World Cider Day: Discover the secrets of a Cornish Orchards cider maker

World Cider Day: Discover the secrets of a Cornish Orchards cider maker

Today we’re celebrating World Cider by going behind the scenes here at Cornish Orchards to chat all things cider with our cider making team. Discover their secrets to ensure the perfect Cornish flavour time and time again.

Cornish Orchards Head Cider Maker Chris Newton and Cider Making Supervisor Gary Leather, have worked for the company for a combined 13 years. Starting from humble beginnings, they described the world of cider having changed quite a bit over the past decade becoming more demanding and ever so much more competitive. At Cornish Orchards we focus on the education of cider and making sure we keep true to our roots.

The passion for cider making is deep-rooted in the brand in many ways

Chris Newton started his journey as a cider maker eight years ago under the guidance of Andy Atkinson, Founder of Cornish Orchards, who Chris describes as being very inspirational. Those of you who have met Chris will know that he is very passionate and has a wealth of cider knowledge which was passed to him through Andy.

As Head Cider Maker, Chris is now passing this passion and knowledge onto his team of three which includes Gary Leather, Cider Maker Supervisor, who started out as an elderflower picking temp eventually becoming a full time member of the production team however, his attention to detail led him into a role as a cider maker.

With such an aspirational role, what is it about Cider Making that you love so much?

Gary: "To be honest, it is such a good feeling to have a huge tank full of the cider you have spent time in making, go out to pubs and outlets all over the country. And when someone acknowledges the quality and brand to say that it tastes so good, that creates a buzz."

Chris: "For me, cider making begins in the Orchard. It is such a great playground and is our paint pot to create the various flavours we are able to, from what starts out as an apple."

Tell us more about a typical day for you in the office?

Chris: "An average day for me is very varied. I am lucky to have Gary who takes care of a lot of the manual day-to-day tasks. I am always at the finishing line of a product blend before it goes out to a customer as well as to taste and discuss with the team on how we can take it to the next level. Aside from that, I do a lot of strategy work, innovation and product development."

Gary: "I spend a lot of time out of the office and in the production barns or the lab, looking after the team and making sure products are completed on time and done to the brand standards, which I then work with Chris to sign off."

Chris added: "It is important for us to inspire the next generation of cider makers. Simple everyday processes we carry out, the consistency and the attention to detail we demonstrate (whether it’s blending products or maintaining the facilities), is carried down across the team which we know will be passed on to new cider makers that join our team."

How do the processes of brewing beer and cider making differ?

Gary: "The main difference is the time that it takes to make the product. To make a brew, you follow a recipe and within a few weeks, you have your finished product. It has a much faster turnaround as brewing can be done throughout the year. Cider making (especially as we use freshly pressed apples) can only be done during apple harvest season - September through to December.

We then have to let nature work its magic. With brewing, you also don’t need as many tanks whereas cider has to be stored over the year to use throughout the year."

Chris: "Quite rightly said, time is a huge factor. The seasonality of our means we are bound to the apple harvest season in terms of when we are physically able to make cider.

As most producers grow in scale, concentrate is used for fermentations. This is not an option for us as a premium cider producer as we want to stay true to our brand.
What is really unique and makes us far closer to winemakers than brewers, is the maturation period. A cider will improve in flavour and quality over time bestowing vintage qualities and amazing characterful ciders."

That brings me to the next question regarding the challenges you face as a cider maker?

Chris: "Well aside from time being a major constraint, increased growth is a challenge (although a good one to have). When I started out eight years ago, I remember making cider outside exposed to the elements in very small batches."

Gary: "Our growth has been incredible and it can only mean that we moving in the right direction however it is a constant fight against time. As we are a small team of four, we’ve had to improve processes, introduce new equipment and train the team technically whilst maintaining our standards and retaining our craft practices. The logistics of moving the sheer quantity of cider around on the farm can also be quite a challenge at times."

What sets Cornish Orchards aside from other cider producers?

Chris: "For me, it is the level of quality and how we achieve that consistently. The craft cider market is greatly competitive as there are so many great producers out there which means it’s so key that every batch leaves the farm at the very highest standards of quality and consistency.
We maintain this consistency whilst still using only freshly pressed apples, natural temperature fermentation processes and really sweating every detail of our products."

Gary: "Never cutting corners with our method. It would be all too easy for us if we were to order apple concentrate rather than using freshly pressed apples and forcing fermentation through the use of temperature, but we don’t!

As a brand and as a cider team especially, we go above and beyond to make sure that the product that leaves the farm is the best it can be and is not at all compromised in any way."

Chris added: "Even if that means making tough decisions. We have scrapped batches before after spending so much valuable time on it. If we’re not 100% content, we don’t send it."

Is there anything exciting in the pipeline for the cider team?

Gary: "We will be introducing new lab equipment that can ensure quality better than the trained eye or tongue. This will mean more training for the team and developing skills."

Chris: "One of the most exciting projects for me will be that we will be trialling a best fit yeast this apple season. At the moment we use a champagne yeast which is a fantastic strain of yeast and works well for all of our ciders, but we will be exploring in more depth the benefit of using different types of yeast.

We also plan on doing a single variety fermentation in September using my very favourite apple, known to a few experts as ‘Cornish Giant’ or ‘the Colloggett Pippin’ apple which is a rare Cornish apple variety that we grow at Cornish Orchards.
This will add something a little different to work on, alongside our Keeved Cider project which we undertook last year using my learnings from a trip to France. That is what cider making is all about, learning new skills and developing quality using old practices or finding new and better ways to do things."

Tell us more about the Keeved cider project?

Chris: "We produced a small batch of Keeved cider as a side project last winter which won the Gold in its category for a medium cider. It then went on to be judged alongside four other category winners and resulted in winning the Supreme Champion at the South West of England Cider Makers Association Annual Cider competition.

This was judged by a panel of 50 of the South West finest cider producers including Bob Chaplin, Andy Atkinson and other legendary figures in the industry.

So this was a real testament to us as a cider team and was just great fun to do and harnessed all of our attention to detail and technical abilities.
We have fond memories of hand processing two tonnes of fruit around the clock to a soundtrack of Christmas songs, Jazz and classic rock whilst pressing the pomace using our old traditional apple press ‘the rack and cloth method’ then the painstaking 4-month fermentation process which concluded the project. " - You can read more on the Keeved cider right here.

If you would like to come and try our range of ciders and soft drinks, we have a cider shop on the farm which does free tastings – now open between 10 am and 5 pm.
Follow us on our Facebook and Instagram channels, as well as our website blog to get the latest news and information about new projects we are working on as a brand, as well as small projects our cider team are getting involved in.

Posted by Beccy Price
3rd June 2019

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