Year 2, making and selling Cider
I’ve been making cider for years but this is my second year of selling on to pubs. I live in London but source apples down in Devon, pressing and fermenting at my in-laws’ house just outside Newton Abbot.
This year I doubled down on production. I fermented 450 litres of cider from apples donated by farmers who had no use for them, a paltry amount by commercial standards but a fair bit of hard graft for me.
Most of the trees I picked from were old, scattered around ancient fields. None of the farmers really knew the types of trees they had so I collected by taste, looking for the mouth-puckering tannins and balancing with the sweeter varieties and some cookers from a friend’s garden (I’m no expert but learning!). A few days of picking was followed a couple of weeks later by three days of pressing in late October 2015, a really mild dry period. In the spring I racked off a few bottles and started stalking the streets. It’s hard to sell cider in London, most pubs are tied or require you to have accounts and even then there is not much passion for real cider outside a few more specialist outlets.
The Bree Louise in Euston have been fantastic to me, they took everything last year and a fair few boxes this year (despite a self deflating bag-in-box incident last year). It took patience, everywhere that tried my cider loved it, but a few establishments never got back to me which is frustrating. One place run by a Bristolian took the cider for his staff admitting that he liked it but there is not much call for it in London. The Nell Gwinn, a lovely pub on the strand and definitely not a cider pub took a box and had a great response.
Transport has been a challenge as the car bounces low on its suspension on the trip back up the A303 with more than 120l in the back in addition to two kids and associated paraphernalia, giving me lots of excuses to escape the smoke and head west for new batches. I’ve nearly covered my costs, less petrol and time but the reward is making something and then seeing someone ask for it at the bar.
Cider is an underappreciated drink with an image destroyed by the syrupy likes of mass-market brands. People just don’t know how it’s meant to taste. At least cooking lager is a vague approximation of the craft variety. In the States there seems to be a real wave of craft cider on the back of craft beer, a trend that has not yet landed here. That’s despite the UK having a strong heritage with the Eastern and West Country styles and it being baked into the DNA of the countryside.
There is a small clique of cider aficionados but to most people what we know as real cider is completely different from their expectation (and much much stronger - at around 6% it does not led itself to session drinking, at least not in pints). That’s a hurdle that needs to be overcome, I’m still not sure of the answer. One pub I visited asked about bottled cider. It’s how I drink it a home, as it keeps better than bag in box but its much more of a faff manually filling bottles and operating the crown capper. However bottle conditioning adds a fizz that is more in line with expectations and most pubs are better set up for bottles.
This coming year I plan to experiment more, try natural yeasts and try keeving, there’s a whole world out there…