The Cider and Perry Page
by Nigel Firth
The Branch Cider Pub of the Year 2020
The Lawrence Arms, Southsea
Congratulations to everyone involved with the pub for a third win in a row - if you like cider or perry, this pub is a must visit!
Welcome to the cider page of the Portsmouth and South East Hampshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale - and if that sounds like a contradiction, well it isn't! For most of its existence, CAMRA has promoted traditional cider, initially by including it at beer festivals and by producing the 'Good Cider Guide'. Then, in 1988 CAMRA set up the Apple and Pear Produce Liaison Executive (APPLE), the committee that takes care of cider business in the campaign.
What is traditional cider?As with Real Ale, CAMRA has a definition of real or traditional cider. We regard a cider as traditional if it is made purely of apple juice, not concentrate, is not processed in any way and is not kept or served under any form of gas pressure. The apple juice can be from cider apples, as is usually the case with West Country cider, or from culinary and dessert fruit as is often the case with cider from Kent and East Anglia. It fact some traditional cider, particularly from larger commercial producers, is processed in some way, for instance with an added yeast being used for fermentation instead of the natural yeast, but it can still taste good.
What about perry? Perry is like cider, except that it's made from pear juice instead of apple juice. The main area for its production, as well as the growing of perry pear trees lies in the so-called three counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Westons of Much Marcle in Herefordshire is probably the biggest producer of traditional perry in the world although there are, of course, many smaller producers. Real perry is a wonderful drink, delicate and refreshing, but it is not generally easy to find in our area outside of CAMRA festivals, and CAMRA is determined to do all it can to assist in its survival as a commercial product.
A history lesson. So where do these wonderful drinks come from? The origins of cider and perry making in this country are lost in the mists of time, but it is believed that they predate Christianity, and certainly predate that young upstart, hopped ale, by many centuries. The Roman and Norman invasions undoubtedly assisted the development of this ancient craft with the introduction of new varieties of apple tree, and northern French cider making expertise. Of course, for most of cider's history its production has been a domestic craft, particularly on farms where it was even used as part payment to labourers. Come the Industrial Revolution, however, all this changed. Small scale farm production continued, but in the 19th century factories became the main source of British cider and firms such as Coates, Gaymers, Merrydown, Taunton, Bulmers, Inch and Showering's became household names. Unfortunately, Britain's cider makers have demonstrated exactly the same predatory instincts as our brewers, and it will come as no surprise to learn that most of these firms have been taken-over and the factories closed down. There are now just 2 major producers in Britain, Bulmers and the U.S. owned William Clark, and they produce most of the cider you are likely to find in pubs and off-licences. They have never developed tied estates, but given their dominance of the business they don't need them and they are able to foist mainly processed, artificially carbonated ciders onto a public largely ignorant of the delights of real cider. Reasons to be cheerful All is not lost, however. The big producers are perfectly capable of producing decent traditional ciders if they want to, as do large independent factories like Westons and Thatcher's, and there are still many fine small craft producers of cider and perry all over the south of England and some points north. Also, the big 2 producers are in the process of planting thousands of acres of cider apple orchards in the west of England to increase their use of real cider apples at the expense of imported concentrate. Finally, CAMRA has even had a triumph over fake handpumps. For years Addlestones a traditional cider produced by Matthew Clark, was served through handpumps under gas pressure. When CAMRA threatened to exclude all pubs selling Addlestones from the Good Beer Guide on the grounds of its misleading dispense method, Matthew Clark's biggest customer. Allied-Domecq, insisted on an end to this sharp practice, to prevent their Firkin pubs being banned from the Guide. Earlier this year Matthew Clark relented and real Addlestones cider is now served through handpump with no extraneous gas. A new keg font has been introduced for the keg version.
Local Outlets. The following local pubs stock real cider(if you know of any others, please let us know):
I know of at least eight other pubs which have stocked traditional cider in recent years but no longer do so. Of course, no-one can blame a publican for not persisting with a product that does not sell, but I do feel that the situation with cider is akin to that of Real Ale. Britain's national brewers have decided that the market for Real Ale is declining and to prove this self-fulfilling prophecy have ploughed advertising resources into nitro-keg and lager with predictable results. Similarly, keg and bottled ciders enjoy huge national advertising whilst the traditional product is ignored. What's interesting in all this is that regional brewers all over the UK are enjoying great success by producing and, crucially, promoting quality Real Ales. Britain's 2 major cider producers are perfectly capable of producing quality traditional draught cider and if they gave it wide distribution and a decent advertising budget the results could he interesting. Also, cider generally has a longer shelf life and is easier to look after than Real Ale, so there is less chance of it being ruined by inexperienced pub staff. If you know of any other local outlets selling real cider, or even perry, not included in this survey, please tell us and well include them on the site. Finally, you can sample a good range of real cider and perry at the local CAMRA festival at Gosport in February.
Conclusion. Firstly, a big thank you to those local publicans still selling traditional cider, and to you for reading this. If you want to find out more about cider and perry get hold of a copy of the 'Guide to Real Cider' by Ted Bruning, published by CAMRA Books. For more details, visit the CAMRA national web site. Finally, if you decide to go on a 'cider hunt', remember that this wonderful stuff is generally at least 50% stronger than standard bitter, so gently does it. Happy cider hunting.
This page last updated: 2 Feb 2020
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