World Cider Day! – The Ciderologist

Happy World Apple Cider Day!

Yes, like you, I did not brilliantly realize that the somewhat pseudo-date of June 3rd had been assigned this honor. It’s (and for once I’m not kidding) neatly located between the day of roast chicken and the hug of your cat’s day. But, any occasion that champions the wonderful world of cider is for me, so I’m going to celebrate by opening a 2015 refrigerated bottle of Eric Bordelet Poiré. cheers!

The celebration of world cider this weekend is so touching that I have been brought back home over the past week with the wonders of the people and products of the global community. I had the privilege of coordinating the International Cider Contest at the Royal Bath & West Show which was held in Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Entries were received from Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, Canada, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland. And it was a bottle of cider fermented across the Irish Sea that took home the top champ award. Warm congratulations to the dedicated folk at the Johnny Falldown Cider in County Cork on the Wild Apple Bouché Cider. This was a beautifully balanced, naturally sparkling wine juice made with fruit from a tree that is over 100 years old. She was fertile, and she really deserved the championship.

Willie Smith of Tasmania, Australia, was awarded the Reserve Champion for the Kingston Black SV, very convenient given that the competition was held only 30 miles from the site of origin of this venerable variety of apple. The gold medals were also awarded to a fine selection of ciders, which reached a full range of flavors and styles. Notable, to me, is a barrel of Pinot Noir ripe with cider from Nomad Cider in British Columbia, Canada, and Natural Sidra from El Gaitero in Asturias, Spain. A full list of medal winners can be found here on the Royal Bath and West website.

Oftentimes here, in Ciderland, I feel like we take our wonderful heritage, timeless orchards and wonderful ciders for granted. I wonder if we’ve gotten a little more satisfied with some of our cider offerings. I often find many advocates of cider in the UK to be rather mediocre – average in colour, tannin levels, acidity, sweetness, complexity and fruity. I must say there is nothing more disappointing than seeing “medium sweetness and excellent cider” on the shelf. We have the opportunity to create cider with this boldness, intensity, and subtlety, but simplicity seems to be the order of the day.

Western cider and fruit culture is the envy of other parts of the world and revered in a high degree of reverence, with many viewing Royal Bath and West Shaw as the pinnacle of succulents. That is why some producers have made a pilgrimage to the show for several years. Angry Orchard’s Ryan Burke has been coming to the show since 2010, while ANXO co-founder Sam Fitz first attended in 2015. They were both at Shipton again, but this year they’ve brought their own teams with them, spreading their love of cider to the next. A generation of world cider champions. It is always a pleasure to spend time with such knowledgeable and passionate people.

It’s this immersion in “Old World” cider culture, combined with the progressive fermentation and processing skills that enable “New World” cider makers to make such a wonderful beverage. I had the opportunity to take on stage at the fair telling the assemblers the great and the good about the International Cider Contest, great selection of drinks and standard quality. I used my platform to launch a metaphorical grenade by commenting that in my view some of the best ciders made around the world were actually coming from outside the western country. My assertion was, rather nicely, met with some pretty cool party boos. I was surprised to be allowed into the viewing area the next day!

There are some who think that I no longer like ciders in the UK because of my advocacy of ciders a lot from elsewhere in the world. This, of course, is the absolute poppy plant. For me, nothing would be able to beat a new season, Thorne Berry made a little sparkling at the sight of My Hill; Two-year-old Yarlington Mill, or Ashton Bitter Dry-fermented Mill and Bone. My passion for cider and berries stems entirely from the orchard culture at The Shire. My love for this place and this tradition is what drives me every day.

It just so happens that many interesting conversations and movements within the global cider world happen outside of these shores. I’m a little curious and want to see what happens. But, rest assured, UK cider is starting to get the mojo back. Events like The Cider Salon and The MA Cider Summit, and cheese and cider pairing events from cool people like The Cellarman take things to the next level.

And finally… It was great to see Jackie Denman, founder of The Big Apple in Herefordshire, receive the prestigious Gold Medal from the Royal Bath and West Society for nearly 30 years of her dedication to celebrating orchards, varietals, ciders and berries made in Markle Ridge parishes. in Herefordshire. Bravo Jackie!



The C Word – The Ciderologist

I currently find myself in a rather bland hotel, escaping the early onset Autumnal drizzle, supping endless flabby flat whites, whilst grabbing an hour or so between an appearance on local radio and set up at the Witcombe Cider Festival where I am curating the Craft Cider Bar. It’s all go.

It’s been like that for most of the summer, and you know what, it’s been a bit of game changer I reckon. The New Wave (or insert your preferred term here) cider movement has been busy, what with the UK’s first Cider Salon, an exceptional Imbibe Live, cider catching the eye of beer, wholesalers beefing up their craft cider range, and supermarkets starting to stock ciders with interest. This end of the cider spectrum is in a completely different state than it was 12 months. Smaller cider makers and advocates are more emboldened, cohesive and louder than ever before. The changes in the trade are starting to be seen and the global connections are growing all the time. I have had the pleasure of hosting guests from Australia, South Africa, Japan, USA and Spain in the last 3 months alone. It’s been lush.

All this wondrous cider activity has meant that I’ve had bugger all time to write about it, so apologies for the radio silence. I could probably write a 10,000 word essay on the nuanced state of the UK and global cider category, but this splurge will have to suffice. Plus I’m a little bit worded out because (***gratuitous book plug alert***) the finest (only) cider tome to be published in the last 5 years hits the streets next month (eeek!). I thought that by finishing writing the bloody thing I’d be over and done with it. No chance – the real work kicks in now!

The next 3 months sees me undertaking a wee bit of a global book tour (yes, again), taking in Japan, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, USA, London, Bristol and, of course, my beloved Shire. But if you simply can’t wait to receive your copy of Ciderology, then you can pre-order on Amazon now!

But in between the usual lurking, yakking and imbibing, over the last few months I have been keenly observing some significant changes, trends, challenges and opportunities for our humbled fermented beverage. Here’s a snapshot of what’s been occurring.

The C Word

For many, many people in the UK and beyond, the simple term ‘cider’ is loaded with so much pre-conception; Generally negative. And with good reason! In the majority of occasions when cider appears in news in the UK, it isn’t to toast a new brand launch or celebration of heritage. No, it’s more likely to be attributed to some kind of anti-social or illegal behaviour. Just in the last four weeks alone, I have found articles related to drunk drivers, attacks supermarket staff, inebriated burglars, and ill-advised roof climbing, And really, the list could go on and on.

Cider is so often a by-word for something negative, which makes the endeavors of myself and others to educate and inform about this wonderful drink somewhat of a challenge. My attempts to coax people off the street for a free cider tasting session I was the other month with full champagne method ciders was met with eye avoidance and people (literally) crossing the street to dodge me. Ok, that might not have been due to the cider tasting, but the challenge of engaging with punters when using the ‘C’ word is a tough one. But we will prevail!

Too Many Apples

On the back of the Magner’s boom back in 2006, many larger cider makers planted up new orchards to satisfy the demand that they expected for the forthcoming years. Alas, after an initial rise, the last few years has actually seen a decline in ‘apple’ cider (or as I like to call it – cider) and a rise in flavored cider. As I have said before, I am not anti-trad cider or anti-flavored cider. I’m anti-shit cider, and unfortunately, many of the flavored ciders in the UK are saccharine coated turds. Crucially for cider makers (and apple growers) these ciders don’t want the bold tannic profile of West Country apples, they want light, fruity dessert apples.

The result of this market shift and over zealous planting is an over supply of cider apples and the emergence of contracts not being renewed, or contracts being actively bought out if there are only a few years remaining. The majority of the affected orchards are modern bush orchards, but ill-advisedly, some rolling contracts on traditional orchards have ended as well. Expect a new domestic market for thousands of tons of bittersweet apples being created this autumn. The ball-breaker is that this is a market without any buyers. The time has come whereby we will see the emotionally charged sight of orchards being grubbed up. The killer, of course, is that such is the dynamism of the cider category, I predict that in 5 years time the biiiig trend in cider will be….drum roll….bold tannic ciders!

The question, rightly, gets posed: is there nothing that can be done with this fruit? Well, ironically (fan boy warning), the burgeoning, creative, innovative, value-laden US cider industry is crying out for this fruit. But they want their cider apples to be an expression of US terroir, not reconstituted once off the tanker. And what about the smaller cider makers in the UK? Can’t they use the fruit? Well….

Progressive Cider Duty

……the opportunity has recently arisen for small cider makers in the UK to receive the same kind of duty relief afforded to smaller brewers since 2002 . This could provide up to a 50% discount under a set volume of production – all of which is yet to be determined. I predict this could be a trigger for the growth in volume of pre-existing producers, and an increase in the number of smaller producers full stop; both of whom could have the opportunity to utilise some of the excess and unwanted, glorious tannic apples.

I am personally a fan of progressive cider duty, as smaller cider makers are so badly hampered by a lack of economy of scale that is afforded to larger who larger cider makers pay the same rate of duty. This could provide a wonderful tool to create a healthy, prosperous and truly innovative cider category here in the UK, hopefully changing the perception of the C word. Watch this space.

Real Innovation

By truly innovative I mean ciders that change the drinks trade and consumer’s perception of what cider is, and what cider can be; not bad ice cream. Fortuitously for me and other cider heads, this summer has seen the emergence of some truly awesome, weird, crazy, (not so) clever and sensational drinks, here in the UK. Finally, we are beginning to break off the shackles of the bland and the boring (well a little bit) and taking inspiration from other drinks and other nations about expressing the full gamut of options available to cider makers. If you’re in any doubt as to the potential why not check out Hawke’s Sour Graff, the collaborative effort that is La Saison des Poires, Starvecrow’s qvevri-fermented natural cider or the fabulous Dabinett and Pinot Noir skin co-ferment from Once upon a Tree.

“Calling all medium sweet, medium tannin, 500ml beer bottle, crown capped, traditional premium craft ciders – you’re time’s up”

And what better showcase for the awesomeness of cider than the Cider Salon. What was a bit of a punt between a few passionate folk has already made its mark and is only going to be bigger and better in next year. Save the date, people: Cider Salon 7 – 9 June 2019. It’s going to be epic.

Despite all of the challenges facing the cider world, I can’t help but be optimism that we have the power to change perceptions of the C word; to reclaim it as a bastion of awesomeness, intrigue, taste, complexity and fun.



#Rethinkcider Part 1 – The Ciderologist

My approach to writing articles on my own website is a little like my approach to my tax return – I really want to do it and gain great satisfaction when I do, but it takes a lot of energy. So I procrastinate. And then get distracted (“ooh, look, a badger…”) In this case I’ve been procrastinating for 5 months. Crikey, it wasn’t even Christmas the last time I wrote. Where did the time go? I know I’m nearer to 40 than to 30 because all I seem to say is “Isn’t the year going fast?!”

But, for me, it is going fast, and for that I need to be thankful. Sitting in the golden sunlight of a spring in full bloom writing about the fermented apple is always a joy. And you know what, whisper is quietly, but this cider thing is all about to kick off. But, anyone who knows me knows that even my whisper can be pretty audible. What gives me the confidence to say this? Well, enough things that have come to pass so far this year, and enough that lies ahead, for me to make this article a two-parter, so hang onto your smock and settle in for the ride.

Selling out cider tastings in the dead of January, discovering fine cider in Glasgow’s cool beer fridges and having cider being discussed on multiple panels at CBR – the biggest craft beer event in the UK – wasn’t happening a year ago. It is now. This is testament to the actions of the progressive cider crew of makers, talkers, distributors who are all trying to make a difference. Now really is the time for the drinks trade and drinkers to #rethinkcider.

CiderCon once again demonstrated the USA’s continued juggernauting into Cidersville – the people, the passion, the downright unabashed fun of it all. Wow! It’s so invigorating. Wouldn’t it be great if something, even vaguely, resembling that took place in the UK? Well, up steps the Three Counties Cider and Perry Association to host the inaugural CraftCon at Pershore College. And what a resolute success it was, too! Part technical training, part industry discussion, part mega knees up (I mean, networking opportunity, obvs), for the first time, it felt there was some real cohesion in the room. Too often smaller cider makers seek to point the differences between themselves, or lament what is not right, real, or proper. CraftCon managed the trick of reminding these producers that there’s more that binds them together than separates them. Bravo.

CraftCon 2019 #rethinkcider panel discussion

Posted by Crafty Nectar on Friday, 5 April 2019

The most surprising experience was my attendance at CiderWorld – Europe’s biggest cider event, that has been held for more than a decade in Frankfurt, Germany. It may come as a surprise to learn that Germany, especially the Hessen region, with Frankfurt at its core, has an old cider heritage – known there as apfelwein. Comprising of a competition followed by trade and consumer fair, CiderWorld attended not only by German producers, but also by cider makers from Norway, Finland, Italy, Spain, Austria, the USA and Luxembourg. So many new names, new faces, new tastes and new styles. I was like a kiddie in a sweet shop.

Speaking of Luxembourg, my old friends from Ramborn did something rather special during the course of CiderWorld. Teaming up with Two Michelin starred Frankfurt restaurant, La Fleur, and award-winning Luxembourgish chef, Lea Linster (imagine a slightly more flirtatious Delia), and with a little bit of assistance from me, a 6 course cider matched dinner was put on. But this was no ordinary dinner, this was the most sensational and important Cider Gourmet the world has ever seen! To have the foodie glitterati happily paying €198 a head for supping on fermented apples and having their minds blown was a highly gratifying and seminal moment. Bravo.

And then, without a doubt, the most bonkers experience has been delivering my cider courses as part of the Beer & Cider Academy to a roomful of Norwegian cider makers (current and prospective) and food & drink experts. At a cider farm in Norway. In a fjord. On the same latitude as Southern Greenland. OMG. Not only to find apples being grown, but West Country varieties, to boot, was mind-blowing.

Surely this must be the furthest north such apples are grown anywhere in the world (someone prove my 100% unsubstantiated assertion wrong please!). To be admiring a Dymock Red cider apple tree with the snow capped jagged peaks behind was an experience I’ll never forget. The hospitality, friendliness and quality of the cider from the family behind the Ciderhuset and Ballholm was something that will forever be with me. Tusen Tak Age, Eli-Grete, Aard, Tuba and Edda!

Stay tuned for part 2 of #rethinkcider. It’s going to be a busy old spring and summer of cider!

The Foundation Course in Cider / Ciderhouse-Norway

The foundation course in ciderWe had a very informative day yesterday with Gabe Cook in Ciderhouse, Balestrand, the only ciderologist in the world !!!The three days of cider courses we are arranging, together with Beer and Cider Academy, started with the foundation course . We started the day by defining cider. The day was about appreciation of the history and methodology of cider making, major styles, and flavor distinctions. One of the most important things was enhancing the passion of cider. And little important information, all the participants passed the assessment at the end of the day and we are exploring the cider-world all together today as well…We are looking forward to the next two days.The Beer and Cider Academy The Ciderologist BalholmAmalia Pop

Posted by Ciderhuset on Wednesday, 10 April 2019