You don’t hear much about Cornish cider.
This seems odd. Somehow, in my head, Cornwall is almost synonymous with cider. In fact it feels as though I’ve held this mental association far longer than I’ve actually been drinking cider – like something I gleaned from just one or two childhood holidays. It’s the West Country, after all, and the West Country means cider, doesn’t it?
But then Cornwall has always felt a little different from the rest of the West Country. A little more its own place; an annex tacked on to the toe of Britain, jutting into the Atlantic. Celtic, rather than Saxon; only really brought into England under Norman influence and still written about as a separate entity – a kingdom within a kingdom – for centuries thereafter. It has its own language, only one border with another English county and a number of inhabitants lobbying for either greater autonomy or independence altogether.
Nonetheless, cider has existed here, as it has across the rest of the West Country, for hundreds of years. Haye Farm has a claim to being the oldest existing cider farm in the UK, cider having been made on the site since the 13th century. A look at lists of counties by acreage of apple orchard in 1883* shows Cornwall in rude health at 4,869 – a way behind the likes of Somerset, the Three Counties, Kent and Devon, but comfortably “best of the rest”.
As is the story across so much of the UK, vast swathes of that 19th century acreage were the result of cider being made at a large number of small farms which have now generally abandoned it as a commercial concern given rising mechanisation of agriculture and increased cost of labour. (For more on this, see our article on Devon cider). In terms of makers operating at significant scale, Cornwall was perhaps too out-of-the-way for a Bulmer’s or a Weston’s to emerge. Today the scene is dominated by Healey’s, whose Rattler is virtually ubiquitous in Cornish Pubs, and Cornish Orchards, now owned by Asahi-by-way-of-Fuller’s.
Nonetheless, across the county you can still find a handful of producers quietly bottling cider at a smaller scale. And perhaps because Cornwall tends to be rather quiet within the cider bubble by comparison to Herefordshire, Somerset and even Devon, my interest is especially piqued when I come across someone whose ciders I’ve not tried before and which seem as though they might be interesting. It happened last year with Trevibban Mill (who went on to do rather well at the recent inaugural IWSC Cider Awards) and today my eye has been caught by Gould.
The Gould family have been making and bottling cider pressed from their three-acre orchard near Truro since 2014, and (particularly interesting to this observer who has not tried Cornish perry before) as of 2020 they’ve been bottling perry too. Their unsprayed orchard boasts something in the region of eighty different varieties from Cornwall, Somerset and, excitingly, Normandy and Brittany. Ciders are wild-fermented in barrel, and a portion is even distilled for apple brandy. Curiouser and curiouser.
A few more details I like: the website not only mentions that their orchard has been listed as a priority habitat, but goes into a few details on the character of their soil (low fertility, free draining, slightly acidic). There are lists of several of the apples and pears they work with, as well as comments on the local climate and their rationale for selecting particular varieties. Does this tell me anything in advance about the ciders? No. Can I extrapolate likely details of flavour from the description of the soil? No. But it does tell me that the producer has gone to the trouble of investigating and detailing. And if someone is prepared to pay that sort of attention, I’m given confidence that they’ve probably taken similar care in the making of their product.
The four creations – two cider and two perry – in line for review are all available on Gould’s website and from Exeter’s Pullo. A word of caution though – Gould’s website lists a single variety Yarlington Mill, but it would seem to be the same Harry Masters’ Jersey, Michelin and Yarlington blend displayed on Pullo. (Or at least that’s what arrived at my house when I ordered it).
Aside from the novelty of being my first Cornish perries, the two in my glass today stand out as having utilised both English and French pear varieties. Our first is all French, a blend of Catillac and Calabasse Bosc. Both are new to me, but a swift peek online suggests that both are culinary pears, rather than explicitly perry-only. In the English corner, our second blend is from Black Worcester and Winnals Longdon, the former a very old culinary pear (best not eaten raw though) and the latter a perry pear much beloved of makers including perry guru Paul Ross, of the Newt and formerly Downside.
Both of these perries have been bottled pét nat, rather in the style of typical French perries, and made without the use of sulphites, filtration or pasteurisation. 750ml of either one costs £12 per bottle from Gould’s website directly and both are also available through Pullo. (Here and here, respectively).
Gould Catillac and Calabasse Bosc 2019 – review
How I served: Lightly chilled
Appearance: Pale gold. Very lively on opening. Strong seam of mousse. Lots of harmless flakey perry sediment.
On the nose: Beautiful. There’s a lovely streak of seashell minerality scoring through melon and lime peel and yellow pear skin. A little pine and juniper too. A nose for fans of Chablis or classic dry, unoaked Loire whites. Elegant and pristine.
In the mouth: More deliciousness. The minerality remains pronounced but, although this perry is not far off dry, the pear and citrus and melon and honeysuckle notes have ripened and rounded, though without losing that pine needle, almost herbal seam. Gorgeous acid/tannin balance – both are there, giving super structure, but neither are intrusive and nor, surprisingly, is the mousse. All the structural elements let flavour take first fiddle. An excellent alternative for fans of gin pear perry, I’d say.
In a nutshell: Bright, refined, grown up, mineral and complex perry. One for the dinner table.
Gould Black Worcester and Winnals Longdon 2019 – review
How I served: Lightly chilled
Appearance: Same colour, light haze, but no drama on opening, no sediment and gentler fizz.
On the nose: Super again. More overtly fruity than the other; a real fruit basket actually – fleshy pear, apple sweets, lemon’n’lime jelly and even the redness of strawberry jam. Super ripe and very appealing.
In the mouth: That is just so (technical term alert) yummy. As with the nose it’s a fleshy, ripe, fruity gulp of a perry, but with enough zip of acidity to retain freshness and really not much sweetness at all. There’s a trace of tannin, but not much – just enough to add a seam of structure and support to those super-juicy, many-hued fruits which follow the nose precisely. I could drink a lot of this, and very quickly. The geophysicist’s pick of the two, maybe mine as well.
In a nutshell: A fruit-bomb perry, and another knockout. Possibly the broader-appealing of the two.
After that fabulous start, on to the ciders. First up is a single variety Kingston Black, an apple with which we have rather a lot of form on Cider Review, having shone spotlights on it here and here, as well as tasting a tremendous example from Artistraw and a couple from Burrow Hill too. So our bar is set rather high. Following that we have a blend of Yarlington Mill, Michelin and Harry Masters’ Jersey – two Somerset varieties plus a French apple that has been planted prolifically across south western England. Again, both have been bottled pét nat without sulphites or filtration, and again, you can find both for £12 per 750ml on Gould’s website, though the latter, as stated above, seems to be listed as a 2018 single variety Yarlington. (As an aside, I’d really like to know whether this Yarlington exists, and to taste it if it does!) Pullo also has the blend here.
Gould Kingston Black 2019 – review
How I served: Lightly chilled
Appearance: Mid-gold. Fairly lively mousse (fizzed over a bit but no bang!)
On the nose: Bright, fresh and spotlessly clean. Totally fruit-driven and the more it warms the more those Kingston Black notes of apricot, orange and passion fruit come through. The fruit is super fresh and has a lovely definition and energy. A flutter of spiced pastry. Cracking.
In the mouth: Again just entirely without fault. All the Kingston Black greatest hits are delivered seamlessly and with gorgeous freshness – apricot and peach ahead of a juicy citrus. Lovely, firm acid-tannin balance – nothing astringent or intrusive at all, just a wonderful sinewy structure. Superb, ripe, crisp delivery of that beautiful fruit. If I’m really, really picky it could maybe do with a touch less fizz, but it dies back with a little time giving that glorious fruit full uninhibited voice.
In a nutshell: Elegant, intense, bright and beautiful. A smashing Kingston Black.
Gould Harry Masters’ Jersey, Michelin and Yarlington Mill 2019 – review
How I served: Very lightly chilled
Appearance: Same colour. Mousse slightly less.
On the nose: Big, golden-yellow, tropical and floral aromatics. Apple skins, honeysuckle, passion fruit and just-ripe banana. Bees wax. Lots of that HMJ wet rock minerality too. A tiny tang of peardrop. Again really bright and clean-lined.
In the mouth: Full-bodied, with a big pithy-phenolic whack of tannin alongside that waxy yellow fruit and honeysuckle. Harry Masters’ Jersey has a big hand here, but the yellow apple-pear softness of Michelin is keeping its most intense phenolic aspects in check well. Yarlington adds weight and spice, but seems to be less overt in its contribution to the cider’s flavour. Mango skins, slate and straw. Totally clean again, just a whisper off dry, with so much structure and texture. One for high-protein food, which will cellar well for at least 2-3 years yet. Probably more.
In a nutshell: A big, textural, HMJ-driven bottle. Another variety-sensitive, expressive cider.
Let’s start with the niggles. The labels on these ciders and perries are pretty basic. I yield to no one in my love of a serifed font and a minimalist design, but if I feel like I could have a go at doing your label, it probably isn’t nailing what clever marketing types might call “shelf impact”. It was also probably the most esoteric packaging I’ve ever received my cider in, with cut-in-half mushroom boxes and empty water bottles both utilised as padding amongst other atypical domestic recyclables. Again, can’t fault the environmental consideration, but it won’t quite conjure notions of imminent quality in the mind of the average consumer.
Those points dealt with, on to the positives, which are to say that these are some of the most impressive drinks that I’ve had from a new-to-me producer in the last year. Tasting through these gave me the same sense of excitement that I had when I tasted the Smith Haynes or 1785s; that wonderful feeling, bottle after bottle, that here was someone making really beautiful, expressive, interesting things with absolute respect for their constituent fruits.
These are incredibly impressive drinks. The skill it takes to make drinks of this cleanliness and freshness and definition and intensity whilst eschewing the safety net of sulphites really can’t be overstated. It’s tasting creations like these that reminds me why I love cider and perry, and why I started writing about them in the first place. Favourites? Oh, must I? Alright, gun to my head, the Kingston Black followed by the Black Worcester-Winnals Longdon. But I’ll be buying repeat bottles of all four, and you can take this as my recommendation to do likewise.
In short: if your interests are primarily to do with how a bottle looks on your shelf or table or instagram, Gould may not be for you. But if you want something that shows off the very best of its fruit, that delivers completely where it counts – on flavour – this is a cidery that deserves to be squarely on your radar. I can’t think that I’ve had better from Cornwall ever.
*List found in Alan Stone’s “In Search of Cider”.
N.B. Thanks to Gabe Cook for sharing his thoughts on the current cider scene in Cornwall with me.