perry, Reviews
Comment 1

Let us go to Stanhoe & Wells-next-the-Sea: A Spotlight on Whin Hill Norfolk Cider

I drove over to Whin Hill Cider’s orchard in Stanhoe, just six miles inland from the windswept North Norfolk coast, on a picture-perfect morning on October 1st. We were officially in Autumn across the UK, but it was only just starting to feel like it – with a deep blue, wide open sky, so indicative of this part of the country. There was a cool clarity to the air that suggested colder days were just around the corner. This journey was meant to be undertaken in September for Perry month on Cider Review, however, a new job and a full set of weekends making cider myself, had pushed the visit into early October. What I also hadn’t bargained on was the very kind offer from Mark, one half of the owners of Whin Hill Cider, to pick any perry pear windfalls I fancied – as they had already picked and pressed more by this time of the year than in any year previously. This is no ordinary orchard in East Anglia. No usual sight on the North Norfolk coast – more known for Barley, Wheat, Asparagus, and Sugar Beet these days than orchard fruit. The orchard that Mark, his wife Lisa, and their colleague – also named Lisa – tend to throughout the changing seasons and ensuing weather that each year brings, is rather special for this part of the country.

When we talk of Eastern Counties and Western Counties style cider, we’re talking about the predominant style for those respective counties in the UK. One is composed typically more of dessert and culinary fruit, a more acidic-led experience when it comes to cider – the other utilises those more tannic, bittersweet, bittersharp, and sharp, LARS-defined cider apples and perry pears. But for every predominant style orchard in each geographical location across the UK, I guarantee there will have been outliers throughout history that have planted against the grain, just to see what grows successfully in a certain area and where the market for that produce can be catered to. Gaymers, originally a 19th and 20th century cider-making powerhouse in Attleborough, Norfolk, famously used culinary and dessert apples for its cider, yet had planted up the surrounding seventeen aces around it’s production facility with West Country cider apples – perhaps a symbolic landscaping exercise as much as a useful fruiting crop- but nonetheless paying homage to the wonderful textures and flavour profiles that can come from bona fide cider apples and perry pears.

In the lockdown of 2020, I was lucky enough to have an independent Gin Shop just across the road from me, which stocked Whin Hill Cider (and Perry). I discovered a range of Single Variety Ciders and orchard blends of Cider and Perry, all originating in Norfolk, but utilising distinctly West Country varieties. Attractively priced, and with a range that includes affirming, tannic, muscular varieties like Major; Autumnal, orange-spice fragranced Dabinett; and the accessible, acidity of Browns (ironically vivid, bright-red skin to this apple) – it was honestly one of the best discoveries of lockdown. By February 2021 I had helped the team do a bit of pruning on a few rows of their dessert fruit in their orchard – a particularly cold winter’s day if I remember correctly, but one in which the hours flew by as the company and craic was top notch. If I’m ever using the Norfolk Coasthopper bus on a daytrip out and about these days, I’ll always disembark in Wells-next-the-Sea to pop in and say hello at their charming Cider Bar right in the centre of the town. 

In one sense outliers – I know of few other orchards in this bit of East Anglia in 2022 that grow Ellis Bitter, Major, Michelin, Kingston Black, Browns, Harry Masters Jersey, Dabinet, White Jersey, Ashton Bitter, and more on this scale. Yet in another manner, as Norfolk as they come – growing up on and around the Sandringham Estate, helping to tend-to and maintain the Royal Family’s extensive orchards (whose popular pick-your-own fruit season is just drawing to a close at the time of writing this article). Quite idiosyncratically Norfolk, whilst at the same time, paying homage to the wider range of cider apples and perry pears used across the UK. Picking up a bottle or bag-in-box if you’re not in Norfolk can pose a bit of an issue I admit. It’s possible direct from their cider bar in Wells-next-the-Sea, the Whin Hill Norfolk Cider website, and I think Ciderincider sometimes carry stock. Widely-available, supermarket-shelf cider this is not. Attempting to cater to a wide-range of drinkers, well…read on and make up your own mind dear readers. After picking windfall perry pears for nearly three hours, and filling my partner’s Ford Fiesta car to the brim with sacks of incredibly fragrant, juicy, ripe fruit, I stood and had a chat with Mark on a break from his scratting and pressing for the day.

CR: Hi Mark, please introduce yourself and what you do here at Whin Hill Cider.

Mark: This is our eleventh season here at Whin Hill Cider. We took over from two chaps who had been here ten years prior to that – so the business is in its twenty-second year. It’s just me, my wife, and another lady who gives us a hand a couple of days of the week…and our two dogs too.

CR: Twenty-two years the business has been running, does that mean the trees here are that age too?

Mark: Yes, well around the first year or two they must of begged, stealed (not literally), and borrowed apples from anywhere and then planted this orchard up. The initial trouble was trying to find a piece of land close enough to Wells-next-the-Sea, where the shop is. The Holkham Estate owns a lot of the land between here and there. They found somewhere here in Stanhoe in the end.

CR: Is this field called Whin Hill locally?

Mark: No, the wood up there at the back of the orchard is called Whin Hill Plantation. It’s a two and a half acre woodland where the name originated from.

CR: What’s your soil like here and growing conditions?

Mark: Around about three foot of soil and then we sit on chalk. So these trees have now got themselves bedded into the chalk with their tap roots, which this year has been an absolute godsend because this year I think we would have lost a hell of a lot of fruit and trees otherwise.

CR: How long were you without rain for this Summer?

Mark: About three months. We had about 4% rain in June and 4% in July.

CR: Have you ever seen it like that before?

Mark: Never. August, we had rain and it’s marvelous how you can see the trees recover quite quickly. There are one or two stressed trees that have just bailed out, but ultimately there’s around 1800 trees on here so it’s not been too bad on them really.

CR: What’s the mixture of trees here?

Mark: 70% cider apple, 30% dessert.

CR: And then some perry pear trees too I understand?

Mark: Yes, there’s around 144 perry pear trees, about 40% Thorn, 40% Brandy, and then the rest are Winnal’s Longdon, Helen’s Early, Moorcroft, Yellow Huffcap, and a few odds and sods.

CR: How did you come by taking over the business and managing the orchard?

Mark: By chance really. My wife used to work down on the Royal Fruit Farm at Sandringham with my brother and my Mum. The two chaps who had started Whin Hill used to go down there and buy early apples from there, and one day they said they wanted to retire. So we came up here, cap in hand so to speak, I was ready for a change, initially they said no, and then they gave us a ring two weeks later and we sorted a deal out to take it over from them – and we’ve been friends ever since.

CR: Do you find yourself in a unique position having a cider apple and perry pear orchard in Norfolk? You must be one of the only ones around this bit of the UK?

Mark: We’re one of only a few in Norfolk. I think there are some others, but not as big as this orchard. The trouble is,in this part of the country, people aren’t used to tannic ciders – so I have to blend things down. We’re so used to either Aspalls, which is a near complete culinary apple composition, and the only other one you’ll get as a commercial cider in pubs around here is perhaps Thatchers, which is very much a water-added to dilute down kind of product.

CR: So what’s your process with your cider then? When do you start your harvest? You mentioned to me you make apple juice as well?

Mark: Everything is two weeks early this year, so we started mid-August on the Discovery apples, and from then on it’s just been really busy really. We had a brief three day break, but now we’re picking and pressing cider apples and when the dessert apples come fit, we’ll go into them and pick and press them.

CR: How many litres do you make on average a year, and what are you looking at so far this year?

Mark: Around about 40,000 litres on average of cider, and then approximately 15,000 – 16,000 bottles of apple juice for the year.

CR: And is that a sustainable amount to support a business of you, your wife, and your colleague throughout the year?

Mark: Yes, we’re so lucky really where our shop is in Wells. The tourist industry trade there is phenomenal. In the summertime it is non-stop really. It’s right in the centre of Wells-next-the-Sea, on the North Norfolk Coast. Opposite a brand new toilet in the middle of car park…it doesn’t sound the most scenic, but when you open the doors into the cider bar, it reveals an old courtyard, with a garden at the back. We mainly just serve cider out of bottles there. I have just installed a new draught system too. It’s all very artisan. I do have to sweeten up our cider a little bit, because people just aren’t as used to tannic, dry ciders in this part of the world.

CR: Do you like tannic, dry ciders yourself?

Mark: No, not really, Medium, say a Kingston Black, which we bottle around 7% abv usually, that’s my go-to cider.

CR: That’s a hard bottling to find from my bit of West Norfolk! I go to your farm shop on the edge of King’s Lynn, Rising Lodge Farm Shop, quite often and they said it’s exclusively for your Cider Bar in Wells.

Mark: It’s because we don’t have so many Kingston Black trees yet. My wife Lisa, and our colleague, also called Lisa, have been grafting over some trees to Kingston Black over the last few years. Going back 22 years, when the two lads planted the orchard, they asked for a certain quantity of different varieties. But they didn’t quite get what they asked for, and they didn’t know this until these trees started to grow. So they’ve got around about 100 Ashton Bitter trees, and we’ve been grafting some of them over to Kingston Black. This year it’s looking good with the yield of fruit on them and we should get around 1500 litres of Kingston Black off the trees we’ve got.The only thing I’ll ever use the Ashton Bitter juice for is when we send it off to a local company who makes it into cider brandy for us.

CR: Ah you do spirits as well?

Mark: Yes. They do that for us as I don’t have the licence to do that myself here.

CR: You mention in your Wells bar you’re kegging your own cider? How’s that going?

Mark: I had one or two companies come to us. One company we tried, I put the cider in the keg, then in my bar 10 yards away, and then had to take the empty keg all the way to Norwich to be recycled. Didn’t seem the most environmentally-friendly driving all that way. So I’m now using this brand called EcoKegs – all I have to do with them is undo them and add a brand new bag inside, much less road miles involved. That’s worked really well this Summer.

CR: This year it’s been a dry year, but the orchard is honestly looking tip top. Do you think you’ll exceed your 40,000 litre output?

Mark: Perhaps a little bit. We’ll just find that we run out of space and time to process and store it all above that capacity. I’ll imagine we’ll try and do a couple of thousand litres more, just so we have a bit more left to play with than last year.

CR: What’s your range of ciders like Mark?

Mark: I try to do a range for everyone. If someone comes into the bar in Wells, and they’re so used to these kind of alco-pop fruit products, I’ll try and recommend them our Single Variety Browns cider. It’s a medium-sweet, 5.5% abv, easy drinking cider. Not too much tannin. Of course, as these trees are all sitting on the chalk in this orchard, there’s that little bit more acidity in them too. We offer our range in 500ml, 750ml, and then the bag-in-box range.

CR: Have you noticed since lockdown, has there been an uptick in cider drinking across North Norfolk?

Mark: You have to take last year out of every equation really. I think a lot of people found themselves with a bit more money in their pockets last year, a bit more time, with what had happened with Covid. They couldn’t go abroad, and so everything along this stretch of coast was absolutely manic all the way through September and October last year in 2021. We sold out of absolutely everything, we couldn’t keep up with demand. This year has been a lot calmer, and thankfully a lot easier to work. People have had the choice to go to Marbella alongside Wells-next-the-Sea if you see what I mean.

CR: It’s still a nice spot to visit I must say. There could be far worse places to pop in to.

Mark: Oh yes!

CR: What do you hope for the next few years of production?

Mark: You can never really tell. The issue is with orchards, the climate has not been helpful over the last couple of years. As you can feel and hear around you, the whole place is getting windier and warmer. So I do have to spray the orchard a bit, to protect the trees from scab. And then they get one more spray to protect from aphid. But I normally pack that in around May so hopefully the ladybirds and other insect life take over in pest control. We’ve also got nine beehives in the orchard, never lost one, we’re always gaining a hive every other year. Half the time it feels like it’s not what you spray here, but when.

CR: Is this a little biodiversity pocket around here, when everything surrounding this orchard is a monoculture of one crop type?

Mark: It is quite a unique place, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is really. It’s such a nice place to work. When you look around and you’ve had a busy Summer with lots of customers in the bar, it’s nice to get out here and chill out in the orchard. 

CR: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. This was initially meant to be an article just for Perry Month in September, but I missed this boat on that, so it’s become a general cider and perry producer profile. Favourite cider apple?

Mark: Kingston Black, definitely.

CR: And perry pear?

Mark: I can’t pick one really, it just depends on how they ferment out. You’ll know this from what you’ve heard, and find out yourself with the windfall pears you’ve picked today, they’re a law unto themselves. One year you can have a batch that tastes absolutely lovely, and another year you can have a batch that for some reason just tastes of Elderflower. Tricky things those pears!  


Whin Hill Kingston Black Single Variety Cider 2021 – review

How I Served: Chilled for an hour in the fridge.

Appearance: Light bronze with a delicate level of effervescence.

On the nose: Forest/Hedgerow fruit – blackberry, Victoria Plum, Stewed Apple. Black & Red Wine Gums. Slight nutty finish. If this aroma was a colour it would be Merlot Red.

In the mouth: Juicy, medium sweet, mild tannin that is in harmony with the residual Malic acid in the cider. The apple note, stronger on the palate than the nose, rolls around and around my tastes buds and discretely, effortlessly masks the 7% abv.

In a nutshell: A real treat of a Single Variety Cider from the undulating hills of North Norfolk. These trees must like the conditions they’ve settled into at Whin Hill, and with a good crop in 2022, looking forward to seeing how the ciders compare next year.

Whin Hill Dabinett Single Variety Cider 2021 – review

How I Served: 2 hours in the fridge, bottle out for 5 mins.

Appearance: Orange marmalade.

On the nose: Lisa did mention that the 2021 SVC of their annual Dabinett had a curious finish to it, and it’s evident on the nose: coriander. Not something I’ve ever smelt on a Dabinett before.

In the mouth: Grassy, resinous (think freshly cut Laburnum or Cypresses logs), tannic, on the medium dry end of the spectrum.

In a nutshell: Could do with another year in the bottle to soften those tannins in the Dabinett. Last year was definitely a damper, lower sunshine levels kinda year, perhaps a slower fermentation and everything needs a bit more time?

Whin Hill Wells Norfolk Single Variety Falstaff – review

How I Served: In the fridge all day, out 10mins.

Appearance: Electric lemon gold. Very light effervescence. Superb clarity.

On the nose: Like a cousin of Aspalls has come to stay for the weekend. Lemon Fresh. Geranium leaves.

In the mouth: Sucking on one of those sour lemon hard-boiled sweets. Palate cleansing. More brisk than Aspalls. There’s that Geranium leaf note again on the back of the palate.

In a nutshell: An Eastern Counties-style electro neon rave of a cider. Understand this has been in the bottle a year or two now to mellow from what it initially was tasting like which must have been unadulterated Malic and Citric acid combined! Quite an experience.

Whin Hill Dry Still 2021 – review

Composed of Michelin/Bisquet ,Ellis Bitter, Major,Discovery, and Laxton Fortune.

How I Served It: In the fridge all day, out for 10mins.

Appearance: Ginger and orange cordial, Autumnal orange light.

On the nose: Autumn. Leaves, puddles, fallen fruit, damp hedgerow. Very evocative.

In the mouth: Formative, mouth-coating tannin, alongside a pretty fresh, juicy baked apple note. Good astringency, and a nice weighty mouthfeel.

In a nutshell: The terroir in this orchard is working well for these varieties! Just as happy here in North Norfolk as in the West Country. If this was on tap or in a BIB in my local, it would be my go-to cider.

Whin Hill Dry Sparkling 2021 – review

How I Served: Refrigerated for 2 hours, then served.

Appearance: Light beeswax-stained Pine, gentle effervescence.

On the nose: Apple and Ginger crumble. A bit more closed an aroma to the still version, which is ironic considering the bubbles. Stewed apple as it opens up.

In the mouth: Juicy tannins evident immediately on the roof of the mouth. The sparkle serves to spread those tannins around very effectively- like a little wave machine in the mouth. Perception of very mild sweetness?

In a nutshell: Whilst still a really well-made cider, playing second fiddle to its still counterpart in my humble opinion. A great blend of Cider and Dessert apples, with an even greater expression to be found in the still format.

Whin Hill Single Variety Browns 2021 – review

How I Served: Straight out of the fridge after chilling for two hours.

Appearance: Marmalade, slightly baked fudge, dare I say, my beloved Irn Bru? Very discrete effervescence.

On the nose: Gorgeous! It’s a floral summer flower bed! Cornflower, rose, geranium, nasturtium leaf, then crushed blackberry underfoot – season straddling aroma.

In the mouth: An adapt balance of acid, tannin and sugar, weighted towards the acid, but at peace with all the elements. Red apple skin, raspberry, vanilla, and then mouth-coating, soft tannin. Just the right level of sweetness for a newcomer to this apple variety.

In a nutshell: Joyous! At once English Country Garden and Punk Revival. There’s something really pleasantly spiky about the acid and tannin in this. Shows off what those chalk soils on the North Norfolk coast can do to an established cider apple tree!

Whin Hill Medium Sparkling Wells Norfolk Perry 2021 – review

How I Served: 3 hours in the fridge, straight into the glass.

Appearance: Brassy and rich. Merest hint of a bubble or two.

On the nose: Mystical perfume. Incense in a Roman Catholic Church. White pepper. Again, rich.

In the mouth: A really competent, wholesome affair. Acid and tannin, battling it out for dominance. The Thorn and Brandy perry pear varieties in this orchard blend acting a bit like rival Greek Gods. Good level of residual sweetness, and a treacle aspect that coats the tannin on your tongue, teeth and lips.

In a nutshell: If you didn’t know Norfolk could make Perry as good as this, now you do. Support this release every year and there will hopefully be more made and North Norfolk can be known as much for its cider apples as its perry pears. A jackpot win in an unassuming 500ml bottle.

This entry was posted in: perry, Reviews
Tagged with: , ,


An MA in Creative Writing can truly lead anywhere! Making Cider since 2020. Enjoying Whisky since 2011. Call Me By Your Golden Noble.

1 Comment

  1. I love the Cider Review postings as I learn so much. I have a question though. For modern cider apple cultivars, who now decides that the apple is a cider apple as opposed to a dessert/culinary apple, given the Long Ashton Research Station closed in 2003.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s