Skyborry cider have collaborated with local print-makers Sunny Todd Prints on two of their latest label designs.

In 2010 Dani Davies left London and returned to the small town on the Welsh border where he grew up. He and his brother, Adam, now run a cider shed, producing 3,000 – 4,000 bottles of Skyborry cider and perry each year.

Adam had been working at a cider farm for a couple of years and had the idea of wanting to start his own business. I wanted to move back to Wales and find a way of making money while involving myself in the landscape that we grew up in. Initially, we went on a short cider-making course together in Gloucestershire, which cost around £500, but to be honest it was a waste of money. The course was industry-led and more geared up towards making cider for a larger market. We have ended up rubbishing everything we learnt and now make cider in a luddite – or more simplistic – way.

We went on a bike ride in our local area looking for orchards and knocking on doors asking if we could pick any unwanted apples when harvest time came. We’re lucky to live in an area where the countryside is scattered with orchards, and there’s always an abundance of fruit. Some people were vaguely interested and welcoming, others probably thought we were chancers. The first year, with our windfall fruit, we made about 500 litres of cider, on a press that Adam had built using green oak, a bottle jack, and a juice tray welded by a local fabricators.

 

 

Dani (left) and Adam in the cider shed

Within the first season, we planted our orchard on some land we inherited from our grandfather. Eight years later, it’s still not reached a level of fruit production to warrant harvesting so we’re still relying on apples from local orchards. Instead of picking from one tree here and there we now have a list of four or five orchards. We have developed relationships with the owners and we communicate with them when we want the sheep to be taken off the land, and the price we are willing to pay for their crops. Our cider-making process is a low intervention process. We are trying to achieve the cider we want with the smallest amount of invention with the fruit. We make wild yeast-fermented bottle-conditioned cider and perry, which ranges from dry to medium-sweet. It is also bottled with no additives of SO2 or sulphites.

It took a long time but after about five years became a profitable business, but we’re lucky in that it’s a sideline to our main jobs. Adam works in organic horticulture and I’m a gardener. Today, our stockists range from restaurants and bars to bottle shops. Quite often we’re sold sold alongside wine. It’s been fun designing the labels because we feel like making it on a small scale you don’t have to stick to one kind of branding, because it’s not about building a brand as such. It means we can do what we like and it gives chance for designer/artist friends to make labels. We started by selling draft cider at local events and thanks to word-of-mouth it spread from there. We now have a quite basic website where customers and potential stockists can contact us, but we have never had a marketing strategy. The food and drink industry is small so luckily word spreads.

You’re only ever beginning because there’s so much to learn

It is extremely difficult to control exactly how cider will taste year to year, or even bottle to bottle. There is an infinite amount of factors and ways your cider could be affected – from the weather throughout the year to the ripeness of the fruit; the soil in which the trees are growing, the yeast population in the orchard and whatever meets the fruit on the journey. As the years go on, you develop consistency with your fruit and the varieties of apples you’re harvesting, and you can begin to learn the nature of these apples and what they bringing to the cider. You can to understand the nature of the apples, and the nature of fermentation of the cider it is treated in certain ways. To that extent, can have a degree of control over the flavour. But you’re only ever beginning because there’s so much to learn. Eight years in, we still feel like beginners.

I enjoy all parts of the process. For a start, there is the work in the orchards at various times of the year. Orchards are very peaceful places, which are lovely to be in. Harvest time is from September to December but we’re visiting the orchards throughout the year, seeing how everything is going, maybe pruning the apples in the winter. Then it’s harvest time which is exciting; it’s the beginning of the cider making year where you’re intending on bettering what you did last year or experimenting, putting your plans into action. The beginning of the harvesting year begins end of summer so the weather is lovely and throughout the season it gets muddier and wetter and colder until you’ve had enough of the sight of apples.

WHAT YOU NEED

If you want to start you need some sacks, string to tie up the sacks, you’ll need a way of milling the apples – people use anything from a bucket and a bit of wood to a specifically made one like a garden shredder made from food-grade metal or plastics – and you’ll also need a basic cider press, which you can make with the help of a youtube tutorial. Finally, you’ll need some barrels or containers to ferment or mature the cider.

Once you have your equipment, you need fruit. It is a 60 – 70 per cent yield. So 10kg of fruit would make six to seven litres. Apples are harvested any time between September and December. The fermentation time varies, from one month to 10 months. Once the apples are fermented it’s either ready to be sold as still cider, or it can be put into bottles and fermented in the bottle. What put it in the bottle while it’s fermenting, which allows us to condition it in the bottle so you have a sparkling cider.

Anyone can make cider, and you could potentially make it well in the first year. But after eight years we still feel like very much beginner.

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