London is not a cider town. You can find some interesting ciders here, certainly, albeit you have to hunt them down. There are even people making one or two interesting ciders right here in the capital. But there’s no widespread culture of cider drinking here, no history that I know of linking London to the apple of the sort you’ll find in the west country or the three counties.
But I was interested. So there was only one thing for it: I took a trip out to Herefordshire to see for myself how cider is made. What I found was an intoxicating mixture of the familiar and the new.
I stayed with Susanna and James Forbes at Little Pomona. It was just a fleeting visit really, but such is their knowledge and passion — not to mention energy — that I felt completely immersed in their world. For that I thank them.
During my stay, I picked apples in the orchard and tasted the different varieties straight off the trees. Dabinett, drying but juicy, and the bright, acidic Foxwhelp. Ellis Bitter, with its gentle honeysuckle perfumed flesh, and the bittersweet Harry Masters Jersey. In the (new, expanded) cidery I saw the apples milled and pressed then tasted the free-running juice.
I tasted plenty of cider and perry too, as you’d imagine. Some at Little Pomona over an excellent meal, and yet more visiting Hereford and at the Ross on Wye Cider Club.
There I was able to meet and talk to some of this new breed of passionate cider makers, many of them younger than you might imagine. Literally, a new generation bringing fresh thinking to the job.
What they all, young and old, had in common was a respect for the fruit — their raw material — and the process that I’m told has been lacking in large parts of cider making for a while now.
The results of this new approach are premium ciders with complexity and flavour that put to shame the fizzy sweet stuff you might find in pubs and supermarkets today.
During my visit I was exposed to a huge amount of new experiences and new knowledge. (New to me, at least.) There’s a vast world of cider out there, much of which seems to have been largely ignored by those of us outside the cider-drinking culture.
But there were aspects that I recognised, too. What was familiar was the feeling of excitement and possibility; of things starting to happen. Also the collaborative nature of it all. These new cider makers talk, share, and help each other out.
There was the feeling that important, influential figures have emerged who will shape their trade for years to come. In people like Tom Oliver, and groups like the Ross on Wye Cider Club, this new wave of cider has its locus of inspiration and teaching that British craft beer had in Evin O’Riordain at The Kernel or Jan Rogers in Manchester’s Marble Beers.
It all feels like craft beer felt five, maybe ten years ago. Nascent and fragile but so very promising. I can’t wait to see what happens next.