There is an amazing cider book in the works and I have the distinct honor and pleasure of announcing it to you all.
A collaborative endeavor between renown cider photographer Bill Bradshaw and award winning UK beer writer Pete Brown, this new cider will be based around craft cider, true cidermakers, cider culture, cider drinkers, celebrations, and their stories on an international scale. Bill and Pete plan to travel to the World's most prominent cidermaking regions, where they will meet cider folks, observe and experience each culture while capturing amazing imagery and stories. And of course drinking some great cider too. Lucky gents... As they tell it their cider travels will take them from their homes in England, over to Spain and the Asturias, to France, Germany, and beyond. Best of all they even want to visit the North American cidermakers.
Read on and you will find out more about the both of them, their experiences with cider, their expectations and vision for the book, and how they came to join forces.
OTC: First of all I'd like to thank you two for inviting me to participate in a historic blog post like this. Having seen a lot of work from the both of you, all I can say that it is an honor. You are inspiring examples in your respective fields. Pete I love your blog, your video clips are great, and I cannot wait to buy the first of your books. And... A special congratulations to Bill who has quickly become one of the World's newest and most promising cider bloggers.
For those that don't know who you both are, can each of you start by briefly telling us a little bit about yourselves? Where you live? What you do?
B: Well, I’m 35, a freelance photographer based in UK and I’ve been doing photography since I was about 8, but only started to take it seriously when I started travelling seriously in 1997. I’ve been self employed since 2003 and l love it. I live in Somerset, south-west UK. It’s a really picturesque rural area, geographically perfect for growing apples so there are orchards and cider everywhere! Professionally, the majority of the work I do is creating images for businesses, I chose cider as an arena for my personal work so its all been shot in my own time.
P: Hi, I’m originally from Yorkshire, the industrial north of England - well, it used to be. I moved to London and worked in advertising for a while, but I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I won a short story competition at school. OK, so the only other entrant was a seven year old kid, and I was eleven, but you don’t need to know that. I won a short story competition, wrote a dreadful first novel (trust me, I’m not being modest - I’m not a modest guy) and then drifted into writing about beer. Three books later, I was named UK beer writer of the year. I write for a lot of magazines, and do a blog that’s read on both sides of the pond (http://petebrown.blogspot.com). While I still love beer, I drink other stuff as well, and am looking forward to expanding the remit of both my pen and my glass.
OTC: You will embark on a project together very soon that I find very exciting. Tell us what that is.
B: We’re trying to put together a new kind of cider book, one that looks at both the modern culture and social history of cider. In it's early stages and we are still in discussion with publishers but basically -we want to explore it honestly and thoroughly. I do that visually and Pete does it literally. We want to cover the international aspect of cider too. I am aware that each cider producing country (in Europe anyway!) seems to think that they have the most interesting cider culture, when actually, you take the time to explore them all, they are all fascinating, similar and yet unique. That’s what I want to capture and show the rest of the world. The book will be a platform that we use to showcase each cider culture, their similarities and idiosyncrasies.
P: I like to tell stories. What interested me about beer was the culture surrounding it, the customs, its role in history, what it tells us about ourselves, how we use it to help shape our identities. Through my beer work, people regularly assume I know loads about cider. But until I met Bill, I hardly knew anything about it. So I figured I should learn. And what I’ve seen of the cider culture so far, I absolutely love. I’m hoping to tell the story of my journey of discovery around the world of cider. And whereas there have been loads of books on beer and wine, we don’t think anyone has done a similar thing in cider to what Michael Jackson did in beer or Hugh Johnson did for wine. We’re just finding out about the global cider culture - or cultures, I should say - and the opportunity to be the first to document the whole lot in one book is exhilarating.
OTC: Do you guys both drink cider regularly?
P: Not as often as I would like. I go and see Bill down in the West Country and it’s like nectar, but I think something happens to it when you bring it back into the city - it never tastes as good! But I’m finding out all about the diversity of cider now, experimenting with cider cocktails, substituting stronger ciders for wine and even champagne, so it’s becoming a much bigger part of my repertoire. And I’m trying to go down and see Bill more, to where the really good stuff is.
B: I do, you can’t avoid it in Somerset and I’m really proud of our tradition and how good our cider is. I also make a point of trying the local stuff wherever I can find it - you have to really. We have a really strong cider culture here and in many pubs you’re spoilt for choice of decent farmhouse. We have traditions here going back hundreds of years, including riots when they introduced a cider tax in 1762 to pay for a war with France. We even used to baptise our babies in it a long time ago, so it has a serious cultural foothold here which is something you grow up with.
People keep giving me samples to try, and besides its full of vitamin C!
OTC: Man I have got to see Somerset... Whose idea was the book? How did you decide to do it?
P: It’s weird. I was looking through an old notebook the other day, and I found a rough plan for a book on cider that I sketched out some time last April. I forgot all about it, and then when Bill contacted me it turned out we’d both been thinking about the same thing independently. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my cider idea, which is why I’d forgotten about it, but when I saw Bill’s photography it became obvious that we had to do it as an illustrated book, and I was very happy to follow his lead. We were totally in tune on what we wanted it to be - even before we’d met in person!
B: Having been creating cider photos since 2004, I knew something needed to do something with them - at that time they had a limited purpose. I had been exhibiting them under the name IAMCIDER, with some success, but was frustrated with the limitations of an exhibition. I’d wanted to publish a book for a while but wasn’t really sure about how best to do it until I read Pete’s book ‘Three Sheets to the Wind’. It really cracked me up (as in laughed out loud funny). I realised he was someone many of us can relate to, someone who shares a massive enthusiasm and passion for beer. He has a unique, very English tone that really brings to life those feelings many of us have and it made me want to ask him about a beer project... then we got talking about cider.
OTC: Bill, how did you get your start photographing cider?
B: In September 2004 I was asked to document a project that an artist friend of mine as involved with called Apple Villages. She (Kate Lynch) and author (James Crowden) were running a workshop in 5 significant apple growing areas in Somerset. The idea was to take kids out of the classroom, into their local orchard and teach them about the importance of apple and cider in their shared heritage. Each class was split into 2 groups, half did art -drawing the apples and the orchard. The other half did poetry writing about their experiences there. It lasted 6 months so they could follow the basic process of cidermaking from late summer to a Wassail in January and I was asked in to document it for their records.
OTC: What inspired you to choose cider as a regular inspiration for your art?
B: During the Apples Villages project, I was struck with how lovely the light was in the orchards, how the kids were reacting to it all, so excited and free. I loved the idea that they weren't stuck in a stuffy classroom plodding through the curriculum. Instead, they were outside in the fresh air, throwing apples at each other, enjoying orchards and experiencing life firsthand. Those kids will remember that for the rest of their lives. When the project ended, I couldn’t stop. I just kept visiting cidermakers, orchards, wassails, festivals etc and haven’t stopped since. And I like that you call it art!
OTC: I don't take the word art lightly. While not all photography these days is art, once in a while one can find rare examples that transcend the ordinary and truly personify what art is about. You have some truly magnificent shots.
Back to it...
So exactly what is it about cider? What makes cider so special to you?
B: I’m not sure I know exactly, but I do know I have a compulsion to find out more about cider and our relationship with it and explain to others visually. I want to pay tribute to it with my images and I want to show it the way I feel it in my heart. I know that thing I am seeking has a value and that I can do it justice, because it comes from a loving place.
OTC: Do you have a favorite cider related subject to photograph?
B: I suppose its the respect people have for apples and cider which comes in many forms. It can be the look in someone's eyes, the effort they put into their packaging, the way they laugh, the state of their hands, the care they take on a simple task. As a photographer, you have to learn how to show those small things, the details that convey that level of respect, and also that what you like isn’t always what other people like. If its to have a wider appeal you have to take a step back, don’t think too much and go on gut feeling - you get good at it. You also have to be aware of how important the ‘edit’ is, the choice of photos you display. To show something holistically, you have to include everything, the good the bad and the ugly.
OTC: As you know I am really excited about this book. My girlfriend as my witness I track down whatever cider books I can find. Most of the good ones come from your part of the world. I have a number of very nice cider books. How will yours be different?
B: I like that question. If you’ve ever read any of Pete's books (they really are worth reading) it’ll give you a good idea - because there are no books about cider like that. I love his honesty, self-deprecation and the tone with which he writes - its quite light. Visually speaking, cider has never quite been represented lovingly enough and I see my duty as doing something about that, especially a project of this size done with a dual vision. It’ll be like travelling through cider from the inside and we are going to take you the best journey you could wish for. Pete’s words are so good, they make you thirsty and the book will be something of a pilgrimage you will all want to make after reading it.
OTC: Okay Bill so you conceived an idea for a cider book, Pete had ideas of his own as well... How does Pete get involved with you and your project?
B: Well, fate has alot to answer for and when this kind of thing happens, you know its meant to. Its one of those classic combinations of one thing converging at the same time as two or three others, like invisible cogs turning to open up a new unseen doorway. Summer 2010 I was about to go on holiday, it was after 5pm one afternoon and our flight meant us leaving at 4am the following morning so I had about 20 minutes to walk to my local bookshop (which is a proper independent bookshop) and buy a book to read on holiday. The only books that caught my eye as the kind of thing that I would enjoy, were these two books on beer. I bought one ‘Three Sheets to the Wind’ and chucked it in my bag till we were on the plane. When started reading it, I couldn’t stop- I didn’t speak to anyone else for about 3 or 4 days because I was too busy laughing to myself. I then really regretted not buying the other book (‘Hops & Glory’) as my wife had suggested. I felt like I had to go cold-turkey until we flew back so I could buy it.
OTC: So when did you finally meet face to face? Drinks? What did you both have?
B: Taunton train station, Wednesday 22nd September 2010..... We went to a pub with free wi-fi because Pete needed to meet some deadlines (Pete ALWAYS has deadlines to meet.) I think we drank ale because they had sold out of their local cider Gurt Dog. (Mmmmm, Gurt Dog.....)
OTC: Pete you look to have a successful beer writing career. You were the 2009 British Guild of Beer Writers - Beer Writer of the Year, you maintain a successful blog. How long have you been writing about beer and beer culture?
P: In my advertising job I ended up working on beer, which was a fantastic experience. I wanted to read a book that gave me the history and culture of beer, but I couldn’t find one. So in September 1998, I decided to write it myself. It kind of grew in scope as I worked on it. Took me four years of working on it at weekends and holidays until I finally got a publishing deal, and then everything began to take off. That first book was published in 2003, and my writing career began in earnest after that.
OTC: You have 3 books and I saw on your blog that you suggest people read them in the order that you wrote them in. Why is that? Do you have a favorite of the 3?
P: When people come to my readings and say they can only buy one book, and ask which one they should buy, it’s like asking me which one of my babies is the cutest. I tell them - and this is true - that the first one is the most popular, the second is the funniest, and the third is the best-written. I’d say read them in order simply because that’s the order I wrote them in. They’re very personal books - especially the last two, where I put myself and my wife and friends into the narrative, and if you read them in order you also read this meta-narrative of my relationship with beer, how it gradually sucks me in, takes over my life, to the point of threatening my marriage and even my sanity. I think people would be pretty alarmed if they came cold to the third one first. Likewise, if they did that they might then find the first one a little tame.
OTC: Have you written much about cider yet?
P: Not much, until now. The odd piece here and there for people who, like I say, simply assumed I knew all about it just because I knew about beer, which in my eyes is very different. I think cider is a very misunderstood drink, and that’s one of the hooks that really attracted me to it.
OTC: Pete, does writing about cider intimidate you at all?
P: Not really, but back at the beginning, meeting cider makers scared the hell out of me. The first day we met, Bill took me to meet Julian Temperley, a very outspoken English cider maker. He spent the first half hour telling me beer was nothing but a crude drink consumed by poor northern men who then go home and beat up their wives. Then he treated us to a tutored tasting of his ciders. In beer we get quite specific in the language we use to nail flavour compounds, but my cider palate was less educated, and I just wanted to say, “This tastes really nice.” But I didn’t let myself. I tried my best, coming out with comparisons to wine and toffee apples. And when we were on the care on the way home, Bill said, “All that flavour stuff - Julian doesn’t really go in for all that. We usually don’t say much more than, “This tastes really nice.”
OTC: Now that is hilarious. I won't mention names but it sort of reminds me of an outspoken cidermaker of our own here in the states.
Why exactly did you decide to take up with Bill on this crazy cider project?
P: I wouldn’t say I’m bored of beer - I do get bored of it, but never for more than 24 hours. But I kind of felt I’d gone as far as I could in beer without consolidating and revisiting old ground. I instinctively wanted to do a book on cider but had no momentum. Bill came along with the passion, the excellent photography, the product knowledge, the contacts, the boundless enthusiasm... He makes the idea of writing this book seem very easy. Well, as easy as the hellish long dark night of the soul of writing any book can be.
OTC: You guys will be traveling to well known cidermaking regions outside of England. I’m very envious and I hate to ask, but... where are planning on going?
P: In the long gap between you asking these questions and me finally getting around to answering them, we went to the Frankfurt Apfelwein (apple wine) festival. There were cider makers from all over the world, and our perceptions of what cider is, and what it can be, were stretched waaaay beyond what we’d even considered possible. We also made loads of useful contacts. Our priority locations are the US (of course!), Argentina, Asturias in northern Spain, France, and wherever else we can manage!
OTC: Are you looking forward to any one location more than the others?
P: We’ve got a good feeling about Asturias. We think we take cider seriously in the UK, but I suspect Asturias is going to be this hardcore culture unlike anything else we’ve seen. And of course I would have to say the US. I’m so in love with what you guys have done in beer, I’m keen to see how cider measures up.
OTC: I know you have been or have been studying many of the areas where cider has traditionally been made. From England to Asturias and France and even Germany, cider styles can vary widely by culture and country. What is the perception amongst the various European cider making regions regarding one another? Do either of you have a region or cider style you prefer?
B: For me, its Somerset farmhouse, because its the best in the world. Biased? I don’t know what do you mean? I grew up with it so, it will always be my favourite. Its a bit like comparing anyone else’s cooking to your mums, you may eat some amazing food from all around the world cooked by all sorts of talented people, but your mums cooking is going to taste the better because its what you grew up with, its the taste of your childhood. Having said that, if its balanced, well crafted and made with 100% cider apple juice, it doesn’t really matter where its from, its probably going to taste pretty good! I do love good Breton Cider... but maybe because I haven’t tried any from US yet. I know, in a few years time when all is said and done, there will be some serious new contenders, which is such an exciting prospect.
P: Not yet - I’m working on it, but I think this requires a thorough evaluation of as many regions and styles as I can get through before making a decision...
OTC: The most exciting part of all of this for me is that you are planning a North American trip to capture our newly re-emerging cider culture. It certainly would have been much easier and nearly as monumental to collectively feature only European cidermakers and regions. Comparatively speaking craft cider is new again to us. What was it that made you want to come here at this moment in time?
P: Again, it’s the enthusiasm and openness I’ve seen in beer, and a curiosity to see how that manifests itself in cider. To be very crude and horribly over-general, I think in brewing you see two different sides of America summed up perfectly. In the macro brewers it’s ‘Hey, everything’s gotta be BIG! We got the biggest one of these in the WORLD!’ And in the micros you see that restless, questing spirit, the perpetual push west, and then out to the moon and stars, the breaking down of barriers and seeking out of what’s new. I have a fairly large bet with myself that American cider making is going to be just as thrilling and inspirational as craft brewing
OTC: You are exactly right. The more I travel to other cider destinations in North America the more I see how inspired the current generation of cidermakers are.
This seems like a very large and daunting project. Are you a bit intimidated by the scale? When do you expect the book will be published?
B: It is large but the truth is we can only scratch the surface internationally, unless a massive amount of cash falls into our laps. You only have to look at the OTC map of North American Cidermakers; think how long it would take to profile just one of them, them think about how long it would take to capture the others; then everything. And then there are the festivals etc. And that's just USA! Anyway, I believe its best to leave a certain amount to the imagination. I always preferred a semi dressed woman to a naked one, the joy is in the discovery!
P: It’s as large as we want to make it. It can’t be exhaustive, but once you start something like this it’s hard to stop. We’ll be limited by how far we can push budget plus people’s kindnesses. Where we can’t go in person, we’ll do the best we can through long-distance contact to get a reasonable feel for what’s going on. And if we ever did feel daunted... I look at Hugh Johnson’s World Wine Atlas and Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer, both of which are still in print and selling globally after four decades, and think, ‘That’s the prize. If we do this right, if we pull it off, that’s pretty worthwhile.
OTC: When you visit the United States and Canada you will likely document craft cider, on the verge of getting it's due in North America. We are trying hard to honor tradition and learn from the past, all the while blazing our own trail along the way. We have a lot going on here in each of our cider regions. The Northeast, East, Great Lakes and Midwest, the Northwest, Quebec, Ontario… Plenty to see and taste. Thoughts? Do you have any expectations (good or bad) regarding American ciders?
B: Echoing what Pete said, I know that your craft beer/ale movement has held a mirror up to the more traditional aspects of European beer in recent years and really challenged us into having a more open mind. I think (I hope) the ciders of US are at least as good of some of the ciders we have here and the cidermakers will do the same thing. I know the culture is bound to be good, because its cider. I expect I’ll be blown away by the quality of some.
P: Ooh, I guess I answered this one two questions back...
OTC: Do you guys have a “wish list” of what would like to see when choosing the cidermakers you would like to visit, photograph and write about? i.e. their own orchards, working farms, on-site press, fermentation? Tasting room?
P: People and their stories. Parties, people coming together to make cider and drink it, rituals, celebrations...
OTC: Good plan gentlemen. I couldn't imagine anyone being more suited for this job. I've filled Bill with plenty of recommendations, names and contacts. You guys have a big place to consider when you land in America. It isn't as densely packed here as is Europe. There is certain to be plenty more interest from our cidermakers from here on out.
As far as North American events go here, I got two words for you... CIDER DAYS.
I can't wait. Good luck. Maybe you guys will consider letting me chauffeur you around the Northwest when you make it here...
Want to contact Pete Brown and/or Bill Bradshaw? Leave a comment below for the fellas to see or drop me a line using my contact form and I'll forward it on to them. http://www.oldtimecider.com/contact-old-time-cider/
Keep an eye on both these guys by using the links of your choice below.
Bill's IAMCIDER Blog: http://iamcider.blogspot.com/
IAMCIDER on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/IAMCIDER/132932643399036
Bill Bradshaw on Twitter: @IAMCIDER
Check my Cider Book page for information on Pete Brown's book series.