Friday 21st of March and I was surprised and delighted to be asked along to a press photo shoot to help promote the Yeovil Beer Festival, to be held in early April, with an article in the Western Gazette.
I thought is was invited as at Old Mill we are sponsoring a barrel again – however when I saw the select gathering I gathered it was because I write about cider.
It was a gorgeous sunny spring afternoon and and we were at Harry’s Cider in Long Sutton to be photographed clambering on straw bales in Harry Frys newly planted orchard of Browns Apple. The Yeovil Beer festival is not organised by CAMRA but by the local Round Table to raise funds for local charities – a worthy effort. One of the key people behind it is Rob Sherwood the owner of the excellent Yeovil Ales, whose beers I am quite partial to. However he openly admits to not being a cider fan or knowing a lot about it. I met Russ from Funtasia and Simon from Mint Cabs who agreed to having a box of our Stones Bittersweet cider at the Festival.
As well as a superb range of beers from all around the United Kingdom – they are delighted to be having the Welsh Champion Beer – they have a good range of local ciders. I was pleased to see that the selection of ciders did include some very good local ‘real’ or artisan ciders which was an improvement on a couple of years ago – but as I discussed with them there was still an element of muddling.
If a festival is based on real ales – live and draft without carbonation – they should be reflecting a similar standard in cider. I genuinely think that although they understand real ale they are still not sure about what the cider standards should be to be of a comparable ethos. It is a complex issue about which I have written at length.
Here I can only try a brief summary of the key elements as I see it.
- There should be a strong connection between the cider maker and the apples – preferably it should be made of mainly cider varieties from West Country orchards. There is a surprising amount of cider from producers of all sizes that is made from imported concentrate of European or Far Eastern (even beyond Kent) desert fruit.
- The cider should be slowly fermented at ambient temperature – not in a heated process.
- Unless it is being bottled (and not always then) it should not be micro filtered or pasteurised
- It should be made of 100% apple, (or pear in the case of perry) juice
- The only additives should be sweeteners to taste and perhaps in some circumstances sulphite to ensure it meets health standards. Some purist fanatics would not like either of these but as cider ferments dry it would have a limited market with modern tastes.
These factors would exclude the industrial ciders made in the most of the cider factories. Unfortunately as the factories make many brands for many people this is sometimes confusing. Locally it would preclude most of the production from Shepton Cider Mill, Thatchers (including Cheddar Valley), Orchard Pig. Original Cider Company and Lilley’s.
Talking to the organisers it became obvious that some of the ciders they are stocking would not fit the criteria – one in particular they were surprised at as they understood it was from a small farm based producer. This is one of my really big gripes. Marketing by industrial giants who strongly suggest their rural roots and promote it as genuine ‘real’ artisan cider. I am not trying to outlaw or denigrate these products – I frequently drink them and recognise that some of them have a good taste. However, they are industrial products and I object to what is a deliberate policy of misleading the public and in doing so make it much harder for the genuine small producers to find a market for their traditional quality West Country cider products.
Anyway, the Yeovil Beer Festival has moved forward quite a lot in this area and all credit to this bunch of enthusiastic worthies for staging such a fantastic event!