Guy Warner: A cider the times

The Bull family have been making this award-winning cider for three generations

The Bull family have been making this award-winning cider for three generations - Credit: Archant

Food and drink columnist Guy Warner explores how the West Country’s drink became so fashionable

This month, I want to let you into a secret, and it’s one that I share with His Royal Highness, Prince William, who apparently once said: “Everybody thinks I drink beer but I actually like cider!” Well, guess what? Me too!

This may be the only thing I have in common with royalty, but it’s a major break through as far as I’m concerned. Cider hasn’t always had such a pedigree past; there was a time when the only cider you could buy was in non-descript two-litre brown bottles which went some way to concealing their dubious apple-infused contents. Then there was that student initiation of downing snakebite and black when cider was simply seen as a vehicle for getting wasted. People moved on to big brands such as Strongbow (now an official sponsor of Team GB at this year’s Olympics – my, how times have changed!) until eventually, a couple of those big names brands – I’m thinking Bulmers and Magners in particular – launched a new bandwagon to make cider drinking trendy. It almost worked, but there was still the threat that you might be laughed out of the bar if you ordered a cider on a night out with the boys in the ’90s!

The West Country, with its apple orchards and sunny (people, not weather!), laidback disposition, is famous for its cider but there’s always been an element of ‘scrumpiness’ about it; cider drinkers were parodied as low-grade, bucolic alcoholics, rolling out of their combine harvesters to lose whole afternoons to cider-induced sleep. It wasn’t a very aspirational drink.

However, I’m glad to say that cider has broken free from its past and today the whole cider market is alive at the artisan level. Cider has been on the same journey as craft beer over the last 20 years and we’ve now got a plethora of micro-cider producers all over the Cotswolds. These aren’t just hobbyists either – there’s some really exciting and excellent cider being produced here on our doorstep. One of our new local suppliers at Warner’s Budgens, Pearson’s Cider, ‘small batch and made slow’, is a finalist at this year’s Cotswold Life Food & Drink Awards; Severn Cider has won nine Gold awards, while Hogan’s Cider ‘fermented from 100% pressed English apples’ has won dozens of awards over the last few years.

Cider is at last seen as a socially acceptable drink. In our stores, the space we dedicate to local ciders has increased ten-fold over the last ten years as demand has grown. We’ve just added four new local cider producers to our existing three and there’s still plenty more out there waiting to be discovered.

It all comes down to quality; locally-picked apples, fresh pressed juice, no artificial additives, long fermentation and careful blending – these are the main ingredients of a knockout cider. It’s also very accessible; whether you prefer dry or sweet, cloudy or clear, sparkling or still, there’s a cider to suit every taste. It’s not a niche, male-driven market anymore; my wife has been known to order half a cider over a glass of prosecco on an evening out and will often come home from the weekly shop with a couple of new local brands to try.

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So, now the secret’s out, it’s officially ok to drink cider. After all, if it’s good enough for Prince William…

Cider sensations

Pearson’s Cider Co: after 25 years of working in the City and producing cider as a hobby, Mike Pearson finally took the plunge to move and go into cider production as a family business. A finalist at this year’s Cotswold Life Food & Drink Awards, Pearson’s Cider is one to watch.

Hogan’s Cider: Allen Hogan has won national and international acclaim for his range of ciders, exporting them world-wide. His fresh approach to the age-old tradition of cider-making has earned him a cabinet-full of awards.

Severn Cider: the Bull family has been making this award-wining cider for three generations and moved into commercial cider production as demand grew. The distinctive bottles feature specially commissioned prints depicting local landscapes.