The cider house rules

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Boys will be boys. In a farm­yard in Ox­ford­shire, two fortysome­thing men with pub­lic school ac­cents are demon­strat­ing, with the help of an an­cient­look­ing press, how to turn home-grown ap­ples into home-brew.

For the past three years, the writer Wil­liam Sitwell – grand­son of Sacheverell and great-nephew of Edith – and in­te­rior de­signer Jasper Gal­loway have com­bined forces with Toby Smith, one-time key­board player and song­writer for the band Jamiro­quai, to make some very fine cider.

Cider, with its stu­dent par­ties and park bench as­so­ci­a­tions, has not had a good rep­u­ta­tion lately. Masspro­duced cider is gen­er­ally made with con­cen­trated ap­ple juice shipped in from abroad, bol­stered with sugar and ad­di­tives, and ar­ti­fi­cially car­bon­ated. Its pop­u­lar­ity is at­trib­ut­able not to flavour (al­though sweet­ness never hurts when aim­ing for the mass mar­ket) but to the eight per cent al­co­hol it de­liv­ers at a knock-down price.

Hardly rock-star chic. But now cider is un­der­go­ing a re­nais­sance. A re­port by the mar­ket re­search com­pany Min­tel ear­lier this year found that 60 per cent of adults are now happy to sip on a glass of fer­mented ap­ple juice. Cider is clos­ing in on beer, drunk by seven in 10 adults but a mar­ket that is in de­cline, while the appley stuff con­tin­ues to grow in pop­u­lar­ity.

The re­vival is in part down to the emer­gence of ar­ti­san cider mak­ers backed by CAMRA (Cam­paign for Real Ale) and en­thu­si­asts with or­chards and sur­plus ap­ples – such as Sitwell, Gal­loway and Smith.

Gal­loway, a stur­dily built chap in a ging­ham shirt, is the cider ex­pert of the three. He comes from a Here­ford­shire farm­ing back­ground, his fam­ily have made cider for gen­er­a­tions, and he has been ma­tur­ing his own in whisky bar­rels at his house in Glouces­ter­shire for years.

Sitwell, mean­while, is new to the game. “I started off with ap­ples from the fam­ily gar­den,” he says. It’s some gar­den. There are dozens of va­ri­eties in the ap­ple orchard at We­ston House, where Sacheverell wrote 150 books, and which is now the res­i­dence of Sitwell’s el­der brother Ge­orge, the 8th Baronet of Ren­ishaw. Sitwell has the next-door rec­tory.

He is en­gag­ingly prag­matic. Any­one, he says, can make cider at home. “You just juice the ap­ples in a juicer and leave to fer­ment. It takes about 25 ap­ples to fill a bot­tle.”

When the three men started talk­ing cider over din­ner three years ago, Sitwell and Smith were in­trigued by Gal­loway’s ex­per­tise, and be­fore long they had bought the press off eBay and em­barked on the first vin­tage. The ap­ples were picked and left to soften for a few days, then put through the wood chip­per to make a pulp, or “po­mace”, which is poured into mesh sacks. The sacks are then squidged be­tween the boards of the press, with pres­sure sup­plied by a a con­ve­nient car jack, and the juice is poured into demi­johns (big bot­tles) and corked with rub­ber bungs equipped with air locks.

That, ap­par­ently, is it — for two or three weeks. There is enough nat­u­ral yeast on the skin of the fruit for the juice to fer­ment with­out in­ter­fer­ence. When it comes to bot­tling, a spoon­ful of sugar in each of the spring-clip bot­tles en­sures that the cider has fizz. Sitwell opened one to prove his point, and shot foam three me­tres over the grass, like a win­ning rac­ing driver with a bot­tle of cham­pagne. He looked non­plussed. “That wasn’t meant to hap­pen.”

Charm­ing though the set-up is, it’s am­a­teur: “some­thing for fun,” as Toby points out. Then came a chance en­counter with the new CEO of Fort­num & Ma­son, Ewan Ven­ters. “He sug­gested work­ing with an es­tab­lished maker and pro­duc­ing a cider to sell,” says Sitwell.

The three men vis­ited Wilce’s, a Here­ford­shire fam­ily firm who make the re­spected Led­bury Cider and Perry Co cider, to make a “3Cs” blend. The Cs stand for the three chaps or three coun­ties, not the tra­di­tional cider “Three Coun­ties” of Here­ford­shire, Glouces­ter­shire and Worces­ter­shire, but Northamp­ton­shire, Glouces­ter­shire and Ox­ford­shire, where the three friends live.

While all pro­duc­tion of the new cider will be in Here­ford­shire, Sitwell, Smith and Gal­loway have worked to­gether on the flavour, and the

Spring­field Wob­bly Munk – This cider from Mon­mouthshire won the 2013 Camra gold medal thanks to its “fan­tas­tic bal­ance with a pleas­antly sharp af­ter­taste of ap­ple and bit­ter lemon”. spring­field­

Jack Ratt Scrumpy – Made by the Lyme Bay Win­ery, this is an old-fash­ioned still cider made in Dorset with tra­di­tional cider ap­ples like Dabi­nett, Kingston Black and Yar­ling­ton Mill. ly­mebay­win­ mix uses fruit from each of the three crops. “Home-brew is very in­con­sis­tent,” Sitwell ex­plains. “We had to go to pro­fes­sion­als to make some­thing that wasn’t lethally al­co­holic.”

And the ex­pe­ri­ence of do­ing it them­selves has in­formed the new brew. They are noth­ing if not metic­u­lous. A bat­tered ex­er­cise book holds de­tailed notes for each batch, from the

Wilkins Cider –A tra­di­tional Somerset cider, and the mak­ers also sup­ply stoneware cider flagons. Web­site is worth a visit (it’s pure Ed­die Grundy) but or­ders are taken over the phone (01934 712385). wilkin­ va­ri­ety of ap­ple to the weather the day it was pressed. “We found that a mix of ap­ple va­ri­eties gave by far the best depth of flavour,” says Sitwell.

The el­e­gant printed label on the bot­tles they give to friends (“by in­vi­ta­tion only” it grandly reads) shows sil­hou­ettes of the three: Jasper with a palette, Smith with a gui­tar and Sitwell lean­ing against a tree hold­ing an open book.

The tri­umvi­rate of skills has been im­por­tant. Gal­loway is the cider ex­pert, Smith is the tech­ni­cal one who as­sem­bled the press and Sitwell is the foodie – he ed­its Waitrose Kitchen mag­a­zine – and the word­smith. But three alpha males could be ex­plo­sive. Are they com­pet­i­tive? “We are, and mine is absolutely the best cider,” Smith tells me cheer­fully. Not that they take it too se­ri­ously. Boys just want to have fun.

Buy 3Cs vin­tage cider at Fort­num & Ma­son (fort­nu­mand­ma­ this au­tumn. You can try the 3Cs home­brew (not the pro­fes­sion­ally made cider) at to­day’s We­ston & Lois Wee­don Flower and Food Show, Northants

Press gang (main pic­ture): Wil­liam Sitwell (right), with friend and fel­low cider-maker Jasper Gal­loway. Inset: the fin­ished prod­uct, along with the car jack used to help make it

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