Tuesday 31 January 2012

Arweinlyfr Perai a Seidr Cymru (thats Welsh Perry & Cider Guide to you and me)

Hey, I've got more good news... we must have pleased the gods when wassailed hard this earlier this month. Yey for Wassailing I say.

Following the strictest tendering process of the Welsh Perry & Cider Society, it gives me a thrill to announce that Barnsley beer geezer Pete Brown and my-Somerset scrumpy-self have been asked to produce the first ever Welsh Perry & Cider Guide. 

The guide is intended to increase awareness in Wales and beyond, specifically: 'a guide to producers of craft cider and perry in Wales, comprising producer profiles, a cider trail, cider on the menu, and cider pubs.'

WPCS, the Development Officer Cressida Slater told me "We’re really pleased to have you guys on board and think this will make for a really interesting publication." I would like to add, rather boastfully, that I think so too. It is after all the point of a guide to supply information in an interesting way. If we are anything as a team, its 'interesting.'

I confess to not having spent alot of time in Wales, although it doesn't really matter. In many respects, that goes in my favour - there is alot to be said for being new to something, or somewhere, particularly if you work visually. In this case, its Wales and I hope as a newcomer I'll be tuned in to the differences that make it Welsh. In the same way a Yorkshireman who lives in London is in a great position to write about cider because, although very experienced in beer and publishing, cider is a slightly newer arena for Pete, his eyes will be fresher too: no preconceptions or hang ups etc. That having been said, I did a small job for them last year.

One benefit is that it reinforces a larger project Pete and I have been chipping away at, looking at specific cider cultures around the world. There is still alot to sort out, plans to be made and grey matter to flex (for those of us that have it) but it looks like Wales is due to get the full Team Brownshaw treatment.

Below is a very homemade cover mock up we stuck on the front of our proposal (yes, I know... and they still gave us the job.) If all goes according to plan it should be ready sometime in Spring 2013.

Yachi da.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

La cultura asturiana de sidra

There is only one photo set that can sum up how I feel about my imminent visit to Asturias this weekend. Its a place I am SO keen to explore and from what I can tell they are the most passionate ciderheads I've ever had the pleasure to meet (and thats saying something.)

These were shot at the International Craft Cider Festival held in Wales last year, the idea being to bring together various cidermaking nations to sample, learn and generally understand more about other cider cultures. The Asturians where of course there in force; gaitas blasting, cider throwing left right and centre, scoffing chorizo cooked in cider, tee shirts, badges and flags... so proud.

The set in question (that follows) is my favourite sequence from that weekend. Its of a young boy learning to 'throw' cider and I love it because of how simply it picks up on a difference between them and us. I should point out for those that don't know, the Asturians pour their sidra from a bottle held over the heads into a glass waiting in the other hand held as low as they can (around groin level.) It has the effect of effervescing the cider from being lifeless and sharp, to sherberty and very refreshing. Then you neck it, saving the last drop for the floor and pass the shared glass on. I can only imagine how many times I will be asked to attempt to pour sidra this over the coming days... its known as 'throwing' cider and I'm sure to make matters worse, I will feel the need to do it on tip toes for some reason.

Look at the faces of the people involved, they say alot about Asturian cider culture. At first, the boy stands respectfully watching, waiting his chance. In the second photo, he 'throws' the cider and concentration is paramount. Thirdly, he realises he's made it, as does his mentor. Fourthly, he shows his delighted mum and give her the glass, as the cavalry step in reassuringly, arms and eyebrows raised beaming with genuine excitement. Its wonderful.

I think the short narrative says as much about Asturian cider culture as it does our own, would we ever see this happening in UK? (OK - we don't 'throw' our cider but I think its fair to say that its generally frowned upon to encourage our children to pour alcoholic drinks.) To these guys, as with other European countries, alcohol and children is not such a big deal, its just another thing: like food, or school.

I wonder if we had more of this attitude within our own society if we might have less of the alcohol issues we do? Alcohol has a real stigma here, we seem to separate our children from it in a way that, being the curious being we are, as we grow up without having been introduced to it as understanding it in that way, we are left to discover it amongst peers with the obvious consequences. As in Asturias, I'm a firm believer that in educating our young guns on their cider heritage, they will grow up understanding that its something to marvel, to be shared but above all something to respect and enjoy with family and friends.

I love the enthusiasm of Asturians because I can REALLY relate to it. Something I notice time and again on my cider travels, wherever I go in the world, is that some aspects are the same and some are entirely different. Its the space between those two simultaneous realities that really holds my interest in cider culture. Their inexhaustible passion is one aspect I really get - so much so that it makes language barrier is irrelevant. I embarrassed to admit I can't say much more than 'No hablo espan-yole, sorry' but I am proud to admit that in some instances it matters a little bit less, because we share something bigger. Hopefully....

I should add their website http://www.sidradeasturias.es/ for anyone who wants to find out more.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Leominster Morris Wassail - Tram Inn, Eardisley

So its Wassail season, the time of year when we prune our apple trees and get wasted in the orchard. Or in this case - the pub. I was asked by CAMRA to shoot the Leominster Morris Wassail in Herefordshire and this year they decided to hold it at the Tram Inn, Eardisley - a lovely country pub that seems to be in safe hands. It was a fantastic night and the first one of the year for me so its a great start in breaking the winter lull and getting the grey matter fired up (they are notoriously difficult to photograph and it took me a few years to start getting half decent results.)

I don't want to write about it thoroughly or post too many photos (I do, but shouldn't) but I wanted to put something up for our American and Antipodean cousins many of whom are here in spirit and insanely jealous (apparently) and so will be following vicariously and maybe even doing holding their own. Wassailing is a phenomenom that is catching on around the English speaking cider world, so its nice to offer up some samples- tis the seaon and all that. They are all so wonderfully different although they all have similarity of purpose - to give thanks for this years apples/cider and to ask for another season of plenty.

So far as wassails go, I thought it was great and unlike any other I've been to (and I've been to a few.)
Firstly, this one was was based around our greatest British institution -the Pub and secondly, it involved a torchlight procession with countless flaming torches held aloft by about 350 people as they processed to the orchard for the ceremony. Really atmospheric...

Unusually - they also had a bonfire surrounded by 12 smaller bonfires as well as fire breathers, a mummers play, blah blah... I could go into more detail but I sharen't as I don't want to spoil the write up for the kind people that employed me to document it (thanks Tom at BEER.)

The Leominster Morris choose a different pub to do it at each year and I thoroughly recommend going to one year - they know what they are doing, are alot of fun and are a very genuine bunch. If you do - wrap up warm...

A full version is due in BEER Nov 2012 ahead of the following seasons festivities.

WASSAIL- Bring it on!

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Straddling the fence at Westons

One thing I am aware of as I sit here in bog-drenched Somerset is that much of the work I have done in recent years has been very Somer-centric and, when I look at it on the IAMCIDER Travel Map quite frankly- its embarrassing.

So, I decided to concentrate a few days of effort in Herefordshire last autumn in the hope of redressing the balance. Its a very different scene up there, the cider tastes quite different to the various local tipples down here in Somerset and so it immediately catches my taste buds.

Incidentally, its all too easy to glorify only the tiny artisan producers scattered far and wide throughout the cider world, something I've done for years (and occasionally still do to be fair) I've come to the conclusion you can't ignore the industry, the small and large producers are very much part of the same family and need each other for them both to thrive. More opinion on that here.

One of the largest producers in the area is Westons of Much Marcle who have been making cider on the same site since 1884. Looking through the edit of photos I shot there on their final week of pressing, I'm struck by just how the photos really pick up on something I've always thought about Westons; love them or hate them, they seem to have one foot firmly rooted in the past whilst gazing firmly into the future; the vintage ads and the digital displays, a 30 tonne apple delivery next to a pair of old boys with 15 sacks, 60 spanking new 200,000 litre steel tanks (12 million litres!) sit on the same site as some of the oldest and largest wooden vats I've seen in UK or anywhere else. Its a dichotomy that seems to run throughout their entire family run business and as I've always said, they seem to straddle the fence between tradition and industry really well. I'm sure more one side than the other occasionally but nevertheless its an approach that does them well and something I wish we would see more of in Britains industrial cider scene. Many brands will have you believe their roots are firmly panted in their traditions, but how many of them are really? Marketing is very powerful and the truth is in the taste. I'm sure we can all tell the difference between genuine traditional cider and a pseudo traditional style. It takes more than a frequent nod to our past. Westons benefits from being a family run concern, its not all about business. As with my family run businesses they have another influence- the right thing to do. The 4th generation MD Helen Thomas sums it up neatly 'what we do today has an impact on what we do tomorrow' They have about 2.4% of the take-home cider market, 4% of the on trade and are expanding every year to keep up -export being a large area of growth. When the apples start coming in, its a 24hr a day job. Although they are evolving constantly heritage is important to them the old vats can't be replaced and they have cider in them all year round. Helen told me 'quality is everything, if we lose that, we lose everything.' Something I and every artisan producer would agree with yet many industrial producers seem to have already made their choices... You need to play the long game if you still want to be here in 100 years.

They have a fantastic resource there - the Scrumpy House. Its a small and simple restaurant area that serves lovely food freshly prepared by onsite chef Chris Murphy. He took the time to chef up a few dishes for me to photograph that I'll include in an upcoming post about cider and food.

The futures looking rosy for Westons, they've planted all their available land with cider fruit and have - there is simply no more land that they own that can be planted with fruit. They now have 228 acres of mixed standard and bush orchard and have entered into 20 year contracts with local growers which bolsters their acreage by another 1500. And if you should have any spare - they are currently looking for as many perry pears as they can gather.

They've recently rebranded their Organic cider to Wyld Wood. I've been aware of this cider for a while now as for may years I've thought it the best 'gateway' cider thats most readily available nationally. When it say 'gateway' I'm not referring to old farmers standing about in a field with a glass of it cheers'ing each other as they lean on a rickety old gate - I mean its a great way of introducing people to a more traditional style cider. It bridges the gap between industry and farmhouse rather well and as its available all over the country, its in a strong position to covert 'fizzy' cider lovers to something more 'real.' (NB inverted commas- the ongoing debate about whats 'real' and what 'isn't' marches on.) If you havn't tried it, I suggest you do so you can make your own minds up. A simple blind taste test carried out on unsuspecting boozers in my kitchen this Christmas confirmed that their bottled Wyld Wood tastes a little bit 'farmhousey, yet still clean and fizzy.' There arn't many industrial cidermakers that you can say that about. I don't like all of their ciders, but I believe in giving credit where its due...

Anyway - thats enough for now - more on Westons later as I'm starting to look at cider and food. I was blown away by just how good the food is and well it matches with their cider.

On the photography, I feel I should apologise for the sheer volume here... believe me or not - I have actually edited them down quite heavily.

I hope you like!