Discovering Somerset Cider
When someone gives you a call and invites you on a tour of some of the top cider makers in the UK it’s easy to clear your diary and make yourself available immediately. It’s not something that happens on a daily basis after all.
I was picked up by Charlie and Virasha from Frome train station and was immediately presented with a brown plastic bottle that had a bold gold label that simply read “Janets Jungle Juice”.
The label indicated it has won numerous awards within the cider industry but the packaging certainly suggested otherwise. Reluctantly though I took a sip fully expecting the worst but was pleasantly surprised to find that the contents was actually afull bodied tasty medium dry cider and immediately the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover sprung to mind”.
After meandering our way through Somerset’s back roads for 40 or so minutes we arrived at our first stop Crossman’s Cider. We were met by Ben Crossman a third generation cider maker who led us through to his cider tasting room.
The room is a charming little out building attached to the edge of his house, that is full to the brim with the produce of his farm. The back wall of the building is made up of large oak barrels each one displaying the label of a different cider type. Ben then graciously hands me a glass and we get stuck in trying each one.
It’s clear straight away why Ben is included in this tour, as all of his cider taste superb and his bubbly somerset charisma pours out when you ask him about each one. Unfortunately, because of time restrictions, we were only able to stay for a short while but it was certainly a great way to kick off the tour.
Our next stop was Mill Whites cider makers in Rooksbridge, these guys have been making cider for over 100 years and still use the same traditional methods that have been handed down through generations. It’s a stark contrast to Crossman’s cider. Although in essence, they use the same production methods Millwhites branding and the tasting shop set up has a refreshingly modern twist and before you even taste the cider you get the feeling it’s going to be good.
Mill Whites have an extensive range of ciders, each one takes the base of their original scrumpy and then John the cider maker adds his own unique twist on it, such as ageing the cider in old rum casks or blending the cider with some home-grown blackcurrant juice. The real gem in the selection though is the Angry Goose a beautifully light and refreshing perry.
John is also now taking his cider on the road and is in the middle of setting up a cider tap room in Frome where all of his ciders plus others gems will be available to try. We will definitely be there for opening night that’s for sure.
BURROW HILL CIDER
Burrow Hill Cider was the third cider makers we visited and this is definitely “The Cider Adventures” crown jewel
As you pull in you park up in the farmyard and you are greeted by a large but rather delightful pig. Then immediately you get the sense that Burrow Hill really is the epitome of somerset cider making. From the cider, cocktails served as you walk into the cider shop to the endless lines of oak barrels gently fermenting both cider and brandy. It just shouts “This is the way you are supposed to do it”.
Julian is the head of the farm and is brains behind it all, his knowledge of the cider industry holds no bounds and he is more than happy to impart some of that wisdom be it in his own quirky and eccentric way.
Burrow hill also step the tasting up a little with not only allowing us to try their cider but also letting us get stuck into their cider brandies and ice cider all of which are exceptional and we came away with very warm cheeks indeed.
Hecks cider was next and they specialise in single variety ciders. Having spoken with many a cider maker in my time there is always a consistent message. It’s hard to make a single variety cider work because of it rare to find an apple that gives you all the right characters to create something worth drinking and after trying a number of Heck’s ciders I have to agree, they are certainly not for the faint-hearted that’s for sure.
Having said that though Hecks have managed to create some single variety ciders that are both palatable and sessionable although by the time I have got to those types I was too lost in apple names like slack ma girdle and fox something or other to tell you which single variety ciders these were.
Our last stop on the tour was the farm of the infamous Roger Wilkins. A celebrity in the cider world and all round absolute bloody legend.
Having heard numerous stories of brilliance from people that have visited Rogers farm I was fully prepared to be a little under whelmed by it all, but that was not the case.
The farm is not plush by any means and you are essentially drinking farmhouse cider in an old, cold and grubby milking parlour but that all just seems to add to the charm of it. It genuinely could be one of my new favourite places.
Wilkins cider is pleasant and well rounded and he offers customers a choice between dry and sweet and if you want something closer to a medium you just blend the dry and sweet together, it’s simplicity at its best.
It really is a place that everyone should visit, not only for the great cider, fabulous cheese and eccentric conversation with Roger and his right-hand man “Dave the Rave”. But because these places are few and far between.
Thank you “The Cider Adventure Tour” for showing us some of Somerset’s delights, it was a pleasure.