Chatting Cider with Two Thirsty GardenersColin Campbell-Preston
We recently met up with the guys from Two Thirsty Gardeners, Rich and Nick, to discuss our joint love of gardening. As their focus is largely growing fruits and flowers to turn into alcoholic beverages, and because the summer is well on its way, we decided to ask them a few questions about our favourite sun-kissed tipple – cider.
What inspired your love of the outdoors, gardening and cider?
We both grew up in villages spending a lot of time outside in the surrounding countryside and our families followed a bit of the ‘Good Life’ ethic, growing and making their own produce. Nick introduced Rich to his local Gloucestershire scrumpy when we met at university in Coventry and we both ended up living in Somerset, where cider is a way of life, so it seemed like a natural step to try making our own.
Home-grown or store-bought apples, which makes the better cider?
You can make cider out of any apples, but the best stuff uses varieties you won’t find in the shops. It also helps if the fruit has been exposed to the elements a little more than the pristine, polished specimens you find on supermarket shelves.
What equipment do you need to start brewing your own cider?
Something to squeeze the juice from the apples and a fermentation vessel to turn it into booze. A kitchen juicer will suffice for small batches, but if you’ve got more than a few bags of apples to get through then you’ll need something more efficient. The first task is to break down the apples into small pieces using something called a scratter, followed by a simple basket press to force out the juice. A scratter can be anything from a heavy piece of wood and bucket to bash up the apples to fully mechanical pieces of kit with dangerous spinning blades. Glass demijohns fitted with airlocks are the most common fermenters for small batches; we use larger plastic versions for higher volumes.
Do you need to live in the countryside to brew cider?
Of course not! If you can get hold of apples, you can make cider. There are lots of people with apple trees who would be delighted for someone to help clear away their unwanted apples for them – that’s how we started and we still use fruit that would otherwise be left to rot.
What conditions suit apple tree growth for cider production?
As with all apples trees, some varieties are more suited to certain conditions then others so it’s worth doing a bit of research depending on where you live. Soil conditions play a large part in determining the properties of the apple harvest, in the way they do with grapes, which is why you see so much regional variation in ciders.
How long does the process usually take from plucking the apple to sipping the cider?
You don’t want to rush making a decent cider. Assuming picking begins in Autumn then the juice will ferment rapidly at first, slow down over winter, and be ready for bottling in spring – just in time to drink when the sunny days start to arrive.
What is the biggest problem you face year-after-year when producing cider?
There are no major problems we’ve encountered, it’s all fairly straightforward. Each vintage tastes a little different so you might struggle to consistently match flavours year after year, but we think the varying results are part of the fun.
With the recent craft and real ale renaissance, do you think we’re primed for a craft cider explosion?
Yep, there are certainly lots of small craft producers popping up around the world that are starting to get recognition. The step up to producing big volumes is much more problematic for cider than beer (getting hold of enough apples being the main concern) so it’s less likely lots of the small producers will go mainstream and be able to maintain quality, but there will continue to be lots more choice for drinkers.
Could you describe your perfect cider?
We live in the West Country so it would have to be a juicy bittersharp cider with a fair amount of crisp acidity and a dry tannic finish, the perfect drink to go with a decent chunk of cheddar.
Away from alcohol-producing fruits, what are your favourite things to grow in the garden?
We also like alcohol producing flowers, especially hops, and alcohol producing vegetables for our home made wines. We also try to grow plants that help look after the bees, of which lavender is probably our favourite… and the flowers can be used to flavour a lovely sparkling wine!
If Rich and Nick’s passion for cider has influenced you to start your own back garden brewery, the three Capital Gardens sites are jam-packed with great pieces of equipment, bulbs and more to get the process going. For directions to our three garden centres, visit our homepage or call us today on 0208 348 5054.