Neil is a cider lover and, as it was his birthday not so long ago, I surprised him with a trip to Weston’s and booked us on a lunchtime tour and cider tasting. The tours are daily and commence at 11am, 12.30pm or 2.30pm, they are extremely reasonable at £7.50 per person and last for an hour and a half to two hours.
The tour started outside ‘The Bounds’, the original farmhouse which Henry Weston moved to in 1878. Weston did not start out as a cider maker, he originally used the site for cattle farming and brewed cider on the side as a way to pay his farm workers. Our tour guide informed us that each farm hand was paid 8 pints of scrumpy cider a day….it’s a wonder that they managed to get any work done!!
‘The Bounds’ is currently inhabited by a member of the Weston family; Weston’s cider remains a family business with many members of the family still working for the company to this day under the leadership of the managing director Helen Thomas, the great-grandchild of Henry Weston. It is this sense of tradition that makes Weston’s cider stand out from other British cider produces; indeed, tradition appears to be at the root of everything Weston’s stands for which is extremely admirable in today’s modern times.
One thing I found very interesting was the equipment used in order to press the apples. Above is the traditional press used by Henry Weston, below is the more modern hydraulic press the replaced it. The below rather archaic looking press was amazingly used until 1999! Cider has become an increasingly popular drink in latter years and the rising demand for the drink coincides with Weston’s using a more sophisticated press.
Our tour then progressed to the bottle yard. It is clear from the photograph below exactly how much the popularity of cider drinking has grown over recent years, even companies traditionally known for producing larger delved into the world of cider production! From the Much Marcle site, Weston’s cider is shipped all over the world to places as far as New Zealand. Stowford Press is even on tap in countries in the far east. Apparently, the Japanese are big fans of scrumpy so the demand is not purely from British gap year students! Weston’s now have the ability to bottle a huge amount of cider per day, somewhere in the region of 16,000 bottles per hour!! Once you have tasted a glass of any Weston’s cider, it is easy to see why the brand is so popular!
Apparently Henry Weston, unbeknownst to him, chose a perfect site on which to produce cider when he originally moved to The Bounds all those years ago. The site is sheltered by hills and is on a slope therefore gravity, to this day, is used to help produce the cider. The plant is laid out accordingly with the orchards at the top of the hill, the press and fermentation plant in the middle with the bottle plant and yard at the bottom.
Weston’s cider is not purely the product of apples grown in the orchards at Much Marcle however, only British apples from an 100 mile radius are used with many producers coming from the local area. Once apples are harvested by use of a picking machine much like a road sweeper (no back breaking work involved!), they are then brought to the Weston’s site and weighed so that the farmer’s can be paid accordingly. The apples are then transported to the apple pit at the top of the site.
Through the use of gravity, the apples go from the pit into the apple mill where they are washed, checked for debris, mashed and then pressed.
Weston’s is unlike any other cider producer in Britain as the company still uses oak vats. When the demand for cider began to rise, other cider producers switched to steel vats in which to ferment their cider. Weston’s could not afford new vats at the time which has ended up working to their advantage as their cider has a very distinct oakey taste, something which is unique to the Weston’s brand. Some of the vats are over 200 years old, they vary in size with the largest vat, named “Squeak”, holding 42,107 gallons of cider!
At the end, we were able to taste any of the ciders or perries from the Weston’s range in the visitors centre. Although we have both sampled quite a few Weston’s ciders in the past, it surprised us quite how extensive the range was! Sadly, I was the driver however, I really enjoyed the low-alcohol Stowford Press which was 0.5% abv. The visitors centre had good offers on all of the range and Neil couldn’t resist taking a few bottles away with him. There is also a selection of Weston’s memorabilia for sale as well as local jams, chutneys and apple juices.
On site, there is the ‘bottle museum’ within which is a small cafe serving beverages and light lunches including sandwiches and jacket potatoes. There is also the scrumpy house restaurant; as we were rather peckish and it was lunch time, it seemed rude not to pay it a visit!
The Scrumpy House is a charming little restaurant adorned with Weston’s memorabilia, wooden beams and a log burner; there is also an outside courtyard. It serves light bites such as sandwiches and soup along with a small selection of starter, main meals and desserts as well as having a regular changing specials board. The restaurant is passionate about using produce in its dishes and the menu features a few cider inspired dishes.
One of my favourite comfort food dishes that reminds me of my childhood is sausage and mash; I therefore couldn’t resist the Old Rosie sausages with creamed potato, Wyld Wood and onion gravy – Neil opted for the same. The sausages were produced locally and had a beautiful flavour and were cooked perfectly. The mash was nice and smooth and I couldn’t get enough of the beautiful smokey, oak flavoured cider. A winner in both our eyes! The only thing that would have added to the dish was a side of some kind of vegetable…we all need our five a day after all!!
We both thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Weston’s cider mill – it is a must for any cider lover! The mill is set in beautiful Herefordshire countryside and in the summer there are orchard walks and farm park tours. Highly recommended and a great day out.