the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor of Malthouse. [1] He wanted – nay, required – me to write another article all about cider. [2] 

The topic is Malthouse becomes Ciderhouse – a week-long cider celebration event (7-14 December) featuring a cider tap takeover (around ten at any given time).  Featured ciders will be detailed at the end of this post but first it is necessary to cover up my lack of knowledge and appreciation of cider with some history and literary references. 

In Tom Hickman’s authoritative book “Drink – A User’s Guide,” he traces the rise of cider, a fermented alcoholic beverage made from fruit, in this case usually apples.  He described cider as being “unique… neither wine (though made like wine) nor beer (though drunk like beer) and produced in as wide a variety of styles as either.”

Hickman believes the ancient Egyptians may have been the first to drink cider. He argues “they grew apple trees along the Nile delta after all. There’s no direct evidence but it would be injudicious to assume they didn’t – they thought of pretty much everything else.”

Certainly the English Saxons in Kent were enjoying many a pint of cider as early as 55BC when the Romans arrived. Hickman describes the Romans as the “Johnny Appleseeds’ of the ancient world” who introduced the drink across their global empire. “Julius Caesar was such an enthusiast that he had cider-apple tree seeds and saplings taken to Rome, though not much came of it.”

By the 19th century, he writes that “the cider drinkers were mostly in the Euro belt between the grape growing south and the grain growing north, on a diagonal from Bavaria to Somerset in the toe of England, with a detour into northern Spain.”

Surprisingly, cider was once the “most abundant and the cheapest fluid” in the fledgling colony of America. The revolutionaries who committed the Boston Tea Party actually boarded a second English ship carrying cider. However, rather than tipping the cider into the sea, that precious cargo was taken home to drink. Even in the 20th century, temperance activists chopped down whole orchards because virtually all apples were being turned into cider.

As noted many times, it is a matter of public record [3] that I am not a cider drinker. As I do in most areas of life, I tend follow the approach of my literary and drinking hero Sir Kingsley Amis whose numerous tomes and columns on the joys and perils of drink contained virtually no mention of cider. Today, I found out why. The answer was contained a review of Kingsley Amis’ famous tone “On Drink” written by Alexander Waugh, grandson of Evelyn Waugh. 

Waugh wrote that, in his early years, Amis’ thirst far exceeded his means and so he was forced to maximise the impact of his intake. He said “Young Amis discovered for himself that for twenty-five old pennies he could get himself plastered on three barley wines, a pint of rough cider and a small whisky. [4] As his means improved, he moved on to beer as his daily tipple and from beer advanced to Scotch whisky, of which he drank so much that by the late ’70s, his monthly bill for the stuff was one thousand pounds.” [5]

This could explain why cider never really appeared in his later writings. Whisky was Amis’ desert island (and daily) drink, he wrote extensively about wine while acknowledging he preferred quantity over quality, [6] he popularised any number of cocktails, concoctions or punch, and was a long-time beer imbiber.

In the collection of his alcohol works – “Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis” – cider does not appear in the index. To put that in context, here is a short selection of drinks which get more mentions: Yugoslavian Scotch, Shandy, Veuve de Vemay, Cock Ale, Swiss Wine, Salty Dog, Hot Buttered Rum, Polish Bison, Amontillado sherry and Careful Man’s Peachy Punch.

Modern writers are increasingly taking a different view, including Pete Brown from England who has been championing the rise of artisan cider for several years and who has just published a book on the subject. In his article “Traditional cider polishes its apples” [7]

Brown writes:

“Three centuries ago it was “English champagne”. A couple of decades ago it was better known as the stuff drunk on park benches. Today, cider’s star is on the rise – sales are booming (pub cider sales last year were up 1.6%, beer and wine down around 4%, and in supermarkets sales were up £84m to £822m). And while most supermarkets and pubs doggedly push major brands to the fore, the real boom is among smaller producers using traditional methods and a higher apple juice content.”

Now that we have balanced the ledger somewhat, here is final lineup [8] for Malthouse becomes Ciderhouse. I’ve listed the ciders with my comments (where I have any):

Good George Cider 5.0%
Good George Drop Hop Cider 5.0% (Invented by Kelly Ryan, this innovative drop made with hops is also the current Champion Cider of New Zealand)
Hallertau Granny Smith’s Cider (4%)
Fork & Brewer Bandwagon 5.8% (Named by Colin THYSSSP because “everyone was making cider, so we might as well get on the bandwagon”)
Fork &Brewer Berried Alive 5.8% (Also includes berries)
Peckham’s Moutere Cider 5.8%
Peckham’s Elderflower Cider 5.8% (Also includes elderflowers)
Townshend’s Sitbee Cider 5.8% (Got to be Cockney Rhyming Slang…)
Townshend’s Laurie Lee Cider 5.0% (He was a writer – got that one)
KJD Eve’s Cider 5.0%
Moa Weka Cider 4.0%
Zeffer Apple Cider 5.0%
Zeffer Slack ma Girdle 6.9% (Highly regarded and the alcohol content makes some people laugh) [9]

Finally, there is a beer in the cider celebration but for very good reason. Liberty How do you like dem Apples? (9.9%) is a (very strong) beer made with apple juice. It was brewed for the last Beer Awards Festive Beer category which challenged brewers to make a beer which did not use one of the four traditional ingredients. In this case, Joe Wood decided to replace water with apple juice…

Next time we drink to the Calgary Hitmen second tier ice hockey team which, for the 19th year, ran their annual Teddy Bear Toss for charity. Fans spent 11 minutes throwing over 26,000 teddy bears onto the ice. The bears were gathered up (it took an army of volunteers over half an hour) and the toys will go to charities for the run-up to Christmas. I’ve linked to a two-minute fan video below – it’s awesome, eh.

[1] I’ve taken the liberty of translating them into English.

[2] In February 2013 I wrote of my “abiding suspicion that Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor makes me do columns about cider every year or so just to mess with me.” Looking at my calendar, I may have misunderestimated his mean streak. 

[3] Google and the Library of Congress. Mainly Google…

[4] Compared to the modern equivalent of bus-stop lagers, wine in a box or pink alcopops, this selection appears relatively classy.

[5] To put that in context, the average British house price in 1978 was a little over fifteen thousand pounds. 

[6] Waugh mocks him saying “Amis freely admits in all three books that he knows very little about wine, the reason given that his father, a clerk at the Colman’s Mustard factory, was not rich enough to give him good wine as a boy. Nevertheless, he blithely recommends Hock and Moselle over white Burgundy, while enjoining his readers to drink huge amounts of cheap table wine from France, Spain, Portugal, or Austria — the better it is the worse the hangover.”
[7] A much more balanced title than the one I rejected for the February post which was “Cider: Fizzy apple juice – I just don’t see the attraction”.

[8] “Final” almost never means final when it comes to hospitality events.

[9] Not me of course – far too mature for that.


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