The term “craft” has crept into the drinks sector vocabulary as a cover all description to describe the products brought about by the massive growth in the field of new, small scale brewers. Over the past decade the explosion in numbers of new “craft” breweries starting up in business has captured the imagination of a new generation of drinkers looking for something exciting and different.
Something similar is happening in the world of cider, albeit on a smaller scale and somewhat more scattered geographically. While the number of new cider makers is but a fraction of those setting up a new brewery, they are more likely to be producing cider for the love of it first and foremost. The term “craft” hardly does them justice. I prefer to think of them as “artisans”.
Traditional cider areas such as Herefordshire, Somerset and Devon; even the more diverse areas famed for using eating and cooking apples to produce cider such as Kent, East Anglia and Scotland are all benefiting from this resurgence in cider making, usually carried out by keen individuals with more than a passing interest in the heritage of the drink. Much of this new wave are producing very small quantities only for local consumption, the sort of thing you'd purchase at the local farmers' market rather than find in your local pub. By now you've probably caught up with me and wondering how Scotland has crept into the list?
What a lot of people aren't aware of is Scotland's rich cider past. Historically, there are several areas of Scotland which were once home to apple and pear orchards. Eight hundred years ago the estates and monasteries of the Scottish border region were awash with large orchards. These stretched as far as Glasgow and the Clyde valley. Some parts of modern day Glasgow, such as the Gorbals, Govan and the Merchant City were once home to vast orchards. In fact the Merchant City is largely built on the site of a huge, old pear orchard. It is some of these old estates that present day cider makers turn to for their apple crops. Some old orchards have been left to nature and the apples they produce simply fall to the ground to rot. Not any more as enterprising cider makers are busily seeking out these old orchards and their rare fruit trees and either buying up the surplus fruit or taking on the maintenance of the trees.
Probably the longest established (founded 2008) and certainly the largest of the new wave of Scottish cider makers is Thistly Cross Cider, now based at their new cider barn in West Barns near Dunbar in East Lothian. They source local apples for their Jaggy Thistle, the only real cider they produce. Their output of fruit added ciders is so large, even exporting to the USA, they can't source enough home grown apples and resort to using imported apple juice concentrate for most of their range.
Another borders cider maker but based near Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway is Waulkmill Cider. Owner Chris Harrison also scours the region for his supplies of apples and pears and in 2013 he produced the first Scottish perry in over a century. He is also planting new trees with an eye to the future.
Meanwhile in Glasgow, John Hancox set up Clyde Cider in 2015 and has produced the first urban west of Scotland cider since medieval times. One of John's main interests is the promotion of fruit tree planting (www.scottishfruittrees.com). Again, John seeks out windfall crops of apples for his cider making. He casts his net some distance as he has been able to obtain enough apples from the Edinburgh area to produce a special edition Morning Cider, named after the capital city suburb of Morningside.
Cider making in Scotland doesn't stop at Glasgow either. The Cairse of Gowrie area of Perthshire was famous in Victorian times for its apples, pears and plums. Today it is one of the UK's biggest soft fruit growing regions. The village of Errol sits not to far from the banks of the River Tay and has been the home of the Cairn O'Mohr Winery since 1987. A recent addition to their range of fruit juices and wines has been cider. They don't have far to go for their apples although one of their special, single varietal ciders (King Jimmy's) involves using a rowing boat to gather the apples from a clutch of trees from an island in the middle of a lake on the local golf course!
Finally, we head north. Mention Loch Ness and the first thing that enters most people’s minds is the monster. However, by the shores of the loch the village of Drumnadrochit is home to Loch Ness Cider. Set up in 2014 by Karen Wotherspoon, a keen cider drinker who grew up in Devon using a blend of Highland apples from the Black Isle (even further north than Loch Ness) there are plans here to plant new cider apple tress using varieties that are known to produce fruit in the Highland climate.
You might have to search high and low for a sample of Loch Ness Cider (try out Scottish Aldi stores) but it just goes to show that cider making is alive and well in even the most unlikeliest of places. There are at least another four of five Scottish cider makers I could have mentioned. All have the same enthusiasm to reinstate Scotland on the cider map in however small a way. One bright spot on the future horizon comes from the Scottish Government's own statistics. In 2014 Scottish National Heritage commissioned a National Orchard Inventory. It found that there were orchards in 31 out of Scotland's 32 local authority areas with the greatest concentration in the Clyde Valley and Kingdom of Fife areas.