The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) don’t just shout about beers. They also have an Apple Committee, for all things cider (and perry). I missed out on the very popular Cider and Perry trip last year. It’s advertised in CAMRA’s monthly ‘What’s Brewing’ magazine, or e-zine or whatever they call a pdf newspaper thing.
This year, I had success. The meeting place was Crawley train station, zone 5, south London. The time? Saturday morning, 11am. As I trundle across the London railway, I’m reading the book ‘Hellraisers‘ about the great British drinkers of Hollywood in the 50s–70s.
I’m already a bit hungover as I arrive at the beautiful, sunny Crawley train station. As I exit the station, I see a large group of people already formed on the steps. The cider t-shirts are a bit of a giveaway. So, this surly-looking bunch will be my own Hellraisers for the day.
Everyone is in high spirits, as a cider drinker would be. I’ve already met some members of the Apple Committee (they talk about making cider). On the coach I read the details of the locations we’ll be visiting: Wobblegate, Kissingate and Village Green. What brillant names! We sail through the verdant Sussex countryside, and I look out the window at the cottages and quaint, old road signs. It’s like being in a Postman Pat film. Except I’m on a bus full of hardened cider-drinkers on the lash.
The bus gingerly tiptoes over the prehistoric bridge to Wobblegate at Old Mill Farm. Primarily in the fruit juice business, the family-run farm has turned its hand to cider making. The Hellraisers pour off the bus, past vast crates, full of red apples and into a barn. Quite a few boxes of cider are presented in a row, with some plastic pint glasses at the end. It’s a free-for-all and I take my time before squeezing in among the other cider-piglets, suckling at the Wobblegate teats.
There’s a wide variety of ciders – fruit-flavoured ciders, hopped cider, and just cider. The nice chap what runs it tells us about the business and shows us round the cider press. They use dessert apples, and fruit from the south east and have now given the cider its own distinct brand: Wobbly Press.
I learn that the reason east England ciders are made with dessert apples stems only from the history of orchards growing apples to supply the London demand for eating apples. I always thought it was the climate! I also learn that if you want to commercially preserve a cider you either pasteurise it or add sulphites. Wobbly Press are pasteurised, though one wily Hellraiser tells me that pasteurisation takes the edge off, and flattens the tatse.
Just enough time to buy a few bottles at the shop and water the plants, before getting back on the wagon only slightly tipsy – it’s still early.
Next stop Kissingate. This is actually a brewery that grew from small beginnings and is now expanding. Kissingate is an award-winning brewery, but they do stock some local ciders and perries. I make a mental note (never a good thing to do when drinking cider) to try some of the Kissingate beers in the future, but for now, we’re on a cider and perry trip – I have work to do. With a licenced bar, they also hold various booze-based events.
The Hellraisers are warming up now, as the sun almost comes out. Still, no chairs or fists are flying as everyone respectably queues for the food; a mini banquet kindly put on by the Kissingate team. Some hit and miss ciders here, but each one worth writing about. However, specifics are not on the agenda today. One kind CAMRA member has bought a set of bottled beers for the coach driver, so he’s looking forward to trying those, just as soon as he’s dropped off a load of Scientologists after our cider trip!
I hope he survived.
I’m starting to nod off on the coach as we cruise towards the final destination. We pile off the coach again, crunching acrons underfoot as we walk down the country road to Fen Cottage. This is the home of Village Green ciders. it’s actually a garage in which two guys have built a cider press with 50 tonnes of squashage. Some of the Hellraisers get stuck in to the apples with a shovel; they can’t wait.
There’s a rather endearing video on their website, of the cider-making process, though my favourite bit is the music. In fact it’s the music that will be my incidental tune, while I go about my daily business. Try playing it on your headphones next time you’re out. You’ll want to doff your cap and wish “Good morrow!” to all, as you stroll in britches and feathered cap, puppet-like, down the high street. Probably what the world needs right now.
Anyway, like all cider makers, Ben is a very nice young chap, who now sells his award-winning cider in local pubs. After a tour of the facility and asisting in some cider pulping (and trying to cane as much free cider as possible), the Hellraisers stumble back to the coach.
It’s back to Three Bridges train station, where, while staring at some birds flying in the sky, I miss the train that is right in front of me, slope off to the local pub for a bog standard, and watch the local ruffians being manhandled by the barmen. Then back on the next train to solace and safety. I haven’t quite acheived the notoriety of our original Hollywood Hellraisers, but if there’d been a telly in one of the cider farms, I’m sure it would have gone through the window.
Same time next year?