After speaking to Theo from Rigg and Furrow in Northumberland about his experiences of cider production, from the perspective of a brewer, I decided I wanted to find more brewers who made cider. Mostly to understand why. I know why I came into the cider industry from beer, but was it as romantic as I envisioned it to be?
Maybe not for everyone. Some breweries are making cider to expand their audience for profitable purposes; why pay for someone else’s cider when you could make it yourself? But there are those who are curious, as both drinkers, and makers. Who want to understand all of these different processes and crossovers of flavours. To know exactly how and why yeasts and bacteria behave differently towards apples, compared to hops and malt.
I decided to speak to two breweries who on paper are completely different.
Temperance Street Brewery, famed for its production of historical ales in Manchester City Centre, have been making cider in their brewery with donated fruit from around the area since 2019. An effort made possible with Rob Muir, a semi-retired arborist and orchardist, and Matthew Gibson, a qualified chemist.
“We had the skill set, and just needed the apples” says Steve Dunkley of Temperance Brewery. “People in the area had got into the habit of donating their excess fruits to get cider in return, so we kind of just picked up from that. Unfortunately we timed it badly with a fallow year, and then two years of lockdowns. But we’re getting out of that now. We’ve also been contacted by people with access to abandoned and semi-abandoned orchards nearby, so Rob’s been going out using his training to bring those back, and this year we should start to see the first proper harvests of cider apples to blend with the eaters and cookers we get from donations”
The beer and cider produced at Temperance Street happily share space, co-inhabiting, to some extent even co-fermenting.
“The oak barrels for cider sit side by side with those for beer, and we switch them around, sharing lees and flavours. We even do a Graff each year as a collab. We also have the two “companies” sharing the brewery tap”
Down in Suffolk, Little Earth Project founders Tom and Dani are making magic with their brewery that specialises in wild fermentation. Tom’s father, John, had been making cider as a hobby for over 35 years in the shed of their childhood home. Tom and Dani are now picking up the torch.
“The nature of the way the cider is made, with wild yeasts, and a very East Anglian blend of culinary & eating apples, simply pressed and left to ferment with the yeasts from their own skins in ex-organic whisky barrels, is what inspired Tom to move on from brewing more traditional cask ales and begin experimenting with mixed fermentation beers.” Says Dani of Little Earth Project.
“Breweries are often seen as very industrial. often based in towns and cities in large factory type buildings The idea was to create a brewery and beers that are linked to the land, nature and the countryside in the same way cider and wine is. So our inspirations for the brewery came from not only the world of beer but the wine, cider and food.”
I have been fortunate enough to visit both Little Earth Project, and Temperance Street. Two breweries, one on a picturesque farm in Southern England with a beautiful farmhouse pub, the other in a railway arch bedded into the heart of Manchester’s city centre. Both ventures are run by people who are passionate and are proud of what they are trying to achieve. However, their cider making pursuits haven’t always been completely rosy.
“We’ve had a few issues, getting enough cider apples to make the more tannic ciders that people expect was a big one, but we were able to solve that with use of wooden barrels and non-standard yeasts.” says Steve. “Possibly the most annoying issue was we got about two and a half tonnes of pears from a supermarket that were turning mushy, spent three days flat out pressing them, only for something to have got into the IBC fermenter with the juice and start turning almost a thousand litres of perry to vinegar.”
Although wild yeasts and bacteria can be desired, especially for breweries like Little Earth Project, it is all about context. What strains are making themselves known? When are they appearing? And how are they presenting themselves? Cider can bring about new challenges.
“Cider making has always been a hobby for the family so sometimes a barrel will get overlooked and start to turn acetic. The plus side of this is that we now have enough delicious cider vinegar to last a lifetime. Because the fermentation is natural, the cider occasionally goes ‘ropey’ because of the presence of Pediococcus, something that can be a bit unpredictable. We find the cider comes out the other side deliciously, but there’s no way to predict how long it will take to come through.”
It is not radical to say that in mainstream drinking, cider has always been an afterthought. On pub menus, in supermarkets, in restaurants. And it is certainly not a new idea that the success of craft beer should be used to our advantage.
Breweries like Rigg and Furrow, Temperance Street and Little Earth Project make me proud to be in the beer industry, because by making cider themselves they are holding the door open behind them. Introducing their audiences to cider made with the same amount of care as their beers, and breaking down the idea that maybe someone is a “beer drinker” or a “cider drinker”.
It never hurts to play for both teams.
Photo credits to Helen Anne Smith, Temperance Street Brewery and Beer Nouveau.