Many a Cider Drinker has probably dream of spending day of two in a 120.000 pint vat of Thatchers.
But the skilled craftsman pictured here are the master coopers who are ensuring the cider makers gigantic 150 year old oak vats remain in top condition for maturing it’s Somerset cider
I spent a couple of hours with cooper Alastair Simm and his team, depending deep into the vats and getting a rarely seen view from the inside. The 11 30ft tall vats each hold 120.000 pints, but occasionally they do need to be left empty so they are able to receive some expert care to keep them in top condition.
Alastair Simms, Britain’s only master cooper and owner of White Rose Cooperage is entrusted with the upkeep of the vats at Thatchers headquarters Myrtle, at Myrtle Farm, Sandford.
A fug of cider and sharp apples hangs heavy in the vats, which can, unsurprisingly, make you feel rather light headed
Constructed of three inch thick oak staves, each of the vats has it’s own character. They were built by Carty and Sons of London, dating back to the 1040s. Each Stave is numbered from 1 to 200 ish (I forgot to do a final count) with the year roughy scrolled into the wood in Roman numerals.
Apart from when the coopers are visiting, the Huge vats are full of cider.If the wood dries out, it can shrink.
Even though the wood has been cut it is still a living product, so the speed of work is essential to complete the work within 48 hours – the longest they recommend a vat is empty for.
While the cider is held in the vats, usually for around six weeks, the oak softens and rounds the flavours, allowing the apple characteristics to shine through. Every Friday the Thatchers cider makers taste the cider from each vat, to judge if it is ready for next step of it’s journey
All photography copyright Neil Phillips Photography 2015
thanks for Penny Adair and Tina Rowe