Burrow Hill Cider, often better known by Somerset Cider Brandy Company, is one of those cideries that you find out about very quickly in your cider journey. Similar to Oliver’s or Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, if you start talking Somerset cider it will not take long for someone to mention Julian Temperley, the founder.
Despite this legendary status, it was nearly ten years into my cider journey before I actually got my hands on some bottles of their cider, courtesy of the brilliant folk at Crafty Nectar. To suggest I was like a small, excited child on Christmas Day when the box arrived is probably an understatement.
The Medium Dry poured a light gold with a gentle sparkle, a classic look for this style of cider. The aroma is bold and rich, replete with bright, red apple skins and the winter spice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel, very reminiscent of a homemade apple pie. There is, to me, a very clear bittersweet apple element to this cider which is welcome. The cider is beautifully structured, there are those bittersweets again, with a touch of sweetness up front balanced by some appley tartness and then a long tannic finish and a gentle bitterness.
This cider is a really lovely expression of the fruit and the orchards that it came from. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a lot of these medium to medium-dry style ciders in the past and I always feel that they are perfect summery barbecue drinks — this is certainly among the best. The blend of apple, tannin and light acidity begs for food: grilled, smokey and salty.
There has been somewhat of a changing of the guard at the legendary Burrow Hill, home of a cidery named for the very same hill and the Somerset Cider Brandy Co. Matilda Temperley has taken over as Managing Director from her father Julian, but whilst transitions such as this can often see sweeping changes or modernisations, what struck me the most was Matilda’s commitment to the long-term vision of sustainability, tradition and presentation of the fruit from their orchards.
“The main philosophy at Burrow Hill is to elevate the magic of traditional orchards and to preserve this ecologically diverse environment that we are lucky to inhabit.” — Matilda Temperley.
There are plans to plant new apple trees that won’t be ready to harvest until the 2030’s. Not to mention some of their brandy is aged for 20 years so, as Matilda told me, it’s incredibly important for them to have at least one eye on the future. At one point Matilda told me that they planned to plant an oak wood which they will harvest to make barrels in 130 years time, when part of your planning cycle takes 130 years you know you’re in for the long haul. I doubt there is a cidery in the UK that undertakes this level of future planning but that is what really good cider is all about.
Burrow Hill Stoke Red - Single Variety Dry Sparkling Cider 8%
The Stoke Red is a completely different beast from the Medium Dry, pouring busily with a bright, copper colour and a thick mousse which settled into a really playful sparkle. The aroma is lean with toasted nuts; waxy, red apple skins; and delicate hints of ginger and oak. But more than that, it transported me to memories of being in a barn during the pressing season — that visceral sensation that only the best food and drinks draw out. This cider is bone dry, and I really love dry ciders, but it took me aback with it’s dryness at first. It’s taut and crisp across the palate with wood and leather at first but softening into that beautiful Stoke Red fruit. Again this cider is a wonderful expression of the fruit within.
The Stoke Red cuts to the core of Burrow Hill’s cider philosophy. Presenting a single variety that is grown in their orchards and then bottle fermented and aged in their cellars for two years. The result here is very deliberate, cider can age with such grace and Burrow Hill have placed their trust in not only the fruit but every aspect of this cidermaking practices knowing the rewards won’t be reaped for years to come. At first the more challenging aspects like the dryness or those mature notes of wood and leather dominate but the cider slowly opens itself and reveals its graceful age therein. There is such a lovely finesse to this cider and this method of presenting it. I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of this bottle fermented range.
Burrow Hill Kingston Black - Apple Aperitif 18%
This is the first pommeau I have ever tasted — for the uninitiated a pommeau is a drink from Northern France made from unfermented apple juice and apple brandy (and they are delicious) — and it is a fascinating way to present what some call the king of cider fruit: Kingston Black. It pours a bright, burnished bronze and whilst still a little swirl reveals some pronounced ‘legs’. The aroma is sweet and aged, toffee apple and Christmas cake, but at the same time the acid in the Kingston Black juice lifts everything to give the impression of a light, freshness. In the mouth it is more of the same, the spices and sultanas from the Christmas cake almost seem to evaporate off the surface of the liquid and fill your nose from within. There’s no harshness or alcoholic note, just velvety, sweet goodness.
If the Stoke Red showcases the cidermaking philosophy at Burrow Hill, the aperitif is the convergence, the climax of everything they do. A blend of that which begins the whole process, the apple juice, and the very end of the process, their aged apple brandy. Their broad vision, one eye on the future and one on the traditional, is bottled for your drinking pleasure.
“Our philosophy here is long term. ...we will go through the cider making process and potentially distil the cider and wait, on average, another twelve years before we think about bottling it.” — Matilda Temperley.
Just think about that, twelve years. Making drinks like this takes so much time, so much planning and, like with the Stoke Red, so much trust that you’re doing the right thing with no way of really knowing until it’s done. It’s bold but that is the history of Burrow Hill, who resurrected Somerset Brandy from the archives of history and remain committed to the future of cider in Somerset for at least the next 130 years.
About the Author
Ben Thompson is the co-founder and lead writer for Cider Voice, a cider website that seeks to elevate the voices of cidermakers and advocates across the world. Find articles, podcasts and photography that captures the best of cider culture.