Making Cider in England: The Mission
It started as an offhand idea my mother brought when speaking to my sister and I. “You should go to England to see how the English are making cider this fall.” I quickly dismissed it. Sure, the experience would be great, but a trip like that would be expensive and I had too much I wanted to do on the farm. A couple weeks later my sister mentioned my mother’s idea, suggesting that she thought it would be a great experience and that her and John could manage the farm in my absence if I wanted to do it. Hmm, I hadn’t realized I was so easily expendable on the farm … but anyway, perhaps the idea was worth giving more consideration. I mentioned to John that I was considering it. He was also on board and took it upon himself to check with his dad in Axbridge, Somerset to see if I could stay there with him. His father not only welcomed the idea, but insisted upon it and informed me that they had an extra car I could use to buzz around in. Before I knew it, I had a plane ticket booked and was packing my bags for six months of the cider making season in Southwest England, the mecca of great cider.
The more I prepared for the trip, the more I realized how much it could help us realize our goals at Stone Circle Cider. I would have the opportunity to get commercial cider production experience, while working with some of the best cider makers in the world. I could understand their agricultural practices, their production practices, and what they do to make their cider special. As a business, we understood where we wanted to be and what we wanted to produce, but we needed more experience to define how we wanted to do it. This opportunity provided us with the opportunity to fill in the gaps in our planning and the ability to move forward with our production confidently.
I have now been in England for two weeks. I am acclimating nicely to the environment and have stayed very busy visiting and meeting various cider makers, helping my hosts work their lavender field, exploring the countryside, building this website, and drinking as much cider as I can get my hands on. I’ve very much enjoyed all of the people I’ve met so far. People seem very interested in hearing about what I’m doing here and they all assure me I’ve come to the right place! I’ve been fortunate to connect with a few cider makers who have invited me to spend as much time with them as I wish. I’m feeling very pleased with my productivity so far, and very optimistic for what the trip has in store for me.
When I first arrived at Baz and Carole’s (my ever so generous hosts) house, I was welcomed with a glass of Wilkins Cider. IT WAS GLORIOUS! It was exactly what I envisioned a great English craft cider would taste like: medium bodied, rich and smooth, with just a hint of funk. I had enjoyed other very nice English ciders before, but in Oregon our options are limited and this cider was on a whole new level. I have since met Roger Wilkins, the artist behind the cider who is widely regarded as being on a short list of the best cider makers in the world. I am over the moon to be invited to spend the week with him next week to help him press his early season varieties.
With the cider pressing season starting next week, my objectives for this trip are as clear as ever.
In short, I am looking to get experience with cideries where I can be actively involved in the making of West Country cider from tree to bottle, and serve as an understudy for skilled cider makers who are willing to share their craft. Specifically, I have outlined exactly what areas I am hoping to further my knowledge base below.
• Understand what a great cider maker looks for when choosing apples to blend.
• Understand what characteristics the cider maker is looking for beyond sugar and acidity.
• Become better educated on apple varieties and how an apple is evaluated for its ability to contribute to a cider.
• Understand different practices in storage and maintenance of cider as it's fermenting and when it's complete.
• Understand what the risks for spoilage are and how they are managed.
• Understand the types of yeast that will produce a quality cider and their characteristics. How do different types of yeast interact with different apple variety blends?
• Gain experience working with various types of production equipment to better understand what will work for us as we get started and grow.
• Observe and note the types of agricultural practices used for harvesting and storing apples.
• Understand how inventory is managed and production forecasted.
• Understand the options for packaging and distributing ciders, as well as the challenges and advantages of different options.
So that’s what I’m here to accomplish. I could not be more pleased with experience I’ve had thus far, and am very much looking forward to everything that lies ahead. I intend to continue to share my experiences on this blog and through social media. Check back or connect with us to follow me on my journey!