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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Amy Abroad: Into Somerset for Cider

There is no greater satisfaction than a cold, refreshing cider in the sun!

Once upon a time in 1230AD, Jocelin Bishop of Bath was the first recorded man to press apples into cider for the Royal Charter. Ever since then the county of Somerset in the heart of England’s West Country has been synonymous with the production of cider. This rural area with its rolling hills is abundant with cider orchards with 10 different types of cider apples being farmed here. With over 25 cider farms in Somerset to choose from I had a busy day ahead of tasting and meeting the cider makers, so Rich and I hit the road.

Amy with Chris Hecks
First stop, Hecks Traditional Farmhouse Cider.  The shop was rustic, old and full of character with hundreds of awards and certificates mounted on the walls. I learned that the Hecks family have been pressing apples here at this location for the last 118 years, however the farm has been in the family since 1840. Chris Hecks is a sixth generation cider maker and was very pleased to give me a tour of the premises. Hecks produce over 20 single varieties of cider along with perry and various apple juices. They have three orchards of their own and also purchase apples from local growers to add to their cider varieties. A few weeks ago their Kingston Black cider won Reserved Supreme Champion at the Royal Bath and West Show and won British Farm House Champion at the CAMRA festival. I gave the The Kingston Black a whirl and it’s really delicious. It is copper coloured, bitter sweet and full flavoured. All in all a super tasty cider which could make for a great guest drink at Atlas next summer!

In the cider barn at Wilkins Cider
Through the fields and over the hills I was pointed in the direction of the CAMRA award-winning Wilkins Cider. This cider barn, in the middle of nowhere, is a much smaller operation; however don't let the size discourage you. With three varieties of cider; dry, sweet and medium (which is dry and sweet mixed together), you find yourself sipping on very clean, fresh half pint straight out of the oak vats! The barn is literally, just a barn. A few arm chairs are set up beside the old apple engine; old photos hang on the walls of Roger Wilkins and his grandfather; there’s an old table set up selling farm products like cheese and vegetables and of course the old wooden barrels containing sweet and dry cider. At Wilkins Farmhouse you come in, say hello then continuously serve yourself letting time pass as long as your heart desires. I could’ve stayed here all day, it was simply blissful!

Cider barrels at Thatchers
My final stop of the day was Thatchers, the most commercial of the three cideries I visited but still with a proud heritage. Four generations the Thatchers family have worked in the orchards here and Thatchers have become one of the most well-known craft cider makers in all of England. They distribute bottled and draft ciders to the Wadsworth pubs and also to watering holes across the country. They have hundreds of acres of orchards which are the family's pride and joy. There is also a popular cycling path called Strawberry Lane which runs through several of their orchards with many people making a day of a trip to the farm. My favourite from the ciders I sampled was the Cheddar Valley which is a naturally cloudy cider that is matured in oak vats, giving it a strong and robust flavour.

After a day of journeying deep into the cider farms of Somerset, I found myself quite tipsy and returning to Wiltshire with a boot full of cider! We purchased a gallon of  Hecks sweet cider, a gallon of medium cider from Wilkins and a gallon of Cheddar Valley cider from Thatchers. Next stop will be Europe so I’ve got French wine and devouring mouth-watering cheese to look forward to! 

Special thanks also to Richard for being designated driver on my Somerset cider tour.