I’ve said it before, but it bears repetition: I think Ross on Wye is the most important cidery in the world. If I could only take my friends to one cidery; if I had to drink cider and perry from just one place for the rest of my life, it would be this one.
I don’t want to sound sycophantic. Ross doesn’t always make ciders that I entirely get along with. I dare say at least one or two of theirs would make my all-time top 10, but there have been a few that were simply not for me. In fact I doubt whether there’s anyone in the world who absolutely loves every cider Ross make – and I include Mike and Albert Johnson in that assessment. But that’s part of what makes Ross so special – that enormous, extraordinary range, which is dictated entirely by the flavours of their wild yeast and the apple.
No-one venerates and showcases the apple more than the team at Ross. If you want your cider sharp and zingy and blisteringly fresh, they’ve got you covered with Kingston Black and Foxwhelp and Reinette O’Bry. If you want it booming with gum-stripping tannin they’ve Tremlett’s Bitter and Ashton Bitter and Harry Master’s Jersey. If you want something somewhere in the middle there’s Yarlington Mill, Dabinett, Redstreak, Brown Snout, Michelin. Whatever your tastes there’s a Ross cider or perry for you, each one framing the apple in its purest, truest light. A hundred flavours and more, all inimitable reflections of a single, treasured variety of tree – and that’s before we even look at their blends, and before we look at the unparalleled library of mellowed, matured, developed back-vintages; bottles where tannins and acidity have softened, flavours have unfurled and new complexities have been revealed. There’s a sense, when you talk to the Johnsons, that they feel themselves custodians of these varieties, many desperately rare, unknown and unloved elsewhere. There’s a real emotion when Albert talks about their neighbour’s Brown Snout trees being grubbed up; an impression that they’re guarding, protecting; fighting a hard but vital battle to save something that the world barely even knows it would miss, were these trees to disappear.
Quite simply, whether you want to learn about the apple and the pear, or you just want the broadest possible range of flavours available as a pure-juice cider drinker, there is nowhere on earth that I know of that can offer you more than Ross. That they are also some of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever encountered in the drinks industry is simply an extra bonus.
Today is the second of our posts covering the brand new special releases from Ross on Wye; the first tranche of their 2020 special editions. And what could be more fitting than a single variety that falls well into the category of quiet, little-known and perhaps deserving of more spotlight than it gets?
Ashton Brown Jersey is a medium bittersweet first found in the Somerset village of Long Ashton, of the former famous apple research station, a little over a century ago. Never hugely popular with orchardists as it was very slow to come into cropping, its apples are harvested well into the season and can sometimes still be on the tree as late as January. I must admit, it’s not an apple that had previously been particularly on my radar, but it stood out in an excellent lineup when I did my unoaked varieties exploration in January.
First up is an oak-aged sibling of the 2017 I tried at that tasting. Alongside that is a venerable five-year-old, also oak-aged, from the 2015 vintage. It’s not often you get the opportunity to do a vintage vertical in cider, nor are five-year-olds thick on the ground, so this is doubly special. Not least because in 2018 Ross’s Ashton Brown Jersey trees were attacked by the Ermine moth and, being such a slow grower, haven’t produced apples since.
Bizarrely, in a field containing some forty or so varieties, it was only the Ashton Brown Jersey that the moths seemed to want. “They must have liked it”, was Albert’s comment. Let’s see if I like it as much.
Ross on Wye Ashton Brown Jersey Oak Cask 2017 – review
On the nose: Real, upfront juiciness here – full of forthright fruit. Super-ripe apples and fleshy, orange, tropical tones. There’s a little of the classic Ross autumn-leaf savouriness, but it’s not nearly as earthy-austere as some of its stablemates can be.
In the mouth: Big-bodied and ripe. Again, immensely juicy and fruit-forward. Immense full stop, actually – a big, mouth-filling gulp of bruised apple, sweet oak, peach and mango. There’s a slosh of tannins, but they’re soft and ripe and fat – not a hint of astringency. Smoky, savoury, more delicate tones towards the back end. It’s a big, friendly, flopsy, waggy-tailed dog sort of a cider, this. Shows how ripe and juicy and utterly appealing dry cider can be when it’s sympathetically and considerately made.
Ross on Wye Ashton Brown Jersey Oak Cask 2015 – review
Colour: Just a notch deeper than the ’17.
On the nose: Bounding down the flavour scale here into leather and oak and spice. Wonderful development. There’s still that ripe, fleshy tone to the fruit, but there’s a lovely definition and clarity to the aromas, too. Yellow plums, apricots. There’s more earthy-slateyiness as well, but no one element dominates. It’s very complex and harmonious.
In the mouth: Just magnificent. Straight away that ripe plum and baked apple and sultana fruit, so juicy that they almost give the impression of sweetness – despite this cider being bone dry. There’s a sweet spice here, too – ginger syrup, vanilla. Then in come the tannins; savoury, developed, but still adding enough grip to maintain structure and poise. Oak and smoke and a hint of whisky on the finish, which lingers forever. Complex, developed, but just so accessible.
Ross’s mission statement is to make natural ciders that reflect the fruit and are “dry, yet soft”. This pair nails that brief perfectly. Ashton Brown Jersey is such a fruity, balanced apple – just a downright pleasure to drink. I would pour this for the most discerning of apple-botherers, or for someone who had never tasted cider before, certain that both would be utterly dazzled.
I love – and will certainly buy – both of these ciders, but to me the 2015 runs out a comfortable winner. That’s not to disparage the 2017, but for depth, development, complexity and sheer completeness, the 2015 wins on all counts. This is clearly an apple that matures wonderfully; I’ll be fascinated to taste the 2017 again in a couple of years. In the meantime, grab a few bottles for sure. As for the 2015 – stock up by the boot-load.
Photograph certainly isn’t by Adam.