Neil Worley is the man in charge of the award winning ‘Worley’s Cider’, a range of Somerset ciders made using traditional methods. Two Thirsty Gardeners shared a glass of juice with him and found out more about his craft…
How did you first get into cider making?
I bought 50 gallons of juice off Roger Wilkins’ press to make cider for my 40th birthday party. I thought it would last for ages so bumped up the sugar as I’d heard higher alcohol meant it would last longer. It was lovely – but lethal at 10.5%. And it only lasted a few weeks anyway. Two lessons learnt: 6.5% is perfectly adequate, and if you make half-decent cider, you’ll always have help drinking it!
What are the main characteristics of Somerset cider?
Perhaps even more than any of the other West Country counties, Somerset’s cider apple orchards are dominated by bittersweet varieties. They are high in tannin and low in acid, so the resulting cider is often bitter and complex with little sharpness to offset the dryness. Traditionally there would have been a more balanced mix of varieties in most Somerset orchards, but the influence of high-volume cider manufacturers on orchard planting has resulted in lower amounts of the important sharps and bittsharps. For the industrial makers, bittersweet juice can be stretched further and sharpness is often added in a chemical form to balance the end product. Traditional makers such as ourselves try to create the acid balance with apples. I guess what I’m probably saying is that, in the past, traditional Somerset cider would have been a full-flavoured but balanced offering, but today’s orchards present more of a challenge for craft cider makers. Most of the makers I know in Somerset struggle to find the sharp and bittersharp apples to make a balanced cider – the opposite problem experienced by makers away from the counties of the South West.
What apples do you use?
I’m a great believer in blending, so we use as many good varieties as we can get our hands on and then blend the apples and resulting juices and ciders to make products with a full range of flavours. Aspect and local soil and climate are also important. In the past few years we have have focussed on apples from south Somerset.
You were recently a judge at the Bath and West Show. How was that experience?
It was great fun. I worked with another judge and on my own to narrow down a couple of large sections to a manageable number before the ‘proper’ judges such as Julian Temperley and Raymond Blanc took over.
What are you looking for when judging cider?
If you’re not instructed to taste to a set of specifications, my personal preference is to promote ciders that allow the quality of the fruit to shine through. For example, you taste a lot of ciders that have picked up a strong spirit flavour from the cask they’ve been exposed to – I would tend to veer away from those as the fruit is overpowered by the spirit. At Bath & West, there were also some great ciders from the eastern tradition – sharp, but with low tannin – where the fruit really shone in the taste. I’m quite happy to take those seriously as a great example of the craft, simply using a different type of fruit.
Have you any tips for the DIY cider maker?
You only get one chance a year, so try to learn as much as you can every time. Use loads of different types of apples, taste the juice, ferment them separately and taste all the way through to the final product. Also make sure you keep everything as clean as you can and keep copious notes. You will want to refer back to them at some stage in the future.
For more information on Worley’s Cider visit www.worleyscider.co.uk