Martham cider is the best!

A Norfolk gardener was enjoying a balmy summer's evening drinking home-brewed cider at a barbecue with friends when they told him it was 'delicious'.

So Peter Blake, of Martham, kept the left-over half barrel, entered it into a prestigious competition and found he had unwittingly brewed the best cider in all of East Anglia.

His Hog & Vine Original brew beat 28 other ciders and perrys to the top spot in CAMRA's East Anglian Cider Competition 2011.

The 52-year-old was the only non-commercial brewer in the competition and was delighted to find out he had won.

'I was quite astonished really,' he said. 'I think it's the most entries they've ever had. It must have been a fairly decent standard.

'Lots of people have asked 'why don't you go commercial?', but then it becomes a job not a hobby and you have to do so much to make it worthwhile.'

Mr Blake first started brewing nine years ago when he was gardening for a Martham couple. 'They had rare breed apple trees,' he said. 'There's only so much you can do with apples, and they had the idea of buying a press and having a go at it.'

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They set up the press in their old pig shed which was covered in vines, hence Mr Blake's brew being called Hog & Vine Original.

He has been brewing ever since and has entered CAMRA competitions before, but he says this was the best cider he had ever made.

'This particular cider just came out very nicely,' he said. 'We had half a barrel left after a barbecue, so I hung on to what was left. I nearly gave it away but it's a good job I didn't!'

Judges described his winning cider as having 'an aroma of a cornucopia of woodland fruits, a bit Christmas-puddingesque, flavoursome with lots of body, and a long, lingering finish.'

Mr Blake was taught all he knows about brewing by his friend Peter Conlon, and says each batch of cider tastes different using his method.

'We pick the apples and use a butcher's mincer to get the juice out,' he said. 'We stick them in four or five garden tubs, I don't add anything to them, then I siphon it into a clean tub.

'Some are so dry they're terrible and you have to sweeten them, but this particular one was very nice.'

He says the secret to his cider success is the quality of the apples, and he is a very popular man in Martham as he turns up with barrels of cider whenever there is a barbecue and runs the Martham Beer Festival.

The East Anglian Cider Competition 2011 was held at the Norwich Beer Festival.

Chris Rouse, CAMRA's regional cider co-ordinator for East Anglia said, 'The quality of the entrants made it impossible to predict who would get to the final, let alone win.'

Early Night, made by Jonty's Cider in Banham, Norfolk, took second place in the competition and Dry Cider, made by Glebe Farm in Kings Ripton, Cambridgeshire, was third.

sam.russell@archant.co.uk.

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