When you think of things that are part of modern life it’s strange, and sometimes funny, to hear that they were invented by accident; penicillin, the implantable pacemaker, safety glass, the safety pin, Viagra… all accidents. The latest release from Ross on Wye Cider Perry Co, a 2019 Harry Masters Jersey cider, also seems to have come into being as the result of a bit of an accident. I’d dropped in briefly to say hello to Mike and Albert last November, after spending the day walking around the Wye Valley and Symonds Yat; it would have been rude to have driven past without doing so. Anyway, after a brief catch up it was time to head home, but not without loading the boot up with goodies – including a bottle of this Harry Masters Jersey.
You’re probably thinking that this is going to be like any other Harry Masters Jersey that you’ve tried from Ross but you’d be wrong, this one is special. “But what about the HMJ triple that came out the other year?” I hear you say, well, yes, that was very special indeed. This one is special in a different way. This Harry Masters Jersey SVC has been matured in Bourbon Barrels and is truly delightful. If you enjoyed the Kingston Black from the other year (also matured in bourbon barrels), this Harry Masters Jersey has been given the same treatment.
Bourbon, if you were wondering, is a type of American whiskey. To be bourbon it has to be made in the United States, from a minimum 51% corn. [Ed: every day is a school day] The rest of the mash bill is made up of grains like barley, wheat, and rye. When it comes to aging bourbon, it has to be done in new oak barrels that are charred on the inside. Rumour has it that the barrels were charred to sterilise them prior to being filled and transported down the Ohio River to New Orleans. By the end of the 90 day journey the taste of the bourbon had changed dramatically, convincing the producers that this was a finishing method that was worth pursuing. For some reason, bourbon barrels can’t be reused so they’re sold on and used to age other spirits and, in this case, cider.
Normally, the Johnsons prefer to mature their cider in whisky casks. The fact that this HMJ was aged in bourbon barrels was a bit of an accident. The barrels they’d sourced arrived and it turned out that they were clearly bourbon casks instead of the whisky casks they’d expected. Instead of getting rid of them Albert decided to put them to good use and, this is where Ross on Wye show off their skills as exceptional cider makers, adapting to what they have and still being able to make an exceptional product. The ciders that have been through these bourbon barrels are the happy accident that I don’t think, now that I’ve tried them, I could be without.
This particular Harry Master Jersey is a light golden colour and there’s only a hint of the barrel. To begin with, I couldn’t quite put my finger on whether it was whisky or bourbon; I’d probably over chilled it. As the cider warmed up it became more obvious that it had been aged in bourbon casks. There’s wood, a hint of smoke that’s accompanied by a lovely floral note that floats over the top – my wife reckons the floral note was comparable to the perfume of hyacinths, but I’m not so sure. Bourbon’s general flavour profile can be characterized as having big vanilla, oak, and caramel notes and these come across well with the HMJ. I often find HMJ can be a little one dimensional, but this is far from it. Acidity, salty minerality, and a nice tannic finish.
Now, if the architects of the latest Harry Masters Jersey can make a cider as good as they have with the wrong barrels, just imagine what they can do with the RIGHT barrels. Lucky for you, you don’t have to imagine, you can find out for yourself by picking up another of the new(ish) Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Co releases; the 2019/20 Dabinett. Some of you may have already tried this by now and I’m fairly certain that if you like Dabinett from Ross you’ll already be enjoying this single variety cider.
This bottle has been made with two years juice – juice from 2019 and juice from 2020. It’s something that I’ve come across before from Ross and some other producers and I’ve always wondered why. So, instead of idly wondering I asked Albert who simply told me: “It adds complexity, especially when it’s the same variety. You get the youthful flavours coming through from the 2020 juice and the more robust, mature flavour from the 2019 juice. We were lucky here that the two barrels matched up nicely and have ended up with a cohesive cider that we really like.”
He’s not wrong. On the nose, it’s everything you’d expect from Ross in a Dabinett, smoke, peat, orange zest and vanilla. Get it into your mouth and it’s smooth, sumptuous, every crevasse, crease of your mouth gets coated in what I can only describe as the essence of Ross on Wye. There’s sharpness up front, a little bit of salinity as it reaches the back of your mouth which gives way to a beautifully long tannic finish – this is where the oak and smoke really come through. It’s golden orange in colour and really full bodied. This is dabinett at its best and certainly the best bottle I’ve had this year.
I didn’t chill this on the basis that when cold the barrel character can dominate the fruit and all you’re left with is a glass of peat and smoke, nothing else. Too cold & the fruit gets closed down (an hour in the fridge would be absolutely fine).
So, there you have it, two new and very different ciders from Ross on Wye Cider & Perry Co. Both excellent and both well worth your time and hard-earned cash.