drink: The Cider House rules

Housed in two 16th-century barns is a Herefordshire bar and brewery which serves up the perfect autumnal brews

At this time of year there can be nowhere more fruitful or mellow for a drink than an ancient barn surrounded by orchards in Herefordshire, a county with a tradition of cider making that rivals Somerset, and an output that exceeds it. The scent that surrounds Dunkertons, a small, independent cider producer, is seasonal, too, as the apples are still being picked and pressed for next year's cider. Once inside The Cider House restaurant and bar, the penetrating aroma of apples is replaced by the tang of woodsmoke from the log fire over in the dining area, and of home-cooked English food.

The Cider House occupies two 400-year-old barns, with pale oak beams untouched since they were built. Outside, Hereford cows graze in a meadow; just out of sight are the orchards which provide the apples and pears to make Dunkertons organic cider and perry. Outside, too, is the mill, one of the few locally still in working order, where the cider apples are pressed, fermented and blended - although three ciders are made with single varieties of apple. You can buy these in the shop; better still, let someone behind the bar pull you a pint - dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet or sweet - or enjoy the award-winning bottled organic sparkling cider.

These are pure, delicious and refined versions of traditional farmhouse cider which above all taste of apples - and they're the perfect accompaniment to the restaurant's food. Breads and chutneys are home made, and cottage pie is made with Hereford beef cows, fed on the pomace left over from brewing.

The Cider House at Dunkertons, Pembridge, Leominster, Herefordshire (01544 388161) Mon-Sat 10am-5pm (or dusk in winter), Thur-Sat dinner (book first), Sun lunch.

Mulled cider

Susie Dunkerton - who, with her husband, owns Dunkertons - has tried various combinations of spices and reckons that there shouldn't be as strong an influence of cloves as there is with mulled wine. She's finally settled on the sachets of spices available from the Burrow Hill Cider Company (01460 240782), another independent cider maker. These contain cloves, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add one sachet to two pints of medium- dry cider - some sweetness is needed to bring out the best in the spices - and warm it in a saucepan on the stove for about five minutes. She adds a dash of orange juice and, as Christmas approaches, sometimes apple brandy or rum. Serve with brown sugar lumps for optional extra sweetness.

Hereford Cider Brandy

Not made by Dunkertons but at the King Offa Distillery at the Museum of Cider in Hereford, this is an English equivalent of the French Calvados. It's sold in the Cider House by the glass or by the bottle to take home. In the restaurant, the most popular digestifs are this and the damson gin. This brandy has a rich, smooth, intensely appley taste. It's as strong as brandy at 40 per cent, and gives off a warming, fruity, alcoholic essence, but doesn't have the knock-out fiery hit of Calvados. A shot, served in a brandy glass, is pounds 1.85. A 700ml bottle is pounds 21.50. n

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