<- Back to the new UKCider definition of Real Cider

So what do we mean by Real Cider then ? ( archived page originally written circa 1999)

by Andy Roberts

Ah, well you see, it's a bit like this: It's a lot easier to define what it isn't rather than what it is.

Industrialised cider is nearly all produced by just two major manufacturers. It's made out of a limited amount of apple concentrate to which corn syrup or other cheap ingredients are added, to provide a high alcohol long drink, marketed as an alternative to "lager" and with a nearly neutral taste and lots of fizz. Served out of pressurized kegs in pubs or large plastic bottles in supermarkets and off-licenses, it is clearly aimed at the youth and "cheap alcohol" markets. But those of us brought up in the west country know this isn't the real thing at all.

Old rural traditions in Devon, Herefordshire, Dorset and Somerset made farm cider the local tipple, rather than beer. In fact, cider production owes more to wine making than it does to brewing, and the apple orchards tended to be planted in Northern Europe where vine growing is problematic.

The term Real Cider was probably coined as a kind of derivative from the better know Real Ale, as famously championed by the Campaign for Real Ale, CAMRA. It was easy enough for them define Real Ale, by the way it is brewed, kept and served but cider doesn't have quite the same traditions. When a cider section of CAMRA was set up, they produced a strict criteria for defining the process by which Real Cider is made - No pateurisation, filtering or carbonation, but specified nothing about ingredients.

I know what kind of cider I like, and it is flat, usually cloudy, a little sharp, has a taste of apples and doesn't make my chest hurt from the sulphite in it. Then again, I have also developed a taste for Breton Cider, which is clear, light, sparkling and medium sweet ( even when it's meant to be brut ). The tradition over there is to bottle all of the crop by the methode champenoise. That's farm cider nevertheless.

The members of ukcider have expressed different opinions about what should pass for real cider, so we don't really have an agreed definition, and maybe never will. We still know what it isn't though.

I asked the members of ukcider to write a little about the philosophy of real cider and here are some contributions on the subject :-

Geoff Morris, of orchard-hive-and-vine writes....

What makes a real cider?
Real cider is cider made from juice and should be without acetic acid and without mouse, and without rope. The rest I am fairly relaxed about. Different parts of the country have different orcharding traditions, and while in principle it is preferable to support these traditions, I would not like to see products like Thatcher's Katy or Cox's ciders done down in any way, because they are really good innovative products. Carbonation should be left to the producer to decide, rather have some dogma imposed from outside. Natural or wild yeast of fermentation does not bother me that much. If the maker is prepared for every barrel turning out different, we should support him or her in that aim. But if he wants greater consistency, the use of cultured yeasts should be allowed. Finings should also be up to the maker. As a retailer, I have never insisted that a product should be fined to reduce cloudiness or tannin levels, but when I have asked for a fining trial to take place, the maker has often agreed with me that the fined product has been better and more marketable. Similarly pasteurization and sterile filtering give a more reliable product with a longer shelf-life. The taste is altered, but the results can still be superb and can go on developing in bottle like a fine wine. One or two makers think that sugar and pasteurization give a better product than saccharin. I am not a saccharin enthusiast, but if its use is ackowledged on the label, I see nothing wrong with its use. A special case has to be made for the bottle-fermented ciders from Burrow Hill, Gospel Green and Bollhayes. These are superb products and show that natural carbonation is superior to artificial carbonation but thanks to the intervention of Customs and Excise, at a ridiculous price differential.

Andrew Lea ( not directly replying to the above )

I'm still with Geoff on this one. The authenticity of the raw ingredients used for cidermaking far outweighs any consideration of whether or not the resulting product is pasteurised, carbonated or filtered. And incidentally, I yield to no-one in my admiration for natural bottle conditioned ciders (and all my own best cider is made that way) but even those benefit from a coarse filtration to control the conditioning - see my website http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/andrew_lea/coulson1.htm for historical detail - and that's what I do myself. CAMRA's tolerant attitude towards brewing adjuncts, and yet their hostility towards apple juice concentrate and downstream processing technology, is utterly bizarre. Looking at their website, the cider page even condones the practice of high gravity fermentation up to 14% alcohol with added glucose syrup and subsequent dilution with water. And I have never heard CAMRA object to the use of hydrolysed corn syrups and high gravity fermentations in the brewing of beer - but why not?? These seem to me to be really significant forms of adulteration, but obviously not to CAMRA people. I suppose it takes all sorts to make a world!! But I do think we should get back to basics and think about raw materials for a change rather than a few harmless items of downstream technology!!

Michael Lewis

If Andrew Lea wishes to drink pasteurised, fizzy cider, keg beer, bland British lager or any other form of "dead" drink, I have no objection at all. But please don't think that this is the real thing, 'cos real it ain't! With regard to CAMRA, it is an organisation that attempts to protect the traditional pint, whether it be beer or cider, with as little processing as possible, and as long as these drinks exist, I will avoid all of the others like the proverbial plague.

Roy Bailey

I'm not as experienced a cider maker as Andrew, and while I agree with him on the quality of the basic ingredients, I would have thought that pasteurisation was an unacceptable process in cider and perry. I prefer to fine rather than filter (if the cider has not already cleared), and I have a relaxed attitude to light carbonation since tasting Sheppy's Dabinett single-varietal bottled cider last year. This would not be acceptable to CAMRA, but all their ciders are made from the juice of their own trees, chaptalised to bring the original gravity up to an acceptable level, and fermented with the natural yeast. David Sheppy said that they lightly carbonate the bottled product because it needs a bit of life and that even Dunkertons do so. I think Sheppy's Dabinett is absolutely wonderful, but of course it doesn't qualify as real cider.

You might be interested in an extract from CAMRA's External Policy
Document. The comments in square brackets are mine!


3.1 CAMRA defines real ale as beer that has been brewed and stored in
the traditional way, and has undergone secondary fermentation in the
container from which it is dispensed. Secondary fermentation is an
essential and indispensable characteristic of real ale.

3.2 CAMRA defines pure beer as the following:
        - not less than 100% of the extract to be derived from barley 

[Ridiculous! What about wheat malt, roast barley for stouts, rye malt,
oatmeal stouts?]

        - only leaf or pelleted hops to be used in the copper.
        - primary fermentation to be effected with a top fermenting 

[so Harviestoun's Schehallion lager is not pure!]

        - no deliberate acceleration of the fermentation process.
        - any use of caramel to be declared.
        - no synthetic chemical substitutes for alginate to be used.
        - no bromates to be used in malting.
        - no addition of enzymes.
        - no substantial removal of live yeast unless reseeding is
        practiced. Beer must contain at least 0.5 million live cells
        per ml after racking into cask.
        - no pasteurisation or sterilisation to be used.
        - secondary fermentation period of at least seven days (in cask
        or tank) to take place before fining.
        - cone or compressed hops to be the only post-fermentation 
        bittering substances.

So this suggests that CAMRA views real ale and pure beer as two
different things, and this is borne out by the inclusion in the Good
Beer Guide of big brewers who routinely flout CAMRA's pure beer
definition. I agree with Andrew here.

The policy document also includes:


5.1 CAMRA supports the promotion of real draught cider and perry. All
references to cider include perry!)

As Private Eye would say, er - that's it! So CAMRA supports real cider,
but doesn't know what it is.

Having criticised CAMRA above (as I am entitled to do, having been an
active member since 1974) I believe that the Campaign does a good job in
promoting traditional cider and perry, even though these drinks have
more in common with wine than with beer. It is the only national body
that does; the NACM is the big boys' mouthpiece, while the other
producers' organisations are regional. The Great British Beer Festival
and almost all local beer festivals (with the notable exception of
Maidstone and Mid-Kent!), have a cider bar which sells traditional,
regional ciders and perries straight from the polybarrel. CAMRA's
National Cider and Perry Championships are held at the Stockport Beer
and Cider Festival in June each year. And they have just published Dave
Matthews' splendid new guide.

If it wasn't for CAMRA's support, I doubt if there would be so many new,
small cider makers around today. And not everyone in the Campaign agrees
with this support. Mick Lewis will confirm that I have helped defeat
anti-cider motions (generally from the branch mentioned above) at
several recent AGMs. But if subscribers to this list really want to see
CAMRA do more for cider and perry and for the Campaign to have a
definite policy on what constitutes the real McCoy, then it has to be
done by means of a motion at an AGM.

I shall not be going to Newcastle this year, but if the 2002 AGM is in a
more civilised (!) location, I would be happy to propose, second or
support a motion. In the meantime, letters to 'What's Brewing', 230
Hatfield Road, St Albans, Herts AL1 4LW on the subject will put down a
marker and help to gauge members' opinions. Editor Ted Bruning is very
pro-cider (he used to make it in Cambridgeshire before he became
Editor), and would love to see some correspondence on the subject.


                         Roy Bailey - Proprietor
                     The Lambourn Valley Cider Company
                     (Real cider from the Royal County)

Paul Gunningham

I agree that pasteurisation must invalidate the classification of such ciders as "real" in the CAMRA sense, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't drink them at all.

I agree that most of these bottled ciders are not "real" in the CAMRA sense, but that doesn't prevent many of them (e.g. some of Sheppy's and Thatchers single varietals) being very flavoursome and well worth drinking in their own right - they're a good substitute for the real thing if you can't get it. Since many of these cidermakers (e.g those listed above) do make the real thing as well, I'm glad they distribute these products widely (in supermarkets etc.) as this helps to introduce newcomers to the delights of cider and get them seeking out the real stuff in due course - something most of the big boys' watery, chemically flavoured and fizzy products are never likely to do.


up arrow
back to top