Devon Life: "Sober October"
As featured in the October 2021 edition of Devon Life
They call it “Sober October” nowadays and it joins all the other months and weeks which nowadays crop up in the calendar with new and fancy names. All fair enough… It keeps marketing people busy and such labels can help promote healthier ways in which to live, alongside numerous other noble objectives. I’d
vote for a Soft Drinks Day to kick off Sober October any day of the week.
Of course, as a maker of fine soft drinks I believe everyone should always have an eye on the non-alcoholic option, no matter what day, week, or month of the year it is.
You might think, “He would say that, wouldn’t he…”. But I would quickly tell you Luscombe Drinks was born out of what, originally, was a cider-making concern…
I was only about ten-years-old when we started selling fermented apple juice, at a time when most farm-owners had cut cider-making from their list of seasonal chores. My father had decided to get out of milk production at the time and he was looking for ways in which the farm could diversify.
Cider comes and goes in fashion, but one major factor - down at the smaller grassroots end of the industry, at least - is you can only make it during one short part of the year. You press apples in September and the cider improves until May - and if you do it properly then you hopefully have very little spoilage.
Back when we went out of milk production and took up cider-making, you either had to make a lot of it and hope it was going to sell, or you made just enough for local consumption. And to be honest, a lot of farm cider back then was sharp and vinegary, which the vast majority of consumers regarded as a joke. However, I can put my hand on my heart and say we made a very good cider - it won more than one championship at the county show and it had a good reputation.
The basic story was that my father had redundant buildings on the farm after we stopped milking cows and he did not want to convert them to holiday cottages. His idea was to have some sort of commercial driver which would use the buildings and prevent them from being converted. Looking back, though, he was a romanticist, not a businessman - he certainly wasn’t doing it for the money.
It all happened around the time Hill’s Cider, just across the way from us - which used to make tens of thousands of gallons of cider packed up. There were a couple of presses for sale, so we bought one - a relatively modern press, made in Newton Abbot in the 1950s… Actually, a very good press with a good reputation.
So, the fantasy was to use the buildings and use the apples from our orchards and we’d have a product which we could sell. Job done!
But in reality, it wasn’t job done. Because my father was not a businessman - in fact he was a psychoanalyst. So the cider-making limped along for a few years - we had some good years and some bad - and eventually my father woke up and realised he was ploughing his pension into paying the overdraft every year. Eventually, there came a time when he was about to wind it all up - and that’s when I said I’d take it on.
I had been living in Sicily for a while, making some kind of income somehow. And I came back to Devon armed with some useful bits of knowledge I’d learned from the Italians… knowledge about real food and drink.
Once home it didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that people didn’t want cider! If you offered one hundred people a taster only about four would accept and then perhaps one of two would buy …. that wasn’t going to make a sustainable business however hard you worked. So we started making other
things we knew about - soft drinks made from apples and elderflowers, and then from lemons which were being imported from Sicily.
The rest is history, as they say - but there is another keynote to this non-alcohol part of my story - one that, at the time, was linked to a trend in my own life. As a young man living three miles up a single-track maze of lanes with hedges 20 feet high, my social life was inextricably linked to being able to drive to see friends - so I spent an awful lot of time drinking drab and uninteresting soft-drinks in pubs.
Then, after endless glasses of lime and soda and Britvic 55, I had a light-bulb moment - and that was a very strong desire to make better drinks. I’m talking about the sort of things I wanted to drink when I went out.
It turned out I was not alone - and we have built a successful business on the strength of this simple, you might say “Sober October-style”, trend.