One of the lesser known consequences of technological advancement is found to this day in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Whereas once there was a rush to produce enough fruit to ensure sailors setting out from the maritime city Hull could complete their voyages without contracting scurvy, now with on-board refrigeration for ships allowing a host of nutritious foodstuffs to travel with them, many of the vast orchards of the county are strewn with thousands of rotting apples come the end of the season.
It was this wastage that led to an exiled West Country man in God’s Own Country bringing the two proud cultures together and creating Colemans Cider. Initially, he gathered some good friends to help for fun in the garden of his Georgian farmhouse in Kilham. But, half a decade on, it has developed into an award-winning business, bottling and serving drinks from new premises in Driffield, with a mission to impress people with its Yorkshire take on a South West delicacy.
It has been far from plain sailing though, with two of the original owners taking on the business just before Covid-19 turned the world on its head. But this is the tale of a group of dedicated cider fans who refuse to give up and who are determined to turn the negatives into positives.
Owner Jodie Haines takes up the story:
“Colemans started in 2015, as a group of friends. My partner Steve went to school with one of the founding members, Marc Cole. Steve had been coming up to Yorkshire to make cider with Marc in his back garden because they were both from the West Country, the home of cider.”
“There are so many apples that go to waste here, Marc thought it would be good to start a little cider company. To start a small cider company is quite easy. When you produce up to 7,000 litres, you get this over-the-gate duty free allowance. Then it grew. It was a hobby that we all used to do in our spare time. We used to come up at weekends from the West Country to Yorkshire and by 2019, it had grown to the point where it needed someone to look after it full time.”
“Myself and Steve were the only people in a position to do that, so we moved up in September 2019 to take it on. The company now makes 30,000 litres of cider a year. We had a look at it and thought, ‘if we’re going to do this, we are going to have to expand the business’. So in January 2020, we expanded. We moved to a new unit. And then in March 2020, everything stopped.”
The coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown in England were punishing for many businesses, particularly those like Colemans who had only recently ramped up production. The business was predominantly a wholesale concern at the time, although they moved to the new premises to allow them to open a small tap room to the public. As the news came through that pubs would be amongst the venues having to close down, their wholesale orders stopped and they had to close the doors of the tap room immediately.
“We were actually in a pub the night that they said they were closing pubs. And at 8 o’clock they stopped serving drinks and started taking things off optics and storing them away in the backroom, locking the alcohol away,” recalls Jodie, “and after that we didn’t get a single order in for about two or three months.”
Thankfully, off licences and bottle shops were soon reopened and Colemans switched its entire production to sending out bottles to these stores, as well as selling them from its own tap room. This ability to diversify saw the business through the three lockdowns and the tier system that restricted the opening of pubs.
Even following the May 2021 easing of restrictions, Jodie says that things have been very slow to return to normal. Her best guess is that customers are still hesitant about socialising in public again.
But what a treat cider fans have coming to them when they do return to their favourite drinking establishments. Colemans’ reputation is growing rapidly, with recognition from the prestigious SISGA awards in Spain showing that its products compare very favourably with the best in the world. The company scooped silver awards for its elderflower, special reserve and medium ciders, as well as bronze gongs for its damson and dry ciders at the ceremony in 2020.
And the downtime has not been wasted as they strive to match and exceed that performance in 2021. Jodie says, “while we haven’t been mad busy getting orders out, we’ve taken the time to refine our products. We took a step back, had a look at the cider we make, had a look at the ranges we have, sat and did a lot of sampling – ‘What does this taste like, what is it really like?’”
They have taken the time to really concentrate on the values of their products too. Jodie says that Colemans ciders use up to 70% less sugar than its commercial competitors, given that they only use natural sugars. Their cider is purposefully not fizzy because, says Jodie, “it doesn’t necessarily add to the flavour.” In addition, Colemans uses 100% juice in its ciders, as opposed to the 35% industry minimum favoured by some of its big-name rivals.
This is important to Jodie and the company, given changes in the public’s attitudes to health over recent years. “People won’t drink as much alcohol; they will drink quality alcohol. And they want to know that something is gluten-free, no additives, no added sulphites. That is what we’ve had to concentrate on. We’re trying to make something that’s good that they also enjoy,” she says.
Colemans’ business model also speaks to customers’ concerns over wastage and food miles too. “Because they used to use apples on long ship journeys as a source of vitamin C and Hull was the centre of shipping, there are loads of orchards that have been left to go fallow around the East Riding,” says Jodie.
“They can be anything from cookers to eaters to crab apples, we can use all of those to make a cider, so we say to people ‘bring us your apples and you will get a certain percent back in cider.’” Jodie says that they try to limit their scope to the East Riding when taking in fallen apples, to keep their carbon footprint as low as possible. But the approach has found fans from all over. Last year they took a call from a wannabe apple donor from Lancashire and had to politely decline due to the distance. However, they did manage to put him in contact with a grateful cider producer local to him.
These are some of the values that make Colemans stand out in the busy cider market. It is a tale of people with a love for the product they make and who want to do it in the right way. It’s a Yorkshire product, lovingly crafted by two southerners who have been welcomed into the county and who have immersed themselves in the community. And just like the sailors who once stocked up on the apples produced within the East Riding, Jodie and the Colemans team will be keeping their fingers tightly crossed that, after the year they have had, the waters ahead will be much less choppy.