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About Us

The Welsh Perry & Cider Society, or ‘Cymdeithas Perai a Seidr Cymru’ as they say in Wales, was honoured with CAMRA’s Pomona Award in 2003, and Asturias’ Cider Foundation Award in 2010. Former Chair, Dave Matthews, puts us in the picture:


Welsh Cider History

Cidermaking as we know it today came over the channel with the Normans at around the 12th Century, and had swept across the border from Herefordshire into Wales by about the 14th Century. It became well established in the farming communities of the south-eastern part of the principality and in the region of mid Wales adjacent to the English border, but the harsh mountains prevented its spread much further. Only the shelter of the Usk and Wye valleys allowed green fingers of orcharding to reach inland areas such as Brecon and Builth Wells.

In common with the cidermaking areas of England, cider in Wales went into decline with the industrialisation of agriculture just after the end of World War II. However, unlike England, no commercial Welsh cidermakers were left to continue the tradition. But the orchards remained, and in the 1980s the first of a new wave of craft cidermakers started to use the fruit from the old trees. In Monmouthshire, Mike Penney’s ‘Troggi Seidr’ started to produce both cider and perry with his Victorian machinery, whilst up in Radnorshire Ralph Owen’s ‘Ralph’s Cider’ pressed local cider apples on an antique mobile twin-screw press.

Society Beginnings

It was in 1999 that Alan Golding and I hit upon the idea of making cider, and so our company ‘Seidr Dai’ was born. By sheer luck, our first brew was a success, and in our subsequent enthusiasm we decided to found a national association. At that time there were cider associations for cidermakers, and of course CAMRA was there for the drinkers. Why not have a society that caters for both? And so the Welsh Cider Society was born at the Clytha Arms one June evening 2001, with Alan the Development Officer, and I the Secretary.

Wales’ perennial problem is its geography. The same mountains that stopped cidermaking spreading out of the south-east make it difficult for our national membership to get together. Luckily most of our membership have email access, and our IT officers have constructed an excellent website.In 2010 the effectiveness of our Society was increased many fold, with the award by the Welsh Assembly Government of the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme. For us this meant funds to promote Welsh cider and perry, a Development Officer and Admin Assistant to deliver the programme, and a swanky new Society office to act as Welsh Cider HQ.

Festivals and Championships

The best possible way to promote cider and perry is with a cider festival. The first event in 2002 was a great success, and each successive year has seen an increase in the range of ciders and perries on sale, with great crowds of people filling the pub and its extensive grounds. One festival is not enough, and regional festivals are an excellent way of spreading the word – events in all parts of Wales are becoming established on the annual calendar. Summer 2011 sees the launch of our most ambitious project yet – the International Craft Cider Festival. Cidermakers from France, Germany, Spain, England and Wales are all due to touch down at Llancaiach Fawr in south-east Wales, with fantastic food and great live music all adding to what promises to be a great occasion.

The Welsh Perry & Cider Championships are held in tandem with the Welsh Perry & Cider Festival. Apart from being great fun (all of us cidermakers get to be the judges!), it’s a simple but effective way of improving cider and perry quality. We all swap tips and hints with each other, plus tasting and marking your own cider blind can be a real eye-opener. Over the years certain companies have stood out by winning more than one Welsh Championship – Gwynt-y-Ddraig, Ralph’s, Seidr Dai, Bragdy Brodyr and Springfield. Others are set to join them!

Cider and Perry

Our Society celebrated its tenth anniversary in June 2011. Ten years of successfully promoting Welsh cider and perry, as shown by the increasing numbers of producers (perhaps as many as forty) and annual increases in the quantity and quality of cider and perry produced. We’ve retained our focus as a ‘Pure Juice’ organisation, and leave the production of ‘Industrial Ciders’ with their added water to our colleagues in other countries.

Welsh cidermakers have won many awards, both in Wales and beyond. Highlights over the last ten years include CAMRA Gold Awards for Cider for Gwynt-y-Ddraig and Ralph’s, and CAMRA Gold Awards for Perry for Gwynt-y-Ddraig and Seidr Dai.

Rare Varieties

Welsh cider and perry is essentially similar to that made by our English cousins. Our only real USP is the use of Welsh varieties of cider apple and perry pear – varieties that have been selected over the centuries to suit the local palate and climate. Some Welsh cider apples – ‘Frederick’, ‘Breakwell’s Seedling’ and ‘Perthyre’ – remain in commercial production and are readily available. Others, such as the ‘Broom Apple’ of Monmouthshire, and ‘Pen Caled’ from West Wales have had to be re-discovered, and propagated at Paul Davis’ Dolau-Hirion Nursery at Llandeilo. ‘Frederick’ is a fine apple, streaked bright red with hints of red in the flesh too. With it’s origins in Monmouthshire, its sharp-tasting juice will make an excellent apple jelly. Classified as a vintage variety, it’s too sharp to be made into a single varietal cider, but is excellent when blended with some tannic 'bitter-sweet' apples.

The perry pear trees of Monmouthshire are far more localised, often just a single example of a variety may be all that remains. We’ve rediscovered both ‘Monmouthshire Burgundy’ trees and the ‘Potato Pear’ (yes, it looks like a spud growing on a tree!) at a number of locations, but other, rarer trees have no known name. I’ve tried to keep to the old conventions when giving names to these trees – “Berllanderi Green” ( a green pear from Berllanderi Farm near Raglan), “Early St. Brides” (tiny, a pain to pick up!), “Chapman’s Orange” – and these too are available from Dolau-Hirion, details on the website.

These Welsh varieties are now being sold and planted in orchards across Wales and even England, ensuring their survival in the future, as well as providing an important habitat for all manner of wildlife. A few years ago we established our Museum Orchard, whose twenty-plus varieties act as a genetic bank, allowing future orchardists to take cuttings from all of the Welsh varieties of cider apples and perry pears.

The Future

As we stand, the future looks good for Welsh cider and perry. More and more people are planning to join the ranks of Welsh cidermakers, the number of Welsh cider festivals is set to increase, and rare varieties of Welsh apple and pear trees are regularly discovered, propagated and planted. Membership of the Society continues to grow, and we now have members across Wales and beyond. You’d be welcome to join too, just log on to the website (www.welshcider.co.uk), or come along and see us at any of the marvellous Welsh Cider festivals held throughout the year. 

 Original version published in CAMRA's Good Cider Guide 2005, and reproduced here with the kind permission of CAMRA Books

 

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