Philippa James visits Red Bank Cider in Bolton

Philippa James sits discussing the cider with Anita and Lee

Philippa James sits discussing the cider with Anita and Lee - Credit: Archant

Philippa James visits a couple who are picking up awards for their cider and perry. Just don’t call it falling down juice

Red Bank Cider

Red Bank Cider - Credit: Archant

Lee Thorne tapped the side of a box which contained his award-winning perry and said: ‘Look, Philippa, Crackin’ Pear!’ His wife, Anita, a fellow director of Red Bank Cider in Bolton, and I raised our eyes to the ceiling and then grinned at each other.

This is a man who is rightly proud of the fact he produced the winner of the 2014 Perry of the Year title in the Camra Cider and Perry Festival in Manchester.

The label delcared its ABV at 6.32% which I suggested was ‘falling down juice’. But Lee was quick to point out that it’s only half the alcohol of many wines.

The perry is made 100% from pears. I asked how they managed to make such a pure perry without the addition of glucose, concentrates and preservatives. Apparently, it is the natural acidity of the pressed product which keeps the perry from deteriorating.

Lee takes a reading from the hydrometer

Lee takes a reading from the hydrometer - Credit: Archant

This brew is described as the Pinot Grigio of ciders, but made with pears. It is still drink and quite dry and it’s a favourite among local chefs as an alternative to cooking with wine.

It goes well with chicken, fish, and pork in particular. Talking of dry drinks, the range includes a low sugar cider which is proving very popular with diabetics.

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This most recent recognition came on the back of the couple’s first award for their ‘Proper Cider’ which they launched at the same festival in 2013. Anita said: ‘It was such an accolade, and came as such a surprise; you don’t expect to win when you’ve only just set up. There was an award ceremony and we were featured in the local paper.’ To complete the ‘triple’, they have been short-listed in the Bolton Evening News, and Bury Times New Start-up Business, 2014.

So what prompted the couple, who have been together for 24 years but only married in 2012, to set up Red Bank? Anita laughed: ‘We just decided, well, why not?’ They already had busy lives as owners of Country Landscapes but Lee has a keen interest in microbreweries, and no-one in Bolton was crafting cider, so they decided to launch the range.

Anita and Lee Thorne of Red Bank Cider

Anita and Lee Thorne of Red Bank Cider - Credit: Archant

They are members of Made in Lancashire, the producers’ support group, based at the Rural Business Centre, Myerscough College, who describe the company as having ‘award winning craft ciders and fruit ciders including vintage dry, low sugar, still ciders, strawberry and rum flavours.’ Anita said they joined after attending the annual Open Day, and they are impressed not only with the help that they have received, but with the range and quality of the other producers who are members. Through contacts made Red Bank Ciders are now available at some farmers’ markets, festivals and are proving popular at charity fund raisers where, ‘everyone loves a local product.’

Several pubs are swapping onto the locally crafted range. ‘We feel we are doing something right, and we’ve had so much support, everyone in the industry has been helpful and informative,’ they agreed.

Anita and Lee have also been quick to discover the benefits of social media sites. They are on Facebook, and receive many enquiries as ‘direct messages’ on Twitter, which then become on-line orders.

Where pubs and restaurants have actively promoted the products the locals have acquired ‘a real taste for it’ and it’s proving popular among younger drinkers, too, with the perry being enjoyed by those who generally like dry wines.

Although there are offers of tasters at the premises (check opening hours on 01204 402222 before visiting.) on Bradley Fold Trading Estate in Bolton, many customers are repeat ones and they have progressed from bottles to five litre boxes which Lee says ‘fit nicely in the fridge’.

So, in the whirlwind of their first year of trading, what next? Lee said:‘We’re working on Lancashire fruit wines next, strawberry and raspberry, if we could produce a really good Lancashire wine, we’d be very happy. We would like to be known for our fine wines and ciders.’ ‘And our award-winning perry, too!’ added Anita.