Lovers and makers of cider will flock to this year’s Royal Bath & West Show to take part in the British Cider Championships as the craft continues to produce a huge array of delicious delicacies.
Cider has shot to popularity in recent years as makers have branched out to produce artisan ciders that are sweet and crisp on the tongue – a far cry from the traditional farmhouse scrumpy. From pear-based ciders to a wide range of traditional apple tipples you are sure to find people reaching for a cool glass when the weather is hot.
Alan Stone has been making cider for 10 years, drinking it for much longer and has spent several years judging cider and running cider bars at the Royal Bath & West Show. The Show, which is home to the British Cider Championships – the biggest cider competition in the country – now attracts over 600 different ciders, meaning visitors can check out every kind of cider they can imagine.
The competition attracts entrants from large commercial manufacturers down to small hobbyists making cider in their garden shed.
Making cider is quite simple, says Alan, who has had his own successes with Stone’s Bittersweet Cider, winning two golds and a second at the Show with his son, Richard.
Of course, no two ciders are the same so there are a plethora of classes catering for different dryness, sweetness, varieties of apples, and still or sparkling options at the Show.
So how do you professionally judge cider? According to Alan there are four different categories of cider apple; sweet, bittersweet, sharp and bittersharp. “Most farmhouse ciders are a blend of those four,” he says.
When judging any kind of cider firstly consider the colour, he explains. “It is usually clear and should be the appropriate colour.” It should have a good nose – this refers to how it smells in the glass, which is affected by how it was made and stored.
When tasting the cider, firstly taste it in the front of your mouth, says Alan. “The cider tastes differently in various parts of your mouth – if you just swallow it you don’t get half the taste. The ‘length’ of the taste in the throat as you swallow is another factor to consider.”
The British Cider Championships has grown year-on-year and as a result more classes and judges have been introduced. “Around eight or nine years ago there were 130 entries of farmhouse cider, all judged by the same pair of judges – as you can imagine that was quite challenging. So, we have split the classes and we have 3 pairs of judges for the farmhouse classes and 34 judges in all now.”
Visitors to the Show also have a chance to join in with the judging by taking part in the People’s Choice Award – where members of the public can vote for their favourite ciders. In addition, there will be cider making demonstrations and tutored cider tasting sessions.
Alan urges anyone who is interested in making cider to give it a go. “The cider community is such a great bunch, they help one another and always give advice. We’ve come a long way from scrumpy, which held the cider industry back for a while; but now the craft and artisan sector is really growing.”
Box: How to make cider at home:
Most people make cider in the autumn for spring and summer consumption – as a rule, you should be drinking last year’s batch while this year’s batch is growing on the trees, says Alan.
Firstly, wash the apples and sterilise all the equipment you will be using. You will then need to juice the apples and place them into a straining bag over a bucket.
Wild yeast naturally occurs in apples but you can add a yeast product if you wish – after the juice has drained. After half an hour stir the mixture and pour it into a demijohn. Bubbles should appear in the airlock in around a week.
Keep the demijohns in a warm place – 15-20⁰C – and after three to four months the cider should be clear. Check the specific gravity of the juice with a hydrometer prior to fermenting – this will allow you to calculate the alcoholic content at the end of fermentation – usually 6% ABV. When the hydrometer reading has dropped below around 1.004 the cider is ready to bottle and will improve with storage.
Once fermented, siphon the cider into sterilised bottles. If you want hard still cider – leave it how it is. If you want sparkling cider bottle in champagne bottles add half a teaspoon of white sugar per bottle and leave it for a year for a secondary fermentation.