|Look at the shiny. Go on, look at it.|
On Tuesday 13th May, my compadre Bill Bradshaw and I were named winners of the Drink Book of the Year at the Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards, for our book World's Best Cider.
This is a deeply gratifying award to win. For one thing, it's very heavy and shiny. Judged purely in terms of melted down scrap value, it's worth more than my six Guild of Beer Writers Awards tankards put together. It works far better than those awards as a doorstop. On the downside, it's not nearly as good as those tankards for drinking warm Efes out of in a kebab shop at 3am as you try in vain to keep the post-award party vibe going.
What was even more gratifying was that this is, as the name suggests, an award that judges books on all types of drink. We were in a shortlist of three, up against a book about wine and a book about champagne. Every single judge on the panel from the drinks world was a wine writer. And when we stepped onto the fourth floor of Fortnum and Mason for the drinks and canapé reception, the only drinks being served were champagne and rosé wine.
After a couple of remarks that could have been interpreted as hints by an optimistic dreamer, and one too many phone calls from the organisers just checking that we were both definitely coming, I'd started to get my hopes up. But as I took my glass of rosé across a jungle-thick carpet to admire flower arrangements that probably cost more than my house, I thought, 'Under this brand, in this place, there is absolutely no way a book on cider is going to beat a book about wine or a book about champagne. No way.'
But we did. And we were quite happy about it.
|Playing it cool for the cameras.|
Apart from succeeding in a much broader (and posher) arena than I'm used to, what was so gratifying was the reaction from judges I had very, very wrongly assumed would be sniffy about our subject. I still occasionally bump into people who think the idea of writing about beer is humorously absurd. Not as much as I used to. But for many, the idea of a serious book on cider is laughable.
Not so for chefs, food writers and wine writers.
I won't repeat the best complements we had (unless you ask me in the pub) because this would be an insufferably smug blog entry if I did. Safe to say people who write about other drinks and get much more attention for them are genuinely excited about cider and its potential to be explored in more detail.
Following the ceremony we were ushered to the basement bar in Fortnum's for the after-party. Now, I've been to a great many beer events. I've seen people get pissed at parties. I thought beer writers, brewers and publicans could really put it away. But nothing I've seen in a decade in the beer world prepared me for the sheer almighty CARNAGE that happens when the broader food and drink industry gets together to party. Perhaps it's because champagne gets you pissed quicker. Maybe it's because the only food on offer did a far better job of looking beautiful than of filling you up. But I have never seen so many people get so drunk, so quickly, in one space.
At one point Stephen Fry popped in for what I'm guessing was a quiet drink. His face registered surprise at seeing us all there, briefly, before being torn apart by sotted chefs and fucked-up food writers clawing at him for selfies. He held his ground and chatted like a hero for as long as he could stand, and was then literally chased out of the building by several people who had been waiting their turn when he decided to flee.
The Hairy Bikers - also winners on the night - stuck it out with us. Dave Myers has read my books and says he likes them so this didn't feel too much of an imposition:
|L-R: Hairy Pedestrian, Hairy Biker, unhairy publisher who believed in the cider book and made it happen|
Thank you so much to Jo Copestick (above with Dave) who has been hassling me to work on a book with her for years and guided us into shaping the book that needed to be written about cider even when we wanted to write a different one. And thanks to everyone else at Jacqui Small Publishing who made it happen. And thanks to my co-conspirator, who emailed me out of the blue one day, never having met me, and informed me that we needed to work on a book together. Turns out the mad scrumpy-necking bastard was right.