I’m sure most of you will have heard my cider origin story before, how a friend took me to a cider farm and how that single event considerably shaped the next chapter of my life. That’s a very short summary to a life altering experience to be honest. I can still recall the warmth of the sun on my back as I chatted with some of the staff at the barn about how they make their cider, the fascination as I approached the onsite small museum (much larger now) and the surprise as I tasted the fizzy golden liquid. At that point I’d only ever tried very small amounts of alcohol, having been tee-total until my mid-twenties, so at the time it was a pretty big deal to me to find something that had such a big (and lasting) impact.
Well it’s 10 years ago this year that whilst on that holiday in Somerset with friends I tasted my first sip of cider, not just my first sip of full juice cider…my first taste of any kind of cider. In many ways I feel fortunate to have started on such a high, but the consequence was that I spent the next two to three years trying many different ciders and finding nothing that came close to the flavour and complexity. Back then online sales weren’t what they are today, so I resorted to holidays in the South West to stock up. The place it started was Perry’s Somerset Cider in Dowlish Wake and over the years I have returned several times, met the owners John and son George, seen the changes to the farm and the ciders as well as drunk my fair share of their creations.
So as a celebration of a decade with cider and an homage to that first sip I thought I’d taste my way through eight of their current range and also reach out to George Perry with a few questions, which he very kindly agreed to answer. So we’ll start there and move onto the ciders shortly.
CR: Perry’s Cider has been going for over 100 years, can you share with us a bit about your history leading up to you and your dad now running things?
George: The company was started in 1920 by my grandfather’s uncle William Churchill, who made cider for local people who no longer had the time to make their own. He also experimented with bottled conditioned sparkling ciders and even sent a case to Winston Churchill during world war 2.
After the war my grandfather Henry Perry and his brother Burt took over the company. They focused on modernising the company and up-scaling production to produce larger quantities of draught cider, mostly supplied to the on trade. When Burt died in the late 60’s the company came over to Henry and was run by himself and my grandmother Maguerite Perry. The focus of the company switched to a more tourist-based company in the 70’s when the Brewery who distributed the cider was sold.
After Henry’s death in the 90’s my father John took over running the company alongside his accountancy firm and in the early 2000’s I came back from University to help run the company. The last 15 or so years have really been about modernising the company to make the best cider we can.
CR: Tell us about your orchards and trees. How many do you have? What varieties do you grow and why? And do you have any plans for the future for your fruit?
George: We have around 34 acres of orchards and in excess of 8000 trees. We grow over 20 different varieties of cider apples but mainly focus on Redstreak and Dabinett, which we believe not only stand up on their own as single variety ciders but as bases for blended ciders as well. We’ve planted out even more trees in the past 10 years so should have plenty of apples for future growth.
CR: When I first tried your ciders 10 years ago they were a little different to how they appear and taste now. What are the biggest changes you’ve undergone over the last decade and what took you in those directions?
George: The main difference is the way we press and store our ciders. We’ve invested heavily in this side of business, and can now press our fruit at their very best. Our modern tank farm also ensures the cider is matured safely and more consistently. We’ve also tried to change the way ciders are presented, our collaboration with print maker Tom Frost has allowed us to reach new markets and challenge more traditional cider packaging.
CR: As well as your bottled range you also have an extensive range in BiB and Keg. How long have you been making keg conditioned cider? And how well do you find that side of the business goes?
George: We keg a few of our ciders, mostly for selling onsite through our tap room and Land rover bar. We actually don’t keg condition these, but it’s definitely something we would like to experiment more with in the future. I think the cider market is saturated with similar styled ciders especially in the on trade, so keg conditioned cider may offer a marketable difference and encourage cider drinkers to try other ciders, hopefully creating value in this sector.
CR: Last year your dad John shared a photo of the flooding at the farm. Have you seen many impacts from climate change over the last few years? How have you had to adapt to those impacts?
George: It’s hard to fully quantify the effects of climate change but we’re definitely noticing longer summer seasons and more extreme weather, this year a very hot summer and more frequent heavy rain. The cider mills have always flooded but last year was the first time we had two large floods within weeks of each other. Usually this would be a one in 15 year occurrence.
CR: And finally, what do the next ten years hold for Perry’s Cider? Are there any plans to expand your range or dabble in any other cider making methods for example?
George: The next ten years are really about focusing on our own brand and ciders. We’re looking to change a few things so we have more time to focus on our ciders and experiment more with different styles of cider and production methods. We’re also looking at maximising the site allowing visitors to experience more of the history, orcharding and production which take place here.
Huge thanks to George for answering my questions, during such a busy part of the year. It’s the stories and personal connections to cider and perry that really drew me into its world and still do now. So, let’s see what their current range is tasting like.
On the label: “a full bodied naturally sparkling cider, complete with sediment. We only make these in very small batches so enjoy!”
Colour: cloudy straw
On the nose: crushed apples, wooden barrels, leather, tobacco and hints of citrus. There is a faint whisper of oxidation at the end as well as bit of a horsey, farmyard aroma.
In the mouth: full bodied is right; bold and chewy with a little tartness is the summary. Flavours of ripe and dried apples, along with green herby medicinal notes of mint and cloves. It starts off juicy but then a mouth drying chalky texture completes the finish. There is a little flourish of orange citrus like acidity and a slight savoury smoked character. To me it has several elements of a French farmhouse cider, without the sweetness and strong sparkle.
In a nutshell: a bold and brash cider, a little rough on the nose but the taste is complex and full of character.
Barn Owl (5.5%)
On the label: “a lightly sparkling medium dry cider, left unfiltered for a more authentic taste”
Colour: pineapple juice
On the nose: green apples, grapefruit and rum. There’s a tropical vanilla note, with elements of banana and pineapple (although that could be because it’s all I can think about after looking at the colour). Sadly a very faint whisper of ethyl acetate on the end, that once you notice it, you can’t see past it.
In the mouth: green apples and lots of tropical fruits; guava, passion fruit, pineapple and citrus, plus some vanilla yogurt. No sign of the ethyl acetate, but a little bit of the farm yard, there’s a savoury element; herby and a little cheesy. The finish is medium-sweet to me rather than the “medium-dry” suggested on the label. Carbonation is really light and dissipates quickly. Little hints of bitterness, but there’s more acidity and certainly more sweetness than anything else. I don’t know the varieties in this but if I had to guess it would be Morgan Sweet and Redstreak (having tasted the two single varieties separately).
In a nutshell: a tropical fruit extravaganza, a bit sweet for my palate but a very interesting expression of the fruit.
On the label: “ a blend of the very best Redstreak and Dabinett apples grown at our Knowle St Giles Orchard, located just five minutes away from our farm (by tractor of course). The resulting sparkling cider is bottled young to maintain its sweet fruity taste, expressing both apples in a well balanced sweet cider.”
Colour: pineapple juice
On the nose: I feel the Dabinett shines through the most here with its orange rind and subtle vanilla and woody spice. There also some hints of tropical fruit, like kiwi and ripe melon. Medicinal tones creep in at the end.
In the mouth: very fruity on the palate, red and green apples, orange pith and vanilla, hints of tropical fruit like guava and mango. It’s certainly sweet but again with most of these, not cloyingly so, but it does dominate over any bitterness from those tannins and shadows any strong perception of acidity. Juicy I think is the word I’m really searching for. As a partnership the varieties go very well together and if you like a sweeter cider and can’t decide between the two single varieties then this captures the best of both I’d say.
In a nutshell: a super juicy cider that showcases the benefit of blending as well as the artistry.
On the label: “a high quality medium cider, lightly sparkling, well balanced and full bodied”
Colour: light gold
On the nose: vanilla, dried apples, brandy, some stone fruit and a healthy hint of wooden barrel.
In the mouth: there’s a juicy yellow fruit quality to it, like apricots and nectarines alongside the rich red apples. Vanilla and apple desserts also adorn the palate, apple compote with creme anglaise. The flavour is balanced, gentle acidity at the start, enough tannin to add a bit of chalky structure and bitterness, plus a sweetness to the finish.
In a nutshell: just delicious, a really well structured blend that partners with the barrel extremely well. My favourite of the blends.
On the label: “ a well balanced medium-sweet cider, with a soft astringency and a full bodied flavour
Colour: hazy pale gold
On the nose: green apples, fizzy lemon sherbets, vanilla and a really faint hint of wood.
In the mouth: quintessential dabinett; candied orange, vanilla cream/custard and an ever so subtle hint of cinnamon. It’s quite sweet, definitely more sweet than “medium – sweet”, but not to the point that it over powers the fruit or becomes cloying. Very session-able in fact and juicy. It’s smooth and well balanced when it comes to acidity and tannins with a nice gentle combination of both and no stand out, apart from the sweetness above the other two elements.
I’ve tried to think back to 10 years ago and what the dabinett was like back then. It was filtered clear and a bit fizzier but I couldn’t tell you any more than that sadly.
In a nutshell: I loved that first sip back then and I still love the taste now.
On the label: “a wonderful refreshing and crisp medium cider, with a full apple taste and lingering finish”.
Colour: clear pale gold
On the nose: lemon, lily pollen, green apples, freshly cut grass and vanilla notes. Very floral and green.
In the mouth: green apples, vanilla and lemon are stars of the show here, really juicy with a lingering confectionary finish, like apple bon bons. Some slight tropical pineapple comes along with the brisk sweep of acidity that flashes across the palate. Carbonation is very slight and lightly elevates the acidity. The finish has a definite boiled sweet like character to it, sweet and fruity at the same time. It’s very quaffable, but a little drier would be perfect for my palate.
In a nutshell: summers afternoon super refreshing cider, served cold it’s super quaffable, left to warm it becomes a little cloying.
On the label “a robust medium dry cider, with a full apple body and flavour”
Colour: clear pale gold
In the mouth: the initial sip just leaves me considering how much complexity is in this vintage. The signature green apple and young wood/lignin taste of Tremletts is there, but it’s surrounded by hints of gentle lemon like acidity, some vanilla and cream malolactic character, and some tongue furring bitter tannins. I’ve had this single variety from Perry’s many times and the last time it tasted really youthful and a bit underdeveloped. This however, has much more to it. I’m guessing as it’s batch no is 02/22 it’s been in the bottle for over 8 months and that has served it well.
On the nose: fresh green apples, lemon rind and pollen. It’s really fresh, vibrant and floral. There’s also an apple eau de vie note.
In a nutshell: tasting superb right now, a great variety given the perfect amount of time. Buy and drink now.
On the label “a naturally sweet cider, with a strong persistently fruity flavour”
Colour: cloudy pale gold
On the nose: green apples, cut grass, apricot brandy, lemon vodka, it smells boozy and fruity. Maybe a whisper of sulphide, but I’m straining.
In the mouth: really soft, juicy and sweet. It’s orchard meets tropical fruit with lots of ripe green apples, pineapples, apricots and melon. A very gentle acidity coupled with a viscous sweetness that coats the mouth. It’s a natural sweet flavour, but it’s quite sweet. In my opinion a perfect dessert cider, paired with something bitter or savoury the sweetness would cut through it. However, one bottle was enough for me, my least favourite of their single varieties, for no other reason than just too sweet for my preference.
In a nutshell: a super juicy and fruity dessert cider, but needs a contrast from food to shine.
I always find it hard to conclude a large tasting, especially to pick favourites in order, so I’ll do a top three and in no particular order: Vintage, Dabinett and Tremletts were the standouts to my taste preferences. They’re different to how they tasted 10 years ago for sure, I don’t remember them doing a Tremletts SV back then but I could be wrong. They’ve evolved the brand in many ways but the thing that still continues to shine through is the quality of the fruit they use and those wild yeasts. Above all, it’s made me want to visit again more than ever, such a magical place where I swear the sun always shines, at least it has every time I’ve visited [Ed: clearly it doesn’t as you asked about flooding]. I’ve seen a lot of makers’ ranges become sweeter over the last 10 years, especially those that supply the on-trade, so I’m excited by George’s answer to my last question and hope those experiments with different styles and methods include some of the drier ends of the spectrum. Perhaps a fully fermented still cider, or a method traditional? We’ll have to wait and see. Either way, as I said in the summary of the Dabinett above, I loved my first sip of Perry’s cider and still love the taste now.
I think all that’s left to say is Merry Christmas to all our readers, thank you so much for the support you’ve given us over the last two years, we wish you all health and happiness for 2023.
Finally a special thanks to Neil for introducing me to the wonders of cider, now that I completely bore your head off with all my technical waffle about it and force you to try bone dry drinks that you hate, I bet you wish you hadn’t. Cheers Bestie x
That’s a really nice piece.