Cider is Back - Big Time

19/01/2012 22:12 GMT | Updated 20/03/2012 09:12 GMT

If Eddie & Joe Grundy from The Archers are reading this - I have a few friends who long to join your cider club.

It's true that five years ago they would have thought cider was something that only characters in Thomas Hardy novels and school kids in bus shelters consumed, but today cider is back big time. I don't mean the cheap fizzy alcoholic apple juice sold in supermarkets, that has never been away.

No, I'm talking about real cider made from the perfumed juice of malus domestica and varieties such as Beauty of Kent, Sugarloaf Pippin, and Cornish Gilliflower, which is fermented and then aged for a few months in oak barrels.

Norman invaders into England were partial to cider and certainly popularised its consumption in Blighty introducing new varieties of apples. Apples were already growing in England before Romans settled and it was those colonists who organised the cultivation of orchards. The term cider entered the English language as a corruption of sekar, a Hebrew word for strong drink which itself derived from the ancient Greek sikera.

Several reasons account for today's boom in cider. Britons increasingly explore local food and drink made with passion by humans, rather than faceless corporations; consumer lobbying group CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) has supported craft cider and perry (fermented pear juice) for years and given it prominence at beer festivals; cider is perceived as being natural and attracts people who care about what they consume; cider has no gender associated with it the way that beer and wine has - so men and women drink it.

But more than anything it was an advertising campaign and some genius product placement that reminded drinkers that cider is a major aspect of Britain's drinking tradition. Do you remember a few years ago a TV ad in which beautiful young professional people lazed around in a bucolic idyll as they had fun and sipped a brand of Irish cider? Despite it being as near to a natural craft cider as a Trabant car is to a Mercedes, it did the trick and millions of people suddenly saw cider as something stylish and aspirational.

Then the company's marketing team had a brilliant idea. Serve it over ice. At the time that particular cider was only available in bottles. Bar staff were instructed to fill a glass with ice and this meant that not all the cider would fit into the glass so people had to take the bottle to their table. Voilà - other pub customers noticed the bottle and the label and wanted to try one of those fashionable icy potions. Cider was back on the menu.

Other commercial cider makers saw an opportunity to promote their brands to this burgeoning market. And thanks to that splash in the cider lake, the ripples have reached the traditional and farmhouses cider makers particularly in Somerset, Devon, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, and their hand-crafted products are increasingly available further afield, not least in the capital.

For cider-loving Londoners and commuters in and out of Euston station something thrilling recently happened. Euston Cider Tap opened - a dedicated cider house with a selection of brands that most people have never heard of, never mind tasted before. As a reminder that this is authentic cider and perry, made on a farm, not in a factory, a hay bale sits in the corner of the room.

My default drink choice is ale and I am a member of a group of female drinks journalists who go on beer safaris to try out new pubs. Two members of the group, Henrietta Clancy and Susanna Forbes of Drink Britain are eminence grises of cider and perry and their enthusiasm has prompted me to order the apples and pears more often.

And since I read a 17th century quotation by John Evelyn - diarist, tree expert, and founding member of the Royal Society: "Generally all strong and pleasant cider excites and cleanses the stomach, strengthens digestion, and infallibly frees the kidneys and bladder from breeding the gravel stone", I understand now why an apple a day keeps the doctor away!