A small number of Oxford Brewers had a trip out to the Oxfordshire / Warwickshire border to visit the Little Orchard Company that produces Thorn Brook cider.
Partners Tony Harrison and Josephine Dakin set up the company a few years back as an alternative to their I.T. careers and following on from a masters degree that Jo had undertaken on land management, with an interest in orchard management.
Their business is split between a couple of locations. The cidery is located on a farm not far from the very picturesque village of Shennington. The orchard is located about 5 miles from the cidery.
As you would expect, establishing an orchard is not an instant thing. The apple trees take around 10 years to become suitably established, and they are only a few years into this process. They are cropping, but considerably reduced from their full yield. Orchard management encompasses many things, not only from just looking after the trees from the like of diseases like canker, but also keeping the grass under control so that voles don’t damage the trees, and keeping deers off the land as they strip the branches of leaves and fruit. Due to the young age of their orchard they are currently producing cider from apples sourced from other commercial orchards.
Their 10 acre orchard incorporates a wide variation of apple varieties, from classic cider varieties like Kingston Black and Black Dabinette through to cooking and dessert varieties like Ellison’s Orange and Katy.
The cider making process is quite simple. Clean apples are chopped and pressed to produce the apple juice. The juice has champagne yeast added and is left to ferment over the winter in a cool temperature. To control the process they add sodium metabisulphate to kill off the bugs and natural yeasts prior to adding the yeast. The juice is fermented in Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC’s) in single varieties. Once the juice has fermented the cider is blended to produce the flavour profile they are looking for, depending on the cider product.
Last year (2011) was their first year of commercial production, producing 7,000 litres of very labour intensive cider from mixed varieties of apples. This was a real learning exercise and helped galvanise their thoughts on the equipment they need. This year has seen a dramatic increase in production and they are hoping to produce over 20,000 litres.
Tony and Jo were both very welcoming of us all, and open to our questions, as beer brewers who have slightly different approaches to fermentation (temperature, yeast, etc). We really do wish them well in their enterprise.