When I think about Devon cider I’m often guilty of thinking about it in terms of what is past and what is lost.
I’ll go into this in much (much) more detail tomorrow, but the short version is that I think about the astonishing reduction in traditional orchards and makers of every scale that the last century or so has engendered. About how Devon has gone from being a producer on the same scale as Herefordshire to barely being known for cider outside its home county in the space of some peoples’ lifetimes.
But we live in an exciting time for interesting cider, and an increasingly exciting time for interesting Devon cider, so I’m thrilled that this final duo of our review week is a look towards a new producer, the present and the future.
I’ve wanted to write about Rull Orchard for a while now, but the timing has never seemed quite right. Mike Shorland, its creator, is unquestionably one of the friendliest and certainly most enthusiastic people in the cider community whom I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person, and what he has created at Rull is, to my mind, rather inspirational.
By Mike’s own account, he formerly worked in demolition until, a little miserable doing a job that involved destruction and keen to build something instead, he had a Damascene moment one sunlit afternoon picking apples in a friend’s garden. He left his job, poured all his savings into a pasture field in Devon and has since dug a pond, introduced bee hives, bird and bat boxes and a number of wooden logpile habitats. Mike runs the whole farm with sustainability, carbon-negativity and biodiversity at its heart and, most pertinently to this website, has planted over two hundred fruit trees including mulberries, quinces, perry pears and medlars. (The last of which is worth a google images search and has its appearance savaged by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet as looking like an indelicate part of a dog’s anatomy.)
But first and foremost are the apple trees, a host of different varieties; the central cog in Rull Orchard’s biodiverse works. They’re still saplings at the moment, so I gather Mike sources the fruit for his current ciders and perries from other orchards nearby (not unlike Herefordshire’s Artistraw, which I have written a fuller account of here). I look forward keenly to Rull’s own trees coming to maturity; in the meantime he’s getting his cider and perrymaking hand in with apples and pears from elsewhere, and I have two such creations to taste today.
First in line is a traditional method perry, Orchard Moonlight, a blend of 80% Winnal’s Longdon and 20% Thorn from the 2020 vintage. It’s available from Rull’s Website for £12.50, though in the usual spirit of showing our cards, Mike was kind enough to send me a bottle. Despite the traditional method used in its making, keen-eyed observers will note that, as a 2020 vintage, it’s on the young side. So we are not expecting significant toasty, biscuity influence from time resting on lees before disgorgement, rather we are anticipating flurries of exuberant youthful fruit.
But why bother guessing when we can just drink it and find out?
Rull Orchard Orchard Moonlight Sparkling Perry Brut 2020 – review
Colour: Pale straw
On the nose: Both pears showing nicely here. Pear skins, elderflower, blossom and lime zest. Really clean and delicate but not in at all a shy or faint way. A nice slateyness and a herbal edge. Everything is very clear and bright.
In the mouth: There’s definitely some Thorn here! Big haribo tangfastic energy – the sour cherry ones. Lime and lemon. A good Daiquiri. It blushes red from the Winnal’s and green from the Thorn. Also a real cat’s lick of tight perry tannins. This is the wildest textural ride I’ve encountered on a perry since the Ross on Wye Thorn Pét Nat 2019, and I’m here for it. Whistle-clean, packed with flavour. Super job. Love it.
In a nutshell: Coursing with exuberant life. If you loved the Ross Thorn, you’ll want this.
Now for something completely different. Pomological would appear to be Mike’s solution to the puzzle of how to make a fortified-style drink without involving any actual fortification. He has harvested fruit (again in a mix of unspecified varieties) from a 130-year-old orchard nearby, fermented it, sweetened it and aged it in a former rum barrel. With the result being a darkly coloured drink of the sort probably best savoured in the depths of winter by a fireplace. Since I am writing this in shorts in late April and don’t own a fireplace I shall just have to soldier on as best I can. Bottles cost a tenner directly from Rull, though again Mike sent me a free sample for review.
Rull Orchards Pomological – review
Colour: Oloroso sherry
On the nose: It’s going to be a sweet one, pals. Brown sugar. Caramel. Molasses. Oak. Vanilla. Very rich, heady stuff. The rum has a big presence too. Definitely carries a sense of nosing a pommeau or oak-aged spirit but without the additional fire of booze. Mighty baked apple in the middle of it all.
In the mouth: Bonkers stuff. Huge sweetness, hefty tannin, enormous rich, rummy, oaky, appley juiciness. Cinnamon and spice. It does however feel a bit disjointed at times; as though all those large, individually pretty tasty components are shouting against each other rather than finding harmony. You can also tell that the sweetness is added, which to my palate makes it a little heavy-going – all a bit much. That being said, I have a good few friends who would hoover this up in no time.
In a nutshell: A bit much for me, and perhaps needs more time to harmonise, but those sweetest of tooth step this way.
Rull Orchard is the sort of place I want to shout about, and on the basis of the real promise shown across these bottles I feel relieved and confident in doing so. Orchard Moonlight perry, particularly, is one of the best I’ve tried this year, bristling with vibrant, textural intensity and mouthwatering bright fruit. Buy some.
Pomological. Good Lord, I just hope my dentist isn’t a reader. I don’t suppose I’ll taste many more like that in this or any year, and if you have a tooth as sweet as many of my friends do, form an orderly queue. More than one glass was a little too much for me; I think this sort of drink needs either a freshening influence of acidity or the structural enlivenment of higher alcohol to balance its sweetness, but then I’m a stated lover of Pommeau and a former whisky writer. So perhaps I would say that.
Crucially, the overall quality of the drinks has discernibly moved forwards from Mike’s inaugural vintage. This is someone taking big strides in his making and who has already achieved a stellar result with an absolutely delicious perry. Given Mike’s clear passion and engagement I will continue to follow Rull ciders with tremendous interest and have no doubt that his year-on-year progression will continue its upward trajectory. Most importantly of all, his orchard project is one with absolutely everything to commend it, and one that I can’t wait to visit as soon as I can make it over. Another super character in Devon’s re-growing cast.
Many thanks indeed to Mike for his generosity in sending samples.