My heart sank and my face fell into my hands, I was gutted. As melodramatic as it is, it felt like I was losing a friend; a reliable friend you don't manage to see as often as you would like (I found it hard to get hold of) but whenever I did it was as great as ever to catch up. One of those salt of the earth types who leads a happy and uncomplicated life, for whom nothing is ever too much trouble and is always there for you.
Well made single variety ciders aren't that common and Sheppys Tremletts Bitter is a superb example. It's never going to be able to compete with a great blended cider but it is a delicious and honest tipple nonetheless. The problem cidermakers have with a single variety is one of balance. Most apples alone don't offer enough, or too much, of what a cidermaker wants in his juice without blending it a few others, much like a winemaker does with grape varieties and a brewer does with both malt and hops. Sheppys Tremletts Bitter is one of the few that seems to get away with it, albeit in this case not quite and sadly it seems not enough to survive. It was a sad day indeed to be told it will be now more. I had to pull myself together.
Recognising my concern, the nice lady behind the counter tried to comfort me with 'There's no need to worry, there'll be enough to last to Christmas' which is when I really shat myself 'But that's only 3 months away.. how much cider is that?' I asked. Fully believing that this time she could allay my fears her eyebrows peaked over her beaming face 'a WHOLE palate full!' she said nodding reassuringly. She was doing her best but I whimpered like a child. 'Um, ok.. can I have five cases please?'
For me it epitomises a modern classic Somerset cider with honest roots. The sight of a chilled pint, rich in colour, sparkling and effervescing apple aroma triggers a Pavlovian response in me; rather embarrassingly, my spine tingles and I start to salivate. It does have a strong flavour, which might scare a fainthearted, part-time cider drinker and probably accounts for sluggish sales, but its a very pleasant flavour: its bold, its crisp and refreshing with dry tannic finish. The first gulp gives me a rush. Its 7.2%abv and as English as Elgar, Shakespeare and Churchill. It often makes an appearance on Sundays in our house because its perfect with roast pork but is equally loved alongside a hearty Ploughmans on a hot summers day. Tremletts Bitter is a full bittersweet heritage cider apple and in this case makes a cidermakers cider: tasty, refreshing and strong - the kind of cider where you can really taste the skins. Mmmm, skins.
Sheppy's Cider Farm itself is somewhere I have a softspot for. I like their heritage; they're family have been making cider for over 200 years, the cider my mates and I drank all through college was their farmhouse and my most iconic/popular image 'Falling Apples' was shot there one fortunate day. I stopped for a pasty and a bottle of Tremletts at lunchtime and hour or so before I shot it (the power of cider is something I notice more and more- it sent me to the States!)
In an e-mail to the Sheppy family I mentioned my sadness at the news and explained my intention to post about it and so asked them to make a comment.
My reply was:
"Hello Bill, So sorry you are one of Tremlett’s fans. We have a few, but this is really not a popular enough cider to continue with. We have a too big a range and something has to go I’m afraid.
I’m sorry to disappoint you further but we definitely DON’T want a feature on this product. The decision is made to remove this poor selling product and we really don’t want everyone asking for it when time has proved that the market for it is too small/specialist. I am certain lots of people would try it, but very few stay with it in the long term, so you won’t change our minds I’m afraid!
We still have sufficient stock to make another 2,000 bottles or so, so we’re not down to the last dregs yet. You tell us how much you would like put aside, and we’ll sort it out for you.
Very kindest regards..."
Consequently, I have to ask you to not ask for it... (unless of course you think you can keep asking for it again and again.)
No-one expects poorly selling products to survive long term, especially when, as in this case, the juice can be used effectively in blended ciders. I don't want to change any minds because a sound business decision is a sound business decision. (I don't think I have the ability to change minds, I could become the Gaddafi of cider if I did) I simply want to mark the passing of something magnificent. And I'm still gutted, I love her.
I wish I had more time on my hands to do it justice photographically (I really don't at the moment - I'm SO busy) so you'll have to put up with this dramatic response, apologies.
Sheppys Tremletts Bitter
2000 - 2011
RIP dear friend.
She graced the world with acts of loving kindness.