After numerous projects working across Heineken’s cider brands – Strongbow, Bulmers and Blind Pig to name a few – it was only so long before we began to wonder where all the apples used to make these tasty ciders come from. Luckily, Heineken UK kindly offered the Bulletproof team the chance to swap the Big Smoke for the countryside to get to grips with how a cider mill functions and discover the work Heineken does with local farmers.
As we left London and headed into the countryside, the hazy smog gave way to an autumnal, crisp air, and the accents went from cockney slang to rural twang as we reached our destination, Ledbury. Bordering the coast of Wales and nestled comfortably in the heart of Herefordshire, the area has been the chief county of UK cider production for over 350 years, making it the perfect location for Heineken’s cider-making home.
We were welcomed at the station and whisked away to the cider mill where the distinct sweet scent filling the air drifted up our noses like warm apple pies. A quick health and safety test (luckily passed by all) was priority number one, swiftly followed by a presentation all about the history of Heineken’s foundation in Hereford.
The story began with Bulmer’s very own Fred & Percy, taking us on a journey of how the brothers set up their business on the basis that ‘drink never goes out of fashion’. We soon found ourselves walking through one of the 20,000 acres where the revolutionaries first began to farm the apples back in 1887. Our wellington boots took us through orchards where farmers were shaking, blowing, sorting and collecting the thousands of apples they had carefully nurtured over the year.
Each cider is made up of a combination of bittersweet and culinary apples that are fermented and reduced down into a base concentrate to create the foundation of every cider in the Heineken portfolio. While we were encouraged to try all the different varieties, it was safe to say that some were nicer than others…
Following this we whizzed through the country roads and back to the mill to put our hard hats on and see where the magic really happens. Although the farmers grow and nurture the apples all year, they have only 12 weeks to harvest the crop and deliver each tonne to the cider mill. It’s then a frenetic 12-week stint for the factory workers, who have to turn all the apples into enough concentrate to supply the production of Heineken cider globally for the rest of the year! The process is meticulous and streamlined, with an efficient 24-hour cycle that includes washing, evaporating and fermenting the apples into the perfect Heineken solution.
The day highlighted the level of craft, planning and also personality that goes into cider production here in the UK. Heineken’s relationship with local farmers is valued highly across the county and many connections go back generations to the very start of cider making – even today the Bulmers family are still in contact and are very much at the core of the brand.
Next time I drink a bottle of Bulmers, I’ll definitely pay a thought to those hard-working few who dedicate their livelihood to bringing us ciders that are a pip above the rest – thanks Heineken!
Written by Tom & Gemma.