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Reflections & New Directions

On this day five years ago, Crafty Nectar published my first article. Unsurprisingly it was a review of a Perry’s cider, the place where I first discovered the wonders of the liquid several years before and the beginning of my journey. Five years later I can reflect on quite a ride, many new friendships, amazing experiences and being witness to lots of change. None more so than in my own life, where I’ve gone from drinker to writer to maker. Perhaps my most joyous reflection is that from one question on a cider farm over a decade ago an interest became a hobby which has now grown into a family business venture.

The early days were very much about trying lots of new ciders and giving my novice view on the taste. I will always be grateful to James Waddington at Crafty Nectar for taking a chance on a random blogger and giving me tremendous freedom to write about different ciders and perries and their makers. The opportunity to taste ciders from small batch makers on the other side of the country, a chance to visit the first Cider Salon and many makers across the SE and Three Counties are highlights I still treasure, mostly due to the amazing people it allowed me to meet, many of whom have been instrumental in helping me begin my own cider making journey.

Early days adventures

If I take time and properly reflect on the last five years, I feel that the breadth of availability of cider and perry has increased considerably, especially online. The offering just wasn’t there five years ago and whilst Covid lockdowns had a huge part in influencing makers to take the plunge into online sales, it is mostly the effort of so many different voices and advocates, all of whom seem to have convened at the same time to create a significant turning point in cider’s trajectory. One which will be remembered in the history books for ever more. The online tastings and discussions were another great diversification of engagement with drinkers and makers that resulted from restricted travel and interaction. It was great to join Birmingham Cider Club a couple of weeks ago and see how the flexible format still works really well. As with all good stories there’s a villain and Brexit sadly has had the effect of hampering the availability of international offerings, which just before was really starting to blossom. Everyone will have their own views on the positives and negatives of that vote. Personally I feel it’s a great shame as there are some innovative and fascinating approaches being taken by makers across the globe and the ability to share and learn as a cohort can only help us grow together. We have plenty to share and plenty to learn.

The amazing cider champions of Manchester

The rise of the 750ml has been a key trend I’ve enjoyed watching, resulting in a higher value perception of cider, a fundamental element that has helped very small batch makers like myself even consider starting a cidery. It has been polarising, with many experienced makers questioning the change, the comparisons to wine and the pricing. However if you look to other countries such as France, Spain or Germany, 750ml is the main format as they have fully embraced the larger packaging size. I would think some of that is attributed to the way they approach drinking alcohol, with slower consumption and more sharing at meal times. Whereas here we still have this need to drink lots and quickly, we want a big glass of the stuff and another, none of the smaller portions and sharing malarkey (I am generalising of course). Interestingly a new packaging trend is appearing amongst some makers in the UK who have started diversifying into smaller bag in boxes, something that will no doubt increase over the next 12-18 months.

The next few years excite me, as the conversations continue about single varieties, terroir, orchard preservation, amongst others. Cider Review has been a great champion in starting and progressing a lot of those discussions and it’s been a joy to be able to be part of that with HUGE thanks to Adam for inviting me on board his creation. I think the small batch cider industry has a fantastic opportunity to push forward those topics, after all makers have more of a direct line to their consumers and can directly influence the local communities and environments that surround them and many already do. I have now become more acutely aware of the opportunities I have, having launched Chapel Sider in January, and the effort I need to direct into engaging with my potential customers. Those conversations will not only help sell my ciders but also to improve public awareness of the benefits to our natural environment of supporting businesses that are focused on preserving and increasing our orchards. Those are the conversations I want to have more of, especially in the face of news last week where multiple local councils have either already destroyed hundreds of trees in the name of development or are planning to destroy decades old orchards in the name of building a climate change-tackling transport link.

There are also some things on the horizon that worry me; deposit return schemes and their effects on small cider makers for one. You will have read Adam’s great interview with George on the short-sighted Scottish scheme. Fortunately the consultation on England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently states that glass will be excluded in England, I hope that remains the case when they implement in a couple of years as glass is not the real issue when it comes to littering and failure to recycle. I’m also concerned about the alcohol duty reform coming later this year and the additional burden it is going to add to small sub 7,000 litre (currently exempt) makers. There is also the mounting evidence that younger generations have a different relationship with alcohol, with consumption reducing and choices becoming more conscientious. Tapping into the artisanal, natural elements of small batch cider are key to attract consumers that want a more sustainable, local product. I also have wider concerns around the shift in orchard investment due to the stagnant returns for the fruit market and the impact of climate change on British varieties.

With all that in mind, I have recently come to the conclusion that with regret I am going to have to step away from Cider Review. I am finding it increasingly difficult to balance time between family, day job, cider business and also writing, as you may have noticed by my reduced content on here over the last few months. The launch of the business has definitely altered my focus and to make it a success I need to direct more of my attention to it. I don’t just mean getting my cider to market and sold, but also the engagement and effort with my local community on why it’s worth drinking and supporting. This won’t be my last article, the plan is to step back in June/July time as there are a few more things in the pipeline for me to write about. I’ll save my formal goodbyes for then but for now I just want to thank you all for reading and supporting Cider Review over the last two years, it’s been an honour to write for such a fantastic site alongside some brilliant writers. I will continue to read with keen interest and look forward to seeing the site grow from the outside. Cider has changed the story of my life and now it’s time to look at the next chapter.


  1. Gav Stuart says

    All the very, very best James, you will be sorely missed.
    I imagine it wasn’t any easy decision, but you have to do what’s right for you and your family and nobody else!

    All the best for the future!

    Take care


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Also juggling full-time day job and cider-making, so I can relate.
    All the best with your cider business – hopefully you eventually won’t need supplemental income to support it.
    I enjoyed your CR articles a lot. There are occasional slow times at the cidery, so I hope it’s not a goodbye for good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a tough balance to strike, and writing feels like a luxury, but I hope you continue to pen your thoughts, even if only occasionally after you step back a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thomas S. Barkington says

    James, it is always a pleasure to read your words or watch you speak. I am delighted you have been able to launch Chapel Sider after the delay of the pandemic and very excited to see what more wonderful things you contribute to the world of cider as a maker!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mike Shorland says

    I was lucky enough to meet you when you were just starting on your blogging journey. It’s been brilliant seeing how well you have done! I surely can’t be only one who still wishes for fine cider Friday videos! All the best

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Paul Morris says

    I’ve really enjoyed your enthusiasm and informative articles. I wish you all the very best with your cider venture, James! It is really difficult fitting it in with the day job and family responsibilities, but the end result (I hope, for both of us and all those braving similar waters) will be worth it. I’d also like to thank you for introducing me to the artisan cider movement, which I didn’t know even existed when I started out at a similar time to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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