Through a tiny little Cotswold village and down a single-file country lane exists one of Gloucestershire’s best cider producers. Based in the tiny civil parish of Awre, Severn Cider and Perry is a family-run business shared across three generations.
Since 1956, they've been making cider at their family home-turned-cider mill. Boasting over eight different varieties of drink, this small outfit are the winners of countless regional and national awards, have sold-out of their handcrafted beverages for the past two years, and are even looking to send their produce abroad.
Made on-site from the juice of local heritage apples and pears, the company sits on an idyllic countryside retreat you simply must take some time out to visit. Tucked away among cottages and forged well from the beaten track, you’d be forgiven for thinking the premises is well hidden, but its owner, Nick Bull, explained his small bungalow and unassuming barn were ‘the centre of his world’, and rightly so.
I had a chat with one of Severn Ciders’ Directors, Tom Bull, about the company his family is building. We walked around his home, toured their presses and storage facilities, stood underneath a blossoming Box Kernel tree and spoke at length, through minute April showers, about apples, alcohol, and always pushing the boundaries…
The Bull family began making cider as a family tradition. May Bull – husband of Nick, mother of Tom, and father-in-law of Severn Cider’s founder, Phillip – explained that their hobby business quickly turned in to a domestic industry. Opening its doors to the public in 2009, the family now create thousands of bottles of cider and perry each year.
The apples, all of which are hand-picked from within a thirty-mile radius of the brewery, come from orchards that have been neither sprayed nor fertilised in order to produce a drink that is free from harmful chemicals. Moreover, the juice has nothing added or removed.
The question everyone wants the answer to: how does an apple become alcohol?
Tom explained that after being hand-picked, the apples are washed and sorted ready for milling and processing. The mill smashes the apples to a puree before they’re transferred to the press which squeezes out juices. What’s left is a mush of pulp – something I can only describe as a flapjack of compressed apple, given out to local farms to be biodigested. The juice is then transferred to containers where it sits… waiting patiently.
That’s where this photograph comes from. Just off to the right sit four huge tankers of cider, floor-to-ceiling. Behind those four tankers sit another four, and another four, continuing as far as the eye can see, right to the back of a warehouse I’m guessing is about the size of a football pitch. ‘If we’re talking half-litre bottles, there’s a couple of hundred thousand here, I suppose’, Tom explains. By the way, the place smells fantastic.
Meanwhile, the juice matures on its own natural yeasts, breaking down the sugars and turning it in to alcohol. When the cider has reached its peak, it is flushed from the tankers to newly-cleaned ones for storage. From there, the liquid is syphoned off to oak casks, ready for bottling.
Carefully conserving and propagating their trees, the family have even managed to save one critically endangered fruit, the Box Kernel, from extinction. Grafting and budding the last remaining Box Kernel tree in the parish, a number of trees now exist, used by the family to brew Box Kernel cider. Tom assures me it tastes delicious and I have no reason to doubt him.
Severn Cider and Perry are the producers of Core Blimey, the Students’ Union run social enterprise at the University of Gloucestershire. They supply us with white-label stock which we rebrand and sell as our own – we’ve won awards for it, just like Severn Cider has!