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.
Nationally, as a general principle, we will align our May campaigning with Key Campaign 3 (encourage more people to try a range of real ales, cider and perries), and our October campaigning with Key Campaign 4 (raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly). Although branches can decide what theme they adopt for cider and perry campaigning in October, our suggestion is that pubs are promoted in some way during this campaign.
October also includes Apple Day (21st October) which was launched in 1990 by Common Ground (http://commonground.org.uk). It is the time when cider producers are pressing their apples so is an ideal opportunity to see how real cider and perry is made
Liverpool and Districts has a variety of pubs selling Cider. For a complete list see our Cider Outlets Page. We also have a Cider Map for you to complete your own Cider pub crawl.
Our Cider Officer Steve Berks has devised the Cider Pub Map below, this includes the Augustus John which is a regular winner of our Cider POTY award
This map is also available to download
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.
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.
The Augustus John pub on Peach Street, Liverpool 3 5TX, wins two awards.
Liverpool Branch Cider Pub of the Year
Liverpool branch announce that Augustus John has been named branch “Cider Pub of the Year 2014”. The “AJ” was selected from thirty pubs in the Liverpool area inspected between March and May in 2014. The pub scored highly on range of ciders sold (7), price per pint, quality of served product and supporting Camra aims. This is the fourth time the Augustus John has won the Liverpool branch CPotY and we congratulate Tony O’Donnell and his team for their on going hard work.
Merseyside & Cheshire Regional Cider Pub of the Year
The Camra Regional Cider Officer has announced that the “Merseyside & Cheshire Regional Cider Pub of the Year 2014” is the Augustus John in Liverpool. The Regional Officer inspected five branch nominated pubs to select the regional winner. The “AJ” narrowly beat very strong pubs from St Helens and Cheshire. The pub is owned and managed by the university of Liverpool but is fully open to the public. The “AJ” will now be submitted in to the super-regional round and be ranked against other northern cider pubs and clubs.