Cider Brandy, Herefordshire
Given the British love of spirits, the known existence of stills in monasteries from medieval times, our cider tradition, and our unwillingness to over-burden tax collectors, it is not hard to believe that cider brandy was around if hidden for a very long time. Cheap gin and rum may have been the tipples of the urban masses, but perhaps in West Country villages the discerning locals enjoyed finer stuff in past centuries.
It was only in 1984, however, that the enterprising Hereford Cider Museum (now doesn’t that sound like the sort of museum you’d like to visit) obtained a licence to distil cider brandy, as it continues to do at its King Offa Distillery. Offa’s offer includes fine 10-year-old cider brandy, double distilled and matured in oak.
At the wonderfully named Kingsbury Episcopi in Somerset the Somerset Cider Company was also given a licence in 1989, using local apple varieties in its cider making operation that in turn feeds into the apple brandy distillery, whose product line now includes a 15-year-old.
The oak-aged golden coloured apple brandy, unsurprisingly but delightfully none the less, has a very appley nose, and is far from rustic, having some complex spice and a pleasantly drinkable smoothness to it, though at 42% it is not for the novice drinker. Given its history, the use of some of the lesser known English apple varieties in it, and its local character, trying some seems almost a patriotic duty.