It’s a hard knock life. I spent last week in the company of some of the world’s top cider makers, supping and slurping (but most definitely not spitting) 139 of the finest ciders and flavoured ciders from around the world at the biennial International Cider Awards. This event sits alongside its bigger brother, the International Brewing Awards: one of the most respected and longest standing beer competitions in the world. Such a big undertaking is the hosting of these concurrent events, in fact, that they are only held once every 2 years.
The International Brewing Awards started life as a competition within the Brewer’s Exhibition, with the first awards being handed out in 1886 at the Agricultural Hall in Islington (now the Business Design Centre). In time, the fermented apple found a place amongst its malty cousins, and medals were being handed out for cider from the early 1900s.
The international nature of the competition was being demonstrated as far back as 1907, when an Australian cider was awarded a Bronze medal; a fabulous achievement when surrounded by the more established wares of England. That bastion of quality journalism, the Wagga Wagga Express, reported at the time:
“Cidermaking is still in the experimental stage in Australia. During the last two or three years good work has been done by the Department of Agriculture in this and other States in promoting cidermaking. The public apparently appreciates the cider as the demand for it is growing.”
It is interesting to note that cider in Australia sits in a not too dissimilar position today. With the recent global cider boom, in the wake of the UK’s ‘Magner’s effect’, cider is becoming an ever-increasingly popular choice for Australian consumers, with many producers now established in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. Considerable time, effort and money is now being spent on research, with scholarships being provided to explore how to best serve this growing industry.
The last time, however, that cider gets a decent mention in dispatches at the Brewer’s Exhibition is in 1932 when Stanley Sheppy, of Sheppy’s Cider of Bradford-on-Tone in Somerset, receives a Gold Medal for their Still Table Cider, also taking out the Champion Cider crown. Rather wonderfully Sheppy’s is still a family concern, with Stanely’s grandson, David, at the helm. And to fully close the loop, not only is Gold Medal Cider still being made today, but David received a Silver Medal in the Speciality Class at last week’s competition for Sheppy’s Iwood Cider.
In the 1950s, however, cider drops out of the Brewer’s Exhibition and remains in the wilderness until 2013, when the global cider renaissance entices the now named International Brewing Awards to provide a home once again for cider. This time, it has its own competition under its own name: The International Cider Awards. Larger of sideburn, but antecedent of moustache, I was a judge in 2013. Back then, there were only 2 classes and only 40 products entered, with the majority of entrants and judges being from the UK.
Fast forward 4 years and, my, haven’t things changed. Given the aforementioned scale, heritage and standing of this competition, it is with some pride that I can I say I was integral to the design of the classification system for this year’s competition. Crucial to the thinking was to enable cider makers from anywhere in the world, with differing heritages, fruits and methods of production, to enter products into classes and be confident that these ciders were being judged fairly and being judged to type.
The results in numbers speak for themselves: 7 classes, 10 Gold medals, and 13 countries receiving awards across 3 continents. What a fantastic achievement for all concerned. All of the prestigious cider competitions around the globe welcome international entries into the main competition, or have a designated International class. But this International Cider Awards can quite legitimately live up to the billing of its name, providing a level playing field for all. Most gratifying was to see classic ‘old world’ ciders competing side by side with ‘new world’ offerings.
Of great excitement, for me personally, was the level of innovation. The influence of craft beer and wine making was clear to taste, but all ciders were judged entirely on merit – nothing was awarded an unwarranted high score simply by virtue of being a ‘novelty’. How fantastic, therefore, to have a spicy Canadian Saison Perry, a bold and fruity New Zealand interpretation of French Cidre Demi Sec and a bone dry, Styrian-hopped Austrian cider all achieving success.
This was a showcase of what the (literal) world of cider looks like in 2017, and let me tell you, it looks pretty bloody good. But it doesn’t stop here. Only 3 continents registered awards this time around, which leaves 3 more (even an eternal optimist, like me, is doubtful of Antarctica’s chances of producing something anytime soon. Mind you, with global warming….). But, quality ciders are already being made in South America, Africa and Asia, so it’s only going to be a matter of time before they start hitting the same heights. These are exciting times, indeed.
It’s enough to make you go on a little global cider tour. Mmmmm, ok let’s do it! Watch this space…..