Kentish Pip Craft Cider - The Two James’s Kentish Cider Adventure
I’ve been off on another cider adventure again and this time it’s down to the ‘Garden of England’; Kent. Nestled in this beautiful county are 650 acres where four generations have been growing apples at Woolton Farm.
Joining me on this visit is James Waddington, Co-founder of Crafty Nectar and on a sunny, yet breezy September afternoon we met Sam Mount, the Managing Director of Kentish Pip.
At Woolton Farm they mainly grow dessert and eating apples and as we tour the orchards I am flabbergasted by the extent of apple trees which seem to just keep on going. The reds and greens of a bumper 2018 crop shone in the sunlight. These apples are managed and sold wholesale to supermarkets by Newmafruit Ltd. That does mean that Kentish Pip have to buy some back to make their fantastic ciders, but Sam explains how they have taken back some of the land to grow cider apples, cider production having been started by Sam’s father.
At the top of a slight hill we come to one of three cider apple orchards which contain various heritage cider apple varieties; Dabinett, Browns, Kingston Black and Yarlington Mill to name a few. Sam enthusiastically shares a couple of Kingston Blacks with us and I bite in expecting my cheeks to contract with astringency (having tried a Dabinett very recently with that effect). Instead, I’m pleasantly surprised at the eatability of it and finish the whole thing as we wander through the sea of apples.
As we walk the orchards Sam explains the various ciders they produce with real passion for their creations, such as the Discovery cider they make for Marks and Spencer, which if you haven’t tried you really should. It captures the pure crispness and essence of what I think is a really distinctive tasting eating apple. They only have 100 Discovery trees so some additional apples are brought in from three miles away.
Local and sustainable are key parts of Sam’s ethos, as is innovation and experimentation. He explained how they ferment different varieties on their own and in a couple of different ways which they then blend to give variety, depth and complexity to their ciders. They also make several ciders with “jewel varieties”, where they combine two together, for example: their pear and russet, which is again made for M&S.
As we turn back and walk towards the main buildings I mention seeing recent news of celebrity chef James Martin visiting for his upcoming new series. Sam is very humble about the well-deserved spotlight Kentish Pip is receiving but if you’ve tasted their ciders you’ll find yourself asking “why? Shout it from the rooftops Sam, it is cracking stuff!”
We then talked future experiments as we walked past a newly planted perry pear orchard and then a row of mixed cider apple varieties which Sam is trialling. We sampled bites of several different varieties, some crisp and astringent, others mellower and almost powdery. I have to admit to not capturing the names whilst sampling and grabbing photos.
The cider processing was our next stop and we observed sorting, washing and belt pressing. Sam then guided us through the enormous stainless steel tanks, some containing 20,000 temperature-controlled litres. We sampled some fermenting Cox apple juice, which goes into their Skylark straight from the tank, and as you can see from the smile on our faces, this was an experience in itself. The juice was crisp and acidic.
We followed this with some Dabinett which was woody and full of tannic depth. We then moved on to two perries, both made from a combination of Conference and Comice pears but fermented differently. One was very smoky, like smoked bacon but with a residual sweetness, which may sound odd but it did work. Although it came through a bit strong for my taste, perhaps blended with that Dabinett we tried earlier or a bittersharp cider apple would mellow it slightly and compliment the woody sharpness of the cider.
The other was simply sublime and reminded me of Tom Oliver’s Classic Perry, with a complexity I didn’t expect from culinary/dessert pears. We finished with a small sip of freshly pressed ‘Major’ cider apple juice which was very sweet but also filled with some tannic sharpness.
We then heard about the various packaging methods they employ; canning and bottling are done off-site, but ‘bag in box’ and kegs are done at Woolton Farm. Sam explained the work he has done with pub landlords, installing hand pumps so that they can serve the cider at cellar temperature rather than leaving a ‘bag in box’ on the bar during what was a scorching summer. They are getting much more into kegging, which is great news for real cider lovers, and we observed the impressive kit and the futuristic looking and fully recyclable KeyKegs they’ve been working with so far.
We finished our tour with a stop at the onsite shop and I was reminded how fantastic their label designs are. Designed by Kingdom and Sparrow, they are bold, vibrant and the matt finish has a great feel to it. Without a doubt they match the ciders within resoundingly well, as you may have read in my review of two of their ciders back in May (Wild Summer and High Diver), which I absolutely loved.
BIG THANKS to Sam from James and I for sharing his time, passion and wonderful creations.
James Finch Follow @TheCiderCritic