How we make our cider..

It's really very simple. mother nature does the tricky stuff. Our cider is made in a totally natural way, very different way from mass produced ciders which bear no resemblance to our traditional product.

1. Apples

Herefordshire, along with Somerset has traditionally had the perfect climate for growing cider apples with just the right balance of acidity, tannins and sugars. Dessert apples don't generally make good cider as they are too sweet which can result in a one dimensional cider. We grow Tom Putt, Kingston Black, Bulmers Norman, Dabinett, Yarlington Mill and Brown Snout apples in our own orchards, all within half a mile of the cider barn, all of which have different characteristics. See the varieties page for more details.

2. Harvest

Once the apples are ripe, which generally happens in October and November, depending on the variety and the climate throughout the year, we harvest them. Harvesting involves collecting the wind-fall apples from the ground by hand, and then simply by shaking the tree until all the apples fall off. We lay a tarpaulin under the tree, shake as hard as we can and invariably get whacked on the head by falling apples! Any stubborn apples are coaxed down with the aid of a long pole. The apples are then boxed, loaded onto the back of the tractor and taken to the cider barn ready for the next step.

3. Washing and sorting

This simply involves putting all the apples into a big bath and giving them a good wash. We then tip them into a tub and remove any rotten ones or any other debris that has made it this far (grass etc) by hand. A lot of the apples don't look as perfect as they do from the supermarket but they make perfect cider!

4. Milling and pressing

The apples are tipped into a milling machine that chops them up into small bits - this simply makes it easier to extract the juice from the apples. The juice is pressed by a mechanical press - the milled apples are put into muslin cloth and several of these "cheeses" are stacked under the press (this used to be done using straw). Where horses and manpower used to be used, now we flick a switch and slowly extract the juice into the casks. The solids that remain after pressing (pomace) are then discarded to rot down to be used as fertliser.

6. Fermenting

This is the easy bit. We put the juice into large plastic casks. They may not look as pretty as wooden casks, but nowadays plastic is widely used as it limits the chance of the cider spoiling as it ferments. The natural yeasts on the surface of the apples get to work straight away fermenting the sugars into alcohol. The period of fermentation depends on the temperature, the colder it is the longer the process takes. Throughout the process we constantly check the alcohol / sugar level using a hydrometer.

7. Racking and maturing

Once the cider has finished fermenting, we let it settle and rack off the finished cider. This leaves most of the sediment and dead yeast in the cask. At this point, we may try maturing the cider in old rum or whisky barrels to add an extra dimension to the taste. Most commercial ciders are made crystal clear as at this point as they add chemicals to clear all of the yeast. Here at Gillow, we bottle our cider the traditional way wiith some yeast remaining in the bottle. This can make the cider cloudy but is perfectly natural and a sign of proper traditional cider.

8. Blending and bottling

Blending the different ciders we produce allows us to control the taste of the finished product and produce a balanced drink. Tom Putt is an example of a cider that, if left unblended can be too tannic or sour for some peoples tastes. But when we blend it with another variety, such as Bulmers Norman, the two can complement each other perfectly. This is where the real skill comes into making a good cider.

Once bottled, the ciders are then labelled and are ready to be drunk!