PETER FROST tries a local tipple

Cider is becoming more popular. It’s not unusual to find a draught cider pump in your local, particularly if the pub sells real ale. A much rarer apple drink however is English apple brandy. It is still made and if you can find some it matches the taste and quality of French Calvados.

We will visit two places where they practice the ancient art of brewing good English cider and then distilling the cider to make apple brandy.

The making of Apple Brandy died out completely in England over the centuries but as we discovered it has been reintroduced and the finished spirit is certainly worth the effort.

Cider Brandy in England dates back to at least 1678. This craft died out and disappeared for hundreds of years and it wasn’t until 1989 that Her Majesty’s Customs issued the first licence to distil Cider Brandy that had been issued for centuries.

It was granted to Julian Temperley who still makes the brandy at Somerset Cider Brandy at Pass Vale Farm in the delightfully named Somerset village of Kingsbury Episcopi.

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The cider, raw material for the brandy is made at Burrow Hill from local apples and they have been used in making cider for more than 150 years. The orchards grow more than 40 traditional varieties of Cider apples. Among them are ones called Harry Masters Jersey, Stoke Red and one called Brown Snout.

The Burrow Hill Cider is pretty special. Some is matured like Champagne. Kept for two years in the bottle and then the neck is frozen so that the yeast can be disgorged in a plug of ice. It has a wonderful light sparkling taste and is a real treat.

The brandy too comes in various qualities or rather ages. The spirit is matured in old oak barrels. Some of the Barrels come amazingly from ships wrecked of the coast of southern Britain.

There are many other products to chose from when you visit the distillery.

My own favourite is an Aperitif made from a mixture of apple brandy and fresh Kingston Black apple juice. I keep a bottle in the fridge.

Visitors to Kingsbury Episcopi can see the cider being made and the copper stills which distil the brandy.The distillery is open for visits every day except Sunday from 9am to 5.30pm. 

There is one other place where English Apple brandy is made – the Cider Museum in Hereford. It too is a great place to visit and see the whole story of Good English Cider and our own Apple Brandy. They sell there own English Apple Brandy and it’s a delightful reminder of the long tradition of growing apples and making drinks from them in Herefordshire.

First published in the Morning Star 2013


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