A visit to a Derbyshire Cider maker and then a Derbyshire pub
Friday 15th April 2011
I was lucky to get the last space on the cider trip on the Friday night before the CAMRA AGM. We went in two 15 seater coaches as we had to go down some extremely narrow roads to our destination, near Dronfield, Derbyshire, around ten miles from Sheffield.
The destination was Woodthorpe Hall, a stunning 17th century country house, set in two and a half acres of superb gardens. Proprietor Dick Shepley's grandfather bought the property in 1926.
It is used as a wedding venue with the ceremonies taking place in the Cider Press, a stone, open fronted building incorporating a 19th century cider press, still in use. It is understandable fully booked for 2011 (update - and 2013) in case you were thinking of asking!
Woodthorpe only has about twelve apple trees of their own so Dick and his wife have to go and fetch a good mixture from all their relatives and friends. Last year produced a bumper crop and they broke all records of production. They see cider pressing as a social event where they press the new and drink the old. The first job is washing the fruit; windfalls are all right as long as they are basically sound. The apples go into the first machine which is a bit like a root cutter, it spins them round and chops them into small pieces and pulp comes out at the bottom which then goes into something like an up market garden shredder which liquidises the apples.
Sheets of hessian are placed in the square wooden blocks on the press. The apple mixture is then spread in these sheets and made into two "cheeses". Down comes the press and the juice oozes out and goes straight into small glass carboy containers keeping as much air out as possible. They had so much juice last year they had to finally buy some 1000 litre (220 gallon) plastic containers. Usual production is less than a third of this. The Owd Barker Cider is a medium dry and comes off the press at 6.5% abv. They make it over about two weekends a year and only supply local beer and cider festivals and the Arkwright Arms, see below.
The juice froths in the container for the first week, extra sugar is then added. Only the naturally occurring yeast in the apples is used but yeast nutrient is added to make sure the fermentation finishes. Dick says they have got a fairly consistent product now and the cider would be a much more variable product if they didn't use it. The cider is fermented for 3 months, January to March, and then bottled off.
We sat and looked around the gardens and were offered a couple of pints of this magnificent cider, which tasted mighty strong. Some bottles were made available for people that wanted to take some away.
They have recently experimented with pears and produced a 50/50 pear/apple mix: Pider. We were also offered a taste of this, very nice.
Afterwards it was back on the buses to the CAMRA East Midlands Cider Pub of the Year, the Arkwright Arms, in Sutton-cum-Duckmanton, about four miles east of Chesterfield, Derbyshire. The Arkwright is a Tudor-fronted freehouse which has a permanent selection of ten real ciders and two traditional perries as well as eight real ales many from local micros. Hosts John and Kathy Chadwick provided an excellent and well needed buffet.
Beer, cider and perry festivals are held over Easter and August Bank Holiday weekends.
Special thanks should go to Chris Gascoyne, CAMRA's cider representative for Chesterfield, for organising the event.
Woodthorpe Hall, Dronfield, Derbyshire S18 7WA. Tel: 0114 2360134
About 12 miles from the M1:
Chesterfiled junction 29 from the south; Sheffield junction 33 from the north.
Arkwright Arms, Chesterfield Road, Sutton-cum-Duckmanton, Derbyshire S44 5JG
Tel: 01246 232053