A VILLAGE cider maker, which has grown from a hobby into a business, has landed a top award for its latest beverage.

The Big Bear Cider Mill, at Stisted, has had one of its ciders named among the best in the UK in a new guide published by Camra.

The firm’s Essex Gold Rush cider has received plaudits and features in ciderologist Gabe Cook’s new book Modern British Cider which lists 101 of the best cider makers in the UK.

The Big Bear Cider Mill’s journey began back in 2010 when Mark Hughes and his wife, Kathryn, were given ten cider apple tree saplings which they planted in a three-acre field opposite their property.

They enjoyed planting the trees and watching them grow, so decided to take their hobby further and create a full orchard.

They planted 450 apple trees and 1,300 hedging plants to surround the orchard.

They then built a barn, purchased a hydro press and 5,000 litre tanks to store their cider.

Mark is fondly known as the Big Bear, hence the inspiration for their brand.

The positive reaction from people trying their cider and liking their brand gave them the confidence to develop the business.

However, to produce more cider they needed more apples.

It comes as there are fewer traditional orchards in Essex than there were 50 years ago.

The business say orchards were ripped up in the 1960s and 70s to make way for gravel pits, primarily to build roads including the A12.

Mark and Kathryn bought a disused gravel pit, completed the agricultural restoration, and improved the soil in readiness for planting a further 3,000 apple trees.

The name of their cider comes from the nickname for gravel, which is known colloquially as Essex Gold.

Kathryn added: “Cider is often associated with the West Country.

“There are very few cider makers in Essex and at the moment we are the only company in Essex with an Apple to Can facility.

“We want to demonstrate the quality of the Big Bear Cider and promote products made in Essex widely.

“We are proud of our county and our ambition is for the Big Bear Cider to become a household name.”