Thursday 18 December 2014

Heritage English Cider PGI... an opportunity for the cider industry

As a cider producer, I often feel that I have landed on my feet; been in the right place at the right time. The growth of 146 Cider over the last 5 years has been a little unexpected but very welcome - barring the fact that the one thing holding it back is me (time/effort/funds etc). However, I would argue that slowing things down a bit has been good for me: my cider and its quality is the focus and I truly feel it improves year on year.

I am also very lucky to have been in the right place for other things too that seem to have worked for the benefit of other cider makers (both amateur and small scale). Cider Workshop - I didn't 'create' this on my own by any stretch (and without the team that set it up and still administrate it it would not have happened at all). However, I was able to do what I like to do best... do something; act. With over 1600 members worldwide, Cider Workshop has become a fantastic resource for producers wanting to learn the craft and ask questions. And it is really an organic thing now - the members own it as much as those of us who set it up (and, unlike things like Facebook, we don't pedal stuff to them or make any money from it!)

Then there is blogging cider related stuff - mainly reviews. OK, it put me in a place that I didn't necessarily want to be. I don't like saying something is rubbish (although, quite honestly, some is). The aim was to see if reviewing ciders could bring people to high juice cider by providing enough information in a pleasant way. Only very few have been offended by it, although these have almost 100% been 'fans' rather than the producers themselves (though one or two look and smell like PR/Marketing types).

And now, I have had the very good fortune to have got myself in trouble with the NACM (National Association of Cider Makers) by making a trip to Parliament with cider maker and competitive friend Matt Veasey. OK - we took the bollocking, but what came out of that meeting is starting to feel like a 'right place, right time' kind of thing.

Having built a PGI Group of 50 or 60 UK comercial producers who support the application - and publically presented the PGI plans at Cider Trends Summit I can now publish this and move on with the application in discussion with NACM.

One thing that is important to me - and common to all of the things above (except 146 Cider Company) is that they are all now bigger than me or the team who started them. All I can say about Cider Workshop is that I was there at the beginning - it now has a life of its own through its membership. The cider blog - well, cider blogging is no longer a lonely place and to some degree I would be very happy to leave it to the drinkers to take over. And then there is the PGI. This HAS to become a lot bigger than me (although I would rather like to have my name on the application... I suspect its co-authors might too and I certainly wouldn't begrudge that! 

What is a PGI?

In a nutshell, PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) is a device used by the EU to declare what makes traditional products and foods unique to an area and attempts to set them apart from other products with less provenance or roots. Generally it is a name that is protected (i.e. only producers making the thing in a particular area in a particular way or using particular ingredients that are able to call it by that name). In the UK, it is governed by DEFRA and the FSA.

Getting the content of the PGI right is important. Making the PGI work is important to get right and crucial for it to be effective.

Heritage English Cider and Heritage English Perry

Here are the nuts and bolts of the PGI application:
  • The PGI will only cover England
  • Juice Content must be a minimum of 85%, from fresh pressed juice only
  • English grown Apples and Pears only
  • Raising the sugar content is allowed
  • Dilution with water is allowed (subject to the juice content rule)
  • Raising SG AND dilution is NOT permitted together for the same finished product
  • It must be of quality - specifically it must not be ascetic or poorly kept
  • Any type of apple is permitted (allowing for all styles to be covered)
  • Pasteurisation is permitted
  • Sweetening (including artificial sweetening) is permitted (subject to guidelines on levels of sweetness)
  • Filtration is permitted
Obviously these are only the highlights and there is much more detail in the document - but I think this is sufficient as a lay description. This is an opportunity for the whole English cider industry... no one is excluded as long as they produce a product to the above criteria.

The above also demonstrates certain things that are really not that important - and that is in case any of my CAMRA friends read it. Filtration is useful; pasteurisation is useful; sweetening is useful. Done badly then it would breach the quality criteria. Done well and, well, I doubt you would notice much difference to the quality.

The observant may notice that it doesn't distinguish between the styles of cider found in the UK... eastern or western (predominantly). This is because the processes are the same; the quality issues are the same and the heritage of both is equally undisputed - depending on the area of production. Sure, the two drinks are different but only at taste level: an excellent eastern counties style cider is every bit as good as an excellent west country style cider. Only those who would want to use the PGI as some kind of anti competition device (i.e. it must represent the 'terroir' of my farm and the varieties I use and that is it) would object to that... surely?!

So, where are we with in now? Well, the application is in the final stages of completion and analyses before it can be submitted. There are some things such as 'juice content declarations' etc. that many in the PGI group would like that need to be looked at before including in the document. However, the hope currently is that the application will be submitted early in the new year... watch this space!!

Thursday 5 June 2014

Cider/Perry of the Festival; Southampton Beer Festival 2014

It is my great pleasure to announce that Hampshire Perry won the Cider/Perry of the Festival at the 2014 Southampton Beer Festival. A fifth award in 2014... and for the perry too!!! I cannot say how pleased I am to win Southampton Beer Festival once again!!

Probably the most important accolades that a cider maker can win are from local events. For me, that would be Southampton and Winchester; both CAMRA festivals that are voted for by the drinkers themselves. And this year I have collected them all. Result.

I am especially pleased because I was involved in the choice of ciders for Southampton and I made very sure it was the best choice of cider and perry the UK has to offer. This is because I like drinking really good cider and, well, if you can choose what you are drinking why not go for the best... I gave no thought to winning something myself. Though I confess to coveting the award just a little bit.

Thank you to all who voted for it at the festival!

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Royal Bath and West Show...

2014 is truly turning out to be a fantastic year for 146 Cider Company. Not only because the cider is proving to be popular (thanks all!!) but also because I was asked to judge the cider at this years Royal Bath and West Show.

OK, there were 28 judges this year (well, it is the biggest cider competition in the world!!) with classes being allocated to specific people. Very sensibly judges are not allowed to enter a class you are judging! I got 'Bottled Sweet Cider', judging alongside John Perry (of Perry's Cider fame). I also ran a couple of tutored cider tastings where I tried very hard not to offend any of the large producers whilst taking people on a tour of the UK styles (and beyond).

But first, I have to say, 146 picked up a 'Highly Commended' once again - this time for a single variety Michelin cider. I know, I often say I 'don't do' single varieties. All of the Michelin (bar a couple of demijohns) were blended with Kingston Black to make Thornleigh Estate. I am a growing fan of Michelin - it is a much misunderstood cider variety that offers a mild tannin and fruity complexion... but is often dominated by bigger hitting varieties. Maybe next year. However, this is the 4th accolade in 2014 for my cider, so I am clearly very happy!

Anyway. Judging. The Royal Bath and West Show is a very professionally run affair - a classic rural show with lots of machinery and a big 'show ring' sitting alongside such things as cheese, honey and cider tents. Well worth a day out! Judging takes place at set times and there were some 560 entrants this year... thankfully only 34 in the bottled sweet class though!

As opposed to being a world class cider maker:-) I think I probably was invited along more because of my work with Cider Workshop than as 146 Cider Company... but I can never turn down the chance of drinking other peoples cider!!

Drinking cider at 0900 in the morning is a task in itself, but unlike the dryer categories there is no upper limit on sweetness for the class I was judging. So John and I 'girded our loins', grabbed a handful of crackers and cheese (and a bottle of water) and set about trying to rule ciders in and out. Every now and again, we checked our palates with a call of 'please measure this cider' - out came a hydrometer to measure the sweetness and we would generally be fairly spot on. In fact, only one really caught us out - it was incredibly sweet... though a 5 minute break, several lumps of cheese and a few crackers and our taste buds returned to the front of our mouths for more!!

Eventually we got to 5 ciders that were in the running. At this point things are very tight - although our top two were fairly easy - well balanced and a good flavour to them. Ultimately, we had our list - giving 'commended' to the two that fell 4th and 5th.

The final twist is that both 1st and 2nd were Thatchers... proof indeed that the larger producers can deliver great cider.

Will I do it again? Well, I hope so. It is a great competition. It hasn't made me reconsider going beyond medium for my own cider sweetening though - does a cider really need that much sweetness?