A self-professed cider drinker, Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry has developed quite a reputation for himself; described in the past as ‘the greatest cider-maker in the world’. Not only is Tom a cider and perry expert, he has over 40 years of experience as a tour manager and sound engineer working for well know names such as Van Morrison and The Proclaimers. Could there be a more interesting West Country man to sip a cider with on a crisp autumn day?
A warm and modest man, Tom welcomes us into his shop and tasting room which displays the numerous awards his produce has won over the years. There are far too many rosettes and certificates to count.
Tom describes that only the day before, a group of 3 Americans had visited the family farm just outside Hereford. The visitors were soon to open a cider production facility in Washington. The Washington Post, covering the story, were keen to discover where real cider came from which inevitably led them to Tom Oliver.
When asked how Tom got into cider making, he explains candidly;
“A lot of traditional cider-makers were dying off, literally!”
Tom was concerned about the future of the traditional method and product and took matters into his own hands. Cider was made for centuries at Ocle Pychard, the family farm, up until Tom’s grandfather’s time when production ceased between the wars with the arrival of mechanisation. Concerned that the future of cider was looking increasingly mass produced, Tom began production again from scratch in 1999.
For Tom it’s all about ‘capturing the apple’ with as little intervention in the process as possible to ensure the cider really tastes like the unique harvest it came from. Cider has far more in common with wine production then other drinks. Just a single fruit harvest and production cycle takes place a year, leading to a unique product depending on the quality and variation of the harvest.
The farm provides about 10% of the fruit Tom uses for production, he now produces about 100,000 litres a year. Tom also works closely with an orchard owner just 3 miles from the farm who produces 10 acres of perry pears and apples including Tom’s favourite cider varieties, Yarlington Mill and Broxwood Foxwhelp.
Tom’s motto is ‘take what the fruit gives’. He mostly uses handpicked, unsprayed apples and follows the centuries-old process of milling, then adding the mixture to wooden barrels or tanks to let fermentation take place. Tom allows the natural aka wild yeasts present on the apple, on the pressing equipment and in the ciderhouse to kick start the fermentation process and create distinction between the different batches.
By springtime, they are ready to begin blending their batches to create their final product. This is where Tom’s skill and palate come in to play. Tom has a real talent for creating what he calls ‘intelligent blends’, determining which juices will make the most pleasing cider, delivering balance and depth of flavour.
“I can be incredibly patient with cider!” he quips.
Our buyer Alex Evans remembers their first meeting:
“I first met Tom at Ludlow Food Festival some twelve years ago and it was through him that I was introduced to the Slow Food Movement of which Tom is the Presidium coordinator for the unique Three Counties Perry. Without Tom it’s likely that the art of making real perry would have been lost and we’re proud to stock his ciders and perry at Gloucester and Tebay Services”
If you think of cider as ‘an old man’s drink’ or consider cider blended with synthetic fruit syrups as the real deal, then it is the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with this most ancient of drinks. Trust us, Oliver’s Cider is a good place to start!
You’ll find Oliver’s Cider and Perry in our Farmshops at Tebay and Gloucester now.