So I’ve been living in cider country for the last 10 months (bloody hell… really?!) but it’s only really been in the last couple months that I’ve been making the most of that cider sleuthing wise. March saw me finally go to meet some local cider makers in Ventons and Green Valley. I also joined Orchard Link, a Devon based, orchard obsessed group, where I made a start on learning how to tame apple trees. In April I went to Bristol with a partner in inebriation and discovered some of it’s most renowned cider bars and pubs. What a city! I was pretty jealous of the pubs there (and the sheer amount of) compared to here in Exeter. So far though, May has been the highlight!
After a heads up from Susanna Forbes about an event at the Hereford Beer House, I finally made a trip into Herefordshire! What a beautiful county it is too, the drive in through acres of orchards in peak blossom time was breath taking. The first stop though was the Cider Museum. It would be rude not to, right? I didn’t really know what to expect from the museum, but I was really impressed. It’s laid out well and has something for everyone, even children. If I was allowed, my flat would probably be filled with all the kinds of cider memorabilia they have on display. One thing I thought was particularly fascinating was the history of the Bulmers Family. Incredible to see their progression from a small family business to being the largest cider producer in the world. The museum also has a really well stocked cider shop. Next time your in Hereford cider-heads, I highly recommend paying a visit.
On to the Beer House! The event in question: Angry Orchard Tasting and Oliver’s Vintage Blend Release. After getting lost trying to navigate Hereford with my phone we found the Beer house tucked just off the high-street. Walking in it was nice to get a warm welcome from the familiar face of Gabe Cook who wasted no time in pointing out an open bottle of perry. What a cracking place! It’s a specialist bottle shop and tap house, focusing on beer from all over the world. The decor is simple and the size is perfect, just cosy enough to force conversation but still able to stock an impressive selection (and a walk-in chiller!).
I was standing awkwardly at the bar, when Ryan Burke, head cider maker at Angry Orchard, started opening some bottles of beautifully presented cider. I had no idea what to expect. My previous experience of Angry Orchard had been unpleasant, but these were a far cry from what you’d find in ‘spoons. All the ciders Ryan showcased were small batch, wild yeast fermented, cask aged beauties. Some were sparkling wine-like and others full bodied, smack you round the face, complex ciders. All sublime. He spent the whole evening working the room, making as many people try them as he could with an infectious enthusiasm.
I bump into and finally meet Susanna. It’s always great meeting like minded people and talking about what you love. She asks if I’ve met Tom Oliver yet and quickly gets his attention. In stark contrast to Ryan, Tom is a calm, collected character. Another warm welcome then we get straight into tasting. It’s an interesting experience listening to him describe what he’s tasting, like its an adventure in the glass. This particular cider, Oliver’s Fine Vintage 2015, was blended by a collaboration of brewers and cider makers, including Susanna and Jonny Bright, the owner of the Beer House. It was truly exceptional, I can’t recommend it enough. I also had the chance to try Little Pomona, a cider made by Susanna and her Husband James. I was really impressed, not only with its classy and refined flavours but they have done a fantastic job on the branding. What a triumph! The tasting flowed on through the evening. It was great to see everyone really enjoying themselves, some of whom, devout beer drinkers who decided to give it a go that evening. Hurrah, converts!
On my last day in Hereford, I thought I’d swing by Westons and see how the big boys do it. Driving over there I thought I’d punched in the wrong address as we seemed to get deeper into the countryside. Amazingly, it’s location is because it’s on the same site as when the company started in 1880. Not only that but it’s still owned and run by the same family. The tour starts by showing Henry Weston’s old farm house and leads on into what is essentially their own cider museum. Wandering around the factory was a real eye opener though. The figures are mind boggling: Over 36,000 tonnes of fruit pressed, 120 x 200,000 litre fermentation tanks and oak vats that hold as much as 42,107 gallons! Getting up close and personal to those oak vats was a real sight to behold, but also impressive to see them being used in cider production on this scale. Whether you love or hate their cider, what they have achieved is remarkable. You should definitely check it out.
All that was just one weekend! I think I’ve run out of your patience to write about The Royal Bath and West Show as well! I’ve got some really exciting things happening at the end of June and into July so watch out for those blogs in the future.