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Behind the Scenes at Thatchers Cider

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I have a confession to make… I’m a cider snob. I like it dry or medium-dry, and cloudy – with the heady scent of fermented apples still brimming in the glass. The kind of cider that’s been greasing the wheels of agriculture and industry in Somerset for centuries. Not for me, the sugary, sweet, supermarket stuff… I’ll have a pint of real zider, and you can leave the twigs and leaves in, too.

Spanning four generations in the same family, Thatchers is our region’s most famous cider-maker – and their range of produce is broad. Although most of their ciders are slightly over-processed for my liking, they do still make cider the traditional way. I’d say a visit to their orchards at Myrtle Farm in the heart of Somerset’s cider country is a must-do for any cider-lover in Bristol.

Exploring the orchards

Image courtesy of Natacha the Franglaise

My recent visit began in the Thatchers Exhibition Orchard, where manager Chris oversees over 450 different apple varieties. The weather conditions in Somerset offer the perfect conditions for growing apples – with cold winters allowing the trees to lie dormant, and temperate springs promoting bee pollination and blossom-growth. True to form for this time of year, it was pissing with rain as we strolled among the lines of fruit-laden trees – but the apples like a little of that, too.

Hearing how Chris and his team fuse new apple buds to young root stocks to produce varieties like Dabinett and Jonagold was insightful, and his ability to harness the power of nature to produce the finest harvests made for fascinating listening. Our tour continued past the huge apple vats and ancient fermentation tanks to the state-of-the-art canning plant, and it was a joy to hear the various Thatchers team members share their passion for the product.

To the tasting…

Thatchers brought a selection of their lovely cider to Bristol a few months ago, so this was a fortunate second tasting for me. We sampled diverse brews including Redstreak, Old Rascal, Vintage, Haze, Katy, and more – each offering a different balance of scent and flavour to the last. It turns out Old Rascal is the team’s overall favourite Thatchers’ cider – a very fine drop indeed.

Lunch at The Railway Inn

Image courtesy of Bristol Bloggers

The Railway Inn is Thatchers’ local pub, with a broad selection of beers and ciders alongside a full menu of delicious dishes sourced, of course, from in and around Somerset. The pub has been lovingly converted from its original stone structure to a warm and welcoming space – with traditional snug, open bar area and stylish oak-beamed dining room. There’s garden seating for summer visitors, and a seasonal menu that makes the very most of the region’s natural produce.

Take a tour

If all this talk of apples and cider has got your taste buds tingling, you can find details on Thatchers’ guided tours and tastings on their website here. October is Cider and Perry Month, so now’s the ideal time to celebrate and support our local orchards and cider-makers. Harvest season is upon us too, so if you visit Thatchers there’s a good chance you’ll get to see the trucks arriving from across Somerset – their fruity haul ready for pressing.

If you head over, do book a table at The Railway Inn – it makes a good visit great. I can recommend the Thatchers Gold-battered fish and chips, and the sticky toffee pud hits the spot. Cider’s not bad ‘n’ all. Cheers!

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For more of @cjcallaghan’s reviews and write-ups, check out his Best of Bristol author page.

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Pata Negra Revamp Kitchen And Menu

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pata negra

Pata Negra Steps It Up for the Autumn Season

Bristol’s proud independent streak is well-documented, and we’re lucky to have so many vibrant and exciting bars, restaurants and cafes to choose from in this city.

If you enjoy visiting and supporting Bristol’s varied independent venues, it’s likely you’ll have a list of places old and new that you’re just waiting for the right time to tick off.

The Ox on Corn Street had been sitting on my must-visit list for months when I went last month, and I was very, very impressed.

But from the style-savvy team behind The Milk Thistle and Hyde & Co, what else could I have expected?

Also on Corn Street, and also run by the same talented team, Pata Negra is another venue I’d been curious about for a while — but on those occasions when I’d peered in past the door, I’d never felt encouraged in. Despite the great location and classical décor, it somehow just didn’t feel tempting.

Fresh changes at Pata Negra

That’s all changed now. In the latest round of developments at Pata Negra, the kitchen has been brought up from the basement to take pride of place at the forefront of the room — and the difference is striking.

You step through the doorway to skilled chefs preparing delicious dishes in their new open-plan setting, with a fine haunch of cured Ibérico ham hanging from the wall.

Further towards the back of the room, welcoming window seats and banks of plush red-leather benches offer the perfect settings for intimate gatherings of friends.

A menu re-vamp for the autumn season

The engine-room of the restaurant is now fully on show, and a menu re-vamp has changed things up for autumn. Diners can expect seasonal twists on authentic Spanish classics alongside new dishes created to bring the best out of the kitchen’s open grills.

Meanwhile, the wine and sherry list showcases the best of the Iberian Peninsula — the perfect accompaniment to the delicious tapas dishes, fresh seafood and decadent desserts on offer.

For full details on Pata Negra’s refreshed autumn menu, head over to the website here.

For more of @cjcallaghan’s reviews and write-ups, check out his Best of Bristol author page.

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The Time I Beat Bristol’s Scariest Escape Room

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Hell in a cell Bristol

I’m put in many a tricky situation exploring the very ‘Best of Bristol’.

Usually up high, scaling buildings and cranes (#antimitchclimbs), but I didn’t think it would result in being locked in a prison cell with a psycho killer called Pig Face (pictured above). Welcome to Hell in a Cell, ay?

Now for some of you reading, Hell in the Cell will make you think of wrestling but I can promise you this is scarier than when Shane McMahon jumps off the top of that cell.

Probably..

Hell in a cell Bristol

The rather terrifying Pig Face.

Hidden beneath the old Crown Courts on Bridewell Street, within the cells, this has been dubbed “Bristol’s scariest attraction”. And so in the interest of research I took on Pig Face, and lived to tell the tale!

I can’t actually give away too much of the game, because this is an escape room and that just wouldn’t be cricket, would it?

What I can reveal though, should give you a taste of what to expect.

Hell in a cell bristol

You don’t know what you’re getting yourself in for until they handcuff you and throw a bag over your head..

Like any escape room, Hell in a Cell Bristol sets players challenges that they have to complete. Perhaps the first challenge is not backing out after you’re handcuffed with a sack placed over your head.

It’s then trying not to cack yourself as you’re led into the pitch black cells, where you know you’re not alone, but you can’t quite tell what’s there.

It’s that lovely fucker by the name of Pig Face.

Pig Face is reasonably fair at this point and allows you an hour to make your escape. It’s go time!

Oh, and all your belongings have been taken off you, so you can’t use your phone torch or ask Siri for help.

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You ok there hun?

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What I will say is that you bond pretty bastard quickly when you’re scrambling to find light and remove your handcuffs. I was with my good friend Colin Moody, but with three other people I did not know, and we came out of it with an unwavering sense of camaraderie.

That probably explains why this Bristol escape room has proven so popular with corporate clients in the city. Hell, it’s proven pretty popular with all but one reviewer on a popular site that rhymes with whip chastiser. That person claimed it wasn’t very scary. Ooooooo sorry ‘ard.

The game itself was challenging, terrifying and fun (if you like being scared). It will most certainly fill you with adrenaline and leave you in need of a celebratory drink if you do make it out.

This is NOT for the faint hearted. I don’t scare easy, and if you’re like me you won’t feel a sense of fear, but you’ll definitely be made to jump. Nobody is immune to that.

If you do scare easily, go to the bathroom beforehand. Or don’t, these are real holding cells so you could always have a pee in there..

Fancy it? Then click here to book.

Tag us in your psycho selfies on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook if you take on Pig Face

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Sampling The Lesser Known Ciders From Thatchers

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Thatchers Cider

Despite the recent rain, bbq season is upon us, and no camping trip or garden gathering is complete without a few ciders to sweeten the deal.

With honey notes and a golden colour, the medium-dry Thatchers Gold is the flagship cider from one of Somerset’s oldest cider makers – and it’s a great go-to cider on any occasion – but Thatchers Cider have been producing and pressing apples in the Somerset village of Sandford since 1905, and their selection these days is broad.

Thatchers Cider

Thatchers Katy, the 7.4% single variety cider well-known to Bristolians who want something a bit stronger than Gold or Dry..

An introduction to Thatchers Cider and Pasture

To showcase the full range of their cider offerings, the Thatchers Cider team descended on Pasture – the stylish new bar and restaurant near St Mary Redcliffe – last week.

With butcher Sam’s enthusiasm for local produce and Thatchers’ chief cider-maker Richard Johnson on hand, it was the perfect pairing.

Thatchers Cider

Thatchers Redstreak, a multi-award winning cider with accolades such as Supreme Champion at International Cider Challenge 2017, and World’s Best Sparkling Cider at the World Cider Awards 2017.

Richard introduced us to the Thatchers Cider story – starting over 100 years ago with farmer William Thatcher making cider to help pay his workers, and ending with William’s great grandson Martin (the current managing director) overseeing Thatchers Cider distribution throughout the UK. In between tastings, Pasture’s Sam talked us through the menu selections he’d made to bring out the best in the ciders chosen.

Thatchers Cider

Cured duck breast with juniper and orange marmalade, on a chai cracker.

Food and cider pairings

The Thatchers team opened with Katy, a light and softly sparkling cider made from Katy apples, and with it came Pasture’s scallop ceviche with pickled gooseberry and lime – the delicate seafood working beautifully with the light, bubbly cider. There followed five further mini-courses, each paired with a different Thatchers’ cider.

The meaty steak tartare with oyster mayonnaise met its match in Thatchers’ Old Rascal – a peppery 4.5% cider made with Tremlette and Somerset Redstreak apples for a bittersweet flavour. And Pasture’s short rib croquettes with delicate gochujang aioli balanced nicely with the bold and beautiful Thatchers’ Vintage – an oak-matured 7.4% cider with fruity aroma and crisp flavour. 

Thatchers Cider

Pasture’s Signature Short Rib Croquette with gouchong aoili and nasturtiums.

It was a great chance to try lesser-known Thatchers ciders you don’t regularly see in the big supermarkets, and clear to see the thought Sam had put into the food pairings he chose.

Thatchers Cider

Thatchers Family Reserve, a sparkling Somerset Apple Wine that rediscovers the recipe for champagne cider originally created by William Thatcher in the early 1900s.

If you’d like to give a few of Thatchers’ lesser-known ciders a try, take a look at the full range and buy online here. And for more details on the flame-grilled offerings over at Pasture, check out their website here.

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