I joked, living in Somerset at the time, that I was going to contact Plymouth University to do a PHD in the history of the Somerset cider drinker. Although I lost interest in cider for real ale at about the age of 18 to 20, I’m sure the research would’ve been fun! But of course, it was very much a pub idea – thrown into the bin of history the next morning, along with the credit card receipts of the night before!
So imagine my delight when I read about Jane Peyton becoming accredited as a “Professional Cider Drinker”! Cider, of course, has been around since God was a boy. Some say the Romans introduced it to Britain but I think that’s like saying the French invented Champagne. They stole it from the Somerset monks who, I’d guess, were also making cider long before the Romans! Although Caesar’s guys would have found the Kent version when they landed on these green and pleasant shores. But back to this wonderful lady, Jane Peyton. A drinks consultant, she’s become an accredited Pommelier, Britain’s first. As part of this she got a gold badge, quipping that it’s like a Blue Peter badge, but better! The trouble with mentioning Blue Peter is that I go back to the era of Valerie Singleton…or even maybe before her.
Much like my PHD idea, being a UK Pommelier didn’t exist, and oh how I love initiators! Invented by the Beer and Cider Academy in January this year, Jane had to sit three exams, do a 90-minute blind tasting test, create a menu of matching cider and food and state the case for cider. As a lifelong (well probably from 18), devotee of real ale I have long supported beer and food matching and when I was in the hospitality business my friend Julian Herrington, a retired Head Brewer and now a Cask Marque Inspector, put many menus together for me which were always a great success. It was odd, the blokes were up for it (well that wasn’t odd), but the ladies were somewhat reluctant, until they experienced it…and then wow! Many of them have given up on wine and now drink real ale and understand the nuances of different beers. But of course in the early breweries the brewers were often women; brewsters.
Jane, from Brighton, wants to educate people on cider so that it becomes more than strong booze overconsumed by idiots on the razz, but is appreciated for what it is and appreciated across all of society. I know from bitter (sorry no pun intended!) experience just how hard it is to train staff to understand and explain the differences in beer (real ale), so I appreciate the challenge that lies ahead to train staff to properly promote cider. I gather French cider is more like West Country cider than Kentish cider which surprises me. But I have to end, after an explanation of why, with a guilty admission.
For many years, I drank in the Star in Haywards Heath for a quick pint on the way home from the office. It was the business centre of the town, where all the businessmen met. It was also the equivalent of the diver’s decompression chamber between work and home life. It was run by Cecil, in his eighties, who had been born in another nearby pub and been in pubs all his life. A good old fashioned, well run ale house with total cross community and gender appeal where everyone was equal. It didn’t do food, but Ken and Flo, who had worked for Cecil forever, would knock up a sandwich for regulars at lunch time, and a real threat was if they were having Welsh Rarebit for lunch because we could all have it! Strangers would look on bemused seeing the regulars tucking in, and when they asked for menu and were told, “We don’t do food…they’re my friends,” Cecil would say with a wink. Maybe I should devote a whole blog to the Star Cecil!
It was a Whitbread house, now long since not brewing due to a monopolies commission ruling, and had 2 real ale pumps. For the life of me I can’t remember the real names but they were Pond (after the nearby Lindfield pond) which was strong and Boys which was weak. But don’t get the wrong idea from the nickname Pond. It was darker than Boys and the beer was never less than absolutely perfect. Of course, there is a lot of nonsense talked by people about many things and in the seventies and eighties the wine snobs were in their element. But one night, some strangers were doing it about Cecil’s beer. Cecil was not amused and offered to give them free beer if they could tell the difference between Pond, Boys, Cider, Lager (he didn’t sell much of that and only one fizz tap) and soda water. The downside was to buy a pint for all his regulars. They jumped at it…and lost very badly which, with what followed, cost me a taxi home! Obviously, everyone was blindfolded with a tea towel for the test. Something ‘Elf and Safety would probably have something to say about today!
They were hopeless, simply hadn’t got a clue and Cecil looking more like a stockbroker than a publican in his clean white shirt, sober tie and slick combed hair ( even if his black trousers were a bit grubby from going up and down to the cellar), could not contain himself! So, when we had downed our unexpected Friday night free ale, Cecil challenged us! Now the admission (although I won, getting another free pint, and scoring 4 out of 5). The lager was easy – horrible stuff – and I got Pond because I’d had a few pints of Boys, so Pond was easy as obviously a deeper stronger flavour, while Boys was also no problem. It was then that I got it wrong. I ask myself how because this is bizarre. I said Cider for the fourth (which was Soda Water), but with the great confidence you’d expect from a Leo who knew he’s got three right which many others hadn’t. As the fifth glass touched my lips (I should say here they were only tasters not pints!), I knew I’d got it wrong because it became instantly clear that I was drinking Cider at that point. My apologies to the entire cider industry.
Odd where a blog can lead, but that’s why I present Faversham Natters on CreekFM. My guests often ask what I’m going to ask them and I say I have no idea! Some are suspicious, but realise 20 minutes in when I play their first chosen record, that I have no agenda. It’s a natter which takes us wherever it takes us. So, it is with my blogs and in congratulating Jane and saying all power to you, I also thank her for bringing up from my supra-conscious (that’s below our sub- conscious and a sort of hard disc that retains all we see and hear), stories long since forgotten. With just about 70 years gone and only 30 to go there a plenty more to regale!
Ah, as I look up from my laptop in the Coffee Lounge in Weymouth where I’m writing, this lady is putting an A-board outside Chalbury; a great shop for Dorset stuff generally – gifts, hampers, jams, biscuits, fudge, ice creams, cakes, cards, real ale, cheese, wine and, you guessed it, cider! The A-board says, ”The best SCRUMPY collection in town.” But I’m heading back to Kent to do my wireless show (that’s radio to the young!) tomorrow, so I’m staying on coffee today although I enjoyed a very pleasant meeting with my old friend Timothy Taylor in the Red Lion last night. A lot about booze and pubs, but to my generation it isn’t and never was about getting legless, they are meeting places and the good ones play a very important role in their community.