Joe’s Cider

Having written about several of the region’s vineyards, I was delighted when asked to investigate an unlikely “cidery” (cider brewery) in the western Algarve. Owner/operator Joe Barfield met me on a sunny morning in December outside the gate of the small quinta near Almadena.

As we walked down to the small converted barn where the apples-to-cider operation takes place, he told me of his journey. “I was at university in the USA when I started home-brewing beer in the late 80s. I loved it so much I brewed myself out of a master’s degree programme in grad school,” he says with a wry smile. “I became so involved that I even started a small industry newspaper, Southwest Brewing News

With my home-brewing experience and industry contacts from my ‘brewspaper’, I was offered a job as the cellarmaster in a professional brewery in Denver, Colorado. That led to a head brewer’s appointment at a brewpub in Texas. However, a serious challenge emerged in the early 2000s – I was diagnosed with coeliac disease – goodbye beer brewing career, hello cider-making.”

Joe, fondly known asCider Joe, moved to Portugal with his family in 2018. They found and loved the area known as Penamacor in the Castelo Branco. It’s a fertile farming region in mid-Portugal where apple orchards are abundant. “It was here that I started my Portuguese cider-making. The locals were so friendly and helpful. Portugal Dave helped me collect apples and transport them in his truck. I used Jose’s press and Pedro allowed me to use his adega for fermentation.”

After much research and experimentation, Joe found the best varieties, including Reineta, Golden and Pink Lady. Then, he developed a relationship with a cider maker in Spain who challenged him to attend the SISGA international cider competition. In September of 2018, he took part and made many like-minded friends.

For personal reasons, Joe moved to the Algarve in 2019. Cider production was a non-starter in the Algarve because of the climate – apple trees need a certain amount of “chill hours”. However, Joe has discovered areas in the Serra de Monchique region that produce suitable cider apples. With the help of the co-op engineer Americo Telo, he now has a limited supply. 

Once endangered, the fabled apple Pêro de Monchique is making a comeback due to careful tending bylocal agricultural engineer Rui Mateus and Joe believes it may be perfect for cider.

When we arrived at his small adega, Joe explained the cider-making process to me. The apples are thoroughly washed and then milled into small, mushy pieces. Then, they go into a revolving hydro-press crusher that strains the mush into juice. The juice from the crusher may be blended before it goes into the tank for fermentation. Apples can ferment naturally or yeast can be added. The process must be closely monitored by tasting on a regular basis. If too much air is left at the top of the barrel, the whole batch of fermenting cider can turn to vinegar.

Fermentation will take approximately three weeks before the cider is bottled, then another three weeks before it has reached potable quality. Alcoholic content depends on the sweetness of the crushed apple juice, which can be adjusted by adding more or less sweet apple juice. 

Barfield’s traditional brut cider is named ‘the Monchique’, and 90% of the apples are sourced there. The alcoholic content is about 7.5%, so it can be quaffed rather than just sipped. I was offered several tastings of other ciders but was ecstatic with one unique blend of cider with ginger and hibiscus. It was light and slightly effervescent, a little sweet and pink in colour.

Joe has maintained his label Castelo Branco Cider from the northern region where he began his Portuguese cider-making. Since 2020, his fledgling operation has garnered several awards: in 2020, he won three SIGMA awards for Dry Still Cider, Semi-Dry and Dry Sparkling Cider. In 2022, he won the silver Prata medal in Madeira.

Castelo Branco Cider is challenging to purchase. Barfield tells me he sells his product privately and at stalls during festivals and fairs. He has one retail outlet, a pub in Tavira, where they sell all he can give them. However, to achieve such a successful product in such a short time is a testament to the enthusiasm and ambition of one man: Cider Joe.

+351 925 618 086


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