Capital pub is cider paradise

Licensee brings drink of the forbidden fruit to the fore

Adam Neil’s focus on traditionally-made cider and perry has led to multiple CAMRA awards for The Jolly Judge

WHEN Adam Neil couldn’t find the ciders he wanted to drink in Edinburgh, he simply ordered them to his place of work.

Fortuitously as manager of The Jolly Judge pub, just off the packed Royal Mile, his decision has been vindicated as the bar is now being lauded for its ‘real cider’ offer.

The pub, which is located down one of the capital’s trademark narrow closes on the Lawnmarket section of the famous thoroughfare, was named CAMRA Scotland & Northern Ireland Cider Pub of the Year 2018, and retained the organisation’s Edinburgh and South East Scotland Cider Pub of the Year award for the second consecutive year last month.

And Adam believes that traditionally-made cider, defining it loosely as “100% apple in content and ideally wildly fermented with no gas added”, could be set for a big future in the on-trade as it taps into the major trends of craft and curiosity.

He said: “It can appeal to everyone, especially when you consider how many people are into craft beer and sour beers in particular.

“You can find the exact same flavour profiles within cider, it’s just getting drinkers to try it. We need to get people to understand that there is more to cider.

“Sometimes people think of it as just one product, but it has got the same width as beer so we need to teach people about that spectrum.

“And everyone is becoming more crafty; people want interesting drinks now so I think that more people will become interested in cider.”

Should that forecast be correct, then The Jolly Judge will certainly be well-placed.

We thought ‘well a lot of pubs want it but no one’s selling it to them’.

The bar has four ciders available on draught: Westons’ Rosie’s Pig, Kentish Pip Skylark, Otter Brewery’s Wildsider and Pilton Smokey Plum – a keeved cider with plum wine that is aged in peat-smoked Laphroaig barrels.

These are accompanied by a four-strong packaged range, comprising two bottled Kopparberg variants and two from East Lothian-based cider maker Thistly Cross.

The bar also puts on two cider festivals each year.

For one week in May and July, The Jolly Judge is home to an additional 15 bag-in-box ciders, which Adam orders from smaller traditional producers, putting a spotlight on the drink and allowing many of the pub’s clientele – a mix of both tourists and locals – to have their first taste of such drinks.

“The good thing about doing a cider festival is that you can turn people that wouldn’t normally drink real cider onto it,” said Adam.

“A lot of the CAMRA guys that like real cider will come here because it is one of the only places to drink it. There isn’t many other outlets doing what we’re doing.

“We’ll have something for everyone – from the really astringently acidic, dry ciders to perrys and then the sweet, fruity ones.”

Convinced that more bars could benefit from an augmented cider offer, Adam and assistant manager George Julian branched out and started Hard Press Cider Distribution three years ago to bring more traditional cider to the capital.

“We wanted to get more good cider out there,” said Adam. “I was having to pay for courier costs to get all these ciders up and we thought ‘well a lot of pubs want it but no one’s selling it to them’.

“We saw that gap in the market. You have all these great craft beer bars but none of them have the cider offering to match and we thought ‘why not give them the premium cider to match their amazing beer range’.”

People think of cider as just one thing but it has got the same width as beer.

At present the business is supplying around 15 pubs in Edinburgh as well as drinks festivals, with the fledgling distributor’s first run to Glasgow imminent.

And even though traditionally-made cider is still relatively hard to find in Scotland’s on-trade, Adam is sure that pubs can profit from having at least one variant available.

He said: “Although we have all the weird and wonderful ones, pubs can still benefit from stocking a good, 100% fruit content, medium cider that your average mainstream cider drinker would appreciate.”