Sussex Cider with a Touch of Chaos

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

Nine 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 (as befitting modern man) 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.

The guys were hooked and decided to ramp things up.

sussex natural cider tanks fermenting
Outdoor Tanks of Cider Maturing Nicely

 

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 a local APB for unwanted apples and suddenly found themselves with more raw material 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.

Then came the next challenge – they couldn’t possibly drink it all!  A nice problem to have, you might think, but the nature of cider made with no artificial yeast, additives and artificial preservatives means that it won’t keep for too long after exposure to the air.  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 Big Nose Steve says, “We did everything back to front!”

Yet it’s this “chaos” that’s at the core (see what I did there) of Bignose and Beardy’s set-up.

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

Commercial cider makers control every stage of the process, of course, from the addition of artificial yeast to the temperature and the length of the fermentation.  They have to.  It’s the only way to 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 the mix becomes too strong) and as free from any interference as it can possibly be.

This means 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 successfully supplying to supermarkets unlikely 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 without delay for sale in the pubs.  After that it’ll remain stable for a good 12 months.

Any cider that goes beyond its 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.

For the last two years, due to the larger numbers attending the parties, they’ve put things on a more formal footing.  Cider Taps are held every four to six weeks through the summer 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.  As the night air chills, the guys light a comforting fire pit that draws attendees together.  Dancing is optional.  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 tax stifles growth, ensuring 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 Sussex.

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.

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

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

Author

  • Maria Bligh

    Maria Bligh is a journalist, published author, professional speaker, singer and artist now settled in Sussex, UK, having previously travelled extensively throughout the UK and overseas, including a period living in Geneva. Married to a successful musician and with a background that encompasses working in the music industry, finance, sales and presentations training, she maintains a diverse existence. Her interests encompass travel, nature, animals and the arts: music, theatre, painting, writing and philosophy. Maria now writes for online and print magazines. Having once maintained a regular full page in “A Place In The Sun” magazine, travel is an obvious interest, but her articles also cover a wide variety of subjects. She bills herself as “an observer of the human condition and all that sail in her.” Maria has frequently appeared on radio & TV as well as in print. Her humorous style has seen her travel the world addressing audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia and as a cruise-ship speaker with P&O and Fred Olsen.

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