Last weekend I was invited to the first ever tour of Dunkertons cider distillery. They’ve been open for a few months as a shop, but on Saturday they had their first ever tour and tasting, so we went along to try it out.
You drive into the distillery on an industrial estate just on the outskirts of Cheltenham (in Charlton Kings), which is currently a bit of a building site. But don’t worry, it’s a good thing, there’s lots of really exciting stuff being built that is going to make this place a destination for people to head to for a full day out. The industrial style fills the place, with wood and iron everywhere – my idea of heaven – I’d like to live somewhere like this!
Outside of the distillery, a number of other businesses are moving in. There is due to be a pop-up coffee shop over the next few weeks, Bang & Olufsen are going next door, and if you want to have an alcohol-fuelled day out not only can you go and get some cider, but Sibling Gin & Battledown brewery are also on the estate. There are plans for a street food market, so it truly is going to become a fun place to go.
We parked up and walked into the shop, which has been beautifully decorated and filled with craft ciders, cheeses, bread and merchandise which has all been created with a lot of thought behind it.
We were warmly greeted by the shop’s retail manager, who explained what was going to happen on the tour, and left us to mooch around the shop until everyone was there. Once everyone had arrived (we realised we knew half of the other people there – they were friends of D’s Grampa!) we all headed into a lovely little corner of the shop filled with barrels of cider for him to give us an introduction – which included a brief history of Dunkertons.
I won’t go into too much detail (you’ll have to go and do the tour yourself for that!) but it has an interesting history. Well known in Cheltenham – the distillery is owned by Julian Dunkerton – co-founder of fashion label Superdry. But it all started with his parents, who started producing cider over 30 years ago when they moved from London to Herefordshire and were looking for something to do with their land. They got some help in from a friend – Robert West, who’s Black Fox blend is still one of their top sellers today, and one of a number of award-winning ciders. They moved into the distillery in Cheltenham 3 years ago, and opened their shop this summer. The apples for the cider, and the pears for the perry still come from the estate in Herefordshire, along with 8 other farms in the area – all of which are organic.
We begun the tour by heading through distillery and out into the rain, where we were shown the apple press – which is the beginning for all apples & pears which come into the factory. The fruit is pressed and squeezed as much as it can be, to ensure that no juice is wasted, as it comes into the distillery. The ‘pulp’ is given to a local farmer, who uses it to feed his cattle.
Once we’d been shown the machine (which was an incredible contraption, with lots of moving parts) we were taken back inside, to see the huge vats which hold all of the cider. If you hold your ear up to them, you can hear the liquid bubbling away. It takes 12-15 months for the cider to ferment (sometimes more depending on the blend) and the factory can hold up to 2 million litres of cider at any one time. A lot of their cider is sold in the UK, through places such as Waitrose, and of course The Lucky Onion Group, but some of it is also shipped out around the world to Japan, Australia, America, Malta and Eastern Europe. Don’t forget – you can head over to the shop yourself and buy it in person (or online)!
They make, bottle and package all of the cider in the factory ready to ship out around the world. We saw the bottling area – which is relatively small considering how much is made there, and the packaging area where everything is boxed up. There was a shipment ready to be sent out to the US all made up.
Once the tour was finished, we headed back into the shop by the barrels of cider, ready to being our food & cider tasting session.
Not only do they sell cider in the shop, but local cheeses and artisan breads, so it seemed only right that they would run a cider & cheese pairing session. Whilst we’d been on our tour of the factory, the other staff in the shop had prepared some beautiful cheese boards, along with some bread and crackers – we were in for a treat!
We began with the best-selling cider “Premium (still – 6.8%)” which was a delicious, fruity, sweet cider, that was lovely and refreshing. Paired with a strong, nutty cheese “Wyfe of Bath” I could have gone on drinking and eating all day. The nutty cheese cut through the sweetness of the cider to give a lovely all round flavour in your mouth. We also tried the sparkling version of the cider, which was equally as refreshing but didn’t have as much flavour.
Second came the “Dry (still – 7%)” cider which was paired with my favourite – Cotswold Brie cheese. I’m not usually a fan of dry cider, and on its own it left me wanting some sweetness, but paired with a creamy Brie it work incredibly well together. The Boulangerie Artisan bread added a little bit of French luxury to the taste too.
The third and final pairing was the Perry (still – 7.5%) with Godminster vintage cheddar. This was my favourite of the 3 pairings, the perry has a lovely combination of sweet followed by dry, which when added to the most beautiful cheddar I think I’ve ever tried, is a taste sensation! Again, we tried the sparkling Perry afterwards but it didn’t quite have the same flavour – but I know how great a cold sparkling drink is in the summer.
At the end of the pairing, we were offered the chance to try any other ciders we wished, and end with a small glass of our favourite. I tried the Browns cider (still – 7.5%) to start with (which wasn’t for me – it has a very distinct flavour as it is made from 1 type of apple, a medium dry cider) and followed with the Black Fox (still – 7%) which was my absolute favourite – it was full of flavour and extremely refreshing, so I had a glass of that.
At the end of the talk, we wandered around the shop, and couldn’t resist going home with three bottles of cider, and a slab of cheese – which we are looking forward to enjoying this weekend!
This is a fantastic day out, and even if you don’t go and do the tour I highly recommend going to visit the shop, especially if you love cider.
Tickets for tours are available on their website for £20 per person, and keep an eye out for some of their special events, like the Halloween tour coming up on the 31st October.