03.10.2016 / words: Rich Lee
How do you like these apples?
There’s just something irresistible about the tangy amber nectar produced from September’s apple harvest. It is the unmistakable taste of the summer turning to autumn, captured in a cool, perspiring glass of dry and subtle sweetness.
England, and especially the South East, has one of the best climates for apple growing in the world. While warmer countries are better able to grow apples in vaster quantities than here, the UK’s fickle climate stresses the trees to produce fruit with a far deeper and more vivid flavour. Just taste an English-grown Cox’s apple or a Granny Smith over an imported apple and you’ll know exactly what we mean.
The quality of our apples is what has helped make cider such a quintessential English drink for hundreds of years. In fact, cider was mentioned as far back as the Old Testament under the Hebrew word ‘Shekhar’, but its cultivation here was truly established after the Norman invasion in the 11th century, from which it rapidly became the ‘drink of the people’.
Today, cider in the UK, and indeed around the world, has seen a massive explosion in popularity helped in part by the recent foodie revolution and the broader palates of the drinking public that have arisen as a result. It has also happily ridden the coattails of the boom in craft beer and ale, while offering a more gender-neutral option for those after a sweeter alcoholic drink.
Here in Surrey, a handful of enterprising cider lovers have taken the county’s natural bounty and turned them into premium artisanal ciders of outstanding quality that have won fans well beyond our borders. We met two of Surrey’s finest producers…
Vachery Farm Cider
A cider that’s really beginning to turn heads and slake thirsts is that produced by Guildford resident Pete O’Connor, co-founder of Vachery Farm Cider based out of Cranleigh (pictured below right). “I’m a chef by trade and I always had apple trees in the garden which I would make jams and chutneys from,” says Pete. “But one day I decided I’d like to make something a little more… alcoholic.”
“I met up with the Vachery Estate owners in Cranleigh who had these lovely apple trees and we agreed to give cider production a go. And by the end of 2014 we’d started Vachery Farm Cider.”
Pete runs the operation himself in his free time, cajoling friends and family when it’s time to pick and press the apples with hog roasts and, of course, lots of fabulous cider. More apples, a blend of dabinet and michelin varieties, are brought in from other local orchards, enabling Pete to produce around 14,000 bottles a year.
As head of sustainability for an international company, it’s important to Pete that no part of the process goes to waste. “We press around ten tonnes of apples over the course of just a week, producing around 7,000 litres, which creates a massive amount of pulp. So all that pulp goes to animal feed for pigs and cows.”
The premium quality of his cider comes from Pete’s insistence on producing it the traditional way, using the rack and cloth method at his cider barn facility and producing them from only 100% apple juice, unpasteurised, non-filtered and vegan friendly ciders.
Vachery Farm Cider is available to buy from Ruby & Kind in Cranleigh, Inn at Home in Guildford, Taurus Wines outside Bramley and other suppliers.
The Garden Cider Company
Over September and October, thousands of Surrey’s apple trees are about to drop their seasonal payload. For most, this abundance of apples will mostly go to feed the wasps as they spoil on the ground, only a few being harvested for a delicious crumble or apple pie. Fortunately, for one Surrey company, the annual glut presented a wonderful opportunity.
The Garden Cider Company is the brainchild of brothers Ben and Will Filby who founded the company in 2010 in response to seeing so much garden fruit go to waste. “I’d always made cider from our Mum’s apple tree, but wanted to make more,” says Ben. “We saw an opportunity to combine something we loved doing with a profitable and friendly cooperative of like-minded people.
“We started with about 20 people who started giving us their apples. Then after our first cider was produced in autumn 2011, the word started spreading. Now we service households all around Surrey and the number of customers keeps growing.”
Each year over 4000 local households bring their spare garden fruit to the Garden Cider Company in Chiddingfold and in return receive a share of the cider made back for free.
As well as their delightful Original cider, they also mix things up with bottles of Elderflower, Raspberry and Rhubarb and Plum and Ginger.
The Star in Godalming up for National Cider Award
There can be few pubs in the South East that can touch Godalming’s cherished Star pub for the breath-taking range and dedication they have for the golden nectar. They’re drenched in great cider, boasting ten real ciders and perrys, 21 bottles and 2 barrels and even a dedicated cider bar in the rear courtyard.
Having won award after award over the years for their cider and craft beer offering, 2016 looks to be a very big year for the Star and landlord Ian Thomson as they have reached the finals of the Great British Pub Awards in the Best Cider Pub category. Finalists were chosen from over 1,300 entries, across 16 categories with the winners being announced on October 5 in a glittering Best of British-themed ceremony at the Hilton Park Lane, London.
The Guide 2 Surrey would like to wish the Star the best of luck and we hope to raise a glass of cider to your success come October!
The Star on Facebook
Did you Know?
Babycham and Lambrini are popular drinks marketed as wines but are actually PERRY so you could have been drinking this pear-based beverage and been none the wiser!
The recent rise in the popularity of cider is commonly referred to as 'The Magners effect'
When tasting cider, look out for three qualities: acidity, tannin and funk. Yes, ‘funk’! Any barnyard scents and flavours (that's straw and cow pats broadly speaking) are referred to as ‘funk’.