Origins: Cider is made from the fermented juice of apples in the way fermented grape juice is used to make wine and was first produced in Europe over a thousand years ago. The Romans established the first orchards in England but it wasn't until the Norman Conquest in 1066 that cider was reportedly first made here.
The rise: In the 17th century many extensive orchards were planted and special varieties of cider apples were grown. Cider became the drink of choice amongst noblemen and townsfolk alike and it gained reputation as a delicious and wholesome drink with health-restoring properties. Nowadays cider producers make no such claims, but the delicious taste of apples still makes cider the drink of choice for many.
The fall: By the 18th century cider continued in popularity and farmers produced a weaker cider from a second pressing to give as payment to their farm workers. However, the Trunk Act in 1887 made it illegal to give alcoholic drinks as payment for work. During this time both economic and political factors led to the decline of orchards and cider production in England. Where traditional orchards covered over 90,000 acres, these reduced to less than 10,000 acres by the 1970's.
A vision: In 1898 C.M.Radcliffe Cooke (A Book About Cider and Perry) believed that in the future there would be two types of cider maker – The ‘Cider Manufacturer’ who will make the bulk of uniform product consumed by the general public and then the ‘Farmer Cider Maker’ who ‘if instructed in the science of the business, will make the choicer brands from selected sorts of fruit of established merit which he will dispose of to private customers and locally among those who know and appreciate really good cider…… the day will come when prime cider will, on the tables displace wines and country gentlemen will take a pride as they evidently did in former days, in always having some good examples of the wine of the country wherewith to entertain their friends.’
Traditional views: Traditional views of the health qualities and wholesomeness of cider were due to the malic acid contained in apples as opposed to the tartaric acid found in wines which were thought to be the principal cause of gout and rheumatism. In fact cider was a form of medicine for gouty people. Radcliffe Cooke cites John Evelyn ‘generally all strong and pleasant cider excites and cleanses the stomach, strengthens digestion and infallibly frees the kidneys from breeding gravel and stone.’
A culture: The celebrations of wassailing take place in January on the Twelfth Night where folk gather in orchards to awake the apples trees and to scare away evil spirits by banging pots and pans, to drink from the Wassail 'Cup', and to toast the orchard for a healthy, fruitful harvest in the year to come. Pieces of toast are dipped into the prior years cider and hung from the trees to show the tree spirits what the fruits produced and to thank them.
An incantation is usually recited such as: Here's to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An' all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!
The revival: Over the last few years the cider market has grown significantly and we are seeing a growing trend towards heritage, provenance, innovation and quality becoming increasingly more important than quantity and price. We believe the time has come that the wise thoughts and predictions of Radcliffe Cooke in 1898 are now becoming reality and take pride in producing what we believe is a really good cider.