The Crediton cidermaker reviving Devon's heritage in the industry
PUBLISHED: 10:59 29 May 2018 | UPDATED: 10:59 29 May 2018
The revival of a Devon town's cider making heritage was all down to a 'beautiful accident', discovers CATHERINE COURTENAY as she chats to Barny Butterfield. Pictures: Matt Austin
Living in Birmingham and with a degree in philosophy and English under his belt, Barny Butterfield was headed for a career in journalism but, he says: “If you have Devon under your skin, nothing else is going to work.
“I couldn’t get Devon out of my brain and so ended up coming back.” It’s a good job he did, because the move led to his cider making hobby which in turn has seen the revival of a traditional industry in his home town of Crediton.
With his wife Marie, Barny runs Sandford Orchards from The Cider Works, a restored set of old buildings which were built in 1935 for the Creedy Valley Cider Company.
Talking to Barny, his passion for Devon comes up time and time again. It’s a love which runs deep; a love rooted in the rich, red Mid Devon soil where his apple trees grow.
Barny reflects on his decision to return in 2000. “I missed the countryside, the pace of life and the sights and sounds. I’d worked on farms as holiday jobs and was always happy. That’s what I wanted to do.”
He and Marie got together when he was working on her parents’ farm. Marie was back home from university and working for Devon Wildlife Trust.
The farm had an orchard so, thinking he’d never make enough money to go to the pub as often as he wanted, Barny decided to “pick the apples up and squash them”.
“I’d always liked cider,” he says. “My first fermentations were when I was at school. Messing around with stuff in my bedroom. It was terrible! It was undrinkable!”
That said, his later cider making exploits were more successful and in 2002 he and Marie produced enough to “go out and sell a bit”.
“Our first press was made from a pile of junk on the farm; it was built out of box steel and powered off the back of a tractor.”
He pauses, then says: “The real truth is that it was a beautiful accident.
“The reason it worked is because men and women, long in the graveyard, had planted the right apple varieties and they kept those varieties alive. They wanted those apples as they were going to drink that cider.”
Farm labourers, he explains, would be given the means to make cider by the landowner. If you wanted the best workers you’d make sure you had a good cider orchard – like the one on Marie’s family’s land.
“We walked in to an orchard with no knowledge. We were a bunch of greensticks, but we picked up apples planted by generations before that knew how to make great cider. We picked them up, squashed them and there was the blend. And that’s the truth.”
A greenstick he may have been, but Barny clearly has a knack with cider.
“I’m a bit of a frustrated biochemist, a geek. I enjoy assimilating knowledge and understanding processes.”
Specific apple varieties are vital he says: “But, utterly, utterly without question, the most important thing about an apple is where that variety is grown. The mineral content of the soil, the warmth...”
He’s back to his Devon soil again. “I can buy apples for a hell of a lot less, but I want apples grown on the right ground.
“The farthest apple we take is from about 26 miles away; 90% of orchards are within five miles of here.”
Devon he says has grown more apples than any other county through history.
“At one point in the 1950s Whiteways was making a quarter of all cider drunk in the UK – that’s big!”
Barny proudly talks of Devon’s cider heritage and Crediton was a key player with not one, but two cider factories in the town.
“We haven’t invented cider, this building reminds us of that; we’re putting back what was wrongly removed from a community,” he says. In 2009 he and Marie became tenants of a county council farm on the edge of town. Barny was, and still is, an organic chicken farmer.
The cider making, he says, was “an accidental business”.
“There was never a business plan attached to it – there still isn’t! People keep buying it, so we keep making it.”
Barny loves the fact that most of Sandford Orchards’ cider is sold in pubs in Devon. For him it’s all about a local business working with and for its local community.
“There will be 100 people out there who know that this business would probably not exist if they hadn’t stepped in at a certain time and contributed. It’s Sandford Orchards, not Marie and Barny’s cider company.”
“One of things that brings me pride is the fact that even if I got run over by a number 66 bus tomorrow, Crediton has got its cider making back.”
The chance visit of an American scrumpy fan to The Cider Works led to the creation of a trans-Atlantic brew.
The visitor was Dan Kopman, known as ‘the Godfather of craft brewing’ in the US. After meeting Barny, the two got together to create St Louis Dry Hopped, a Devon cider infused with American hops.
And there’s been more overseas teamwork. The Collaborators craft brew is the result of working with friends in France who use a keeving process to create cider. It’s a mix of Devon and Normandy apples – and keep a look out as Barny says there’s also a cider brandy on the way.