Compound drinkers are becoming more and more commonplace. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, compound drinking is the practice of learning or drinking outside, and alongside, your chosen field in order to improve your palate, appreciation, and understanding.
This is a term coined by my peer Rachel Hendry in her first written piece for Burum Collective. A term that has since been immortalised in print – you might have read about it in Modern British Cider by Gabe Cook.
As a bartender, occasional chef, and general observer of the independent hospitality industry, a lot of businesses who might have speciality drinks on their menu are starting to react to this shift in consumers. Beer bars and taprooms are beginning to stock natural wine, small batch cider or spirits. Restaurants are starting to have beers on draft that haven’t been produced under Heineken.
And over the past few years co-ferments have been on the rise; which are the ultimate venn diagram product for compound drinkers. Beers that have been fermented with cider apple juice or on lees. Wines that have been hopped. Beverages that don’t even have an official name, what do you call perry pears and wine grapes that have been pressed and fermented together? Is it perry? Is it wine?
Whether they realise it or not, the producers of these co-ferments are falling into the category that the Burum Collective team fondly refer to as compound makers.
Compound makers don’t necessarily have to produce co-ferments, they could also be winemakers who also produce cider, or brewers who make whisky – which isn’t too much of a leap as the production of whisky involves brewing a hop-less beer, similarly with cider makers producing calvados, or wine makers producing cognac. It’s not a new concept, but over the past few years I’ve noticed a small rise in breweries who are making cider. This could be linked to the rise in breweries that are attempting to brew more sustainably, and want to work with nature, instead of against it.
Last year when looking at the diversity of production methods in cider, I stumbled upon Rigg and Furrow, a farmhouse brewery founded in Northumberland in 2017. But over lockdown they decided to start experimenting with cider production, as well as beer.
Theo from Rigg and Furrow says “There are a number of apple trees on the farm and what used to be a walled orchard (sadly removed a long time ago!) and it was in many ways a product of lockdown that I got to seriously thinking about making cider and growing apple trees, both to diversify what we produce, and finding new ways to capture the spirit of our surroundings which I find so inspiring.”
In 2020 Theo and Pippa planted a mixture of bittersweet and bittersharp cider apple varieties, plus some sharp early fallers. Incredibly they had their first crop of four apples in 2021, and are planning to increase their orchard size each year.
“Apples will come from our farm, and also neighbouring farms and gardens. We are planning to do some community outreach to get more apples in from local people as well as reaching out to the local farming community next year to do our first commercially available cider(s) which all going to plan will be ready in 2023.”
When I asked who the biggest inspirations have been for them in regard to cider production, Theo named makers like Oliver’s, Little Pomona, Eve’s, Caledonian, and Revel Cider, but he is also inspired by traditional “farm-gate” cider makers.
“Makers producing small batches with apples from a specific place, in a specific way, for consumption by their local community. While we don’t have much of a cider tradition here in the North East, I’m hoping we can bring a bit of that feel to what we will be producing.”
Theo from Rigg and Furrow cites the learning curve of working with very different ingredients as something he found difficult when he first started making cider.
“With beer I can buy a bag of malt or hops and know what the specs are and have a general idea of the result before I have even made the recipe.” Says Theo. “When is the best time to pick the apples? Are they ripe enough? Leave it too long and we’ll end up with less apples to press, not long enough and it won’t taste good. Are the apples too acidic? Which has been an issue with growing apples so far North – but as a sour beer fan it’s not necessarily a problem!”
The movement from sour beer to cider does seem to be a common progression. I started drinking natural or small batch cider once I had already developed an interest in wild fermentation. My path into cider was an easy one, I wasn’t stumbling over tannins or upset by acidity. I wanted to know how these flavours came about and why. Breweries producing cider can be seen as another door opening to new cider drinkers, and another brick being pulled out of the wall that so often people in drinks put around themselves.
No longer are people just beer writers, cider drinkers, wine professionals. More and more people are starting to gather under the umbrella of the drinks industry, a cupping spoon in one hand and a tasting glass in the other. The Beer Writers Guild opening its doors to cider writers is a great example of this, especially when they already have members who write about both beer and cider.
Unfortunately as with all good things, brewers producing cider isn’t always the romantic tale I’d like it to be. Some larger breweries have made cider, or contract produced (had it made for them) in order to keep a chokehold on the pub and supermarket industries. For example, let’s say I own a brewery, which also owns several other breweries, and maybe some cideries, and I have contracts with pubs up and down the country, meaning that they are only using my products on their draught lines, and why not go one step further and just make the cider myself… Or even better I could get someone else to make it? I’m already in the pubs and supermarkets, my company is a household name, I might even distribute worldwide. Why wouldn’t I use the routes to market that are already in front of me, and double my audience with another drink?
Some breweries used to sell cider under their own name, such as Stella Artois, Carlsberg, Carling, but these days they tend to have their own brand identities, ones that might not give audiences preconceived notions that stem from the breweries themselves. The latest venture of this kind is Inch’s, the “new, progressive, sustainable cider brand” from Heineken, which in 2021 was reported to shake up the mainstream apple cider category. Interestingly, Inch’s shares the same name as a historical Devon cider company, which was once called Inch’s, but the name was bought by Bulmer’s back in the late 90s, and they have been known as Sam’s Cider since 1999.
In all of their marketing Inch’s claim that their cider is made from 100% British apples, but the cider is from concentrate and water is the top listed ingredient. Out of sheer curiosity more than anything else, I did email Inch’s to inquire after the juice content, they said that they “do not declare the percentage amount of apple juice present in any of their ciders, which is in line with other major cider producers in the UK” they did however confirm that “all of our ciders including our fruit ciders conform to the requirements of the minimum legislative juice content required i.e. Notice 162 of HMRC”
I don’t personally have an issue with big cider, just in the same way I don’t have an issue with big beer, however I am a strong believer in transparency. A company hiding behind another company is just another form of false advertising. At least with a product like Stella Artois Cidre – the fancy cider alternative when I was younger, you might not have known who was making it, but you at least knew who was profiteering off of it. I also don’t have an issue with watered-down ciders, but I do think that consumers should be given the opportunity to decide themselves over what kind of cider they would like to drink. To have all of the facts and be able to make an informed decision.
Unfortunately, like with most schemes by big corporations, it cannot be stopped, but it definitely isn’t going to stop me from being excited by brewers making cider. Speaking to someone like Theo from Rigg and Furrow, and seeing how open he was to talking about his processes, the good and the bad, and all of the cider makers who inspired him, made me want to find more brewers making cider.
“If it goes wrong in some way, it’s a long time to wait to be able to make any more. While we have a small barrel program and I like to play with wild yeasts and bacteria in beer, the same microorganisms express themselves differently in cider, which can lead to more unpleasant flavours, where they are more approachable in beer” Says Theo.
“I don’t know exactly what the end result is going to be when we come to make production decisions, but that I think is a big part of the interest and excitement for me!”
Lead image credit to Ian McClelland, other Rigg and Furrow images from the brewery (and cidery!) itself.