‘The DNA of apples is more complex than ours; a recent sequencing of the Golden Delicious genome uncovered fifty-seven thousand genes, more than twice as many as the twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand that humans possess‘ – from Amy Stewart’s, The Drunken Botanist.
Despite a resurgence in cider distillation [in England] in the latter half of the 1600s into the early 17th century, it would appear cider brandy fell out of popularity thereafter, with the emergence of gin and whisky.
We jump forward nearly 300 years to the 1980s when Julian Temperley [owner of the Somerset Cider Brandy Co. – see pic] was operating on a museum licence with Bertram Bulmer before HM customs granted him with the UK’s first-ever full cider-distilling licence in 1989. Distilling at Burrow Hill, Somerset began with a copper still from Normandy called Josephine – ‘our steady French beauty‘ – joined by Fifi in 1993, ‘a smaller more frisky still‘. The stills operate between March to May and September to December.
- ‘It takes eleven litres of cider to make just one litre of spirit and 7 tonnes of apples to fill just one 500 litre barrel‘.
- ‘We bottle Somerset Cider Brandy at 3, 5, 10, 15 and 20 years. Each bottle can be traced back to its source orchard‘.
WF: ‘All of the Temperley’s brandies – barring one or two experiments – are matured in ex-sherry casks’. ‘The only difference between the ages is age. No re-racking, no dosing with sugar, no tricksy colouring agents‘.
Somerset Cider Brandy Co. 3yo  Ob. [btl #1700437] 42% [10cl]
- N: Smells of cider [would you believe?!], rich-boozy > farmy cider. Though the youngest of the flight, fresh active cask-led newly-sawn [pine] wood lays close by, followed up with a toasted boozy vanilla apple tart. It becomes creamier, yet still peppery [resinous] by the minute [& 2 hours later] with a bready > chalky almost phenolic rum-like booziness. Like I discovered with the Calvados 101 tasting [WLP], 42% abv is enough for all the brandies here!
- T: A bristly/prickly opening leads to plenty of sourness, though those bristles ease as does the passing apple-fresh toiletries vibe. Add water for a softer floury-savoury-sweet delivery, albeit always a tad astringent. Time sees this young brandy become more close-knit towards boiled cider & vanilla sweets with a fair sour-driven journey. Get the brandy/water ratio right and it’ll sail much further until, that is, the oaky bristles kick back in. A full bottle would really want for some oxidisation past the neck pour.
- F: Echoes [on and on] with sour slightly fusty cider, the cask influence very much still in tow.
- C: Of the flight, I found this the truest to the distillate source, the cask bringing resinousness & huskiness, but the apple ‘core’ ever-present. For cider fans wanting to progress to spirits, this is a no-brainer.
Scores 82 points
Somerset Cider Brandy Co. 5yo  Ob. [btl #1700006] 42% [10cl] WF84
- N: The extra two years in oak adds a sweet fluffy boozy vanilla butter-cream note on top of the 3yo, the cask influence still firm and active, however. The combo of apples and oloroso gives a suggestion of madeira cask maturation bringing notes of redcurrant and quince jelly alongside classic party jelly and custard pastries. Then there’s the dessert-dry huskiness. As the weeks go by, the potpourri fruitiness blossoms some. Charming indeed!
- T: It’s the same juice as the 3yo albeit more sour, but the cask has carried the distillate further into the woods – for the better. Water brings out more of the [sour] green candy tones with passing hints of,… all sorts actually, from warm barns to smoke, petrol, and more rum-like [distillate] influences. Big slugs and plenty of water brings a long chew of boozy sour>sweet well-rested mature apples pureed in the mouth, all washed down with [the illusion of] a light vanilla-y bourbon.
- F: Short sweetish < sour perfumed finish. Add a little water for a light cellulose-y mouthfeel. It’s a little peppery to the last, but with water, woody < tannic-apples find themselves acting out the closing scenes.
- C: This is a live one. Whilst it’s on the right side of youth [and maturity], the sugars are still slightly under-baked for my taste [subjective quibbles], but it’s certainly developing nicely.
Scores 84 points
Somerset Cider Brandy Co. 10yo  Ob. [btl #1700322] 42% [10cl] WF85
Fancy trying this a few days ago for the first time in a calvados tasting [WLP], then serendipitously finding the whole range in a farm shop in Sussex.
- N: Pretty much what I noted before, this smells like many finished whiskies, with the emphasis on oloroso-seasoned casks. With almost a fungal, gluey [Copydex=U-hu] depth, we’ve a soft- resinous, relaxed melon sweetness, husky > light fragrant peppery muesli and estery rum-like perfumed husky-dry -cocoa-vanilla joy. I could reel off more and more descriptors but my previous notes capture the essence just as well. Just know, there’s a treasure hunt to be had, an easy fun one.
- T: It’s really handy having the 3 & 5yo alongside to see how much the wood plays out. I’m imagining those active little Rundlett/Kilderkin casks in play. With a firm apple base, I pick up a herbal note in the middle to the turn and a cellulose-y sour-ish herbal mouthfeel with water, though overall its a tad more [bourbon-y]-sweet a few weeks later. Worth playing around with. Time in the glass. time in the bottle, water, hold and chew – and you’re seeking out fruits from fresh to dry to confectionary as well as many other flavours from alternative spirit-zones – peach Snaps into liquorice vodka on the turn for example. The mouthfeels you can achieve are extraordinary [with water], like a most relaxed yet intense dry fruit Milky Bar compote, for example. Beautifully luscious yet dry-as-a-bone on the turn.
- F: Herbal <= fruit savoury > sweet, soft-almost-waxy [blended/pureed] apples from a mouthfeel shared by the 5yo. In fact, it’s bordering on a medicinal-cognac sweetness, such are the variations and directions this brandy is pushing into.
- C: A jump up from the 3 & 5yo, this is a must-try malternative. Easily scores another 85. In fact, I’ll go a point higher today.
Scores 86 points
Here we go then, with the daddy.
Somerset Cider Brandy Co. 20yo  Ob. [btl #1700152] 42% [10cl] WF90
- N: The muscovado sugar woodiness coupled with the underlying apple distillate takes us close to roots, nips, cores and pips, and sticky toffee husks over tannins. In fact, there’s no tannin issue in sight. I’d say we are [again] looking over into cognac territories with this leathery berry polished-ness, guessing that likeness is coming from those grape-based [sherried] casks, and maybe distillation practises as well. Alternatively, we are in heavily sherried Edradour territory [WLP], those plump ripe cask-brought grapes coupled with numerous apple varieties bringing all sorts of ripe fig-like fruitiness. There’s more and more as it opens up, like the 10yo, a real treasure trove. Cherry > ginger cake, goji berries, black apricots,… and I’m off again – but it’s the figs that talk the loudest. Furthermore, we’re heading towards Chesterfield [umami] nether regions with notes of leather, soot, boot polish, and an amazingly fresh nutty < < runny toffee apple-sweet complex that is sure to baffle a few maltsters in a blind [whisky] tasting.
- T: Neat, I’m still picking up that crisp pepperiness from the younger expressions, but that can all be dismissed a few weeks later. It’s very relaxed with water, aptly fruity, runny toffee/demerara-syrup-rich and slightly chocolatey & > coffee-like, so let the water in. In short, liquidised Black Forest gateaux with a few different [glacier] cherry formats, leads the flavour profile charge. Soft sweet herbal toffees lead us on. Dreamy!
- F: I’d be happy to try a 25yo, but the consolidated complex squidgy apple/fruit/oak dry/luscious finish suggests 20 years of ageing is optimal. Having said that, the development of tobacco notes and fig-dryness could be quite something if, out of curiosity, a few casks are left forgotten at the back of the warehouse for 5-10 more years. Here we’ve a combo of double-ripe chocolate-y sherried apple and herbal runny molasses toffee with several forms of cherries and even plums to the last. Let’s not forget soot and the tiniest whiff of Swarfega / old creosoted fence panels / [and] road tar, though that’s not so strong for me today after a week in the garage. At the tail, a malty apple-ness and a Chesterfield-steeped black syrup apple snow, though the mature sherried sugars equally impress. We conclude with – would you believe it, after all that – barley sugar sweets at the death!!
- C: Cracking juice put into some cracking casks. I’ll take a bottle for drinking, a bottle for later, one for a blind tasting, and one to freak out unsuspecting maltster at festivals. Watch this space.
Easily scores 88 points
What a fascinating flight. Going back and forth, you realise that the distillate core stays true whilst the casks serve to bring extras and alternatives to a stable yet complex profile. This flight did get better with age, but there are advantageous parts within every age bracket. Show me the way to the next brandy bar!
Further reading: TWE Calvados 101 [WLP]