Making apple brandy: getting your teeth into a new project!
What does a Newcastle dentist do with acres of green land and a passion for the produce grown on it? This was the question facing Paul Averley before beginning the next phase of his life journey.
Resurrecting an orchard
“I have a great fondness for Northumberland“, relates Paul, Managing Partner at Queensway Dental in North-East England. “I bought about 180 acres there 12 years ago. Part of it came with a Victorian walled garden. In this was a rather dilapidated orchard. Nobody had really looked at it for around 70 years since World War Two!”
Heritage apple varieties
Between 2013 and 2017, Paul worked on resurrecting the orchard. With help, he was able to identify and source many of the same varieties as the original apple trees, some of which were 150 years old. “I tried to be authentic in terms of new plantings and then diversifying, going from 30 trees initially to 140“, he says. “Most are heritage varieties to be faithful to what was originally planted plus some hardier plants that can cope with the North-East conditions. Because it’s a walled garden on three levels with three sides that are south-facing, we get a good micro-climate in it.”
Between 2008 and 2010, Paul planted around 8,000 trees as part of a conservation project. He’s since planted other vegetables and fruit trees and recently added a wildflower meadow too. Environmental initiatives are important to him, so he uses sustainable methods of agriculture with no pesticides or herbicides. The properties on the land use solar and ground-source or air-source heating and their own water supply, where possible, from a borehole. Additionally, he’s managing the woodland, turning wood from oak and ash trees nearing the end of their life into bowls and furniture items.
A hemmel, an old shepherds hut, was included as part of Paul’s initial land purchase. He restored this building in 2010 and four years later started making cider there, hand-pressing, fermenting and bottling by himself. “At that time I came up with the name Guyz Gold“, he explains, “as we are very near a town called Guyzance in Northumberland. I thought this would be a nice pun on something nectar-coloured. I was fermenting apple juice, but also pasteurising apple juice and making cider from it.”
Paul started this small-scale cider and apple juice operation as a hobby, a way of using the produce from the land. However, in 2016, he finished constructing an agricultural building, which he refers to as ‘The Shed’. The building provided him with more space for the new cider and apple juice-making equipment he bought in the same year.
Making apple brandy from cider: a vision for the Guyz Gold brand
In 2018, he thought about extending the Guyz Gold brand to other products. With a fondness for Calvados through visits to Normandy, the natural progression was to make apple brandy. “With so many gin micro-distilleries, I thought it would be a good idea to provide something slightly different“, he recalls. “Cider-making was always more of a hobby than a commercial venture. So if I’m going to do this as a commercial business, having a high-end Guyz Gold-branded artisan, locally distilled brandy makes sense. Because the gin market is fairly saturated, I thought there may be an opportunity for that.”
Paul began his research into distilling apple brandy, found Ryebeck on the internet and spoke to Tim Prime, Managing Director. “I was looking at a particular still that would fit within the shed. I had a clear idea of what I wanted it to do, i.e. apple brandy. That was the proposal I approached Tim with. He was incredibly helpful and supportive, as I was a novice at distilling. He listened carefully to what I was trying to achieve. This was not to have a massive scale operation, but one that would allow things to unfold for me. He took the time to support me and make a recommendation, rather than just to allow me to buy something off the website from a position of low knowledge. He understood what I wanted as an outcome and then advised me on what he thought would work for me.”
Building a good relationship with Ryebeck
Paul’s early experience with Ryebeck kindled a sense of trust in their ongoing relationship. “You develop a kind of trust in that professional expertise and [resultant] recommendations. Tim gave me a sense that it would be a supportive ongoing relationship, rather than just selling me a product.”
Being a novice at distilling can be daunting, especially with the regulatory requirements from HMRC. However, Tim put Paul in contact with an expert in this area who was able to guide him through the legal obligations and documentation. “I didn’t want to invest in a still without a licence“, he remembers “and Tim was very patient. So he advised me to get my application sorted out before making a commitment to purchasing the still further down the line.” Through the advice he received, Paul was able to develop his own knowledge and understanding of what was required by law. His licence was then granted in September 2019, one month after the installation of the still.
A versatile still
One of Paul’s requirements was that the still would have enough versatility to make other products in future without modifications. These will all fall under the Guyz Gold brand. So, through Ryebeck’s expertise, he placed an order for a 120L reflux still with a top-mounted column and three bubble caps. “I’ve invested in something that’s not just a basic model, but which gives me the flexibility to grow with it.” He’s named the still ‘Pomona’ after the Roman Goddess of apples.
At the moment, Paul only has a licence to put fermented apples or pears into the still. However, with Ryebeck’s support, he is currently applying for licences to be able to use other raw materials. This will enable him to use his still on a more regular basis, especially when the apple harvest is over.
Beyond apple brandy
Ryebeck’s master distiller, Craig Law, has also been on-hand throughout to give his expert advice, which continues today. Paul explains further: “Craig has been extremely helpful in supporting me for making potato vodka, rum or whisky, for example, using our own core ingredients grown on the land. Craig has been brilliant at helping me with recipes and the application for those recipes. He’s also been able to put processes in place to demonstrate to HMRC that I am able to do these things in an authentic fashion.”
More information on the services that Craig provides can be found in this exclusive interview.
Ryebeck’s expertise and support
Paul is full of praise for the advice and support provided by the whole Ryebeck team from a distilling, technical and operational point of view. “It’s been a very good package – one that will grow with me as required.”
“The thing I’ve been impressed with“, he continues, “is that they’ve taken me seriously as an individual – a little operation. [They’re helping me] to develop a hobby into more of a commercial interest, holding my hand through the equipment side of things, the plant side of things, the process side of things and also the licensing application side of things. They’ve pointed me in the right direction at all those stages. I have the impression that they’re interested in the small guy and not just the big operations.”
Continuing the journey with Ryebeck
As Paul’s journey continues, he intends at some stage to have his own bottling and labelling facility in the shed. He is confident that Ryebeck would be his first port of call for any new machinery. “I hope the relationship with Ryebeck will continue, as I grow in knowledge and understanding. As things develop, I would be only too pleased for Ryebeck to support that journey with me. I trust them to give me the right advice at the right time.”
If you’re interested in purchasing distillation equipment, either as a novice or experienced distiller, give Ryebeck a call on +44 (0) 800 689 3216 or contact them via their online form.
Author: Robin Goldsmith of The Write Taste.