CAMRA is proud to celebrate cider all year-round and most especially in the months of May and October. These months enjoy special designation in CAMRA’s calendar with October being a time of peak cider-making that follows the harvest, and May seeing new fruits blossom alongside the tapping of now-mature cider barrels – ready for drinking in the long, hot days to come!
WHAT IS CIDER (TECHNICALLY)?
In a sentence, cider is an alcoholic beverage fermented from the juice of apples. Within the UK, alcohol can only be considered Cider if it is comprised of at least 35% apple juice, with the remaining 65% usually made up of water, added sugars, sulphites and any additional fruits/adjuncts that have been used for the enhancement of colour and flavour.
Whilst a minimum juice content of 35% is liberal enough to allow certain uber-sweet synthetically-flavoured Scandinavian ciders, it does also facilitate a drinks category that ranges from flagons of traditional scrumpy to New World sharer bottles, corked and caged with vibrant modern branding!
Though the technical definition of Cider is simple, the dynamism of its’ small-scale producers and their portfolios is at the forefront of a modern day renaissance.
WHY CIDER IS IMPORTANT TO THE BRITISH DRINKS SCENE
Today’s modern renaissance is fuelled by drinkers that are curious of flavour profile, processes and heritage – heritage that British cider-making has in spades.
It is believed that the ancestor of modern domestic apples, Malus Siversii, was spread across the world from its’ homestead of the Tian Shan mountains in Central Asia. The Malus Siversii was taken westward, initially by animals and then by humans in the form traders on the ancient silk road. Once apples had arrived in Europe, their spread was accelerated by the Roman Empire – a civilisation of keen orchard keepers. When the Romans invaded Britain, they brought with them their knowledge of orchard keeping as well as cider production, though primitive cider-making is believed to have taken place in the UK well before this.
Later down the line, cider-making represented a great interest of the Anglo Saxons, who shared their expertise of tree-husbandry with local British territories. The Anglo Saxons were also known to have deepened the flavour and complexity of cider, using new varieties of both cider-making and eating apples in their processes. In the centuries that proceeded the Anglo Saxons, acceptance and enjoyment of cider grew in Britain, earning its’ spot in the national drinks cabinet.
Cider was to experience its’ most lofty elevation in the 1650s, when geopolitical blockades of wine from Spain, France and the Netherlands meant that the British aristocracy were forced to pivot on their tipple of choice. Not before long, cider was served, presented and drank like wine, assimilating into the highest echelons of society. Lords and ladies alike sipped on glass flutes of bright, effervescent cider!
Some ciders are so akin to the presentation and production of wine that, it may not be surprising to learn Méthode Champenoise may have started with British cider-makers.
Historians believe that Sir Kenelm Digby might of been the first to master secondary fermentation in bottle, showcasing his reinforced glass vessels in the year 1633. These bottles were robust enough to sustain cider that had been dosed with ‘a walnut of sugar’ before packaging. This sugar would have kick-started a second round of fermentation, injecting extra sparkle and effervescence into the bottled beverage. Sir Digby’s methods were advocated by John Beale in a presentation to members of the Royal Society in December 1662 , pre-dating Méthode Champenoise teachings from the famous monk Dom Pérignon.
Two hundred years later, Britain witnessed the emergence its’ first large-scale cider producers, fresh from the fire and brimstone of the industrial revolution. The establishment of large-scale commercial makers (such as HP Bulmers, who set up shop in 1887) soon led to further advancements in technology and processing. These rapid advances in scaling precipitated a period of industry consolidation, as the large producers became national concerns. Smaller producers remained at a grass-roots level, but a considerable gap had emerged, setting a stage for the cider landscape that we know today.
To this day, most people envision cider-making as a rural task, set in regions of gorgeous rural beauty where the practice has stood the test of time. The treasured cider counties of Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire are known for their rolling greenscapes, greenscapes that are home to countless makers (both traditional and progressive) involved in the present day Cider Renaissance.
As a quintessentially British tipple, most of the world’s Cider is still consumed in the UK, often served alongside other national staples such as vintage cheddar cheese. Cider is sewn into British culture through our national palette, collective memories and idyllic countryside daydreams. Cider is important in so many ways, and always a delectable drop – join the Cider Renaissance today!
JOIN THE ‘CIDER RENAISSANCE’ TODAY
Talking of today, smaller producers grew in number over the second half of the twentieth century, a promising trajectory that was compounded by CAMRA’s dedicated ‘APPLE’ committee – campaigning in the name of cider and perry since 1988.
Modern Cider is the product of an ongoing renaissance, built on a rich and ancient heritage. The UK cider scene is burgeoning with traditional makers and fresh upstarts, each boasting their own portfolio of delicious products. The scope of cider is widening and new audiences are waking up to the magic of fermented apple juice. Though the outcome of this modern renaissance remains to be seen, there has surely never been a greater time to enjoy cider. Cheers to CAMRA Cider Month!