I’ve left London on a west bound train. I’ve got my bike loaded up with 10 kilos worth of cloths and cameras. I’ve got 70 odd kilometers ride a head of me today. This is my first time into Somerset, I’m trying to get a good sense of what makes Somerset cider unique. This is my UK Cider Tour Day 1.
UK Cider Tour Day 1
The train pulls into Westbury. I unload the bike and roll out of the station. Almost immediately I take a wrong turn. I reckon I’ve got a good sense of direction, but I must remember that the sun is in the southern sky in the northern hemisphere. 25km down the road I pull into the village of Dean.
I meet Niel Worley of Worley’s cider. It’s a pretty hot day and over a cool drink we talk about local cider making. There are not any apples grown in the Dean village. There is not much top soil, under that is a hard layer of lime stone. You can see the Severn Estuary from the top of the hill. The estuary acts like a giant wind tunnel. A decent storm would just blow over any apple trees planted here. Instead the apples are bought further south in the county.
We walk up to the production sheds that are at least 100 years old. It’s pretty quiet in the sheds at the moment with most of this years’ cider made and stocks are being sent out. More apples will come in October.
In the last batch of apples processed, Worleys swap from traditional rack press to a more modern belt press. The upside of the belt press is a 6-fold reduction in labour, it’s now a one-man job. On the flip side as there is less handling of the pulped apples there is less oxidization. This results in a paler juice, something that will be experimented with later in the year when the new apples come in.
Still “Bag in a Box” ciders make up a very large chunk of Worley’s sales. These are sold into pubs and festivals especially this time of year. All the boxed ciders are flash heat pasteurized. It’s the only way to insure the shelf life of the cider is longer than about 4 days.
Another 10km down the road, I arrive in Shepton Mallet. A town with a long tradition of cider making with some of the biggest players in the industry based here until recently. In a small industrial block in the middle of town I met Martin Berkeley and his offsider Tom who were in the middle of bottling the 2017 vintage keeved cider. Martin was washing and filling the bottles while Tom was corking and caging each of the 750ml bottles.
We open 2 bottles from the Fire and Ice line. In the Fire cider the keeved juice is simmered over an open fire to reduce the water content. This intensifies everything. The final step is aging the desert cider in Bourbon barrels. Ice takes the opposite approach. The keeved juice is part frozen, the ice water is scooped out and discarded. The juice is then slowly fermented. Personally, I really like the Fire, it had a really nice caramel and spice flavour.
Stables Pizza and Cider
The concept is simple, people like cider and people like pizza. Why not put them together in friendly restaurants. After a long day in the saddle and a fair bit of jet lag, I was ready for a pint and a pizza. I made a bee line for The Stables in Bristol. Sheppy‘s 200 Special Edition was recommended to me by the staff. The Special Edition Cider celebrities Sheppy’s 200th birthday. Sheppy’s have been making cider in the family for 6 generations which is quite an achievement. The cider itself was fairly sweet, healthy tannins, quite fruity.
My route from UK Cider Tour Day 1