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ERIC WEST (Intro): Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider & Perry in Herefordshire, England joins me for Episode 1. His ciders and perries are cherished on both sides of the Atlantic and Tom’s widely regarded as one of the best in the business. He and I chat about rediscovering forgotten cider apples and perry pears, his approach to cidermaking and perrymaking, the changing cider palates of women and men, the impact of social media, the challenge of making an honest living from cider, and why the art of cidermaking should be more like avant garde music and less like jazz.
Here’s my conversation with Tom Oliver.
ERIC WEST: First off, Tom, I wanted to congratulate you for the stack of awards you won at The Cider Museum in Hereford competition. It looks like you almost swept the Perry categories—1st in Dry, Medium, and Sweet, 2nd in Bottle Fermented Perry, and a 1st as well for Single Varietal Cider. Is that your best showing at that competition?
TOM OLIVER: That is my best showing. That was fantastic I’ve got to say. I don’t recall anyone getting four 1sts before. I actually had the cup the year before, but that was just for one 1st, which was another perry. So I’ve had a sweet spot at The Cider Museum the last couple of years.
WEST: One of the things I noticed in the results as well is that Snowdrift from Washington State earned a 3rd in the bottle fermented perry category. I know when I’ve spoken with them, they’ve mentioned you as kind of a mentor and influence. It’s exciting to see some Americans entering that competition and doing well.
OLIVER: It is. I have to be honest, they came over mob handed, as it were, quite a few years ago now. And visited with me, which was great. And we talked a lot about perry and so forth. And they’ve gone back—and on the perries that they have sent over for competitions here—they always seem to get placed. Which is an indication of the high standard and the ability to keep that high standard up over a period of time. Congratulations to them, it’s great. I think everyone should be sending their best cider and perry over to the UK, because I think we have a lot to learn about what cider and perry can and can’t be. Especially when it’s made with, either different fruit, or fruit that’s grown elsewhere.
WEST: It is exciting to see some of those links being formed between the different competitions on your side of the Atlantic and our side of the Atlantic. So that’s something that I hope will continue to grow.
OLIVER: It is. Well, as you know, I love the opportunity to enter the Great Lakes, and to get the feedback from that. All competitions are structured differently, and work in different ways, and it’s quite exciting A) to find out what the results are, but B) it’s just interesting to see how people evaluate what it is you’re doing, and what it is they perceive something to be. Because it all feeds into the brain as to how you do things and what you’re doing. And I don’t think you can ever get too much information like that, either, it’s good.
WEST: I suppose that a competition here in the US might be sort of a proxy for how American consumers perceive your products, in some way?
OLIVER: When you think that probably—especially with the more full-blown hard-nosed traditional type of bittersweet ciders that I might make occasionally—if they struggle in a crowd that might understand them, they’re going to fail dismally out in the real world. For me, it’s a bit of a benchmark of—at the moment—what I think I might be able to get away with. Because ultimately you want to make drinks—for me, I want to make drinks that have a complexity. But they also must be enjoyable, and people must want to drink them. Sometimes you really do need to know who it is that’s going to drink your cider before you make the cider sometimes. Because what sells in one place will not sell in another place, as a matter of course, at all.
WEST: I would like to talk about your ciders and perries in a bit. But for the people who are listening to this, they might be in any manner of places. They may be sitting in front of a computer or on their commute somewhere. Could you magically transport us to Herefordshire and describe for us maybe what the landscape [looks like], what people do there, what the orchards are like…just give us a feel for a few minutes what it’s like to be in Herefordshire.
OLIVER: OK. The basis of the Herefordshire landscape is the old-fashioned family farms. And these farms were anything from a few acres—50, 60 acres maybe—to 300 acres, would’ve been the average size for a family farm, up to a thousand acres. And these were all mixed farms. So the family would have cattle, maybe sheep, they’d have orchards, they might have hops, they’d be growing grass. This would all be in relatively small fields with hedges, based around a single farm and a set of buildings. This was pretty much what the countryside looked like. We have quite a lot of woods as well. And it’s all set in gently rolling hills leading onto the Welsh Borders, as you come out of England. We get traditionally gentle nighttime rain, and we hope a decent amount of sun in the summer. We can get winters, but they come and go, a hard winter every now and then. At the moment, things are a little bit on the change, the weather, it’s wetter than normal, the extremes are more obvious. Which is causing us a few problems I think. But the farms are growing in size, the family farms are tending to change, a lot of them are giving up. The ones that are aggressively acquiring land—as they will have to in order to survive—are going up to a thousand acres minimum now to survive. We’re not able to do that, so we’re sticking with our 330 prime acres of Herefordshire land, and very much appreciative of the chance to work on it. We’ve got to be a bit more imaginative about how we get an income out of it all.
But it’s a lovely part of the world. I’d encourage anyone to visit. If it’s like anywhere, it may be like some areas of Oregon, but with more gentle rolling hills, not extremes. That’s the thing I think we have. No extremes of anything here. And that’s really what I think has guided the agriculture.
WEST: One of the things I noticed in my research is that Herefordshire appears to be one of the least populated counties in England.
OLIVER: Yeah, it is. It’s one of the least populated counties in that sense. It’s also one of the least income-per-capita counties in the country as well. The disposable income of the population is not high. And yet land prices are astronomical. Housing prices are not low. And this comes up against problems when it comes to the earning power of people here. Times aren’t necessarily straightforward or easy, but as a place to live, we have some good schools here. The quality of life is high. It is a bit quieter here, we’re still sort of an undiscovered county. But of course, in order make the most of things, we would love people to discover us, but only for a week or so!
WEST: On holiday perhaps.
WEST: That leads me to another question I had. It seems that you have been at the forefront of promoting Herefordshire and Three Counties as a cider and perry producing region. Can you talk a little bit about that and about your efforts preserve some of those cider [apple] varieties and perry pear varieties that might go by the wayside if development continues on its path like it has?
OLIVER: I have to say that in terms of the timing and everything, I’ve come to this after a period of time of just growing up. Not really thinking about my surroundings. There were a lot of orchards, indeed we had more orchards back before I was born. It sort of reached a point—I don’t know when I started to realize this—but the cider and perry that was available to buy and to enjoy was getting really quite limited. That was one thing that struck me. In time I was hearing stories about disappearing orchards and everything. It had sort of slowly crept up, really. At one stage, well I thought this was just the normal way that agriculture goes. One crop fails, you move to another crop, and that’s always been the way through the centuries. But this was getting quite dramatic. Though cider apples were being grown, it was a limited number of varieties, for Bulmers really. So there seemed time for the small man to be able to just say, look, let’s see if we can keep this diversity of varieties going. I certainly, by all means, was not the only one, and thank goodness. For I’ve not been able to plant that many. But it was a growing band of people—enthusiasts, people with land, farmers with real intentions of being able to plant varieties. And slowly over a period of 15 or 20 years, there’s been a turnaround I feel. I feel now, there’s far more diversity of varieties planted, there’s far more understanding of varieties that are at there. And we’ve still got hundreds of acres of traditional trees that nobody knows what the fruit is. It’s been lost in time, or maybe it’s not a known variety anyway. So there’s still a lot of discovery that can be done as well, which is exciting in itself.
WEST: Particularly for younger generations I would think. To be able to have that world to explore as they grow.
OLIVER: Yeah, it is. It’s a beautiful thing. You can still walk into orchards in Herefordshire and discover long lost varieties. And I did, 10 or 12 years ago, I discovered this variety of perry pear called the Coppy. That has been lost. There were no known mature trees of Coppy anywhere. It was one I’d been picking for a number of years, but I just hadn’t realized what it was. And then one day, I realized it. And it was like, how the heck didn’t you get it? It’s just frequently the way it goes. You can be working with a particular variety, and for one reason—the crop looks different every year, it’s not like it’s described in the books, completely. And you think, oh, I don’t know. And then suddenly, bang. It’s like a flash of inspiration, you find it. I’m hoping I’ve found a long lost apple, too, in the last couple of years. I’m waiting to have two or three experts agree with me, which may not happen! It’s exciting.
WEST: That is exciting. It seems to me that it’s one of those things, it’s not something you actively do for 12 months of the year, you’re only out there for the harvest…maybe you can speak to this, but is it something where you kind of grow harvest after harvest? You learn new things with each harvest, which each cidermaking season?
OLIVER: Yeah. I think ultimately it’s like everything that you find in life. You wished you’d started earlier. You wished you’d started noticing things earlier. But you don’t. And the time comes. And when the time does come for you to start realizing things, it’s just great, and you just have to keep going with it. But I find that identification of fruit is fascinating. But also really challenging. Because as you say, your time really to identify is with the fruit. And at the time the fruit is around, it’s your busy time. You’re doing your best to pick the fruit, press it, and run a business, and sell your cider and everything. So the actual time that you can set aside to do all this identification—it can take a long, long time—is limited. It’s a real challenge. But it’s a lot of fun when you come across something—especially when you think it’s an apple or a pear that was destined to make a great cider or perry–that gets to be really something.
WEST: Can you talk a little bit specifically—besides your own plantings—what’s being done to preserve some of those varieties that have been identified so they can be propagated for the future?
OLIVER: In terms of named varieties?
OLIVER: Well, on the perry pear front, we’ve come across—and I’ve got to think now—there’s the Strawberry pear. Which is one that Charles Martell, actually Charles is responsible for rediscovering many, many perry pears, which has been fantastic. One I am particularly taken with is that Strawberry. It’s a beautiful little pear. It is the shape of a traditional pear, but it’s got a lovely sort of yellowing coat. And it looks succulent like a strawberry does. It doesn’t look anything like a strawberry, I don’t think at all. And I don’t think the taste is particularly like a strawberry. But it does have this look of succulency. So whether somebody just thought when they saw it, this looks succulent like a strawberry, I don’t know. It’s just nice.
There’s a variety called the Green Roller, too, which is rediscovered. It’s another interesting pear with an interesting name. We’re still on the lookout for varieties, too. The one that always cropped up locally is a variety called the Late Treacle, which is not a late pear at all, it’s an early one. That one, I would imagine if you’ve got a name like Treacle, it must produce a very viscous, syrupy, sweet juice. We haven’t found one yet to be able to confirm that. That’s one we’re looking for. I’m sure there’s a very, very good chance there’s a tree somewhere, in an orchard that’s picked maybe, a single tree on its own somewhere, that could well be it. It’s just not been found by somebody who would know what they’re looking for yet.
And on the apple front, there are a myriad of apples. I’m trying to think now off the top of my head the name of a recent one. The one that I’m looking for, and hope—well, would like to hope I might’ve found—is one called the Eggleton Styre. Which is a local apple, the next door village is Lower and Upper Eggleton.
WEST: That’s fascinating. I actually live in a town called Eggleston in Virginia.
OLIVER: There you go. If you drop the ‘s’ you can adopt the apple!
OLIVER: It’s a lovely looking apple. It tastes fantastic raw in the terms of you think it will make a great cider. When we tasted it a few weeks ago, it wasn’t ready yet, but the cider had bags of character. So we’re hopeful. The apple, it’s very convincing. There’s just one particular aspect in the eye, it’s to do with the ribbing at the base, is not as pronounced as the old descriptions from the end of the 1800s would lead you to believe. But this could be down to the year, so many things. So I think with all these things, we observe for a number of years, and then we bud or graft from the tree to produce a new tree, and if the fruit from the new tree is true to type, then we feel more confident declaring whether it’s been found or not.
WEST: Since you’ve started talking a little bit about cider, can we talk about your product lineup?
WEST: I know if one visits the Oliver’s Cider and Perry website, they’ll see quite a range of different bottled ciders and perries. Is there anything that you look forward to making year after year, something that you consider your pinnacle of cidermaking? What product or products would be that?
OLIVER: That’s a really good question. To be honest, the ones that really give me great delight are the single variety perries. Because they don’t happen every year. The fruit on a lot of the trees, it may come once every two years or three or four, it’s very unpredictable. So when we get enough fruit to make a barrel or two from one of these individual trees, for me, that’s a real joy. It’s something that nobody else is going to be able to do or will have done. It makes it very unique. And you feel a bit of a responsibility to produce something that’s pretty good. But it’s all down to the fruit, everything I do is down to the fruit, and then the yeasts. And I really try to not mess with what would happen naturally anyway. Just put the right things together, I think.
At the moment, I have to be honest, we really enjoy making Gold Rush, the collaboration with Greg [Hall] at Virtue. It’s a full wild yeast fermentation on pretty heavy bittersweet cider. And then we pitch in some lambic yeast after putting in some more fructose sugar to get an extra degree of alcohol. But something happens with the tannins on the original cider, and the overall complexity of the cider. It’s proven to be a really popular cider. We’ve just put version 2—or #2—Gold Rush out. And it’s a different drink to first one. But people are loving it! And what I quite like is there’s this cider that’s coming about every year, and I’m not actually sure what it’s going to be. Because it’s just the result of doing the same thing each time, but to whatever the cider is that year. So it’s a bit unpredictable. But it seems to be yielding some really drinkable results at the moment.
WEST: I did have the first vintage of the Gold Rush, and I did think it was fantastic. So I would be excited to try this second one, it sounds very interesting.
OLIVER: Good, good, good. I think it’s a little more drinkable. And I mean that not that the first one was undrinkable by any means. This is just a little more drinkable. It’s great fun.
But I enjoy making it. The challenges are, maybe, making the drinks that you don’t like yourself. Sweet ciders. Sweet perries. I’m not a big fan at all. But we make good…the single variety cider that won was a Yarlington [Mill], and the perry was basically a Thorn perry. And they both won. They’re both sweet. So it’s a challenge making good sweet things, because we do it all by palate. We’re not chemistry-set aware enough here, I’m afraid. I’m a well-taught by Peter Mitchell student, but I’m a failure on the science department really.
WEST: Oh, I would not apologize for that!
OLIVER: Well, the thing is it’s so useful sometimes. But at the same time, if we’ve got a palate we can use, that’s what we’ll do.
WEST: One of the things I noticed, there’s a video on your website. And you are speaking to a group, and you guarantee that if someone comes to visit you at your tasting room, that you’ll find something that they’ll like. Is that…do people often pick the sweeter ciders? Is that what you find when they come and visit?
OLIVER: It’s a real mish-mash. We’re finding actually as time goes on, it’s getting almost more and more unpredictable. We’re in the same strange position at the moment where we’re finding that a lot of the ladies that come, who would probably normally go for a sauvignon blanc-type white wine—dry but fruity white wine—are really falling in love with the dry ciders. They do not want any of the sweetness to get in the way of the message. And I find that most fascinating. Because traditionally the ladies go for a sweeter cider. Vice versa, the male is proving to be a major disappointment. Because they don’t go for the dry ciders. They like the medium. Now this is a huge generalization, but this is a generalization borne of the people that come to my place. And so, frequently the best exchange that I can hope for on dry cider is with the ladies! Which is great as far as I’m concerned.
WEST: That is an exciting development.
OLIVER: Yeah. It’s what’s happening. That actually is good too, because it makes you think about the dry cider and maybe just trying to get a little bit more fruitiness in there. You can’t ever overdo the fruitiness, really, in a dry one. There’s always plenty of apple skins in dry ciders, but trying to get more of the pith and a bit more of the flesh in there, is quite a challenge on the dry cider actually.
WEST: Is that something that you attempt to do more with what you call your draught ciders, like in the bag-in-box? Do you aim to have a little more fruitiness to those?
OLIVER: If I’m being honest, the bag-in-box dry ciders, I’m trying to get a balanced blend. But what’s happening with them, we’re not making a 50,000-liter batch of dry ciders and then pasteurizing it and preserving it. We’re making these ciders all the time by basically blending a thousand liters every time. We use that up, then we blend another thousand. So there’s continual change with the draught in the sense that as it goes through the season, it goes from being a sort of more austere, maybe sort of slightly harder, sharper cider at the beginning, to being a milder, mellower, gentler, more bittersweet cider as it goes through the summer. Until you get to the winter, when once again, it’s changed a bit. I’m not saying that it’s a huge change. But there is a progression through the year.
WEST: It does sound a bit like here in the US when people go and visit cider mills and drink the juice—the sweet cider—from the early season apples to the late season ones, the blend does change quite a bit over the harvest.
OLIVER: It does. That may be not to some people’s liking. It’s something that we try and champion because it shows off the provenance of the cider they’re drinking, the fact that it is mirroring the season as it goes.
WEST: One of the specific products I wanted to ask you about was the Bittersweet Funk, which I’ve had a chance to try a few times, only recently available in the US. I found it to be pretty challenging, pretty complex. Was that your goal with the Bittersweet Funk, to give something to the US public that was more of a hardcore, traditional bittersweet offering?
OLIVER: That’s probably the one that’s pushed the boundary most so far, as far as the ciders I’ve sent over. I’ve sent other dry ciders, but they’ve been a little more rounded and maybe a little more fruity. This one’s fairly typical of a cider coming out of our barrels at about 18 months. It’s got apple skins, but it’s got the blue cheese thing. It’s got some sourness. But also it’s got a real nice sweetness at the end, too. By sweetness I don’t really mean sugar sweetness, but I mean just a nice apple-y sweetness I find. So it’s pretty reminiscent of over here, we do a Vintage, so they’re all coming out of the same area in terms of what we’re making and how we’re making it. It’s an interesting one. I was interested to see how it was received compared with the Herefordshire Cider, which was a cold [?], sterile filtered cider that went out a number of years ago. And this now is a pasteurized cider. It’s just interesting to see the difference and hear people’s opinions.
And I’ve got to say, that’s one of the great things about Twitter and stuff. You get a very immediate response to these things. It’s lovely when it’s positive. But it’s equally useful when it can be deemed a negative one. Frequently you learn a lot more from a negative one than you do from a positive one.
WEST: One of the things I’m fascinated with is how you find time to be on social media…I feel like you’re one of the more active cidermakers. Is that something that you enjoy doing, interacting with your audience, with your fans?
OLIVER: I do. I suppose having done the things I’ve done, I’ve always seen the value of finding out what people will like and dislike and the PR aspect of everything. But the fact that this comes into your home, you can pick it up or put it down as and when you like, is just fantastic! I just think it’s brought the world into your home, and you don’t have to let it, but if you want to invite it in, it can. Because remember, we’re out here in the country, and as I grew up, the one thing as certainly a teenager you feel is a sense of isolation. And I know in farms all over the world, some people love that. But a lot of young people don’t like that. And I think that all this social media—whatever you call it—is just allowing people to not feel cut off from the world when they’re doing things. And I think that’s just fantastic.
WEST: I think it’s positive as well. It’s something that enables enthusiasts of cider—since it is still a small niche here in the US—to be able to find one another and interact. I think it’s very positive.
OLIVER: I totally agree. It’s been fantastic for me. Doing this with you, and doing all the things, it puts you in touch with the people without having to go to the expense or the impossibility of traveling there and all these things. You know, it’s brilliant.
WEST: One of the things I noticed you revealed in a recent chat on Twitter is that you were experimenting with a hopped cider. Can you talk about that? Are you at liberty to talk about that?
i grew up growing hops here on the farm, just Fuggles, 38 acres of them and so i am going to be making a hopped cider but #ciderchat
— Tom Oliver (@oliverscider) April 18, 2014
whether it is commercially viable i do not know. However, the hops really do work with bittersweet ciders and we are excited to #ciderchat
— Tom Oliver (@oliverscider) April 18, 2014
see where it ends up. Look out in about 4 weeks time! #ciderchat
— Tom Oliver (@oliverscider) April 18, 2014
OLIVER: Yeah, I’m happy to. We’ve got one out. We haven’t actually done the label yet. But we’ve released it in the sense that it’s there, it’s in my shop under a prototype label. The reaction to it has been great. I don’t know how similar it is to the ones I’ve tried in America. I’m always first and foremost, it’s a cider. To me, working with the bittersweet apples and everything, it’s always going to be a cider, whatever one does. But it’s a cider now that there’s definitely a hop thing going on. It’s nice and subtle. It’s given a wonderful sort of complexity to it. It’s brought out some of the fruitiness and the acids in the apple fantastically. We only use Cascade, we use locally grown Cascade. But my thinking behind it is twofold. We used to grow hops here on the farm. I grew up thinking I was going to grow hops all my life, and then we stopped. And then we took up making cider again. And I thought, well, if anyone’s going to be making a hopped cider—and sure enough they’re going to have to, they can’t ignore what’s going on in America—I want to be one of the first. I’m not going to be beaten on this one. I did, and it’s going to get its first airing—this will be fine to say this now—it will get its first airing at the Three Counties agricultural show, which happens this weekend in Malvern on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And we have our, it’s an international competition, people can send entries in and we’ve got—I know I’ve got an entry already from Virginia here—it’s judged on the Friday and results are done on the Saturday. And two of the judges this year are people that you’ll be very familiar with—Bill Bradshaw and Pete Brown are going to do the judging, accompanied by a cidermaker from a big cidermaking company here. They’re going to be the first to actually taste the hopped cider.
WEST: That’s an exciting development. Speaking of America, I know that you’ve traveled in America, part of it through your experience touring with musicians. Can you talk about the experience of America and how you perceive cider in America to be, and maybe how that’s changed how you think about your own cidermaking practice?
OLIVER: First off, going to America, I can’t imagine anybody who really doesn’t want to sample what America is. If you’ve sat in front of a television for 10 minutes, you’re going to wonder what America’s really like. For me it was a great opportunity to get there with bands. My first trip was ages and ages ago now with a band called Haircut One Hundred to New York. We did five shows across America and came home. It was a great experience. I think I fairly quickly learned that, due to the size of the country, everywhere is really quite unique and different. So wherever you go in America, you cannot judge the rest of America from that one particular city or town. It’s this huge variety out there that’s quite fantastic. And not just in the weather and the terrain, but in the people. There’s a lot of diversity, a diversity that we don’t really necessarily directly experience here yet. It’s growing, but we don’t quite get it yet.
It was fantastic to start…for a long time, I was very disciplined, I did not mix music and cider. And I still don’t really mix them. But sometimes opportunities present themselves, and you utilize them. It’s allowed me to visit places and meet people and get stuck in in a way.
WEST: It seems like you’ve had a very warm reception from cidermakers and enthusiasts here.
OLIVER: Unbelievable. Eric, unbelievable. I say unbelievable, and I actually genuinely almost feel unwarranted. But it’s great when people seemed pleased to see you. It’s the same over here you know. It gives you some commonality, some bonding, instantly. You can then deal with the niceties and politeness and all that. But you’ve immediately got something to talk about, some reference points, you can get enthusiastic about things, you can bemoan things that are problems, you’ve got a lot agreement about things. And then you can start disagreeing about the ciders and things. It’s just great fun. I think people are fantastic in terms of the way they’ve been with me over there. I love cider and I love tasting it and I love meeting people who are making it and I love hearing what’s going on. So over there, the diversity in cider mirrors the diversity in the country. For me, I’m envious about a number of things. But my main aspect that I’m envious about is the freedom to make cider whatever you want to make it to be over there. It’s not implicit in anything, but it’s because of the taxation, because of the looseness in the fact that you can make a cider with jalapenos in. It doesn’t mean that I think it’s a good idea, or that I’m going to like, or that I want to try it, but I will if I get it. It’s the fact that you can. And I’m deadly envious of that freedom. Because over here, you can try these things, you can do these things, but economically, to actually sell them, is just crippling. For my hopped cider, I’m going to have to charge more than I think it’s worth in order to sell it at break-even. And that’s simply because of the crippling way that taxation is applied.
WEST: Is that because it’s considered a made-wine?
OLIVER: Yeah. It’s a made-wine at an alcohol level that is either in the second or the third band of made-wine, so it’s expensive. And therefore what’s happening is we’ve got this situation where any form of innovation is almost stymied and stopped from the word go. At the same time, it’s driving people to do the most cost-effective way of innovation, which is basically lowering the standards that they work to. So the taxation is strange. I’m sure if they made it more inviting to people to innovate, and innovate with quality, they would gain more tax from it. But anyway, that’s the situation we’ve got. So I’m envious of the freedom on that side.
And I’m also envious in a way—and this may seem odd—but a heritage and tradition of cidermaking is fantastic. And we owe an awful lot to it. But it’s also sometimes a bit like an albatross. You’ve got to keep moving, you’ve got to keep reinventing, you’ve got to keep things fresh. And it was brought home to me this week by the birthday of one of my all-time music heroes, Ian Hunter, who’s a solo artist. Acutally he’s so enlightened he lives in Connecticut and has lived there for many, many years. And he fronted a local band called Mott the Hoople, which were from Herefordshire. And he’s 75 years old this week, and he’s alert and as alive and as creative and touring and playing as ever. He summed it up, he said the only way that I’ve kept going—the reason that I’ve kept going, the reason it’s still working—I’m only as good as my next song. I’ve just got to keep writing, I’ve got to keep fresh, I’ve got to be creative, I’ve just got to keep doing it. And I think the cider world would benefit so much if it were allowed to be as creative as Ian says he needs to be to stay alive. I just worry that we’re not able to be as creative as we genuinely could be over here.
WEST: It does seem to be a fundamental difference between the New World and the Old World—not just with cider—but with wine and beer and other things as well.
OLIVER: Yes. It’s true. Though I think we’re catching on a bit on the craft beer side of things over here. The thing is, you don’t have to like things, or you don’t have to agree with it. It’s just the fact that it’s going on will keep the whole thing alive and fresh. And the similarity with music goes on. You don’t have to like every form of music. But the fact that it’s going on and new things are being created and formed, means that it keeps the whole thing alive.
WEST: There has to be a bit of an avant garde for the industry to keep moving forward and progressing.
OLIVER: I maybe shouldn’t say this, but I don’t want cidermaking to turn into jazz.
WEST: Sort of a caricature of itself?
OLIVER: Yeah. And lots of very well intentioned, incredibly talented men, just whittling [?] around just for their own pleasure. But that’s good. Cider’s in a lot better place in 2014 than it was in 2004. And it’s in a lot better place than it was in 1994. Things are on the up. And that in itself is great.
WEST: And it’s exciting that, here in the US, that we can look at Oliver’s both as a touchstone—and hopefully, with things like the hopped cider—that we can look at you as an innovator as well.
OLIVER: Well, Eric, I’m very chuffed that you see me as a touchstone. But a word of advice I have is, it’s all well and good, but don’t look at me as a business in the sense that I’m not earning enough out of this. This is the real challenge for me, is to turn this into something that will be a living. I don’t want to go away on massive holidays every year or anything. But this is the real challenge. It’s very, very tough, making cider the way I want to make it, and do it to really turn a penny. So everyone that does it and makes it work, I am in awe of, full of admiration, because this is tough out there. And you really do your sums, you really need to think hard about it if you’re going to make your living from it.
But I have to say, as time goes on, that side of it becomes fascinating as well. Not only do you want to make great cider, I actually want to make a living from it! And that becomes part of the challenge as well. But it is tough, I make no bones about it, it’s tough.
WEST: Some of the more interesting US cidermakers I think are the very clever bootstrappers, the ones who are able to figure out how to make the money work and how to get their marketing…I think it can be a challenge here as well. It’s not necessary…I don’t think there are many millionaires being made here yet, either.
OLIVER: I genuinely believe that there probably aren’t. And that I think is one of the key ways I’m looking at America is, I’m looking for those people pushing the boundaries, how they’re doing it, and how it’s working out. Because we all want to drink great cider, but at the same time, in order to do that, people have got to be able to make money at it. I’m hoping for a few tips!
WEST: OK! Well hopefully in future episodes I’ll have some interesting guests on, so I’ll hope you’ll become a regular listener.
OLIVER: Good, man!
WEST: Well Tom, we’ll close with that. Thank you so much for your time. And enjoy the Royal Three Counties Show this weekend.
ERIC WEST (Outro): To catch you up on the rest of the story, the hopped cider that Tom and I talk about didn’t just win a Gold Medal at the Royal Three Counties Show; it was awarded Best in Show as well, out of 151 total entries. To me, this signals a turning point in the modern cider renaissance; it’s expected that a hopped cider would perform well at an American competition, but to win Best of Show at an English competition?
For more on Oliver’s Cider and Perry, visit their online shop at oliversciderandperry.co.uk. From there, click on Enter SHOP to browse the product offerings, or click on Return to Homepage to learn more about the company. You can also find Oliver’s on various social media platforms such as Facebook (facebook.com/oliversciderandperry) and Twitter (twitter.com/oliverscider).