Wales has got its mojo back. The last refuge of off-colour jokes about people based on their nationality or ethnicity has flourished since getting its own Regional Assembly in the late 1990s (and a healthy wodge of EU funding), transforming itself from a ravaged post-industrial slumpland into a vibrant, exciting tourist destination that has stunning scenery and great food and drink at its heart.
Take the Abergavenny Food Festival - for one weekend every September, the whole of this beautiful market town is taken over by a riot of food and drink producers chefs, writers, beer tents and the occasional random performance artist for a joyous appreciation of food and drink. It might be lazy to refer to it as 'The Glastonbury of food festivals', as some journos have, but it's not inaccurate.
Abergavenny also sits at the heart of Welsh cider country. Monmouthshire shares climate and geography with neighbouring Herefordshire - one of England's two great cider making regions. And the last fifteen years have seen an extraordinary revival of a Welsh cider making tradition that had all but disappeared by the 1970s.
In 2000, two Welsh cider makers founded the Welsh Perry and Cider Society to promote what was then an embryonic re-birth. Now, the society has over forty producer members, from people who make a few gallons in their sheds for competitions, to large brands such as Gwynt Y Ddraig, which has nationwide listings in 'Spoons among others. By the mid-noughties, Welsh ciders were winning more than their fair share of awards in national competitions, and today, from virtually nowhere, Wales is one of the most important cider making regions in the UK.
Last year the WPCS invited people to tender to write the Guide to Welsh Perry and Cider. Bill Bradshaw and I won the pitch.
The Guide is now available. Self-published by the Society, it's not as widely available as a book via an established publisher would be, but if you are interested in cider I'd humbly suggest it's worth tracking down.
The job of the book is to give details of everyone who makes cider commercially in Wales, as well as details of pubs that serve good cider, and festivals and events where you can try a decent range. I wanted to make this entertaining as well as informative, to capture some of the personalities and a sense of place. Bill's excellent photography more than delivers on that. Like any great cider making region, Wales has a good smattering of eccentrics and visionaries with stories to tell. Wherever cider is drunk, an element of joyful anarchy is loosed, and it doesn't hurt that you're surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in the UK.
The book is available through Amazon here, and will be selling at events and in Welsh bookshops and tourist centres.
Talking of events, I will hopefully be doing something around the book at the Green Man Festival next month, which has a fully fledged Welsh beer and cider festival within it this year. (I'm already confirmed to do a beer and music matching event on the Literature Stage at 2pm on the Sunday). And Bill and I will be talking about the book and doing a tutored cider tasting at this year's Abergavenny Food Festival - by which time, our World's Best Cider book may also be available...