This experience was complimentary.
My memories of drinking cider as a teenager are sickly sweet. Literally. Rekorderligs that dissolved your teeth and sharp pints of Bulmer’s or Strongbow. *shudders*. I never found cider a particularly enjoyable drink until I paid a visit to MK Biergarten and stumbled across Saxby’s Rhubarb cider. It was the perfect balance of sweet and sharp and had a smooth texture, none of this over-carbonated business. If you aren’t local to Milton Keynes or Northamptonshire, it’s unlikely that you’ve heard of Saxby’s. Saxby’s is a farm located in Farnish, Wellingborough owned by Philip and Amanda Saxby, who founded the brand. As you know by now, I’m fiercely passionate about promoting independent and local businesses, especially when the product they produce is so good. Amanda invited me along to Saxby’s Farm for a tour of the farm and of course, some sampling of ciders! I’ve visited breweries and distilleries before so the art of making cider was unbeknownst to me. Here’s a little overview of the evening and what you can expect from a tour of Saxby’s Cider Farm.
Pass me the cider…
After a windy drive on country roads from MK to Farnish, we arrived at Saxby’s Farm. It was a very breezy evening so I was particularly grateful for Dan’s extra bomber jacket in the car! We were taken to the little barn on the farm where there was a table laden with cider – my favourite kind of table! Philip introduced himself and we were told to get started on the ciders: fortunately, I was not the designated driver that night! As we sipped our ciders, Philip gave us a brief overview of the history of Saxby’s. The farm has been in the Saxby family for nearly 100 years. It all started when Philip was asked if he sold apples. He decided to plant some trees for the farm then thought he’d try making his own cider. So to the West of England he went…
The first batch of Saxby’s cider was on a home-made press and it wasn’t the best, but it was enough to give Philip the bug. So he started to plant an orchard! More on that later…
In terms of the brand, The spotted pig on the Saxby’s logo is a nod to the Saxby family heritage. They used to have a business selling pork pies and sausages which traded for over 100 years but closed in 2008. What was so apparent was Philip and Amanda’s real passion for their business and the local heritage it has. It really was infectious!
The next stop was the apple orchard. And much to my delight, WE RODE ON A TRACTOR TRAILER. Armed with (another) cup of cider, we settled on the slightly bumpy ride up to see the apple trees. As you can probably guess, the apples are where the magic of the cider comes from! Saxby’s use a combination of dessert apples and cider apples which provide the perfect balance of sweetness and dryness, as well as the signature Saxby’s taste! This blend brings together the best balance flavours to create a very quaffable cider indeed!
As you can see, the apple trees were in full blossom which was lovely to see and made for a very beautiful view across the countryside – made even cuter by Digger the spaniel who enjoys a ride in the tractor! The orchard is home to just over 2,000 trees with each tree producing apples every year. Philip emphasised the importance of harvesting throughout the year as well as when the apples are ready: if the branches become too overloaded, the tree won’t produce fruit every year which is bad news for an apple farm. They harvest the apples in July which encourages the trees to produce more fruit later on in the year and to stop the branches becoming heavy.
Next, it was back to the barn to find out how the cider was made…
How it’s made
Cider is essentially fermented apple juice and it’s made in a very similar way to wine. In fact, the ABV of fruit ciders can’t be any higher than 5% as under UK Law, it’s technically a wine. Anyway, the barn is where the cider is created and it all starts with a cider press. The one pictured above is what Philip used to make his first batch of cider. You’ll be pleased to know that there’s a very fancy piece of kit that is used to squeeze the juice out of the apples and it does it very quickly! Once the juice and pulp have been separated, the juices get put into one of these 10,000 litre tanks, each one named after a famous pig. (10 points if you know which story Snowball is from!) The pulp is carted off elsewhere and used to make fertilizer. Yeast is stirred in with the juice and the fermenting process begins. It’s a big ol’ chemical reaction: the yeast feeds on the sugar in the juice and turns it into alcohol. We tried a little shot of cider that had been in the tanks for about seven days and it was so sharp – but you could just get a sense of the sweetness that was about to come through. After a few weeks, this baby will be ready to be bottled up!
Once the cider has finished fermenting, fruit juice will be stirred in (to make fruit ciders) or it’s carbonated or bottled up straight away.
Cider tasting time!
There was only one activity left to do – Cider tasting! We got to sample the whole range from the super dry Straight Outta Orchard to the strawberry fruit cider which is a sweet summery cup of deliciousness. My favourite still remains the still rhubarb cider. It’s my favourite drink to accompany street food at Eat Street MK on a Friday night and I could just drink it all year round. We also got to try the Sloe Gin Slider which was released last year. The sloes used to make this come from Warner Edward’s distillery, also based in Northamptonshire. The sloes are given to Saxby’s once they’ve finished infusing the sloe gin and Saxby’s use them to make this beautiful, almondey liqueur. Fun fact: Sloes and almonds are part of the same family, hence why this tastes a little like marzipan.
As part of the tour, you get a £5 voucher to use in the shop so it would have been rude not to come home with the whole range of fruit ciders, wouldn’t it?
We had such a lovely evening at Saxby’s! As a real fan of the brand, it was great to go ‘behind the scenes’ on the farm. Philip and Amanda are two very passionate people and it’s great to see a local, independent business go from strength to strength. Their sights are set on being a locally loved business and they are intent on sticking to their integrity and not breaking into the big supermarkets which I really respect. It’s great to see an independent business thriving off of a local customer base. My sickly sweet memories of cider are very much quashed and Saxby’s is definitely my #1 favourite cider.
Look out for Saxby’s Cider Hog van at local events this summer. They will be at Althorp Food Festival and Towcester Food Festival. Check out their website to find your local stockist, but if you’re MK based, you can get your cider fix at MK Biergarten.
To buy Saxby’s Cider online and book a cider tour, visit www.saxbyscider.co.uk.
DISCLAIMER: I was invited along to experience the Saxby’s Cidery tour free of charge. I always have a pint of Saxby’s when I’m out and they were already my favourite local cider. My opinion is always honest!