While I would generally agree with the saying that business (or work) and pleasure shouldn’t mix, I’ve been fortunate to successfully buck the adage on several occasions.
In the late 90’s I won two illustration commissions from the British-based Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA). Short of working as a Michelin restaurant inspector, this was as close to a perfect job as I could have wished for, encompassing as it did two of my favourite British passions; beer and pubs, and getting reasonably paid for it into the bargain.
Both commissions were for covers for two of CAMRA’s newer guides: The first; for their guide to Pubs for Families and; the second, for their first ever Good Cider Guide.
Living as we did then in the county of Kent – otherwise known as the Garden of England – surrounded by gorgeous country pubs I barely had to travel more than a few yards from the front door of our cottage to find all the architectural and ale-related inspiration I required for the first commission. Moreover, our close friends and neighbours at the time, together with their two young kids comprised a particularly representative version of the typical pub-visiting English family – perfect models for the cover’s human content. However, the second cover posed more of a logistical challenge.
For those reading this not familiar with the details of English cider or its production there are a couple of things which I should point out. Firstly, unlike so many of its continental and North American cousins, English Cider is strong in alcohol – often seriously strong. Also, there are two basic types of Cider: The massed produced variety; made by half a dozen mostly, multi-national companies; pasteurised, gassy, crystal clear, and ranging from sickly sweet to semi-dry. Then there is the drink CAMRA’s new guide was highlighting: Made by small, often family outfits, to age-old recipes; unpasteurised, still, normally unfiltered; using dozens of local apple varieties with an infinite range of flavours and styles and mostly known these days as “Scrumpy”. These two highly distinct types of Cider have only three things in common: They’re both made from apples; they’re both highly alcoholic, and production of both are concentrated in the two main apple-growing regions of England; the south west – centred around Somerset and Devon, and the west Midlands – centred around Herefordshire.
It seemed to me early on that as the central theme of the Cider guide was “authenticity” I should find some way to express this in my picture for the cover. So, while it would have been so simple to set up a still life with a pint of scrumpy in my cottage studio, I decided I’d get better results by doing some actual research. The fact that this research would entail the odd bit of product sampling would merely help my striving for authenticity!
After some discussion with my very knowledgeable contact at CAMRA and a few phone calls I managed to arrange to visit the illustrious 200-year-old cider maker of Burrow Hill in Somerset (now known as Somerset Cider Brandy Company and Burrow Hill Cider*).
When we arrived, the orchards were draped in an appropriately hazy, golden autumnal light, and cider production was in full swing. As wine makers, Dido and I were used to the heavy pungent odour of crushed fermenting grape across our Spanish finca, but this was nothing compared to the aroma of hundreds of thousands of crushed and fermenting Somerset apples. Burrow Hill boasts some of the oldest and most picturesque apple orchards in England, bearing over forty apple varieties. The visit was intoxicating in every sense; visual and olfactory. Moreover, and to our surprise they not only made delicious ciders, but ten years earlier they’d begun making brandy too. The ones we sampled were every bit as good, if not better than most Calvados.
In our long experience of visiting wine makers, from the most prestigious chateaus in Bordeaux, to the most remote and humble boutique winery in the middle of the Negev Desert, we’ve always had warm and cordial welcomes. Yet, none to surpass the friendliness and helpfulness displayed that day by the people at Burrow Hill, who went above and beyond the call of duty to help me get the material I required. It remains an apple infused, golden memory as I think the pictures shown here attest…
*For those of you interested in learning more about the story of Burrow Hill and its delicious range of apple-related liquids you can visit their website here: https://www.somersetciderbrandy.com/