Urban Growing

Apples, Cider and Heritage; Introducing the Better Cider Project and Apple Day

By Harriet Foster

Biology student Harriet Foster at the University of Bristol is a student collaborator on the Better Cider Project and writes the latest Bristol Good Food 2030 story. Find out about how apples in the city are being collected to make a unique blend that will be transformed into a Bristol community cider – apples are to be collected in time for Apple Day at the Bristol Botanic Garden on 8 October.

The University of Bristol has a long-held association with the cider industry, from the sister apple orchards of Goldney Gardens and Long Ashton Research Station (LARS) to the rich history of LARS itself. In fact, LARS can be credited with much of the pioneering research shaping modern cider, spanning the varieties themselves to the chemical composition of the perfect pint. And with such reach comes heritage, seen in the diversity of British cider-making techniques, local apple cultivars and traditions such as Wassailing. Rejuvenating and sustaining this legacy through events such as our upcoming Apple Day is at the forefront of the Better Cider project.

Established in 2020, Better Cider was conceived to operate at the intersection of biological, horticultural and industrial progress in cider-making, through the creation of small-batch full-juice ciders and more multidisciplinary activities like the grafting, pruning and planting of cider apples and apple genotyping. Under specialist guidance and with the help of Thatchers, our cider is twice awarded at the Royal Bath and West Show, with our most recent bittersweet blend winning silver this year. Full-juice cider is seeing a renaissance in the UK, and as such we aim to preserve this cider-making heritage through the passing on of invaluable knowledge, practices and techniques to university students while also exploring blends, terroir, tannins and technology. The project is therefore looking back to tradition as well as forward to a future in modern agriculture and sustainable practice.

In many ways, Better Cider is running parallel to a growing desire to think local, with the recent rise in community orchards suggesting a reignited love for native plants and heritage food and drink in the UK. Here in Bristol, the success of urban cideries like The Cider Box shows a clear interest in, if anything, cider drinking. And, as cider is characterised by the fermentation of apple juices, it stands to reason that the apples themselves should be at the forefront of any good cider-maker’s mind. In the UK apples arrived with the Romans, and now a region’s cider is defined by its unique blend of apples, for example, the world-renowned West Country cider being more tannin rich than elsewhere due to the higher percentage of specialist ancient cider apple cultivars.

Apple harvest

Despite this localised and seemingly sustainable cider-making model, however, apple waste is on the rise. Indeed, one study suggests upwards of 800,000 apples are thrown away every day in the UK. But there are signs of positive change, both in innovative movements such as the use of apple pomace in anaerobic digestion for biofuels, and the return to traditional methods like composting to allow the remaining pulp to re-enter the food production chain as a biofertilizer. Managing waste efficiently requires the combined efforts of many fields like conservation, horticulture, agriculture and industry to move towards a better future, the interconnections of which Better Cider directly plays into.

With this in mind, if all this talk of cider and sustainability has you thirsting for more, we would love to see you at Bristol Botanic Garden on 8 October for our Apple Day. We will be pressing all those troublesome extra apples you have lying around in your gardens, orchards and allotments into a unique blend directly from any otherwise wasted fruit, which The Cider Box will then transform into our very own Bristol community cider. We can promise juice fresh off the press, a waste-free alternative to simply chucking unused apples, and some lovely local cider in return. We look forward to seeing you (and your apples!) then. Here’s to another abundant apple harvest and growing the ever-expanding cider and apple network Better Cider has been fortunate enough to be a part of.

Find out more about the Apple day: making a Bristolian cider event at University of Bristol Botanic Garden.

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