As a contribution to CAMRA's Cider & Perry Month, Neil Parker and Victoria Gorman recollect some of their first trips...
But we got there to a friendly welcome from a sleepy black dog and its owner. After some well-earned tastings we were rewarded with a gallon or two of the dry and medium-dry for the princely sum of about £1-a-pint. We took the precious cargo back home to London. It was truly the best cider we had ever tasted and since then we always have our copy of the Cider Guide safely stowed in the car. We not only make detours to collect cider to and from holiday locations, we have been known to pop into farms on our way back from job interviews! It's amazing how you can weave cider-collecting detours into all kinds of journey.
Our first trip to Cornwall was in a 35-year old VW Beetle in mid-October on a day with torrential rain and very high winds - there were several lorries blown over on our route during the course of the day, and we even saw one of them. The car was managing only 40 mph on of the level sections of road, because of the strength of the headwinds.
We still managed to bag supplies of cider from two Devon producers on the way. We had targeted four but one supplier had sadly ceased production owing to bereavement, and another looked to have shut up shop for the winter. During the course of our holiday we looked up (successfully) two further Cornish suppliers both of whom still press their cider through straw. All the farms we visited were welcoming and the farmers more than happy to chat around a few glasses of cider. We made a detour on the way home and obtained supplies from the farm we thought had gone into hibernation returning to London with a fantastic variety.
The producers all told us that cider keeps for "about 10 days, and you mustn't let the air get to it" but we have found that with care it will stay very drinkable for much longer periods than this. Only a few days ago we found an unopened container, which must have been months old - we have no idea where it came from. The contents were very drinkable, but very dry. Very, very dry!
So as well as your copy of the CAMRA Cider Guide, you would be wise to be well-armed with a few empty containers although most producers will provide their own if you don't have any. It can be tremendously good fun following narrow country back roads to remote farms, taking wrong turnings and misreading road signs but a local map is also a useful thing to carry as many of the farms are marked.
Recently we were fortunate enough to be able to scrounge two beer polypins - the remnants of a friend's retirement party, which had to be removed from the hall. These have kept cider good for weeks because the air does not have to pass into the containers to let the cider out. Just take care if you are going to re-use this type of container, as it should be thoroughly sterilised first. As one producer told us, "You don't want yur cider mousy!" Incidentally, the last polypin we had filled on a farm cost us £6.75, or less than 20p per pint!
Of course, you don't have to go round the countryside spraying carbon solids and gases everywhere from the back of a car. There is plenty of scope for cider-collecting trips on foot or by using rail and bicycle. Maybe you could work out a waterways route?
There are an estimated 300 or so cider and perry producers (perry being the pear equivalent of cider) in the UK. Not all of them are large enough to advertise their wares, so there is scope for some real detective work. We have been directed to producers through meeting people in pubs whilst on holiday or even from other producers. The cider bar at beer festivals can also be a good source of information (and of course cider!).