On the cider trail across Wales
You may not have heard about the Welsh reputation for producing world-class cider.
Funnily enough, it all starts with apple trees. Rosie’s, to name one gold award-winning company, has 425 of them – yielding 62 different varieties – while Tomos Watkin took their apples all the way to Shanghai, where their ciders were distributed to a global audience.
Where to start?
Gwynt Yr Ddraig cider publicity photo by Dave JonesSo where do you start if you want to take advantage of the swiftly increasing thirst for Welsh cider? Try Gwynt Y Ddraig, a Pontypridd group who grew to become Wetherspoon favourites from their humble beginnings as the hobby of two friends. With jovial names for their ciders and perries - like Dog Dancer and Happy Daze - their beverages contrast with more salient names like Heartbreaker and National Treasure; the titles of a couple of favourites from Blaengawney Farm, near Pontypool. If you want to see how cider is made, award winning Apple County Cider Co, near Skenfrith in Monmouthshire, offer cider tasting sessions and tours of their orchards.
Blaengawney are regulars at Cardiff International Food and Drink Festival, which draws 50,000 rumbling tummies to Cardiff Bay each July in one of the highlights of the festival calendar.
Don't forget the award-winning festivals
Abergavenny Food Festival, Vale of Usk
You should also look out for the Abergavenny Food Festival, which has won tourism awards, and its accompanying Christmas Food and Drink Fair in December, where cider stalls are among dozens of exhibitors ready to keep you well-oiled. In fact, there are too many festivals to mention – the Welsh Cheese and Cider festival is a cracker at Swansea’s Gower Heritage Centre, while Bodelwyddan Castle and the National Botanic Garden are a couple of the many other landmark venues to make room for cider-related fun.
The Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival takes place at Motorpoint Arena Cardiff in June, but it’s often the pubs and smaller spaces – from the Lion Inn in the Wye Valley to The Blue Bell to in Flintshire, North East Wales – which provide the most memorable weekend festivals during the course of the year.
The White Hart Thatched Inn and Brewery, for one, makes the bold claim of being The Best Pub in Wales, and with that sort of confidence it only seems polite to find out if they’re right if you’re holidaying anywhere near Swansea.
The sweetest things
A Welsh cider stall at Monmouth Festival, Wye Valley by MorganneFor an assuredly relaxing day, try Wernddu in Monmouth. Its tranquil setting is the home of a friendly alpaca herd, as well as a series of rare, ancient trees which produce some of the sweetest cider imaginable. You’ll be made welcome on a orchard tour in the company of a guide familiar with these hallowed trees.
The Penrhyn Arms, in Conwy, has repeatedly been declared the finest cider pub in the land, with at least a dozen varieties going by names such as Rampant Ram and Wicked Wasp (just be careful of their 7%-topping strength). Old Monty Cider, in Montgomery, started out several years ago following a bumper harvest, and can now lay claim to a 200-tree orchard, even if their plaudits have narrowly failed to include the Champion Cider title they aim for.
That honour has gone to Springfield Cider, a husband-and-wife brewery in Gwent, whose inimitably-named Wobbly Munk may well have staggered the Campaign for Real Ale judges in more than one sense. Like all of the cider sights you might see in Wales, the duo say their secret is in keeping their drinkers pleasantly surprised.
More food and drink in Wales