With its roots in an ancient Pagan tradition, the custom of wassailing is thriving once again throughout the South West and Somerset in particular.
On the official wassail night, 17th January, (the original “Twelfth Night” of the Julian Calendar), the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill hosted its annual wassailing ceremony for its growers, customers and suppliers in its own award winning Stewley Orchard. The aim of the wassail is to awaken the cider apple trees, scare away evil spirits and ensure a bountiful harvest of fruit in the Autumn.
The Stewley Master of Ceremonies, from Taunton Deane Morris Men, led the proceedings. Remaining faithful to the traditions, the evening’s ceremony saw the Wassail Queen (Saima Nevin, an employee of the Cider Mill) crowned with a wreath of berries, dip toast in mulled cider and place it in the branches of the tree to attract robins, the embodiment of good spirits bringing fertility to the orchard. The cider was then poured onto the roots of the chosen tree to call for a good harvest.
The assembled crowd were instructed to make as much noise as possible - banging sticks and playing instruments to scare away evil spirits. A volley of gunfire was sent into the branches of the tree for good measure and singing of the Wassail Carol completed the ceremony.
The following feast plays an important part of the celebration: it is the last big meal before Plough Sunday, which historically signalled the beginning of the year’s work on the land. Keeping to this tradition, guests at the Stewley Orchard wassail were provided with a fantastic spread including hog roast and a winter BBQ, whilst enjoying a range of ciders from the Cider Mill, from Blackthorn to Gaymers Orchard Reserve. The Taunton Deane Morris Men and music from the Wassail Blues Band (members of which include two Cider Mill employees ) completed the evening’s entertainment.
This is the sixth year running that Shepton Mallet Cider Mill, the largest cider maker in the South West, has held its revival of the ancient festival. Martin Doogan, general manager of the Cider Mill, explained “this has become a highlight of our calendar. It is a real reflection of the importance that apple growing has in this part of the country, and provides the perfect opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate this fact with our guests. We place great value on the cultural heritage of cider making in the South West, particularly Somerset, and are immensely proud to be playing our part in keeping wassailing alive.”
This year’s winter meeting will be held on Thursday 1st March at The Queens Arms, Wraxall, nr Shepton Mallet on Thursday 1st March. The meeting will start at 11am, with coffee being served from 10.30am and lunch will be at 12.30pm. After lunch there is a visit to Orchard Pig at West Bradley to see the new systems used for apple growing, worth seeing as it may become practical sooner than we all think.
Portman Group's Independent Complaints Panel has ruled that Healey’s Texan-style Hard Cyder has breached alcohol responsibility rules for making alcoholic strength its dominant theme.
A member of the public complained that the product name had links with toughness, violence and aggression.
The Cornish Cyder Farm, owners of Healey’s Texan-style Hard Cyder, explained that the product had been inspired by Texan heritage and that it had purposely adopted the American terminology of ‘hard cider’ meaning cider with alcohol. In America, ‘cider’ is non-alcoholic.
In considering the complaint, the Panel noted that there was an explanation on the back of the label explaining the use of ‘hard’ cider as referring to an alcohol drink. The Panel felt, however, that such an explanation was not relevant to UK consumers to whom ‘cider’ exclusively referred to an alcoholic drink. The Panel considered that while in some UK regions the term ‘hard’ could imply a person was violent and aggressive, this term was not universally recognised, while ‘hard’ in the context of an alcoholic drink, had direct associations with strong alcohol and this led the product to breach the Code.
Henry Ashworth, Chief Executive of the Portman Group, which provides the secretariat for the Independent Complaints Panel, said:
"It is not acceptable to make alcohol strength the dominant theme of a drink. Alcohol producers must exercise extreme caution and we strongly recommend they use the Portman Group’s free pre-launch advice service. We are pleased that the company has agreed to consult our Advisory Service going forward.
A Retailer Alert Bulletin has been issued which instructs licensees and retailers not to place orders for Healey’s Texan-style Hard Cyder in its current form after 15 April 2012.
Rulings made by the Panel are published in full on the Portman Group’s website www.portmangroup.org.uk
Members may be aware that a misunderstanding among cider makers has recently arisen (Feb 2012) as to the HMRC policy view of the use of wooden casks or other wooden vessels for making, storing and distributing cider and perry. On checking, the HMRC view is unchanged: wooden vessels are, of themselves, acceptable as containers and may be used without threatening the excise duty classification of cider and perry.
However, their use and the effect they may have on a cider, even though that effect might be unintended and indirect, must still conform to the overarching condition in UK primary law (Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979, Sn 1(6)):
‘“Cider” means cider (or perry)... ...without the addition at any time of any alcoholic liquor or of any liquor or substance which communicates colour or flavour other than such as the Commissioners may allow as appearing to them to be necessary to make cider (or perry).’
Therefore any such addition that might derive from the wood of which the vessel is made or from any previous use of the vessel would exclude the product from the cider definition and render it ‘made wine’. Clearly this can be a subjective judgement but HMRC will look first for any increase in ABV (which might be in excess of their rule of thumb of 0.1%ABV and brought about by a cider leaching residual alcohol from a vessel previously used to contain a distilled alcohol or spirit) and then for change in flavour or colour of the cider beyond what might reasonably be expected to result from the maturation of the cider in wood. Remember also that Notice 162, Sn 25 requires that:
‘colourings and other substances which may impart colour may only be used to produce cider or perry in the colour range – straw/gold/golden brown.’
Members will be aware that no duty exemption status exists for made wine producers and all made wine produced for sale is liable to wine duty.
This year's ever-popular Powerstock Cider Festival is being held on Saturday 28th April 2012.
Over the years, this annual event has become very popular with both the public, and the many cider makers who have attended. Started as a small fund raising idea for Powerstock village hall with half a dozen local enthusiasts, it has now grown into a major, award-winning event in the cider world, and annually raises over £3,000 for charities including the Air Ambulance Service for Dorset and Somerset.
There are usually over two dozen cider makers attending often with several types of cider each. They have in the past come from as far as Scotland, Yorkshire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire and Cornwall, plus the local traditional cider counties of Somerset and Devon, and of course Dorset is always well represented.
A great range of tastes and flavours can be experienced with a good mix of amateur and professional makers, so there is always something for everyone. Cider makers attending can also enjoy a late lunch and during the afternoon participate in a simple, peer-judged competition where the cider with the highest score wins.
There seems to be no lack of enthusiasm from the public either, as this annual gathering continues to capture the imagination of people from far and wide, and increases in interest every year. In fact, it had become so popular that the organisers needed to put the brakes on somewhat, and limit numbers to a more manageable and safer amount. In the first 10 years there had never been any serious problems, but with the restricted parking in Powerstock and facilities of the Hut reaching breaking point it became necessary to make entrance to the event for ticket holders only and limited to 500.
These tickets are on sale from the beginning of April from Frosts and the Tourist Information Centre in Bridport, The Marquis of Lorne at Nettlecombe, and the Three Horseshoes, Powerstock. They cost £5 each to include the first glass of cider, with the usual arrangements for further tastings during the evening at 50p each. The doors are open to the public from 6pm through to 10.30pm. Food is available all evening, with the Skimmety Hitchers providing the live music.
For more details contact 01308 485 235 or 01308 485 375