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The History of Cider

The History of Cider 25-04-2022

Have you ever cracked open a bottle of Sandford Orchards cider and wondered about the history of this wonderful drink? You’re not alone – we are often asked about the origins of cider. Who made it first? How was it made? Who looked at an apple and decided that it should be fermented before being enjoyed?

Well, it’s a question that we’re more than happy to answer. Cider has a very interesting backstory that covers approximately 5,000 years, so whilst you carry on sipping on your bottle, we’ll explain all you need to know about the origins of cider.

Like most food and beverages that went from ancient wonder to a global industry worth billions of pounds, the Silk Road is involved. The ancient trade-route introduced regions to fruits, vegetables, grains and spices, and apples are no different. Wild apple forests were discovered in the Tien Shan mountain range in what is modern-day Kazakhstan, apple seeds dating to around 4,000 BCE have been found in Italy. As for cider, we know that it was a favoured drink during ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. We also have evidence that shows that the Celts drunk a cruder form of cider, sourced from crab apples, as far back as 3,000 BCE.

Do as the Romans Do

The first recorded reference to cider dates back to the Roman Empire. The story goes that the first Romans arriving in Britain in 55 B.C found the locals drinking a cider-like drink and swiftly gained a liking for it, bringing it back across the empire. Following the discovery, cider soon spread across wider parts of Europe – historians have uncovered evidence of Germanic tribes enjoying the drink, as well as a number of monasteries across Europe, who would produce the drink not just for their personal pleasure but also to sell to the public.

Normans, who would go on to conquer England in 1066, also developed a fondness for cider and would go on to establish more apple orchards across the land, as well as cementing the word ‘cider’ into the English language.

By the 14th century, cider had made its way north to Yorkshire and had spread out to counties such as Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Somerset – regions of the UK that have come to be closely associated with apples. Despite that, wine was still arguably the more popular beverage heading into the Tudor age.

So how did cider end up becoming an iconic British beverage?

In short, climate and conflict. A period of global cooling, starting from the 16th century, created an environment that made vine growing and grape harvesting an unviable process. Enter apples. A hardier fruit that can withstand cooler temperatures, the apple slowly came to be the go-to choice for making alcoholic drinks. Added to that, wars with Spain and France during this period hampered imports into England, particularly sherry, brandy and wine, providing apples with a clear run to stake a claim as the country’s go-to drink alongside ale. It’s a dominance that extends to this day; not only does England possess the highest per-capita consumption of cider than any other country in the world, but it is also home to the world’s largest cider producers.

Introducing Cider To The New World

The History of Cider

As the Age of Discovery dawned, it didn’t take long for early settlers in North America to take their knowledge of cider-making to the New World. Historians suggest it took less than a decade for the earliest colonists to plant apple trees on the east coast of the modern-day United States, starting in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Cider gradually became the most popular alcoholic drink in Colonial America. Most homesteads maintained apple orchards, whilst cider was even used as substitute for money in some communities when paying wages and taxes!

Cider’s status as the USA’s most favoured beverage didn’t last long however, as a number of external factors, from the industrial revolution to mass-immigration and cheap grain prices during the 19th and 20th centuries pushed the drink onto the side-lines in favour of beer. Likely prohibition was the biggest negative impact on US cider. US cider consumption of LAB was 25% before prohibition – but with it cider orchards of inedible fruit were felled, and when it was rescinded grain that could be diverted into beer production in days, superseded apples which take a decade to reach fruiting maturity) Now US cider consumption is 1%.

Today, cider-making is a global industry, with the UK producing around 750 million litres per year, putting to use just over half of all apples cultivated across the land. We are very proud to account for a small portion of that sum in the oldest-working cider mill in the UK, carrying on a process that has been an English tradition for millennia.

So next time you sit down with a Sandford Orchards cider, you’ll do so with the knowledge of approximately five thousand years of cider-making.

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