Outturns! In cider! What a time to be alive!
When I was a whisky writer, ‘outturns’ were such a common phenomenon as to be almost exhausting. In brief, the term refers to a producer or bottler releasing a number of different expressions at the same time. In whisky this tended to be the domain of independent bottlers. People like the Scotch malt Whisky Society or Cadenhead’s or whoever else would launch a raft of new bottlings at once, cue a frenzied dash for the ritzier offerings – usually, in no particular order, the cult distilleries, the old stuff, the peated stuff and the sherry cask stuff. Meanwhile various writers, bloggers and vloggers would cast their eye over the outturn, both offering a comprehensive look at what was on offer and giving their recommendations as to the standouts.
In cider, the outturn is a lesser spotted creature, for several very good reasons. Firstly, and most practically – storage. If you are a big whisky company possessed of a decent amount of maturing stock, you are likely to have substantial warehousing capacity. This doesn’t take away from the pressures of space and finance that long maturation of hundreds of casks puts upon such companies, but it’s still easier than storing stock is for a sub-7,000 litre per year cider business operating out of a shed/garage/storing unit (delete as appropriate).
The fact that most full-juice, aspirational cideries in the UK sit under the 7,000 litres per annum mark also means that most releases are tiny, that there are necessarily a limited number per year and that it makes most sense in any case to just start selling them as and when they’re good to go, rather than waiting until there are a certain number to release at once. With the net result being that realistically there are only a handful of cideries who would be a. inclined and b. able to offer outturns to the consumer.
Which is a bit of a shame, because outturns can be useful things. They generate a bit of a buzz, for one – the idea of a selection of interesting things coming on to the market all at once. They add visibility; it’s pretty basic maths that you’re more likely to spot a handful of shiny new things than just one. They make it more likely that there’ll be a new release that suits everyone than if there are only one or two bottlings available. And, for the folk like me, who want to try lots an lots of different things, outturns make it easier to buy new releases in mixed cases, rather than having to buy multiples of the same thing or pay a delivery fee on just one or two bottles.
Outturns also serve a useful purpose for cider writers and for a large swathe of the cider drinkers for whom we write. They let us taste a large number of things next to each other at once, which is always invaluable for giving us a deeper look at the way a cidery goes about things. They give us space and opportunity to see how cideries do with different varieties and/or styles and to offer immediate comparisons (which I have come to feel give reviews far more relevance – which is why we almost always write reviews in flights on Cider Review these days). And, fundamentally, they lend us the opportunity to cover a broader swathe of the bottlings available to you, the drinker.
These days there is more and more choice available in the world of aspirational cider and perry. Which is a wonderful, wonderful thing but (to my mind) makes it of greater importance that resources should be available to help consumers make informed choices. Of course the educated drinker can make their mind up on their own with no help whatsoever, but my journeys in whisky and wine were improved immeasurably by the existence of reliable sites which could point me in various directions of flavour, give me an idea of what I might like and where my preferences might differ from those of the reviewer and, ultimately, give me the knowledge, tools and confidence to explore those worlds entirely for myself. If Cider Review has a primary purpose it is to exist as a user-friendly roadmap to the world of cider and perry. And although the long-form content plays the lead role in this (and is, I suspect, what most readers come to us for) it is the reviews of individual ciders and perries that form the fulcrum for the longer content to build a world around.
TLDR, we like outturns, much as they sting our wallet, and we’re keen to cover them where they appear in cider. Little Pomona’s release model is increasingly built around them – this series from last November, for instance, and their Spring series partially covered here – and Ross on Wye often deploy them too.
Today’s outturn is a hefty one indeed (though small compared to the often-twenty-strong offerings that whisky has become accustomed to). To celebrate the return of their Cider and Music Festival Ross have bottled and launched no fewer than eight ciders and perries. We’ve already met one of them, the annually-released Raison d’Être (2019, this year) but alongside that are five more ciders and two perries, all released in 750ml bottles, with the only other unifying factors being their cidery of provenance and the fact that they’re all fully-fermented. We’ve got pét nats and bottle conditioneds, single varieties and blends, oak casks and unoaked.
At the time of writing, it’s the evening of the festival’s opening, and James and I have just tried all eight. So if you’re reading this on the day of publication, it’s the first full day of the festival, these ciders and perries have literally just been launched and they’re probably only available for click and collect from Ross itself. But all, I have no doubt, will soon be cluttering the digital shelves of Fram Ferment, Scrattings and The Cat in the Glass, among others, where they’re likely to cost in the region of £9-£10 apiece. If they haven’t already thought of doing so, I’d recommend those sites made life easy by grouping the outturn into at least a few mixed cases as well – but I realise that’s likely additional irritating faff for them!
Anyhow – onwards. We’ve a lot to get through. Since tonight represents the first time the CR editors have been in the same room (or, in this instance, barn) since the founding of the site, you get tasting notes and preference lists from both of us. Unsurprisingly my note for Raison d’Être is as it was a week and a half ago.
Ross on Wye Green Horse Perry 2019/20 – review
Single variety perry from a pear the Johnsons had formerly though was Brinsop but which DNA testing revealed to be Green Horse, only previously seen in these pages through a pair from Cwm Maddoc here.
How we served: Barn temperature (I’d give it an hour in the fridge normally)
Appearance: Hazy lime juice
On the nose: You sniff this and you’re outdoors. Green, hedgerow, lime, fleshy pear. Wet rock, a touch of gunsmoke. Grass. Herbs. There’s a juiciness but so much grassy mineral detail too. Delicate yet very aromatic. A paradox.
In the mouth: Again, delicacy and 1juiciness in tandem. The hint of gunsmoke is gone. Lime zest, wet grass, juniper, nettle. Big juicy greenness. Some herbiness too. A light grip of tannin. Just a smidge off-dry. Amazing, vivid texture, lovely juicy body.
In a nutshell: Super energised perry in all shades of green. Juicy and zesty and herby. Detailed and delicate yet intense. An experience. Recommended.
Nose: hint of sulphur, green leaves in the rain and wet hedgerows.
Mouth: very delicate start, green pear drops, then a whoosh of citrus acidity, think limes.
In a nutshell: a smidge of sharp, a smidge of sweet, a juicy pear drop, sweet shop treat.
Ross on Wye Butt Blend 2019/20 – review
A famously tannic pear, last bottled by Ross as a single(ish) variety back in 2019. Fermentation was very low and slow, and tasting through every other perry in the barn didn’t yield a suitable blending partner, leading them to blend in 10% of good old Foxwhelp instead. So this is technically a pider, as I love to point out to Albert. The lowest abv, as there’s still lots of residual sugar left.
How we served: Barn temperature (pretty much bang on. Could chill a little bit, but not too much)
Appearance: Pearlescent gold
On the nose: Earthy, visceral, almost the smell of gas left on yet backed by a huge, hulking fruitiness. Petrichor, slate. Big pear skin. One of those unique, intense, only-perry-smells-like-this noses. With florality behind it too, because perry.
In the mouth: Huge ripe fruitiness and zesty, limey acidity for a second before in crash the biggest, heftiest, chalky-grippy tannins. Pear juice and fresh-squeezed lime joined by that earthy, slatey note. Even a hint of kerosene, à la Clare Valley Riesling.
In a nutshell: Just so arresting and compelling a shifting and unique. Pair with food, sip slowly and spend the evening exploring. One for Flakey bark fans. (Also perfect with toffee waffles).
Nose: natural gas, elderflowers and petrol
Mouth: floral elements of the nose plus lots of lime fruit then cheek startling acidity, immediately followed by chalky astringency.
In a nutshell: all the greens, apples, limes and leaves, work your way through the full forest.
Ross on Wye Hagloe Crab 2020 – review
A properly old variety, detailed in the 17th century Pomonas and now all but lost. Years ago, the last single variety bottling of Hagloe Crab was the first Ross cider I drunk on Broome Farm itself.
How we served: Barn temperature (I’d give this one a bit of chilling too)
Appearance: Bright Gold
On the nose: Lemons and limes but the rinds more than the flesh. Delicate. Mineral. Almost slightly herby. Some cut grass. Tiny bit of reduction. Ross slateyness.
In the mouth: Bright again. Super flinty wet stones minerality. The nose is followed almost perfectly. That lime skin, leafiness, touch of herb. Nice pithy seam, though certainly not what you’d call ‘tannin’.
In a nutshell: Very refreshing. The apple world’s answer to Gin pear in a way.
Nose: muddled lemons and limes with a herbaceous note, the start of a cocktail plus some brandy spirit.
Mouth: fruity citrus acid, lemon and lime rind, a savoury astringent finish.
In a nutshell: oranges/limes and lemons say the bells of St Clements, a fruity citrus acid bomb.
Ross on Wye x Queer Brewing ‘Dancing Required’ – review
Blended with Lily and Charlotte from the Queer Brewing Project, it features an unusually large number of varieties by Ross standards – a whopping four – Dabinett, Foxwhelp, Somerset Redstreak and Major.
How we served: Barn temperature (fine at this level but I might give it an hour in the fridge)
Appearance: Mid gold.
On the nose: Orange-yellow. Vivacious. Whistle clean citrus skins. White grapefruit. Again those IPA vibs. Herbs, almost pine. Real leap-from the glass brightness, even by comparison with the others.
In the mouth: That is alive. All the zest and juice and bitter lemon, grapefruit and Seville orange. Mega pithy, balancing with juiciness, light tannin and really crisp acidity. Ridiculously refreshing and spotlessly clean.
In a nutshell: Summery, endlessly drinkable, high-toned orange citrusy and definitely a cider for IPA fans.
Nose: the dabinett shines through here, orange oil and oaky barrel, brandy spirit and spicy clove.
Mouth: dry, chalky tannins which have a bitter pith edge. Dried apples and citrus fruit, Christmas pudding spice.
In a nutshell: this is old school Ross, dry, textured tannins and sumptuous spice
Ross on Wye x Two Belly – review
The second Ross collab with Bristol’s iconic Two Belly cider and cheese shop. The last one – a blend of Dabinett, Michelin and Major, was one of my all-time favourite Ross bottlings. This one goes in a totally different direction, blending Dabinett with bittersharp Kingston Black and sharp Reinette d’Obry.
How we served: Barn temperature (I wouldn’t go much colder than this)
Appearance: Mid-gold. Lively fizz.
On the nose: There’s some barniness here. Malolactic influence and a bit of sulphur. The longer you nose the more the firm orange of the Dabinett peeks through. Bit of tropical too. Sulphur maybe a smidge prominent though – but this has been released very early.
In the mouth: Much more fruitiness here. Sits on the oranges and lemons end of the spectrum with a thread of IPA-esque bitter pithiness. Bright acidity is balanced by a good, chewy body, well integrated textural tannins. Very tasty.
In a nutshell: Nose is a bit off-kilter but a smashing, big, textural palate. Want it with a good plate of charcuterie!
Nose: sulphurous hit initially, orangey Dabinett trying to peak through
Mouth: lovely balance, citrus acid from both the KB (lemon) and Dab (orange), hints of smoked apple and a bit of savoury character. Not overly smokey, but a hint of oak.
In a nutshell: Get past the nose and this is a bold, balanced, beauty.
Ross on Wye Ellis Bitter – Foxwhelp 2019 American Oak Cask – review
The apple blend in Little Pomona’s much-loved Art of Darkness, bittersweet Ellis Bitter with ultra-zingy Foxwhelp. Aged in a bourbon barrel.
How we served: Barn temperature (Pretty much just right for this. You could chill it a smidge but don’t need to)
Appearance: Gold, mid-fizz
On the nose: Big vanilla from the cask upfront. Custard creams. Ellis doing its base-for-the-barrel thing. Foxwhelp making itself known with zesty grapefruit. Bright, layered, winelike. There’s a touch of struck match but it blows off quickly.
In the mouth: Big lick of Foxwhelp acidity upfront with a nice tannic grip following through. Vanilla is still there but it’s more about bright, vivid fruit on the palate. Strawberries, grapefruit. Bitter lemon.
In a nutshell: Full of life – nice interplay of oak and fruit with an electric Foxwhelp-led delivery.
Nose: vanilla, oak, smidge of sulphur
Mouth: super juicy, vanilla hits the pallet, rippling acidity from that foxwhelp, the tannins are chalky and chewy from the Ellis. Finish is really fruity, and lean.
In a nutshell: smooothly does it, vanilla apple biscuit in a glass.
Ross on Wye C1 Foxwhelp 2020 – review
A return of a cider last seen two years ago from the 2018 vintage. Foxwhelp is biennial, meaning it only gives a big crop every other year. But the apples harvested in the “off years” often gain extra concentration and depth of flavour. We reviewed the predecessor to this one here.
How we served: Barn temperature (I’d give this a chill in the fridge)
Appearance: Bright gold. Fizzy by Ross standards.
On the nose: It’s Foxwhelp Jim, but not entirely as we know it. Really reminds me of its predecessor. Strawberry bubblegum as well as fresh strawberries. A green thread of tomato stem – and actually cherry tomatoes themselves too. There’s some icing sugar confection. Berries. This is an ace nose.
In the mouth: Bright acidity, but it’s at champagne levels, not normal face-puckering young single variety Foxwhelp levels. Trace of tannin. Candy floss, strawberry, red apple skins and that green stemmy seam again.
In a nutshell: So bright and focussed, but it’s broader, more complex and detailed than single variety Foxwhelp usually is. Epic.
Nose: apples and strawberries and redcurrants, bright, fresh and fruity
Mouth: sharp but juicy, apples intertwined with red berry fruit, zingy sherbet finish
In a nutshell: puts a smile on your face, this is a sweet shop sherbet dip dab
Ross on Wye Raison d’Être 2019 – review
Ross’s flagship. Dabinett and Michelin aged in oak casks including some that previously held Caol Ila whisky. For a very comprehensive look, plus Adam’s tasting notes, see his longer article here.
How we served: Barn temperature (Room temperature is also fine. I definitely wouldn’t chill this, personally)
Nose: peaty smoke and dried apples, followed by a very medicinal character, think TCP.
Mouth: earthy, rich, peat smoke mingled with orange oil, vanilla and cinnamon spice. There a smidge of acidity followed by voluptuous tannins that bound across the tongue with bold disregard.
In a nutshell: 2017 is back baby, this is Ross in it’s absolute element, earthy smoke, fruity apple and citrus spice.
Adam’s overall conclusions
Something that struck me about this outturn is that, besides Raison d’Être itself, all the ciders contain a significant quantity of sharps and bittersharps alongside Ross’s beloved bittersweets. And although Butt is a big old tannic bruiser of a pear, Green Horse also cleaves to this ‘theme’ of clean-lined, elegant freshness.
Of course Ross releasing drinks with acidic components (or which are even acidity-led) is by no means anything new, but when I think back to the ‘special releases’ that accompanied the last festival in 2019 (Raison d’Être, HMJ-Dabinett, Browns-Brown Snout) they were almost entirely bittersweet-driven, with the exception of that last one’s element of Browns. And the previous Two Belly Collaboration was Dabinett, Michelin an Major – again, all bittersweets.
It’s always unwise (albeit tempting) to leap to any large and concrete conclusions, as next year may confound them with a raft of bittersweet-only releases, and bittersharps, as Albert will point out to me, have always formed an important part of Ross blends. But, particularly given two of the ciders were put together in collaboration with other palates, I wonder whether this outturn reflects an increasingly vocal enthusiasm within the online cider community for more significant elements of acidity in their drinks, as so many join from the worlds of wine and sour beer? I can already hear Albert muttering “confirmation bias”, so I’ll park that musing there, except to conclude that despite its enormous range of flavour, this outturn across the board evinces Ross on Wye cider and perry in its most elegant, defined and beautifully structured form. (Interestingly – though certainly co-incidentally – the themes of this year’s Raison d’Être, which, to my pattern-hungry mind, gives things a pleasing cohesion).
I love them all, and will be buying bottles of each, so I’m almost reluctant to put these in a personal ranking. But if I’m singling out a few favourites (besides Raison, which I’ve already established my love for), C1, the perries and Dancing Required will likely be the bottles I stock up on most greedily.
Bottom line though – tremendous work from everyone involved. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a festival to get back to.
James’s overall conclusions
Top 3 for me (in no particular order) were:
C1 – the sherbet zing that just puts a smile on your face. You cannot drink this without it bringing joy into your life.
Dancing Required – I love old school dry full of tannic texture and this just floats all those boats. One to sip and savour throughout the night, exploring the complexity.
Raison D’Etre – there is no better cider to partner with a quality steak and I really love steak (almost as much as I love cider).