It was formed, literally, around the kitchen table. Now an East Yorkshire-based drinks company is bringing the joys of real cider to a wider audience.

Established just over a year ago, Colemans Cider is already enjoying startling success and predicting it will double production each year for the foreseeable future as it attracts interest from drinkers both here and abroad. Colemans was formed by three friends – Marc Cole, Chris Chapman and Steve Frankish – and later this month will unveil its 2015 vintage at a traditional wassail in its orchard in the tiny village of Ruston Parva (population 100) near Driffield.

The event is an excuse to have a good time; there’ll be lots of music, merrymaking and cider, of course, says Marc. But this ancient rural tradition was once considered vital to ensure a good harvest in the year ahead.
“We’ll be blessing the apple trees and processing around the orchard with our very own Green Man,” says Marc. “In cider-producing areas this was taken very seriously – they would sing to the trees. These were days when a poor harvest meant people would literally starve.”
The three directors describe their efforts proudly as a “branch to bottle” operation and one very much rooted in the local community. “Cider making, the way we do it, is a very traditional, seasonal, process,” says Steve.

Tree planting and upkeep of the orchard takes place between November and February, up to now selling has been through the spring and summer, with teams of apple pickers working flat out in September and October.

Fermentation takes six to eight weeks, followed by blending and bottling. Differing amounts of natural sugars are added at the blending stage to produce the full range of ciders – sweet ciders are where the big sales are centred but true connoisseurs, it seems, pride themselves on drinking it dry.

cider2Colemans currently produce a range of dry, medium and sweets ciders in bottles and boxed bags.

“Probably only five per cent of production is dry cider but it’s from that five per cent that all our awards will come,” says Marc.
Marc, a former local government officer who now runs his own regeneration and economic development consultancy business, moved to East Yorkshire six years ago. Born in the West Country and growing up in Somerset, it’s perhaps not surprising that he’s always had a love of cider and a glut of apples in his back garden sowed the seeds of an idea that has grown, with the help of Chris, a PE teacher at Driffield School and Sixth Form College, and Steve, an ex-Royal Engineer who now works as a civilian instructor at Normandy Barracks, also in Driffield.

“Our wives brought us together and suggested we use the apples to make some cider. It’s just grown from there,” says Steve.

The company regularly appeals for apples and people turn up on the doorstep with baskets full and later will get Yorkshire cider in return.

“In some cases, where older members of the community are no longer able to pick apples from their own trees, we’ll even go and pick the fruit ourselves,” says Marc.
Their own orchard, established on Chris’s land and named after his daughter, Lauren, is being added to all the time and production from the recent harvest has soared to 4,700 litres.

“Last year we planted 35 apple trees, all cider varieties, and they will start producing fruit for our use in three years time. In total, we currently have 72 trees,” says Chris.

It means there are exciting times ahead – in 2015 sales were restricted to local music and beer festivals but for 2016, the company is already in talks with Elvington-based brewery The Hop Studio to distribute its products and handle online sales.

The ciders will also be available in a number of East Yorkshire micro pubs, the Jug & Bottle off-licence in Bubwith, which specialises in specialist beers and ciders, and in the Old Star village pub in Kilham, where Marc lives. Eighteenth century stables at the back of his house now host the production process.

“Our target is to have our ciders in ten pubs in 2016 and at this rate of progress, doubling production year on year, we fully expect to be one of the largest cider makers in Yorkshire in three years time,” said Marc, referencing the monks of Ampleforth Abbey and Pure North at Holmfirth as current major White Rose producers.
Cider is enjoying a huge resurgence at the moment, he says, describing it as the “Magners Effect”. But he says the craft cider Colemans makes is far removed from the major brands associated with the drink.

“Anyone can produce a drink called cider as long as it contains a minimum of 30 per cent apple juice; ours is 100 per cent apple juice and you can tell the difference,” he says proudly. “Not surprisingly, with apple juice being more expensive than water you’ll generally find commercial cider contains more water than apples.”

It’s a healthy drink, too, he claims, which is why the global demand for the product is rising. “Cider sales in the United States are booming – it’s the fastest-growing alcoholic drink on the planet,” Marc says.

“Basically, it’s a gluten-free product and Americans are obsessed by gluten. Everything we do is 100 per cent fruit juice. We don’t add artificial sweeteners, colourants or flavourings.”

Just that morning he had dealt with three emailed inquiries from potential customers in New York. Apart from the differing volume of apple juice in ciders, Marc reveals different brewing methods; the majority of Colemans ciders are produced by the “Eastern Counties method”, which uses a combination of cooking, eating, crab and cider apples.

Cider from Somerset will be produced by the “West Country method”, using cider apples only.

“Our ciders are lighter, less full-bodied than West Country style,” says Marc. “Cider making has much in common with wine making and in trying to describe the difference between Eastern Counties and West Country cider I will often say our is more like drinking a white or rosé wine whereas West Country cider is more like a full-bodied red wine.

“We do produce some cider using exclusively cider apples but at the moment that’s in the minority.

“Eventually we’ll produce a balance of roughly 50/50 between West Country and Eastern Counties cider as more of our own trees bear fruit. We love the fact that friends and neighbours, complete strangers even, come to us with the apples that would otherwise just rot and there’ll always be room for those,” says Marc.

Although continually expanding, the three directors recognise many will still view their efforts as, literally, a cottage industry – this year they invested in their first piece of high-tech equipment, an apple press. “Before that we were using a hand-basket press,” says Marc.

“The bottom line is we’re a niche producer, at the high end of the market; a cider to be savoured.”

Future plans include producing pyder (a mixture of pear and apple cider), expanding their range with fruit ciders and taking their products to a wider audience by attending more festivals. “We hope to have a presence at a lot of the local beer festivals again in 2016 plus our own events – as well as the wassail we plan a Mid Cider Night’s Dream in June,” said Chris.

Their dream of putting this small corner of 
East Yorkshire on the cider-drinking map even extends to a London launch of the 2015 vintage, planned for a trendy pub in the capital next month. “My daughter is a shareholder in Colemans and works in London,” Marc offers by way of explanation.

But in spite of this unstoppable wave of optimism, all three directors are adamant they don’t want to grow so big that they leave behind the company’s very humble beginnings. “It’s the community involvement we don’t want to lose,” says Chris.

“People bring us their apples and we give them cider in return. And all our families get involved in the production process, including our children who love the pressing process for extracting the apple juice.”

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