Cider & Perry Making at Oliver’s

I first learned of Oliver’s Cider & Perry while reading James Crowden‘s Ciderland, an excellent book that features candid interviews with 22 prominent cider and perry makers in England’s West Country. After reading the chapter on Oliver’s in Ciderland and listening to NPR‘s Out of the Pear Orchard and Into the Glass piece, it became obvious that Tom Oliver is not only a staunch adherent of perry but of Herefordshire and of rural vitality in general.

Below is an Oliver’s promotional video that explains the process of making cider and perry. Music in the video is provided by The Misers, a band that multi-talented Tom has worked for as sound engineer and tour manager! The transcript includes useful links that define terms such as ‘panking’ and ‘maceration’.

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So for me, it really does start with the fruit. And that means picking the ripest, cleanest, best fruit that you can in the orchards. And I favor fruit from traditional orchards where the manuring is only done by the sheep and where the sun and the rain combine to produce a good grass sward for grazing. And then the good, ripe, sugar-heavy fruit that we will then take, mill, press, and ferment into perry and cider.

Oliver’s is very much based around the principle of taking what the fruit gives you. And I think that is the biggest clue as to where we rely on our quality. The quality is the fruit. And in order to get the best quality fruit, you need the best possible pickers-up. And here you see the pickers-up picking up the fruit. They are a highly-trained team of skilled experts.

The man with the long pole is panking. Yes, that is panking, beginning with a P. He attempts–vainly, occasionally, but usually successfully–to get the fruit off the tree in one shake. Only the ripest, cleanest fruit is used. And that is insured by hand-picking. The gang will then collect the fruit and put them into bags. We then will get it back to the base, the ciderhouse, where we wash the fruit prior to milling it.

Here you see the fruit being tipped into the mill, where it is crushed. What you want in this is something the consistency of porridge–nice, thick, lumpy porridge. Because this is the way you will extract the most juice when you press it in the next stage of the process.

Once the fruit has been milled, we will then undergo a process for the pears called maceration. Maceration involves leaving it in these tubs overnight so that it can oxidize. And this oxidation allows the tannins to drop in level. And in the end perry, it makes it a much less astringent, tannic perry. For cider apples, you can mill them, and then press them straight afterwards.

The juice extraction is achieved by building a cheese. This cheese building is a highly-skilled artform, and the maximum extraction is always achieved when an even, well-built cheese is amassed.

[Tom Oliver leading a tour group.]

Once the juice has been extracted, the spent pomace is fed to the livestock on the farm. The juice is then pumped from the stainless steel collection tank into the wooden barrels and other containers that we use for fermenting the cider and perry in. Our preferred way of fermenting the cider and perry is in wooden barrels. To do this, we will use a wild yeast fermentation. This can involve between six to twenty-four different wild yeasts working in succession through the winter to achieve a long, slow fermentation over a period of up to six months.

After the fermentation, we’ll allow a further period of two to four months for the perry and the cider to both age and mature in the oak. Following careful observation through the winter and into the spring, it comes time to start testing the different barrels. It is only now that you start to get an indication of exactly what the finished cider and perry will be like for the year.

Once we’ve tasted all the individual barrels, we then start thinking about blends and the different ciders and perries that we wish to make this year. This is really determined by what the fruit has given us from the year before. The sweetness will dictate the alcohol level, and the combination of the different tannins and acids will give us a different balance and characteristic for each potential cider and perry.

When it comes to bottling, we’ll be looking to make a succession of different ciders and perries–from dry through to medium, from medium dry to medium sweet. Some will be single-variety perries and ciders, and some will be blended perries and ciders. Most of the bottling is done by hand with a cork closure or a screw cap. After careful analysis, the alcohols are determined, the labels completed and then applied using this label applicator. So the result of all this bottling and all this fermentation is this year’s ciders and perries.

We will hopefully have a wonderful range and selection of dry, vintage, still ciders; some slightly fizzy, carbonated, medium ciders; and some wonderful bottle-conditioned ciders. And to match those–and certainly to win over your hearts and minds–will be some wonderful perries: the dry still perry, the medium blended perries, the single-varietal perries, and the bottle-conditioned perries. We’ll also have a wonderful selection of draft ciders and perries: the youthful fruity ones that will arrive in the late spring and the early summer, through to the more intense, deeper, darker, late-autumn ciders and perries.

[Tom Oliver selling bottles to a customer.]

“Now if for some reason any of these drinks are particularly challenging or not to your taste, you’ll need a spittoon to tip them into. But I’m going to hedge my bets right now that we won’t need them.” [Laughter.]

There is no better place to come than our cider and perry house here in Ocle Pychard, where you can taste the full range of ciders and perries and really get a glimpse of the true tradition and heritage that is behind cider and perry. But also the great hope and innovation that there is for the future of these wonderful full-juice products.