Let’s get the down side out of the way first. This is not a book you’ll pick up for light entertainment. It’s not a particularly a lively read, nor is it often witty (though the wit, where it comes out, is as dry as a good cider). The only hint of romance you’ll find lies in the author’s eloquent dedication of the book to his wife. As a book to pass a sunny autumn afternoon, all told, it fails spectacularly.
If, on the other hand, such an autumn afternoon might find you wishing for a cool glass of home-brewed cider… ah, now that’s another matter entirely. That’s when this book suddenly becomes much more compelling.
Because what we have here is a comprehensive, concise textbook in the art of brewing cider and perry (or pear cider), from start to finish. Aside from being a dedicated ciderist, Simon McKie is a Barrister and Chartered Accountant, a fact which will come as no surprise after you’ve read a page or two: there is a formal background in systematic thought that is evident in every aspect of this book. The material is extraordinarily well organised and very clearly presented. It is perhaps unavoidable – but true all the same – to say that this is a man who knows how to state his case.
Step by step, McKie provides charts, figures, sources for supplies (more useful for readers in the British Isles than for the transatlantic audience), storage, and pertinent bits of cidermaking history. Terminology is explained clearly as it is introduced, and introduced at the clearest moment for understanding of the overall process. My eyes tend to lose focus when ploughing – or attempting to plough – through too much technical detail: so it was with some surprise that I found I was following McKie’s whole book with a sense of nearly perfect understanding. (Just how valid that sense actually is, of course, will only be proved by my first batch of perry from the old orchard.) The text is livened with old photos of equipment and labour, in addition to sundry photos of the author’s family and friends illustrating vital stages in the making and consumption of home-brewed cider.
The book is explicitly focused on cidermaking as it takes place in Great Britain: so as a would-be cidermaker in California, it’s going to take me (for example) a certain amount of work to adapt some of McKie’s principles to local supplies and apple varieties. However, anyone interested in trying to craft a traditional British-style cider, in whatever location, will find this slim volume an invaluable resource and an endless source of inspiration.