Exclusive Interview | The Cider Insider by Susanna Forbes

The Cider Insider – The Cider Critic gets an exclusive interview with Susanna Forbes about her new book.

We’ve got a bit of an exclusive with this article, as I manage to catch up with Susanna Forbes just after the publication of her book: The Cider Insider: The essential guide to 100 craft ciders to drink now.

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Susanna doesn’t really need any introduction being an award winning journalist, an experienced editor and cider judge and craft cider producer with her husband James at Little Pomona – although a forward from Tom Oliver in the book does the trick. Her book then is something of a very exciting release and one I’ve been looking forward to reading since I first heard about it.

So, without further delay let’s find out a bit more...

So Susanna, you’re an incredibly experienced journalist and editor with plenty of online content and presence, tell me, why a book and why now? 

Thanks James! Well, when Sarah Lavelle of Quadrille got in touch last year suggesting this book, as well as being the dream commission it seemed just so timely. Interest in good cider is growing – we want to know more about where are drinks are coming from, so the “local” movement chimes in with this. And, as more producers – and merchants such as yourselves – go beyond pure refreshment to embrace the complexities possible with cider and perry, so we all want to find out more. Not to mention the talent that’s emerging to join established producers. But it’s not always easy to find out about ciders from beyond your region. So I set out to solve that! And what fun it was.  

Why “100 craft ciders”? Was it difficult to find that many, or was it hard to narrow it down?

Unlike many people, I love the word “craft”! I look back to its original meaning and interpret it to mean something produced with both skill and experience, where the ingredient leads, rather than the market. So here it is the apple and the pear – how best to let them speak? (That’s what we try and do at Little Pomona). That’s where the “craft” comes in – the skills, knowledge and wisdom of the cider- or perrymaker all come into play.

 One hundred seems like a nice manageable number, but boy was it hard to get to that figure! Inevitably I left out some crackers, whether because I have yet to try them – Domaine Lesuffleur in Normandy I missed by a whisker at Cider World in Frankfurt this year – or because I just didn’t have space. The ciders had to have real identity and character. That could be elegance – they didn’t all have to be bittersweet blockbusters. And the stories behind the maker were very important. That for me is part of the cider.

My 100th cider was the wonderful Johnny Falldown from Killahora Orchards in County Cork, Ireland. This cider crafted from a mix of fruit from wild trees and dessert and cider varieties plus a splash of ice cider won the International Cider Championship at the Royal Bath & West Show.

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A third of the index is apples, is that because of a lot of single variety ciders in your “100” or are you trying to do more for apple and cider heritage with this book? 

I think that the way we can all understand cider and perry a bit more is to understand the apples. Yes cider is brilliant in a blend, and as a cidermaker myself I know how that can be the best way to make sure you have the balance you want between tang, sweetness and, if appropriate, tannins. But if we don’t know what each apple or pear brings to the party, how can we know which we really enjoy? And also find out which need saving so they don’t become extinct. Add to that the different families of apples in each of the different regions – there are nearly 40 in this book – it’s fascinating!

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 You’ve travelled a lot and had some fascinating experiences that have all contributed to the book. Is there one trip, one place that stands out in your mind as your fondest? 

Wow – that’s the hardest question ever! Honestly, I can’t choose, so I’ve got four! My first txotx evening just hours after arriving in the Basque Country. Joining the locals as we followed Joxe Miguel Bereziartua for our chance to catch the Sidra in our glasses as it arced out of each vast chestnut barrel in his family’s atmospheric cellars. Or the time in Domfrontais in Normandy, walking out into the dusk, sunlight glinting through ancient, gracious perry pear trees at Ferme de l’Yonnière, and hearing Jérôme Forget say how it was his mission to “conserve” this orchard. Or scrunching across swathes of thick, packed snow in the Finger Lakes National Park in New York state with Steve Selin of South Hill Cider to see some of the wild trees from which he is grafting for the future. Or back in Spain, to Villaviciosa in Asturias, drinking sidra with Guti in his iconic bar, La Ballera. Very memorable…

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There are some rather obscure and overseas ciders in your “100”. Are they going to be easy to find and get hold of for the average reader? Or is it going to be a challenge which they can embark on?

Cider is still a relatively small part of the market, so yes, they ain’t all as easy to find as some of the world’s top beers. I suggest asking your cider merchant, favourite bar or drinks shop if they can help. Or why not go visit the cideries in Europe? Use my book as a cider tourism guide – there are 100s of suggestions including over 40 festivals of how you can get involved. Get in touch with me via Little Pomona if I can help with any other tips. It’s a fascinating odyssey.

The artwork for the different ciders in the book is quite unique. What can you tell us about it?

Quadrille works with some wonderful designers – take a bow Emily Lapworth – and illustrators. So I was thrilled to hear that one of Sarah’s favourite artists was Tom Frost, he who has crafted the distinctive labels for Perry’s Cider. Coupling that with Sarah Fisher’s intricately beautiful illustrations of each cider and perry bottle was pure genius. While we’re handing out credit where it’s due, I have to thank also my ace editor, Sally Somers, who helped me so much in nailing down everything accurately. And Harriet Webster at Quadrille, who shepherded everything through – it was an ambitious schedule, but it was so worth it.

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So the book was released on the 18th October. Do you have any events planned that people can come along to and be part of?

Hey – thanks for asking! Yes, close to home, I’ll be in Legges of Bromyard, midday 17 November – the day the Christmas lights get switched on.

Then I’m joining Pete Snowman, one of my original cider-inspirers, at the Bristol Cider Shop, 24 November in the afternoon.

December kicks off with the afternoon on Saturday 1 December at Bath Road Beers in Cheltenham, before heading to Real Ale in Maida Vale, London for an evening tasting on 5 December, and finishing up at Dunkertons’ Christmas Fayre on 16 December back in Cheltenham.

For those of you in bonnie Scotland, we’re fixing up a Good Spirits Co visit in early December.

I’ll share these on social media via twitter, instagram and facebook, so let’s stay in touch. And if you know anywhere else who’d like a chance to share a drop of the good stuff, let me know. And do join James and me on our cider quest with Little Pomona.

The Cider Insider, The essential guide to 100 craft ciders to drink nowQuadrille UK, £12.99 – Available to buy here.

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