Some days are just….. special.
I have written (and spoken at length) of my respect for two people I met for the first time only last December - Dick Withecombe and Cath Potter. They opened my eyes to modern traditionally made cider. And more.
Some time ago, they invited me to a Mcr Cider Club event. Introducing Albert Johnson from Ross Cider. And an idea was born. For something - for ISBF - truly special.
I (Jim) an incredibly careful with words. I mean every word I say. I've been lucky enough, over the last few years, to help create some simply fabulous beers and meet some wonderful, generous people.
But I genuinely don't think that I've been more excited than when I was asked if I'd like to come down to Broome Farm. The home of Ross Cider.
Arriving early - following a surprisingly short journey - we walked from the family pub with Albert and the Canine superstar that is Norman. It didn't take long to reach a Cider lovers heaven on earth. Picturesque row after picturesque row of apples and pears.
Walking past some of the most beautiful scenery - including 2 Alpacas - and via some simply idyllic camping pitches, we arrived at the business end of the Cidery. And following the collection of a vast amount of windfall fruit, it was busy, busy, busy….
To watch the joyful “all hands to the pump” activity was a total bonus and privilege. Witnessing the making of the raw juice from collection through washing and milling to pressing the milled fruit to juice was a little piece of heaven.
We even got to taste some freshly pressed juice…
Talking with Mike (Albert's dad) and John, it was clear to see that this isn't a job. It's a passion. As was evidenced by Mike later.
Cider making was going on apace, so we made arrangements - with a very busy Albert - to scoot for a visit to Hereford and come back later for the “onerous” task of tasting. And Blending. This being serious #ISBF6 business after all!
We took two of Albert's recommendations on board. Visiting the Cider Museum and the rather special Hereford Beer House.
The Cider Museum was fascinating. And - and I almost choke saying this - credit to Heineken (owners of Bulmers) for keeping this going. But, on finishing the tour, it kind of made me think of a time long lost to industrial production.
But not totally.
Didn't take photos at Hereford Beer House, but if you are even close to Hereford, it's an essential visit. Seriously good beer (including a superb Pale made by themselves (as “After The Harvest”) and a total commitment to quality, to the extent of building their own “direct draw” cold room.
I'll be back.
Returning to the farm - via a swift half at The Yew Tree - and with Albert busy with a group tour, Mike showed us around the Orchards and introduced us to grafting new trees to enable (eventual) greater supply of certain apple varieties.
The trees were heavy with fruit and it was explained that with the way Ross Cider maintain their orchards with minimum intervention (think zero pesticides and letting the trees and nature do their thing) that there are “On” years (plentiful harvest) and “Off” years (where the trees take a breather and produce less fruit)
The passion that Mike has for what Ross do was evident. I could have cheerfully listened for hours about how they work with - rather than against - nature. Remember, no chemical intervention.
However, we had tasting to do. And more fun to have. As I discovered…
As you would expect, the tasting was “hard work”. And I worked hard. Along with the rest of the team. Dedicated to getting something just right. We sampled, sampled and sampled again. It was “torture”. Pomona was smiling down at us at our heroic efforts.
But eventually, finally, after a Herculean effort, we came to a decision that all were happy with.
And a blend that we are proud to launch at Hemsley House. For which we can't thank Mike, Albert and the rest of the team at Ross Cider enough. I mean that. Both myself and Jaz were a bit overwhelmed and felt privileged to be involved in this creative process.
Retiring to The Yew Tree, after a pin sharp pint of Jarl, we set about more “research”. Delicious, tasty research.
That Raison D'etre is, quite simply, stunning. And I say that without fear or favour.
We drank. The Ciders were delicious. I had to give in to the “psychological torture”. I'm a convert. I adore Cider. It's all Dick & Cath's fault. And Albert Johnson's.
Seriously, this has been my favourite thing that I've been involved with during the whole six years of ISBF. It was simply wonderful. To watch a family company, with passion, turn untouched fruit into such lovely liquid just blew me away.
Albert, Mike, Martin, John, Bob (and all those whose name escapes this terrible memory) depthless gratitude. I simply don't know what else to say.
Dick & Cath - thank you so much for the introduction. And for making this possible.
Albert and Rebecca, thank you so much for putting up with us!
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.
Jaz and I departed The Yew Tree with bounteous bottles of Ciders and Perries and one shared thought.
“Can't wait to try that Blend!”
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Back soon - Brewing tomorrow. With 4x Beer of the Festival winner Five Towns…..
Be kind to one another.