Cider is often named after the people who make it or the place where it’s made; sometimes a piece of cider-machinery, a local legend, landmark or farm animal gets the nod. Possibly even a skulking rodent . . .
We wanted a name that reflected the magic and character of the Forest of Dean. The area has a rich cider heritage and there are numerous small producers making excellent cider here today.
Rule No.1: Anything with ‘Orchard’ or ‘Gold’ has probably been done. Avoid.
We liked the sound of ‘wassailing’ though, still strong in the Forest, it involves a trip to the orchard on a cold January evening to bash some pots together, fire a shotgun and throw some toast into the trees. They say that this awakens the orchard spirits or drives out the evil spirits – depending on who you talk to and how many they’ve had. Anyway, if the ‘evil spirits’ had a name, then surely it would be a great name for a cider? Turns out these orchard ne’er-do-wells were so diabolical that their parents hadn’t hung around long enough to name them, let alone call in the vicar . . .
We hit the ‘net and the bookshops: CIDER, FOREST OF DEAN, LEGENDS, ORCHARDS, HISTORY, CHARACTERS, etc. Characters? Jolter: a Forest character apparently. No obvious links to fermented apple juice, so we dismissed him on the grounds of sounding like a luminous purple energy drink. Onwards and upwards . . .
And just when we least expected it, an article turned up that seemed to tick all our boxes, combining cider, history and the Foresters’ reputation for non-conformity. In October 2013 The Bristol Post carried a story by Eugene Byrne about the Cider Tax imposed to pay for the Seven Years War (1756-1763). George III’s Scottish born Prime Minister, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, proposed a charge of four shillings on a hogshead (20p on 50 gallons) and at a stroke became the most hated man in Ciderland.
Producers swore they would rather let their apples rot on the ground than pay the new tax, and with “Jack Bute” sending his officials out to survey the orchards, everyone drank as much as they could as quickly as possible at silly prices to avoid the forthcoming tax. With Bute’s effigy burning in Bristol, Byrnes tale took an unexpected turn. “In the Forest of Dean,” he says, “an Excise man was abducted by miners and imprisoned underground for over a month.”
WHAAAAAAAAT?! Here was our holy grail . . . who did the dastardly deed? Where was the Excise man imprisoned? Surely a monument would have been erected to the Foresters who stuck two fingers up (one each) to the King and his Prime Minister? And more to the point, could we call our cider Bute’s Hole?! Amazingly, no one could cast any light on the story. Nothing. A complete dead end. Zilch.
And so, it was back to trawling through centuries of the written word. ‘Stunnem’ and ‘Squeal’ turned up as old Forest names for cider, and we’d never be too far from a Jolter reference, or if we were particularly unlucky, a story. Around now, a mate turned up to talk cider – it was time to try out the theory that no one under 40 had heard of him. “How old are you?” “Eh?” “How old are you?” “57. Why?” “Ever heard of Jolter?” Somewhere in the universe, the lights went on. Holding tight onto a barrel I was bombarded with an effortless string of Jolterisms as my mate, eyes glazed, appeared to be caught in the vice-like grip of a long dormant flashback. Blimey . . .
“Jolter would be a great name for the cider!” he said. As if . . . but we just couldn’t shake him off – Jolter that is.
Action was needed. We decided to visit the Dean Heritage Centre as we knew they had an old Press and Scratter – so surely they’d have a few stories or records. But yet again, nothing jumped out at us (not even a deer) and we left empty-handed and none the wiser about the underground abduction. ‘Orchard Gold’ was almost looking like a good idea.
On the way out though, we explained our mission to a lovely lady called Mary. “Hold on,” she said. “Give this chap an email – he knows everything about the Forest. He might be able to help you.”
Within 24-hours we’d had an email sent on behalf of John Belcher, who sent us a long list of suggestions, many relating to our home turf of Mitcheldean. There were landlords Fuzzle from the Red Lion and Flooks from the White Horse, Wild Edric who ran a ‘drinking shop’ somewhere in the village, and Nucky Loade. Now that even sounded like cider! It turned out that Nucky had been a bareknuckle fighter of repute and a true connoisseur of the amber stuff. “That’s a contender!” we thought. “Sounds rude to me,” said the vicar. “We used to live next door to Nucky,” said the missus. “Look who’s at the top of Mr Belcher’s list though . . . !”
Yep. Lingering like a fart in a spacesuit was Jolter . . .
Nucky may have been a hot favourite, but Jolter was hanging on against the ropes. And somehow . . . against all odds . . . he held on.
Jolter seemed to come from a time when no one was rushing around all day, where Forest dialect was written as it was spoken. The daily tide of Transatlantic speak and drivel that we have to wade though was barely a trickle.
He had a life of his own and seemed determined to resurrect himself. You couldn’t help but grow fond of him, and with minds made up, just one last question . . .
“Do you think he drank cider?”
“By the bucket.”
“Looks like it’s Jolter then.”
“Looks like it.”
We ain’t daft.
by Pat of Jolter Press