The West Country in a Glass

With fertile orchards flourishing across Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire, the West Country is surely the home of cider in the UK. In Somerset alone, traditional cider-makers ply their trade in the Quantock Hills, through Yeovil, Glastonbury, Cheddar and into the Mendips to Bath, preserving a trade that dates from time immemorial.

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Somerset Cider & Apple Juice; a Guide to Orchards and Cider-Makers.

A year-round industry

For cider-makers, the work never stops. The orchards must be pruned and protected during winter, while the last year’s harvest needs careful blending. March and into spring is the planting season, during which the roots are laid for cider-drinking generations to come.

Through summer, the blossom blooms and the apples start to form on the boughs. September, October and November is harvest time — perhaps the hardest but most important part of the cycle. Then, before winter ticks round again, the apples are pressed and prepared for fermentation.

And the results? Well, bittersweet apple varieties such as Royal Jersey, Brown Snout and Vilberie come together with sweet and sharp varieties like Court Royal and Crimson King to produce a massive range of colour and flavour, with traditional ciders — from sweet to dry — to suit all palates.

Cider-tasting in the heart of Bristol

The Cider Shop currently takes pride of place on Christmas Steps — but is moving to Cargo on Wapping Wharf, behind M-Shed, in July — and is Bristol’s very own ode to cider. With the tell-tale tagline ‘We sell cider’, Manager Pete welcomes cider drinkers from novice to expert into his shop, and waxes lyrical with expertise and enthusiasm on the flavours and styles available.

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Regular tasting sessions take place, during which connoisseurs-in-the-making can sample 10 different blends of cider, perry and even apple brandy. Each new drop is introduced with affection and care, including details of the orchard, style of production and of course flavours to look out for.

The selection

Whether you’re a cider fan of some years’ standing or new to the apple juice with a kick, broaden your appreciation with a trip down there. I did, and here’s wot I drank.

Christmas Steps, Handmade Cider (6.5%) Wiltshire
Pilton (5.5%) Somerset
Vintage, Oliver’s Cider & Perry (7.3%) Herefordshire
Yarlington Mill, Ty Gwyn (5.8%) Monmouthshire
Somerset Redstreak, Perry’s Cider (6.1%) Somerset
Court Royal, Dunkertons (7.5%) Herefordshire
Blackberry & Elderflower, Sheppy’s (4%) Somerset
Perry, Hallets Real Cider (4.5%) Caerphilly
Blakeney Red Perry, Gwatkin (7.5%) Herefordshire
Somerset Royal, Somerset Cider Brandy Company (42%) Somerset

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Cider, as far as the eye can see.

This blog was put together with help from Pete at the Bristol Cider Shop and ‘Somerset Cider & Apple Juice; a Guide to Orchards and Cider-Makers’, compiled by James Crowden and Nell Barrington.