Cider Houses

Cider Houses Rule OK 

 David Matthews introduces the handful of fully-licensed premises that sell draught cider but no draught beer.

National Treasures, no less, is the best description of our four remaining Cider Houses. “Cider houses are different,” cider wholesaler Jon Hallam told me, “there`s a different feeling, a unique atmosphere, you know you`re not in a normal pub.” He`s right, and it`s not just down to the lack of beer. In the way that a bar (a licensed shop) feels different to a pub (a licensed house), then for me the intrinsically rural Cider House has the atmosphere of a licensed farm.

YE OLDE CIDER BAR in NEWTON ABBOT, DEVON, has perhaps the most urban setting of our Magnificent Four, but this belies its rural origins. It was once a farm, and the main bar area was formerly a cobbled yard entrance, where cider was once consumed with only scant protection from the elements. Prior to 1962, hogsheads of cider were stillaged on the floor amongst the customers. The landlord kept the glasses in the kitchen, and customers requested a refill from him by chinking their glasses. Today the Cider Bar is welcoming and traditional, having an interior with stone and wood, a real fire, and with the barrels of cider stillaged behind the bar. Be-whiskered licensee Richard Knibbs is a rare example of the Old School landlord – no bad language is tolerated, and he was once even taken to court for refusing to serve a pint to a lady.

Fittingly for a Devon cider house, Richard`s two best-selling ciders are from a Devon cider maker – Sam`s Dry and Sam`s Medium – and others on offer include Weston`s Traditional Scrumpy, Weston`s Perry, Thatcher`s Farmer`s Tipple (Dry and Sweet), and Thatcher`s Cheddar Valley Dry (affectionately known as `Diesel`). There are 18 fruit wines to choose from, but beer has never been sold from the premises. Food is limited to genuinely jumbo-sized pies and pasties.

Every Sunday lunchtime the Cork Club meets at the Cider Bar, with the aim of raising funds for an annual members` outing. Each of its 30-40 Cider Bar regulars carries a cork bound in a brass cylinder, upon which is stamped their initials and a number. Failure to produce their cork on demand results in a fine, much laughter, and more funds for the summer trip.

The CIDER HOUSE at WOOTTON GREEN, SHROPSHIRE, is the busiest of the four. “We can sell 10-13 tons of cider a week in the summer,” licensee Brian Jarvis told me, “including one hundred-plus 11-gallon kegs of Bulmers Special Cellar alone.” The Cider House stands isolated in the Shropshire countryside, but customers pour into its large car parks, and it is particularly popular with Asians. “The Moslem faith prohibits the drinking of alcohol,” explains Brian, “but to them cider is not alcohol, it`s apple juice!” Bulmers Special Cellar, a keg 7.2% sweet cider (only available at a handful of outlets) is the Asian favourite and overall best-seller, but there`s a full range of 13 different ciders, both draught and bottled, that includes Bulmers Traditional (Medium and Dry) and a draught scrumpy. No beer is sold at all, and both Brian and his wife Katherine are adamant when they say: “We`ll never be the ones to sell you beer, we`ll never be the ones to ruin the Cider House.” They must have been tempted though, when a major brewer offered them a £90 000 interest-free loan to stock its beer, with repayments being written off against barrelage.

The Cider House was originally a small-holding with its own orchards, making and selling cider on the premises. More recently, Brian and Katherine ran it for Bulmers from 1983, buying it for themselves in May 1986. Today`s customers can play Evesham Quoits in the Bar (a traditional pub game played throughout the Welsh borders, always the sign of a good pub!), can squeeze into the Snug (once the old ladies` parlour), or can relax in the Orchard Room with its wood-burning stove, quarry tiled floor, leather bench seating and brick/oak bar. From May onwards the double servery is opened to the outdoor drinking area, and barbecues are held on summer weekends.

Another string to the Cider House`s bow are its four mobile cider bars that Brian and his team take to many of the major agricultural shows, steam rallies and race meetings. Bought from Scrumpy Jack, they offer show-goers the Cider House`s complete cider range.

The CIDER CENTRE at BRANDY WHARF, LINCOLNSHIRE, is the youngest member of our four famous cider houses. Originally it was the Anchor Inn, a run-of-the-mill Bass-Charrington waterside pub. Its transformation began in 1981, when it was bought by current licensees Ian and Gill Horsley. They had visited a successful waterside cider house in the West Midlands (the Blue Bell at Hockley Heath, now sadly no longer a cider house), and so started emphasising cider in their own pub. The bold step of removing beer completely was taken at Christmas 1986. Nowadays the Cider Centre offers what is probably the largest range of ciders found in a fully-licensed premises anywhere in the world. Approximately 60 different ciders are available, 15 on draught and 45 bottled, including cask-conditioned ciders from Westons (Old Rosie, Traditional Scrumpy, Bounds Brand Dry and Vintage), from Saxon (Easter to October), and occasional guest cask ciders, all dispensed by gravity.

The Cider Centre has a riverside bar, the `Apple Foundry`, and a lounge, the `Cider Boutique`, in which locals and water-bourne tourists alike can seek advice from staff when choosing which cider to sample. There is a museum exhibiting over 2000 different empty cider bottles, and the orchard whose 180 trees now surround the Cider Centre was re-established in 1978. The orchard is the venue for some of the events on the Cider Centre`s calendar  – a Wassailing ceremony with 300 guests in January, Apple Day in October, and a Tree Dressing Day in December.

The `MONKEY HOUSE` at DEFFORD, WORCESTERSHIRE is the most picturesque of the cider houses, with its thatched roof, hanging baskets, wooden barrels, and air of unspoilt charm. More properly known as the Cider House, history does not record how it became known as the `Monkey House`, but licensee Graham Collins recounts a likely theory: “It`s said that many years ago a cattle-driver left the cider house a little the worse for wear, and fell in some brambles, scratching his face. When asked how his face had been scratched, he replied `A monkey scratched me!`.” Originally the `Monkey House` made its own cider from an adjacent orchard, and in 1850 there is a record of Master Baker John Hayward baking bread and selling cider from the premises. The family line has remained unbroken with Graham`s wife, Gill, herself a Hayward. Around 1960, the orchard was grubbed up and cider production stopped. In order to replicate the brew, one of the Bulmer family took a sample back to Hereford and produced Bulmer`s Woodmancote (6% abv), still made today, and exclusive to the `Monkey House`. It`s a fully traditional cask cider, hazy gold, dry, with a beautiful balance of fruit and sharpness; or just “nectar”, according to the regulars. Up until a few years ago Bulmers Woodmancote was supplied in 40 gallon wooden casks, but modernisation of Bulmers cider mill means that 18 gallon metal casks are now used. Now as before, Graham dispenses his cider by gravity into a jug, before pouring it into the customer`s (often ceramic) mug. He also sells a smaller amount of Bulmers Traditional Medium.

As you walk up the path towards the `Monkey House`, past the pony, you`ll be greeted first by Tapper the white terrier. After buying a pint from Graham`s hatch under the thatched roof, you can choose to sit on a bench in the garden, or to venture into the tiny old bakehouse, with its open fire. Either way, you`ll be drawn into conversation with the other customers in no time at all. What a lovely place.

The `Monkey House` is hard to find, there`s no sign, and opening hours are limited (lunchtimes Friday to Monday, evenings Wednesday to Sunday). But nevertheless you must go there. It won`t be around in its present form forever.

Ye Olde Cider Bar, 99 East Street, Newton Abbot, Devon.  Tel: 01626 54221. 

The Cider House, Wootton Green, Bridgnorth, Shropshire, WV15 6EB.  Tel: 01746 780285.

The Cider Centre, Brandy Wharf, Waddingham, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, DN21 4RU. Tel: 01652 678364.

The Cider House (`The Monkey House`), Woodmancote, Defford, Worcestershire.  (On the A4104)

First published in CAMRA's Good Cider Guide 2000, and reproduced here with the kind permission of CAMRA Books.


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