West Country Alchemy
My brother, Rick Morris Pushinsky, was recently commissioned to photograph Julian Temperley and his master distiller Tim Edwards at Pass Vale Farm at the foot of Burrow Hill in Somerset. This is the home of the Somerset Distillery, where cider has been produced from apples grown in its orchards for over 150 years and where cider has been distilled into brandy since Temperley finally managed to obtain a license from HM Customs and Excise in 1989. Rick got his pictures and I was fortunate enough not only to be able to use a selection of these for the photo essay above, but also to be the surprised recipient of a most generous gift of a bottle of twenty year old Somerset Cider Brandy.
From the verdant and floribund splendour of an archetypal English orchard eventually comes the autumnal majesty of Somerset Cider Brandy. The carefully pressed juice of over forty local varieties of cider apples is first fermented before Josephine and Fifi are allowed to work their magic. These two “very clever girls” are a pair of early twentieth century travelling continuous stills, imported from Normandy where they had been used to distil Calvados in their youth. The spirit they generate is bottled both as an unaged eau-de-vie and as a barrel-aged brandy at three, five, ten, fifteen and twenty years old.
The fabled twenty year old was deep, burnished amber in colour, with a gentle viscosity that caused it to move lazily around the glass when swirled. There was a bright aroma of slightly tart apples baked with muscovado sugar and vanilla, along with layers of altogether more tropical scents such as cloves, cinnamon, ground ginger and bananas flambéed in rum that were most likely to have been generous gifts from the oak. Silky smooth and with an apple juice sweetness, the palate reflected all of the aromas beautifully, with just a lick of alcoholic fieriness to finish. Long and enticingly spiced, I completely agreed with Andrew Jefford’s comments about the nature of the apple spirit produced by continuous stills as this was a fresher, fruitier brandy than any Calvados I remember tasting, even after a twenty year sojourn in oak. A delightful treat and a notable English triumph over the French.
I’m reliably informed that the younger, fruitier expressions are just as delicious as their richer, woodier older siblings and, based upon the quality of the twenty year old cider brandy, I’m very much looking forward to perusing the Somerset Distillery’s online shop.