Real cider is in a similar situation to that which faced real ale some 25 years ago as the number of outlets for real cider is diminishing, even in the West Country. The situation with perry is even worse, as it is rarely available away from the farm gate.
As a result of this CAMRA set up a cider and perry committee to inform consumers about the choice of real cider and perry and to encourage continued production.
Recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy may result in landowners being paid for "grubbing up" their trees. In a worst case scenario without trees there will be no fruit, and without the fruit there will be no cider or perry.
Over the years, CAMRA has given advice and technical help to producers, monitored the industry and advised beer festivals. Specifically CAMRA has:
CAMRA also publishes the Good Cider Guide, the latest edition was published in 2005.
It is artificially carbonated, pasteurised, served under gas pressure. Most of today's keg cider is made from apple concentrate rather than real apples, some of which can be imported from almost anywhere. Keg cider is usually filtered and may also contain any of a long list of additives and colourings as defined permissible under Section 162 produced by HM Customs & Excise Department.
The natural yeasts in the apples start the fermentation and several months later you have cider.
A number of the larger producers will add sugar at the fermentation stage, enabling the cider to reach 12-14%abv, and then it is diluted down before it is sold (the legal limit for cider is 8.5%abv).
The apples that are used in the West Country and other certain parts of the country are cider apples, which are grown specifically for the purpose of making cider. Cider apples are generically identified as bittersweets and bittersharps.
With most ciders the greater the variety of apples used, the better as they all have different characteristics. In recent years a number of producers have starting making cider and perry from single varieties of fruit; these produce an interesting & sometimes surprising result from a tasting point of view.
In Somerset and other areas of the West Country, layers of straw were used instead of cloths. Some producers still use this method.
In Herefordshire it was the tradition to use horsehair, but there are no known producers who still do this in the Herefordshire area.
In the Eastern Counties - Sussex up to Norfolk (& including Kent) - the tradition for cider is to use a mixture of eating and cooking apples, although a number of producers in Norfolk are growing cider apples as well.
Producing or making cider this takes place from late August to early in the New Year and depending on ambient temperatures, fermentation can take until the following spring.
Perry is a drink so difficult to find that most people don't even know of its existence.
Believe it or not more perry is made now than has been made in a century, but it is difficult to market because of its low production volumes. Perry is traditionally a specialty of the Three Counties and Welsh Borders, as perry pears were said to only thrive 'in sight of May Hill'. Now however perry pears are also grown in other areas such as Somerset and Norfolk.
The demand is there for perry but producers cannot make enough of it, as there is not enough quality fruit available. It takes only three years for a perry pear planted in the right conditions to bear fruit, but up to thirty years before it is at full maturity.
Yearly CAMRA run a National Cider & Perry Competition and present Gold, Silver & Bronze Awards for both cider and perry.
Depending on facilities and turnover in the licenses premises, real cider is usually served from a polycask or similar container on or behind the bar.
Lately there has been an innovative marketing of real cider from Manucubes or a bag in a box system to extend the shelf life to 3 months. These are available from specialist off licence shops and are increasingly being used by Weston's. Both Manucubes or the bag in a box system are similar to the well accepted Australian wine box and prevent the spoiling of the cider by excluding air, thus preventing airborne anaerobic bacteria infecting the drink, or if present, growing in the container thus making the cider "hard" (or infected) once opened.
More information about CAMRA and real ale can be found on the following pages: