In July 2018, Carol Brown from Crest Cyder located in North Curry near Taunton, Somerset, UK contacted me and invited to visit them if passing. To be honest, I completely forgot about this invitation until I tried one of their ciders that came through Scrattings (the only UK cider webshop shipping cider to continental Europe). I absolutely fell in love with their Traditional as it was a proper and tannic cider I could drink every day. Usually, I don’t reach out to a cider maker to praise her/his cider, which I truly enjoyed. But this time it was different. Since I had to come to London for a conference in early March, I thought that I might kill two birds with one stone and extend my stay to spend some time in Bristol, the UK capital of cider and pay the Crest Cyder team a visit in nearby Taunton.
I’m pretty sure most of you haven’t heard of Crest Cyder before as it is a fairly new business. The Crest Cyder Company was officially established in March 2018 although cider was made here for much longer before that. Christopher Brown, who is in charge of cider making at Crest Cyder has been crafting cider so far only for his own use. In addition, since 2011 his ciders have picked up numerous awards at important British cider competitions such as Royal Bath & West, Royal Cornwall Show, Devon County Show only to name a few. As a side note, it is great that in the UK also a private person can take part in these competitions and get an unbiased opinion from cider experts. Apples used for Christopher’s cider come from an apple orchard located a few hundred meters from Christopher and Carol’s house. It is a 4-acre apple orchard with typical cider apple varieties such as Dabinett, Browns, Stoke Red, Yarlington Mill, Tremlett’s Bitter and a few more that were planted in the 1970s by Christopher’s father. The Crest Cyder Company is a fairly small business with a range of three ciders, Traditional, Golden and Dabinett making approx. 5000 litres annually.
Now, enough for the introduction of Crest Cyder and let’s move to my visit to Taunton. To reach Taunton, I took a train from Bristol Temple Meads so after roughly 30-minutes journey I arrived at Taunton, where Alice, Carol and Christopher’s daughter was already waiting for me and my friend. The initial plan was to visit four small local cider makers but since the apple pruning season in Somerset was in full swing, all cider makers where either out of reach or simply very busy with pruning. So instead, Alice drove us to the Perry’s Cider Mills in Dowlish Wake, 20 minutes drive away from Taunton. Previously, I have tasted a few ciders from Perry’s range, Grey Heron and Barn Owl so I was very excited to see the place and try a few more ciders from their cider range. Perry’s not only run a cider shop with merchandise products, cider books and obviously their bottled ciders. Interestingly, they also carry a variety of their cider aged in oak barrels that can be filled on the spot in a plastic container. Those are not available elsewhere, only at their cider shop, which makes a visit there even more worthwhile and exciting.
Apart from the cider shop on the site, there is a cider museum showcasing antique cider mills, cider presses and other tools required for cider making. Christopher and Carol, who we met up with at Perry’s, showed us a bit around and gave the insights of the cider production. It was very enlightening to see these tools and machines that were once used to mill apples or press the juice. Perry’s run also an eatery with local foods. Each dish on the menu had a cider suggestion next to it. I went for a selection of local cheese paired with Perry’s Dabinett. What a pleasure!
Back to North Curry, Christopher showed us his cider shed, the place where all the cider magic happens. To press the juice, Christopher uses a 100-year-old cider press that was previously used by Sheppy’s, a cider maker that is also based in Taunton. To make cider, apples are lifted to the first-floor level, where they are milled. In the second step, milled apples are moved to the press located on the ground floor and pressed. After pressing, the whole juice is moved to the tanks, slowly fermented and subsequently aged in French oak barrels that were previously used for winemaking. This cider shed has an amazing atmosphere as next to the tanks filled with cider there is a comfortable couch, where one can sit, sample cider and stare at the opposite wall full of framed awards, certificates and the side wall full of old cider posters from the times, when Gaymer’s or Blackthorn were quality ciders. After visiting the cider shed, Christopher and Alice took us to their apple orchard. Although it was a quite warm day in Taunton, early March is not the best time for a visit to an orchard as apple trees still have no leaves, not to mention any buds, thus simply look sad. The amazing thing about the UK is that grass is always green here. Christopher maintains the apple orchards and at the time he was still not done with pruning.
At the end of the visit, the Browns brought us to The Plough Inn, which is a cider pub in Taunton, literally walking distance away from the railway station, with an impressive cider wall. Interestingly, The Plough Inn is run by a woman, Karin Cooper. We need significantly more ladies in the cider world! To my surprise, Christopher ordered a beer instead of cider. He explained that he only drinks his own cider.
In summary, I spent a lovely day in Somerset being able to compare two local cider business of a different scale, Perry’s and Crest Cyder. Perry’s is a relatively large cider maker, creating fantastic cider and with a great shop, museum and eatery that support their business. On the other hand, Crest Cyder is a cidery still making baby steps in this business and learning but with huge potential and great cider! The Browns are a lovely and very friendly family crazy about cider and cidermaking. I hope I will return to Taunton. But this time definitely in Autumn.
In the next few weeks, I will post reviews on Traditional, Golden and Dabinett from the Crest Cyder Company so stay tuned!