Along with craft beers, craft ciders are undergoing a surge in popularity. The Kent Cider Company, located in Faversham, is testimony to this trend. In just eight years the company has grown rapidly. ‘Initially we literally had our friends picking apples for us,’ says Serena Henderson.
Serena and her husband Mark ‘began making cider on a casual basis, hoping to make a little bit out of it’. Now they employ several people, have won awards and are so well known that their devoted fans will attend an event if they know Kent Cider will be on offer.
Serena and Mark first met through their mutual love of tattoos and body piercing. Mark is a renowned body piercer, with more than 25 years’ experience. He runs 777 Piercing in Canterbury. Both from Kent, they wanted to set up a business together. By chance they met a small-scale cider maker who had no family and wanted to retire.
They have caught the zeitgeist: craft alcohol, tattoos, body piercing, they are both vegans (all their products are eminently suitable for vegans), localism – all the ingredients are sourced from Teynham and Faversham. Their product is available at hip festivals including Jamie Oliver’s forthcoming Big Feastival.
There is a long tradition of cider production in Kent stretching back to the Romans. A 12th-century plan of the garden at Christ Church monastery, Canterbury, includes a pomerium – an apple garden. The Black Death and the Wars of the Roses led to a decline of fruit cultivation but in 1533, Richard Harris, fruiterer to Henry VIII, planted a model orchard in Teynham. In the 16th and 17th centuries apple orchards were extensively planted throughout Kent.
Kentish cider is crisper and lighter than West Country cider with ‘less of a farmyard taste and less tannins’, says Serena. ‘We use a mixture of hand-pressed dessert and culinary apples from heritage orchards in Teynham and Faversham.’ Every cider is made using ‘Alice,’ a 150-year-old oak cider press. Each pressing makes about 500 litres of apple juice. Russet, Granny Smith and Gala Cider are just a few of the ciders available. The Pear Cider, awarded second prize in the National Cider Competition, is blended from a mixture of Comice and Conference pears.
The taste of the ciders varies from year to year depending on the quality of the ingredients. ‘There are variables in everything – it is not a homogenous product,’ says Serena, adding that this quirk is ‘part of its charm’.
‘We like to have a bit of fun with our fruit ciders.’ Their limited edition ranges have proved immensely popular: flavours include cider flavoured with green hops, rhubarb, strawberries and damsons, pear and nettle (the nettles grow in the orchards) – of course, all locally sourced. Limited editions are only available at shows or occasionally via the website. Yet another range are the Hendersons’ Ciders infused with spices, toffee and elderflower.
Keen to embrace old customs, Serena and Mark celebrate the ancient tradition of wassailing – singing to the apple trees and drinking a spiced alcoholic beverage in winter to ensure a good harvest the next summer. This ancient ritual dates from the time when rural communities had no knowledge of weather systems and appealed to apple gods and goddesses and recited verse to repel evil spirits. The author and cocktail expert, Jared Brown, attributes the revival of wassailing to a mood of retro: ‘We live in an age when you can have a rum and coke anywhere on the planet. The wassail cup [the drink] and the tradition surrounding it are the antithesis.’
This sentiment explains the appeal of the Kent Cider Company. No doubt it will continue to go from strength to strength.
The Kent Cider Company will have stalls at the following events:
The Big Feastival 25th-27th August
Artisan Cider Festival at Brogdale 25th-27th August
Multi-Cultural Food Festival, Maidstone 1st-3rd September
Text: Amicia. Photographs: The Kent Cider Company