Going to a good home
Katie Mather visits Apple Orphanage, the Isle of Man cidery making magic with unwanted fruit
Wednesday 09 October 2019
This article is from
Beer52 Awards 2019
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On the Isle of Man, outside in the wild, windy countryside, bus stops are a state of mind. You just ring the bell and they’ll stop anywhere, within reason. I thank the driver for pulling in safely somewhere in the gorse bushes between Peel and Kirk Michael, and sidle along the road to a driveway where I’ve been told some cider revolutionaries have set up an experimentation laboratory.
As my boots crunch on the compacted gravel, I’m not sure I’ve found the right spot until I’m right there on top of it — Apple Orphanage’s entire cidery, painted bright among the green and brown of the woodland around it.
There’s a walky-talky lashed to a plank by the front door of their warehouse-shop with instructions to press an alarm button to alert the cidermakers. Phone signal is a myth around here. I press and wait.
In a few minutes, Will Faulds strides around the side of the hundred-plus-year-old building in a blue lab coat, hat and wellies, stretching out a hand and apologising. It’s not easy to hear visitors arriving through the thick stone walls.
“Come inside, I’ve just been doing some labelling,” he says, and beckons me into the white-painted room he and partner Charlotte Traynor have dubbed “The Lab.” Inside, great white tubs of apple juice are slowly achieving primary fermentation thanks to their vivacious wild yeasts, or else sitting quietly and inert, awaiting blending. They don’t just make cider here, they craft pressés and juices too.
It’s cosy — very small, actually — and Will pops a bottle of their elderflower Keshal (Manx for “fizz”) to share and shuffles past to stand in the doorway to tell me their story.
“The Lynague is my family’s farm, that’s why we’re here. I’m from the Island, but I went to uni in England to study Visual Communications, and that’s where me and Charlotte met. I brought her over in 2007 and we’ve both lived here together ever since.”
Peering down The Lynague’s rambling lane towards cliffs looking out over the Irish Sea and County Down, it’s easy to see why a person would never want to leave. But why swap art for cider?
“I’ve been making wines and cider from the fruit around the farm forever,” says Will, “but 10 years ago we started making cider and other drinks that could be sold. I just hate the idea of anything going to waste.”
“There are apple trees in gardens and orchards all over the island. We put the word out that we wanted to swap apples for apple juice and rhubarb for rhubarb pressé, and people loved it.”
Bottles of Apple Orphanage juice are available all over the Island, and they come in a range of inventive flavours, some of which sound completely bonkers. All of them feature Manx-grown, donated fruit as a major part of their make-up.
Juices like Cherry Berry Boom combine crushed cherries and foraged elderberries, and Nutty Pearfessor uses Manx pears, apples, and both* use fascinating nut-flavoured adjuncts, made from fruit pit extracts. (*actually that's just the Pear, the Cherry uses cinammon)
“Tastes like walnut in there, doesn’t it? And almonds?” asks Will as I take a sip of the fresh, perfumed juice, imagining my lips staining purple. It really does. “But it’s totally safe for anyone with a nut allergy and it’s completely natural.”
“We love experimenting and trying new flavours and we’re always foraging for herbs and aromatics. We’re making something with pineappleweed soon, and our Gorse Cream Soda is really popular.”
Behind a huge green monster-painted shed that houses the cidery’s press is a woodland clearing packed with bulk liquid containers in various states of gluttony, shaded by a huge green tarpaulin of falling branches and pinecones. Here’s where all that local juice gets racked off into after fermenting, to contemplate life and reach its ideal alcoholic state. Some of the juicier looking tanks are almost ready, Will tells me, and he knocks on the side of one nearest to him to show how packed with CO2 it is. They’re at full capacity, and he’s a little frustrated, because there’s a lot of cider he wants to bottle.
“The apples we use are mostly crab apples, dessert and cookers. There are some cider apples here, but not in huge quantities. We blend, and we have a strong idea of the type of cider we want to make — dry, unsweetened cider, basically. Getting that tartness and tannin is important, and it’s not easy without cider apples. So we also grow our own.”
Oh yes, The Lynague farm has an orchard.
“We only grow Manx and British apples. We choose varieties based on what grows best in our soil, and which apples enjoy growing this far north.”
As Charlotte pulls up in their van — she’s been out delivering to shops and bars — we decide to take a trip across the road to visit their edible arboretum.
“We’ve got 120 varieties now,” says Charlotte. “We spent a long time narrowing it down.”
Hidden from the Peel to Kirk Michael road behind a high hawthorn hedge, the Apple Orphanage orchard spreads uphill, from where a perfect view of swaying farmland rolls down to a brittle coastline, Peel’s defiant settlements and then back out to sea. Everywhere here is punctuated by the sea.
Inside the orchard nursery, where Charlotte and Will are growing and grafting their future, there are varieties of apple worth getting very excited about.
“We have a very old, fascinating variety called the Pitmaston Pineapple. It’s very small and oblong in shape and has a rough skin. But it also tastes and smells a little like a pineapple too!” says Charlotte, from in-amongst the saplings.
“And the Pendragon here has a red coloured skin that runs right through to red flesh. It’s thought to be one of the oldest cultivated apples, from at least 13th Century Wales.”
In the orchard, on the other side of a thick row of young willows is where Charlotte and Will want to expand their horizons.
“We want to get far enough along this season to hopefully start work on our new facility next year,” says Charlotte.
“As well as gaining more space — which we desperately need! — we’re hoping to invest in a cylindrical tank to ferment straight off the pomace. We want to make more elderflower-based drinks with more body, and pomace might be a great way to gain flavour and character from the apples we’ve used in other drinks.”
“I want to look into creating some hopped cider too. I think it’ll work for us because our cider is such a light style. It’ll carry the hop aromas well.”
Back at the farm, I ask Will if part of their charm for local people here is being able to drink cider in their local pub that they helped produce.
“Our Fruit Exchange is really busy,” he says. “We get older people coming down with shopping bags full of eating apples from trees in their gardens and making a day of it, and families coming down too. It’s become a social event for some people, a chance to meet and speak to their neighbours that they might not have otherwise had the chance to.”
“They love the cider too, which is good!” he says with a smile. “There’s something really gratifying about drinking something you’ve helped make, from fruit that would otherwise have fallen to the ground and rotted away.”
“We’re making good things from waste products. That’s amazing to me.”
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