Interview with ciderologist, Gabe Cook

Gabe Cook (c) Bill Bradshaw Photography

Gabe Cook (c) Bill Bradshaw Photography - Credit: Bill Bradshaw Photography

Ciderologist Gabe Cook is on a one-man mission to promote the many benefits of drinking REAL cider

Gabe Cook (c) Bill Bradshaw Photography

Gabe Cook (c) Bill Bradshaw Photography - Credit: Bill Bradshaw Photography

Gabe Cook was born and raised in the heart of Ciderland - Dymock in Gloucestershire. He is The Ciderologist and is a man with a mission - to champion cider and raise it from its pub floor reputation as the preferred drink of those who want to get drunk quickly to the high table of fine dining.

October sees the publication of his first book, Ciderology - From History and Heritage to the Craft Cider Revolution, and the graduation of his first cider Pommeliers from the Beer and Cider Academy course he has founded. He has appeared on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and travels the world in his one-man campaign to promote cider.

On Friday, October 12, Gabe is donating his time and services for a cider and food pairing evening at StarBistro in Ullenwood with proceeds going to National Star, a charity which sup-ports the aspirations of young people with disabilities.

Gabe Cook (c) Bill Bradshaw Photography

Gabe Cook (c) Bill Bradshaw Photography - Credit: Bill Bradshaw Photography

When did you first fall in love with all things cider?

I first encountered this great drink at the age of 10 – surreptitiously quaffing a flagon of Old Rosie bought for my elder brothers as a Christmas present one year – Woodpecker be-came my tipple of choice as a teenager before graduating on to the plethora of Westons’ products before I sought out a Herefordshire craft producer to introduce me to the true farmhouse style. Over 10 years of working in the cider industry has given me a unique insight, from traditional farms to world’s largest producer. I have worked across a wide range of roles encompassing cider making, new product development, customer liaison, media relations, public affairs and community engagement.

Cider has struggled with its reputation. Was there a time when it was as cherished and sought after as wine?

It reached its zenith in the 17th century. Britain was at war with France, the Netherlands and Spain and wine imports ceased and the search was on for an indigenous alternative. Lord Scudamore brought to his Herefordshire estate some French apple varieties, including one called he called The Herefordshire Redstreak. This apple would have been inedible raw, being high in tannin and extremely hard, but it was perfect for mak-ing fine, high-alcohol ciders designed for keeping. Thanks to the improvement in bottle mak-ing technology, in the Forest of Dean, the cider could be bottled and sealed while still fer-menting, so that the carbon dioxide would be absorbed and the cider would become sparkling.

So where has cider gone wrong?

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During the 20th century cider went from being a rural drink to a commercial drink in a very short space of time. There was no interest in the nuances of style and taste, only in creating a homogenous drink. Cider is more like wine than beer - terroir and climate affect the quality, flavour and style.

Cider is far more than merely an industry (ie the processing of raw materials into a product). It is where the worlds of great artistry (for cider makers truly are artists), scientific appli-cation and the harnessing of nature, come together in perfect unison.

The challenge is that unlike wine and beer, there is no terminology to help us talk about the characteristics of cider. So that’s what I am doing - creating that terminology. I am also working with the Beer and Cider Academy and we will soon have our first qualified Cider Pommeliers who will be able to advise just as a beer or wine sommelier.

So tell us what is happening at StarBistro on October 12?

I am working with StarBistro head chef Joe Parke to create a six-course food and cider pair-ing evening. Joe will be using fresh seasonal and local produce - the hand-reared rare breed pork is coming from a farm less than a mile away - to create some stunning dishes. It’s my job to pair the cider so it complements and contrasts those wonderful flavours on the plate.

Can you give us a sneak preview of the ciders you have planned?

Of course! When you arrive you will enjoy a glass of naturally sparkling cider, a prosecco equivalent. For the starter I am choosing a dry hopped cider for that combination of the bit-terness of the hops with the sweetness of the cider.

For the main - which of course is pork - I am choosing a classic Herefordshire cider - the epitome of the finest traditional cider from the West of England. For dessert it will be a lovely fruity and fresh perry, and to accompany the cheese an ice cider, which is similar to ice wine in the fact that it is made from frozen juice. By freezing the juice it becomes inten-sified, sweeter and richer and produces a cider with richness, unctuousness and warmth.

A guided tasting tour with Gabe Cook, The Ciderologist on Friday, October 12 at Star-Bistro, Ullenwood, Cheltenham. Tickets are £40 per person and includes a six-course meal with accompanying ciders and a talk by Gabe. You can also purchase Gabe’s new book at the event. Book tickets here.

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