Happy World Cider Day!
Yes, like you, I wasn’t brilliantly aware that the slightly spurious date of 3rd June had been allocated this honour. It is (and for once I do not jest) neatly nestled in between Chicken Rotisserie Day and Hug Your Cat Day. But, any occasion that champions the magnificent world of cider is good by me, so I’ll be celebrating by cracking open a chilled bottle of 2015 Eric Bordelet Poiré. Cheers!
A celebration of world cider this weekend is very poignant, for the wondrousness of the cider people and products of the global community was once again brought home to me during this last week. I had the honour of co-ordinating the International Cider Competition at the Royal Bath and West Show held in Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Entries were received from Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Spain, Poland, Netherlands and Ireland. And it was a bottle fermented cider from across the Irish Sea that took home the Supreme Champion prize. Massive congratulations to the dedicated folk at Johnny Falldown Cider in County Cork for their Wild Apple Bouché Cider. This was an exquisitely balanced, naturally sparkling cider made from the fruit off a 100+ year old tree. It was lush, and truly deserving Champion.
Willie Smith’s from Tasmania, Australia, took away the Reserve Champion prize for their Kingston Black SV, so very apt given that the competition was being held a mere 30 miles from the location of origin of this venerated apple variety. Gold medals were also awarded a wonderful range of ciders, reaching across the full gamut of flavours and styles. Of particular note, to me, was a Pinot Noir barrel matured cider from Nomad Cider in British Columbia, Canada, and a spectacular Sidra Natural from El Gaitero in Asturias, Spain. A full list of medal winners can be found here at the Royal Bath and West website.
So often here, in Ciderland, I feel we take for granted our wonderful heritage, timeless orchards and spectacular cider varieties. I do wonder whether we have become a little complacent with some of our cider offerings. Increasingly frequently I find many exponents of UK ciders to be rather middling – a mediocrity of colour, tannin levels, acidity, sweetness, complexity and fruitiness. I have to say that nothing depresses more than seeing on the shelf a ‘Medium sweetness, Premium cider’. We have the opportunity to create ciders of such boldness, intensity and finesse, but simplicity seems to be the order of the day.
West Country cider culture and fruit are the envy of many other parts of the world and are held with a large degree of reverence, with the Royal Bath and West Show seen by many as the pinnacle of the ciderverse. That’s the reason why some producers have been making the pilgrimage over to the Show for a number of years. Ryan Burk from Angry Orchard has been coming to the Show since 2010, whilst ANXO co-founder Sam Fitz first attended in 2015. They were both in Shepton again, but this year bringing with them their respective teams, spreading the cider love to the next generation of global cider heroes. It is always a pleasure to spend time with such knowledgeable and passionate cider folk.
It is this immersion into ‘Old World’ cider culture, combined with progressive fermentation and processing skills that enables cider makers from the ‘New World’ to create such spectacular drinks. I had the opportunity to take to the stage at the Show to tell the assembled great and the good about the International Cider competition, and the wonderful array of drinks and quality of standard. I used my platform to lob a metaphorical hand grenade by commenting that it was my opinion that some of the best ciders being made around the world were, in fact coming from outside of the West Country. My assertion was, rather wonderfully, met with some gloriously partisan booing. I was surprised I was allowed into the Showground the next day!
There are some who think I don’t like UK ciders any more because of the championing I frequently undertake of ciders from elsewhere in the world. This, of course, is absolute poppycock. For me, nothing will ever be able to trump a new season, lightly effervescent Thorn perry made within sight of May Hill; a two year old, barrel-aged Yarlington Mill or a bone dry, wild fermented Ashton Bitter. My passion for cider and perry is entirely borne out of the orchard culture of The Shire. My love for this place and this tradition is what drives me every single day.
It just so happens that many of the interesting conversations and movements within the global cidersphere are happening outside of these shores. I’m just a bit nosy and want to see what’s going on. But, rest assured, cider in the UK is beginning to get its mojo back. Events such as The Cider Salon, The MA Cider Summit and cheese and cider pairing events from awesome people like The Cellarman and are taking things to the next level.
And finally…….it was most wonderful to see Jackie Denman, founder of The Big Apple in Herefordshire, receiving the prestigious Gold Medal from the Royal Bath and West Society for her nearly 30 years of dedication to the celebration of the orchards, varietals and cider and perry making in the parishes of the Marcle Ridge in Herefordshire. Bravo Jackie!