A cider orchard … a cidermaker … and its in Manchester!
Updated: Feb 17, 2019
DUNHAM PRESS, Altrincham, Greater Manchester
We set off on our first visit to Altrincham, searching for cider venues and cider makers for a new Greater Manchester Cider Map. The first cider we find is in a bar in the famous Altrincham Market called Jack in the Box, and it’s a local cider. Dunham Press ‘The Dabbler’ is a single variety Dabinett, and is from Dunham Massey, just ten minutes down the road.
Altrincham is one of the trendy ‘aspire to’ suburbs in Manchester, its a place for trend setters and success stories. Its market has won plaudits everywhere for its street food stalls and cool bars. In the centre of the market sits Jack in the Box Altrincham, a bar run by Manchester Brewery, Blackjack. The Breweries flagship pub, The Smithfield Market Tavern, won Central Manchester CAMRAs Cider Pub of the Year 2019.
Driving out of Altrincham in search of Dunham Press Cidery we soon enter the narrow lanes of the Cheshire plains. When we arrive orchardist and cider maker Chris Hewitt is spotted through the hedge, armed to the teeth with pruning tools. He is surrounded by pruned out branches amongst row after row of apple trees.
Boundary Farm on Sawpit Street has been in the family since 1938, three generations leasing land from the National Trust at Dunham Massey.
Chris’s Dad, Alan used to press apples from the farms garden, but those were eating apple and cooking apple varieties suited to producing organic apple juice for Dunham Massey. That is Alans project, Dunham Massey Apple Juice. Single variety juice, organic and with a shelf life of two years. Each a different variety of apple, from Bramley (that tastes like liquid apple pie) to sweet Fiesta, then there are Kidd's Orange, a blend of Charles Ross and Laxton Superb, a Blenheim Orange and a Howgate blended with pear juice. It is only since 2008 that they have started growing their own orchard,
But then in 2009 Chris started a plan to make cider.
It has taken him nearly ten years to build up Orchards of west country cider apple varieties: Dabinett, Kingston Black, Porters Perfection, Slack-Ma-Girdle … the names slip off his tongue as he walks us around his orchards. Some are just reaching maturity, others he has just planted with three-year-old trees, he’ll have to wait years to get a real crop off those. But his older trees are now beginning to produce enough juice to begin to really take off as a major player in the Manchester and North West cider market.
Just like his Dad, who led Dunham Massey Apple Juice to win the National Trust Fine Food Award 2014, Chris sets about things very seriously. First of all, he studied with the internationally renowned Peter Mitchel, in the Cider & Perry Academy, which has bases in both the UK and North America. Then year by year, producing more juice each year, he perfected his techniques of cider making.
More recently Chris has attended the Beer and Cider Academy courses on Cider, delivered by Gabe Cook, the Ciderologist. Having completed the Foundation, Advanced and Cider Judging programmes, he now must produce a portfolio of evidence of knowledge of cider across many areas, including cider promotion, food matching and developing a personal project. With a final exam, this will qualify him to become a Cider Sommelier, a Pommelier. He will then both be a producer and an expert and tasting judge of fine quality ciders.
Northern orchards of heritage apples on the Cheshire plains, part of the National Trust Dunham Massey Estate. The land is sandy loam, and, in the orchards, they keep beehives and every spring they care for hundreds of bumble bees. They use no chemical sprays and produce organic juice, as much as possible following principles of sustainability.
Three generations on the farm, Chris is continuing his Dads skills with apple trees and now applying them to making cider. They are the only cider makers in the area with their own orchards surrounding their cider barns. Patiently they have built up their orchard and their skills. Now they have both the skills and the quantity of apples to really assert a presence in the cider world. Over that time, they have learnt what works, and what doesn’t, which apple varieties thrive and which not on the Cheshire plains of the north.
Their key task now is to develop the character of ‘Northern Cider’. With a different climate and length of season than the west country, their ciders are beginning to take on a unique style. They are now confident in their skills and have sought to learn the skills of ‘spontaneous fermentation’, making ciders with the funky wild yeasts from the apple skins and from the environment in their barns. What will be of interest to cider drinkers will be how those wild flavours of ‘Natural Ciders’ develop a unique northern taste.
We left a bottle of Ross on Wye Raison D’Etre, made from Herefordshire Dabinett, fermented with wild yeasts, aged for two years and then blended with a little bit of one-year old Michelin juice. Below, Chris Hewitt will review his first tastes of this ground breaking ‘Natural Cider’ made with no additives, but a lot of craft.
And we took away a bottle of Chris’s flagship ‘Dabbler’ made with 100% Dabinett apple and no sugars. Cath will review that below. She too has studied at the Beer and Cider Academy, at a different time than Chris, but at the same stages. She too is developing a portfolio towards qualifying as a Pommelier, and yes, she and Chris are already plotting to help each other out.
Dabbler - the Cider Buzz Mcr review
Following our visit to the orchards and cidery we took home two versions of this standout cider, one bottled and carbonated ready for sale and the other straight from the maturation vessel. The cider is made from 100% organic apples from the farm, harvested and pressed in 2017.
The aroma from both was appley with the carbonated version having some caramel notes and the still more complex on the nose with more earthy notes. Both tasted pleasantly balanced with crisp apple sweetness balanced by enough bitterness and acidity to make it interesting. IMHO the still version allowed some more complex flavours to emerge.
The light carbonation gave a nice refreshing quality with soft astringency and tannins whereas the still version was more astringent and the tannins more prominent. Both have a lovely long finish.
Overall, both these versions are medium to dry refreshing cider and it’s so great to find this quality of tannic West Country style cider made in the Manchester area. A tannin led cider with a northern touch, it’s like a Dabinett from Herefordshire or Somerset, but with a lighter touch, possibly because of the colder climate with slightly lower temperatures slowing down the fermentation.