Hello! It’s been a while…. Over two months in fact since my last post. In that time apple harvest has started, I reached the one thousand follower mark on Twitter and this blog had its first birthday. Perhaps this year I might achieve my incredibly strenuous goal of at least one blog post a month…
Let talk harvest! Up and down the country, cider makers from garden shed hobbyists (it’s called a cidery, thanks) to the industrial giants will be picking and pressing fruit like there’s no tomorrow. For some this started as early as September with many varieties dropping a good few weeks earlier than expected. For others, pressing will just have begun and will keep them busy into December. Only now do cider makers get to see what mother nature has provided and now it’s up to them to make the most of it for this year’s vintage. To celebrate this time of year, an event called The Big Apple takes place in Much Marcle, Herefordshire. I finally went to see what it was all about.
The last time I was in Herefordshire was just at the end of blossom time, so it was stunning to see the difference in the landscape during harvest. In my time living in the West, I’ve done a fair bit of rural driving through Devon and Somerset, but Herefordshire honestly feels like you are travelling through one massive orchard.
We (I was kind enough to take the Mrs!) arrived at Hellens, a country house and one of the venues for the Big Apple. Interestingly, the whole event is held at separate venues across the village (9 to be exact), most within walking distance. Although, the lovely people at Westons provided a tractor and trailer taxi service! Each venue had different displays, demonstrations and talks regarding the apple harvest and related subjects like bee keeping. There was an incredibly relaxed and calming feeling about the day, lots of people standing in orchards drinking ciders and perrys, all gathered together for a joint appreciation for Britain’s most quintessential fruit.
What really stole the show for me though was the Perry. Prior to the Big Apple, I had been sat quite firmly on the proverbial fence. It just never wowed me before. Many I had tried before were just nice, or overly subtle and in some cases just plain awful. “One pint of vinegary acetone please barman!” But I am pleased to say I was wrong. Just as with cider, who makes it and how good they are at it is paramount. That afternoon, I was lucky enough to taste some exceptional examples.
First was a tasting at Avenue Cottage. A family home where they demonstrated the pressing of perry pears from their own orchard. This was the first time I had encountered a perry pear, so I couldn’t resist biting into one… It was a regrettable experience. This was a Blakeney Red, revered for its single variety perry, but not for its eating. A tough skin and so too was the flesh initially but then mush, sweet brown mush, followed by tannin that dried my mouth like a wad of cotton wool. Tasty. Thankfully the perry was devine. In the orchard where the pears were picked, a tasting was led by Gabe Cook and judging by other people’s expressions I was not the only one blown away.
Afterwards we head almost directly across the valley to Gregg’s Pit, a highly respected cider and perry maker, for a particularly special tasting. As we arrive, we just catch the end of a pressing demonstration on their beautiful old press. The juice from the pears flowed out freely under their own weight which gathered in the impressive base, hand carved from Forest of Dean stone. It’s a real insight into the long-held tradition of cider and perry making in this region. We all stand under the trees in this long sloping orchard for what’s known as a ‘vertical tasting’. Having never heard of this, I was kind of hoping to witness a group of connoisseurs trying to drink whilst performing head stands. Alas, a vertical tasting is where you try several vintages of the same variety or bottling from the same producer.
The tasting was again hosted by Gabe Cook (he gets around doesn’t he!) and accompanied by James Marsden, the owner of Gregg’s Pit. James looked slightly nervous at the start, and confessed that this isn’t something he’d really done before. We started with the most recent bottling of Thorn Single Variety Perry. The aroma is astonishing, James remarks “I have people genuinely ask me if I put grapefruit juice in this!”. The citrus note is powerful and present in the flavour. This was the first time I had tried a bottle fermented perry, staggeringly good it was too. The next bottle was a few years older, from 2013. This was not quite as fresh and zingy as the first, but it had much more body and maturity about it, a ‘grown up drink’ the group agreed. We finish the vertical tasting with a bottle from 2006. Again, remarkably different from the others, whilst maintaining Thorn characteristics, but boasting its age with real depth and complexity. It was a fascinating experience, like we were tasting history. A few surprise bottles were opened, one of which was from a local maker called Kevin Minchew who was also stood amongst the group. Vintage 2001, aged in whisky casks and weighing in at a whopping 10.2% alcohol, this, for me, was one of the most astonishing drinks I have ever tasted. Fun fact, I was ten years old when the pears were picked for this bottle. I hope I get to taste it again someday.
A great weekend, a stunning county and fabulous booze! I want to say a huge thank you to our hosts for the weekend, James and Susanna Forbes who put Terrie and I up, and kept us fed and well-watered with their delightful offerings from Little Pomona. We look forward to hosting you in Devon sometime! I should also thank my long suffering girlfriend Terrie for joining me and encouraging my cidery pursuits.
The Big Apple returns in spring 2018 for their Blossom time event and hosts their renowned cider and perry trials! If that takes your fancy, be sure to check their website and keep the May Day bank holiday free. I may even see you there!