Sophie Jennings, cider maker at Thatchers, shares her story
How did you become a cider maker Sophie?
I’ve always loved science and studied biology at Uni. I had a number of years working within the fruit juice industry which gave me really valuable experience for moving into cidermaking. Cider has many parallels with fruit juice – but there’s so much more within the complexities of cider making.
For us at Thatchers it’s all about preserving the quality of the fruit and the juice throughout all stages of cidermaking. From the way the apples arrive at the farm, to pressing, fermentation, maturation and blending. Fermentation is particularly important – it’s here the yeast interacts with the apple juice and all the beautiful appley aromas are captured.
What stands out for you as a cidermaker at Myrtle Farm?
The better quality the apples, the better quality the cider – it goes without saying. So for us, we always say the best cider starts in the orchards. Our farm team and our apple growers all work amazingly hard throughout the year to produce the best quality apples. We use a combination of bittersweet (cider) apples and dessert apples to create a really interesting range of super tasty ciders.
We’ve four generations of cider making behind us, and some of our traditional ciders use recipes that were created many, many years ago! But over recent years we’ve been able to combine traditional methods with today’s technology to make amazing ciders. Keeping depth of flavour, taste and aroma is so important, and ensuring that the quality is consistent, and this is where technology can really help. There’s one thing that hasn’t changed over the years, and that’s our oak vats that we use for maturing our traditional ciders (they’re over 150 years old!) and the skills of our cidermakers. Tasting the cider every day to check if it’s ready is a skill that hasn’t changed for generations and is something that definitely can’t be replaced by technology!
How can cider appeal to today’s consumer?
Innovation is a big part of the job of a cidermaker at Thatchers. Looking at how to create modern flavours for today’s market and putting a modern twist on traditional methods has been so important in the appeal of Thatchers over recent years, not just in the UK, but worldwide. Cider has an exciting future, and by listening to what people want, we’re able to develop new ciders to meet that demand and to keep cider relevant.
Tastes change, so whether it’s a move to sweeter fruit ciders, or low/no alcohol for those who wish to moderate, it’s down to the cider makers to come up with new ideas to keep the market interested. Creating new ciders is very satisfying and opens up a whole new range of styles – from our alcohol free Zero, to Cloudy Lemon.
What’s your process for developing new ciders?
We’re very privileged to have a living library of apples for cider making here at Myrtle Farm in our Exhibition Orchard. Here we have 458 different varieties of apple, and as cider makers we can use these apples to trial different styles of cider in our small scale pilot plant. These may eventually join our Cider Barn range, a true showcase for the diversity of cider styles.
Or we may start with appreciating there’s a desire for a new style of cider – low/no alcohol for example – and then work with the apples to create a cider that meets that need. There’s one thing that stands out at Thatchers, and that’s quality first. Nothing leaves the farm unless the quality is 100%. So with the complexities of a cider such as alcohol free, it took us two years to get the process exactly as we wanted it, producing an alcohol free drink that still had all the taste characteristics of a Thatchers cider.
What makes ciders different?
Different varieties of apples will create different styles of cider, whether dry, medium or sweet, clear or cloudy, apple or fruit flavoured. Thatchers have hundreds of thousands of trees and it’s the knowledge of each of our 458 varieties that allows us to blend ciders to create a range of ciders. Everyone has their favourite, and there’s a cider style for everyone. The cider market is changing, and innovative cidermakers will come up with new ideas – such as our Haze cider that uses the Jonagold apple to create its natural haze, our pink Rosé cider that’s inspired by red skinned apples, and our new Cloudy Lemon, an apple cider at heart with the addition of lemon juice for today’s fruit cider lovers.
We can truly say we have a full range of ciders to suit all tastes – from dry complex ciders, through to lighter sweeter styles – cider is a real showcase for the apple.
Find out more at Thatchers Cider