The director of Bruntys Premium Cider was born and bred in Bristol, southwest England. After helping to launch Cambodia’s first locally made cider earlier this year, the 52-year-old Brit talks more about the ancient tipple. Photography by Charles Fox.
Cider has a rich history. Tell us more about the drink.
I’ve been drinking cider nearly all my life. I had my first taste when I was 12 years old, back when it was brewed on farms in barns. It’s evolved over the past 30 years to become one of the leading alcoholic drinks in the UK. Scrumpy is cider in its raw form — it’s a nickname for cider — and that’s what I used to drink. The stuff I was drinking back then though, it was too strong, alcohol wise. It used be about 10 percent alcohol, not the average five percent we now know. Back then, two drinks and you were done. Traditionally, it was also a summer drink, but now people drink it year round.
Today, it has been refined from the cloudy blend I first drank, when they used to squeeze the juice out and the drink was just full of lumps. You can still get traditional cider in Bristol, but now there are very few places left that produce cider in this way. Now I prefer a refined cider, which is what we produce. I still drink scrumpy, but trust me scrumpy would not sell here — it would look like something bottled from the Mekong River.
What makes the perfect brew?
Cider is a natural product like wine. If you make your cider from cheap apples then it makes a cheap tasting cider. Needless to say, we source the best fruit available. Bruntys cider is still traditionally made. When I say that, I mean the fruit is pressed down the same way scrumpy was made, but technology has come a long way. After the fermentation process, our cider is filtered to remove the bits and pieces that would otherwise make a cloudy brew, and that’s how we get the clear, more refined product.
Why did you choose Cambodia as a base?
Fundamentally, the Bruntys brand was born because I wanted to drink cider in Cambodia, but I couldn’t find it. If I did manage to find a place that stocked it, it was incredibly overpriced and it just didn’t taste like a traditional cider should. You should be able to smell and taste the fruit when you’re drinking a cider. Cambodia is where I first had the idea, and it is also the crossroad to the rest of Southeast Asia, and that is ultimately our target market.
What potential does the Asian market hold?
It’s hot here and we’ve had an overwhelming response from locals that the sweet flavour is particularly appealing — these are key to market success. Wherever cider has gone, it’s become extremely popular. Take Australia for example, over the past four years cider has just boomed in the country. We’re tapping into a market that has unlimited potential, but at the same time we’re constantly learning about what will and won’t work here.
Was it a long process to get the product right?
The product’s always been right, because we’ve used the same product and the same recipe as we have done in the UK for years. What we did have to adjust was entering the market with a full range of flavours. We wanted to add another flavour to the traditional apple and increasingly popular pear. Originally I was going to go with mango, but strawberry was the top choice.
It took our brew master 12 months to refine the strawberry flavour, and it was developed specifically for the local market. It’s quite fitting actually when you think about it for an English product. Strawberries are traditionally very English — think strawberry and cream, strawberry and Pimms.
Do you import the fruit?
All our ingredients are imported from the UK and Europe. Getting this off the ground was no easy feat though. In 2011, it was an incredibly wet year and it produced the worst apple crop in 30 years. We were preparing to launch and we couldn’t buy any apples, so it was an incredibly stressful time. But we managed to secure enough apples to ensure production of the cider in 2013. Our next harvest comes in September. This year is going to be a bumper — you can see the trees blooming now. My apple trees back in England are just bursting with apples, it’s great to see.
What does the cider making process involve?
To create a premium cider it takes 25 days, whereas a commercial, mass-produced cider, which is what we’re increasingly finding on the market, takes half that time. In terms of the process … well, that’s a little like asking someone how to make Coca-Cola. We like to think our secret recipe and process is key to our future success. But what I can say is there are three important ingredients in making a quality cider. One: you have to have a good brew master. Our brew master has won multiple awards in the UK for his blends. One year he made a Christmas pudding flavour, it was amazing. Two: the quality of the fruit. Three: the time you allow for the cider making process. It takes a Bruntys batch 25 days.
We assume you are a cider fan, but what do you think about beer?
If you’ve been brought up drinking your country’s local beer, you grow up to drink what you’ve always known. I haven’t been brought up in Cambodia, so my taste isn’t to the liking of the local beer brew. I’m in a great position where I’ve been able to bring a quality beverage that I love and crave in the hot climate and have it distributed across the country, so when I walk in to a bar I know that there will always be premium cider available. What more could an Englishman want?