In this week of commemoration for the victims of 9/11, in the wake of the West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and in the aftermath of a pandemic, it is a delight to write about something that is full not of sorrow but of joy.
Nature’s bounty, liquid sunshine, the drink that says "Herefordshire" to people across the world: cider!
My interest has been especially piqued by a brilliant new book by my old friend Gabe Cook. Anyone who has ever tasted a glass of cider at a local festival will know Gabe. He has traveled the world, from Sellack to the south island of New Zealand, making, researching, advocating, and above all drinking, cider.
In the course of his travels he has transformed himself into The Ciderologist, sporting a luxuriant waxed moustache to boot. But look beyond the moustache--if you can--and you will see a man with a profound love of and expertise in cider and cider-making.
Now Gabe has produced a marvellous book entitled "Modern British Cider". It is a treasury of fascinating information and lore about cider, exploring its history, its production, markets, styles and manufacturers. It is written in a sparkling, lively style perfectly suited to the beverage it celebrates, and it is beautifully illustrated throughout.
Gabe tells the story of modern British cider in a way that is balanced but full of nuance. It is a tale that takes in almost all parts of the British isles. As he remarks “Whisper it quietly, but it is actually possible to grow apples north of Oxford”. Who knew?!
But inevitably Herefordshire is at the centre of the story. Gabe highlights the achievement of Bulmer’s in taking on the big breweries in the 1960s, pioneering branded cider through Strongbow, creating the category of mainstream cider itself.
At the other end of the scale, the book celebrates the scores of small producers around the UK that have sprung up in recent years making gorgeous craft, traditional, natural, real, fine, artisanal cider and perry.. It is no surprise that amongst the Ten Most Influential British Cider-makers today, he lists four from Herefordshire, more than any other county. They are Westons, the Ross-on-Wye Cider and Perry Company and Little Pomona, with the legendary Tom Oliver at their head.
But there are plenty of other Herefordshire producers in the book, too many to mention here, alas. Thanks to Gabe Cook, The Ciderologist, we have the perfect celebration of cider--and the perfect early Christmas present.
First published in the Hereford Times, 16 Sep 2021