Cider house rules

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Cider house rules
With 29 years in the business, there's not much head cider maker Bob Cork doesn't know about the amber nectar of apples and pears

Bob Cork, head cider maker, Gaymer Cider Company

I've been here for 29 years and our senior cider-making team have 150 years of experience between them. We have very low staff turnover. There's a lot of our people with 20, 30, 40 years of experience in the trade, although we also have a healthy number of new people, as people leave the business through retirement.

Recruitment is no problem. We're the employer of choice in the local area, second only to the council. We have a number of temporary employees putting promotional collars on bottles, which most people could do, but work as an operator takes longer to learn. Because we're also a very seasonal operation, it takes at least a year for people to experience the range of products we make.

We have a high proportion of engineering staff because of our high level of automation and they have had to move from spanner to laptop. As we have improved that side of things, our operations guys have had to up their skill set to become much more versed with computer control and automated systems. But most of them have come through that.

This present site has been here since the 1930s, having grown out of a small brewery owned by the Showerings family. The Showerings developed the Babycham brand which is still made on site today. Showerings amalgamated with Allied Breweries in the 1970s. The site was further developed when Allied sold its cider interests to a management buy-out group called the Gaymer Group. About 15 years ago, that group then sold the cider operations to Matthew Clarke, who then in turn bought Taunton Cider company. Manufacture of the group's cider products was consolidated into the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill home of the Gaymer Cider Company, part of Constellation Europe within the UK.

At the moment, we've got growth in traditional and pear cider and I foresee us making an investment to generate extra capacity. At the moment, at peak times the site is fully utilised 24 hours a day, five or sometimes six days a week, so we have one or two days of spare capacity. On glass and can, certainly I would hope to see processing up to six days per week on a more consistent basis. In the past three to four years there has been a much greater level of premiumisation in the cider market. We've seen the packaging of choice change. People are moving back to premium products packed in glass. However, we're also taking on more contract canning, because UK canning lines are becoming few and far between. Previously the market was draft- and can-led, but there has been a steady period of continued volume and margin growth in our premium areas. Gaymers Original and Gaymers Pear are our fastest growing brands and Addlestones is in strong growth too. We also make single vintage cider and our Gaymer's County Series, Gaymer's Devon Cider and Gaymer's Somerset Cider.

Our single vintage apples from our Stewley orchard, near Taunton are used to make Gaymer's Orchard Reserve. A large proportion of apples grown in the UK, about 48-49% are used by the cider industry. The majority of ours are grown within a 50-60 mile radius of our factory over a total of 2,000 to 3,000 acres. There are all kinds of varieties, including Brown Snouts, Somerset Red Streak and Improved Dove. We don't have orchards of our own, apart from Stewley, where we can experiment, grow different varieties of apple and demonstrate best practice. We use non-chemical methods of pest control, but we are not looking to go down the organic route. I think the word 'organic' is going to become less relevant to alcoholic products. Local production is increasingly as important as having an organic stamp.

Our busiest period is from mid-September to January, but we carry on fermentation all year. Peak season is October, November. Our farmers are telling us that the harvest looks about 10% up on last year, so good, but not an absolute bumper year.

The processes of making cider haven't changed. We sat down and looked at things some time ago and thought about whether we could do anything differently and decided, no, we couldn't. We make cider the same way it's always been made. What has changed is the amount of control over processes and our ability to practise consistency.

Orchard Reserve apples are harvested, pressed and fermented as an autonomous batch for nine months and stored and matured for three to four months, so the longest processing cycle is about a year. The shortest period, for mainstream brands such as Blackthorn, is two to two-and-a-half months. Addlestones is made using double fermentation, where the cider is fermented once and then has the apple juice pumped back into it and is fermented again. It's also naturally, rather than artificially, carbonated.

We use cold filtration to remove yeast cells after fermentation, rather than heat processing - or pasteurisation - and sterile-filling, which is used 50% of the time for cider making. We believe cold filtration always delivers a better shelf-life and retains the flavour, whereas heat processes always give a minor flavour change.

Other people also use preservatives, but we believe it's better to stabilise a product by removing yeast cells using filaments with pores 0.2 microns across. Yeast cells are larger than that, so they are captured in the filaments, which are periodically back-washed. Filtration takes place in stainless steel tubes, which minimise changes to flavour.

Raw material prices and energy costs are increasing across the board. We have seen a substantial increase in raw material prices and we're doing our bit to negate those through better line efficiencies and investing in new, more efficient plant. In the past three years we have invested £1M in new boilers, which are 25% more efficient and new fruit processing equipment that is 25% more efficient than previous kit. We're also optimising the amount of bottles blown on-site from pre-forms.

There's room for constant improvement in water and effluent handling. My maxim is: minimise, reuse, recycle and only then look at waste and we're constantly reviewing our processes in that light. I prefer to make sure hoses are being turned off first rather than fix hose gun attachments to them, for example. Over about 10 years we've got our water usage down by at least 25%.

There's not much mileage in us using biomass boilers. Our products are so seasonal, we haven't got sufficient supply for fuel all year round. But I know smaller cider makers are looking at whether they can burn prunings to operate boilers, which is fine if you have an orchard next to your site.

Interview by rod Addy

FACTORY FACTS

Location: Gaymer Cider Company, Kilver Street, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, BA4 5ND

Tel: 01749 334 000

Products: Main brands are Blackthorn, Olde English, Gaymers Original, Gaymers Pear and Addlestones. There's also Gaymer's Devon Cider, Gaymer's Somerset Cider, Gaymer's Orchard Reserve and retail label products (about 15% of business).

Employees: 200 at peak season

Output: 150Ml per year

Customers: Major supermarkets, pub and specialist off-licence chains, independent cash and carries, wholesalers and retailers, plus breweries.

PERSONAL

Name: Bob Cork

Age: 51

Career highlights: He has particularly enjoyed playing his part in developing the Gaymers Original and Gaymers Pear products and seeing how successful they have become in the market.

He is proud to be producing ciders that are acknowledged to be some of the best in the industry.

Domestics: Married with two children, aged 18 and 24

Outside work: Bob lives on the Mendip Hills, near Wales and in his spare time, he enjoys caving, mountaineering, hill walking and other outdoor pursuits.

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