Category: Learn

Cider Styles, Old and New

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Cidercraft in slightly edited form. In my humble opinion, it’s a concise and authoritative introduction to the cider styles that enthusiasts in the United States and Canada currently have access to.

If this article doesn’t satisfy your curiosity about cider styles, check out for a look at the style guidelines of the largest and most respected cider judging in North America.


It’s a great time to be a cider drinker. Cider is gaining shelf space at shops and markets and is appearing on bottle lists at restaurants and bars.

The dizzying array of choices can be thrilling to some. But the cider purchasing experience can just as easily be intimidating or frustrating to others.

Can you judge a cider by its bottle? Perhaps not. But here are a few guidelines to help you narrow your search.

New World

Cidermakers in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are free to innovate because they are not bound by centuries of established cidermaking tradition. If the product meets the legal definition of cider and can be sold at a reasonable profit, the sky is the limit.

Yet this lack of tradition makes it difficult for cider drinkers to know what’s inside the bottle. Compare this to the worlds of beer and wine. Beer drinkers recognize the difference between pale ale and stout because there is general consensus about styles of beer. Wine drinkers recognize the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling because there is general consensus about grape varieties that are best suited for wine.

But for cider, the conversation about styles has barely begun. And cider is not typically made with a single variety of apple, or even with an established blend of apple varieties. So what’s a cider drinker to do?

Thankfully, it doesn’t require as much detective work as you’d think. The clue for most ciders produced and sold in the United States and Canada is to look at how they are packaged.

Modern Ciders

Ciders available in similar packaging as craft beer—12oz or 22oz bottles, 12oz or 16oz cans, and on draft—typically fall into this category. Modern ciders are produced in large quantities and sold at attractive prices, often in line with what you’d pay for craft beer. You’re likely to find modern ciders in convenience stores, supermarkets, and casual restaurants and bars. Modern ciders are often refreshing and easy to drink.

Some modern ciders are made with apple juice concentrate, either from domestic or imported sources. Others are made with juice from commonly grown apple varieties such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji, McIntosh, and Jonathan. These apples may be too blemished or misshapen to be sold in a grocery store, but they are ideal for making juice. The juice might be pressed from recently harvested apples, or the juice could be pressed from apples kept in refrigerated or controlled-atmosphere storage. In this way, modern ciders can be made year-round like beer.

Modern ciders can have an intense apple aroma. They will typically be medium-sweet to very sweet, even if the label claims the cider is dry or off-dry. Carbonation will often be medium to high, similar to what you’d find in beer. Yeast character is often unnoticeable, though ale yeasts can enhance the impression of fruit or spice in a cider. Alcohol content will almost always be below 7% ABV. In most cases, the overall impression is of sweet apple juice, not of fermented apple.

Many cidermakers use these ciders as a base to which they can add other flavors. Pears, apricots, cherries, peaches, and various berries can be added to create a fruit cider. Hops can be added to create a hopped cider. Cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and other spices can be added to create a mulled cider. The resulting ciders are often surprisingly interesting.

Traditional Ciders

Ciders available in similar packaging as wine—750ml bottles are standard but 500ml and 375ml bottles are also used—typically fall into this category. These ciders are often inspired by Old World traditions, but possess their own New World flair. Traditional ciders are usually produced on a smaller scale than modern ciders and command prices on par with many wines. You’re likely to find traditional ciders in specialty bottle shops, upscale restaurants, and drinking establishments with a well-curated beer and/or wine selection. Traditional ciders often pair well with food and are typically more complex than modern ciders.

Some of the most exciting North American ciders are made with characterful apple varieties that have been proven to thrive in the various climates of the New World. Heirloom varieties that are especially well-suited for cider production include Northern Spy, Baldwin, Roxbury Russet, Golden Russet, Esopus Spitzenburg, Rhode Island Greening, Winesap, Newtown Pippin, Winter Banana, Arkansas Black, Gravenstein, and Wickson. European cider apple varieties such as Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey, Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black, Ashmead’s Kernel, Calville Blanc d’Hiver, and Medaille d’Or are also used.

Few of these apple varieties are grown in any great quantity, so small-scale cidermakers often plant their own trees to ensure a steady supply. These traditional ciders are typically made just once a year, from apples pressed soon after the fall harvest, similar to a wine vintage. The art of blending different varieties to produce a balanced cider is of the utmost importance.

Few traditional ciders will be overtly sweet. Bone-dry to off-dry is common, medium and semi-sweet less so. Apple aroma can range from subtle to easily detectable. Acidity is necessary to keep the cider from being insipid, while tannin adds mouthfeel and complexity, even when present in only small amounts. Yeast character is typically neutral. Carbonation can range from still to sparkling, though most traditional ciders are are less carbonated than modern ciders. Alcohol content is typically 6-9% ABV. The overall impression is of an approachable but not overly austere beverage.

Old World

European ciders are still not widely available in most North American markets. But enterprising beer, wine, and cider importers are bringing more shipments across the Atlantic all the time.

If you enjoy complex aromas and bold flavors, ciders from England, France, and Spain might be for you. While these cidermaking traditions are different from one another in many respects, they do share one important trait.

Old World ciders typically use naturally occuring yeast that can be found on the fruit itself, on the milling and presssing equipment, and inside the fermentation vessels. This type of fermentation—referred to as wild or spontaneous fermentation—results in a markedly different flavor profile than cider made with yeasts that have been cultured in a laboratory.


If you have a sweet tooth but still crave some complexity, ciders made in Normandy and Brittany are worth a look. Most cidermakers in France use a technique called keeving that arrests the fermentation process before the yeast can convert all the natural sugars to alcohol. These sparkling ciders are packaged in strong glass bottles topped with a cork and cage. Ciders labeled as Brut are the driest, but will almost always be sweeter than dry ciders from other cidermaking regions. French ciders labelled as Demi-Sec or Doux will be sweeter still. Typical alcohol content is 3-5% ABV.


If you enjoy cider a bit drier and more austere, ciders made in England are worth a look. As with French ciders, most English ciders use tannic apple varieties known as bittersweets and bittersharps that contribute a pleasant astringency and bitterness to the finished cider. The dominant aroma and flavor notes are often spice, smoke, or in some cases barnyard. The mouthfeel will be similar to that of red wine. Many bottled English ciders are still, but modest carbonation is also common. Since English ciders are fermented more fully than French ciders, the typical alcohol content will be higher, usually 6-9% ABV.


If you enjoy your cider on the funky side, ciders made in Asturias and the Basque Country are worth a look. Sour beer lovers in particular will find much to like. Traditional sidra natural is packaged in a 700ml green bottle with a visible layer of sediment resting at the bottom. Unwary drinkers often try sidra natural and immediately turn up their noses. But when poured correctly—from as far above the glass as you dare and just a mouthful or two at a time—the vinegar vanishes and a refreshing cider emerges. Of note is that some of the best Spanish ciders available in North America are packaged in clear or brown bottles and will more closely resemble traditional New World ciders. Typical alcohol content is 5-7% ABV.


Armed with these basic guidelines, you can now intelligently navigate the wide world of cider. Be adventurous, take notes on what you like and don’t like, and don’t be afraid to try something new!

Sidebar — How to Taste Cider

Tasting cider is not so different from properly appreciating beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages. While there are a few basic guidelines that should enhance your tasting experience, don’t be afraid to bend (or break!) the rules to find out what works best for you.

Many tasting rooms serve cider in glasses designed for white wine. Most any wine glass—stemmed or stemless—will do the trick. Beer glassware that narrows toward the top is also desirable, as the tapering traps aromas that might otherwise escape.

As a general rule, dry ciders can be served warmer than sweet ciders. Bold ciders with tannin can be served warmer than delicate ciders without much tannin. If a cider seems too alcoholic, you might be serving it too warm. If a cider lacks aroma, you might be serving it too cold. Much comes down to personal preference.

Before diving in for a taste, swirl and sniff a few times before sipping. If you’re at a loss for words, consult an aroma/flavor wheel designed for beer, wine, coffee, or some other beverage that you’re familiar with. Spitting is rarely necessary, as a typical cider contains only half the alcohol of a typical wine.

Cider, Hard & Sweet by Ben Watson – A Book Review

cider, hard & sweet ben watson

Cider, Hard & Sweet, by Ben Watson, is now in its 3rd edition, and for good reason. This quintessential book on cider informs the reader in a clear and lively way. Reading it from cover to cover is enjoyable; opening it at random for a casual peruse will quickly get you sucked in. You’ve been warned—set the timer on the oven or dinner will be burned.

Watson sets out 10 clearly organized chapters, which cover: the history of cider, apple varieties for cider, sweet cider, hard cider, cider styles and traditions, tasting and evaluating cider, perry, cider vinegar and spirits, cooking with cider, and cidermaking: beyond the basics. Being my husband’s wife, I have often heard these topics casually discussed, but reading Watson’s book helped me put the information together in a cohesive way.

One of my favorite chapters was that on apple varieties for cider. Ben Watson begins by explaining why apple trees are often grafted—apples rarely reproduce “true to type” from seed, which greatly affects how new varieties are formed. Like me, you’ll surely learn something in the details he shares. However, most of this chapter is spent in more immediate concerns—the flavor profiles of different categories of apples, and how they can contribute to a well-rounded cider, which includes sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and aroma. Previously, I had been mystified by cider makers that blended apples in their chosen proportions before pressing—how did they know what they would end up with? Watson reveals that it’s less a matter of magic and more a matter of knowing your apple categories. Cider producers will enjoy using this chapter as a jumping-off point when considering adding different varieties to their orchards or cider blends.

Another interesting chapter is Stronger Waters: Cider Vinegar and Spirits. As a teacher, I know that learning in context is much more effective than learning in isolation; even if your main focus is cider, learning about other apple-based drinks will extend your knowledge and give you a rounder picture. The “stronger waters” covered in this chapter are: apple brandy, pommeau, apple jack, ice cider, and cider vinegar. You may have never heard of some of these beverages before, though a description of ice cider (made from “freezing fresh cider pressed from apples in the dead of winter”) will surely intrigue you. I can attest to its deliciousness, which I can only describe as something akin to maple syrup, but alcoholic and made with apples—anyway, it’s worth a try. Conversely, anecdotes of “apple palsy” might put you off applejack, but nevertheless, the section will entertain you.

There’s a chapter suited for every reader, and each is skillfully done. I’m interested, however, in seeing how the chapter “Cider Styles and Traditions” will change in future editions, as cider itself blossoms and changes in the United States. What new styles will be invented or reinvented? Which categories will expand?

This book is not a read-once-and-put-on-the-shelf affair. Our copy is smudged and dog-eared. Part of the reason for this is the way in which the content is displayed. Helpful sub-headings divvy up each chapter while relevant photographs, diagrams, and easy-to-read charts are peppered throughout. Readers are prompted to smile at the start of each chapter, which begins in a prescient quote or verse.

The strength of this book rests on Ben Watson’s talent for finding a balance between breadth and depth, covering ground in a way that piques the interest of the cider drinker and the cider maker alike. Reading this book is probably the quickest and most accurate way for your average imbibing layman to reach the ranks of cider connoisseur. What’s more, it’s painless—nay, it’s downright enjoyable.

Cider Hard and Sweet

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Craft Cider – Do You Know It When You See It?

“Craft is like porn: you know it when you see it.”
Tony Magee, irreverent founder of Lagunitas Brewing, the sixth largest US craft brewer.

There has been endless debate in the world of beer about what makes a brewery craft or not. Until the rise of Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and other craft brewing pioneers, the US beer market was dominated by a small number of regional and national brands of dubious quality. Discerning beer drinkers around the country are now blessed with an abundance of choice, but the fact remains that more than 90% of the beer consumed in the US is not what most people would consider craft.

What does this have to do with cider? Many beer drinkers are starting to take cider seriously—or at least with a diminished sense of skepticism—and I wonder what steers these beer drinkers toward one cider or another. Are they attracted by ciders that are priced in line with craft beer? Are they attracted by ciders with similar ingredients—hops, brewing spices, fruity ale yeasts? Are they attracted by ciders with bold aromas and flavors similar to imperial-strength, barrel-aged, or mouth-puckeringly sour beers?

Ask ten different beer drinkers this question and you’ll likely get ten different answers. If you’re reading this post, then I assume you have a gut feeling about what drives the cider purchasing decision for yourself and possibly for others. So now that you’ve paused for a minute and pondered upon an answer, let me ask you another question: Do experienced cider drinkers believe that any of the above beer-like attributes would steer someone toward a quality cider? Will the inexperienced cider drinker be purchasing a craft cider if they follow these beer-like rules of thumb?

My goal in what follows is not to irrevocably draw a line between cider that is craft and cider that is not. The more pressing issue is that most drinkers—even some who regularly enjoy cider—are unaware of the diversity of ciders available in the US because distribution for small-scale cider producers is not yet widespread. At the same time, there are many similarities across seemingly different ciders that may not be immediately apparent to the casual drinker.

I will lay out my thoughts on craft cider at the end of the post. For now, I’d like to share my perspective on the US cider market and the types of cider that are currently available. At the risk of oversimplifying, I find it’s instructive to break the US cider market down into three main types.

Overview: This is not Unlimited in the sense of potential quality, complexity, or delight on behalf of the consumer, but Unlimited in the sense that the producer is free to use a wide range of inputs and methods to design a product meant to be sold in large quantities at an attractive price. These are the ciders that most drinkers will be familiar with based on their availability at convenience stores, supermarkets, and many bars. These products may be referred to as industrial or mass-market ciders by other observers.

Apple Varieties: Specific apple varieties aren’t mentioned unless the product is designed to evoke a particular variety, such as Woodchuck’s Granny Smith. Apple concentrate is often used, sometimes from US or Canadian sources but more often from suppliers in Europe, South America, or Asia. When fresh apple juice is used, the juice is often obtained from apples that have been stored in refrigerated or controlled-atmosphere environments.

Methods/Adjuncts: Prior to fermentation, sugars might be added to boost alcohol potential, water might be added to reconstitute apple concentrate, and sulfites might be added to kill undesirable yeasts, molds, and bacteria. Malic acid—which is naturally found in apples—might be added in chemical form to increase “tanginess” and/or to reduce high pH levels that could lead to undesirable aromas and flavors. After fermentation has completed, sorbates might be added to prevent refermentation in the bottle; this also opens the door to “backsweetening” the cider with additional sugars or juices to increase the perception of sweetness. Various fruit flavors—berries, pears, apricots, cherries, peaches—are sometimes added, always in extract form. Hops and spices are not uncommon. Pasteurization by heat is common practice.

Yeast: Yeast profile is typically neutral, though sometimes specialized ale yeasts are used to enhance the impression of fruit or spice.

Carbonation: Medium to high carbonation, similar to beer.

ABV: Usually 5.5% or below, almost always below 7%.

Aroma/Flavor: Often an intense apple aroma. The taste is typically sweet to very sweet, even when marketed as a “dry” cider. The overall impression will be of apple juice and sugar, not of fermented apple.

Packaging/Price: Bottles are typically 12-ounce glass, packaged in a six-pack carrier or a twelve-pack cardboard box, similar to craft beer packaging. Cans are gaining in popularity, with 12-ounce cans often available. Beer pricing is the norm, typically less than $10 for a six-pack and less than $15 for a 12-pack.

Commercial Examples: Angry Orchard, Woodchuck, Crispin, Ace, Stella Artois Cidre, Michelob Ultra Light Cider.

This is not Common in the sense that a cider is uninteresting or widely available, but Common in the sense that commonly grown US apple varieties are used to make a cider that is refreshing and easy to drink. These ciders are usually made with 85-100% juice; the apples used for Common ciders are often too blemished or misshapen to be sold as eating apples, so cidermakers can purchase these apples to produce an attractively priced Common cider.

Apple Varieties: Typical eating/dessert varieties found in supermarkets such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji, McIntosh, Jonathan, Empire. Conventionally-grown apples are the norm, though organically-grown apples may sometimes be used. As with Unlimited ciders, the apples may have been stored in refrigerated or controlled-atmosphere environments prior to being pressed into juice.

Methods/Adjuncts: Prior to fermentation, sulfites might be added to kill undesirable yeasts, molds, and bacteria. Malic acid—which is naturally found in apples—might be added in chemical form to increase “tanginess” or to reduce high pH levels that could lead to undesirable aromas and flavors. After fermentation has completed, sorbates might be added to prevent refermentation in the bottle; this also opens the door to “backsweetening” the cider with additional sugars or juices to increase the perception of sweetness. Various fruit flavors—berries, pears, apricots, cherries, peaches—are sometimes added, usually in extract form. Hops and spices are not uncommon. Pasteurization by heat is common practice.

Yeast: Yeast profile is typically neutral, though sometimes specialized ale yeasts are used to enhance the impression of fruit or spice. JK’s Scrumpy is unusual in that cultured yeast is not used.

Carbonation: Medium to high carbonation levels, though low carbonation or no carbonation (still) is possible.

ABV: Typically below 7%, though occasionally higher.

Aroma/Flavor: Apple aroma can range from subtle to easily detectable. Tannin may be imperceptible but adds complexity when present; acid should be evident to avoid insipidness. Few ciders of this type will be overtly sweet; bone-dry to off-dry is common, medium and semi-sweet less so. The overall impression of a Common cider is that it should be approachable and not too austere.

Packaging/Price: Bottles are typically 12-ounce glass, often packaged in a six-pack carrier. 22-ounce “bombers” are also common and 750ml bottles are occasionally used. Cans are gaining in popularity, with 12-ounce and 16-ounce cans available, usually packaged in a four-pack or six-pack. Premium beer pricing is the norm, typically $6 to $12 for a 22oz or 750ml bottle.

Commercial Examples: JK’s Scrumpy, Anthem, Original Sin, Julian, Two Rivers, Bold Rock, Downeast, 2 Towns, Doc’s Draft, Uncle John’s Draft Apple.

Overview: The terms Common and New World are sometimes used interchangeably, but New World in this sense means a cider that is made with characterful apple varieties that are especially well-suited for cider production and that thrive in the various climates of the New World. These ciders are often made with estate-grown apples. The art of blending different varieties to produce a balanced, high-quality cider is most in evidence here.

Apple Varieties: North American heirloom varieties such as Northern Spy, Baldwin, Roxbury Russet, Golden Russet, Tompkins King, Esopus Spitzenburg, Rhode Island Greening, Winesap, Albemarle Pippin, Winter Banana, Arkansas Black, Pink Pearl, Wickson. European cider varieties such as Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey, Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black, Ashmead’s Kernel, Calville Blanc d’Hiver, Medaille d’Or. Typically made with 95-100% juice that has been freshly pressed in the fall or early winter.

Methods/Adjuncts: Sulfite and sorbate use (as described above) is common. Malic acid is not typically used. Dry ciders are often sought after, so backsweetening is less common. Additional fruits, hops, or spices are not often used. Pasteurization by heat is still common, although sterile filtration is sometimes used on its own to prevent in-bottle refermentation.

Yeast: Typically cultured yeast, but some indigenous yeast ciders exist.

Carbonation: Still to medium, although sparkling ciders (Champagne-style or otherwise) are also produced.

ABV: Typically 6-9%. Ciders below 7% are often packaged in 22-ounce bottles and may straddle the line between Common and New World.

Aroma/Flavor: Apple aroma is subtle but desirable, much as grape character is subtle but desirable in wine. Both acid and tannin should be evident and in balance. Few ciders of this type will be overtly sweet; bone-dry to off-dry is common, medium and semi-sweet less so.

Packaging/Price: Almost always 750ml bottles; cork and crown cap are equally common. 500ml bottles are used primarily to entice drinkers to try an unfamiliar product. $10-$20 for a 750ml bottle, $8-12 for a 500ml bottle. 375ml bottles are rare, used mostly for specialty products.

Commercial Examples: Farnum Hill, West County, Bellwether, Aaron Burr, Eve’s, Foggy Ridge, Albemarle, Tandem, Uncle John’s, AeppelTreow, Westcott Bay, Alpenfire, Snowdrift, Wandering Aengus, Montana CiderWorks, Blossomwood.

You might be wondering why I haven’t included an Old World category for ciders made in the various styles such as those found in England, France, Spain, Austria, and Germany. European ciders are still not widely available in most US markets, though enterprising companies such as Shelton Brothers, Rowan Imports, Ciders of Spain, and various wine importers are bringing more shipments across the Atlantic. As for European-style ciders produced on American soil, I can think of only one pure example that uses classic Old World cider fruit and production methods: EZ Orchards Cidre made by Kevin Zielinski in Oregon.

How could this be, when so many US cidermakers claim to make an English-style or French-style cider? In my opinion, what sets the Old World cidermaking traditions apart from those of the New World is that only naturally occuring yeast—found on the fruit itself or accumulated on the milling and presssing equipment and in the fermentation vessels—is used for fermentation. This type of fermentation—often called wild or spontaneous fermentation—results in an markedly different flavor profile than cider made with yeasts that have been cultured in a laboratory.

It is up to the drinker as to their preference in the finished product, but the fact remains that few cidermakers in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand rely on indigenous yeasts for fermentation. Chris Lehault’s article for Serious Eats earlier this year highlights a few exceptions—to which I could add the ciders made by Sebastian Lousada at Flag Hill in Vermont, Tim Bates at Philo Apple Farm in California, and a handful of other small farmstead producers—but otherwise cultured yeasts are the rule.

I would certainly welcome more cidermakers in the US to go this route, but it is difficult to justify from a financial standpoint, with chances of a batch going wrong or of customers not appreciating the product much higher. And if I understand Jolicoeur, Lea, and others correctly, standard orcharding practices in the US result in apples that are much higher in nitrogen than their European counterparts, and high-nitrogen fruit tends to ferment faster than is desirable for a spontaneous fermentation. Much as wild ales and sour ales are a niche in the overall US beer market, so too will spontaneously fermented ciders be a niche in the overall US cider market for the foreseeable future.

But back to the topic of craft cider. In my humble opinion, Unlimited ciders cannot be considered craft by any possible interpretation, despite them being priced in line with beers that are considered craft. Personally, I will always choose to drink a Sam Adams Boston Lager or a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale rather than a similarly priced Unlimited cider.

Most Common ciders are made with care, but craft may not be the best way to describe many of those, either. Common ciders are what industry people call a value added product, where you take a crop already being grown and position it differently in the marketplace for additional profit. To be clear, there are some great values in Common ciders and I wish that quality Common ciders were more widely available. I’m already on record to that effect, and I’d love to see every commercial orchard in the country making a Common cider with the fruit they already grow.

But if I were forced to draw a line between craft and not craft, I would have to draw it between Common and New World ciders. The fruit cultivation techniques and production methods of New World ciders embody the true meaning of the word craft for me, and New World ciders are what I’m drinking 90% of the time. Does that make me a rich snob who can afford to drink whatever he wants? No, it certainly doesn’t. Does that make me a passionate enthusiast who wants New World orchardists and cidermakers to learn from and expand upon the worthy traditions that Old World orchardists and cidermakers have already established? Yes, it certainly does!

Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments. My goal was to be as objective as possible about US cider without oversimplifying or being needlessly opinionated. Please take a minute or two to let me know how I’ve done!

Raising Your Cider IQ – Taste

This is Part 1 of a series that aims to increase your understanding of and appreciation for well-made cider. These posts are written with a US audience in mind, but many of the suggestions will apply wherever you reside.

1) Taste – Find and try as many ciders as you can.
2) Evaluate – Translate your sensory data into coherent thoughts.
3) Judge – Volunteer at competitions as a steward or judge.
4) Read – Learn from experts about cider culture and heritage.
5) Make – Connect with fruit growers and ferment your own cider at home.

The primary obstacle to tasting a wide variety of ciders in the US is lack of availability. Most independent cider producers are so busy meeting local demand that it doesn’t make sense to worry about wider distribution just yet. It can be especially hard to find ciders if you live in the Great Plains, Deep South, or other regions where apple trees typically do not flourish and there are few (if any) cider producers. Here are some suggestions on how to cast a wider net for finding new ciders.

Cider Festivals
Cider festivals are becoming more common in the US, particularly in major cities that are close to apple growing regions. In addition to pouring more ciders and perries than you could reasonably sample in a single session, many festivals offer educational seminars and some festivals even allow take-home bottle sales if local regulations allow it.

These major events should be on your radar:

Cider Summit Chicago – February
Cider Summit Portland / Oregon Cider Week – June
Cider Summit Seattle / Washington Cider Week – September
Great Lakes Cider & Perry Festival – September
Pour The Core Philadelphia – September
Pour The Core Long Island – October
Cider Week New York – October
Franklin County CiderDays – November
Cider Week Virginia – November

Franklin County CiderDays is held the first weekend in November.

In the spirit of conviviality, please consider signing up for a volunteer shift if you decide to attend one of these festivals. Even for-profit festivals rely on volunteer help, and volunteers are often rewarded with perks not available even to paying customers!

For a rundown of major events and festivals from around the world, visit my Cider Festivals page. For a comprehensive listing, visit this Google Calendar that I update frequently; the next 10 events appear on the right sidebar at Cider Guide.

Cider Bars
A fairly new concept on American soil, a growing number of bars that specialize in cider are popping up around the country. Many craft beer bars will have one or two ciders on tap and a decent selection of bottles, but the following establishments go above and beyond to highlight the vast range of cider and perry now available in the US:

Bushwhacker Cider – Portland (Oregon)
The Queens Kickshaw – New York City
Upcider – San Francisco
Capitol Cider – Seattle
Scrumpy’s – Fort Collins (Colorado)

Bushwhacker Cider, the first modern cider pub in the US.

For bars and pubs outside the US that carry a healthy selection of cider, look for the blue dots on The World Map of Cider. In the UK, the Naked Guide to Cider has a Listings section in the back of the book with some suggested pubs. Paul (@scrumpydrinker) maintains a cider pub map as do Niall and James from Edinburgh Cider View. For Wales, pick up a copy of The Guide to Welsh Perry & Cider written by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw. CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide is also worth consulting; pubs with a better-than-average selection of cider will have a cider glass icon associated with their listing. (The last time CAMRA published a Good Cider Guide was 2005, though CAMRA does offer a free PDF list of cider pubs.)

Bottle Shops
The selection of cider available at supermarkets and specialty bottle shops around the US has steadily increased over the past few years, but small-scale cider producers are often underrepresented. From my personal experience, I have no trouble finding the entire Foggy Ridge product range in Blacksburg, a nearby college town. But the excellent ciders made elsewhere in Virginia do not make it to my part of the state.

Here are a handful of bottle shops worth checking out:

Astor Wines and Spirits – New York City
Bierkraft – New York City
West Lakeview Liquors – Chicago
Belmont Station – Portland (Oregon)
Full Throttle Bottles – Seattle

Bushwhacker also sells a sizeable selection of bottles to go.
Bushwhacker sells bottles of cider to go from this row of coolers.

Many bottle shops have relationships with beer and wine importers who have ciders in their portfolios, so it never hurts to ask if you can place a special order. Whole Foods locations typically have a strong selection of local ciders as do similar chains that specialize in local and/or gourmet foods. Most cider producers maintain an online listing of stores that stock their ciders, but always call the store to confirm their inventory before making the trip. The World Map of Cider is also worth a try; look for the green dots on the map.

Cider Shipments
If you don’t have any road trips or vacations planned to the areas mentioned above, you might consider finding other cider enthusiasts to trade bottles with. Be warned, though, that the US Postal Service will not ship alcohol under any circumstances, and private couriers such as UPS and FedEx frown upon the practice if you don’t have a special wine shipper permit. It is possible that the courier will confiscate your package or refuse to accept it if they believe that you are shipping commercially produced cider. This is certainly a gray area and you will want to be careful! If that hasn’t scared you off, then a great way to find trading partners is to join the Cider & Perry community on Google+ that I moderate.

If trading cider seems like too much hassle, a few cider producers in the US will ship directly to your door if you order a certain minimum quantity. Due to the costs and red tape involved with jumping through each state’s regulatory hoops, though, confirm that the producer is able to ship to your location before getting out your credit card. Some of the cider producers that ship are Bellwether, Foggy Ridge, Snowdrift, Tieton, Blue Mountain, and EZ Orchards; if there are others, please leave a note in the comments or email me at eric {AT} ciderguide {DOT} com and I will include them!

Now that you have your hands on some cider, Part 2 in the series will focus on evaluating and describing what you’re tasting in language that you and others can understand.

Tom Oliver on The High & Mighty Beer Show

Just prior to the Beer Sessions Radio episode that I’ve recently transcribed, Tom Oliver sat down with Joel Shelton and BR Rolya of Shelton Brothers to record a 30-minute episode of The High & Mighty Beer Show. Shelton Brothers are best known as adventurous importers of artisanal beers from around the world, but they also carry a healthy selection of ciders and meads. In this interview, Tom has a chance to talk more about his long career in the music industry, which I found fascinating.


JOEL SHELTON: Welcome to The High & Mighty Beer Show with the Shelton Brothers. I’m Joel.


SHELTON: BR Rolya, our representative here in New York—Shelton Brothers rep—what’s it like working for Shelton Brothers in New York City?

ROLYA: Challenging, but fun.

SHELTON: It’s challenging, ’cause we have so many brands to sell.

ROLYA: We do. We have an awful lot of brands to sell. People think, oh, New York is a huge city, you must sell tons and tons of beer. But the problem is there are plenty of other breweries and importers who have the exact same thought.

SHELTON: Our beer is better.

ROLYA: Our beers are way better.

SHELTON: And we have ciders as well. We don’t just beer, I mean, this is a really smooth segue, because we have a special cider guest today Yeah, we’ve talked about cider in the past. Quite a few months ago we talked about Spanish cider—Basque cider—which is amazing stuff. And we know as little about that as we know about English cider, which is what we’re talking about today. What’s it like selling cider when you don’t know too much about it, and no one else knows too much about it?

ROLYA: Well that’s the thing, no one else knows about it. When people think of cider, across the board it seems like, they think of that sweet stuff on tap which primarily—I know, I’m stereotyping—but primarily, the ladies will order. And they might serve it over ice, which is just appalling. But usually they’re artificially sweetened or added sugars…

SHELTON: Or both.

ROLYA: Added flavors, or both. But we’re lucky here in New York City, we’re not too far from the Hudson Valley, which is a huge cider producing region. I think New York state is second after Washington state in apple production.

SHELTON: Historically as well, right?

ROLYA: Well historically, and now, they produce, I believe, second after Washington state. And so there’s a lot of cidermakers that are popping up along the Hudson Valley. So it’s starting to become more popular here. People are starting to learn about the different flavors of cider. It’s not just simply a sweet, alcoholic, apple-y beverage.

SHELTON: But still, the biggest sellers are the sweet commercial ones you see everywhere.

ROLYA: It’s the same as some of the sweet, Belgian beers that are popular or the terrible American light lagers. We’re out to change the world, Joel!

SHELTON: Including the cider world.

ROLYA: Including the cider world.

SHELTON: Good god, it’s too much. By the way, we are live in New York. We’re down here in East 7th Street across from Tompkins [Square] Park, site of the famous riots of 19…

ROLYA: I believe ’88?

SHELTON: Didn’t you watch the riots straight from your window?

ROLYA: I wasn’t here for that one. I was here for the second one, when they evicted all the homeless out of the park.

SHELTON: Memories, memories. Well, we have a special guest here in New York this week—Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry. Tom, what’s the official name of your company?

TOM OLIVER: Uh, Oliver’s Cider and Perry.

SHELTON: Oh I had it pretty close, didn’t I?

OLIVER: You were almost spot on, yep.

SHELTON: That was actually the first time I’ve ever gotten anything right on this show, in 71 episodes. But Tom, you’re visiting New York on music business.

OLIVER: That’s correct. I’m a tour manager and sound engineer with The Proclaimers. I think this is my 26th year with them. And that in itself is quite a feat.

SHELTON: Do they still like you?

OLIVER: They seem to tolerate me the same as they always have done. I think it’s got to the stage now where, when they go to do a show and I don’t turn up, they think something is wrong. No, we get along great.

SHELTON: Well we’re going to get into the music discussion in a little while, but we’re going to talk cider—maybe your first love, I don’t know if your first love was music or cider. But you don’t have to decide today.

OLIVER: I’ll give them both equal attention.

SHELTON: OK, fair enough. We’ll give them both equal attention today. So let’s get back to the cider for a little bit. We were just talking about the difficulty of promoting real cider in New York. And you’ve probably had the same experiences in England through your years of making cider there.

OLIVER: I think a lot of the time, you either have people who think they know what cider is—and in the UK, cider is quite often seen as some fairly assertive, maybe slightly acetic, slightly vinegary concoction that they bought when they were on their way to holiday in Cornwall and they stopped off at a cider farm in Devon or Somerset. And that frequently coincided with their first real go at drinking alcohol, they probably got a little overexuberant on it.

SHELTON: We’re assuming these were young people?

OLIVER: We’re talking younger, and quite often that was the last time they would’ve ever drunk cider. So you have that story. You have a similar story in that there are a large number of sweeter, more easy-drinking ciders that are aimed at the ladies market and the draft market. But that’s in a country with a tradition of cider drinking. Now over here, I see that it’s much more open in the sense that it’s starting again, almost from scratch. And so, cider, as I see it, for a lot of people means a drink that’s not fermented at all, it’s just natural apple juice, as I would term it. When I talk about cider, I mean an alcoholic drink. So there’s plenty of work to be done.

SHELTON: Well certainly I think when BR and I were growing up, when you had cider it was a jug of usually kind of cloudy, natural looking stuff. But had nothing to do with alcohol. Maybe it would’ve turned to alcohol if you didn’t drink it fast enough.

ROLYA: Oh it does, I have a jug in the fridge! It’s a very basic way of making hard cider. You get the unpasteurized jugs of cider from the farmers market, and pour a little bit out, shake it up, vent off the CO2 every now and then. And sometimes you end up with cider vinegar, other times you end up with a passable form of hard cider.

SHELTON: So all those years when I was a kid, I could’ve been making alcoholic cider?

ROLYA: You could have been making alcoholic cider!

SHELTON: Or my dad could’ve, if he cared for us!

ROLYA: If your dad loved you…

SHELTON: We always get into these things in the Shelton Brothers, it’s part of our therapy. Tom, in England, when you were growing up, it was hard cider, it’s been a tradition that’s never disappeared from England?

OLIVER: It’s never disappeared. It did, historically, all through the centuries, cider’s had a very much up-and-down existence. It’s always been there, but being there and being good is two different things. Every hundred years it seems there’s a renaissance, both in the orchard aspect of things—so the growing of the trees, preservation of old varieties, the introduction of new varieties. And coinciding with that, there’s a renewed interest in making better, and good cider. This does carry on into some momentum.

But until the recent—certainly in the UK—advent of a particular cider called Magners, who introduced a very clever marketing angle, which was cider over ice. Which I won’t debate whether that’s a good or bad thing. But in the sense that it suddenly introduced cider to the young, it was a fantastic thing. They introduced it in Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, and I think another couple of other areas in the UK. Very specific—Irish bars in those cities. And in one season, they saw the interest and the sales go sky high. So the next year they introduced it everywhere. I think in the space of three years, cider went from being either the drink that the diehard bulbous-nosed yokel might be drinking—there was those that would drink big commercial company ciders, so Bulmers is a brand, Strongbow, Woodpecker.

SHELTON: Those are the ones you see in every pub.

OLIVER: That’s it. Those were what people thought of as cider. But Magners introduced young people to cider. For the first time ever, 6:30 at night, in a city, and the young people outside pubs drinking, and they’d have bottles of cider in their hand or a glass of cider. I’d never seen that. So this really was an absolute sea change in the acceptance of cider by a lot of new drinkers.

SHELTON: But what where these ciders replacing for these young drinkers?

OLIVER: I think it was a progression from these fruit-adjusted beverages, what are they called…

SHELTON: Alcopops.

OLIVER: Yes, alcopops. So it was replacing alcopops, and it was replacing lager to a degree as well.

SHELTON: So that’s pretty good news all around, nothing we will miss if you got rid of it.

OLIVER: Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to antagonize the lager people.

SHELTON: Too late, Tom.

OLIVER: I already did.

SHELTON: Too late, this is going to air all over the UK.

OLIVER: But yes, it can’t be a bad thing. Also, if it makes people make better lager. Because there are good lagers—I’m not going to tell you, because I don’t anything about beer—but I understand that in terms of what I might understand a lager to be, there are good lagers. But they just need to be made with some care.

This cider thing really started to gather momentum, and it got young people drinking it. And then of course, that had a knock-on effect. We’ve got a renewed interest in traceability of food and drink. Food festivals have become a very big part of the food scene on an annual basis. Food groups—Slow Food movement to an extent, CAMRA and their support for beer and cider—has spread the interest. Suddenly lots more people are exposed to lots more ciders, and in that sort of moment of euphoria, of discovering something new, it got people persuaded that cider actually was a great drink, and they then went on to discover the bigger depth that cider offered. Because it is a huge choice. Us small cidermakers have benefited immensely from it.

SHELTON: Well, we’re going to take a break for a minute and come back and talk about your particular company—its past history and more recent history. This is the High and Mighty Beer Show with the Shelton Brothers, we’re speaking with Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry.

[Music: The Misers – Long Way Down]

SHELTON: We’re back. This is the High and Mighty Beer—and today, Cider—Show. This is Joel, I’m with BR Rolya from New York City and Tom Oliver directly from…Tom, what’s the name of that little village?

OLIVER: Ocle Pychard.

SHELTON: What does that mean?

OLIVER: OK. ‘Ocle’ means ring of oaks, because there were oak trees everywhere back in the day, in England. And ‘Pychard’ is because the area where the farm is was given to one of the knights that helped William the Conqueror in 1066 subdue the occupants of the area, and he was from Picardy. So the village got named “the place where the oaks grew, given to a knight from Picardy.” Ocle Pychard.

ROLYA: And your farm has quite a long history.

OLIVER: Yep. The history that I’m most aware of is my grandfather growing cider apples from the end of the 1800s to about 1921. And he grew [apples] to make cider for the workforce and for his own consumption. But all surplus apples went to Bulmers, who by then, were buying fruit from farms all over Herefordshire.

SHELTON: Bulmers the big cider company?

OLIVER: That’s it, the big cider company. And then—and I’m pretty sure it’s 1921—they started a new contract. And this is quite interesting to think, that all cider apples in Herefordshire now—98% of them—are all grown under contract to certain producers. And I want to say by far and away most go to Bulmers. So farmers are growing the apples, and every apple they grow goes to Bulmers, they can’t sell it to anyone else.

ROLYA: Do they request certain varietals?

OLIVER: The varieties are as encouraged by Bulmers’ orcharding people. And that involves a lot of old traditional varieties. Actually now, they’re planting lots of new varieties.

SHELTON: Tom, I was looking on your website, and you list about 30 different cider apple tree varieties on your own farm.


SHELTON: And 30 different pear…

OLIVER: Yep. I’ve got something like 40 different cider apples. And I think it’s about 30 different perry pears. But I haven’t got huge numbers of trees of all of those. But variety is the spice of life when it comes to blending ciders. But also, when I was interested in planting, and got quite involved in doing it, there was not a lot of planting of old traditional varieties. It looked like we were losing quite a lot of the last few orchards. But interesting enough, with the renewal of interest in cider, there’s been a huge renewal of interest in planting cider apples. So now, I’m far more optimistic for the near future for the survival of varieties of cider apple than I was 15 or 20 years ago.

SHELTON: Do you have any idea how many varieties there were at one time?

OLIVER: There are thousands of varieties of apples. In England I think it’s at least two or three thousand. As with all things, when you distill it all down, probably two or three dozen cider varieties that are the common ones planted in large numbers. But there would probably be 100, 120 that are in decent quantities that people use. So the number of varieties really does give you a much greater opportunity to blend ciders. The big producers, they’re probably not interested in lots of varieties, what they’re interested in is having the volume of juice which they can then take as their base juice, and they can then mess with it.

SHELTON: And they might manipulate it more than someone like you would.

OLIVER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SHELTON: We can talk about that a little bit. What’s the difference in production between the big commercial companies and what you’re doing? You do it the most natural way possible.

OLIVER: I don’t mind running the risk. The biggest difference is we all have to get our apples at the appropriate stage of ripeness, press them, and get the juice. The larger producers will then do as much as they can to get a greater economic return from their apple crop. Which invariably involves probably some form of adulteration—dilution, whether it be water or imported concentrate or whatever—in order to get as much cider that qualifies for duty but isn’t as involved with the apple. We have a law now that stipulates that [at] 20 degrees Centigrade, 33% of any cider must have a basis in fruit. But that doesn’t necessarily mean fresh fruit.

SHELTON: As usual, things made the natural way taste better. Your cider is made from 100% natural juice.

OLIVER: 100% apple. Well it’s the only way I know. And I think it does give you a definite advantage, the characteristics in the finished cider are usually far more complex. But having said that, therefore quite often more demanding. And therefore not necessarily easy, both in the sense to drink and in the sense to appreciate. There’s horses for courses. And there’s a lot to be said for making cider as drinkable as possible, because that may be what you want from it. You want something that’s good and thirst quenching. Now, I would say that you could make a full-juice cider like that, but if you throw in then the fact that we use wild yeast fermentations. So we are also open to the possibilities of all things that can happen when you let wild yeast loose on your ciders. Now, frequently I think it’s good and far better results. But of course there are times when the results are not all that you’d want them to be. And if I was a large producer using a large volume container—you know, 50,000-liter containers, 10,000-gallon type containers—then I’d probably want to feel very confident by pitching a yeast that what was going on was a good, solid fermentation with good, predictable results.

SHELTON: Those big companies wouldn’t do wild yeast ever, would they?

OLIVER: Too risky. And in actual fact, a lot of them are petrified of wild yeast to the extent that they’ll kill off all the wild yeast so that the fermentation really is down to maybe one style of yeast. And then you end up with a predictable cider base from which you can then make your myriad of different ciders. There are good, sound, commercial reasons for that I would argue. As long as I don’t actually have to do those good, sound, commercial things!

SHELTON: You’re not interested.

ROLYA: Aside from the wild yeast, do you traditionally ferment in wooden barrels?

OLIVER: I do a lot in oak. I don’t do it exclusively in oak, some of my ciders are made in a similar way to French ciders with keeving. And in keeving, you need vertical sides, and you need to be able to see what’s going on. So in actual fact, the relatively cheap food grade plastic containers are, for me, the ideal containers for doing these sorts of ciders that I don’t want any wood influence at all. Certainly a number of my ciders are exclusively in wood. Most of them, after that, are a mix of wood and stainless steel and plastic and fiberglass, whatever. You can make great ciders in all sorts of different containers. And they all have something that they bring to the table.

SHELTON: So you make at least five sort of standard ciders, then a host of other ones seasonally?

OLIVER: I’m a classic example of a small producer who’s doing exactly what you shouldn’t do, which is making lots of different things and trying to do it every year. What the drive behind that is, that when people come and visit us—and we’re very lucky, people do seem to want to come and visit and find out about cider—what I want is for there to be at least one or two ciders that everybody is going to enjoy. So that means that you really have to have cider that stretches from being the driest to sweet, then is still and fizzy, and a combination of all those things in between. So at any one time, we’ve probably got a dozen to 16 different bottled ciders in the ciderhouse. And at least three draft ciders, and in the summer when they’re all coming to maturity, probably three draft and two single-variety ciders, and a couple of perries. So if you come, you’ll be able to try over 20 different ones on any given occasion. And that’s great. And hopefully we’ll find something that everyone can enjoy.

SHELTON: If you picked a place on the spectrum—the perfect cider for you—is it closer to the funkier one, the earthier one, the sweeter one, the drier one?

OLIVER: No sweetness.

SHELTON: No sweetness.

OLIVER: And no sparkle. Dry, a little bit of funk, just very austere and demanding. There’s nothing getting in the way of the core of the taste. And sweetness for me, does. A lot of people equate sweetness with appleyness, and I understand that. You could make a cider sweeter and people will say, this is appley-ier.

SHELTON: Well they’re used to eating apples.

OLIVER: That’s it. And the perception of appleyness is enhanced by sweetness. And I also understand that there’s a lot of other things going on. So there’s the drying effect of our ciders, and we’re in an area with lots of tannic ciders. And just the bitterness and astringency of a cider, it’s sometimes just offputting for people. But if you become a confirmed cider drinker, you will gravitate toward those.

SHELTON: Tom, we need way more time to talk about cider. But we’re going to talk about music in the next segment, is that OK with you?

OLIVER: Of course it is.

SHELTON: We’ll have to catch up with you next year about the cider. We’re going to take a short break. This is the High and Mighty Beer Show with the Shelton Brothers. We’re speaking with Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry.

[Music: The Proclaimers – Like Comedy]

SHELTON: We’re back. This is the High and Mighty Beer Show, or I should say the High and Mighty Cider Show. This is Joel, I’m with BR in New York. And we’re with Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry. Tom, we promised to talk about music this last segment. But I just want to go back to something we mentioned in the first segment about how the youngsters in England start their cider appreciation—and cider dislike. I started off drinking cider…it was in your neighborhood, actually, I didn’t know you then. But some friends took me to a cider pub which you may know about, it’s out in the middle of nowhere in a field, which is where everything is out where you live in Herefordshire. Herefordshire, we should say, is north of Gloucestershire?

OLIVER: That’ll work. It’s northwest.

SHELTON: But I’ve been around there a lot. And anyway, this friend of ours took us to a cider pub—they specialized in cider, not ale.

OLIVER: The Monkey House at Defford?

SHELTON: You know, I don’t remember, Tom. And I’ll tell you why I don’t remember. Because I don’t remember anything from that day! Except for they took us to this pub in the middle of the afternoon, but they had 10 different ciders on draft. And I’d never drunk cider before, I had no opinion of it except for that some of them were sweet, some were dry. But I tried every one of them. And I chugged about three or four, and I said this doesn’t have any effect! And all these farmers were there, and they said wait for a few minutes, and they were laughing at me. I remember that part. And after that, I don’t remember much. And I ended up, well, in some strange places later on.

OLIVER: I think you would’ve gone strange places in your head, and maybe in your body. The whole thing about cider, I think, is if you’re sat down inside drinking it, it seems fairly innocuous. But it’s when you get up and you go outside, the combination is your legs go from underneath you and the fresh air hits you, and goodnight Vienna [it’s all over].

SHELTON: I can’t really say how I ended up, I don’t remember the rest of the night or much of the next day. It’s not that important, but I wanted to be part of English history.

OLIVER: You have established your credentials with that, certainly.

SHELTON: We digressed from our promise to talk about music. As you said earlier, music is equally your first love with cider and perry. And you’ve been in the music business for quite a long time.

OLIVER: I got stuck in when I left agriculture college at 21. On the advice of my parents, who said agriculture, it’s a tough one, there’s not a huge living to be had out of this. If there’s anything else you want to do, give it a go.

SHELTON: Are you saying your parents suggested the music business?

OLIVER: No. That was probably the last thing they thought of. It was my choice, always. As a teenager, who doesn’t like music? And I was no exception. I grew up with a band in Herefordshire that distinguished themselves above all others, was a band called Mott the Hoople. Who I still think are the greatest band that ever existed. And Mr. Ian Hunter who is now a resident of Connecticut and has been for many years, is my all-time songwriting hero. So I’ve got a lot of time for that. We’ve managed to produce the three male members of The Pretenders, so that has been another claim to fame for the county. And in front of you is an album by The Misers, who I would suggest are a band who hopefully are going to raise some eyebrows and get some converts over the next few years.

SHELTON: And speaking of which, we played a cut from The Misers on our first break.

OLIVER: You did.

SHELTON: And you produced this?

OLIVER: This album, I was the executive producer—which I’m not really sure what that means—but it usually means that I seemed to be there all the time. But I didn’t have to qualify what I did, so that was it.

SHELTON: No one ever knows what that means. It basically means you’re in charge of getting it done.

OLIVER: Yeah. And the first album that they did, I was co-producer on. And it gave me an opportunity to work at Rockfield Studios, the most noted residential studio in the UK, and one of the most noted in the world, I think. Music has taken me everywhere and everywhere, and I’ve managed to stay fairly healthy, enjoyed it. I started off with pop bands, bands like Haircut One Hundred and Stray Cats, an American band.

SHELTON: You mean—you started off—you mean what, exactly?

OLIVER: I would’ve been doing sound, then. Not necessarily sound for the audience, but maybe sound for the band on stage. And then I moved on to some reggae bands—Burning Spear, Gregory Isaacs—I learned a lot about sound then, and how to layer sound, it was very educational working with them. And then I started combining and sound and tour management, with a band called It Bites, who were a progressive rock band. And then, got offered a job with Van Morrison, looking after him, which I managed to survive. And if you can survive working with Van, then it’s accepted you can probably do the job, generally.

SHELTON: Care to elaborate?

OLIVER: No, no. Except as always, there’s a myriad of stories about him, and they’re all true.

SHELTON: Are we getting back to cider now?

OLIVER: [Laughs.] So after Van, I ended up doing my two real long-term bands, which was Everything but the Girl and for the last 25 years I’ve been involved with The Proclaimers.

SHELTON: Which is the reason you’re here in town?

OLIVER: Which is the reason I’m here in New York now.

ROLYA: You’re here for a whole month in the US, right? Touring with them?

OLIVER: Yep. We’re doing an acoustic tour, the three of us in a vehicle with an acoustic guitar turned up, and they’re singing their tunes.

ROLYA: As tour manager, do you insist that the rider include that every venue must stock Oliver’s Cider and Perry?

OLIVER: You know, it’s most interesting. But the one thing I’ve never done is have cider on the rider. Because I worry for myself. When I’m on tour, when we’re doing shows, I don’t drink anything. And the temptation of looking at cider, it would be just too much.

SHELTON: So you really don’t trust yourself?

OLIVER: I know my limitations.

SHELTON: You don’t drink at all on tour?

OLIVER: No, I will rephrase that. While I’m working, I don’t drink. But you may occasionally find me, for relaxation, back at the hotel at night, I may just have the odd—what’s it going to be, because there aren’t many places where you can get a decent cider—so it’ll probably be a beer.

SHELTON: And you said before you don’t know anything about beer. I’m sure that’s not true, but you don’t mind drinking a beer if there’s no good cider to be had.

OLIVER: I don’t mind. I’m not just saying it because I’m in America. But the craft beer availability is really pretty spectacular now. They’re always very interesting in terms of flavors. I’m a big hop man, because one of the reasons that…we were going to get around to it, maybe we can just spin it in a bit. On the farm, we started—my granddad—we got to 1921, Bulmers offered a new contract price for apples. He agreed to it. They reneged on this price. And he said, well, I’m going to pull all my apple trees out, I’m going to plant hops, because it’s a much better prospect for making money. And he did it. He wasn’t the only farmer that did that. About that time, we saw the potential for growing hops. Kent’s always been seen as the area for hops, but actually Herefordshire, combined with a little bit of Worcestershire, was a bigger hop growing area at some stage. Every farm had a hopyard, it was the major cash crop. And that was the case from the 1930s right through to the ’90s. Unfortunately, the market for hops started to get more challenging, imports from China, Eastern Europe, and America, they were planting hops in valleys that had never seen hops before. So for ten years, you could grow hops without any disease problem. We couldn’t compete with that. We had growing disease problems, we had labor problems, price was getting more challenging. So most hop growers went out of it. And so the sight of these big sixteen-foot high wirework hopyards in Herefordshire, hop gardens in Kent, they disappeared over the space of about ten years.

The buildings, we had machinery was taken out, scrapped. We actually think most of the old hop machines in the UK went to build the Olympic Stadium in Beijing. If you have a look at the Olympic Stadium in Beijing, it looks like a giant hop machine. So we then moved in to the space that the hop kilns had used, and the hop kilns is where my ciderhouse is and the shop and the storage and the bottling. And the hop shed, where the hops were picked, is where I have my press and my tanks. And my barrels live in any space I can get them.

SHELTON: So the apples and pears came and went. And then the hops came and went.


SHELTON: So it just goes in cycles.

OLIVER: That’s agriculture. You can’t specifically see what the future holds. But for a period of time, you develop your expertise in one area, and then that gets pulled from underneath your feet, and you have to reinvent yourself and become an expert in something else. I mean, I grew up knowing all about hops and picking hops, thinking that that would be the thing that would keep me fed and warm at winter—it wasn’t the case. We were very glad to explore the world of cider and perry again. And in terms of selling it, we’d always made cider and perry on the farm for our own consumption.

ROLYA: Speaking of reinventing, you recently collaborated with someone here in the US who’s gone from brewing to cidermaking!


ROLYA: And you’ve created an award winning product.

OLIVER: Yep. I met Greg Hall from Virtue Cider, [he] came over a number of years ago on a foray exploring cider, following on a real yearning that he had developed for a cider setup himself. We sort of hit off talking about it, really, and discussing the opportunities. So while we were talking, and while he was consuming more pints of perry than is humanely possible to drink—I give him full dues, because I couldn’t match him. Anyway, we talked about the idea of doing something that’s happening quite a bit in the brewing industry, this collaboration. And the idea that it would be a transatlantic collaboration seemed like a really nice idea. So we brought together the fact that wild yeasts were a fairly key thing, that gave us a lot of connections with lambic yeasts and brewing. So I came up with the basic bittersweet cider, fermented in oak with wild yeasts. And then adding some fruit sugars and pitching in some lambic yeast to get a little bit more alcohol, like another percent, but getting another layer of complexity. And that’s what we did. Gold Rush was the name that I came up with. We made it, bottled it, and it met with a wonderful mixture of responses. Because it is a proper bittersweet cider. It will be a little bit too demanding for some. But for others, it was like the light went on, and this is fantastic!

And then just a couple of weeks ago at GLINTCAP, which is the big cider competition, under the English cider section, there were two gold medals awarded. And Gold Rush picked up one of them. Which I was really pleased about. There were two gold medals, one went to an English cider, and another went to an American cider. And that seemed to me a nice thing.

SHELTON: Which was better, Tom?

OLIVER: I haven’t tasted the American cider yet, and I’m sure that, in my mind, will be better. Everybody else’s cider is always better than your own. I was pleased, because there were also some Spanish ciders in there, and my big fear was that a Spanish cider and an American cider would win in the English cider section. And I’m not sure I’d be happy about that.

SHELTON: Well, Tom, we don’t have much time left. We’ve got to run. We’ve got some errands to do with you. We’re going to be on another radio show after this, then we have a tasting event here in New York City. It never stops, BR, right?

ROLYA: No, it…

SHELTON: We never get any rest.

ROLYA: It’s the city that never sleeps, but that drinks a lot.

SHELTON: Yeah. But Tom, you’re going to be drinking with us the rest of the day, is that OK?

OLIVER: I’m going to do my best.

SHELTON: It’s early yet, but we’ve got some events to do, we’re going to hit the town. We want to say thanks to Lauren Shepherd, our trusty Shelton Brothers representative out in Colorado, who is our cider expert. And always trying to convince us that cider is good, it’s an uphill fight. But Lauren told us Tom was coming, which we appreciate.

OLIVER: Lauren does a fantastic job for our ciders. I’m most grateful to her for all the support. And, of course, Joel and BR, thank you very much. And to Sheltons, I have to say, I take my hat off to you. Because without you, I would have no possibility of anything happening here, so thanks a lot.

ROLYA: Thanks, Tom.

SHELTON: Tom, you just keep touring as a musician and talking about cider.

OLIVER: If you heard me as a musician, you wouldn’t want to have me touring, I guarantee it!

SHELTON: Or as a manager, I’m sorry. Well, anyone who’s listening out there, look for The Proclaimers on tour for the next month or so. All over the States, I guess?


SHELTON: You can go say hi to Tom, you can find the one sober guy in the crowd, that’ll be Tom. If it’s after the show, he might be in the gutter. But are they free to say hi to you at the show?

OLIVER: Please come by. I am the slightly overweight balding guy with glasses at the mixing desk. And if I’ve had a good day, I might be smiling. If I’ve just had a horrible day with lots of driving, the smile might not be as wide as normal. But come and say hello. And bring me some cider.

SHELTON: Tom, we appreciate you coming by to do this show.

OLIVER: Thank you for having me.

SHELTON: Well, we’ll talk to you again soon.

OLIVER: Yeah, please do.

SHELTON: Either live or on the phone. You’ve been listening to the High and Mighty Beer Show with the Shelton Brothers. I’m Joel.


SHELTON: Our guest has been Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry. We’ll see you again next week.