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We don’t need an excuse to visit the beautiful and grand venue of Stanmer House, near Brighton.

It’s based in Stanmer village which has an old Sussex feel, a great start, or finish to an adventure in the South Downs National Park.

Aspall's My wife and I attended an evening at Stanmer House hosted by the Suffolk cider maker Aspall. 8 generations of family members have hand crafted cyder in the market town of Debenham. I know of 6 generations of family members like Heck’s in Somerset, but I think to my knowledge, Aspall are the oldest craft cider makers in the UK.

The evening was intriguing as we were asked to compare how the wine and cider’s that we were tasted either complemented the food, or otherwise. There were about 20 people in the room, mostly wine drinkers.

So how did the Real Cider compare with the already established food and wine matching?

First up was scallops as a starter – we had the Aspall draught cider which really energised the pallette and the fruit taste brought out the seafood flavours. A genuine still real cider, a mixture of Eastern county bittersweet apples and West Country cider apples.

A memorable experience and great start! We also had a white wine which was far too acidic, and destroyed the delicate tastes from the scallops.

Imperial-Vintage-500ml-BottleThen main course, sliced duck fillet with a fruit gravy. Of course the wine choice was a rich red wine. Which, for me, numbed the pallette and striped the mouth of any flavours from this meal.

The cider on the other hand, the Imperial Vintage which was a pleasure to sip – a dry start with a sweet mellow finish. Enjoyed in a wine glass, and the ambience of Stanmer House – a strong contender and winner for me here.

Then an assortment of rich deserts, where we had a desert wine and a fruit cider containing redcurrant and blackberries, Isabel’s berry. Both complemented the deserts, and it really was a close match here, and I would say would depend on your own preference for sweetness, and whether you like sparkling or still. The berry was like a desert itself, floral and moorish. I can imagine this will be a popular drink this summer time.

The overall winner of the evening

.. was Cider, getting double the number of votes to wine. 24 to 12 respectively. Even the long standing wine fans were swayed by the apple!

All in all, a great event and a great opportunity to learn and enjoy Aspall’s fine ciders.

If you are in Brighton, look out for them on draught at Indigo pubs chains.

Since the 1976 Budget which brought cider into the alcohol duty schedule. The exemption, has served the cider resurgence well and has helped create a wonderful collection of regional ciders.

The European Commission recently notified the UK Govt that the 7000L Duty Exemption currently utilised by small-scale real craft cider and perry producers contravenes EU legislation. They are threatening legal action unless the UK Government comes up with a satisfactory response.

The EU are threatening something that doesn’t affect big producers, notably a £2,500-a-year tax bill which looks to shrink the ever growing popularity of craft cider.

As a small cider producer starting out, it would be almost impossible for me to move from a hobby into a small commercial business if the exemption didn’t exist. Sam S

The Small Brewery Duty Relief Scheme has helped many small breweries, but Cider makers are not eligible for this, and as such it’s already hard to even break even – we can’t mass produce real cider it takes 8 months to make.

What damage the clampdown will cause to livelihoods as well as ancient orchards is hard to estimate. Cider makers will not want to pay this so they will either end what must be England’s oldest drink, make cider discreetly, or wait to be shut down by EU. None of these are suitable options.

In January 2015, George Osborne and David Cameron visited a cider maker, Hecks – where Osborne reiterated that the South West could be the equivalent of the thriving west coast of the US as he launched the “long-term” economic plan. Not if the EU have their way. We have to make a noise to local MP’s to stop this action. We are talking about a rich heritage and history of cider in the West Country being shut down by EU.

Small craft cider makers are the upholding a tradition. This small tax break is the only way many can survive. Craig S

This will change the way farms have switched over in recent years from intensive farming to craft cider making as a sustainable business. As well as changing the local landscape and biodiversity into forgotten orchards, or worse still – destroyed to make way for other ways of making ends meet financially.

Who is going to go round collecting this tax from small scale cider makers in their garden sheds and outbuildings?

If you want your voice to be heard and help real cider, contacting you local MPs would be a good starting point.

Keep up to date with all the latest information at the SAVE OUR REAL CIDER Facebook group.

Update – 5th March 2015

I was asked to provide information for an article the Sun newspaper ran today. Click on image for large version.


I have been asked by a reclamation expert to advertise some truly collectable, and historic Old Taunton cider equipment.

He would like to keep it within Somerset, where it is located and has been used for many years. Please contact him directly to find out more information about the pieces, and to receive a full set of the items available for sale.

This equipment would otherwise go to landfill, or scrap. Hope you or know someone who can give it a good home.

Email:Graham Griffiths / Tel: 0146 063 489 or 0786 668 9625

Sam Willis interviews Dr Richard Stone on the history of cider. At Sandford Orchards in Devon, where Richard often uses 17th-century techniques to make cider, the pair discuss how the champagne method came from cider in the 1630s, and how it was once considered our patriotic duty to drink cider.

A Micropub is a very small, one room public house.

The concept is attributed to publican Martyn Hillier and his pub, The Butchers Arms, in Herne, Kent, England.

Each pub offers their own unique twist but they all stay true to the winning micropub formula: … a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks.

The highest concentration of micropubs is in Kent – so much so, that there is now a pub crawl!

Here are my favourite three Real Cider micropubs:

View all the 97 micropubs listed here. Updated 7th Dec 2014.

Would you like to open a micropub?

Here’s a guide to starting you own micropub. The Micropub association is a membership based organisation which is committed to promoting and celebrating all that is great with the concept of the micropub movement.

Let us know your favourites

..or new ones, by leaving a comment below and sharing it with our community.

In the New year, there are some new training courses up for grabs, run by Brighton Permaculture Trust. Loads of information and hands on experience if you are looking for practical management of orchards.


Course 1:  Orchard design, planting & pruning

The 6-week course runs from 9.30am to 2.00pm, every Wednesday from 14 Jan – 18 Feb 2015.

St Richards church, Hollingdean, Brighton, BN1 7BU
Bus: 50

On this course, you will learn the basics of how to design an orchard, plant fruit trees and plant woodland trees. You will learn how to look after and prune young trees. You will also visit a mature orchard at Stanmer Park and learn how to make apple juice.

This course will be led by Stephan Gehrels with guest sessions by a number of specialists.

Course 2: Fruit harvesting, juicing & cookery

The 6-week course runs from 9.30am to 2.00pm, every Tuesday from 13 Jan – 17 Feb 2015.

The Vale Community Centre, Craven Vale, 17A Hadlow Close, Brighton,  BN2 0FH
Bus: 2

On this course, you will learn how to care for a maturing orchard and harvest the fruit. You will learn how to store, juice and utilise the fruit. You will learn how to cook savoury and sweet dishes with fruits, as well as making preserves. You will also plant a young fruit tree and visit a mature orchard at Stanmer Park.

This course will be led by Bryn Thomas with guest sessions by a number of specialists.

Please see the website for more info and to book online:

What do these courses lead onto?

During the courses, guidance will be given about opportunities in:

  • Volunteering opportunities with Brighton Permaculture Trust and other organisations
  • Further training provided by Brighton Permaculture Trust and its partners, including training in horticultural


These courses are free, but you will need to pay a £10 deposit, which will be returned to you on completion of the course.

The cost of bus travel within Brighton & Hove is included within the course.