[Photo: Eleanor Thatcher, fifth generation cider maker, at the orchard in Christon]
The apples come from one of the West Country’s oldest, and most influential, orchards. With its ongoing research into apple varieties, Thatchers Cider is celebrating the work of the former National Fruit and Cider Institute with its new limited edition cider.
Thatchers has blended apples from one of Somerset’s oldest and most influential orchards for its new, limited edition Christon Single Orchard Cider.
The standard orchard in Christon, nestled at the foot of the Mendip Hills, was originally planted back in 1928, and is home to traditional apple varieties including Court Royal, Frederick and Stembridge Cluster.
The Christon orchard plays a very special part of cidermaking history. It was planted by cider pioneers at the National Fruit and Cider Institute at the Long Ashton Research Station in Bristol in the early days of cider research. It was these cider pioneers who really were the founding fathers of the modern cider industry, with their ground-breaking research into apple varieties and regional growing conditions. Their work on cider making techniques, including yeast selection, is still valued by cider makers today.
Fourth generation cider maker Thatchers has harvested the orchard – that is home to 25 different varieties of apple – four times throughout the season, ensuring each variety has been captured at its perfect ripeness. The apples were taken straight from the orchard to the mill, and pressed straight away, retaining all the individual characteristics of the fruit, and the orchard.
The fresh juice was cold fermented in Thatchers’ cider barn, carefully preserving the flavour and character of the fruit. Each small batch of juice has then been blended together before being matured in oak to create the robust and full flavoured cider.
The mix of apples blended into the new, unique Christon Single Orchard cider brings a depth and complexity to this cider. Just 10,000 bottles are being produced of the 8.4% abv, medium dry, full-bodied cider.
Richard Johnson, chief cidermaker at Thatchers, says,
“I love this traditional orchard at Christon which oozes character and tradition. There’s a real mix of heritage apples here, that we’ve blended into this really bold, full bodied cider, perfect for the onset of colder days and darker evenings when a smooth, warming cider is so welcome.”
By using apples from one single orchard, the cider makers at Thatchers recognise how the soil and climatic conditions have a huge influence on the fruit’s flavour and characteristics, just as the researchers at Long Ashton did back in the early 1900s. The Christon orchard is nestled on south facing slopes at the foot of Somerset’s Mendip Hills, with a red loam topsoil over a clay subsoil. The varieties harvested from Christon orchard also include Brown Snout, Yarlington Mill, Yellow Styre, and White Close Pippin.
Liz Copas, one of the UK’s leading pomologists and formerly of the Long Ashton Research Station has helped identify all the apples – and perry pears – in the Christon orchard.
She says, “This has to be one of the most influential orchards in modern British cider making. It’s a real privilege to have the chance to walk through these trees some of which are coming up to 100 years old. All cidermakers today owe much to the work that was carried out at Long Ashton Research Station, and Thatchers have captured that essence in a bottle with this new cider.”
With its forty acres of trial orchards, including its living library Exhibition Orchard, Thatchers is carrying on the Long Ashton tradition of research into apple varieties, growing conditions and their suitability for cider making. Its “100 Tree Trial” has seen 10,000 new trees of different apple varieties planted in Thatchers own hedgerow style, with all these varieties having either performed well in the Exhibition Orchard, or having a reputation for producing excellent cider.
Richard concludes, “Trialling different apple varieties and researching how they perform in varying cider styles is such an important part of our ability to innovate and create ciders for today’s shopper. At the same time, we are able to look back at the legacy of the Long Ashton Research Station and carry that on into our work today.”
A new TV campaign from Thatchers, the family cider makers, will appear on screens from Monday 17th August 2020. Called “Family”, it reinforces the values that are the driving force behind everything that Thatchers does.
True to life, authentic, warm and aspirational, the new campaign from the Somerset cider maker will be broadcast nationally, on TV and Video on Demand.
The ad has been directed by award-winning British director Steve Reeves with production company Another Film Company. The creative agency is McCann Bristol, and media agency Bray Leino.
Bill Bailey has provided the voice over, and as in previous campaigns Martin Thatcher has a cameo role, this time joined by family members Anne and Eleanor. Cider makers Richard Johnson and Sophie Jennings also make appearances.
Martin Thatcher, four generation cidermaker says, “This is an ad that’s warm with a smile in its heart. We hope everyone will be able to relate to it. The sense of family runs very strongly throughout all we do at Thatchers, from our heritage and traditions, through to our quality and expertise in cider making. It’s something we’re all very proud of, and we know it’s something that will always stay true. There’s never been a better time to reinforce the message of family and caring for each other.”
A forty and thirty second ad will showcase the Thatchers cider portfolio of Thatchers Gold, Haze and Rosé. A social campaign will also run.
Thatchers has been the cider category’s top off trade performer during lockdown with sales +108.7% in the last 12 weeks. *Source: IRI, vol sales 12 w/e 18th July 2020.
As pubs and bars await the Government announcement allowing them to open their doors once again, the fourth-generation family business will be offering every one of its free-trade customers in Great Britain a free 50 litre keg of Thatchers cider in a £1million pledge.
Martin Thatcher, managing director of Thatchers explains,
“We want to help the pub industry get back to business after this immensely tough period. There’s no doubt pubs and bars will need all the help and support they can get, with the new normal being just as challenging.
“By giving free-trade customers across Britain who currently stock one of our draught brands, a free keg of cider, we’re hoping that this will be of great value to them financially for when they’re able to get the pints pouring once again.”
Thatchers is promising up to £1million of cider to make this happen. They will be working closely with their wholesale suppliers to ensure pubs and bars receive their free keg at the appropriate time.
Thatchers is extending this offer of support to all pubs in the UK subject to agreement with their respective owners and routes to market.
“As an industry we have to pull together and do what we can to help the hospitality industry get back on its feet.
“We hope this pledge will help pubs and bars welcome back customers with open arms, knowing that a free keg of cider will help their business.”
Thatchers will also be offering point of sale, sales support and cellar advice to publicans when needed, as businesses reopen.
Marston’s is just one of the companies supporting the Thatchers Pledge. Simon Barnes, Free Trade Sales Director at Marston’s, says
“Marston’s are really pleased to be working with Thatchers to support their pledge and helping our pubs restart their businesses.”
Tim Cooper, managing director of Dayla Drinks, has also lent his support. He says ,
“Dayla is delighted to working with Thatchers Cider on such a great initiative to support the on-trade at a time when we all need an uplift. My family and the Thatcher family are fully committed to helping our loyal band of customers return to better times and we wish them all well.”
Jo Mardell, head of sales at Tolchards Drinks adds,
“Tolchards are delighted to be part of Thatchers’ pledge initiative. We’re sure customers will race to get on board and will be thankful for the support on re-opening their outlets.”
Cider makers across the South West have responded to the continued absence of gatherings by launching a cyber celebration to mark South West Cider Week.
Such is the ingenuity and determination of producers around the region that a packed programme of events actually exceeds one week – stretching from Friday 12 June to Sunday 21 June.
During that time, cider drinkers and serious aficionados alike can enjoy online tastings, virtual tours, a cyber meet and greet with producers and even a drive through cider shop followed by an orchard walk.
The events are being organised by cider makers and retailers themselves, and co-ordinated through the website, www.swciderweek.org.uk and on social media using the hashtag #swciderweek.
As the oldest drink produced in the UK cider making in the South West is steeped in centuries of history. This is not by chance as it is the combination of the landscape, soil and weather that mean that apple orchards flourish in the region – especially those planted with the bittersweet fruit varieties that have made West Country ciders famous around the world. Though it is also a sector and a region noted for much of the innovation in terms of producing different styles of cider, orcharding practices and product manufacture.
The dozens of events that make up the South West Cider Week are being coordinated by the South West of England Cidermakers’ Association (SWECA).
Martin Berkeley of Pilton Cider is organising the SWECA involvement. He said: “Sharing a glass of cider in good company is a fabulous thing and vital to many of the social connections we make. It is also so important commercially for hundreds of businesses across our region.
“Whilst it might a while before we can gather in person, we were determined to see how we could still celebrate cider.
“The response, thanks to the imagination and resilience of cider makers has been fantastic and as a result, we will – virtually – invite the world to share our passion for the drink so synonymous with the South West.”
As well as showcasing the skills of cider makers and revealing the great matches with other regional produce like cheese, it is hoped that the series of events will also provide a much-needed boost to producers given lost sales through pubs and bars and the absence of tourism this summer.
The scale of the loss to producers is significant as a third of cider sales, representing two-thirds of the value, are through on-trade outlets. For 2019, that amounted to £2bn in sales (Westons Cider Report).
To amplify this effort many businesses are offering discounts for online sales and some specialist retailers are putting together mixed cases that reflect the great breath of quality drinks produced across the region.
Support for the South West Cider Week was immediately forthcoming from the body representing the UK cider industry – the biggest cider market in the world.
For the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM), Mark Hopper said: “We know that cider makers like nothing more than being able to share their craft with people – whether those consumers are new to cider or familiar with the many styles available.
“The continued absence of the chance to meet people in person is understood, though it has an impact.
“That producers right across the South West have come together to create ten days packed with different ways to enjoy cider is fantastic. We will do all we can to encourage people to join at least one of the events.”
The cider makers stepping up to the cyber challenge range from small producers new to the sector like Find & Foster and Ganley & Nash to established businesses of scale with hundreds of years of history like Sheppy’s and Thatchers Cider.