The Taunton Cider Company has a fascinating history, with roots that go back to 1911, and indeed beyond. Following a period of great success, a number of takeovers and job losses saw the company nearly vanished from the cider scene. But in 2015 a group of cider enthusiasts, including Crispin Reed, resurrected the brand. It turned out to be a smart move; Crispin is now company director and their cider is sold across the world.
Crispin: "Our story begins in 1805, when a local farmers co-operative formed to make cider at Norton Fitzwarren, just outside Taunton. By the early-1900s a churchman called Reverend Cornish was making cider from locally produced apples at the Heathfield Rectory. In 1911 Reverend Cornish joined forces with the co-operative to incorporate the 'Taunton Cider Company', set up to produce their now sought-after cider commercially. After World War I, production of non-sparkling cider continued, using the original recipe and traditional wooden barrels – but the method of the day only allowed for distribution to local public houses in the wider Taunton area. The Taunton Cider Company effectively disappeared until we re-registered it in 2015."
The production of the brands owned by the original Taunton Cider Co was transferred to Ireland in 2011. About two-years-ago, Crispin and his team discovered that The Taunton Cider Company itself was not included in this. It was that discovery that motivated them to re-establish the company.
Crispin: "With such a well-known and, indeed, well-loved brand name, we effectively had some ‘oxygen’ to revive the company. Our planning started at the back end of 2015 and we officially relaunched the company at the Taunton Titans home rugby fixture on 26 November 2016. Since then we have been very pleased with progress. We are now stocked in around 200-plus pubs and other outlets, such as sports clubs."
Crispin and his team conducted "extensive blind taste testing" prior to launch to find the right balance, and he says he was very pleased with the result. The Taunton Cider Company initially launched a Medium cider in 500ml bottles. This was quickly followed by 50-litre kegs and a 20-litre bag-in-box, and a Dry cider has now joined the family.
Crispin: "In terms of the product itself, there are a number of factors behind its rediscovered popularity. Firstly, it has been made using the finest bittersweet Somerset apples, specifically Harry Masters Jersey, Yarlington Mills, and Dabinett. Indeed, many of them come from orchards planted by the original Taunton Cider Co. Secondly we have adhered to traditional methods. We made a film of our production process, which will give you a real flavour of the authenticity."
As much as Crispin likes to stick to age-old methods, he noticed that some beer companies were beginning to change their approach when it came to the strength of their product. It was something that Crispin was keen to try for himself.
Crispin: "We have an 80% fruit content and don’t use concentrates, which are used by a lot of the more established brands. This gives not just gives a great taste but also people have commented on the apple aroma when a bottle is first opened. And, unusually for ciders, we have a relatively low ABV at 4%. We observed that many of the popular bitters that have emerged over recent years have a more accessible ABV level and we were keen to take that on board. The carbonation is relatively gentle too, so it’s not overly gassy. We also spent a lot of time in developing the actual branding. We wanted the brand to respect its roots yet at the same time present a contemporary image. Hence the branding is clean and crisp, much like the cider itself! The round label is a nod towards the original millstone used to press the apples."
The Taunton Cider Company’s website pays homage to the hundreds of employees who were made redundant over the final three years of Taunton Cider Co. In particular it praises their pride in their company, their hard work, their unfailing cheerfulness, and their unswerving loyalty. And Crispin’s staff are very important to him too.
Crispin: "In terms of people, my title is director and my background is advertising, marketing and product development. I’ve advised many of the big brewers in the past on their branding and innovation. Jonathan (Dunne) is sales consultant and previously has owned pubs and restaurants so he really understands the trade. We have a small but perfectly formed support team and it is our ambition to grow the brand. We deliberately focused our initial efforts on Somerset as the name is recognised and loved. We are making headway in terms of other distribution beyond the West country and, indeed, have already received orders from the US, Switzerland, Australia and the Netherlands. So the word is spreading!"
Crispin’s passion for his product is clear, but why does he love Somerset?
Crispin: "In relation to cider-making it has to be because of the terroir, or land. Somerset has a long and illustrious history of cider-making stretching back of course to Norman times. The Normans recognised that the soil bore certain characteristics similar to the land that they came from, perfect for growing apples. And, the people. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received. We’re not only grateful but also sensitive to the heritage that we now have in our hands. We want to respect this and bring The Taunton Cider Company back to where it belongs."