Of Perry and Cider: Q&A with Tom Oliver


Winnall's Longdon Perry Pears at Tom Oliver's Orchard

Winnall's Longdon Perry Pears at Tom Oliver's Orchard

Tom Oliver once grew hops, but when he realized his love of cider was more immanent to himself, Oliver decided to turn the hop shed into a ciderhouse. And the rest, well, you can taste it in the bottle.

Story by Elisabeth Kramer
Photographs courtesy of Tom Oliver

Located two hours outside of London in the countryside of Herefordshire, Oliver’s Cider & Perry shop epitomizes the region. Here you can buy local handicraft ranging from Yarlington Mill dry cider to Three Counties medium dry perry (for those nowhere near Herefordshire, never fear. The shop’s online). With a history in the region, shop owner and cider maker Tom Oliver shares what brought about his passion for cider and the success that love has brought about.

Elisabeth Kramer: How did you first get involved with cider?

Tom Oliver: Growing up in Herefordshire on a typical mixed family farm we were surrounded by fields of grass, corn, orchards with apples and pears, hop yards, woods, all broken up by meandering small roads. Late autumn after the main harvest was finished, farmers turned to cider and perry making; and it was from these old boys that I learned about which apples and pears to pick, squash and press to get the desired ciders and perries.

EK: What inspired your store?

TO: A love of good cider that was becoming less evident as the years went by, so when we stopped growing hops in 1999, I started to fill that period of the early autumn with cider and perry making and then later on started to use the old hop kilns as our ciderhouse and old hop shed for cider making.

EK: What’s been the response so far to Oliver’s Cider & Perry?

TO: A huge amount of interest from all over. We have been very encouraged by the reaction to our ciders and perries from so may different people. Many have been highly placed in competitions and we keep trying to broaden the scope of our cider while keeping quality as the prime motivator. We are not intent on selling huge volumes but we are determined to try and make ciders and perries for everyone to enjoy: so accessible, easy drinking perries or complex, spicy, phenolic ciders. We want everyone to enjoy celebrating the apple and the pear.

Tom Oliver tasting cider from his barrels.

Tom Oliver tasting cider from his barrels.

EK: What in your opinion makes the best cider?

TO: Getting the best from the fruit you use with a minimum of intervention along the way.

EK: Do you have any tips for cider beginners to keep in mind?

TO: The fruit is the most important and virtually only raw material needed. Work out what the fruit you are using is best suited for and make the best cider you can with that as a starting point. If you want minimal intervention then that is always the basis of your cider. However should you want to take things further, always get the best fruit for the job, it will make the rest of the process more rewarding!

EK: Do you have any comments on the differences between the U.S. and U.K. cider communities?

TO: The fruit is different, even the same varieties have different characteristics depending on where they are grown, so the finished ciders and perries can be different (terroir to some degree or other) but for craft producers we are all trying to make cider that we feel is great and that we would like others to share and enjoy, riding on that crest of the wave that is a resurgence of cider and perry and the growing interest in regional foods and drinks with traceability and provenance at the heart of things.

Mostly a happy band, we seem willing to share and learn, but above all I hope we enjoy what we do; fortunes will seldom be forthcoming but a life times enjoyment and satisfaction is promised and the holy grail is that perfect cider and perry!