Here’s to time and its effect on us all. We get on board and ride with it for a fair few decades, if we’re lucky. Then when our time is up, it’s our turn to transition into other flora and fauna (perhaps if we’re fortunate, a few of us will come back as Apple and Pear trees). I wonder if the apples and pears used in Tom Oliver’s latest collection were aware of just how rarefied a batch of ciders and perries they would go on to produce. 100% juice, time to sit in the barrel and interact with wild yeasts, whisky, rum, and oak. They could so easily have been 35% of the total part of something quite different. But they were the lucky ones, and so are we, for living in a time when we have producers like Tom, willing to experiment, and challenge our perceptions of what cider and perry can be.
I picked these bottles up from Tom in mid-May, on the way home from a grafting weekend with Albert over at Ross On Wye HQ. Herefordshire was greening up nicely, the last of the blossom still lay on the apple trees in orchards, and the sap was most definitely rising. As we chatted about this new set of releases in Tom’s back garden, it struck me just how quickly time had gone since Out Of The Barrel Rooms I had arrived. In my mind it was only last year, but looking back on my Instagram feed it was July 2020 – in the middle of a seemingly never-ending cycle of lockdowns and furlough schemes – that the first set of bottles arrived at my flat through the excellent exposure that Felix Nash’s Pommelier Club via the Fine Cider Company offers.
That every-other-year rhythm of releases was beneficial said Tom, after all, not many cider and perry producers drop 8 new, one-off releases all at once, whilst maintaining a steady supply of their core range. As a consumer, I lapped up Out Of The Barrel Rooms I, relishing Adam’s incredibly detailed, deep-dive into each bottle, and enjoying where our tastes diverged slightly (I bought two extra bottles of the White Beech aged in an Islay whisky cask, as the barrel notes and level of volatile acidity were pitch perfect for my palate back then [It takes all sorts – Ed]). That series of bottles has more or less sold out from every retailer in the ensuing 2 years (although at the time of writing BeerZoo in Edinburgh has the whole collection available for £70). When news of Out Of The Barrel Rooms II arrived in my inbox, the sense of anticipation and excitement was palpable.
Where the first set of 2020 releases were composed of single variety ciders and perries, Out Of The Barrel Rooms II is a blended affair, a process I’ve read many a time that Tom feels shows off the art of the cider and perry maker even more so than single variety releases. The ciders have all been aged in ex-whisky barrels, and the perries have spent their time pondering their existence in ex-rum barrels. I’ve included a brief description of each bottle from Tom in the main review below, which is copy lifted from a more detailed set of tasting notes, available from Oliver’s Cider and Perry website under the specific item page. Alongside the main box of six Out Of The Barrel Rooms II bottles, there are also two more bottles included in this release, one of which rocks up to the party at a hefty 10.1% abv. For a palate used to trying ciders released up to 8.4% abv (for tax reasons), I couldn’t resist buying a couple of these bottles that are closer to a Red Wine in strength than a Strongbow. Who knows what the duty to pay on this bottle was above this threshold, but the opportunity to try something this strength made from apples and not distilled, is very much appreciated.
There’s every chance that one or two of the barrels used by Tom had previously held whisky or rum for a decade or two. That’s quite normal for those industries. These ciders and perries have all had between 2 and 4 years in barrels. Alcohol, tannin, and acidity will all help to preserve and mature the liquids in different ways, and it’s an honour to taste these 8 bottles and get to write about the experience for Cider Review. Here we go!
A Classic Combo (6.2%)
Tom says: This blend of Dabinett and Michelin from Brian’s Orchard in Burley Gate from Season 2020 and racked into barrel to age in 2021. There is about 10% Foxwhelp, 65% Dabinett and 25% Michelin. Fermented in steel and then aged in an old whisky barrel.
How I Served It: Fridge chilled, then left to stand for 30 minutes.
Colour: Brassy, polished coal scuttle. Slight bit of sediment floating in an otherwise brilliantly clear liquid.
On the nose: Almost Tokaji-like, Noble Rot, rich orchard floor with fruit from previous seasons that you tread on when investigating a tree.
In the mouth: Orange Marmalade meets stewed apples served in a wooden bowl. Barrel influence working harmoniously here, I’m not picking up hefty Foxwhelp influence, just a light lifting of the blend in the direction of a sharper finish. The best way to describe this effect is like Ross on Wye’s Dab + Mich annual tour de force, Raison D’Etre, but with a smattering of the sharper notes that Foxwhelp can bring. Lovely stuff, a Classic Combo indeed!
In A Nutshell: I sense a classic combo from lots of makers coming up at a future cider festival/club. It really does work well and tweaked here or there is fascinating to see additions to the Dabinett/Michelin (Bisquet) combo.
Sour Grapes (6.3%)
Tom says: Varieties in the home orchards are Breakwell Seedling, Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, Brown Snout, Yarlington Mill, Bloody Turk, Major, Ball’s Bittersweet and Frederick. This vinous cider is surely one of my favourites of the 2020 season barrels. Apple wine, no way, cider, as it should be and always was. Picked in October 2020 and fermented and aged in an old whisky barrel.
How I served It: Out the fridge, left to stand for 15mins.
Colour: Pale golden desert sand.
On the nose: Phenolic, vegetal, orchard floor, apple chutney
In the mouth: Pleasant astringency puckering the moisture from your cheeks with the tannin content. This is a sour sipper. I’m a fan of sour bonbons so this is working for me. Apple varieties that verge more on the sharp more than tannic perhaps?
In A Nutshell: Pucker up and pull a sour face Tom, you’ve struck gold.
Mouthful Of Perry (6.6%)
Tom says: This harvest blend of perry pears from Simon Dent contains Blakeney Red, early Gin, early Butt, Red and Winnals Longdon and some late Moorcroft. The Whitehouse Orchard lies in Preston Wynne, just up the road from Oliver’s in Ocle Pychard, Herefordshire. Simon is one of our closest partner orchards and a very real supporter of all that we are trying to do at Oliver’s.
How I served it: Bottle popped in the fridge for 30mins then served straight away.
Colour: Jurassic Park Amber Resin
On the nose: Sweet, sweet Rum. Honeysuckle. Night scented stock. Honey.
In the mouth: What an initial impression! Oily, viscous, sensuous perry, that coats the inside of your mouth in a very accessible, sweet brushstroke. Mild tannin underneath that sweetness, to give some body, but the Rum cask has given of itself strongly to this Perry. One of the sweetest Oliver’s Perries (or ciders) I have ever tasted!
In A Nutshell: A luxurious perry fermented to…sweet, with the aid of sorbitol and cask influence.
Tom says: A blend from my Home Orchard in Ocle Pychard of mid season cider apples. Varieties in the home orchards are Breakwell Seedling, Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, Brown Snout, Yarlington Mill, Bloody Turk, Major, Ball’s Bittersweet and Frederick. Picked in October 2020 and then fermented and aged in an older whisky barrel from Scotland.
How I Served It: Bottle was in the fridge all day, then left out in the kitchen for 30mins before popping the cap.
Colour: Grassy gold with a reflective quality in the sunset.
On The Nose: There’s that welcoming, familiar, Oliver’s Cider farmyard funk. Bit raisiny, light Sherry note.
In The Mouth: Grippy astringency, pine resin peaty notes, tannin washing the front of the tongue, verging on a slight brine note, in a pleasant Oban whisky manner.
In A Nutshell: A maritime sipper, could see this paring dashingly well with oysters, kippers, samphire, anything in the umami savoury club.
Home Orchard Blend 2020 (6.1%)
Tom says: This is a later season blend of cider apples, picked in November 2020 in my Home Orchard in Ocle Pychard and again fermented & aged in an older whisky barrel. Varieties in the home orchards are Breakwell Seedling, Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, Brown Snout, Yarlington Mill, Bloody Turk, Major, Ball’s Bittersweet and Frederick.
How I Served It: Chilled then left to rest on the balcony in the evening sun for half an hour.
Colour: Orange marmalade
On The Nose: Spice, clove, stewed apple, resinous, recently-split Laburnum logs, sultana
In The Mouth: Creamy tannin, fireside ember cider, red bush fruits (cranberry or raspberry), astringency that tickles the side of the tongue, a mellow softness where the fruit from the cider is balancing and toying with the whisky barrel influence.
In A Nutshell: A traveller between two seasons: Both the heady height of summer and the mellow, damp, morning-after bonfire whisp of smoke in Autumn.
Home Orchard Blend 2018 (10.1%)
Tom says: This is the same Home Orchard, same late season harvest but a couple of years earlier and so in the barrel for 2 extra years and the alcohol is up and the SG way down, so those wild yeasts and their spontaneous fermentation have without any further assistance, gone on a deep dive. The orchard is biennial so the blend of varieties should be comparable. Varieties in the home orchards are Breakwell Seedling, Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, Brown Snout, Yarlington Mill, Bloody Turk, Major, Ball’s Bittersweet and Frederick.
How I served it: Out of the fridge for 30mins
Colour: Peach meets mandarin
On The Nose: Apple sponge cake, cinnamon, oak barrel influence
In The Mouth: Tannins, like licking a freshly unwrapped cigar, rolling tobacco, stewed fruit sitting underneath a pine floorboard.
In A Nutshell: The cask hath giveth of itself to this cider. I’ve another bottle to open in a year or two to see how this develops in bottle as the abv is just too interesting to not try again later.
Mouthful Of Perry #2 (6.8%)
Tom says: This second Whitehouse Orchard blend from 2020 has more Blakeney Red & Gin Perry Pears in as we have got further into the season and the crop. Once again fermented and aged in rum barrels that have made their way to these shores from the Caribbean.
How I Served It: Straight out the fridge, first glass was closed and subdued, by the third 175ml Oliver’s Copita Glass, everything opening up.
Colour: Green straw, a hat bale that hasn’t quite been in the sun long enough, a lime hidden just inside a hay bale.
On The Nose: Slight acetic note alongside lime/pomelo skin
In The Mouth: More of that mild acetic note, underlay of subtle rum cask note, quite a pineapple cube candy constitution.
In A Nutshell: Just the right side of volatile acidity, wouldn’t have been able to say this was finished in a rum cask without additional bottle notes.
Mouthful Of Perry #3 (7.0%)
Tom says: Why “Mouthful of Perry”? Well because I found myself savouring these 3 rum barrel perries, taking a big glug and moving it around the mouth, letting the many characteristics come through over time and relishing the impact of the rum barrels. This later season Whitehouse Orchard 2020 blend featuring Blakeney Red and Red Longdon perry pears is once again fermented and aged in a rum barrel.
How I Served It: 5 mins outa the fridge, warmed by the sunset on my balcony
Colour: Light hessian sack, hay, barley in the July sunset.
On The Nose: Firing on all fronts. Hard candy, estery wildflower meadow, freshly pressed pear juice (somehow retained this note after 1.5 years), thyme.
In The Mouth: Light viscosity, sweetness and acidity harmoniously balanced, the mildest of rum influences, slight green grape and lychee note, elemental tropical.
In A Nutshell: The standout Perry in Out Of The Barrel Rooms II, buy more bottles and store them for the good times.
That a market exists and is growing for bi-annual releases like the Out Of The Barrel Room Series is such a joyous thing in the UK. With Tom and Felix taking on The London Cider House in Borough Market, the path for the accidental (and deliberate) consumer to discover these bottles is that much more easy to traverse in 2022 than in previous years. I have enjoyed working my way through these different blends, whilst still admitting to being a single variety stan, so I’m crossing my fingers that 2024 brings a few more SVC’s and SVP’s to the table. Discovering just how bona fide the combination of Dabinett and Michelin/Bisquet is when aged in whisky barrels across more than one producer, makes me hanker for a Little Pomona/Welsh Mountain Cider/Caledonian Cider/Nightingale/Whin Hill et al version of this classic combo. More of this sort of release please. Here’s to a long, hot summer!
Jack’s order of preference
1. Mouthful of Perry #3
2. A Classic Combo
3. Home Orchard Blend 2020
5. Home Orchard Blend 2018
6. Mouthful of Perry #1
7. Sour Grapes
8. Mouthful of Perry #2