Old Twelfth Night, Part Two: A Slow Matured Orchard Ale
At the start of our journey into barrel ageing and experimenting with wild yeasts we took a trip to Amsterdam to visit the Carnival Brettanomyces. The festival is a series of events, lectures, debates and tastings celebrating beers brewed with unconventional yeasts and ingredients. It was an inspiring trip featuring some of the best beers and brewers of these styles from around the world.
One of the events was a discussion panel on the style Saison, Featuring Shaun Hill of Hillfarmstead, Pierre-Alex Carlier from Brasserie De Blaugies, and Phil Markowski, founder of Two Roads Brewing and author of the book Farmhouse Ales. It was a fascinating debate with a lot discussed, but the take home message for us was clear: This style of brewing is about bringing your own sense of place, your own stamp, your own personality to beer. It should be about using what you have available and expressing it. Whilst there were several points of difference, what they panellists agreed was that it should absolutely not be about trying to brew a “Belgian style beer.”
This got us thinking. What could we bring to wild beer brewing? How could we make the most of our local ingredients, our brewing culture and our place in the world to create something unique? What could we make that only Wiper and True could make?
Our thoughts turned to the Orchard.
Dialling back a few years - myself and one of our co-founders Francesca planted a 50 tree cider apple orchard in the winter of 2010, before the idea of Wiper and True had even emerged. We’d started a tradition of making cider with a group of friends years before, from Somerset orchards who’s owners had more apples and Perry pears than they ever wanted. We’d fallen in love with the experience - making cider in a community of family and friends is a wonderful thing to do. Getting out in the late autumn, climbing trees, throwing apples down, taking turns to scrat and press, tasting the beautiful fresh, unpasteurised apple juice, with a big pot of stew on and of course, local farmhouse cider to accompany the day’s proceedings. The the fascination and love and care that goes into nurturing the juice through fermentation and maturation into something hopefully drinkable and occasionally delicious. It’s a hive of activity and then a game of patience. That process inspired us to plant our orchard and ultimately was what began our obsession with making and fermenting things. It was the journey that led us to Wiper and True.
The next set of events were those of good fortune - we struck upon a small field that was a former orchard, chopped down 50 years ago, and then met John Worle, perhaps the best person in the cider world to help us rebuild an orchard. John had been in the industry for his whole career (more on this below) and was a passionate expert with some rare varieties of trees he’d developed at the National Cider Research Centre before it closed in the 80s. He had set up a "retirement project” building a specialist cider tree nursery. Despite us only wanting a handful of trees compared to the tens of thousands his usual customers ordered, John treated us like any other client and gave us his full energy, care and advice. Taking soil samples for analysis, doing environmental surveying, and interviewing us on exactly what kind of cider we wanted to make, when we wanted to pick, how we wanted to manage our orchard. He then curated a blend of 4 tree varieties and gave us advice on planting and caring for them, guiding us through seasons and the various issues we faced getting the orchard established. John was brilliant and we are ever grateful to him for his support.
It’s been fascinating seeing the orchard grow and mature and start to yield juice. We’ve done things the slow way by never spraying the trees and playing the long game when we’ve come up against challenges like aphids. Instead of killing them off with chemicals we’ve let the orchard heal itself, and each year it’s grown more beautiful. The trees are now around 12 ft tall and starting to produce a decent crop. We’ve made tiny batches of cider each year to try them and have been really happy with the results.
They funny thing about the project is that it was a slightly left field strategy. We planted too many trees for a hobby, and nowhere near enough for a commercially viable business. I can’t remember what we are thinking. Perhaps we knew something would come of it...
Flash forward to the early summer of 2017 and our trip back from Carnival Brettanomyces. We began talking about what would happen if we tried fermenting beer using pressed apples from the Orchard. What would happen? Orchards are rich in naturally occurring wild yeasts and bacteria needed for fermentation, but there is no way of telling if they’d be able to ferment beer, let alone whether they could create a good beer. But imagine if they did! We decided it was a risk worth taking, and immediately set to work on designing a recipe, thinking about what barrels to use, where to brew and ferment.
It’s now 2020 and I’m really proud of the beer we are about to release. For me it brings together the start of my path into making and fermenting and the brewing creativity, mindset and expertise that has evolved in the team at Wiper and True. It’s a beer that celebrates it’s raw ingredients and sense of self, retaining malty beer-iness, complex aged hop notes, a wild fermentation character and a tart apple finish that embodies everything about our journey. It’s been a slow beer maturing since the autumn of 2017, and the first product of an orchard planted 10 years ago. I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.