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Sussex Cider with a Touch of Chaos

Signage
Signage

Tucked away down a quiet leafy lane in rural Sussex you’ll find Bignose and Beardy cider producers.

Eight years ago two guys – Steve Stark (Beardy) and Phil Day (Bignose) – who’d recently moved to the small village of Framfield could be found in their local pub, drawn together by common interests in what Steve describes as “geeky stuff.”  This happened to include a desire to have a bash at cider-making.

Egged on by each other, and with the benefit of advice from a geographically distant friend who already made cider, they gave it a go.  It took 7 months of maturation for that first batch to taste pretty good, but the real process had taken place in the minds of its makers.

Beardy-and-Barrel
Beardy-and-Barrel

The guys were hooked and decided to ramp things up.

Chatting to Beardy while he packaged up an order destined for a local pub, he tells me that despite all the advice they got from their friend, they managed to make every mistake possible.  But they learnt from each error, and it’s clear they enjoyed the journey of discovery as much as the end results.

They put out an APB for unwanted apples and suddenly found themselves with more apples than they could use.  Undeterred, they invested a few thousand pounds in a bigger press and mill with the result that their production expanded from 50 litres to 3,500 litres.

Beardy-Inspects-the-Labels
Beardy-Inspects-the-Labels

Then came the next challenge – they found they couldn’t possibly drink it all!  A nice problem to have, you might think, but the nature of cider made in this way with no artificial yeast or additives means that, it won’t keep forever after being exposed to the air, due to the lack of preservatives.  They realized they’d have to give it away – or possibly sell it!

They hastily came up with a name (guess how!), sorted out their logo, looked into packaging (then and now with the aim of eliminating plastic as far as possible), created a website and found outlets.  As Steve says, “We did everything back to front!”

Yet it’s this “chaos” that’s at the core (pun intended) of Bignose and Beardy’s set-up.

Cider-Tap-Events-Price-List
Cider-Tap-Events-Price-List

Cider begins life as pretty decent tasting apple juice but after a month starts to taste horrible as the natural yeast in the fruit begins to ferment.  During this activity, if the temperature gets too cold, fermentation stops… and begins again when the thermometer ticks up.

Commercial cider makers control every part of the process, of course, from the addition of artificial yeast to the temperature and the length of the fermentation.  That way, they can replicate what they’re doing and guarantee that every bottle tastes like the last.

On the contrary, Phil and Steve chose to embrace the chaos and allow the apples to do their own thing.  What they end up with is a product that’s free of additives (except water, if it becomes too strong) and free from their interference.

Eco-friendly-packaging
Eco-friendly-packaging

They could use the same apples from the same place in the same ratios and apply the same process yet still end up with different results, depending on the temperature throughout the year and the length of time they leave it to develop.

The upside is that if it tastes terrible, they just let it be and keep tasting until it comes good.  The downside is that if a batch turns out amazingly tasty and proves very popular, they can’t reproduce it with any certainty.  This makes any talk of supply to supermarkets rather difficult as those buyers usually expect uniformity.

When it’s deemed ready, by virtue of “tasting days,” the cider must be bottled or packaged in airtight containers pretty quickly for sale in the pubs.  After that it’ll remain stable for a good 12 months.

Gift-Pack
Gift-Pack

Any cider that does go beyond it’s optimum time gets left to turn into very desirable Apple Cider Vinegar which finds its way to health food stores and farm shops.  Nothing is wasted.

As a valued part of the local community, the guys hold public picking days in September when locals help to pick apples in exchange for….. cider!  They also hold a winter wassail, following the ancient English custom during which people dress up and visit cider apple orchards singing and playing music to the trees to promote a good harvest in the coming year.

Bignose and Beardy began hosting a summer party to launch the new ciders – just events that were populated by local villagers who heard by word of mouth and turned up to enjoy the cider, sunshine and live music in Phil’s gorgeous garden, bordered by his smallholding of chickens, piglets, fruit trees, open fields and skies.

Indoor-Cider-Tanks
Indoor-Cider-Tanks

This year, due to the larger numbers attending the parties, they’ve put things on a more formal footing.  Cider Taps are held every month through to September.  These feature a pop-up bar selling that year’s different ciders and live music to be enjoyed in the orchard beneath strings of fairy lights.  The atmosphere is magical and the complimentary baby roast potatoes are truly delicious.

So a business that was born out of necessity to offload the cider they couldn’t drink has now grown to a 7000 litre a year set-up.  And where to next?

Sadly, Government rules on duty payable ensure they won’t produce more than 7000 litres a year since even going one litre over means they’re charged duty on the entire amount.  It’s financially unviable unless they take a massive leap to produce several thousand more litres.  They had started shipping internationally, but Brexit red tape put paid to that, so Bignose and Beardy Ciders can only be found in the UK.  They currently supply about a dozen local pubs in the South East of England.

Little-Shepherd-Cider
Little-Shepherd-Cider

The public can buy via their website and they offer a superb Cider Club that confers regular deliveries and extra, fun benefits.

And still they experiment.  They’re considering venturing into fruit ciders and will undoubtedly add more local pub and shop outlets.

Whatever they do, the local community hopes Bignose and Beardy don’t lose what makes them unique.  Listening to them, I somehow can’t see that being a problem.

Plum-Trees-in-the-Orchard
Plum-Trees-in-the-Orchard

Bignose and Beardy Website:  https://bignoseandbeardy.com

Information about wassailling:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassailing

Contact the author:  mariabligh@gmail.com

Skarper-Lends-a-Hand
Skarper-Lends-a-Hand