Cider makers across the country are celebrating Apple Day on 21st October. It’s an extra special Apple Day this year as they are able to announce that it’s been a perfect year for cider apples, resulting in a bumper crop of beautifully ripened apples, ready to be pressed into one of the nation’s favourite drinks.
The National Association of Cider Makers (NACM), which represents the industry, has declared 2023 the year of the cider apple, with the conditions for the orchards meaning the cider made this year will be particularly special. Cider apples, so woven into our heritage, with names like Merry Legs, Slack ma-Girdle, Sheep’s Nose and Brown Snout, have thrived.
Although we Brits have not enjoyed the best summer weather-wise, it has proved optimum conditions for cider apples. With the mix of sun and rain and the late burst of September and October sunshine, it has created the right conditions for the apples to ripen to perfection, with just the right amount of acidity and sweetness to press into the ultimate cider.
From bud to bottle, cider is a crucial part of the country’s economy. Cider making not only supports employment, farming, and sustainability, but boosts tourism particularly in the West, Southwest and West Midlands.
Throughout the UK there are three hundred farmers growing over fifteen thousand acres of orchards that are often handed down through generations. This farmland crucially preserves the UK’s biodiversity by attracting a wide variety of wildlife. Once produced, cider flies the flag for British food and drink with over £50 million of exports of cider per year.
Fenella Tyler, Chief Executive at National Association of Cider Makers (NACM) said:
“Apple Day provides a wonderful chance to celebrate apples and orchards, and cider makers across the country will be doing that with aplomb this year, raising a glass to the exceptional crop that 2023 has given us.
Those who love the drink, which is so much a part of the fabric of local communities, will be delighted with the results of this year’s harvest and we thank those who continue to support cider makers.
Not only is it essential to sustaining rural areas, the industry also supports local amenities and charities, funding wildlife ventures and community orchards. A glass of cider supports all of this, plus offers a little slice of sunshine!”
Exhibition Orchard, Thatchers Cider Copyright Neil Phillips Photo + Film Ltd
Cider presses are gearing up for action in a corner of Herefordshire, and Big Apple venues are standing by to welcome visitors to the Marcle Ridge on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 October. The apple harvest will be in full swing – no matter which way you turn in Much Marcle, apples are everywhere! Not to mention pears – perry pears of course.
Nine familiar Big Apple venues, including Woodredding, Lyne Down, Pope’s Perry, Hellens, Gregg’s Pit and Awnells Farm, alongside regular attractions at Westons Cider, are waiting to welcome visitors to enjoy the orchards, see, hear and smell cider being made and taste many different varieties of apples, local ciders, perries and apple juices. And don’t miss apple teas at the Memorial Hall!
This year’s highlights include the ever popular ‘high-altitude’ tutored cider tastings on the Marcle Ridge, giving a hand to press perry pears from the ancient avenue at Hellens Manor, and wheeling along with the Big Apple Bike Ride. The National Fruit Show Education Team make their first visit, tickling taste buds with an apple challenge at Hellens. Practical sessions on tool sharpening, the chance to buy refurbished garden tools and a talk from agronomist Matt Greep on apple pests and diseases are a ‘must’ for those who like to do things for themselves, while Bill Laws will share some of the pomological secrets behind his forthcoming book about the Herefordshire Pomona. Tasty food offers and musical interludes including Uke Can’t Be Serious and Leominster Morris are to be found in and around the orchards. Full details of venues and special events, and advance booking where required, can be found at https://www.bigapple.org.uk/harvestime/
The Big Apple is delighted to be working alongside others this year to place apples right at the heart of Herefordshire under the umbrella of Hereford AppleFest.
Pictured: Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, Chair of APPCG and David Sheppy, Chair of NACM
Newly elected chair of the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM), David Sheppy, called for a freeze in excise duty until at least 2025 in his inaugural speech at the All-Party-Parliamentary Cider reception in Westminster this week.
More than 120 cider makers, MPs and those connected to the cider industry gathered to celebrate the importance of the most traditional of UK drinks. Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, chair of the APPCG, opened the event, reminding those present of the importance of cider making across many rural communities.
While the event was an opportunity to celebrate British cider makers, there was a serious note at times, with calls on the government to commit to no further excise duty increases for at least 18 months following the damaging effects of the recent 10.1% duty increase alongside the Alcohol Duty Reform changes targeting the most traditional ciders.
David explained how challenging it is at the moment for cider makers. “The last few years have been tough for cider makers. The market has been struggling and at times it has really felt as though the government has lost focus on the valuable contribution that the traditions of cider making bring to our rural economies. A 10.1% increase in excise duty; duty reforms that penalise our most traditional ciders; complicated systems that have been rushed through; increasing levels of red tape for both cider makers and farmers. The list is endless and personally I have been very frustrated and concerned that the finest, traditional ciders and family businesses are being negatively impacted”.
He called on MPs to support the cider industry, which supports more than 11,000 jobs, 16,000 acres of orchards and is worth £2.95 billion and by far the largest globally, playing an important role across rural economies in Herefordshire, across South West and beyond, cider makers attract more than 1 million tourists each year, contributing to their rural economies and supporting communities.
Highlighting industry concerns that yet another excise duty related consultation was due, David asked for support as the government begins the lengthy process of reviewing the definition of cider. “In the past those responsible for excise duty made a point of coming to see us and learn more about the cider category.” He said “we appreciate that the last few years have made that more difficult, but all of us here tonight would like to see us to return to that level of interest in cider making.”
As a sixth generation cider maker, from a cider making family spanning more than 200 years, David acknowledged how far the industry has come in that time, taking great leaps in technology, whilst also keeping with the traditions important to the heritage of cider making. He concluded that with the right support the cider industry can be optimistic for our future and for the great ciders that will be made by generations to come.
PHOTO: Martin Thatcher visits Weston Hospicecare, meeting community fundraisers Abi and Kirsty, to see apple trees planted for the Thatchers Community Orchard Project [Copyright Neil Phillips Photo and Film Ltd]
Community groups around the country have been planting apple trees this spring thanks to The Thatchers Community Orchard Project.
Attracting hundreds of applications in the project’s third year, from as far afield as Aberdeen to Worthing, the Somerset cider maker has supported over 100 groups wanting to enhance their communities, with 500 apple trees donated this year.
Including residents’ associations, parish councils, allotment groups, and care homes, five apple trees were donated to each of the successful applicants. To apply, they needed to explain why planting apple trees would make a difference to their communities.
Thatchers Community Orchard Project – Martin Thatcher meets Emma, Nicky, Elaine and Bethan from Weston Super Mare Cricket Club who received apple trees through the project.
Copyright Neil Phillips Photo and Film Ltd
“It’s always a real pleasure to distribute apple trees to organisations who really care about the community around them,” says Martin Thatcher, fourth generation of the cider making family. “We’ve been brought up with trees all around us at Myrtle Farm – so through this project we’re looking to spread apple tree love across the UK.
“With applications from the North of Scotland to the South West, from both rural and urban communities, by donating apple trees we can help communities in so many different ways – from helping green urban residential communities, providing an area of peace and solitude to care homes, and an educational resource to schools and colleges.”
With leading ciders such as Gold and Haze to its name, and over 500 acres of its own orchards in Somerset, Thatchers knows a thing or two about planting apple trees.
“There’s no better tree than an apple tree,” continues Martin. “From the tree’s beauty in spring when in full blossom, to the fascination of seeing the fruit develop throughout the summer, to the excitement of harvest, there’s always something new to see in an orchard.
“The enthusiasm we’ve seen amongst volunteers supporting their communities is inspirational, and we’re delighted to be playing our part with this community tree planting project.”
This is the third year the Somerset cider maker has run its Community Orchard Project, and brings the total number of organisations supported since launch to 175, with almost 1000 apple trees so far donated and planted across the country.
“The project shares our family’s passion for apple trees, building communities and constant support of the environment and ecosystem around us today and for the future,” Martin concludes.
Thatchers Community Orchard Project was first run in 2021. The project attracted such demand in its first year, the family run cider maker decided to more than double the number of trees it gave away in its second year, and in its third year doubling the number of organisations it has supported.
Cider makers welcomed more than 200 guests to their Orchard and Machinery Day, held in Newent, Gloucestershire. The event provides a unique opportunity each year for the cider industry to thank those who work so hard growing apples for them and to celebrate the importance of British grown cider apples.
The day was opened by James Crampton, National Association of Cider Makers (NACM) Chair and Corporate Affairs Director at HEINEKEN UK. He thanked Edward Keene, of Michael H Keene and Sons Ltd and the team at Moat Farm, Newent, for hosting the event and welcoming such a large group of growers.
James went on to explain that “Growing cider apples is at the heart of the cider industry and Great British ciders are a part of the heritage and traditions of our rural communities. Cider makers and apple growers have worked in partnership for decades, creating a platform that supports farming, employment, biodiversity, tourism and of course cider making “.
For the first time, the annual event included a morning conference with a range of speakers providing insight into important topics impacting cider apple growers. These included agronomy insights and briefings on academic studies benefiting the cider apple orchard. However, there was also some caution from the cider industry, due to long term decline in the cider market, impacts of Brexit and Covid as well as uncertainty around the changes to excise duty that will come into effect from 1st August this year.
James further highlighted that HM Treasury plan to carry out a further consultation into the definition of cider, adding more disruption for the industry later in the year. However, opportunities from the consultation include a hope that flavoured and sparkling ciders will finally be treated as cider, instead of the current system that sees them paying much higher wine duty. Reducing duty rates would be an important step in increasing innovation and attracting new consumers to the category, benefiting cider makers and apple growers alike. James encouraged the growers present to talk to their MP about the importance of cider making, apple growing and the need for better support from HM Treasury and of course DEFRA.
James concluded with brighter news. Recent sunshine had resulted in the first signs of the cider market stabilising, along with signs that it will be a good year for cider apples, which is excellent news for cider makers, apple growers and of course, cider drinkers.
Following the conference, guests were invited to walk around the orchards and visit a number of trade stands highlighting latest developments in orcharding and harvesting equipment and supplies.