‘If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.’¹
Rules are made to be stretched, broken and reimagined. So, when Adam advised Mark and me, that he was following his love for cider and stepping away from whisky, we were heartbroken but extremely supportive. In any situation, there is always a positive to be taken and the potential for an opportunity; even in the dark depths of a bottle of Jura.
So, why let someone as talented as Adam become clogged up with administration, social media and managing his own cider site? We were already utilising Sunday as our whisky-alternative and it made sense to open up Saturday for something else. A risk indeed and for the first few months, I dealt with comments here and there about the change including from some of our staunchest supporters on Patreon. It was a risk, but if you know me personally, then you’ll know my day job is all about risk and we also support our team here, which is something Mark and I do value.
Point being, there is enough whisk(e)y to go around on Malt. Those missing their whisky fix on a Saturday could take in a double day post earlier in the week, or sometimes we’ve utilised the Sunday afternoon slot for a bonus whisky post. Everyone eventually settled down. Adam started to create a fantastic cider section with the help of James and a recent arrival in Helen.
Our cider posts aren’t as popular as whisk(e)y articles; yet. We do extremely well on the internet numbers front as it is. Sure, let’s rack up numbers with the latest release, a Macallan or Balvenie – all extremely tiresome options. Personally, it is always about doing the right thing. Building something worthwhile takes time and effort. I’ve been delighted by the response from the cider community; who are far more open and eager than the fickle whisky equivalent. And I see a great deal of symmetry between the issues facing cider and whisky, regardless of some wonderful, insightful and educational writing.
Cider Saturday on a whisky website? I say why not.
The Malt of cider
Sometime way back in the sunlit uplands of early 2019, I told Mark and Jason that, to my great regret, I probably wouldn’t be able to write much for Malt any more. It wasn’t that my interest in whisky had waned, it was simply that another drink I loved was so much more in need of fuller coverage.
Cider doesn’t get a tenth of the column inches that its depth, diversity, variety and fascination have long deserved. And whilst, in the last year and a half, two wonderful quarterly magazines have emerged in Graftwood and Full Juice, I couldn’t find anything anywhere that offered what I wanted to read: regular, long-form, in-depth, critical articles that really got their teeth into cider with a bit of intelligence and humour, took it seriously – didn’t patronise it – covered it in as much breadth as possible and, importantly, were aimed at the drinker rather than the maker. In short, I couldn’t find the Malt of cider. So I thought I ought to have a shot at creating it.
And then I procrastinated. As anyone who has seen my photography on this site will have guessed, design is not my forte. And as anyone who has spent more than two minutes with me will know, anything more technologically sophisticated than striking a match is well beyond my ken. (And I’m no great hand with matches.) So although I bought a domain name, planned a few articles and had the best of intentions, project ‘Cider Review’ was burning slower than a wet log. In a lake. On a wet January Monday.
Until, one wet January Monday, Jason kicked off our week of anything-but-whisky on Malt. The subject of my contribution was never in doubt, but what to write about with a whole drinks category to cover and only one day (it turned into two – my fault) to cover it in? The solution was the “essential case” – twelve ciders (it turned into thirteen – not my fault) covering a range of styles as well as six “they’re just so damn good” wildcards.
The feedback and the engagement we got not only with our established readership but with the wonderful folk of the cider community was astonishing in its degree of support. So I went back to Mark and Jason and asked if I could take them up on what they’d offered when I first mentioned I was all-but jumping ship: a regular slot for cider reviews on Malt itself. They both gave me the ok immediately.
Since then Malt has published some 68 cider and perry articles comprising over 200,000 words and 205 individually-reviewed ciders and perries from 78 producers across 11 countries. In November I was quietly thrilled that cider overtook rum to become the second-most discussed drink on the site (and our rum articles date back to 2014). It hasn’t just been me writing, either – both James, the Cider Critic, and Burum Collective’s Helen have leant their time, expertise and talented digital quills to the Malt’s appley corpus. I hope we’ll add a few more voices in 2021 – all article submissions are welcome and heavily encouraged.
Talking of voices, inspired by Taylor’s sterling example I’ve reached out to 14 of cider’s most luminous of luminaries, from Andrew Lea to Tom Oliver, from Camille at Calyce Cider to Pomologik’s Johan, all of whom have been amazingly generous with their time in providing in-depth interviews which have hugely enhanced my knowledge and understanding (and hopefully yours as well). Then of course there was Helen’s magnificent conversation with Cider Women. If you haven’t read that one already, do so now and then come back. We’ve gone deep on category exploration thanks to conversations with the likes of ice cider specialist Andreas Sundgren and the Willy Wonka of fizz, Tony Lovering. And we’ve built up a growing archive of spotlight articles digging into how specific apple varieties manifest themselves as liquid in the drinker’s glass, with Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, Egremont Russet, Dabinett, Harry Masters’ Jersey and Bramley all thoroughly scrutinised thus far on top of our initial ‘spotlight on all (well, nine of) the varieties’ post, c/o Ross on Wye. More will certainly follow.
In this hellish year, a year when cider itself – like so many things – has been dealt hammer blows, one shining ray of light has been the increased volume of the conversation. Through the continued work of the scribes on Pellicle and Burum Collective, in videos made by people like James Finch, across zoom tastings, Instagram live chats, podcasts and through initiatives like CAMRA and Discover Cider. And I’d like to think that, in some way, our articles on Malt have made a contribution too.
That has only been possible because of the indulgence and generosity of Mark and Jason (the cider heroes cider doesn’t even realise it has) and because the Malt readership is made up of truly curious and open-minded drinkers, happy to learn a little more about something new, and to accept that the metrics of craft, care, diversity and transparency apply in equal measure to any drink, no matter what it is made from or how it is created. It is, and always has been, a genuine privilege to write to you – not one I take lightly.
I entirely understand the small handful of raised hands we’ve fielded asking why a whisky website is now offering such regular coverage to cider. It is a little unusual, and I dare say it plays merry hell with our SEO. But to the cider lovers who have been happy to drop in on a whisky website, and the whisky lovers who have been prepared to stay for the cider, I offer my most heartfelt thanks.
Cider, it is often remarked, needs to expand the conversation beyond its most devoted bubble, and on that basis a whisky website doesn’t seem such a daft place to start. We haven’t pleased everyone and I dare say that there are those who aren’t keen on what we do. But isn’t that always the way? Thanks to you, and thanks particularly to Mark and Jason, it turns out that the Malt of cider can actually, quite happily, be Malt.
So Happy New Year to whisky and cider fans alike. “Here’s to more of the same next year” feel frighteningly inappropriate words with which to sign off 2020, so instead, here’s to keeping the cider conversation going next year, whatever 2021 throws at us.
A new community
2020 was a turbulent year but across the drinks industry we saw new and creative ways to engage and participate for enthusiasts and professionals. This very phenomenon saw the creation of the wonderful Burum Collective, headed up by my good friend Helen Smith, as the physical distance between us grew but the virtual distance shrank. The incredible trio that is Dick Withecombe, Cath Potter and Nicky Kong brought their successful yet niche Manchester Cider Club online and opened it up to a broad church of voices. Originally conceived to showcase cidermakers in their own words, the virtual version has been hosted by writers, social media titans and, most recently in December, the burgeoning industry organisation — Cider Women. As a fledgling voice in the world of cider I was always nervous of presenting and defending my opinions with seemingly no authority but Manchester Cider Club has proved to be both a fiery crucible for debating the drink we love and a warm, supportive place for those of us who love cider to call home once a month. It has been an absolute privilege to be able to share that passion for cider with people that even in ordinary circumstances I would be unlikely to meet and it has really shaped my opinions on how we build cider in an inclusive and constructive way. With 2021 approaching and the spectre of Covid-19 seemingly waning I can only hope that there will always be a virtual component to Manchester’s Cider Club until such time as they become commonplace in cities across the UK and, fingers crossed, the world.
The Year for Cider Women
This has been the first full year of Cider Women. We launched in September 2019 and had grand plans for 2020 that, like everyone else’s, mostly did not happen! Nevertheless, it has been a momentous year with some great steps forward. Thanks to Malt for giving us the opportunity to have an in-depth piece in October and for supporting our project.
Our online Christmas Social was a lovely end to the year with participants from USA, Canada, France, Sweden and the UK! We basked in the sense of sisterhood and mutual support that we have found in the group!
Our membership has grown from a standing start to over 200 women from all over the world, cider makers, cider workers in all roles, cider sellers and publicans, drinks writers and not forgetting cider drinkers. The group aimed to provide a safe supportive space for all women involved and to ensure cider women were seen and heard in all sectors of the cider community and, in this, we have succeeded in spades!
Cider women have been at the forefront of #RethinkCider making delicious and modern ciders and using innovative methods both in making and selling their produce. We also have in our number some of the best stockists of quality cider in the UK from Hastings to Durham, publicans and retailers who promote, and value cider are part of Cider Women. In the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) we now have Cider and Perry as central to the campaign with Cider Women in the leadership, chairing committees, contributing to podcasts and producing content for the Learn and Discover Zone on the website. Women drinks writers, bloggers and authors have played a leading role in promoting and publicising Orchards and Cideries and, of course, the growth of craft cider.
The year culminated with the amazing #Noappleogies campaign started by the magnificent @girlwithaciderreview prompted by a misogynist tweet by a British cider blogger. Almost the whole cider community has been galvanised by this campaign with virtually no support given to said blogger! We have been so happy with the response to this and many women have felt empowered to be up front and proud of our achievements and shout even louder!
Onwards and upwards into 2021 for Cider Women! We aim to grow and spread our wings further and faster to cement our place in the leadership of the cider community. #RethinkCider #Noappleogies. Wassail everyone!
The view from the Manchester Cider Club
The cider community this year faced up to a pandemic, lockdowns and pub closures; but pulled together and fought back. From online tastings to online sales, cider people collaborated, organised and leapt into action. Who would have thought that a monthly club of 30 enthusiasts in the north-west could continue to meet monthly on Zoom during the pandemic. This enthusiasm is fed by the sense of community that is strong amongst cider drinkers.
Manchester Cider Club
As we approach our 20th club meeting in March we look back on how the producers we’ve hosted and ciders we’ve drunk have reflected the incredible diversity of cider and perry. We showcase the focus of modern cider on quality, provenance, and an understanding of how each cider was produced. The joy for us, in this most difficult of years, is how modern cider has not only survived but has come of age.
Our cider club brings together producers, writers, campaigners, bar owners and suppliers, and consumers – and allows all equally to have the floor to explore issues – ask questions and listen and learn. Lockdown has seen us grow beyond the physical confines of Manchester and we’ve had people joining from Glasgow to Glastonbury to from London to South Wales. Our first meeting in 2021 will feature the newly formed Northern Cider Association, showcasing local cidermakers new and old.
Our hope for 2021 is that pubs and cider tasting rooms open again, that other Cider Clubs can be established… and that our inspiration Ross Cider Club will meet again monthly at the Yew Tree Inn, nr Ross on Wye, Herefordshire.
We owe great thanks to our organiser Nicky Kong (who named her new online beer and cider The Cat in the Glass after her kitten Wotsit climbed into a glass during a club tasting). Nicky’s skill and dedication to find ciders for our cider club has led to her frequent trips to Herefordshire and Somerset to stock her new online shop with carefully selected and exciting drinks.
Campaign for Real Ale
Manchester Cider Club owes its origins in part to Central Manchester CAMRA who along with cider producers and enthusiasts set up the Club in March 2019. Modern craft cider has begun to radically address the old fashioned image problem by initiatives such as the Discover Cider campaign, the launch of Cider Women and the #noappleogies movement, and the quality of many of the exiting ciders and perries now being produced in a diversity of styles.
CAMRA has also taken big steps since its Revitalisation measures both in its modern campaigning for pubs, real ale and cider and perry; and in its decisive inclusion and diversity measures.
From the beginning of lockdown, CAMRA collaborated with the Small Independent Brewers Association (SIBA) to establish the inspirational ‘Pulling Together’ campaign. Cider initiatives were central to this, with a Cider Map of producers and outlets with online or local sales. Producers without online sales were able to sign up to Brew2You, an online Beer and Cider outlet. The Pubs.Pints.People podcast launched in May has fully integrated cider and perry into its content. CAMRA’s current Cider and Perry campaign objectives can be summarised as:
1. Promoting Cider and Perry – to secure the long term future of real cider and real perry by increasing quality, availability and popularity
2. Education and Training – to raise awareness and understanding of cider and perry of any type with consumers
3. Rights of cider drinkers – to campaign for Ingredient labelling – for clear labelling of all ingredients and key processes and Provenance – for clear identification of the origin of the cider or perry and who it is directly produced by.
CAMRA Learn and Discover is developing educational content about all aspects of cider and perry, strongly promoting inclusion and diversity.
Guide to Cider Terminology by James Finch; Cider – State of the Nation video (a tour de force description of the progress of Modern British Cider) by Gabe Cook; Cider Maturation and Blending video series by Bill Bradshaw with interviews with Tom Oliver, James and Susanna Forbes of Little Pomona, Polly Hilton of Find and Foster and Andrew Lea.
And one to watch out for in 2021, as Gabe Cook has also been commissioned by CAMRA to publish a new book ‘Modern British Cider’.
When Ben Thompson wrote his first cider piece for Burum Collective, he wrote the words “The world of cider is intimate and welcoming and you will enjoy a level of access that you would never find in beer or wine”. At the time I was only an occasional consumer of cider, so as beautiful as these words were, I didn’t fully understand their meaning. Thankfully now I do.
Since Burum went live, we’ve been pulled headfirst into the cider world. The online UK cider community has welcomed not only myself with open arms, but the conversations we want to push with regards to diversity, inclusion and equity within the drinks industry. As my very clever colleague Rachel Hendry said “#rethinkingcider is more than what goes into cider, it is who, and where feels safe to drink it, and discuss it”.
Cider is going into 2021 with the hard work of some truly brilliant platforms, podcasts, movements, individuals and most importantly makers. I hope as a community we keep up this momentum, continue to work together and support each other. Discussions often take place about what the future of cider might hold, but in my opinion, the future of cider has already begun.
Craft cider embraced the challenges
As with all significant challenges there are positive outcomes and I think 2020 has really demonstrated what a resilient and adaptable crowd the cider making community is. I’m sure many of our readers who have dipped their toes into cider & perry this year will agree, the offering available across the breadth of the country has increased exponentially. Out of necessity yes, but the benefits are not limited to just keeping businesses afloat.
The language around cider has jumped forwards, the wine lexicon has firmly weaved its way into the hearts of many producers. The rise of 750ml bottles seems to have leapt on even further with many small makers delving into an offering this year. The term “Fine Cider” raises more questions than it does answers, but with the BBC now even using the term, it’s here to stay and one to explore on here further in 2021. It’s not all been perfect Pét Nats though; as you’ll have read in many of Adam’s and my articles, faults seem to have raised their head this year. I’m not sure they are any more prevalent than in 2019 but the increased popularity of natural methods and the urgency to sell caused by lack of space have certainly contributed to standards of release across the craft market. However, cider communication both in written and audio form has excelled this year with many new writers, outlets and podcasts.
With luck next year will see not only a reprieve of these challenging times, but also a continuation and an increase in the better availability and communication around cider and perry.
¹ Katharine Hepburn, actress.
² Ben Thompson of Cider Voice.