GOOD CIDER AS IT USED TO BE
Believe it or not, it is nearly 30 years since CAMRA published its first edition of the Good Cider Guide. This book first came out in October 1987, compiled, almost single-handed, by cider enthusiast David Kitton.
He had originally produced an earlier version, published by Virgin, but this was the first time that CAMRA had seriously promoted real cider and perry to the outside world, and it is interesting today to see how the cider industry has changed, by looking at the producers and outlets that were around in those days.
There were around 80 producers listed in the Guide, although there were a lot more that were not included, but nothing like the hundreds of producers that you can find today, and only about a third of them are still going, with some areas having changed dramatically.
One of the most remarkable changes has been in Wales. This country was traditionally a big cider and perry area, but when the Guide came out there were no known producers at all. Look how that has changed today, where there has been a big revival in cider and perry production and now several dozen makers.
Similarly Dorset, another traditional cider area, has taken off again recently , with a whole range of new producers. When this Guide was published, there were only two, and neither of them are still producing. Mill House at Overmoigne is now a museum, and has one of the most amazing collections of cider presses to be found anywhere. Likewise, Captain Thimbleby at Wolfeton House no longer produces, but the eccentric medieval and Elizabethan house is open to the public (at least it was the last time I checked).
There were, of course, a number of producers who were subsequently bought up and closed down by the big companies. One of them was Symonds in Herefordshire, whose family had been making cider since 1727. But this meant little to Bulmers, who eventually bought them and closed them down, while still making a keg cider called Symonds Scrumpy Jack. Likewise, Bulmers did the same with Inch’s in Devon, who had been making cider since the beginning of the 1900s. Once again, bought up and closed down. (See, it isn’t just breweries that do it).
Those of you who have heard of Brogdale in Kent, who have the national collection of apple and pear trees, may not know that the cider apples and perry pears were originally at the Government-funded Long Ashton research Station in Bristol, and they made their own cider as well.
In the East of England there was James White Suffolk Cider, no longer producing. When this Guide came out, it seemed that every other pub in East Anglia was selling it. And in Herefordshire, Westons was still producing and seen in many pubs throughout the country. But by far the largest number of outlets with cider (including a lot of off-licenses) were stocking Bulmers, so some things never change! Indeed, in those days Bulmers had even owned a small number of their own cider houses, which were sold off. The one at Quatt in Shropshire is the only one still open, although now independent.
But the list of producers who are no more is a long one. A lot of cidermakers were also farmers, and cider had been made for generations, and when they retired or died there was often no-one to take over the business. But luckily, as well as the hundreds of new producers, some of the family businesses are still there. So you can still say hello to makers like Roger Wilkins and Derek Hartland, both cidermakers in the old tradition, while welcoming all of the new ones as well.
And I hope that they don’t mind me saying this, but thank goodness that a lot of the newer producers are just as eccentric as the old ones!
THE WELSH PERRY & CIDER SOCIETY (WPCS)
The WPCS has been raising the profile of real perry and cider since 2001, when it was set up by founder members Dave Matthews and Alan Golding. Since then the WPCS has cultivated an ever-growing crop of traditional cider and perry producers that now spans the length and breadth of Wales, and we aim to continue this trend by building projects to support the industry, its customers, and the heritage behind this to ensure we move forward and grow successfully.
In 2009 the WPCS was successful in securing funding from the Welsh Government to deliver a project which resulted in a number of initiatives to support Welsh craft cider makers. This included applying for PDO status for real Welsh cider and perry, which is now with the EU for consideration.
In 2014, the WPCS was granted development funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund to put together the final workings of a project that will provide support and guidance to community orchard owners and encourage the wider growth of Welsh cider apple and perry pear varieties. This work will build on the hugely successful Museum Orchard which we began planting back in 2006 at the Raglan Cider Mill in the heart of Monmouthshire.
The thousands of discerning drinkers that attend our annual festival at Caldicot Castle each May is a testament to craft cider's growing popularity throughout the UK, as well as across the Channel. By joining the WPCS you'll be helping us continue to promote the practice of traditional cider-making and the value of real Welsh perry and cider.
THE EU AND CIDER DUTY
It seems that these days it is impossible to turn on the radio, TV or open a newspaper without seeing something about the UK and its relationship with the EU. So it is appropriate at this point to write something about how the UK levies duty on cider, and the latest proposals coming out of Europe about how we levy duty on our own ciders and perries. But first, an explanation on the current situation seems appropriate.
Unlike beer, which has a sliding scale of duty, cider rates are based solely on strength, regardless of how much is produced. This means that Bulmer’s pay the same duty rate as producers who make relatively small amounts. But there is one exception to this. The very small producers, who make less than 70 hectolitres a year (around 1500 gallons) are exempt from duty.
The EU, which does not seem to like exceptions to any rule, has told the UK Government that they must levy duty on all cider producers, regardless of their size. This could have a devastating effect on the UK cider industry. There are now more cider producers in the UK than there have been for many, many years. New cider makers are cropping up almost on a weekly basis. Many of these are part-time, making cider as part of their main business, and many are hobby producers who have decided to expand and perhaps sell to their local pubs and beer festivals. The industry is currently buoyant and the range of both ciders and perries gives the consumer a wide choice of drinks, similarly to what we have seen from small breweries in recent years.
But what will happen if they have to start paying duty on top of the exorbitant costs of their production? Unfortunately, the majority of them will disappear. To make it financially viable, they will have to increase their production by three or four times their current output. For many, this is just not possible. The very small producers do not have either the space or time to be able to do this. This level of production is a hobby or an add on to an existing business – something they can make a bit of money at by selling their product at local festivals or farmers market. They are entirely reliant on how many apples are grown each year, and if they increased production where would all of the extra apples come from? On top of this, the real cider market is only a small percentage of the UK’s total output, so where would they sell their extra product? If they have to start paying duty, possibly up to several hundred would have to stop.
At the moment there is a consultation into how duty is levied on alcohol products by the EU, and both the National Association of Cider Makers and CAMRA have been lobbying to keep the status quo. In fact CAMRA’s on-line petition about this collected over 20,000 names, and CAMRA has also been over to Europe to meet with the EU officials and MEPs to discuss the issue. It would also seem that the UK government is in favour of keeping things as they are, but I would assume that in the current economic climate, it is way down the list of Mr Cameron’s priorities.
So now it is a matter of waiting to see what happens. Remember, most of these small producers are not big businessmen, they are cider enthusiasts, and as such they need to be supported. The alternative could see an enormous amount of producers closing, and we must not let that happen.
DISCOVER REAL CIDER AND PERRY
When I moved to England in the late 80’s I was taken to my first beer festival. At the time I didn't drink beer so I found myself at the cider bar and it was a revelation. Having spent years drinking the standard fizzy cider that was available in pubs I discovered a drink that tasted of apples and you could taste the flavours coming through from the fruit. I also discovered the variety of drinks that were available.
I quickly learnt that very few pubs sold real cider and that the only place that I could guarantee being able to find it was at the larger CAMRA beer festivals so I joined to find out where the festivals were and started travelling to those which were easy to get to.
Thankfully we now live in a very different world. We have seen the number of cider producers increase in recent years so many areas now have a cider producer somewhere nearby. Most beer festivals now sell real cider and perry, with even the smaller ones having a small selection. There are also a lot more pubs with at least one available and many stocking a good range.
If you search for pubs that sell real cider in your county on the Whatpub website, you are given a choice of pubs. It is even possible to arrange cider crawls of larger towns and cities.
May is one of CAMRA’s cider campaigning months so, now that it is easier to find in pubs and at beer festivals, why not take the opportunity to try some real cider or perry and discover the variety of flavours that you can find in these drinks.
Cider – Landlord’s Nightmare or Untapped Business opportunity?
We’ve all seen a forlorn tub of cider balanced on the end of the bar – as the licensee tries his hand (again) at selling real cider – probably in the height of summer. It’s fine for a few days, with customers trying the odd pint or two (at 6.5%abv they daren’t drink too much), but then it starts to turn a little sharp and then quickly becomes unpalatable, resulting in perhaps half a tub of cider being used as drain cleaner. It’s enough to make the cider maker weep – not to mention those who hand-picked the apples! In order to satisfy the demand for cider, The licensee is then enticed into the world of kegged and gassed apple-flavoured fizz. The world of the alcoholic fizzy apple-flavoured squash that is 90%+ of the kegged cider market presents a solution that ticks the ‘cider’ box for many publicans.
For many licensees therefore, the selling of real cider poses several problems – not the least of which is the concern that they won’t sell enough, it will go off and they will have to throw it away – which is clearly not what they are in business to do!
However, with a basic understanding of a few salient elements, the selling of cider becomes, not a risky sideline, but an easy way to engage with the rapidly emerging demand for high quality, often locally sourced products from small scale producers who care passionately about what they make. This is a market I have seen that brings a customer base into pubs who wouldn’t otherwise go there. All that is needed is an understanding of a few basic points – points incidentally that are very well understood by the kegged ‘cider’ producers.
Firstly, real cider is produced once a year – around September. Many cider makers keep cider back from previous years production to blend with ‘new’ cider in order to keep consistency and to help give depth and roundness to their product. I know of one cider maker who has got cider he made 15 years ago. It is in exceptional condition. Cider therefore does not need to go off. It simply needs to be kept properly – and that is not at the end of the bar counter.
Please also note that cider does not need to be ‘fizzed’ or pumped full of preservatives in order to be kept in good condition. If looked after properly it will quite happily keep for months, if not years.
Secondly, real cider is susceptible to the same elements that will make beer ‘go off’, namely air, heat and humidity. You wouldn’t (I hope!) leave a tub of beer balanced on the end of the bar and expect it to remain drinkable for weeks, the same is true with cider.
So, with these two points in mind, we need to transfer theory into practice. In my pub, we don’t use pumps – all ciders and ales are gravity fed from the Tap Room – which is airconditioned (as are most pub cellars, thereby dealing with the heat and humidity problems). This works well for us, but I realise it would pose a problem for many to be going backwards and forwards to the cellar every time someone wanted a pint. There are methods out there to connect ‘bag-in-a-box’ to a pump – thereby providing an easy method to dispense real cider in good condition on a consistent basis. If you do go down this route, make sure you use micro-bore pipes and clean them regularly and frequently to avoid yeast build-up problems in the pipes.
We also use a lot of ‘bag-in-a-box’ ciders. Real cider kept in a ‘bag-in-a-box’ in an air-conditioned cellar at around 8-10°C will keep for between 6 and 13 weeks, which should be ample time to sell it. Alternatively, there are systems out there to keep tubs and ‘bag-in-a-box’ drinks at chilled temperatures, often seen at beer festivals.
Finally, real cider and perry in a ‘bag-in-a-box’ should be readily available from almost any wholesale beer supplier – with one or two ‘brands’ being available nationwide. However, with not more than a few minutes spent on the internet, you should be able to track down a local real cider producer, many of whom will be delighted to supply the local pub trade.
Ian Pinches The Railway Arms, Downham Market – CAMRA National Cider Pub of the Year 2013 and one of the 4 finalists in the 2014 competition