... but they don’t drink it all of the day (well, not every day anyway).

EMMA DUNN meets the men making their own cider and perry

WHEN a group of friends started making cider together as a hobby, they never could have imagined how much it would take off.

Roger Hesten, Dave Harrison and Ian Best, who live in Minety, are three of the original team of four who started picking, pressing and fermenting apples for friends and family about eight years ago.

Today, they run Mates Cider & Perry Company in a farm near Minety, which sees them selling produce by draught to pubs and in bottles at farmers’ markets across the area.

Roger, 67, a retired MD of a building materials business, said: “We started doing it as a bit of fun. We gave it to friends and family and drank it ourselves.

“We did that for a number of years but then one year we decided to enter it into a national cider competition in Hereford.

“To our absolute amazement in one of the classes we finished in the top four out of 28. Out of those 28, a total of 25 of them were professional and three were amateurs. It encouraged us to think ‘why don’t we have a go professionally?’.”

Roger and Dave took it forward as a commercial venture, and the other two team members, one of which was Ian, continued to be involved with the business on a hobby basis.

However, Ian, 62, recently retired and is now fully involved with the business too.

The team pick and press apples for two months of the year before fermenting and bottling the cider and perry ready to sell.

Dave, 61, who is also a food technology consultant, said: “It’s a locally made craft product made in a completely natural way. It’s a very basic, old-fashioned process. We are particularly keen on hygiene and getting everything spot on.”

Mates Cider & Perry Company produces a variety of ciders including Ravens Roost, Jackdaw and Goldeneye. Their draught varieties also include Scrumpy Days, and an oak aged cider called Best Mates. They also make a perry, made from pears from North Wiltshire and Herefordshire, which is known as Red Leg.

The team pick traditional and established cider apples from orchards in Hereford and Somerset. For the Norfolk style of cider they make, known as Jackdaw, they blend eating apples, which they pick from a friend’s garden in Malmesbury, with cooking apples from a tree 50 yards from where they press the fruit. Every kilo of apples creates about half a litre of juice, but it can be more.

Dave said: “Even the ugliest and most scarred apples taste just as beautiful when they are juiced.

“It’s a purely natural product. It naturally comes out between five and six per cent alcohol, or even higher if the apples have got a high sugar content.”

Their fruit picking and pressing season this year started in mid-September and finished at the beginning of November.

The cider will now ferment for three to seven weeks.

The team bottle their own cider and perry, apart from the Ravens Roost variety, which is pasteurised and carbonated before being bottle by a specialist bottle company.

Mates Cider & Perry sell the stock all year round and have gift packs ready for Christmas presents, which are proving popular at farmers’ markets.

Roger said: “It’s great fun working with your mates, there is no real pressure. It’s hard work for two months of the year but it is interesting to then taste the ciders we make. We are constantly striving to come up with new ideas.

“We are going to do some fruit ciders for the Christmas Markets. We like the innovation that we can bring to our ciders.”

Dave said there is a secret to a good cider. “Patience, hygiene and getting the blend right. The only way you can get the right blend is to taste it yourself. We do tasting sessions with the customers too,” he said.

l To buy the cider visit http://ciderand perry.org.uk, email dave@ciderand perry.org.uk or phone 01666 860649.