There has been a cider and perry revolution in the last few years, with a new wave of cider makers entering the industry to compete with longer-established independent producers. The result has been a renaissance of this quintessentially English drink, and a renewed appreciation for the variety of cider and the craft that goes into its making. Go beyond the standard supermarket brands and you can discover a universe of cider brilliance. Here are ten of the top independent UK cider markers.
Based in the centre of the Purbeck hills in Devon, Purbeck Cider produces 100% single pressed cider from some of the county’s traditional trees. The drink is crafted using traditional methods by a small team that has been heavily involved in restoring and replanting traditional orchards, and the result is a range of natural tasting ciders that have caught the imagination of cider fans, including favourites such as Dorset Draft, Dorset Blush and the distinctive Garden Mint Cider.
One of the oldest cider makers in England, Aspalls is named after the tiny hamlet near the market town of Debenham in Suffolk, that has been home to the cider-making Chevallier family for nine generations. In fact, the Cyder House in Aspall was built in 1728 and still features the original mill and press by the founder of the dynasty, Clement Chevallier. They are renowned for producing traditional, intense ciders such as the dark, rich and strong Imperial Vintage, named after the family’s success at the 1921 Imperial Fruit Show, which is the perfect accompaniment to lamb or strong cheeses.
Another long-established cider maker, Sheppy’s are among the oldest premium craft cider-producing families in England, having been in the business for more than 200 years. Since 1917 they have been based at Bradford on Tone in Somerset, and they still use traditional cider making methods, fermenting their cider using the apples’ own naturally occurring yeast and employing oak vats, some of which have been used for nearly 100 years.
One of the new breed of cider makers, Friels was set up a little over a decade ago and has made a huge impact in the English cider scene. Employing 100% English apple juice, their apples are sourced through the nearby Worcestershire and Herefordshire orchards and then pressed at Stourport, on the banks river Severn. Friels are particularly well known for their First Press ciders and in 2017, the Friels First Press Vintage won a World’s Best Cider Award.
This award winning cider maker has drawn on centuries of cider making tradition in that part of the world, to produce a series of distinctive blends, created by bringing together fruit from their own orchard and across Kent. The company is known for their adherence to orchard traditions, including holding annual Wassail and Blossom days, and their heritage product is made using the old fashioned rack and cloth method on their cider press, which is apparently 150 years old.
Established in 2000, West Milton have continued to develop their craft, beginning with a range of traditional farmhouse style ciders, and moving into the ancient art of ‘keeving’ a process that removes many of the natural nutrients of the juice before fermentation. And as with all good independent cider makers, they use only the best local fruits. The result has been a range of award-winning premium ciders including the famous Lancombe Rising, Dorset Starlight and Dorset Twilight.
South Downs Cider
The eastern England cider tradition is distinct from that of the west country, and South Downs are one of the traditions finest modern exponents. Established in 2012, at the foot of the South Downs in East Sussex, they produce an eastern-style cider and perry range using only fruit sourced from within a 20 mile range of the town of Wilmington. South Downs Elderflower cider is one of their most popular brands, known for its refreshing finish and flowery flavours.
Another artisan cider maker in the heart of Somerset, Pilton have specialised in producing whole juice sparkling cider through the keeving process. All of the apples used are collected from traditional orchards around the parish of Pilton and then slowly fermented for months in their Victorian cellar before bottling. Some of their more popular varieties including Pilton Smokey Plum, fermented in peat-smoked Laphroaig barrels and the fruity Tamoshanta.
One of the most renowned independent cider makers in England, Olivers produce a range of fine ciders based on fruit and methods from the Herefordshire region. Their cider and perry is fermented with wild yeasts in small batches, and they use fresh-pressed, hand-picked, unsprayed fruit. The company has been wildly successful, exporting their product across Europe and to the USA.
Better known as a cider subscription service, Crafty Nectar, which set up in 2015, has also developed cider brands of its own. Using a blend of Yarlington Mill, Harry Masters Jersey, Michelin and Dabinett apples, they have created Crafty Nectar No.7, a mellow and popular sparkling cider, which won a Bronze International Cider Challenge Award. They also produce a rhubarb-flavoured cider, No.8 Rhubarb Cider that has proven to be a big hit with cider aficionados.