Spent an interesting day down at the Gaymer Cider Company in Shepton Mallet, Somerset. The goal was to learn a bit more about cider. Now cider isn't wine, but it does have quite a lot in common with it. For a start, there are different varieties of cider apple, and the same variety grown in different places will produce ciders that taste different. Cider can be made in lots of different ways, but at its simplest, it is the juice of crushed apples that is then fermented to dryness by yeasts.
The Gaymer Cider Company is not small. It's the second biggest cider company in the UK, and is part of the Constellation drinks portfolio. But the ciders I tried today were all pretty good, and even the more commercial products have a lot going for them. I guess it is like the wine world: there's no reason why large brands can't coexist with small, artisanal producers, and some of the big companies are better at doing big brands than others. Gaymers are launching a new county series, with ciders from Devon and Somerset. I particularly like the Somerset cider, which is dry and complex - and potentially food friendly.
I spent some time with the head cidermaker Bob Cork, who fed me plenty of seriously technical information and answered my rather geeky questions very well. You may be interested to learn that you can get brettanomyces in cider, and that there's a bacterial problem in some 'rustic' ciders which involves rope-like growth of filament-forming bacteria. Mercaptans and sulfides can also be a problem in cider. I was left wanting to learn more, and eager to begin exploring a range of different ciders, armed with some new knowledge about how the stuff is made.