The title of Cider Consultant is not something you hear every day. In fact, there are probably only a handful of people in the world today who could claim it. Bill Bradshaw is one of them. He is also the co-author of the book “World’s Best Ciders”, a judge in a number of international cider competitions (including Australia’s in 2016), as well as an avid cider photographer. He also happens to come from Somerset – one of England’s cider heartlands.
In short, Bill Bradshaw is a world renowned cider celebrity, in a market that is experiencing a global renaissance.
The moment we realised he was invited to be the international judge at the 2016 Australian Cider Awards, we reached out and asked to meet him. At this point we had already bought and read, and re-read, his book. It was clear that Bill brings to the table not only fantastic experience, but also a deep passion for and understanding of cider both today and in history.
We are pleased to present the first of five posts featuring Bill Bradshaw. Be prepared to open your mind, because your beliefs about cider will likely be challenged. We hope you enjoy consuming this series as much as we enjoyed creating it. Leave us a comment with your thoughts!
Bill at The Cider House, Melbourne, Sep 2016
It is a pleasant early Sunday afternoon in September 2016 and we meet Bill at The Cider House in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Bill is there with a small group of old friends, chatting away. He’s been in the country less than 36 hours and is easing into his Australian experience nicely. His attitude is warm, informal and friendly, and we bond instantly over our mutual love of good cider. And this is plentiful at The Cider House. By the time we arrive, Bill has already sampled a couple of the local varieties and is on great form and in good spirits.
The crew at The Cider House kindly show us to the function space located on the upper level. We grab a seat and have a chat with Bill, undisturbed. With a cider in hand, we let our curiosity guide the conversation.
First things first, we want to know what Cider Consultant actually means!
“I don’t think that’s anything. There is no cider consultant job. I just think there are a lot of people working in the cider industry that don’t have the passion or experience of what’s outside the glass. And for me, if someone is interested in getting that bit right, I can tell them it’s not about this, that, and the other, it’s more about that. It’s the culture bit, really.”
“It’s what makes Australian cider Australian, or American cider American, or Canadian cider Canadian. It’s not necessarily that bit, it’s the stuff around it, you know? Whether in the UK, it’s things like Wassails, and really, really cheap cider. Really good cider, really bad cider, and then you’ve got your Midwinter Festival here. And again, in the States – there’s a lot of comparisons actually between Australia and the States, but it’s these kind of emerging traditions, or reinventing traditions. For me, those are the interesting bits.”
Bill seems visibly excited about his “fifteen mental days” visit to the land Down Under. This is no holiday, at least in the conventional sense. Not only is he heavily involved with The Australian Cider Awards, he’s visiting cider makers all around the country, from Orange to Tasmania, Adelaide to country Victoria.
“I’m really excited, because I kind of know what to expect in some parts, and I totally don’t in others. I’ve said this before: there’s two threads in the cider world. There’s the common thread of apples, and the kind of passion people have. Wherever you go in the world, those are the same. And then the other thread is the new stuff, the stuff I’ve never seen before, the stuff that makes it particularly Australian, or particularly American, or Japanese, or whatever. And that’s the stuff that probably interests me the most. That’s what makes me push the shutter, so to speak. And that’s the bit I’ve no idea what to expect. I’ve had a couple of tasters around town of different ciders, so I kind of know what I’m in for a little bit, he says ahead of 200 ciders I’ve got to judge tomorrow, Tuesday. But it’s the other stuff I don’t know. That’s what I’m really interested in. So, yeah, we’ll see.”
We probe for more detail around what he’s looking forward to, what’s he looking for in the ciders he finds here?
“Well, for me, it’s different levels of stuff. So, it’s, I suppose, primarily the cider’s got to be really good. It’s got to be made with passion. It doesn’t matter if people are using cider apples. I mean, I love cider fruit. I love cider made from cider fruit. That’s what I’m used to and I know it works. But if people don’t have access to cider fruit, which loads of people don’t, and they’re still making really good cider, that’s really important, I think. You’ve got to pay attention to that. Outside kind of competing, and just generally in terms of the culture, I suppose it’s generally about the love and the passion people have. The same stuff we all have in common about cider, you know? You can go anywhere in the world, and cider might not be your favourite, or it might be your new favourite, but aside from that, again, it’s outside the glass. That’s the kind of stuff I really look for. I think that’s what gives it identity. That’s what makes it unique, you know? That’s the cool bit.”
“Personally, we’ve all got our own tastes. I like a dry cider. I like a bitter, tannic cider, but it’s got to be balanced. I mean, Somerset, where I’m from back home, people think, “Oh, it’s like all of the cider’s going to be amazing,” and some of the cider is world class, and some of it is utter ditch water, rubbish. And it’s still using the best fruit, our best fruit, but doesn’t make it good. It’s about the skills and the balance in the craft of making it. Some people get that really wrong. And I think it’s much harder to make a really good, balanced cider from non-cider fruit.”
“I wonder how it would turn out if all the English cider makers all of a sudden had to make a season of cider, a year’s worth of cider with non-cider apples. I think they would struggle, and I think that’s one of the things the new world has really opened my eyes to, is how hard people work to get that balance right, in the glass. It’s not always tannic, but it’s not always about that. In the States, a lot of the flavours are acid-based, because that’s all they have to work with. They’ve got some really good apples. And there’s more tannic stuff coming through. But I’ll be interested to see, and I’ll find out over the next couple of days, what the full gamut is here in Australia. But for me, it’s about balance. You need a really good mixture of stuff.”
“And it doesn’t matter what you’ve got access to. If you’re making cider from the fruit you’ve got, you can make it really well or really badly. The ones that get it right are the ones that interest me. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be cider fruit, you know?”
We don’t often get seasoned cider connoisseurs’s perspective on the Australian cider scene. We grab the bull by the horns and ask about his opinion of the Australian cider scene versus other markets around the world.
“I’d say it’s a bit early to say, because I’ve only been here 36 hours. I’ll probably be able to tell you more in 2 weeks’ time, when I’m looking all fat and knackered, having toured around and done it all. So far, there’s a lot of lolly water. There’s that kind of the sweet stuff, the fizzy stuff, and that’s fine. A lot of people like that. And actually you can’t really undermine that and degrade it too much, because if it sells, it sells. But any new emerging market that’s kind of growing—and of course, I think it’s kind of re-emerging itself here. I think it’s always been here, but kind of in the background, like a lot of cider around the world. I think, as it’s coming to the fore, people are getting more and more into it.”
“I think education is really important. People need to understand that it’s not just the lolly water, the fizzy stuff at the bar. There’s fizzy stuff in the bottle in the fridge that’s really interesting, and if you’re into wine, those are the ones that you want to be looking at. If you’re into beer, maybe the stuff on tap’s pretty good. There’s amazing stuff on tap. I’ve been surprised how good some of the stuff on tap is already, so it’s looking good so far. “
We nod in agreement, our own experience points to the very same conclusions. So many of us have had terrible encounters with commercial ciders, and only a few give real cider a chance again after that.
“I suppose people that say they don’t like cider, for me it’s always a challenge. I always think, “Right. I know there’s a cider out there that I can get you to like.” I just need to know what you like at the moment, and don’t like, and say, “Okay, try this, try that.” I mean, this is Solera. It’s aged in wine barrels. That would appeal to white wine drinkers, I think. And that’s kind of the job of bars, I always think. And people doing tasting events, sales meetings, whatever, get them out and get people trying it, because there is a cider for everyone. I mean, even if it’s the ciders with stuff in, the flavoured ciders. If they’re made well and are balanced, they’re not as bad as people make out. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but at the same time, I’m not going to say no. Gateway ciders is a phrase I use a lot, and I think it’s worth people making gateway ciders. This is a cider that’s really easy to drink, but it’s also a little bit more interesting than the lolly waters we were talking about, the commercial stuff. That is really one-dimensional, really boring, I get really bored of. If you can make one that’s somewhere between the two, and that lets people through into the more interesting stuff, that’d be great. But it’s early days. And I think actually working with chefs and sommeliers, that’s a really good idea. Really get people thinking about cider in a more serious context, you know?”
“Australia has a really strong wine culture. Been making wine for a long time, really good wines, really award-winning wines, and cider’s just a cousin of that. It’s not that different. It’s more similar to wine than it is to beer, and I wish more people would consider well-made cider in the same terms they would consider well-made wine. And that’s, I think, one of the challenges. The weird thing is, it’s served in a pint glass, or schooner, or whatever you call it, a pot—I don’t know, I’m confused—like a beer, and I think that adds to the confusion. But if you start serving it in wine glasses, as an alternative to wine, people can split a 750 bottle. Yeah, I think that’ll help people get their heads around it and actually start considering and appreciate it a bit more. That’d be really good. I’ll let you know in two weeks. I keep saying that.”
Bill (left) and Nathaniel from The Cider Link, enjoying a cider and a chat in Cider House, Melbourne, 2016
The mention of cider and food strikes a chord. This is a very hot topic here at The Cider Link, and we ask Bill for his take on pairing cider with food.
“Don’t go for the standard, “Cider goes really well with pork,” “Pork and cider will make a casserole.” I think it’s gone beyond that now, everyone knows. And it’s not just cider, it’s other apple-based drinks. In England, we distil it. I think there’s opportunity for that. You can get an aperitif thing going on.”
“But in terms of the food itself, just think people just have to look at it a bit more like they would with wine, you know? I’m probably going to get bored of myself saying that, but I think that’s how people need to consider it. That’s where it needs to be, really. People need to take it that much more seriously. No, it goes really well with fish. We’ve got really good chefs in the UK buying up entire years’ worth of supply of that cider maker’s supply, or that particular one, because he knows it goes really well with one of his main meals. And he just buys the whole lot and sells it in his restaurant only. That’s the kind of thing you need, I think. But chicken, cheese, salads, turkey, white meat. It’s so versatile, cider. You get really dark, kind of heavy ciders made of real cider fruit, and you get much more, like, fruity ones. It’s amazing. “
“People write wine lists and beer lists, but rarely a cider list. So, write a cider list, man. What’s wrong with a cider list? Write that. Write some tasty notes on it, it’d really help sell it. I think that’s what people have to do, and that’s what I think would be really great to have some work done with sommeliers, people going and talking to the bar staff and saying, “This is how you sell cider. This is what it works with. This will work well with that, because… But if they’re thinking that, then you want to go for that kind of cider.” It’s just an education. And that’s the good thing about a lot of commercial cider makers, is they’re not so interested in that, but they sell a lot of cider.“
“I think if there’s any kind of collaboration on the industry level going on, it’s going to benefit everyone in the end. Those are the guys that can afford to help educate people. Not the small craft guys; they’re the ones making the amazing stuff. Hopefully that can work, but it’s always a bitter battle.”
The question about what is a craft cider is very close to our hearts, not least because it is so scarcely understood. Industrial scale cider manufacturers are beginning to capitalise on craft’s positive connotations, and we ask Bill for his take on the word “craft”.
“It’s one of those really annoying questions. I tweeted that a week or two ago and said, “What is craft cider?” The first response I got was, “You can’t say that. Delete it.” So bored of that conversation. So, in many respects people are, but I think it’s got to be made with fresh-pressed juice; locally-grown fresh-pressed juice. It’s, essentially, got to be made with love, you know? It’s not about pushing some buttons and a pump starts, it all starts moving. You’ve got to get some local apples, you’ve got to squash those local apples, and you’ve got to ferment them with a bit of care and love. And you’ve got to know what you’re aiming for, not just a clean, safe, one-dimensional product. Which is fine; a lot of people like that, but it’s got to be a little bit more complex. It’s got to be made by hand, really. It’s a tricky question, because it’s different answers for different people, you know, and it means different things. And people are really passionate about it, with craft cider, so it’s not an easy answer, that. But for me, it’s got to be fresh-pressed juice, local apples, and a bit of love—or a lot of love in many cases.”
We move on to the impending judging of over 200 cider entries that Bill is undertaking two day’s’ later at The Australian Cider Awards. How does he approach a task like that?
“Well, I don’t know yet quite how you guys want to do it here in Australia. I don’t know what the format is for this competition in terms of, “This is how we’re going to judge the ciders, this is what we’re judging them on,” or, “Just tell us what you think. Give it a score out of ten, or a yes or a no,” or whatever. In terms of judging cider, I suppose I’ve learned to just go entirely on what I like and what I don’t like, and then you obviously have to have a good reason for not liking it, verbalising effectively how or why you’re eliminating it, how it’s not working for you.”
“Again, I like a balance. I don’t want it too sweet. I don’t want it too thin. I don’t want it too bitter or dry, either. I mean, I like a bit of dry cider, but it’s got to be balanced, really. And that’s the thing I’m looking for. That’s my go-to midpoint of, “Yeah that’s pretty good,” or, “No, man, that’s way off-spectrum.” I don’t know. I could tell you on Tuesday night, “Oh my god, I got that wrong.” How do you judge a cider? Again, I don’t even know if we’re judging it blind. I imagine we probably are. I hope we are. Do we have to fill out forms? You don’t know? Yeah. I don’t know. I think it’s like anything: you analyse it. You analyse the smell of it, the taste of it, the look of it, and then you add them all up and swirl them around and think about it. But at the end of the day, you either like it or you don’t.”
“And I suppose I’ve got a slightly more—I don’t want to say snobby palate, I don’t want to be snobby, but it probably is snobby. There’s things I will always look for, and there’s stuff I’ll always accept, and there’s stuff I won’t. So, I don’t want faults, but I want interest as well. Actually, sometimes a fault will make it more interesting, you know? I’m not the most technical of judges, because I don’t know all of the science behind everything. I haven’t just done all the courses and I know it inside out. I come at it from that angle, rather than a totally technical, “That’s wrong, that’s wrong.” So, actually, it might be wrong, but I quite like it. Some of those are the most interesting ciders you can have. Yeah, we’ll see.”
Bill has seen and judged a few cider competitions, across different continents. We are keen to understand his process, what does he actually do when he is judging ciders?
“Yes. So, first thing you do is—it’s like food, I think—first thing you do is look at it and go, “Okay, it’s cloudy,” or, “It’s clear.” It doesn’t really make a massive difference. It’s easy to make a cloudy cider. It’s easy to get it clear. I’ll always smell it. It’s always worth knowing. Sometimes they smells so bad I’m not going to judge it anymore. It’s just like, “I don’t want that going into my body.” Sometimes it smells amazing, and then you have a sip and go, “Oh my god, it tastes revolting. It’s nothing like it smells,” you know? Sometimes you get a whole new set of flavours coming through from the taste. And then, there’s the mouth feel, the sweetness, the dryness, the tannins, all of the sharpness, all of that. And the length. I’m always interested in the length of cider. A lot of cider is quite thin. It’s really short in flavour. “
“I like a really long cider. Again, I think it’s because I’m from Somerset, and we use a lot of tannic fruit. I try not to let that cloud my judgment, because I travel around a lot, and a lot of people don’t have that fruit, so I’m used to it. But personally, I like that. But yeah, the length, how long it lasts. And that’s when, I think, you can really tell how much love someone’s put into their cider, because then, the fruit they’re working with, and it might not be cider fruit, but, “Okay, we’ve got to do this, got to do that, we’ll age it in oak, that’ll give it something, whatever. We’ll put it in wine barrels, we’ll use a different yeast, we’ll blend it with this cider. That one’s really dry, that one’s really tart and sweet, you know? We’ll get something interesting.” I look for that kind of thing. “
“Yeah, again, it’s not too technical. Those are just ways for me to help understand different elements of what we’re doing for, and separate one from another. Normal stuff, I suppose. And there’ll be, you know, I can almost guarantee everyone judging over the next two days will have more experience with drinks than me. They’ll be analysing drinks all the time, they’ll be doing samples all the time. I drink a lot of cider. I’ve tried from all around the world, but I’m not like a technical judge. I’m not a cider maker, actually. I’ve made plenty of cider, but I don’t judge cider from a cider maker’s, “Where’s the problem,” point of view. I judge it from a, “That is really nice,” or, “That is not.” From a drinker’s point of view, I suppose. And that’s all I can do. I’ve got to feel good about that, I think. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.”
We know Bill has tried ciders from all around the world. We ask if he has got any particular favourite styles or regions, or any big loves from his global travels:
“I suppose I love the diversity. All the cider comes from apples, and you think, “How different can it be?” But actually, amazingly so. I love what they’re doing in the States, or some of what they’re doing in the States, anyway. They’re so into it. They’re so passionate. But I always compare it to, you know, your mum’s cooking, or something. It’s like, “What’s your favourite food?” “Well, my mum does it like this,” and it’s kind of what you’re raised on, and that’s what you judge everything else by. So, for me, the cider we get at home in Somerset, that’s the cider I kind of want to drink. That’s my favourite cider. But it’s not about that. I think when you’re travelling, there’s always going to be interesting stuff. I don’t know. I probably don’t think about it enough, and I think I don’t think about it enough on purpose, because I just want to discover innocently, naively, and go, “Wow, that’s really amazing,” or, “That’s a bit rubbish,” or whatever. Yeah.”
Bill speaks of cider so emotively that we cant help but feel that cider holds special meaning to him. We ask him the question.
“What does cider mean? I suppose, again, it’s about, for me, the culture of it all. It’s those two threads. There’s apples, there’s the process of cider making, and there’s the outside-the-glass stuff, the cultural side. And that’s the stuff that really makes me want to push the shutter. That’s a tricky question. Sounds like the most obvious, answerable question ever, but I suppose that’s what I’m looking for. That’s what I’m trying to answer. I don’t really know. I think I know, and then I go somewhere else and go, “Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s interesting.” “
“And there’s emerging markets all the time. You go to Latvia or Czechoslovakia; they’ve started making loads of cider. Japan, they’re making cider. And I suppose the answer will change from time to time. I mean, it changes, but then, it’s the same as well. It’s always going to involve apples, it’s always going to involve pressing the fruit, fermenting the fruit, that cider makers craft, blending. And then, there’s always the crazy stuff that goes with it. I don’t know why, but there’s a pull. There’s a pull there. I don’t know why, but there is. It’s a cult. It’s the cult of cider. Yeah, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know what it means.”
We need little convincing that cider is a cult in its own right. A couple of years in, we are consistently delighted by the wonderful journey this category is on. However, many people around us are only just waking up to the abundance and vibrancy of cider. We ask Bill whether he would recommend the less experienced cider drinkers to visit the Australian Cider Festival in a couple of weeks.
“Oh man, you’ve got to. You’ve got to. Why wouldn’t you? Do you honestly think Australia’s going to make – okay, we’ve got 200 ciders coming to judge. Do you think all of them are going to be rubbish? Why wouldn’t you go there and find out which ciders you like? Because there’s going to be some awesome products coming along. Aussie-grown fruit, made with love. I mean, it just ticks every box for people who give a crap about their country and love boozing, which is most of us. Christ, why wouldn’t you? I mean, Sam Reid said it’s going to be the best place to be in Australia that day. I think he’s probably right. I think there’s some great places to be, particularly in Australia, because it’s awesome, but that’s a pretty good one. I mean, Melbourne’s pretty cool, all those cool ciders. Why not share it? Make some new friends, find out which ones you like. Yeah, god damn. I’m going to be there with bells on. That’s my last night. I’ll be going hard. I’ll be getting on the plane feeling bad.”
And again, having the new members of the cider loving community in mind, we ask Bill for a recommendation on the best educational resources on the topic.
“Learning about cider? Well, you know, the websites are a good place to start. People are pretty tech-savvy these days. Go online, speak to people that care. Find out who cares, or find out who you think cares. Don’t believe the corporate bullshit. Go and talk to the small guys. If people grow apples to make cider, go and talk to them, because they’ll give a shit. The Cider Link, they’re going to give a shit. The festival, the specialist bars. Places like this, The Cider House, they’re going to know. You can’t work in jobs like that and not know.”
“And go out there and try loads of stuff. Even if you don’t know what you like, decide what you don’t like, and then turn around and go, “I probably like stuff that way, not this sticky lolly water. I want it a little bit more like wine,” or whatever. Or, “I do like the sticky lolly water.” That’s fine, too. We like what we like. We can’t tell people to not like it. If they like it, they like it. But yeah, there’s good books out there, there’s websites. It’s one of the most passionate worlds, I think, the cider world, and people are really keen to help fill those gaps with knowledge. All you’ve got to do is say, “Hey, I’m interested in this,” the tap opens and out pours all of the stuff you wanted to know, and a billion other things you probably didn’t want to know, but actually sound interesting and you might want to know more about. Get involved. It’s not horrible, it’s cider.”
Bill’s personal blog IAMCIDER is a great visual representation of the strange and wonderful world of cider today.
He can be contacted on twitter at @iamcider
His book “World’s Best Ciders” is available on Amazon, here’s the link: