Q. Berkshire cider? I thought cider was only made in Somerset and Devon?
A. A popular fallacy! Cider has traditionally been made in many parts of the country - especially in Sussex, Kent and East Anglia. In the past few years a number of craft cider makers like us have started up, so cider is now made in more than 30 counties of England and Wales.
Q. So there are cider apple orchards in Berkshire?
A. No, not really. There are a few cider apple trees at Douai Abbey, between Newbury and Reading, planted by the Benedictine monks in the 1930s, but most of our cider is made from cookers and eaters. We have actually planted an orchard which contains about 40 trees of the classic Kingston Black variety, but it will be some time before this bears any fruit.
Q. But don't you have to have proper cider apples to make cider?
A. The cider makers of the West Country would have you believe that, but excellent cider has been made from culinary apples in the Eastern Counties of England for many centuries. Cider has always been made from whatever apples are available, and there is an enormous quantity of fruit growing in West Berkshire, so we make ours in the tradition of Kent and East Anglia, rather than that of the West Country.
Q. So why the difference?
A Cider apples are much higher in tannin, and the soil of the West of England suited these type of apples, producing a drink that the locals liked. Growers in the Home Counties, around London, grew culinary fruit for the capital, and made the surplus into cider, as it was not economical to grow a separate variety of apple just for that purpose.
Q. But surely cider made from those sort of apples doesn't taste like proper cider?
A. What do you define as 'proper' cider? The fermented juice of cookers and eaters may taste different from most people's perception of cider, but it is a perfectly valid drink in its own right. After all, not all wine is made from one variety of grape, and there are many different styles of beer, so why not cider from culinary apples?
Q. So you use any apple you can get hold of?
A. . No, we are fairly selective. We do use a proportion of crab apples and wild apples, but we try not to use too many Bramleys. A lovely apple for cooking, but too high a proportion makes the cider too sharp and acid.
Q. So I can come and buy some real Berkshire scrumpy from you?
A. Not from us, you can't! We don't use the word 'scrumpy', as it has connotations of thick, sour, badly-made farmhouse cider. We take a pride in producing a fine, clear, quality product.
Q. Clear? Surely proper cider should be cloudy?
A. Another fallacy! Fermented apple juice will clear naturally depending on the variety of fruit used. Ours certainly does. Cloudy cider is a con, designed for tourists.
Q. Do you do sweet, medium and dry ciders?
A. No. Our ROYAL COUNTY cider tends to ferment out to almost complete dryness, and as it is not filtered or pasteurised, adding sugar to sweeten it would just start it fermenting again. And we certainly don't use artificial, non-fermenting sweeteners like saccharin. Some of our single-varietals tend to be a bit sweeter, but never more than medium-dry.
Early on we adopted a techinque called 'keeving', which slows the fermentation and makes it somewhat easier to stop it at a certain point. This has helped to make our ciders somewhat less dry.
Q. I see you make a perry. Is that rich and sweet like the West Country perries?
A. No, it tends to be dryer than the classic perries from the Three Counties. We have access to two different trees for our perry fruit, and as they tend to crop intermittently, it was a toss up each year whether we produced OLD BERKSHIRE or KING JOHN'S perry. Now we have decided to blend the two lots of fruit and market the perry as OLD BERKSHIRE.
Q. How long does cider keep?
A. How long is a piece of string? It depends on how you treat the cider. Leave it in an open container in the warm and it will turn into vinegar in a short while. Make sure an opened container is re-sealed as soon as possible and stored in a fridge, and it will keep much longer. Cider and perry that has been properly bottled in sterilised conditions will keep for years. I was once party to tasting a bottle of perry that was over 60 years old - and it was fine.