Sunday 19 June 2016

Made in Dorset #4 - Cider

Given the perception of cider as the perfect tipple to enjoy out of a two-litre bottle on a park bench, it’s easy to forget that it forms part of a noble tradition. Ironically for a drink that is often the ‘usual’ for those taking their first faltering steps in underage drinking, it’s one of the oldest drinks in Britain, a legacy of the Normans, who had been producing it in France since the sixth century. Production subsequently flourished in the warmer climate and chalky soils of the West Country, Southwest, Wales, Kent and East Anglia, and was a standard feature of the agricultural calendar when every farm had an apple orchard.

Today, cider makes up 9 percent of the UK drinks market and we guzzle 1.5 billion pints of the sugary beverage a year. Except we don’t. The vast majority of what we’re drinking isn’t real cider, but an overly sugary, fizzy catastrophe filled out with artificial flavourings.

Keeping it real
To taste real cider, which is one of the highlights of the food festivals and farmer’s markets across the county, is an epiphany. There are about 480 real cider makers in the UK, and their product must be at least 90 percent fresh apple juice, usually using our dry and astringent English bittersweet apples. Commercial canned cider, by contrast, only needs to contain around 35 percent apple juice. Real cider can be as dry as wine, as flat as apple juice, and as robust as a porter. Of course it can pack a kick, but the fruit and autumn aromas should come through most of all. The idea that cider should be carbonated is a marketing flourish more than a tradition, too.

It’s also relatively simple to make. Press late-autumn apples, introduce yeast, and allow the liquid to ferment, followed by maturing in wooden casks. The pigs get the pressed apple mulch, and counties like Dorset get big plastic jugs of West Country nectar. Look out for the following home-grown ciders...

Oliver and Penny were looking for a barn in which to do metal sculpting, and found themselves in charge of a 3,000-tree apple orchard near Bridport. They now produce 10 ciders using 11 varieties of apple, including Brown’s, Dabinett and Tremletts Bitters and rely solely on natural wild yeasts. Read more here...


Based in West Milton, near Bridport, Nick and Dawn Poole started producing cider in 2000 as a way of clearing their orchard to make way for horses. They started off making dry, clean farmhouse ciders such as Lancombe Rising, and are best known for their Dorset label: Starlight, Twilight and Moonlight. By ‘keeving’ the cider to remove natural yeasts before fermentation, they produce ciders that are naturally sweet. Read more here...

Nigel Stewart is a regular feature at shows around the Southwest, serving cider from the cask wherever there’s a cider tent. His ciders blend around 11 varieties of Dorset and South Somerset apples, which are milled and pressed using a turn-of-the-century traditional press. The cider is squeezed between racks and cloths and left to ferment over the winter. The farm’s bottled sparkling cider is a Devon County Show winner. A wealth of information and clearly passionate about cider, Nigel is the person to talk to if you want to discover that everything you thought you knew about scrumpy was a cruel deception. Often touted as ‘real’ cider, it is – according to Nigel – a marketing sleight of hand designed to package lower quality apple hooch. Read more here...

Copse House Cider on table.jpg

Bob Chaplin received an award for a lifetime contribution to the cider industry, is secretary of the Southwest of England Cidermakers Association, and serves as a judge for regional competitions. Not surprisingly, his still and sparkling ciders from Kine Bush Farm in Sandley are among the best. The original Landshire Medium is a Taste of Dorset winner. The first press of the 11,000-tree orchard was just 1,000 litres in 2012, but production is growing significantly. Read more here...

Tim Beer Marshwood Vale Cider

Up until 2010, Marshwood Vale cider was made from hand-collected apples, pressed using a Victorian scatter mill and straw press, and fermented for six months in oak barrels. The process is a bit more hi-tech now, but the final product is still Real Cider with nearly all the sugar fermented to alcohol. As well as the well-regarded Tom Putt and Dorset Tit, the farm also produces mead, one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in the world. Read more here...


Joe Hartle, son of Peter and Hazel who created Purbeck Ice Cream, began cider production in 2006 in the Purbecks. You might have seen Joe’s Dry Cider, Dorset Draft or even the Devil’s Leaf mixed with nettles, among others. The next step is crowdfunding for a 15-acre, 5,500-tree orchard to move things to the next level. The campaign starts on July 1. Read more here...

If you have a particular cider to recommend, or just want to leave a comment, all contributions are welcome in the section below. 

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