Just like Somerset….who knew?

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Last week, we had visitors from a new cidery (yes, that’s the name for a place that makes cider….we don’t always like it either) in Austin, Texas.  These guys are starting Austin Eastciders, and aim to recultivate old Southern apple varieties.  Saving and growing cider fruit is a subject near and dear to us, and it’s always interesting to hear about efforts to make cider in vastly different parts of the US. They plan to make cider predominantly with near-extinct old Southern cider apples like Horse, Hewes, Yates & Harrison. Their first batch of cider, called “Gold Top,” was produced with 12 different Texas apple varieties and more than 40 different antique English apple varieties in the UK. It is available in a few locations around Austin and Houston, Texas. 

A really cool part of the visit was that one of the men, Martin (Austin Eastciders’ cider maker) had actually met Steve in England on one of Steve’s cider trips over the pond.  The cider world is growing, but is still small and very collegial. Here’s what they had to say about the visit:

Visiting Steve’s place was just like visiting a cider farm in Somerset. There was a relaxed, informal atmosphere, a plentiful supply of free flowing cider and an even more plentiful supply of entertaining anecdotes, cider-related and otherwise. It made me realise that with Austin Eastciders we shouldn’t just be focused on repopularising this incredible long lost drink, we should also be focused on recreating the magical atmosphere that has always gone with the places where it has been made. I sincerely hope people feel as welcome at our Austin location when it opens as we were made to feel at Farnum Hill.

Steve Wood’s philosophy on cider making is very much the same as ours. If you want to make good cider you need the right kind of fruit, bittersweet and bittersharp cider apple varieties. When growing eating apples for the wholesale market started to look like an impossible way to make a living for a small operator, Steve took the plunge and turned his whole orchard over to cider apples and started making cider. This means he now has what is probably the largest cider apple orchard in the US. Though small in English terms, Steve’s orchard still produces enough fruit for him to cover his own hard cider production and also sell some small amounts to other cidermakers from time to time. Many of the varieties in Steve’s orchard are the classic apples you would find in an English cider apple orchard. He uses these to make bittersweet/bittersharp base blends, to which he may add single variety heirloom ciders to produce specific desired effects, like the ‘acid-bomb’ Wickson variety, a small but amazing little apple, very high in acid with a somewhat nutty aftertaste.

We tried numerous of Steve’s ciders over a long leisurely afternoon, at first joined by cider aficionado/writer Ben Watson who kindly gifted us a copy of his book Cider Hard & Sweet, which I highly recommend. The ciders were all excellent, very dry and very clean tasting, and the conversation was equally good, sharing stories of Somerset cider legends like Roger Wilkins and picking up some great tips on the characteristics of various American cider apple varieties. We left Farnum Hill weighed down with ciders gifted us by Steve, overflowing with invaluable advice to reflect on and with the feeling we had found a great ally in our efforts to advance the cause of real cider made from real cider apples.

So best of luck to Austin Eastciders.  We’ll stop in next time we’re two-steppin’ in Texas.

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