Drink Up Thy Zyder

by Rick Johansen

Somehow, at long last, I managed to force myself out of the house and do something useful. Well, on the face of it, perhaps, not that useful, but out of my comfort zone and somewhere different. The Somerset Cider Brandy Company in the delightfully named Kingsbury Episcopi, in Somerset, believe it or not.

I have been meaning to may a re-visit for a very long time, having not been there since before the pandemic. When I was last there, it was gloriously rustic and ancient, with cider produced in the traditional way. I needn’t have worried. Not a single thing had changed. It was fantastic. But first, the drive.

The M5 to Taunton is most generically drab motorway driving. There are some nice hills, trees, waterways, buildings along the way, but mostly it’s just boring. I avoided the boredom by listening to Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone on catch-up from Sunday. If there a better presented show of avant-garde music on the planet, then I haven’t heard it. I drifted along to Alice Coltrane, Atomic Rooster and King Crimson, as well as the Tara Clerkin Trio, Aki Rissanen and the Inner Ear Brigade, in an eclectic of music, almost all of which was new to me and it was wonderful.

Happily, the motorway section ended at Taunton and I joined the A358 heading south-east and then the A378 heading east. The scenery gradually opened up, especially to the south, which is all wide fields and rolling hills, bathed in a creamy sunlight, the trees ablaze with faded autumn glory. If Carlsberg did autumn – and since they can’t even make decent lager, it would be a bit of a stretch – this would be it, a picture postcard in real life.

Through the little village of Fivehead, I was soon taking a right turn at Curry Rivel, southbound on the A3168. Just before Hambridge, at a junction where stands the appealing looking pub the Lamb and Lion at Hambridge. Left there onto Westmoor Lane which quickly turns into New Road, through lakes where fields are usually visible. The road had narrowed by now and numerous stops were necessary by myself and other drivers as we muddled by. Then, up a small rise along Burrow Way and there it is: the Somerset Cider Brandy Company.

Everything is in full swing, with the apples harvested and being prepared for becoming Cider Brandy or just plain Cider (actually, it’s anything but plain, but that’s another story). The men and women are hard at work but were happy to chat as I trudged across the muddy car park to the small shop, past the vast acres. The shop itself is very small, but all their products are on sale. I invested in a bottle of three year old Cider Brandy, Cider, Perry, a Blackcurrant Cider liqueur, a Cider Brandy Christmas Pudding and the obligatory T shirt. For the benefit of my partner, who may or may not read this blog, I spent very little, at least compared with what a very rich person would spend.

I could have ordered what I wanted via mail order, for just £7 extra if you spend under £100 and for nothing if you spend more. Let’s not go into trivia like how much extra I spent by driving there, especially if I had spent over £100 which of course would not be the sort of thing I would normally do, so don’t worry about that.  And definitely don’t check my current account.

I love the fact that places like this still exist. The original stills are still there and the methods they use to make Cider and Cider Brandy have barely, if at all, changed, in all the time the place has existed. It’s still independent, it’s still family run and I know, because they told me, that the workers absolutely love their jobs and have enormous pride in what they produce and so they should.

My Sat Nav took me back the same way back to the M5, which once again, was the only real drag of my trip. But it’s a grim means to an end, as I bimbled along at 70 on the inside lane, easily the slowest thing on the road.

If you like Cider or Cider Brandy, as you really should, this is for you. Sure, you pay a little more for independent, quality products, but if you can afford it, just do it.

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