Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry is currently traveling around the US as tour manager and sound engineer for The Proclaimers. Along the way he’s making a number of cider-related appearances at tasting events and as a special guest on various radio shows. Tom is not only an exceptional cidermaker and perrymaker but is very well spoken and an unrivaled ambassador for real cider. His April 9th appearance on the Brooklyn-based Beer Sessions Radio is definitely worth a listen…but if you can’t spare the time, I’ve transcribed the first segment of the episode below. Follow the links for transcripts of Part 2 and Part 3!
JIMMY CARBONE: Hey, welcome to Beer Sessions Radio on the Heritage Radio Network. It’s Jimmy Carbone from Jimmy’s No. 43 and The Good Beer Seal in New York. It’s April 9th, 2013, and we’ve got an awesome show. Thanks to our sponsor, GreatBrewers.com. If you want to learn more about the world of beer—beer education—check out the BeerCloud to find out where to get your favorite beer. Go to GreatBrewers.com. And thank you to our other supporter, Good Beer Seal at goodbeerseal.com. Right now there’s 41 New York City beer bars that serve and promote really good craft beer.
All right! So this is an awesome show, a very special show. We’ve done a few shows in the past about cider, and one of our favorite cidermakers in the world is Tom Oliver. He’s here from England, he’s collaborated with Greg Hall, our buddy, formerly of Goose Island Brewing, who’s now starting Virtue Cider in Michigan. He’s done a lot of great things. We have some of his ciders here today. And we’re joined by Tom Oliver, BR Rolya, and Joel Shelton from Shelton Brothers who import it. So Tom, welcome to the show!
TOM OLIVER: Thank you Jimmy, great to be here.
CARBONE: The first question I have to ask, is please say your name and the village that you’re from in England.
OLIVER: OK, so my name is Tom Oliver. And the village is Ocle Pychard in Herefordshire. In case anyone in Herefordshire is listening!
CARBONE: BR and Joel, how did you guys ever—you guys have so many beers and ciders with Shelton Brothers, you guys started in Belgium, you’re in France, and New Zealand—how did you guys ever meet Tom and how did you guys ever start bringing in cider in addition to your excellent beer portfolio?
BR ROLYA: That was Joel’s brother Will—Joel and Dan’s brother—who traveled to England and said Hey! I just had a revelation that cider can actually be good, it’s not an overly sweetened beverage to get you drunk. It’s complex as a good lambic, and is interesting, and there’s that sense of terroir that comes out of it from growing the local orchards, the local apples. It’s a very traditional cider growing region that Tom will tell us about, cider variety apple growing region.
CARBONE: We’ve seen big changes in New York City, the last two years we’ve had Cider Week New York, and at my place—Jimmy’s No. 43—we’re selling more cider than wine now. Also there’s a connection to agriculture we’re really trying to represent the cidermakers who grow their own apples. And we know some cidermakers in New York who also grow grapes and make wine, and they’re making cider. So Tom, I know you fall into that category. Tell us a little bit about—this is a family business, it goes way back—tell us about Oliver’s.
OLIVER: Cider’s been made on the farm through the last three centuries. This particular moment in time, I think we see cider as probably having the brightest future that it’s ever had. Because the interest is not just from the diehard cider drinker, but younger people now are switching on to the possibility that cider definitely offers them something that’s special. And this in turn is meaning that we can make better ciders because there’s more purpose. So we’ve taken it from being a farm gate—just whoever turns up with any old container you’ll fill it—in the last 15 years, the whole thing’s turned around in the UK. And I think that’s spreading around the world now.
CARBONE: So growing up, your father was making cider and wine?
OLIVER: Yep, my dad was more a fruit wine maker. My granddad made cider. And my granddad made cider because it was demanded—the workforce enjoyed the cider in the summer when they were making hay. You know you sweat a lot, you need to replace the fluids, and cider was a good, healthy way of doing it. But these things have to move on, and you can no longer do that.
CARBONE: We have another guest here. Tony Forder, he’s the editor of Ale Street News, one of the leading American craft beer magazines. So Tony you’re from England as well, tell us a little bit about the cider culture in England.
TONY FORDER: Yeah, I can tell you a little bit, Jimmy. I’m from Sussex, and the first time I ever got drunk was when some friends of mine stole some cider from the neighboring woodyard when I was 13 years [old], and it was quite an introduction to cider! It’s really a great alternative to beer, I find it really refreshing as sort of an apertif kind of thing, or a daytime drink. But it’s very popular all over England.
CARBONE: Tom, tell us more about the cider culture in England.
OLIVER: There’s always been your diehard cider drinker who would drink the still, dry ciders that are the way that the apple, when it’s fully fermented, will give you this dry, still cider. But nowadays, they’re able to sparkle ciders, carbonate them, introduce some sweetness, and so they have a real appeal across the board. From the dry, wine drinker to the younger person who wants a little bit of sweetness and a little bit of fizz. And this gives you just such a breadth of choice for cider. This cider that you’re trying here—this Gold Rush—this was the cider that Greg Hall and myself made together. It’s the first transatlantic linkup in terms of cider. It’s a full bittersweet cider made with the classic cider apples like Yarlington Mill and Dabinett that grow in the orchards of Herefordshire and down in Somerset and Devon and all the cider growing—apple growing—counties of England. It’s got some bitterness, it’s got some dryness, it’s got some astringency, it’s got sort of a barnyard-y farm-y feel to it too. Got a nice apple-y sweetness to it, and a little bit of that acid giving you some zing to it. So it’s a big, full drink. And this is the sort of drink that really represents what bittersweet cider apples can give you. Some people love it, some people are a little bit put off by it, but we’re very pleased to say a couple of weeks ago at GLINTCAP, which is the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Competition, there were two ciders that were awarded gold medals in the English Cider section, and this was one of them.
CARBONE: Was that in America or in England?
OLIVER: That was in America, at the Great Lakes…
FORDER: Greg Hall of course is the former Goose Island brewer who is now into cider.
CARBONE: Is that a new thing, the Great Lakes Cider and Perry…?
OLIVER: They’ve been going for at least eight years, and I’m sure someone will correct me on that. But they had over 450 entries this year, which was double the entries from previous years. It was a great example of just how much cider is now being made at a craft level in America. And how the interest is growing. It’s fantastic, the choice now is exploding. I think that’s the great thing that you get with cider, is choice. And it’s up to you to make the choice of what you like.
CARBONE: There’s so many styles. Another guest here today, it’s Clint Carter from Men’s Health. He just put together a really awesome beer piece in the magazine. Clint, do you guys get to taste a lot of ciders in the course of your magazine work?
CLINT CARTER: Yeah, we do taste some ciders. But I’ll say that I haven’t had this Gold Rush. And this is excellent, I love this. It’s got a lot of the things that I like in a good saison, that dryness, a little bit spicy. I’m certainly interested in exploring more. I’m kind of a diehard beer drinker, but anything that I can taste that tastes as good as this, I’m interested in drinking more of.
CARBONE: I definitely feel like that for us, the last couple years in New York, with Cider Week New York, we’ve been exposed to a lot more traditional ciders. Whether they’re from Asturias in Spain where it’s super funky and tart, or your interesting English ales—I mean ciders, I’m thinking beer in my head you know! Let’s raise our glasses to you, Tom! What I want to talk more about…just tell us about your day, and your life. You grew up on a farm, and you’ve been part of this cycle of agriculture, and you’re making alcohol, this is going back how many years, hundreds of years?
OLIVER: It is, but of course I can only really talk about my time, the small amount of time I’ve been here. And what’s happened for us is on the farm, we were for all my youth hop growers as well. And hops, which is a main ingredient in beer which is so close to everybody’s heart here, I was hoping that hops would sustain us. [Sound from uncorked bottle.] Beautiful pop from one of those bottle conditioned ciders there. That hops would be the main cash crop for the farm. But in 1999 this ceased to be. And so what happened is we had to work out…diversification is the name of the game in agriculture on small farms in the UK. And one of the options for us was to take the cider and perry make it into a larger—I use the word commercial concern—but I think that’s almost laughable. I don’t make cider as a commercial concern, first and foremost is I try to make cider that is the best. And then from there I hope I can make it a great commercial concern. But I want to make the best cider, that’s the point of doing it.
CARBONE: BR, so…for example, the Gold Rush, which is the collaboration with Greg Hall and Tom Oliver, where in America, what cities can you get this in?
ROLYA: Well that opens up the can of worms of distribution in the US. But I would say in most of the major cities you can get the Gold Rush as well as the other…
ROLYA: Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia certainly. We came into cider, cider was part of our portfolio before I began with the company. But a lot of us didn’t know that much about cider. Lauren Shepherd is our cider expert, she’s out in Colorado, and she’s the one who deals with Tom on a day to day basis. But he’s also introduced us to some other fantastic UK cidermakers including Hogan’s ciders and also we have Henney’s, we have several cidermakers from…
CARBONE: I’ve had the Henney’s, and I think we’ve got Hogan’s in, we’re going to have a tasting.
OLIVER: Yes, we are.
CARBONE: If anyone’s in New York City, 7:30 tonight at Jimmy’s No. 43. Tom Oliver is going to give a tasting of ciders.
ROLYA: We also have a few from North America. We’ve got West County from Western Massachusetts, AeppelTreow from Wisconsin. And we started recently bringing in a Normandy cider—du Perche—from L’Hermitiére.
CARBONE: Joel, how does this work for you? You’re one of the Shelton Brothers, you get to do all these fun things…beer, of course! Do you get engaged in any of the cider events or with the cidermakers?
JOEL SHELTON: Whenever I have a chance. We’ve been talking about cider on our show a lot. We admit—the Shelton Brothers that is, most of our employees—is we don’t really know enough about it. And we’re learning as we import, which is a good way to learn, because you get free cider! I’ve actually learned as much about it today as I have in all the time previous, just being with Tom and hearing about it. We deal with so much beer that we don’t even, we have so many small breweries and we’re just getting into cider. And Lauren, as mentioned before—Lauren, our representative in Colorado—is the expert, she’s been pushing us to appreciate cider. And we make fun of her, just because it’s fun to pick on a girl.
SHELTON: We don’t pick on BR.
CARBONE: You can’t pick on BR.
SHELTON: We didn’t grow up with it, you know? None of us grew up with it. We drank beer as kids. Cider was juice when we were growing up. So we’ll have to learn about it. And Tom grew up with it, and he’s teaching us in the US that cider actually can get you feeling really good and can be as funky and as interesting and as complex as any good beer. And I think it’s going to start taking over a huge part of the alcohol market, honestly. We’re loving it, and it’s just a matter of time before we learn more about it. That’s true of the American people in general, and people everywhere else.
CARBONE: Tom, have you tried a number of American ciders?
OLIVER: I have. Not always the case, but I am a cider drinker. I make it, but I drink it, and I would much rather drink other people’s ciders than mine. So Farnum Hill I’m very familiar with, Steve Wood’s number of great ciders from there. Greg Hall’s ciders, I know RedStreak and I’m looking forward to Lapinette and The Mitten. And I try everywhere I go, if there’s a cider available, I’ll try it. The great thing about it is now that the whole approach to cider in America is a lot more ordered. In the UK, it’s still bound up in the traditions of the farm and it fits in with the season and the end of the year when you’ve got all the rest of the harvest in, yes, you’ll get the apples in and you’ll make cider and you’ll drink it. Whereas coming to America, I just see a lot more application of science, a lot more thought about it, and I’m really excited because I think the options for quality are fantastic. And without quality, you’re lost.
FORDER: I think that’s true. One development I think we’ve seen a lot is that the ciders that were available say five years ago, ten years ago, tend to be really on the sweeter side. And what we’ve seen in the last couple years is really a broadening of the whole category. Getting more traditional, drier ciders in the market. So there’s just, there’s a lot more availability on the traditional side.
ROLYA: And we’re lucky here in New York in terms that we have the Hudson Valley just up north. And a lot of those cidermakers are combining both, they’re focusing either on a British cider tradition or a French cider tradition or combining the two or doing something completely different. There’s a really nice range we can get here in New York City, we’re fairly lucky being in an apple growing region.
CARBONE: All right! We’re going to take a short break, we’ll back in a few minutes to talk more about cider with Tom Oliver on Beer Sessions Radio.