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Intro to modern British cider

Today, cider faces a new change in the drinking landscape of Britain – the rise of craft and modern styles, discerning drinkers with different needs, habits and spending opportunities.

Gabe Cook’s guide will look at how cider has formed an integral part of the UK’s landscape with a heritage dating back at least 2,000 years. This is the focus of Gabe’s new book Modern British Cider

Gabe Cook

Gabe is leading the charge for a cider revolution: an international consultant, writer, broadcaster, and educator on all matters cider. Resident cider expert for C4’s Sunday Brunch.

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Gabe Cook

Gabe is leading the charge for a cider revolution:  consultant, writer, broadcaster, and educator on all matters cider.

Cider is the most wonderfully, annoyingly and eternally paradoxical drink.

It can be, and is frequently, made and presented as the epitome of old rustic, bucolic heritage or hyper-intervened and ultra-processed; as a simple presentation of fermented apples or with the addition of myriad other flavours; as really sweet or really dry.

The fact is, all of the above are correct. But, let’s be frank: for many folk, the word cider is loaded with emotional baggage; of memories of over-indulgence, of only ever drinking in the sunshine, of making you go loopy after 6 pints.  I don’t blame the drinker for these experiences – they have never been told that cider can mean so much more.

I have been wanting to write a book that seeks to disentangle the complex world of British cider for a long time now, so when CAMRA came calling last year I jumped at the opportunity.  Modern British Cider pulls together my 15 years of cider experience, working for everyone, from minnows to macros, to act as a guide to this drink which is undergoing monumental change at the moment. I want cider to have the awareness and appreciation, that I think it truly deserves, as the best of British drinks.

Cider is the most wonderfully, annoyingly and eternally paradoxical drink.

It can be, and is frequently, made and presented as the epitome of old rustic, bucolic heritage or hyper-intervened and ultra-processed; as a simple presentation of fermented apples or with the addition of myriad other flavours; as really sweet or really dry.

The fact is, all of the above are correct. But, let’s be frank: for many folk, the word cider is loaded with emotional baggage; of memories of over-indulgence, of only ever drinking in the sunshine, of making you go loopy after 6 pints.  I don’t blame the drinker for these experiences – they have never been told that cider can mean so much more.

I have been wanting to write a book that seeks to disentangle the complex world of British cider for a long time now, so when CAMRA came calling last year I jumped at the opportunity.  Modern British Cider pulls together my 15 years of cider experience, working for everyone, from minnows to macros, to act as a guide to this drink which is undergoing monumental change at the moment. I want cider to have the awareness and appreciation, that I think it truly deserves, as the best of British drinks.

“I want cider to have the awareness and appreciation, that I think it truly deserves, as the best of British drinks.”

 

— Gabe Cook

“Somehow, against all the odds, some 30 of these family-owned breweries have survived..”

 

— Roger Protz

The first task is to understand what has come before

– what events have informed what cider looks like today.  Looming large is the move from farmhouse cider making into the agro-industrialised age of brewing-influenced making about 60 years ago.  From here, every opportunity for cider to be ‘value engineered’ has been explored, with the use of concentrate and minimal juice content to the fore.  This has facilitated the growth of a very small number of very large makers, and a very large number of very small makers, whilst there being no equivalent of the mid scale family brewers. The result has been an almost universal low value perception of cider. 

That is all changing in the post-craft world, with a new generation of makers and, crucially, consumers, desiring to inject some value back into cider.  Things are moving and progressing at such a rate that, today, cider has a range of styles, designs, processes and occasions equal in breadth and diversity to beer, wine and spirits.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is the most exciting time for cider in 400 years, and here’s why.  Not since the 17th century, when cider briefly replaced wine as the drink of the aristocracy, has there been such innovation, investment and celebration of cider. 

The first task is to understand what has come before

– what events have informed what cider looks like today.  Looming large is the move from farmhouse cider making into the agro-industrialised age of brewing-influenced making about 60 years ago.  From here, every opportunity for cider to be ‘value engineered’ has been explored, with the use of concentrate and minimal juice content to the fore.  This has facilitated the growth of a very small number of very large makers, and a very large number of very small makers, whilst there being no equivalent of the mid scale family brewers. The result has been an almost universal low value perception of cider.  

That is all changing in the post-craft world, with a new generation of makers and, crucially, consumers, desiring to inject some value back into cider.  Things are moving and progressing at such a rate that, today, cider has a range of styles, designs, processes and occasions equal in breadth and diversity to beer, wine and spirits.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is the most exciting time for cider in 400 years, and here’s why.  Not since the 17th century, when cider briefly replaced wine as the drink of the aristocracy, has there been such innovation, investment and celebration of cider. 

“Somehow, against all the odds, some 30 of these family-owned breweries have survived..”

 

— Roger Protz

Crucial to this drive is the extension of cider making out of its traditional heartland regions

Cider in Britain is made is varied landscapes, from a Welsh mountain side to the depths of an Isle of Wight cave; from the heart of inner city Manchester to the wilds of the Scottish Highland; from the landlocked Peak District to the Cornish coast.

In total, Modern British cider features 101 makers from across England, Wales and Scotland along with honourable mentions from Guernsey, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. These makers are spread across 70 English, Welsh and Scottish parliamentary constituencies and range in annual volume production from 4,000 litres and 40,000,000 litres.

It is crucial for me to point out that a celebration of Modern British Cider is not to the detriment, or the denial, of traditional cider.  Modern doesn’t have to mean the shiniest of tanks, the necessity of adding flavours or the use of 750ml bottles (although they might well do).  Modernity cannot exist without tradition, and many of the products and producers featured are as traditional as can be – full juice and wild fermenting. The contemporaneous aspect often comes from branding, design and packaging and communication – all things crucial for reaching consumers in a modern world.

Crucial to this drive is the extension of cider making out of its traditional heartland regions: 

Cider in Britain is made is varied landscapes, from a Welsh mountain side to the depths of an Isle of Wight cave; from the heart of inner city Manchester to the wilds of the Scottish Highland; from the landlocked Peak District to the Cornish coast. 

In total, Modern British cider features 101 makers from across England, Wales and Scotland along with honourable mentions from Guernsey, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. These makers are spread across 70 English, Welsh and Scottish parliamentary constituencies and range in annual volume production from 4,000 litres and 40,000,000 litres.

It is crucial for me to point out that a celebration of Modern British Cider is not to the detriment, or the denial, of traditional cider.  Modern doesn’t have to mean the shiniest of tanks, the necessity of adding flavours or the use of 750ml bottles (although they might well do).  Modernity cannot exist without tradition, and many of the products and producers featured are as traditional as can be – full juice and wild fermenting. The contemporaneous aspect often comes from branding, design and packaging and communication – all things crucial for reaching consumers in a modern world.

“..today, cider has a range of styles, designs, processes and occasions equal in breadth and diversity to beer, wine and spirits.”

 

— Gabe Cook

What’s holding cider back from even greater popularity and growth?

For all this excitement, joy and celebration, cider still faces many challenges holding it back from achieving its full potential: 

  • The route to market still remains tough for smaller makers trying to break into the retail and pub environment
  • The 35% Minimum Juice Content (MJC) does not uphold the integrity of cider and serves to commoditise cider – I call for an increase in MJC to 50%.
  • Current duty legislation prevents small makers from becoming viable, sustainable SMEs – I call for the introduction of a Progressive Cider Duty system
  • Greater transparency is needed for consumers to make fully informed decisions – I call for ingredients listing and the end of misleading marketing claims
  • The broader drinks trade and consumers don’t know that different styles of cider can exists and how/why they are achieved – I create a lexicon to make to easily known and understood

What’s holding cider back from greater popularity and growth?

For all this excitement, joy and celebration, cider still faces many challenges holding it back from achieving its full potential: 

  • The route to market still remains tough for smaller makers trying to break into the retail and pub environment
  • The 35% Minimum Juice Content (MJC) does not uphold the integrity of cider and serves to commoditize cider – I call for an increase in MJC to 50%.
  • Current duty legislation prevents small makers from becoming viable, sustainable SMEs – I call for the introduction of a Progressive Cider Duty system
  • Greater transparency is needed for consumers to make fully informed decisions – I call for ingredients listing and the end of misleading marketing claims
  • The broader drinks trade and consumers don’t know that different styles of cider can exists and how/why they are achieved – I create a lexicon to make to easily known and understood

There’s still a long way for cider to go…

… many consumers to reach and many pre-conceptions to change, but the charge is well underway.  Cider is never going to have the volume scale of beer or the value potential of wine, but what it has got is its own identity, its own tribe, its own story and the opportunity to shout loud and proud from the rooftops: I Am Cider. Wassail!

There’s still a long way for cider to go…

… many consumers to reach and many pre-conceptions to change, but the charge is well underway.  Cider is never going to have the volume scale of beer or the value potential of wine, but what it has got is its own identity, its own tribe, its own story and the opportunity to shout loud and proud from the rooftops: I Am Cider. Wassail!

“Somehow, against all the odds, some 30 of these family-owned breweries have survived..”

 

— Roger Protz

Modern British Cider

by Gabe Cook

Modern British Cider is a guide that celebrates the heritage, diversity and innovation within the wonderful world of British cider today. Acclaimed cider expert Gabe Cook celebrates the full diversity of styles, flavours and occasions that cider can provide, whilst also showcasing the best of cider-making talent from across these Isles.

Order now  

Modern British Cider

by Gabe Cook

Modern British Cider is a guide that celebrates the heritage, diversity and innovation within the wonderful world of British cider today. Acclaimed cider expert Gabe Cook celebrates the full diversity of styles, flavours and occasions that cider can provide, whilst also showcasing the best of cider-making talent from across these Isles.

Order now  

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