Q&A with Film-and Cidermaker Alex Thomas

by | Jul 3, 2020

The creative minds behind the documentary “Cider in Kazakhstan” are cidermakers Alex Thomas and his wife, Aizhan, who are just as good at making history as they are at telling it.

The three-part documentary series follows the couple as they invite four cidermakers on a pilgrimage to the wild apple forests of Kazakhstan. It is in this region that the Malus sieversii grows — it is the apple from which all apples have descended. The film documents the journey to these forests, situated in restricted natural reserves and sharing the origin story of the fruit (and beverage) we know and love. 

Thomas says he and his wife, a native Kazakhstani, met in England and bonded over their shared love of their favorite pub drink: cider. It wasn’t until Aizhan told her husband there were no cideries in her home country that they realized their dream of moving to the source of all ciders and opening the country’s first cidery.

And what region is better suited for a cidery than the birthplace of the apple? The couple is breaking new ground in Kazakhstan by opening the country’s first and only dedicated cidery, Apple City Cider Co

An ambition five years in the making is now coming to fruition. The first batch of ciders from Apple City Cider Co., are in the works to be released later this year. 

Cidercraft: What led to you forming such a personal connection with cider?

Alex Thomas: It was in the pubs in and around Cheltenham that I learned just how complex and rich cider could be. Along with being Cider Country, it’s also the region of England where rugby, another passion of mine, is most popular. Cider and rugby are closely connected in that part of the world with a number of cideries sponsoring rugby teams, and a lot of cider is consumed in and around the stadiums. Supporters of the Bristol Bears team often sing “Drink up Thy Zider” during games.

CC: What inspired you to not only bring four cidermakers to “the birthplace of the apple,” but also document the adventure?

AT: During our cidermaking journey, we realized just how much interest there was in Kazakhstan’s apple forests, not just from pomologists, but from apple growers and cidermakers. When we first attended CiderCon in Chicago in 2017, we’d just arrived when a girl asked Aizhan where she was from. When Aizhan said Kazakhstan, [the girl] reacted by screaming, “Oh my god,” before giving Aizhan a big hug. 

It is really cool that so many people, particularly in the U.S., take so much interest in the provenance of the things they consume and work with. Discovering that so many people had such a big desire to come to Kazakhstan, and see for themselves how the story of the apple began, led us to start putting together a plan to take over some of the amazing people we’d met and film their experience as a documentary.

CC: You are set to open Apple City Cider Co. where the documentary takes place, in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Almaty, which translates to “father of apples.” What is special about the apples from this region and how does it show in the cider?

AT: The Tian Shan Mountains between Kazakhstan and China, known as the Heavenly Mountain, are where Malus sieversii originates, and is the only place on earth with actual forests of wild apples. There’s a lot of different varieties of Malus sieversii, but some of them are very suitable for cider with high levels of acid, sugar and tannin. Our cider, which will hopefully go on sale later this year, is made from sieversii and has a unique, spicy flavor to it, from a combination of the apples and our process.

CC: How do you hope this documentary influences the cider world?

We’re hoping to start taking groups of cidermakers, apple growers and pomologists from North America, and elsewhere, on trips to Kazakhstan to experience for themselves some of the amazing things we did in the documentary. Malus sieversii is an endangered species, so by raising awareness of the issues surrounding it as well as its potential uses and benefits, we hope we can help sieversii proliferate both in the wild and in orchards for cider in Kazakhstan and beyond.

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