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Cider Insider

My Ma was fond of quoting a Limerick which went thusly:

There was an old lady from Ryde
Who ate a bad apple and died
The apple fermented
Inside the lamented
And made cider inside her inside

I can’t imagine that the resulting cider was anything to write home about, unless, perhaps, the lady in question was given to eating cider apples, a subject about which I am now somewhat more informed, having attended last weekend’s cider-making festival in Hereford.

That I was at the cider festival at all was merely lucky happenstance. I was in Hereford for my niece’s wedding and noticed a sign containing the words cider and festival in the same sentence. It was bound to catch my attention. I would like to thank my niece for (a) taking up residence in the heart of England’s cider country (b) arranging for her wedding to coincide with the cider-making festival and (c) suggesting accommodation that, it turns out, was right across the road from the cider museum. That is what I call a result.

So, whilst not otherwise engaged in wedding activities (some of which, er, included drinking local cider), I was able to duck into the festival and museum to see what it was all about.

Traditional cider pressing

Traditional cider pressing

Turns out that the festival was about many things, from traditional cider pressing to coopering, that ancient art of crafting water-tight wooden casks. It’s a trade which has been in steady decline over many years, as breweries opt to use metal casks instead. Not only is Alastair Simms (pictured below) the last master cooper working in Britain, but he says that, at present, there is no funding available from the British government to support a coopering apprenticeship. It seems a great shame to see skills such as his die out.

Master cooper at work

Master cooper at work

The festival was also about cider apples. A great many of them in fact, presented for display by Gillian Bulmer. Gillian’s grandfather was one of the founders of HP Bulmer, which grew into what is now the world’s largest cider-maker.

Scenes from the cider museum, Hereford

Scenes from the cider museum

I learned several things about cider apples from Gillian: that they should have plenty of sugar, which helps the yeast to ferment the cider; that they should not have too much acidity, though some may be needed; and that they need plenty of tannin, which helps to give the cider its body. This last surprised me – merely, I think, because tannins are something that I associate, not with apples, but with red wine and black tea. Several pieces of cider apple later, however, my mouth was filled with that characteristic dryness and I was left in no doubt that a tannin has been to call. Luckily, my cider apple consumption did not have any other ill-effects. Had that not been the case, I might have provided some new rhyming material for my Ma, immortalised, not as a Spud, but as a late lamented cider insider.

Bulmers? Magners? Would the real cider please stand up.

Confusingly, what is sold in Ireland as Bulmers cider does not emanate from the HP Bulmer company of Hereford. Bulmers Original Irish Cider is made in Clonmel by a company founded by William Magner around 1935. In 1937, Magner entered into a joint venture with HP Bulmer but, though the partnership was subsequently dissolved, the company retained the right to the Bulmers brand in the Republic of Ireland. What we in Ireland know as Bulmers is branded Magners for export. What those in the UK know as Bulmers is something else entirely.

11 Comments

  1. Oooh, apple cider. Fall is definitely here!

  2. That’s so cool. The wonders of the apple cider.

  3. The interesting thing about alcohol brewing is that centuries ago, it was regarded as very similar to cooking and many households brewed their own. This is an art that is making a bit of a comeback. I actually brewed my own wine recently (admittedly, I only did it for the laugh initially). It turned out wonderfully. I ended up with 40 bottles of a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon – easily as good as any of the lower end wines you could buy in an off licence for €6 – €7. The very interesting thing is that I made my wine for a total cost of €1.19 per bottle.
    I am going to try my hand at cider making shortly and hopefully, that’ll turn out well too

  4. the cider museum looks great, there was a great sweet cider at the September Fest in Farmleigh however its not available commerically :( Hope you liked Hereford, its a beautiful county, really red soil! from all the hops they grow. I used to travel over with work to a really cute market town called Ledbury (where Richard Hammond is from) it has great little cafes and restaurants – the olive tree is yummy for evening meal.
    Vick xx

  5. Many thanks for the Magners/Bulmer clarification: I fell deeply in love with Magners, er, Bulmers during our visit to your fair isle. I was thrilled to find Bulmers, er, Magners here so that I could continue the affair.

    It really is a shame about the decline of coopering. Many would argue that it’s simply the way it should be: old, ‘inefficient’ techniques should make way for modern efficiencies. However, we should always keep in mind the question: what were to happen if the machines stopped running? These skills are not whimsies, novelties or remnants of the romantic past – they’re real masteries that should continue to be passed along.

  6. Daily Spud

    Monday, October 26, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    gaga: yes, indeed, it is that cider-making time of year :)

    jenn: it was pretty cool – I was just sorry I didn’t have time to stick around and sample the full range of local ciders (of which there were an impressive amount!)

    Paul: Thanks for dropping in and good luck with the cider-making! I’ve never tried home-brewing but the idea really does appeal, especially where it involves something like cider. Will have to give it a whirl one of these days.

    Vick: Welcome! I did enjoy Hereford – from what I saw of it, it really is a very pretty part of the world. I will have to visit more often.

    Tangled Noodle: I was equally confused on the Bulmers/Magners front myself, so I, too, am glad to have that one cleared up :) I agree with you on the coopering – I can’t help but think that there is some real value in keeping such skills alive.

  7. :-( I want to move to Ireland! You have all the fun stuff!

  8. Daily Spud

    Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Well, we have cider here Jamie, for sure (and other good stuff too :) ) though for cider festivals, it’s the south of England you’ll be wanting. Just a short hop from your base in France :)

  9. Definitely a fortuitous wedding invite! I like the interesting facts about what makes a good cider apple and I love the limerick. We have a lot of abandoned apple trees on our property and I considered buying or renting a small cider press but ultimately decided to wait another year or two.

  10. What a fun read, and I too thank you for the clarification on Bulmers/Mangers having consumed many a Bulmers myself. It is sad to see a craft such as coppering dying out, and cripes to be the person to claim I am the last master copper has got to be depressing. My other SIL hails from Somerset so I got to enjoy many a cider there, straight for the source. I do not recall a cider museum, but have to say I was too busy tasting to verify. I have to say, I am a bit glad its not so readily available here, or I would surely get in trouble.

  11. Daily Spud

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Maggie: yes, it was a fortuitous invite, indeed; and if you ever do decide to press your own cider, I would be fascinated to hear how you get on…

    OysterCulture: Well, when in Somerset, you must do as the locals do and drink the cider! I’m thinking that it’s probably just as well that I don’t have such ready access to that range of ciders myself – I’d be in trouble for sure :D

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