil, nectarine and tarragon, pears, cherries and figs, apple, pineapple with lime and orange peel, Brighton rock with dandelion and mangoesteens and finally, beetroot (it’s there again), with Suffolk honey and infused with juniper fennel and caraway.

The atmosphere was again crackling; this event was mc’d. Our very own Aspall DJ Lee Rogers ‘in da house’, and if he had played Hot 8 Brass Band’s version of Sexual Healing over and over all night rather than just the once, I wouldn’t have been bored by it. Luckily for everyone else, judges’ privileges don’t reach to control of the playlist.

The serious business of cocktail making soon got under way, in front of a very enthusiastic and supportive crowd. I have to say, I am full of admiration for these guys; it’s one thing to make cocktails as part of your day job, but to not only invent your own drink, and present it in a competitive setting in front of your peers – well, that deserves respect. Sure – as with all the heats, there were some nerves, but there was also some incredible skill and great presentations. I could have sat through another 6 very happily.

As it was, we needed a good chunk of time to debate this one as there were 2 outstanding entrants with 2 outstanding drinks and respective pitches.

Jake Goldstein from The Plotting Parlour in Brighton; “How Do You Like Them Aspall’s” – his nectarine and tarragon shrub atop a muddled fresh nectarine, Adnams gin, lemon juice, augets (almond syrup), shaken with ice – served in a stemmed glass over ice, on a slate board complete with a daisy chain draped wooden barrel and a pile of straw he set fire to. A cocktail rich with citrus aroma with background of peach and tarragon – so fresh, so well balanced and a super clean and refreshing finish. Oh, and the boy could present – great patter.

Jake was neck and neck with Ashley Briggs from The Stiller in Ipswich; he came up with “The Summer of 1728” – beetroot and honey shrub with Kamm & Sons, homemade apple and ginger sauce and Aspall Organic Cyder. An intriguing approach was to look for and emphasise a lower alcohol cocktail. Served in a can complete with Aspall vinegar label (a labour of love just getting one of those off our bottle), the cocktail had an earthy, rich and intense aroma. The balance of sweet, sour and bitter was beautifully integrated, with a velvety mouthfeel and texture that leant a long, lingering finish. Wow – that was special.

And it took a goodly long while to separate the 2, which was hugely tough on Jake. Ultimately, it came down to the tiniest of margins – whose cocktail represented the shrub the best, and that was Ashley’s. A local winner then, but just not local to Bohemia! “Fix!” I hear you cry – no, he got this one on merit; it was shame we couldn’t take them both through.