Jim Callender runs the website www.real-cider.co.uk that contains loads of cider related information, such as it's history, latest industry news, types of cider, producers and lots more. The website is focused on 'real' cider, meaning high quality cider with broadly 100% fruit content, rather than mass produced cider with additives and much less apple content. Jim has kindly offered to share his cider knowledge with us below so that we can all appreciate and identify the best high-quality real ciders.
For more about Devon cider and producers of it see our other blog post.
We sell hampers containing real cider here.
Can you tell us a bit about why you created the website and if you have any future plans for it?
I created the site at the start of 2009 as a hobby, and a way of sharing with the world the wonders of craft cider. Not just enjoying it, but also the people, places and heritage of England's oldest drink. Since this time cider's popularity has increased, and as a result people want to know where they can find the 'real' stuff. This is where my website serves as a learning resource and guide.
I get emails from cider lovers, and cider makers all over the world - it's been wonderful getting to know so many kind and like-minded people.
Future plans for it is to continue being a specialist cider blog and news portal. We have a lively Facebook group and over 6k followers on Twitter.
How can you find real cider? - http://www.real-cider.co.uk/how-to-find-real-cider/
When did your passion for cider, and in particular real cider begin? / Do you have a background in cider making?
My interest for cider started when I began volunteering as a conservation volunteer in the West Country. Where certain weekends we would be pruning a vintage orchard on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor. Or hedgerow maintenance in the Devon hills. I ran these projects with a gent called Iain, who has sadly passed away now. However, we had some very special evenings tasting his cider and his favourites from the area.
My hobby progressed from there. Enjoying ciders means traveling to some very special places, which are often unchanged from todays fast paced living. Visiting a cider maker can be like stepping back in time.
Why are you so passionate about real cider and why is it important to educate people on the pro's of real cider?
As I am gluten free and don't like commercial mass produced drinks - traditional craft cider seemed the obvious 'healthier' choice. I joke with people that cider is one of my five a day. There is a infamous cider maker named Roger Wilkins who has been drinking it since age 4!
How can you tell if a cider is of a high quality?
A high quality cider has to be 100% fermented apple juice, with nothing added. Sometimes, cider makers may add sugar syrup, or apple juice to a dry cider, to make it sweeter.
A high quality cider can be cloudy, which means it is unfiltered and unpasteurised. Both practices would remove some of the characteristics you'd be looking for in a good cider. However, this is done for extending shelf life of ciders and some ciders may explode in transmit as they can continue fermenting briefly when bottled.
The sign of a real cider is that it should have a farmyard aroma. This you can discover when smelling the cider in a glass.
A good cider should have the right balance of tannins - from apple skins which add the golden colours, sugars, and acidity.
A cider can be made from one single variety - like Kingston black apple, or blended from a variety of local types.
What are some of the best ciders you've tried?
I'm a big fan of Devon ciders, as they are very drinkable, due to the apple varieties they have there. Cider makers like Sandford Orchards or Sheppy's effortlessly create traditional ciders that have all the right characteristics - tannin, sugars and acidity. They are great to enjoy with a cheese board, pasta or something meaty like roast pork.
I'm fortunate to have sampled ciders around the world - from India to Canada where the cider production methods and apple types all vary - to make a distinctive cider.
The best ciders are a blend, so by having around 300 different apples to choose from throughout the west country, you have got so many possibilities there!
Traditionally cider produced in the West Country is different to cider produced in Eastern England, with more true cider apples used in the West Country. Generally speaking are there any noticeable cider differences within the West Country?
True cider apples are generally only found in the West Country. It all depends on the apples that are local to the cider maker. These can be not palatable like eating apples when picked from a tree, as they are richer in tannins and sharper in flavour.
However, when fermented with other apples they all give there characteristics which cider makers look for to give a delightful experience in a glass when ready in the spring, after bubbling away happily in a oak barrel stored in a farm out building.
The wild yeasts that are found on the skin and in the flesh of the fruit can vary regionally all giving distinctive tastes.
Why has the West Country been the biggest cider producing region in the UK?
You'll find two types of cider makers in the West Country - at one end of the scale are the traditional, small farm-produced varieties. The West Country contains many of these farms which have an abundance of ancient varieties of specialist cider-apples. At the other end of the scale are the factories mass-producing brands who use apples as the base to their beverages, but are not true 'real' ciders.
In the West Country, Local farm hands used to be paid for their work in cider. Farm owners got a reputation for their ciders, and often attracted workers by the quality of the cider!
Today 17,300 acres of orchards harvested each year across the UK, which employs 9,000 people directly or supported by the industry.
Many thanks to Jim for sharing his expertise!