A Short history of Cider making

Apples in myth and legend

Apples appear in ancient stories all over the world, attesting to the importance and popularity of the fruit.

In the world of ancient greek myth Hercules stole the apples from the goddess Hera’s orchard in the Hesperides. He had to get past a hundred-headed dragon to do it. Now I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t’t dream of fighting a dragon unless there was the chance of a drink at the end of it.

The Old Testament tells of Adam the first man, getting into a spot of bother because he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. In both art and literature this tree is depicted as an apple tree. What forbidden knowledge might we find in an apple tree? Cider is forbidden to youngsters to this day.

In Norse myths, the Gods were able to remain young forever by eating apples grown by the Goddess Iduna. Her husband Bragi was their god of poetry and eloquence. As we all know a little cider can help us overcome shyness and recite poetry with passion and style. Of course, drink too much cider and that eloquence goes out the window. It may well be that our verb to ‘brew’ derives from the Norse Bragi.

In an Irish legend the hero Cormac encounters a magic apple tree that bestows bliss and contentment when a branch is shaken. Well, there is no difficulty in reading between the lines there!

So then, the apple has been associated with love, fertility, consummation, life, eternal youth, bliss and immortality. Surely much of the esteem accorded to this little fruit is due to the almost magical effects that drinking a glass or two of apple cider can produce. I guess what I am trying to say is that while too much cider is bad for the liver, drinking just the right amount has got to be good for the soul.

Apples in History

Archaeology tells us that the ancient Egyptians grew apples more than 1,000 years BC. Sadly, there is no direct evidence that they ever made cider, but we know that they did ferment grains to make beer. I think it is fair bet that they were also fermenting a bit of fruit too. All that pyramid building must have been thirsty work after all. What better refreshment for the lads than a cup of cider before Pharaoh cracks the whip and they have to set about hauling the next limestone block up to the Giza plateau.

We know that the Romans definitely brewed alcohol from apples. They took the apples and their brewing process all over their empire. However the Roman cultivation of apples must have been a pretty a haphazard affair, because apples do not grow true from seed and they hadn’t’t worked out the secret of grafting back then.

However, in the middle ages, the monasteries took orchard management to a highly specialised level throughout Europe and many abbeys and monasteries brewed their own cider.

The Norman invasion of England in 1066 saw another growth in popularity of cider as good varieties of apple were brought from the continent by England’s new political elite.

A little over a century later we have concrete evidence that cider was an entrenched part of the economy of England. Records show that in 1204 the manor of Runham in Norfolk paid its taxes to the King in the form of and 4 hogsheads (954 litres) of cider and 200 Pearmain apples.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, apple orchards were extensively planted in the southeast of England and the early colonists who left for the new world took Apple trees with them. Cider was very popular in the United States but was banned along with beer and all other forms of alcohol during prohibition. During those years the orchards were neglected and when prohibition ended, the people of America seemed to have lost their taste for cider.

In modern times there has been a revival in cider drinking across the globe and an explosion of small producers creating ciders with complex aromas and unique, distinctive and totally delicious flavours.

Throughout this time quietly, with no fuss home brewing has been slowly developing and growing in popularity.