11:25AM, Friday 10 February 2017
Dave Snowden, the owner of Berkshire cider company Crazy Dave’s Cider, has been attending Maidenhead Farmers’ Market since June 2016.
Dave first made cider in 2013, when his wife Helen told him to find a hobby. “I bought a small fruit press and made 80 litres of cider from apples in my and my neighbours’ gardens", he said. "Friends and family told me it tasted great.
"That's when I thought, I want to make more.”
The following year, Dave and his son went leafleting in Littlewick Green, asking for windfalls without knowing if any of the houses had apple trees.
Fortunately, Dave received enough fruit to make several hundred litres of cider. He then devised a strategy to ensure he had even more apples for the next cider-making season.
At the Berkshire records office in Reading, he scoured thousands of map records for references to apples and orchards. When apple blossom came in the spring of 2015 – ‘blossom is easier to spot than apples’ – he started hunting for the apple trees he’d identified during his research.
Dave remembers he was ‘the mad man walking to all these different places’ such as Holyport, Littlefield Green and White Whaltham. The name for his business was founded when his wife told him ‘you must be crazy, Dave’.
A leaflet campaign targeting the properties where he spotted apple blossom proved successful. People began to contact him in September 2015 and he gained enough apples to make 4,750 litres of cider.
In the autumn of 2016, Dave collected apples from over 70 properties in Berkshire. Almost all are within a five-mile radius of the Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA) in Burchetts Green, where Dave rents a building and makes his cider.
“I wanted to keep my cider-making in Berkshire and have a countryside feel, so I approached the BCA. They said they'd love to have a local cider-maker on the campus.”
He joined the BCA’s board of governors in December.
Interestingly, however, Berkshire apples are culinary apples; cider apples do not actually grow in the county. Dave makes different ciders to reflect this.
His ‘Berkshire’ ciders are made purely from the Berkshire culinary apples, while his ‘Wessex’ ciders are blends of Berkshire apples with cider apples sourced from other counties, such as Somerset.
Dave explains: “There are four types of cider apple: sweets, sharps, bittersweets, bitter-sharps. The difference is the tannin levels. Sweet cider apples don’t necessarily make a sweet cider. The art of cider making is knowing how to blend different apples.”
It takes several months to make cider from the initial apple selection each autumn. Apple pulp is pressed to produce juice, which is then left to ferment in sterilized containers for most of the winter.
Once fermented, the cider is pumped into a new tank. Yeast sediment is left behind and the result is a pure, clear cider, ready to be bottled.
When Dave first made cider at home, it was a small enough volume to bottle by hand. But now that he makes thousands of litres each year (nearly 5,000 litres in 2015, and an expected 14,500 from his 2016 apples) he is grateful to know a farmer in Hampshire with a bottling machine.
In a corner of Dave’s building sit two wooden barrels. He bought them without knowing what was inside: single malt whisky. Though what is even more surprising is the Spanish name printed on the lids.
“I discovered that the Spanish family still make jerez, sherry. These old barrels from Spain somehow ended up in Strathclyde with whisky in them, and then from Dorset to here in Berkshire.”
With such an intriguing history, Dave has a special plan for them. He will mature some cider in the barrels for a month or two, tasting every day to ensure the right balance of flavours.
“It'll be trial and error, but should turn out to be a lovely, elevated cider.”
In October 2016, Dave began a collaboration with Albert Opalko, a Maidenhead photographer and member of the Maidenhead Camera Club.
Albert explained: “The aim is to photograph different aspects of Dave’s year, some of which will include shots of orchards in flower, pressing, bottling and Dave selling his cider at farmers' markets.” The images in this article showcase Albert's work.
Dave left his day job last July after working as a civil engineer for 28 years as his 'passion was no longer in engineering, but in cider-making and the business’.
How is he finding the entrepreneurial experience?
“There's nothing romantic about cider-making, it's hard work. The only time it's good is when I’m in a pub, drinking my own cider, hear someone say they're really enjoying their third bottle of Crazy Dave's, and then I tell them 'I made it!'”
He runs the business on his own, regularly attending the monthly Maidenhead Farmers’ Market and other local markets. He visited an astonishing 29 markets in 54 days before Christmas. His ciders are stocked in speciality drinks shops, including Rebellion Beer in Marlow, and he frequents cider and beer festivals too.
Make sure to visit Dave at the Maidenhead Farmers’ Market, with the next one being held on Sunday.
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