Somerset cider brandy wins favour in Calvados country: A traditional illicit liquor is being revived commercially. Oliver Gillie reports

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The Independent Online
CIDER BRANDY, once an illicit liquor made only in remote stills, is now being produced legally in Somerset. Today, Julian Temperley, a farmer and brewer, begins this year's distillation of Somerset cider at his farm in Kingsbury Episcopi.

Mr Temperley has pioneered the production of this British version of Calvados, which, he says, has been admired by French connoisseurs. He has experimented with the distillation of apple ferments since 1984, receiving a great deal of help from experts in Normandy, where he bought a traditional still.

It takes three years for the apple brandy to mature in oak barrels. The liquor has now been on the market for three years.

'Our cider brandy is a friendly cousin of Calvados, a bit softer and more appley,' Mr Temperley said. 'Each year the distillation has had different characteristics, so we give it a different label. I expect to spend 20 years working on it and refining the blend.'

Mr Temperley uses only locally grown apples and rejects the use of apple concentrate. He believes that the soil of Somerset orchards, loam over heavy clay, and the special varieties of apple - Chisel Jersey, Stoke Red, Dabinett and Porters' Perfection - give the high tannin content that makes a good, full-bodied cider and the best brandy.

'In some parts of the country, cider is made from any old apples, left over after the rest of the crop is sold for table use,' Mr Temperley, who farms 140 acres of orchard, said. 'That is no good. You must use cider apples and you must blend the product at every stage from crushing the apples through to blending the cider and finally the brandy.'

He believes that the distillation of cider and other fruit ferments has been neglected in Britain because expertise was lost with the dissolution of the monasteries. Distillation was developed first by the Chinese in the third century, spreading to Europe via Arabs in Spain. The expertise slowly spread in monasteries. It is no accident, Mr Temperley says, that whisky was developed in Scotland and Ireland, where the Catholic influence persisted in a different way.

'We are aiming to produce a brandy which will be as distinguished and as valued as a good malt whisky,' he said. 'We have a long expertise in cider making. We have taken our method of distillation from the French and of maturing the brandy in oak barrels from Scotland.'

The rich fruit liquor he produces carries the unmistakable aroma of apples - a bouquet that one elderly employee instantly recognised from his childhood. He remembered how his grandfather had worked over a strange metal vessel on the kitchen range which gave off the same intense aroma.

Mr Temperley's achievement lies not only in reviving an ancient skill but also in meeting the complex conditions required by Her Majesty's Customs - a secure bonded warehouse has been created from a dairy building.

His apple brandy has also achieved commercial recognition, and can be bought in Fortnum & Mason, John Lewis's and Waitrose for about pounds 20 a bottle. Later this year, Mr Temperley is hoping to have a small stock of his liquor held by a shop in Honfleur, Normandy - the heart of Calvados country - where at least one shopkeeper admires Mr Temperley's bon gout et gross cheek Anglais.

(Photograph omitted)