Christmas 1994. A disco or maybe a ‘ball’ – first time I’d worn a tie out of school - somewhere in Herefordshire, or maybe Shropshire. Around these parts for sure. A rugby club, perhaps a hotel function room. Can’t quite remember, but there was a girl who looked pretty under the winter moon, propped saucily against the flank of a hired minibus somewhere out the back. I’d persuaded her that the fresh air would do us both the world of good, and proffering her one of two Marlboro Lights that I’d stolen from my father earlier that day (chivalry was as important to me then as it is now) I promptly chundered up two whole pints of GL cider onto her best shoes. I don’t think I ever found out her name.
I discovered cider shortly before alcopops were born. For the underage drinker in the early to mid 1990s, cider was the go-to, default grog of choice. A bit appley, a bit fizzy, cheap and strong. Eminently vomitable. It tasted passable on the way back out. I wish I’d had a Laurie Lee moment: “Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer…” But I never did. I guess Laurie was on something better than GL.
I took a break from cider until there was another girl, years later, in Somerset who lived at Burrow Hill. She was crackers, but the cider from Burrow Hill was clear, pure, and tasted of sunshine. We collected it weekly in jerry cans and had a hazy summer that lasted long.
Cider is a drink that perhaps tells more stories than any other. The real deal – made by human hand and encased in bottles and barrels – encapsulates mists and mellow fruitfulness with more clarity than any other drink. Call it what you like (the French call it terroir) but drink honest, hard working cider at the right time and you’ll flood your palate with fruit, trees, and fertile soil. Good cider is produced in proliferation around here and right now the cider makers of the Marches are enjoying their best harvest in a decade.
The UK cider industry is worth £2.9bn at the moment and expectations are that it will hit £4bn by 2017. With 480 cider producers in the UK, and two million cider apple trees planted in the last 20 years, it’s looking pretty (Cider with) rosy.