This past fall when GBH experience director Hillary Schuster and I were in London for the Beavertown Extravaganza and Uppers & Downers, we were thrilled to get outside the city for a couple of days to visit one of my favorite cider makers in the world, Tom Oliver.
He was pouring at the Extravaganza, of course, right next to Other Half, which made me laugh a bit as I entered. There were dozens of people rightly waiting in line for Other Half’s beers and almost no one in line for Oliver’s ciders, which I would put up against any Wild Ale, Lambic, or Geueze in the world in terms of its fermentation complexity, natural, rustic condition, and agricultural qualities. It’s really one of the most fantastic fermented beverages you can buy. And at the fest, you could just walk right up to his booth and get a pour because we still have a strange relationship with cider. In the U.S., we have a strange tension between these artisanal orchard-based producers and “craft” cider makers selling quick fermentations in a six pack of cans. Some are even produced by breweries as an alternative offering.
That also exists in the UK, but the biggest tension there is among the sort of country cider, known as scrumpy, which is maybe more akin to moonshine, and the mass market ciders, called white ciders, which people drink for their functional effects, not so much their flavors. Cider makers like Oliver have a hard time cutting through. But it’s getting easier.
Oliver's ciders were re-branded beautifully this year, which is getting some notice. And as more and more beer drinkers follow their palates into the more complex side of fermentation, they’re finding something resonate in mixed-fermentation beers, natural wines, and maybe, finally, orchardist ciders.
We went out to Oliver's multi-generational family farm in Herefordshire near the Welsh border and stayed for a couple days to get a lay of the land. We ate meat pies and drank some beautiful things, and eventually GBH UK editor Matthew Curtis and I sat down in the dining room of Oliver's cottage to talk about the future.