Nothing, and we mean nothing, suits a sunny weekend better than a few cool pints of sparkling, amber cider. And you can go right to the source of the good stuff in Somerset. Now’s the perfect time to go too, as June is when the apple trees are in full blossom.
You can spend a couple of days visiting historic cider farms, meeting the producers, wandering through the pretty orchards and, naturally, getting a teeny bit sozzled. Here’s some top places to start.
Perry’s Cider Mills
This 16th-century thatched barn (above) is a little off the beaten track, but when you get there you’ll be rewarded with the chance to try Perry’s award-winning draught and bottled ciders. They’ve been in business since 1920, using the apples grown in their own orchards and local farms, to make only small batch craft ciders.
After sampling a Somerset Dabinett, or a Premium Vintage, have a wander around the cider mills (there’s no charge) to check out the old farm wagons, machinery and tools – the presses here have produced over 14,000,000 pints in their time.
You can then while away a few hours drinking at the Tea Room or stock up on a few cases of grog to take away from the farm shop. Make the most of the fact the kind folk here let you sample whatever you like before you buy.
Open: All year round except Christmas. Weekdays, 9am-5.30pm; Saturday/ bank holidays, 9.30am-4.30pm; Sunday, 10am-1pm.
Bridge Farm Cider
Like a taste of the fancy stuff? Head to Bridge Farm, another award-winning producer, which has been making artisan cider for more than 25 years using only home-grown apples. Bridge Farm’s tipples gained further prestige last year when they presented their limited edition Dorgis cider to the Queen herself. She looked very pleased, as it was named after her dogs – and any cider OK by Her Maj is A-OK by us.
When you visit, make sure to buy a glass or two of the traditional still farmhouse cider, which is kept in oak barrels in the farm shop. If you feel like something stiffer, try the five-year-old Cider Brandy.
Open: Seven days a week Monday-Saturday, 9am-6pm; by appointment on Sundays.
Hecks Traditional Farmhouse Cider
A seriously old-school farm, the Hecks family has been making cider here for six generations since 1840 and selling it since 1896. They still use traditional methods, blending juice from apples all grown locally in the farm’s orchards.
The Loyal Drain, from the Shepton Mallet area, is an interesting one to sample – bittersweet with lots of tannin and a strong smoky aftertaste. Or try the sharp, dry Tremlett’s Bitter Cider, a Devon variety with a butterscotch aftertaste.
Is your mouth watering? Buy some to take home from the farm shop along with a selection of local cheddar cheeses, chutneys and some traditional cider mugs.
Open: Weekdays and Saturday, 9am-5.30pm; Sunday, 10am-12.30pm. Group tours need to call ahead.
The story beind this company says it all. Founders and mates Andrew Quinlan and Neil Macdonald were washing down a hog roast with some homemade cider when they were inspired to launch Orchard Pig in 2004.
Their ciders are slowly matured and include Reveller (you can buy this one in a 50L keg … oh the temptation), Charmer (which is smooth and intensely fruity), and the dry and crisp Truffler. Need another incentive to go there? They call themselves the ‘Notorious P.I.G’. That’ll be hilarious when you’re mid-way through that keg…
Open: You can pop into the shop for an apple juice or some cider, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.
Getting there Take the train from London Paddington to Taunton for £43.50 return with First Great Western.
More: Somerset County Council’s “Somerset Cider and Apple Juice Map” on Facebook
Photos: Thinkstock, Nell Barrington, Orchard Pig