The old barn, weathered and full of character is open to the elements but protected in front by a row of trees. Inside, shiny new equipment fills the space and looks more like what you’d expect to see in a high-end winery. It’s here we meet the Hallett family, relatively new to the cider game but already picking up taste awards for their traditional ciders.
Annie, Andy and their son Andrew live on a twenty-five-acre farm in Hafodyrynys, South Wales. It is here the apples are grown, harvested and then made into traditional Welsh cider. We take a walk around the orchards, which Andy explains are a little higher than the ideal. “Usually you’d have an orchard in the lowlands about four hundred feet; but we’re over one thousand feet here, so we’ve taken lots of advice from orchard specialists to make sure we get the best results possible.” Each year the orchards deliver a great yield and the unprecedented height could be one of the reasons for Hallets’ unique taste. It’s full cycle here, the family have planted the apple trees, looked after them, harvested them and then put them into a great product.
Andy is a trained engineer but has always dabbled with drink production. “Before we were old enough to go to the pubs my brother Pete and I set up a brewery in a garage and made our own pub. We’d brew beer in the week, then our mates would come round and drink it at the weekend.” Then at uni he started to experiment with ginger and raisin whisky. “It was almost like a Polish spirit,” he says chuckling.
He got into cider production with a friend; they were hobbyists but quickly won the prestigious Pewterer’s Cup in 2008. Back then all they were interested in was having enough cider to drink a pint each day and enough money to buy apples for the following year. After Andy’s friend got ill they stopped making cider together, but Andy decided to carry on and enrolled on a number of professional cider courses. His style now borrows some of the old traditional methods of cider making with a new philosophy to production, stealing a few techniques from wine makers along the way.
We head back from the orchards to the barn where they produce the cider. There are tall wine fermenters made from stainless steel alongside ancient oak barrels. All the cider made at Blaengawney is totally additive free and is made entirely from apple juice. It is made using a traditional fermentation method, and a technique called keeving which gives you a crystal clear cider. It is then left to mature in the bottle over winter. Andy says, “This second fermentation in the bottle adds bubbles and mellows the flavour.”
We leave the shed ready to try some of the cider and go next door to a purpose-built tasting area. It is set up like a traditional pub, but is made from wood so has the feel of a ski chalet. Andy puts on some music, starts to chop some homemade cured meat and slices some cheese into wedges all ready to accompany the cider tasting. He then talks us through a number of award-winning ciders that have gained recognition over the years. Last year they picked up a BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Award for ‘Best Drinks Producer in the UK.’
The family-run business may have started out as a hobby but Andy and Annie have built it up to become a force in the cider world. Over a short space of time they’ve created an award-winning company that is now ready for son, Andrew to take on to the next level and hopefully continue to produce fantastic traditional Welsh cider.