The Big Boozy Apple: Guernsey’s Rocquette and the history of cider Part I

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Below is an excerpt from the October 2015 edition of GINNED! Magazine about Blue Bottle Gin from Guernsey. Every month, Craft Gin Club Members receive a bottle of amazing small-batch gins and gin complements accompanied by GINNED! Magazine which is full of information about the gin, the distillery and loads of fascinating features.

blue bottle gin

blue bottle gin

Be sure to check out the Guernsey Mojito recipe - a mojito recipe made with Blue Bottle Gin (instead of rum) and Rocquette Cider (instead of sparkling water).

“The wages of workmen shall be payable only in the current coin of the realm; it is henceforth prohibited to pay any part of a workman’s wages in food, drink, clothing, or other non-monetary item.” This quote is a paraphrase of one of the main clauses in the Truck Acts of 1887, a clause that rendered illegal the centuries-old practice of compensating labourers for their work in the products and goods on which they worked. The practice was particularly prevalent in agriculture, where workers could expect nourishment for their services, nourishment that was deducted from their wages.

For several centuries in the run up to this act, agricultural workers in the West and South of England could expect compensation in the form of drunkenness, especially drunkenness on cider, long the most popular drink of the kingdom. Orchard and farm owners motivated their employees to the tune of three or four pints a day of the fermented apple juice with some workers receiving up to 20% of their wages in liquid. According to the National Association of Cider Makers, some farms rated their help by the amount they drank with “a two gallon a day man (being) worth the extra he drank!”

But modern labour laws (the provisions of the Truck Acts have been adopted most recently in the Employment Rights Act of 1996), have not completely snuffed out this timeless practice. On the isle of Guernsey, paying labourers in cider abides - sort of. 

The Guernsey apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

When you travel through the Channel Island’s countryside, one of the places you must stop is the Meller Family Farm. Tucked away in the hills of the Fauxquets Valley with views on the English Channel, the farm has become the island’s most important orchard, one that is “committed to continuing the long-established cider heritage of Guernsey.” 

cider blue bottle gin

One of the ways in which they preserve this heritage is through an island-wide apple swap. The Mellers invite Guernsey dwellers with apple trees on their own properties to gather their apples and bring them to the farm where the family will transform them into the island’s increasingly popular drink, Rocquette Cider. Island inhabitants deliver up to 20 tonnes of apples to the Mellers every year, ensuring that their own crops do not spoil and making for a fun day out in the community.   

For their efforts, the pomme patrollers can demand cash, or alternatively - Truck Acts be damned! - can choose to take their compensation in cider. 

The Meller family began planting apple trees in 1998 and within the first three years had planted 3,000 trees, a number that currently stands at 5,000. In the year 2000, their first cider flowed from the presses but it wasn’t until about 2009 that the business really began to take off. 

Today, Rocquette Cider is a Guernsey staple with the Meller’s selling over 200,000 litres a year. The drink is so popular that the family plans to export to the UK Mainland and elsewhere in the near future, sticking true to their objective of spreading Guernsey cider.