Cider has been made in Britain for donkey’s years, even before the Romans came, apparently, we have the Celts to thank for bringing this fine substance over. By the middle ages, cider apples could be found all over Britain. A lot of farm’s had their own orchard to produce their own amount of cider with various different varieties, playing their part. There was a time when we had over 360 different varieties of the cider apple, with names such as Brown Snout, Chisel Jersey and Kingston Black thriving in different regions, much like with certain grape varieties. With each region having it’s own style of cider, with parts of Wales producing complex and bolder types compared to Devon’s rounder and sweeter style, often luscious as honey and Somerset cider being full of flavour with a pronounced acid tang and the styles go on.
Cidermaking and cider drinking has been apart of our culture for a long old time but it’s had it’s up’s and down’s. Cider declined in popularity in the early sixteenth century when beer was transformed by the new practice of adding hops, which improved taste and it’s longevity. However, it bounced back in the seventeenth with the rise of puritism and King Charles the first even preferred cider before the best wines. Cider rose again in the eighteenth century, thanks to many great publications on cidermaking and with that, coincidentally, it’s popularity rose. It was very much a drink for everyone, the working class to the gentry, but the ordinary cider for the working class was often made at a lower quality.
Throughout the Napoleonic wars, cider was the alcoholic beverage to turn to, as patriotism and economics combined to increase it’s prestige. However, in the late 18th century, ‘cider colic’ struck, which came about through the use of lead while manufacturing cider in Devon. Cider’s reputation took a turn for the worse after this and it was deemed unhealthy and in the public mind it was considered a working man’s drink. That bit of bad press and along with the war ending, wine became more fashionable again, the market for fine cider disappeared. So with that, low quality, big bulk production began it’s course and effectively has continued right up to today, with cider often being misunderstood and misrepresented. Not surprising either, given that much of the mass produced cider is made with minimal apple juice content, most as low as 35% or just even apple juice concentrate.
However, there is hope for the cider lovers, as small cidermakers continue to fight back with their passion and graft in crafting real cider with 100% fermented apple juice, full of character and flavour. So next time, when cider is on the cards, look to the small producer’s to get your fix and let your palette enjoy a real cider experience. Life is far too short to waste on drinking cheap, mass produced cider! If you’re not sure where to start looking, then just head over to craftynectar.com where there is a great selection of ciders made from all over the UK by passionate small cidermakers, striving to make a positive change to the Cider Industry.
‘Good Cider is a much greater rarity then good wine’ J.M Trowbridge The Cider Makers hand book: 1897, New York.