Cider House rules: Pip pip hooray! for Bridgnorth cider company
An apple a day keeps the doctor away goes the old saying. But how about a glass of cider instead?
It’s one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the world and like many craft beverages is currently enjoying a renaissance.
Cider sales in the UK topped £1 billion last year with the summer months alone seeing a 16-per cent increase in demand for the refreshing and fruity drink.
And one couple who have witnessed its latest rise in popularity are Julia and Mark Jackson who run The Special Cider Company based in Bridgnorth.
Julia’s parents, Brian and Katherine Jervis, have owned The Cider House in Quatt, Shropshire, for more than 30 years.
The pub has a widespread-reputation for being one of only a few remaining that specialise in cider rather than beer.
For the past two years she has been bottling and distributing the cider which has been the hallmark of her parents’ public since around 1976.
“The cider has a cult following in the West Midlands and people travel from all over the place to try it. Wherever you go, people have heard of the Cider House. Everybody has a tale to tell about the Cider House,” says Julia, aged 42.
Cider House Special is premium cider, with an ABV of 7.3 per cent, made using the pub’s unique recipe and is produced from 100 per cent British apple juice.
Tradition and innovation go hand in hand, originally a still cider, it has evolved over the years into a semi-sparkling drink and people have even travelled from as far afield as America and Canada to sample it.
The use of 100 per cent juice in the production process creates a unique flavour, one that is the opposite of most ciders which are typically very dry.
“People like the cider’s sweetness and strength. The recipe was originally a still cider but it’s moved with the times because we found that a semi-sparkling cider is what our customers want.
“It’s easy on the palate and makes a great accompaniment to Indian curries and fish dishes. It also goes well with meat and cheese,” explains Julia.
The cider had previously only been sold on draught at the pub or from a mobile bar at events until The Special Cider Company was set up two years ago to capitalise on the popularity of the drink and it has been going from strength to strength ever since.
It is produced by Westons in Herefordshire and is made using only apples that are grown within 30 miles of the site.
Every cider maker remains tight-lipped about their exact recipe as it often involves years of experience to get the correct blend of apples for a great tasting cider. But generally the fruit is collected and then mashed, either mechanically or by hand, to create a pulp which is put into the cider press. This squeezes all of the juice from the apples which is then left to ferment slowly in barrels.
Traditionally, this would be left to mature over the winter months so that it was ready to be enjoyed during the summer.
But producers often store juice from the autumn harvest so they can continue to produce cider throughout the year while the amount of time the liquid is left to ferment will also vary.
Each production run of Cider House Special provides enough of the drink to fill 48,000 bottles or 4,000 cases.
Julia says their cider can vary in colour depending on when it is made and how long the juice has been stored.
“Ideally it should be a pale colour, but the longer the juice is stored the darker it will be because it’s a natural, live cider.
“Now the new apples will be coming in from the harvest it will be a pale colour on the next run,” she tells us.
The couple, who are based in a unit on the Stanmore Industrial Estate, are also busy developing a fruit-flavoured cider as they believe this will be popular with their customers but say there are a number of factors to consider.
“At the Cider House, customers will have their cider with fruit syrups so we know there is a market for a fruit cider. We need to get the recipe right. At 7.3 per cent, Cider House Special is a strong cider but fruit ciders tend to be no more than four per cent because the duty is higher.
“So we need to make sure our customers will still enjoy a cider that isn’t as strong as our Cider House Special. We would also need a bigger unit to cope with more stock,” explains Julia.
The pair divide the duties between them with Mark, 54, taking care of the everything to do with the deliveries and Julia manning the office and meeting new customers.
This year brought a fresh challenge in the form of the CO2 crisis which affected many cider and beer producers up and down the country. It is used extensively by the beverage industry to add bubbles to drinks well as also being used during the bottling and kegging process.
But in June and July there were supply issues due to the temporary closure of CO2 plants across northern Europe for maintenance coinciding with a long spell of hot weather sending demand for fizzy drinks soaring.
Julia and Mark, who live near Church Stretton, were left waiting for their latest batch of cider to arrive causing them to worry about whether they would have enough for their customers.
“The producer ran out of CO2 and we were waiting on a big order for about six weeks so we had some stock supply issues. We were relieved when it finally arrived,” says Julia.
On the flip side, the hot weather boosted sales at festivals and events where the couple have sold their cider to thirsty customers.
“The weather has been fantastic for trade. We like going to the shows and meeting people,” says Julia.
Most of their business is in the Midlands but they are looking to branch out and ensure the Cider House Special name is known throughout the country and even overseas. “We often meet people at shows who ask where they can buy our cider so we would like to more stockists so we can reach more people.
“Export is another area where we could expand when we are ready,” she tells us.
But at the moment they are happy to enjoy the revived interest in this popular drink, which has been around for centuries. “It’s definitely the age of craft ciders and beers.”