Archive for August, 2012

Mini cider tour of Somerset

Recently work has taken me to Somerset. I am seeing cider in my future. The job turned out to be quite strange, working over night in a gym, sleeping for the first half of the day, having lunch time specials in the pub attached to the hotel for breakfast (curry and a pint for breakfast is odd, really). We then finished the job at about 5a.m. one morning.

We made the most of our hotel room, having a shower and a few hours kip before we had to check out, but by about 9a.m. we were awake any way and headed for home. Home, that is, via a couple of cider outlets.

We were originally planning on just going to Thatchers Cider, it is a stop we usually make on the return journey from the south west, first discovered when we did a job in the town of Churchill, one town along from Sandford, where Thatchers have their factory. However, on this trip, while we were driving up and down the country lanes looking for a café, we drove past a farm with a sign “Farmhouse Cider”. How could we resist?

View Mini cider tour – Somerset, Aug ’12 in a larger map

It was just gone 9a.m. and we turned off of the road and on to the driveway of a farm house. On the right, the house, in front of it, the a well kept country garden, and on the left an orchard. This was a good start. Past the house and the driveway widened and allowed for space for many cars to park. In front of the parking was many old barns which were looking a little worse for wear, you could see from where we were that there was many old farming machines inside, which had fallen into disrepair, they were rusty and the paint chipping off of them, clearly these hadn’t turned a wheel in years. Also, there were old tractors and ploughs, which also looked unused. These had scattered on them, around the and over them, bottles and plastic barrels with identical stickers on them on them.

We got out of the van and followed another sign, directing those wanting cider to a small thatched out building on the side of the farm house. We went through the door and inside were two old men trying to fill a bag-in-a-box from a barrel which must have stood six or seven feet tall. Next to this barrel were three others, each with a different label on them; sweet, medium, dry and farmhouse special. I wanted to take a picture of the scene to share on this post, but, not wanting to seem like a tourist, I decided not to.

The two men struggled on trying to fill this bag. Eventually, they had filled it enough and just had the task of doing up the cap and threading the nozzle through the cardboard. The conversation between the two men was as follows (and please remember when reading this that it’s Somerset, so read it in your best Somerset accents):

“If you just screw that cap on while I hold the box”

“I think I’ll get the cap on quickly, while you hold the box like that”

The cap gets screwed down. One man tries to start threading the nozzle through the cardboard

“Don’t worry about that, I’ll do that when I get home”

“Will you do this bit when you get home?”

“I will”

“OK then”

The box is put on a counter, next to a till, above which is a a traditional poem about cider, framed, probably older that the combined age of both of the gentlemen, and a certificate from the council which allows the sale of alcohol.

“You’ll do that when you get home? Will yeh?”

“I’ll do that when I get home, I will. So how much do I owe you?”


“Well, If I give you ten” hands over a £10 note “and one, two, fifty, sixty, five” counting out coins “and then you can give me five back, and then we’ll be sorted”

“I can” he confirms “But I can only give you coins”.

What follows is the most complicated swapping of coins I have ever seen in my life before both men come to the conclusion that they are settled. All of this was very funny to watch. I felt like I was a fly on the wall on a West Country Soap opera. The man then took his box of cider and left, but not before the man running the show confirmed once more that he would be OK to sort out the nozzle and the cardboard once he got home.

Once the man had left, the other man, who by now had made it obvious that he was the man we needed to see about buying some cider, turned to us and said “Those bags-in-boxes are a bugger to set up right, you know”. I can’t exactly remember my  reply, something along the lines of “oh yeah, I can see”. He then asked us what we wanted, and I pointed and the barrel with farmhouse special. The short man, grabbed a gallon plastic bottle from the shelf and shuffled along to the barrel (for anyone who drinks at The Blackbirds, think Ken). He then filled the bottle with the cider, while he was filling it he asked us,

“have you had this before?”

“No” We replied.

“Ahh, its got a bit of a kick to it, this one!”. I thought to myself, if the eighty-something-year-old cider making Somerset yokel thinks that this one has a bit of a kick to it, then what must it be like?!? Or was he just making a bit of a warning, sussing that we’re not local and probably not seasoned cider drinkers like himself. Either way, the 7% label was enough for us to know that it would have some sort of bite.

Once filled, the man shuffled back to the counter and put the bottle on the side. “Now”, he said,”I don’t know if you have noticed this sign, but I have to check” and he gestures to a black and white  A4 photocopy which in block capitals read “YOU MUST BE 18 OR OVER TO BUY ALCOHOL”, perhaps some of the locals are not aware of this fact. We confirmed that, yes we were both at least 18. He then turned to a piece of paper right next to the till, hand written, was the price list. £8.65. Can’t say fairer than that for traditional cider, straight from the barrel.

As we left a woman had walked in. Clearly a local. “Hello Mr. Ben” she greeted the old man as we left (remember Somerset accents). On the drive home we commented on the characters we saw in the farm house. We suppose that these are all locals which make fairly regular visits…and from there the mind went away with us about really local things and strong accents.

For reference the farm was Ben Crossman’s Farmhouse Cider. Mayfield Farm, Hewish, Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset BS24 6RQ.

We then drove down the road for about 15 minutes before getting to Thatchers. Thatchers is at the other end of the traditional cider making industry. Crossman’s was a thatched out building with a few barrels in it and a till. Thatchers is a massive factory in  the middle of a tiny village, which makes it look more out of place than it otherwise would. In front of the factory is a small factory outlet, which sells all of the Thatchers products. There is a barrel section in the shop, which has guttering in the floor to deal with spillages, the barrels here are obscured by walls and wooden surrounds, only the front portion is visible, but you can still get your cider straight from the barrels. Thatchers have their traditional (dry, medium and sweet) as well as their cheddar valley (medium and dry) available, all their other varieties are bottled and are also available for sale, along with beer from Cheddar Ales  and local cheeses. They also have merchandise (bottle openers, t-shirts, books etc.). Nothing like it is at Crossman’s. Somehow, in here, it feels like a bit of a tourist trap, so I didn’t feel out of place taking the odd snap.

I had told my friends we were going to be coming here already, so I had an order list to for-fill. I asked for 5 gallons of Cheddar Valley Medium, which was duly processed by one lad while a young girl processed my credit card, something which I don’t think Mr. Ben had even heard of. A helpful assistant helped me to the van with all the bottles and we were ushered out quietly, politely and effectively. Although the staff here were very polite, I doubt many of them were working there for more than the summer holidays, I don’t think, although I am often wrong, that they have the passion for cider which Mr Ben has. Luckily their not making the cider, only selling it. It was interesting to see the two sides of cider making, really small scale, to quite large.

Now, I have three gallons of cider for myself to drink, and there is a small note saying that it is best to drink it within 5-10 days. What rotten luck.

A good investment

I thought I’d take a few minutes to share a recent email that I received about making good investments. I know it sounds dull but trust me, you’ll like this…

If you had purchased £1,000 of shares

in Delta Airlines one year ago, you would have £49.00 today.

If you had purchased £1,000 of shares in AIG insurance company one year ago, you would have £33.00 today.

If you had purchased £1,000 of shares in Lehman Brothers five years ago, you would have nothing today.

If you had purchased £1,000 of shares in Northern Rock three years ago, you would have nothing today.

But, if you had purchased £1,000 worth of beer one year ago at Tesco’s, drunk all the beer, then taken the aluminium cans to the scrap metal dealer, you would have received £214.00.

Based on the above, the best current investment plan is to drink heavily & recycle.

The email goes on to give this little statistical gem…

A recent study found that the average Briton walks about 900 miles a year.

Another study found that Britons drink, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol a year.

That means that, on average, Britons get about 41 miles to the gallon!

Ice CUBES? No thanks!

I just read a very interesting article, on the website, about the perfect ice cube. The long and short of it is that your best off with water that has been boiled, to make your ice cubes. You should make them as large as possible and you should make them spherical. It carried on to links for where you can get spherical ice makers, so they do exist. A quick Google shows that there are several different designs, which all work on a similar principal, of shaping normal ice cubes. A Japanese example can be found here, and an American one here. I also found an instructional page on how to make your own. Following a link from that page I found another video which shows how to make perfectly clear ice, which would be cool, having clear ice balls. Also I have found on eBay trays which make smaller ice balls on a much more cost effective scale.

I thought all of this was pretty cool and thought I’d share. I wonder how much better a G’n’T really is after all this?