I’ve never been so pleased to come fourth.
Just to get some recognition for our cider is great, and of all places at the British Cider Championships at the Bath & West Show, in the heart-land of West Country cider.
You see we make Eastern Counties cider. Made from only eating and cooking apples, with no bittersweet cider apples. We do that because these are the apples that grow in our back garden in Marden.
But some say it’s not true cider because it doesn’t contain true cider apples. They say Eastern Counties cider has “no backbone”. What they mean is that it’s very low on the tannins that cider apples bring. But it has other qualities: many like it because it is light, it’s refreshing and, at it’s best, comparable to a good white wine. And most people I know prefer it to a West Country cider.
Our Dry Cider was “Very Highly Commended” by Bath & West judges including Martin Thatcher of Thatcher’s Cider, Nick Bradstock of the National Association of Cider Makers and Commander Rupert Best, Master of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers.
It’s a blend of five dessert apple varieties selected because they grow in the orchards around Marden and because they each have different characteristics – both as eating apples and as ciders.
Many are grown organically, all are grown for the fresh market (ie not for juice) and all are hand-picked from the tree in the Autumn.
We then ferment the apple juices separately over the Winter months before blending in the Spring. This year’s Dry Cider blend took several attempts – but we got there in the end.
We were happy with it and happy to talk proudly about it when selling to customers. But it’s also nice to get some external recognition.
I’m on my way to the Bath & West Show where we have two of our ciders entered in what they say is the world’s biggest cider competition.
Of all our ciders it’s the Dry Cider and Medium Cider that I’m most proud of.
The Dry Cider is a blend of five dessert apple varieties, each chosen for a different characteristic that they bring – colour, aroma and, of course, flavour. We then blend them in different proportions so they complement each other and we get a balanced drink.
One of the fascinating things this year is how different each variety was to the previous year. My tasting notes show some marked changes in characteristics. No surprise really, the growing conditions in 2013 and 2014 couldn’t have been more different.
But it meant that we had to redo the Dry Cider blend. It took a few goes but I think we’ve got it.
Our Medium Cider is a different blend of dessert and culinary apples, whereas last year we just sweetened the Dry. I think it’s a more interesting drink for the new blend.
We sweeten it with fresh-pressed apple juice, rather than sugar or an artificial sweetener, which adds a new dimension.
Unlike the Dry Cider it’s pasteurised, though both are unfiltered.
I can’t wait to see them in the cider and orchards tent at the show today. Apparently there’ve already been some comments about how different they look to the majority of entrants!
Life takes some funny twists and turns. I’m still learning to open myself to the possibilities.
When I had a call from Russia last summer asking about the possibility of exporting our cider, I presumed it was a joke. I was still operating Turners Cider out of our garden shed. But my Russian caller had tasted our Dry Cider in the Harp in Covent Garden and liked it and could he come and visit my “cider factory” in Marden and perhaps visit our “tasting room”.
In hindsight I did everything I could to put them off.
You’re very welcome to visit the cider factory and have a tasting in the tasting room, I said, but please understand that both those places are my garden shed, where I also keep the lawn mower.
Anyway Konstantin and Nataly duly came to Marden on a scorching hot summer’s day and we stood in my over-heating shed and drank my cider. I then took them for a tour of Peter Hall’s orchards in Marden, where we source most of our fruit, and for a meal in The Stile Bridge, where they drank some more of my cider (I drank beer).
That day was also notable for the last minute panic of May’s lost passport and a mad rush to Liverpool to get a new one before we travelled to Spain for our summer holiday. (We think one of the children tidied the passport into the kitchen bin, though we’ll never know.)
Nine months later and Konstantin and Nataly have just visited Marden again. This time they brought vinegar factory owner Yury so May could teach him the fundamentals of chutney making.
And now we’re about to send our first shipment to their pub Hamilton’s in Belgorod. We’re in fine cider company, on the bar at Hamilton’s along side Hecks, Hallets and Hogan’s.
I never thought we’d be sending cider to Russia. But I love selling to people who love our cider, wherever they are.
Brogdale Collections have today confirmed our bar at the 2015 Kent Cider Festival.
It’s on 29-30 August at Brogdale Farm, near Faversham. That’s the home of the national fruit collection.
Last year Sam (pictured), Ross and I had a great time running the bar. The cider festival is always full of characters and we met them all.
We’ll be in the Cider Barn again. See you there…
What a start to the year!
First I came off my Honda on the way to see some pears. That was last weekend. Some of Redwall Lane is still in my leg and so I’m an invalid. (The pears will have to wait).
Then the following weekend some kid smashed his Merc into the back of our Audi in south London. And then sped off! He was either pissed or stoned or on the phone or didn’t know how to drive. So now May has whiplash and a buggered car.
Through all this I’m trying to make sure the cider is okay. Much of what we pressed before Christmas is fully fermented, but I’ve got some Russets and some Ida Red in full fermenting flow at the moment. The pressure 5,000 litres of fermenting juice puts on the stainless steel tank lids is so great that I need to keep a close eye on it pushing them off.
Don’t tell Health & Safety but I was up a ladder on my crutches this morning checking on the airlocks.
We’ve got a bit more pressing to do of some fruit that’s in cold store. But that will have to wait until I have two functioning legs again.
In the meantime it was fun over Christmas to get the final batch of last year’s dry cider bottled. I’ve saved these for samples to take around the pubs in the coming weeks as we start to sell in the new cider. I’ve got a killer list of all my favourite Kent and London pubs and I intend to personally visit them all with a sample in hand.
2015 is all set to get a lot better!
We’re now fully up and running in new Turners Cider digs at Little Mill Farm in Marden. Finally we have the space to make enough cider to meet demand.
Until I grow an extra set of limbs I’m reliant on my usual supply of helpers (from various professions) in the cidery including:
- Hugh (double bassist)
- James (fly-fishing instructor)
- Sam (estate agent)
- May (preservist)
- Ross (rock star)
- Holly (interior designer)
- Rowan (surgeon)
- Bob (photographer)
They’re all cider makers now.
Between now and Christmas we’ll be pressing our apples, many of which are grown organically by Peter Hall at Little Mill. We’ve got some fantastic fruit and lots of it.
We’re pretty much out of this year’s cider, but I’ve held some samples back. So if you run a pub or shop and you’re interested in a sample, or you’d like to meet us and have a look at our operation, just send me an email or give us a call on 07825 394164.
There’s a great selection of local ciders lined up this weekend for the Spa Valley Railway beer and cider festival, near Tunbridge Wells.
The cider booker Keith Ennis came to pick up 20 litres from us this week. He says he’s sourced all the ciders within 30 miles of Tunbridge Wells.
Here’s the full list from the Spa Valley website:
This photo could have been taken in any decade since the second world war. It was taken yesterday in Marden. In my ‘back garden’.
The beauty of the lower Weald – the farming land broadly defined by the floodplain of the Beult – is that it’s like time has stood still. If you blot out the cars and the planes, most views round here haven’t changed much in a century.
The photo is taken at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match, which is a bit of an institution in the Wealden farming community. There’s a trade show and a farmers’ market, displays of hunting hounds and hawking centres, and of course the obligatory terrier racing. But at heart it’s still a ploughing match (and, it seems to me, a way to get your fields ploughed for free if you volunteer to host the competition!)
We had a May’s Kitchen / Turners Cider stall in the market. Over the course of the day we caught up with pretty much everyone we know locally. We sold out of cider. May’s damson gin was a hit. The kids saw enough tractors in a day to give them tractor-dreams for a year.
It looks like next year’s match is back in Marden and Kent’s hosting the nationals too. We hope to be there for both.
We can chart the development of Turners Cider by the Brogdale Cider Festival, where we’ll be this weekend.
Two years ago I took May and Wilfred for the first time. We’d just been on holidays and I made this video when we got back from Faversham.
Last year (Teddy had come along by now) Brogdale was one of the first places we sold our bag-in-box ciders. We had 20 litres behind the Tiddly Pomme bar and I was very proud of it. Here’s me looking proud. Check out the early incarnation of the label and Turner & Co. name.
This year we have our own Turners Cider bar in the Cider Barn. I have my brothers-in-law – my brothers-in-arms – Sam and Ross helping out, which is where it all started for us. Sam and Ross and the whole family (and all the neighbours for that matter) have helped get Turners Cider to where it is now. From pressing outside in the Autumn rain, to helping out with deliveries to testing the produce, this has been a family enterprise from the start.
As for where we go next, watch this space. In the last few days I’ve spent enough money on cider equipment to buy a small house in Doncaster. Now we have to make it pay for itself.