THE BARREL ROOM SERIES captured June 23rd & 24th 2020.
There is a growing interest in maturing cider and perry, or as some would say, ageing, in barrels. Also an almost obsessional fascination with single varietals and their individual characteristics. So we chose a snapshot of time in the Barrel Rooms to feed this allure . We racked and bottled 7 varietals through Tuesday June 23rd and Wednesday 24th choosing 5 barrels of cider and 2 of perry that honour the varieties, the barrels, spontaneous fermentation and time but reveal some of the supposed shortcomings of wood influence, the odd appearance of volatile acidity, yeast character and oxidation.
Below is a list of barrels that your Barrel Room Series Selection Box will be selected from.
Each barrel has some brief notes:
An order number, a Batch number, the Varietal, Date of Pressing, OG (Original Gravity), FG (Finished Gravity), Alcohol, Previous barrel use, Lot Number, Orchard location.
1. 15/13 Blakeney Red 8/10/13 1.056 1.005
6.6% Rum L2010 Ashleworth, Gloucestershire
First up is the most ludicrous of all. A barrel of Blakeney Red Perry made from perry pears, collected from the wonderful old orchards belonging to Ann and Andy Shayle in Ashleworth, Gloucestershire. This was the 15th pressing of 2013 and was pumped directly into a rum barrel which was originally from the Caribbean (but on its 3rd use by us) and that is where the perry has stayed for 7 years. It has not been topped up and so the angel’s share was significant.The resulting perry is wine like, still and clear with residual sweetness (which will be sorbitol) but right on the verge of VA coming on too strong along with gooseberry, rhubarb and melon fruit. An extraordinary testament to the character of the fruit (from big, old trees). The perfect drink pairing for spaghetti carbonara.
2. 13/18 Red Pear 18/9/18 1.063 1.004
7.6% Ornellia L2014 Preston Wynne, Herefordshire.
The 13th batch pressed in 2018 were some lovely Red Pears from Simon Dent in Preston Wynne. Pressed and then pumped directly into some super Ornellia red wine barrels. (with thanks to James at Little Pomona for sharing a load. I could tell by his excitement that they would be good barrels). We chose this combination to see if we could garner a touch of colour and see if the wine wood and pears went well together. I shall leave you to be the judge of that. A burnished tangerine glint. Delicate, honeysuckle nose, fruity with plum to the fore. Drink solo and savour.
3. 17/18 Foxwhelp 20/9/18 1.061 1.005
8.2% Islay+ L2011 Eardisley, Herefordshire.
There has been a sizeable amount of hoo-ha from the young team in the cider bubble over Foxwhelp and this fascination with the variety is so deserved. It exhibits different characteristics depending on which sport you are growing and where. It has been the foundation of Oliver’s cidermaking for over 20 years. However, it is most definitely not a single varietal cider apple. I am somewhat perplexed by that indulgence but as always, each to their own.It is the most brilliant apple for making cider with, but it is by blending with it that you get the best from it. That said, I recall Eleanor Legere from Eden Cider in the USAs reaction to tasting a 5 year old Foxwhelp in the barrel. She went away to swiftly make a SV.Anyway, here is Foxwhelp, from the very well appointed orchards of Steve and Andrew Layton in Eardisley. The first cider apple pressed every season for us and this was batch 17 of 2018, pumped direct into a first use Islay whisky barrel. A starting SG of 1.061, it certainly was a good year and still so much classic aromatics of piercing citrus with high floral strawberry, much searing fruit in amongst the glorious wood, smoke, acid and char. Time and the barrel has pushed this Foxwhelp towards being the perfect foil for a BBQ smothered pulled pork sandwich.
4. 30/17 Eggleton Styre 25/10/17 1.051 0.995 8.2% Islay+ L2012 Catley, Bosbury.
As with many of the apples and pears we pick, the variety is not always obvious and it can be many years before you can work out exactly what variety they are. The apples from 2 big old trees down in Jane Sale’s beautiful orchards in Catley are a case in point. Finally after a very good “on year” and with the help of the Hogg “Fruit Manual” from 1884, we worked out that these were Eggleton Styre. But what has made it even more exciting is that Polly and Matt from Find & Foster in Devon, have taken on an old orchard and have the list of varieties planted and the Eggleton Styre is one of them. Polly wondered which it was? I sent Polly pictures of the fruit and tree and a description and she is very excited to be able to identify the Eggleton Styre amongst their trees. Pressed on the 25th of October 2017 and pumped directly into an Islay barrel.Eggleton is the name of the village adjacent to Yarkhill, where the Brown Snout apple originated. All surrounding us here in Ocle Pychard.The resulting cider is fully fermented. Chewy and full in the mouth with hints of vanilla and peach but also some cidery volatile acidity. Try drinking with roast pork.
5. 5/18 White Beech 10/11/18 1.052 0.995 7.3% Islay L2009 Catley, Bosbury.
White Beech is a real veteran apple and a fabulous variety. This is a single, old, hollow tree, hanging on for dear life. Precarious though life is, it gave enough fruit for a single barrel, once again, in 2018. Very small, pale, creamy flecked apples, not dissimilar to Eggleton Styre but smaller.
This stands in the corner of the second orchard at Catley and I am pleased to say that John Worle came to assist in getting some bud wood to see if we can keep this particular tree going. My 2 baby trees are like their parent, hanging in there. Fingers crossed.
This is a properly dry cidery cider and yet another varietal that makes some Herefordshire cider varieties some of the best on this planet for cider making. Maybe this should have been out of the barrel a year ago for more fruit character and less volatile acidity but I hope this will have appeal for the broader minded natural wine drinker? Pass the cheese.
6. BW2 Michelin 25/11/19 1.045 1.000 5.8% Islay L2013 Brian’s Orchard, Burley Gate
Michelin gets a bad rap but I think it is a great apple for making “drinking” cider. We always have lots because my old buddy Brain Mcilwrick, whose folks owned the Burley Gate Inn and were one of the first people to plant a Bulmers bush orchard (alternating rows of Dabinett and Michelin), back in the 60’s, next door to the pub. The pub is no more but I am pleased to say the orchard is (with thanks to Paul and Sandi Evans) and it has been organic for the last 18 years. Just pruning and mowing. 200 metres as the crow flies from the ciderhouse and great fruit. 2019 saw the biggest crop we have ever had from the orchard. Pressed on November 25th and direct into Islay barrels with a twist.These were the barrels we had used for a Mills Brewing collaboration that has yet to see the light of day. Barleycorn & Appleseed. This cider has clearly got some of those wonderful collab characteristics.
7. 37/19 Yarlington Mill 16/12/19 1.049 1.010 6.0% Jim Beam L2015 Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire.
My favourite cider making variety of apple. The one that enchants everyone’s palate, whether they know it or not. This is a SV from last season, spontaneously fermented in an old Jim Beam barrel that had been used once before. Pressed on the last day of harvest on December 16th with fruit from Robin Salmon, up on the Tenbury/Hereford border where they can grow some very nice fermenting material. This is still alive and has a way to go but heh, it is a snap shot and this shows clearly what happens when yeasts do not have enough nutrient and have to rely on summer heat to start finishing their ferments. Heat can help when N is low, as I think it helps liberate N from dead cells etc, in the barrel. Not science, just gut feeling. Anyway, I love unfermented apple sugars, so you can either leave this and see if it moves on or gorge on it now and savour the smoke, the oak, the char, the gentle spice, the vanilla, the apple sugars, the fruit character and the overall charm of this delightful apple. Oh the sweetness of youth!
I hope you have enjoyed this snapshot from the barrel rooms and while far from complete or correct as drinks, they will give you an insight into the dark and mysterious world of the apple, the pear, the barrel and wild yeasts.
“Bottled on the hottest days of the year so far, please enjoy the blood, sweat and tears that didn’t make it into the bottle!”.
Cheers from Tom, Jarek and Freddy. Cidermakers at Oliver’s.