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What is cider?

I first tasted small batch, full juice cider back in 2012, and have been writing about it for over five years. During that time I have come to see cider through many different lenses and it seemed somewhat cathartic to look at the most basic of questions for my final piece on Cider Review.

Cider is many things and each of us will have our own definition, experiences and constructs around it; these are mine.

Cider is the roots, the thin thread-like tendrils reaching out through the soil, grasping for nutrients and life. It is also the muddy, calloused hands that dig the holes and protect the young trees. It is the warming sun as its light flashes across the skeletons of trees standing cold and still. Cider is the tiny bulging buds that force their way out through the bark, woken after weeks of freezing harshness. It is the unfurling of pastille shaded blossom, that flutter and wave in the breeze calling to the pollinators to visit and complete their life-preserving tasks.

It is the visiting birds that gorge on the unwanted guests and the scavenging beasts that challenge the guardians’ handiwork. Cider is the shouted expletive when damage is discovered as well as the smiles when new growth is witnessed. Cider is the unfurling brilliantly verdant leaves, the mosaic they create and their ability to track the sun. It is the many shades of reds and greens as orbs of sugar, water, fibre and nutrients cling to the scaffolding of the trees. Cider is the apple tree, the orchards and the surrounding lands. A product of its environment.

It is also the change of seasons, the ripening of the fruit and the harvest. Cider is the battering rain that runs down the branches and swells the fruit. Cider is the hand picked apples from the branches as well as those collected on worn hands and knees. It is the overwhelming need to gather every viable apple, the compulsion to save each piece and it is also the foraging birds that survive the winter finding the forgotten fruit. Cider is the aching backs and swollen fingers, as crates, boxes and buckets filled with fruit are moved, sometimes a short distance, sometimes hundreds of miles. Cider is the damp, muddy orchards filled with cold bones and rotting leaves and aromas of decaying fruit. It is also the crisp morning air, the birdsong and the low sunlight weaving through the branches, casting unnatural shadows. It is the satisfaction one feels when looking at sacks filled with apples, and it is the anticipation and dread of the manual work yet to come.

Cider is the early start and the constant cleaning, as well as the bending, lifting, twisting, pushing and pulling. It is the continuous hum of the machinery and the buzzing of pointy visitors. It is the first taste of sweet freshly pressed juice and it is watching solid structures compress and burst; weeping their sugar-filled, viscous tears that stream down the wooden and steel faces. Cider is the never ending movements and measurements, the sore joints that remind you what has been and what is yet to come, the patches of spilled juice and the graveyard of broken hydrometers. It is the fear and doubt that creep in whilst waiting for fermentation as well as the overwhelming elation felt when the juice starts to bubble. It is the multitude of questions that flood your mind when you taste each batch. Cider is the need for patience and determination as air locks get quieter and quieter, it is the experience that comes from many batches and many years. Cider is the joy at tasting something pure and unique, but it is also the soul destroying sorrow when things go wrong.

It is the movement of fluid, the filling of bottles with colourful liquids, shades of amber, gold and yellow. Cider is the thick, rich lees that swirl and dance, chasing the pipe desperate to escape. Cider is art. It is the imprisoned drink waiting to be released and the colourful designs that adorn labels, tempting others to set them free. Cider is the anticipation when pulling a ring pull, opening a crown cap or popping a cork. It is the slosh of still liquid entering a glass, or the frothy fizz creeping up the edge. It is the first sniff, the long gulp, the refreshment, followed by the inner warmth and relaxed posture. Cider is the sensation of taste and the exploration of flavour. It is the quaffable full glass as much as the slowly sipped smaller measure. It is the meal accompaniment and the thirst quencher. It is the pleasure of confidence, of flowing conversation and of interaction with others. Cider is the breaker of barriers and the forming of connections.

Cider is the thought provoker, the raised questions and drive for answers. It is the time slower and the mind blanks. It is the raised heart rate and the ability to dance without a care. It is the moment of appreciation, as well as careless abandon. Cider is the hard work reward but it can also be the coping mechanism. It is whatever it is needed to be.

Cider is the end product, but it is also the time, the care, the raw ingredients provided by nature. It is the weather, the location and the human intervention. It is everything it was supposed to be, but sometimes nothing you wanted it to be. It is the warm sunny days and the cold winter nights. It is the toast at a celebration and the reverence of a tradition. Cider is just a drink, but it is also a way of life.

It has been an honour to co-edit and write for Cider Review over the last two years and I wish Adam and all the other writers huge success for the future. I’m not going far, so if you ever want to say hi look up Chapel Sider. Cheers. 

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