A great year for English cider – preparing for a strong apple harvest

Susanna Forbes

Susanna Forbes

14 October 2016

It's definitely the country's year for all things bubbly, with England looking set for a strong apple harvest – according to some of the country's leading producers.

With blighty booze getting a lot of the spotlight, Helen Thomas, MD at Herefordshire-based Westons Cider, revealed this year to be their biggest crop ever, milling over 32,000 tonnes of fruit.

'The weather conditions were ideal,' Thomas told Imbibe. 'A good blossom in May was followed by the right amount of rain at the right times. It’s also dry at the moment which is making it much easier to harvest the apples with dry ground underfoot.'

This news also means we could be seeing a lot more English cider variants on offer soon, so prepare to up your cider-selling game...

With the ability to let the fruit ripen a little further if the weather does stay relatively dry, Tom Oliver, of Olivers Cider & Perry, is hoping to make a single varietal Dabinett. 'We haven't made one for quite a few years,' he says.

For David Sheppy, sixth-generation cider maker at Somerset producer Sheppy's, the crops are also looking good. 'Particularly the key mid- to late-season varieties such as Dabinett, Harry Masters, Browns and Chisel Jersey,' Sheppy says. 'Sugars so far have been a few degrees up on last year which is very encouraging.'

Richard Johnson at Thatchers is equally positive: 'The late spring has meant a late ripening by about seven to 10 days,' he says. 'The early fruit is good quality with plenty of sugar and recent rain has helped the mid-season fruit to swell and ripen nicely.'

Meanwhile, over on the east coast, Aspall's Harry Kester says that initial quality from its growers 'looks to be very good. Yields are up and down depending on the producing region,' he says, adding that the bittersweet fruit is a couple of weeks late in ripening. 'There is a concern that volume may come at once,' he says. 'This could put pressure on cider mills to deal with the tonnage in a condensed time, or alternatively mean that growers may end up losing yields. Dessert fruit quality looks very good, with yields variable.'

In Scotland, Peter Stuart, cidermaker at Thistly Cross feels that 2016 is going to be a season of 'plenitude and abundance'. 'The general lack of seasonal winds have kept the fruit on the trees and let them hang about long enough to sweeten up. A dose of late autumn sunshine has helped the Scottish crop to be in good shape again this year,' he added.

While Kester adds a note of caution regarding the 'high levels of pressure on the UK crop values' posed by 'ever increasing European juice fruit tonnages', Thomas is upbeat: 'Harvests like this are very positive for the whole cider industry,' she says.

Prepare for a whole lot of English cider coming your way...

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