The phone went ping one January Friday, and just like that the digital doors of Malt were closing. The place that had been my writing’s online home for three and a half years, 175 articles and 365,000 words was coming to an end.
My first thought, besides the obvious sadness that Malt was suffering the fate of all things good (NB: I’m thrilled that they have now decided to continue under new leadership instead) was “well who on earth do I write for now?” I had become used to the absurdly privileged Malt writer existence – that of simply vomiting florid verbiage into a word document whenever I felt like it and flipping it across in an email for all of the admin to be someone else’s problem. I didn’t particularly want that existence to end, but Malt had always been an invitational gig. My editor, Mark, had offered me a place in the chorus in 2017 and I had happily trundled along from there. I am not someone who is naturally good at asking for things, and I couldn’t expect another Malt-like offer to suddenly materialise out of the blue.
My second, rather unexpected, thought was “is this perhaps time to lay down the digital quill?” Around the turn of the new year I had been feeling the turn of the screw. I wrote about feelings of imposter syndrome here, and not only had they not gone away; they had intensified. I was increasingly obsessing over what others were writing and producing; comparing my own output unfavourably to everything I read or listened to, constantly intimidated by the achievements of friends and peers within cider.
I worried – I still worry – about the relevance of my articles; that I wasn’t engaging with the right topics, that they didn’t carry enough weight, that I was tilting at windmills. I worried that I wasn’t putting enough of myself into them; that their energy was of someone lecturing in the corner of a library whilst randomly brandishing some quite nice booze. I fretted over tone and style and content and frequency. I lost nights of sleep, I spent far too much time on twitter and invested far too much of my self-worth not in what I was writing, but in how I felt it was being received.
Concurrently, another project I had thought might prove cathartic had instead reignited grief I had spent six years trying to come to terms with. And just after Christmas came news that somebody close to me had become seriously ill. In the lengthening confines of lockdown these crescendoing anxieties tore a little more off me every day. And so that second thought crept in. I had already undertaken not to write in February (I failed, incidentally) – after six years of hobbyist drinks blogging, might this not be a sensible point at which to gracefully declare and to find something else to do? Cider, in the last couple of years, has found a whole new choir of advocates – Graftwood, Full Juice, Cider Voice, Pellicle, Burum Collective, the Neutral Cider Hotel – whilst old hands like my co-writer James have continued to go from strength to strength. It would do perfectly well without me.
And yet here we are, a few months later, launching this. Why?
The first answer (please don’t laugh) is that Mark offered to help* build a new site out of Malt’s existing cider content, and I worried that replying “actually I’m going to sack it all off” would be churlish and cowardly. Second, and more significant, is that although aspirational cider now has this wonderful, growing cast of vocal devotees, it is still underwritten and underexplored. There is still so much to discuss and uncover if the whole category is to achieve the audience and standing that it undoubtedly deserves.
Which leads to the third reason: love. Quite simply, I love cider. I love the dizzying array of apples and the mesmerising palette of aromas and flavours they conjure both individually and in the ensemble of a blend. I love the places in which cider is made and the wonderful people I have been fortunate to meet who make it. I am constantly fascinated by the methods and philosophies behind its creation, by its symbiosis of ancient heritage with modern innovation and by the energy with which it is championed. I love that there are so many questions which have yet to be asked and answered and I love watching what, in my drinking lifetime, has blossomed from the tiniest, most secretive niche into an increasingly switched-on global community. Why on earth would I want to stop writing about all that?
The decision was made far easier by James agreeing to come on board as co-conspirator. In the past few years James has gone from someone I nervously asked “sorry to bother you – are you The Cider Critic?” at a Cider Salon PressHead tasting** to someone who has been a mentor, an inspiration, a collaborator and a close friend. Our outlook on cider is incredibly similar and our tastes are remarkably aligned (though I don’t think I’ll ever quite bring him round to Foxwhelp). I have followed and admired his work for years and I can’t imagine making this with anyone else. I couldn’t do it on my own for innumerable reasons and I am so excited at the thought of what we might create together.
We emerge from beneath the wings of Malt, and it is in much of Malt’s image that this site will continue. Wholly independent reviews (the clue’s in our name) and articles that try to scratch beneath cider’s surface, which endeavour to cover the subject in as much depth as possible, which engage with cider, challenge it where appropriate and which crucially are written for you, the drinker, without fear or favour. We won’t attempt or pretend to stand above the industry and everything you will read here will come, first and foremost, from a place of love.
A little housekeeping, just so you know what to expect. The weekends will be for long-form articles – I called dibs on Saturday, you get James on Sunday. They’ll cover every aspect of cider – apples, orchards, places, people, methods, language, faults and culture. Our predominant departure from Malt is that these articles, in the main, won’t contain reviews, which will be posted separately and on weekdays. Those reviews will also always be in multiples – no expressions covered in isolation – with the hope that this comparative approach lends a little more context. They might be flights of a particular apple, or in a particular style, or from a particular region, producer, country or vintage. They might just be “here is a random collection of 500ml bottles”. But they will always be flights.
An advantage of breaking away from being a cider column on a whisky-focussed site is that we’ve been able to give prominence to some resources which (we hope) will help people better understand cider’s diverse flavours and where they come from. We’ve already published our taxonomy of cider and our flavour glossary of apples and pears. Both will be constantly updated as time goes on, and will inform everything you’ll find written here in the future. We’ve also carried over and edited the list of cider blogs, pods and websites we follow ourselves as well as our favourite cider retailers previously posted on Malt. If you can see any glaring omissions, please do let us know.
Voices. For the most part, certainly to begin with, it’ll be me and James, but we are keen to leave our doors open to any new contributors who might come forward, particularly those who may not yet have a platform of their own. The broader the chorus the more effective we can be, and although, for the time being, this is an entirely amateur labour of love, we want to reflect the growing nature of our subject in every conceivable respect. If you have something to say that you feel needs to be said – or even just a few bottles that you’re burning to write about, please, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you and offer you this space to speak from.
Talking of broader audiences, inspired by our friends at Burum Collective we intend to cultivate a monthly-or-so ‘Compound Corner’ (Rachel has allowed us to call it that) in which we will investigate an alternative drink and consider what cider can learn from it in any particular respect. As a wine professional and a sometime spirits writer with a number of close friends in beer I have always believed that the similarities between drinks – and drinks industries and communities – are as striking and important as their differences. Cider doesn’t lose its identity by rubbing shoulders with other liquids, it strengthens it. And my respect for and understanding of one drink is always, always abetted by learning about another.
After all, were it not for a whisky website, this cider blog would never have come into being. My time on Malt has run its course, and Mark and Jason will forever have my gratitude for it. I am ready for something new now. I am nervous. I am excited. This is something I love and I can’t wait to share it with you. Welcome to my corner of the library; pour yourself a glass. Welcome to Cider Review.
*I say ‘help’ – Mark did literally all the work, I just sent vague, anxious and unhelpful whatsapps. Thanks Mark.
**If you click on the video in the link you can see me about 45 seconds in, pen lid in mouth, rucksack of clanking bottles on shoulders nosing a plastic shot glass with extreme pretention and scribbling what I have no doubt was a lot of nonsense. You can also see James’ hand sporadically. He was the one videoing. At the very end you get a closeup of his blurry, sunlit face.