GLINTCAP Cider Dispatches: Training & Tasting

Cidermaker Peter has completed his training session at GLINTCAP in Michigan, so it’s
time to move on to tasting over a thousand ciders! As you can see, he’s put some last words down on paper just in case…

Amongst all the amazing people met so far in Grand Rapids, Peter’s giving a special shout out to Danielle at County Cider and Chandra at the Lost Vally Cider public house, and the great venue that is, The Waldron.

As Peter works his professional way through a mammoth selection of worldwide ciders, we thought it might be a good idea to look at ‘tasting’. Some people just ‘know’ that they like a drink, and don’t need to interrogate it any further. But if you do like to compare your ciders… read on.

It’s a serious business for professionals, but cider-tasting in principle for the rest of us, is pretty straightforward. First of all, take a good look at the cider in a clean, clear glass. You’re looking at the colour, clarity (some are cloudy, some, clear), how still or bubbly it is (carbonation) and what the viscosity is like (is it thick or thin as it moves round the glass?).

Next, as you swirl it gently, take a sniff to see what you can detect. You should expect some note of apples but how dominant? Are they crisp green apples, traditionally tart cider apples or something sweeter and juicier? Does it smell vinegary or tart? Let’s be honest here, does it smell good or bad? You can also look for other notes – perhaps different fruits, spice, the scent of flowers or herbs, green notes? Perhaps you may also notice a hint that reminds you where the cider has been maturing – oak casks, different wood barrels, or even what those barrels were used for initially (bourbon or rum, for example). Does it smell young or rich and long-matured?

Then, it’s time to taste! Take a good sip and make sure you move it around your mouth so the flavours are released and all your taste-buds are engaged. As well as thinking again about the flavours you notice, especially in relation to the scents you’ve just detected, consider the texture of the cider, and whether it feels sweet or dry. Is it bitter, acidic, or even astringent (due to a higher level of tannins). Perhaps you can pick up notes of additional ingredients or even hints of location that weren’t apparent before you tasted – sea salt, honey, blossom, whisky cask? Finally you can consider the after-taste, which again can reveal more than the initial smell and sip tests. This is often when the astringency level becomes more obvious. Then it’s up to you to balance all your different impressions and decide whether the cider ‘works’ for you. Do the sweetness, texture, flavour, acidity, and all other aspects result in a well-balanced cider? Does the flavour last pleasantly, or does it disappear quickly?

All those things, even though they can pass in seconds, determine whether ultimately you’re likely to accept another glass if it is offered. And that’s always a good guide!




Head Thistly-Maker Peter Stuart Announced as GLINTCAP Judge

We all know that Ned Flanders is the font of all kinds of home-spun knowledge on The Simpsons, and we certainly can’t fault his simple definition of cider, “You know, most people don’t know the difference between apple cider and apple juice, but I do. Now here’s a little trick to help you remember. If it’s clear and yella’, you’ve got juice there, fella. If it’s tangy and brown, you’re in cider town…”, but we can only imagine how he’d fare judging over 1000 different types of cider!

Our Head Cider-maker Peter Stuart is about to find out just how challenging that is when he heads off this week to the USA to be a judge at the The 12th Annual Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (GLINTCAP) in Grand Rapids, Michigan,April 19-22. It’s an honour to be selected for the world’s largest and most respected cider judging, and he’s looking forward to tasting many hundreds, if not thousands, of ciders submitted from commercial and amateur producers across the world.

Alongside a selection of judges from America, he’s been chosen as just 1 of 3 European judges this year alongside Bill Bradshaw (IAMCIDER, and Cider Photographer and Author from Somerset) and Gabe Cook (The Ciderologist and National Association of Cider Makers, from Gloucestershire). The American judges represent a range of talent and experience across the USA. GLINTCAP judges travel from across the world to assess the cider entries, evaluating aroma, flavour, mouthfeel, and looking at carbonation, colour, sweetness, and a whole host of other specifications dependant on category. Only then do they decide on the medal-winners.

Competition submissions, which are already double those from 2015, are organised into 3 style categories: Standard, Speciality, and Intensified & Distilled. These groupings are broken down even further into:

Standard Styles: Modern Cider, Heritage Cider, Traditional Cider, Sour Cider, Modern Perry and Traditional Perry

Speciality Styles: Fruit Cider, Hopped Cider, Spiced Cider, Wood Aged Cider, Speciality Cider and Perry, and Unlimited Cider and Perry

Intensified and Distilled Styles: Ice Cider, Fortified Cider and Spirits

Amidst the packed judges schedule, the event is also a great chance for industry networking, the sharing of knowledge, and discussing what’s happening in cider-making across the globe. Peter will be sharing his experience of being a judge, so we’re looking forward to posting some behind-the-scenes dispatches from GLINTCAP HQ.


Thistly Cross launches first ever Up Helly Aa Cider

Thistly has teamed up with Shetland & Orkney wholesaler J.W. Gray to develop and distribute the 1st ever Up Helly Aa Cider for the 2017 Fire Festival season!

Due to be formally launched at Lerwick’s Grand Hotel in Shetland on 30th and 31st Jan, this new special edition will be on sale in local pubs & shops through J.W. Gray. It’s a 5.5%, pale golden, smooth, still cider, with an initially light apple taste which develops into a slightly dry finish. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans, it is also gluten-free.

The launch will be further enhanced with tastings on board Northlink ferries. These are currently scheduled for Viking ships MV Hrossey and MV Hjaltland on 29th Jan and 2nd Feb, as our very own Thistly Orcadian Luke travels to support Up Helly Aa and introduce Thistly’s newest special edition to both residents and visitors.

Northlink has a handy guide to Up Helly Aa here with links to the full timetable of events if you’re interested in what actually happens leading up to the galley burning:

The idea for the cider came via our friendship with Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa 2017 Guizer Jarl, Lyall Gair (pictured below), who has loved Thistly since the beginning. He’s helped us spread the word about Thistly Cross at many shows across the UK whilst sharing his excellent keg-handling skills. When he told us he was Guizer Jarl, Thistly was keen to return the cider karma, and it seemed like a good way to to honour our great friend. It’s also been good to build on our relationship with J.W. Gray.

Iain Johnston, Director of  J.W. Gray & Co said: “We were delighted to support Thistly Cross with this fantastic tasting Scottish Craft cider. At Gray’s we strive to introduce new and exciting products into the Shetland and Orkney marketplace, and have been overwhelmed by the response we’ve received from the trade. Locals and visitors alike will be able to enjoy this product at most venues during Up Helly Aa”.

Thistly’s Up Helly Aa cider will be available at Up Helly Aa, and most of the Fire Festivals (dates below) in cider-boxes through JW Gray (tel: 01595 693749), and also to the public through local pubs and good local shops throughout Shetland.

Fire Festival Season Dates

Up Helly Aa (Lerwick) – Tues 31st Jan
Nesting & Girlsta – Fri 10th Feb
Uyeasound – Fri 10th Feb
Northmavine – Fri 17th Feb
Bressay – Fri 24th Feb
Cullivoe – Fri 24th Feb
Norwick – Sat 25th Feb
Walls Junior – Fri 3rd Mar
South Mainland – Fri 10th Mar
Delting – Friday 17th Mar


Follow Thistly’s Up Helly Aa cider journey on social media using hashtag, #VikingThistly

Further info? Drop us an email: or call us: 01368 863246.

Thistly joins the Vikings!

ferry-and-cider-2Scotland’s original cider company Thistly Cross is joining the Vikings, with its latest partnership with Orkney & Shetland lifeline ferry provider NorthLink Ferries.

NorthLink Ferries’ ambition to offer a range of quality Scottish products combined with the growing popularity of Thistly Cross Cider, has led to the two companies working together to create an upgraded on-board experience.

Thistly Cross Traditional Cider will be pouring on draught on-board NorthLink Ferries’ sister ships, MV Hjaltland and MV Hrossey, as well as during the peak periods on the Scrabster to Stromness vessel, MV Hamnavoe.

glass-northlink-collageThistly Cross Cidermaker Peter Stuart said: “We’re delighted to see Thistly reaching ever further north with our new partnership with NorthLink Ferries. It’s particularly important to us that each of the vessels are accredited by Visit Scotland with ‘Taste our Best’ awards for their use of local food and drink which means their customers will expect excellent quality, and they’ll find that in our range of long-matured ciders. With this listing, Thistly Cross takes another step towards its goal of being Scotland’s premium cider, and we look forward to sailing the northern seas with NorthLink Ferries!”

Having Scottish cider on-board the vessels will serve to solidify NorthLink’s reputation for providing excellent Scottish food and drink whilst servicing the Northern Isles.

Peter Hutchinson NorthLink Ferries’ customer service director followed on: “We are committed to showcasing the very highest quality of food, drink and crafts which are available on our doorstep in Scotland.  Partnering with Thistly Cross is a great example of providing our passengers with a taste of Scotland; many are first time visitors and will not have experienced this excellent locally produced cider before. Having Thistly Cross cider on-board adds a fantastic new product to our range of locally produced drinks”.


Thistly’s Winter Whisky Warmer


We swear this is a glass full of Whisky Cask Cider, and not single malt!

It’s really starting to feel like Autumn/Winter now at Thistly – all crisp mornings and early-darkening evenings. Our #apples4cider appeal seeking to uncover all of Scotland’s unwanted and neglected apples has launched, and the fruit is already tumbling in to the Cider Shed. The apple press is going to be hard at work!

Whilst all Thistly’s ciders can be enjoyed the whole year round, at the forefront of the colder months is definitely our Whisky Cask Cider. We hugely value our growing relationship with Glen Moray Distillery, which allows our cider to benefit from maturation time in the rich, oak of their ex-distillery whisky casks. The Distillery itself has recently announced some exciting news; their own Glen Moray cider cask-finished Whisky is now available as a bottle-your-own at the distillery, and is selling fast!

glen-moray-whisky-cider-screenshotWhiskyNotes has a great piece mentioning the variety of Glen Moray ‘finishes’ from a Tweet Tasting organised by The Whisky Wire.

This includes their peated cask, sherry cask and others. Click here to read the full piece.


At Thistly we realise the value of using an authentic maturation process for our Whisky Cask Cider; these casks are a valuable resource, and we’re delighted to be continuing our collaboration with Graham and the team at Glen Moray.


There’s nothing like the depth of flavour imparted by the casks, and as a result, Thistly’s Whisky Cask Cider, made potent in the oak, has lingering tastes to be savoured.

As part of our barrel-aged range, Whisky Cask has found a secure place in Thistly’s core range; loved across the world, from St Andrews, to Stockholm and Chicago.

WCEach batch is entirely unique, as the gentle whisky flavour intermingles with subtle, medium dry cider.

This gives way to the distinctive full bodied flavour of each cask, allowing finishing overtones of whisky.

It’s the perfect winter warmer, with true Scottish provenance!


Want more about Thistly Cross’ and Glen Moray cask-swapping scheme? Click here.

Order your very own case of Thistly Cross Whisky Cask Cider, or even a 20L Cider box, delivered to your (mainland UK) door! Here.

And Glen Moray’s website can be found here.

Thistly Cross Cider Wants Your Apples! #apples4cider

**UPDATE – the 2016 #apples4cider swap has now closed – thanks everyone!

Swiftly following on from Scotland Food & Drink Fortnight 2016, Scotland’s Original cidermaker, Thistly Cross, wants to rediscover all abandoned, overlooked and neglected local Northern apple trees to put their fruit to good use, hand-pressing them at their Cidershed, near Dunbar in Scotland. And what’s more, they’ll swap those donations, big or small, for real fruit cider or apple juice!

Thistly is just as happy with a bucketful of good fruit as an orchard full (around 7kg of apples usually equates to a bottle). Last year’s “Bucket for a Bottle” scheme harvested well over a 160 tonnes of apples and this year Thistly would love to top that with its 2016 #apples4cider campaign.

One of the things that make Thistly Cross Cider so unique is its blend of Scottish heritage apples, hand-pressed on Belton Farm, East Lothian; establishing a proud tradition of using apples grown across the country from a wide range of sources, including local schools, professional apple growers, estate owners and the general public. And so, proud of its Scottish roots and northern heritage, Thistly Cross invites the public to donate their spare fruit.

Peter Stuart, Head Cidermaker at Thistly Cross said: “The apple season is the most important time of year for Thistly. This year’s harvest is looking bountiful. As apple donations are already flooding in, we’re hoping to exceed the 2015 crop. Thistly wants to give Scottish fruit a chance to really prove itself!”

Based in the heart of East Lothian, Thistly Cross was established in 2008 as a collaboration between farmer, Ian Rennie, and artist-turned-cidermaker, Peter Stuart, and has rapidly gained a growing reputation for making ciders that people love.


Peter added: “Thistly’s popularity is growing year on year, but we can’t make all the cider we want without the help of the public.  Every year, we accept fruit donations from all over Scotland, ranging from a bucketful to a truckload, and to say ‘thank you’ we offer the choice of cider or apple juice in return”.

By using as much locally sourced fruit as possible, Thistly has eliminated the waste that is all too often associated with the food industry of modern times. Apple growers can also help by donating their unwanted and excess apples that would otherwise go to waste.

He continued, “We’re on a Thistly mission to combat food waste and encourage everyone to get involved. We also hope to encourage the planting of fruit trees and orchards across Scotland, especially heritage varieties and those less commonly found in commercial growing”.

Follow Thistly’s #apples4cider campaign across social media.

cider-appeal-iconHere’s all the info you’ll need:

Which apple varieties are accepted? Thistly accepts most apple varieties (apart from crab apples – sorry!). Part of the reason that Thistly has such an authentic flavour is its unique blend of apple varieties. Thistly also accepts pears, providing these fit the same criteria.

How do I know if my apples are ripe? Very simply, healthy apples should drop to the ground of their own accord when ripe. However, the wind in Scotland makes this a little tricky to gauge, as big gusts can knock apples down too early. Once a few ripe, healthy apples have fallen to the ground, this is an indication that the rest of the apples are nearly ready for harvest. A ripe apple should come off the branch with ease, when twisted lightly. Once ripened, apples become slightly softer and sweeter.

What condition of apples does Thistly accept? Thistly needs good ingredients to make good cider – that means clean, sound, rot-free apples. It really is true that one rotten apple can ruin the barrel. The fruit is weighed and sorted on arrival, but it saves time if bad or heavily bruised apples are taken out beforehand.

How should I store my apples? Apples should be stored in a breathable container – paper bags, tattie sacks and crates all work perfectly for this. Please don’t store your apples in plastic bags as this causes them to sweat and rot.

When should I bring them? The short answer:as soon as possible after harvesting. The longer answer: this depends very much on the variety and condition of the apple. If you pick your apples directly from the tree, it’s best to get them to Thistly within one or two weeks of harvesting. The most important thing, though, is that they meet all of the criteria above. Apples are milled at Thistly on Wednesdays and are pressed on Thursdays and Fridays. Please bear this in mind when arranging drop-off. As we are very busy during the harvest, Thistly can’t always process your apples in the same week that you drop them off, so it’s important that they’re fit to be stored for a few days.

Note – obviously over-18s only for the cider swap

For any enquiries about apples, call Thistly on 07960962510 or email Head Cidermaker, Peter, on

Thistly Cross Cider Sets Sail Aboard Calmac Ferries!

calmac-bottles_tcc-editThistly Cross Cider, Scotland’s Original Cider, is hitting the high seas with a pop-up sampling tour of the Hebrides as part of Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight.

The craft cider maker is toasting its new partnership with Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries with a series of samplings on board six of the ferry operator’s Taste of Scotland accredited vessels. The pop-up tasting events will take place between Wed 14th and Fri 16th Sept (full timetable below) on a sampling tour that takes in a number of the Hebridean Isles including Islay, Mull, Skye, Harris and Lewis.

Thanks to the recent listing with Bidvest Logistics, three craft cider varieties (Traditional, Real Elderflower and Real Strawberry) from Thistly Cross’ range will be stocked aboard all ten Taste of Scotland accredited Caledonian MacBrayne vessels.

Caledonian MacBrayne’s Onboard Development Manager, Anne Mitchell said: “We have been working hard recently to increase the amount of local produce we serve on board. A key part of our Taste our Best Award from Visit Scotland last year was demonstrating that we use more than 50% of local produce in our menus. Thistly Cross will make a brilliant addition to the range of drinks available on board and help us towards achieving this goal. We don’t just stock local produce because it’s local, but because we believe it’s the best.”

Head Cidermaker, Peter Stuart said: “The Caledonian MacBrayne ferries are an icon of the west coast of Scotland and provide the gateway to many of the communities of Inverclyde and the Hebrides. As Scotland’s foremost cider producer we are delighted to be able to take this opportunity to introduce our handmade ciders to a new customer base, locals and visitors alike, offering passengers aboard these ferries a real taste of Scotland as they journey to and from these islands”.

Tastings schedule:


DAYTRIPPER: Music & Food Feastival

We’re lucky at Thistly Cross Cider, to be based in Dunbar, the ‘sunniest place in Scotland’, and whilst we love all the seasons (we need a good mix of rain and sunshine to create all those fantastic apples we use!), if we’re talking festivals, then let’s face it, we all ideally want a good amount of the sunny stuff. So it’s pretty fitting that Dunbar is finally getting its own summer Feastival on Saturday 3rd September in Lauderdale Park. World meet DAYTRIPPER: Music & Food Feastival!

day logoCombining a love of great music with good food, DayTripper offers local talent a showcase topped by a headline set from Idlewild alongside truckloads of local and artisan food, Thistly’s finest craft cider (of course), and beer from Brewdog and Knops. All set in Lauderdale Park, a perfect outdoor venue with its lovely walled garden right in the heart of Dunbar. day band picDaytripper is the idea and creation of Claire and Alan Gray, a local couple who combine their passion for food and music. Claire operates the Cafe in Dunbar’s Lauderdale park, and also has her own small, artisan food company called NoCowKnowHow producing allergy-free foods. Alan is a musician, and they’ve both been hosting small music sessions in the Cafe Lauderdale. Their longer term, admirable aim is to create a music venue for local artists and bands to perform, and this is how Dunbar Daytripper came about. For its first year, any profits are being reinvested into the park and enhanced leisure facilities, such as outdoor performance space and games

daytripper 2 cider

Tickets available here:

And if you fancy throwing your musical hat into the ring, we’ve got a competition to win a pair of tickets, and a couple of Thistly t-shirts! Head on over to our Facebook page for all the details.

Is it cider? Is it brandy? No, it’s Scottish Cider Brandy!

Banner image - compressed

Thistly has some exciting news…  After teaming up with Strathearn Distillery, we’ve joined forces in a world first: Scottish Cider Brandy.

“Scottish Cider Brandy?” we hear you say.  Yes, Scottish Cider Brandy!  We’ve used our delicious cider and Strathearn’s expertise in producing artisan Scottish spirits to come up with something quite unique: a cider spirit, made using Thistly Cross Cider, and matured in virgin oak casks.

Both teams have been testing the cider brandy at events across Scotland (we even let other people try it too!) and we’ve been blown away by the feedback.  We knew we had a good product – but it’s great when other people agree!

There’s a highly limited run of 200 bottles available, due to be launched on the 21st of June.  Two more casks are patiently holding the remaining spirit, with plans to be bottled in due course.

More info to come.  Stay in the loop and keep an eye on our social media!

Tweet – like – follow



Thistly Cross encourages wood donations in “branch to barrel” campaign

Following on from the phenomenal success of our “branch to bottle” campaign, where we swapped apples for cider, we’re excited to launch our second crowdsourcing project, “branch to barrel”.

Cask matured cider has long formed an incredibly popular part of Thistly’s product range – and now you can get involved too!

Just bring along any spare wood (driftwood, off-cuts, logs, Ikea flatpack furniture) and we’ll make it into barrels to mature our cider in.  In return, we’ll give you your very own barrel!

Bring your donations along to The Store at Belhaven Fruit Farm, where your donation will be weighed and exchanged for a handcrafted wooden barrel.   branchtobarrel

#branchtobottle #branchtobarrel