This post has been a long time coming but we think it’s worth the wait (particularly if you like cider!).
On a rainy Saturday morning back in September, we joined a group of fellow Bristol bloggers for a tour of Thatchers Cider.
Thatchers is local food and drink royalty so we were so excited to get a glimpse behind the scenes. Nina, in particular, likes nothing more than a cold pint of Thatchers Gold.
At the heart of the community
The company is now much more than a local farm and sells products around the world. But it is still very much rooted in the south west with its HQ at Myrtle Farm in Sandford, 15 miles from Bristol.
The fourth generation of the Thatchers family are in charge and our visit confirmed that community values remain at the heart of the business.
A good, quality local pub is often a key feature of strong communities and Thatchers has its own boozer on site which is where we headed on arrival to get out of the rain.
A warm welcome awaited us in the Railway Inn which has stood in the village for 140 years.
Thatchers took over in 2013 and invested in an extensive refurbishment including a gorgeous hand-carved bar which celebrates Somerset’s traditions and history.
We were introduced to the history of the company from its beginnings in 1904 when farmer William Thatcher partly paid his workers with cider!
William’s son Stan commercialised it into a business by selling cider locally. By the 1970s, when Stan’s son John took over, the farm was making more money from cider than farming.
Martin Thatcher became the boss in 1992 and is still in charge today.
After the potted history and a hot drink to warm up we headed out into the orchards.
The cider orchards
We sadly weren’t treated to any autumn sun and we stood huddled under umbrellas in our winter coats, Thatchers baseball caps and hi-vis jackets. But watching the rain bouncing off the bright red apples was actually wonderfully atmospheric and made for some great photos.
Chris Muntz-Torres is a man who knows his apples. He’s responsible for managing all 500 acres of orchards and he talked us through the cultivating process.
The company grows 458 different varieties of apples (who knew that many existed?!) using what is believed to be England’s largest collection of cider trees.
25 types, including the famous Katy and Falstaff apples, are used in Thatchers ciders with each contributing its own aroma and taste.
If you have limited patience, don’t get involved in cider making. Trees can take up to seven years to fruit completely and they can remain in service for 40 years. Now that’s commitment to the cause!
We were lucky to be visiting in the middle of the harvest so the perfect time to see an orchard jam-packed with those balls of goodness!
Tree after tree was full of apples with the ground below also covered by fruit ready and waiting to be transformed into the West Country’s favourite tipple.
After we’d finished taking lots of arty shots of apples doing their thing, we headed off to see the next stage of the cidermaking process.
The cider mill
Once out of the orchard, the apples are tipped into bays. It’s also where apples from other farms end up as to make cider on the scale it does Thatchers needs a helping hand from growers across the south west.
We were told that suppliers are incentivised to deliver the cleanest and best fruit and the company prides itself in paying a week after delivery.
We all, of course, wanted to see a delivery and the timing was perfect as the team gathered us to watch. A seven-ton trailer, one of 750 that delivers 35,000 of apples from 35 suppliers, arrived and poured out thousands of apples. A very satisfying moment!
Once in the bays, the apples are washed and transported to the processing plant.
No pictures were allowed but trust me, it’s huge.
Machines press the apples to create millions and millions of litres of apple juice. Nothing is wasted with the skin and pips used as cattle feed.
After filtering the juice, the juice is fermented in massive tanks. It’s actually quite a simple and quick process with just the juice and Thatchers’ unique yeast involved.
After blending, the liquid is transported to huge oak vats (Thatchers doesn’t like small stuff!) for maturing.
The team was clearly super proud of the company’s state-of-the-art Jubilee Building where the cider is canned and bottled. Deservedly so. But it’s also great to see the oak vats still in use 150 years after they were built; the perfect combination of modern technology and traditional manufacturing.
The cider tasting
After getting so much detail about the process of making cider it would have been rude to have left without tasting some of it. Luckily, the team had thought of that.
We kicked off with the famous Katy cider which is strong at 7.4% but light and tasty. Some would call that dangerous! 😉
We also tried Redwood, a blend of bittersweet apples including Harry Masters, Dabinett and Yarlington Mill and the wonderfully named Stan’s, part of a range of traditional ciders named in honour of the second generation cidermaker and Martin Thatcher’s grandfather.
We loved them all!
Lunch at the Railway Inn
But the experience wasn’t over yet. Glowing from several glasses of the applely-delights, we headed back to the pub where lunch was waiting.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that apples and south west ingredients feature a lot in the food on the menu.
We can never resist a baked camembert and tucked into a Somerset variety with pistachio crust, cranberry sauce, homemade bread
I tucked into a cider battered fish with triple cooked chips, crushed peas and tartare sauce, while Nina had Baked potato & herb gnocchi with cauliflower purée, oyster mushroom and pinenuts
Dessert included sticky toffee apple pudding, cider toffee sauce and Bramley apple ice cream, plus a new and very, very likely to be repeated discovery; Haze sorbet, made from the Thatchers’ cloudy cider brand.
Exit through the gift shop
Our wonderful trip to Myrtle Farm ended with a visit to the on-site gift shop where we bought a view bottles to take home plus a souvenir glass.
A tour of Thatchers was a brilliant way to spend a Saturday and we highly recommended you book one yourself. All the info you need is here.
We were invited to visit Thatchers for free and received complimentary food and drink. All views are our own.