A

An interview with Tom Oliver

Pete Brown calls Tom Oliver “the greatest cidermaker in the world”. And, having written “The World’s Best Ciders”, Pete Brown is the sort of person who ought to know.

It’s certainly an accolade that’s been echoed around much of the cidermaking community, and indeed beyond. Having collaborated with cidermakers across the world as well as such lauded breweries as Cloudwater and Mills Brewing, it’s safe to say that Tom’s built a formidable fanbase, offering inspiration to new-era cidermakers such as Little Pomona along the way. All the more impressive given that his cidermaking sits alongside not only his other work on the farm at Ocle Pychard in Herefordshire, but his job as a tour manager and sound engineer for The Proclaimers.

Talking to people, what stands out in their estimation of Tom is his vision for cider as a category and his keenness to learn and try new things. On which basis I thought I’d reach out and see if he’d speak to Malt on the subject. Happily, he swiftly replied in the affirmative, and our conversation is below, tweaked only for clarity. We’ve encountered a couple of his perries in the past; his Writer’s Perry and Blakeney Red 2015 respectively – this morning it’s all about the apples.

Malt: For the benefit of our readers who are newer to cider, can you give us a potted history of how you came to cidermaking?
Tom: So I started making cider in a way quite late in life I feel. It was a case of joining in with other people and just making cider for one’s own enjoyment. And it involved a couple of times a year meeting up in the autumn, picking the apples – harvesting – and then pressing them on someone else’s press and then collecting the cider late in the year. It worked very well, but at some stage things started to become a bit more important to me. It’s hard to quite work out exactly when but it seemed it was a combination a. of disappearing varieties – more varieties, in a way, than orchards – but both varieties and orchards going, and also the lack of cider. The lack of choice of cider. Cider not being as I thought it could be. And I think those two things made me want to start making cider. And initially it wasn’t going to be for anything really other than myself and the family but it sort of quickly gained a bit of momentum. An ego is easily massaged and it only takes one person to say “I really liked that” and you think “ooh. Ok.” So people seemed to like what I was doing early on and that sort of spurred me on.

Malt: Whenever I talk to cidermakers, or people around the community, and your name comes up, the phrase that is almost always used is “pushing boundaries”. Would you describe that as something you actively try to do, and what do you think pushing boundaries in cider and perry involves?
Tom: Am I pushing boundaries? There are definitely ways that maybe I am pushing boundaries, but maybe … the thing that pushed me forwards was that general feeling that cider was poorly represented. Both as a product but also from those within the cider community. Its image was appalling. And there’s nobody who loves the comic, agricultural, rustic thing about cider and all that, but for that to be its marketing foundation – it was just not right. So there were huge opportunities both in the qualities of the product and in the way it’s presented – who was presenting it and how they were doing it. I’m so comfortable with the idea of promoting something – actively promoting it. And I’m not saying I was by any means the first on that but I certainly realised, as somebody who had spent so long touring with bands, my whole world was all about promotion. Going out and promoting. You know, an opportunity comes to do something, you say yes and then you work out how to make it work and what you’re going to do.

So yeah, I realised quite early on that I love the opportunity to go out and talk about cider, present it, promote it, taste it. So I was sort of building myself a platform and then out of that came the opportunity to kind of introduce cider. Because 20-odd years ago, yes, there was the nascent Ross on Wye, Gwatkin, Kevin Minchew … Dunkertons were well-established but they had already gone down a more streamlined approach in a way. There was not a lot of choice out there and everything was in its infancy and I sort of came along and just got stuck in. And started promoting cider, you know, and still to this day – obviously I’m trying to promote Oliver’s behind it all I suppose – but it’s more important for me that the category improves than that Oliver’s sales rocket, you know? We need to do well, we need to be sustainable and all that, but if cider’s going to do well, it’s got to do well for lots of people.

So that, in itself, I think was pushing boundaries back 20 years ago. I don’t think many people were thinking like that. And I didn’t initially think exactly like that, but over a period of time that’s the sort of trajectory that developed. And then from that, you know, you’re meeting people, you’re talking to people, you’re tasting cider. The biggest thing for me was always when I’m tasting tasting something I’m going “I really like what’s going on here – what is going on?” or “I really don’t like this – what the hell has gone on?” And then, you know, you build this composite thing in your brain, in your mouth, in your palate, and you want to try and create things that are going to be … ultimately the whole focus for me has been on making drinkable cider. I want it to be something that you enjoy drinking. And in a way, it can have quality and complexity and stuff, but it must be drinkable. And I think it’s a foundation as a way I look at it. Because you’ve got to want people to drink it.

Malt: So you’ve talked a lot about how things were maybe 20 years ago. These days do you think enough cidermakers do push boundaries?
Tom: Well, interesting. It depends what you mean by that. Because for a cidermaker who’s not done something before, that’s pushing a boundary. You know, if you haven’t done it then you need to do it, that’s what it’s about. I think there’s a lot of experimentation. But experimentation isn’t pushing boundaries. To me pushing boundaries is doing experimentation, coming up with something and then doing it. And then doing it again. And doing it again. Because that then gives the drinker and the person who appreciates what you’re doing the opportunity to get it and to get involved and become part of it. I understand with the way the world works that anything that’s shiny catches people’s attention. But that’s not going to build a category for the long term.

So pushing boundaries to me means that you’ve already done a fair bit of investigation, and you’ve got something good going on and it’s something that you want to do again. And that’s one of the things that I hope to see happening a bit more of. To me it’s part of the proving of what it is you can do and what it is you can offer on a regular basis. Too many things that are just done once – I don’t know where that gets us. It’s lovely, it’s great – it’s not wrong – but in terms of building cider as something for the future that will mean people are going to want to plant orchards because they know someone’s going to pay them a great price for their apples, because they’re regularly going to want to use these things … you know all these things, to me, build into the sustainability of it. And it’s such a complex set of questions you have to ask yourself when you think about what it is you want to do and how you make it sustainable, and how you build a category and how you create something. There’s a lot of questions to be answered. So I love all the innovation coming in, but I want it to move from experimentation to producing, really.

Malt: As one of its founders, is the Cider Salon sort of about showing the collective result to the world and building that sort of spirit within the community?
Tom: Yes. The idea behind the Salon was really that a. There is such a thing as “fine cider”; there is such a thing as innovative, creative, imaginative cider and we need to find a simple way of defining it in the sense of something that the public can grab hold of and we as a producer can exemplify. And the 750ml bottle was a convenient way of doing it. It’s a limited way and it’s not the answer to everything and it’s not the only way that great cider will be produced, but it helps give a representation of a larger category. And remember it was sort of started from nowhere. So the hardest thing was: “we want to show off cider? How do we do it? How do we sort of capture it in a snapshot?” And the 750ml seemed a good way. Little did we know that one of the things that certainly has come out of the horrors of this COVID-19 is the 750ml has found its place, without a shadow of a doubt. And I didn’t want a pandemic to be the reason that it would come to have its moment – have a part to play – but it’s really become the go-to thing for people ordering cider now.

So that’s interesting, and I think what we try with the Salon to do is to give it a format. So as a cidermaker you go “750ml, ok.” And there’s all sorts of 750 ml. Interestingly enough, the thing that’s amazed me – and I’ll have to be careful here – I think is we’ve had no still 750ml wine bottle ciders presented at the Salon. I may be wrong on that, I may have to eat my words. But one of the things we started doing very early on through Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucester was doing still fine cider in wine bottles. And you know, I’m sort of surprised myself. It’s a lot cheaper, it’s about a third the price of champagne [bottles]. It’s a format that sells millions around the world a year and people recognise it for what it is, I would have thought there would be far more of us. But anyway, that’s an aside.

So yeah. And one of the other remits was to hopefully over time open it out to people who were trying to do new and imaginative things, and also to act as a sort of quality thing. So we’ve had to, as nicely as one can, say to some people “I’m sorry, the products you submitted were just not up to it.” And actually every single person we’ve had to say that to has taken it on the chin and been very positive about it. So that’s brilliant. But, you know, we desperately don’t want people coming and the first thing you do is you put your nose to something and you just get H2S or some horrible reductiveness or whatever. You know it just is like shooting ourselves in the foot really. So I think we’ve got something going, but once again it’s only really going on within the bubble.

The thing we were going to work on really hard this year was how we attracted people from the world of wine, how we attracted people from other drinks categories and how we got just general foodie people coming to the event. So we were working out little strategies to do that – to spread the word wider. The support from within the bubble has been fantastic but what we’re really about is bringing new people to the table. And I think cider’s now in a position where it can do that. It’s fantastic. The reaction to a lot of these new makers with their new ideas – it’s catching the eye of new people, and that’s great. That’s what it’s all about.

Malt: Talking of expanding the bubble, you’ve done a lot of collaborations. Can you talk us through some of them? What is it you most enjoy about doing them?
Tom: Ok, yeah. The joy is definitely the working with other people, it’s the exchange of ideas and the foundation of it, I think, is a combination of being besotted, fascinated and respectful of spontaneous fermentation. I think that’s generally the key to it all. And the ability to assess and to let the understanding of what it is you’re doing be something that you can talk about and discuss between you. And when you talk about input in terms of raw material and output in terms of expectation, in terms of taste and aromas, everyone that I’ve worked with, we understand each other. I think that’s the best way of putting it. Does that make sense?

So going back, most of my collaborations if you look at them, I’ve avoided collaboration with other UK cidermakers. That’s maybe a coward’s way of approaching things! But I didn’t want to create any vibe or anything within cider, so my collaborations have either been with cidermakers abroad or in the brewing industry. And for me that’s worked really, really well, because what I wanted to do was expand my horizons. So when you’re discussing things and tasting things with the likes of Garret Oliver [Ed: brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and beer author], Rob Lovatt from Thornbridge, Johnny Mills from Mills Brewing, all these people – you move onto a different thing. Much like when you’re talking with someone like Dave Jowett, the cheesemaker, and I’m talking with people who are growing your grass to feed beef animals, and you’re talking about the qualities of grass, and the qualities of different varieties of beef. You can get into a conversation that isn’t just about the practicalities of it, but when you start talking about it and tasting it, people get excited. You all know what you’re getting excited about and it seems so productive. And to me that’s what it’s all about. But not everybody can work like that, or thinks like that, or wants to. So for me that collaboration works on many levels, but in essence it’s about the excitement of what it does and the respect of what goes into it.

And then you go down “what can we do? What can we do that would really excite you? Stimulate you? And is going to be bloody good and drinkable?” You know? And I’ve got to say, we’ve had some cataclysmic failures, some of which have never got in the bottle, but some of which unfortunately have even got in bottle and then have been withdrawn before they’ve ever been released, sort of thing. You know, we have (I hope) a good understanding of the type of qualities we want from these sort of things. So I’m pleased that people generally seem to like what we’re doing, and if they don’t I understand why they don’t. But everything has been, hopefully, where the pushing of the boundaries is coming. Because we’re asking people to maybe step outside of what they understand or, you know, maybe with cider and beer it’s the thing that they’re trying to understand and then we come along with a thing that’s like a cross-pollination of the two. And it’s asking you to go “well this isn’t cider, it’s not beer, but it’s something else.” And that can be a tough challenge for some. But, you know, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it!

So I find that these things are the boundary-pushers. If you’re wedded to best bitter you’re never going to like a Mills Brewing-Oliver’s collaboration. I quite understand. But if you have an appreciation of what goes into a geueze, or something like that, then there might be something there for you. Yeah. I’m very excited by all these collaborations, it does stimulate me and I’ve got no end of things that I want to try. Things that I can see the combination of things might be really interesting.

Malt: Tell me about the Anxo/Oliver’s Ocle Pychard Dry? What is it and how did it come about?
Tom: Yeah I can. So this is a good case in point. Long story short-ish: at the Bath & West show a number of years ago – probably five years ago now – sat around a table in a lovely pub in Somerset after a Thursday or Friday night was me and Felix [Ed: Felix Nash of the Fine Cider Company] Ryan Burke [Ed: head cidermaker at Angry Orchard] and Eva, his wife, and Sam and his partner from Anxo [A craft cidery based in Washington DC]. And we were all babbling like madmen, probably drunk far too much and there was like a wonderful crescendo of excitement. Because people were at various stages of their discovery of cider. And the potential for it and what they wanted to do. Sam had come back from Spain, Ryan was over obviously from the States and there was me, and it was just … anyone could have been there, if they weren’t sort of like salivating at the prospect of what all these individuals wanted to do then they would not have been stimulated by anything. It was so exciting because you knew that everybody from there was going to go away and just commit themselves to doing stuff. And in a way that’s exactly what has happened.

So out of that was born the fact that Sam, later on, expressed a wish to come back and bring his cidermaker, Greg Johnson, who it is now, and taste through some ciders at my place and make a cider specifically that spoke of Ocle Pychard and package it and sell it exclusively through Anxo. Which is what they did. And my idea was not to dominate the conversation but to provide the raw materials, so we tasted through everything. We tasted through maybe a hundred different things and narrowed it down to a certain number and then played with a few blends. And it was a mutual thing. We both had to agree, we both had a direction, we knew what we were heading for – dry cider – and it was a really good experience. Because it was probably not what I would have done on my own, it’s certainly not what they would have done on their own but it was a combination of utilisation of the raw materials that we had at hand and also the market which they were trying to sell dry cider to in America. And, you know, what a great way of utilising your time and your skills and your passion, to create something like that with really clear parameters.

Malt: Amongst all of these pushed boundaries and different things your annual Bottle Fermented Ciders stand out as a constant in your range. Can you tell me about them?
Tom: Ok. So when I started I enjoyed the history of cider, so I was aware of the desire we have to make sure people think that cider possibly was fermented in the bottle ahead of champagne – the tenuous argument that that is! But it’s a lovely story and one that I shall provide as much fuel for as possible! That’s one way of getting a sparkle in the bottle. And I’d tried various ones and I did some myself and I thought “yeah, fine, champagne cider, that’s fine.” Then we started looking at bottle conditioning, but I was very, very clear in my mind what bottle conditioning was. Which is not “ferment dry and add juice or sugar or whatever to re-ferment”. That’s not bottle conditioning in my mind. Bottle conditioning, for me, was the slow preparation of liquid as the first fermentation persists so that you can bottle it and it will finish fermenting in the bottle, and that gives you your bottle conditioned cider.

So that was my remit. That’s what I see as bottle conditioning. So in order to achieve that we looked at racking and we looked at keeving. And while I utilise racking, I utilise racking mostly within the confines of keeving as well. And my feeling, and this is not necessarily shared by any means, my feeling is that keeving prepares the juice for bottling. Over time it prepares it better than racking. And by that I’m really talking about the aromatic side of things. Especially sulphur issues, which I have a real bugbear with – it’s my pet hate. I believe that by keeving, even if we’re looking for a dry cider or an off-dry cider, it prepares the fermenting juice better than by not doing it.

So, for me, that’s what I mean by bottle conditioning, and yeah, we do it every year. We know the fruit we like – it varies every year but the principle is it’s from older orchards, older trees, it’s a blend that we can do at pressing, and that is built on, I suppose, experience. And obviously you can only make cider with the fruit you have to hand at the time. It’s cognisant of the prevailing temperature, because we like it to be getting colder so it tends to be more towards the end of the pressing season (which has recently presented us with great problems as regards to perry) but the idea is that we’ll just press the juice, we’ll keeve it and then we’ll rack it four or five times before the new year. And then when we get to new year hopefully the weather goes cold, but once again that’s not really been the pattern it’s followed particularly recently. But then, after the cold spell (and that means, for me, after lambing) we’re measuring the gravity all the time from February onwards. We want to see one specific gravity a week drop in the volume of liquid that we’re measuring. And we want to see that happen every week, consistently, until, if we’re doing a medium cider, it drops to a gravity of 1.020. If it does that, and we bottle it, it should behave perfectly in the bottle. If it doesn’t then we have to do other things with the liquid.

So, for example, our Keeved Perry and Next Big Thing were born of the fact that we had gorgeous tasting liquid but its fermentation drop was erratic. That’s not a great recipe for bottle conditioning but it has a lot of possibilities – if you can capture it at the point that you really like it as a sweet cider, and therefore low alcohol, you’ve got something that’s going to have a lot of selling potential and immense drinkability for a sweet cider. So, you know, the Keeved and the Next Big Thing are things that didn’t make the grade for Bottle Conditioning.

Malt: The one I have in front of me is the 2017 vintage. Can you tell me about how 2017 generally was as a vintage for cider, as distinct from other vintages, and how it impacted what went into this bottle?
Tom: If I’m absolutely honest with you I struggle now to recall specific vintages without looking at any information I might have put down on paper when we were making it! I’m not sure I can differentiate – I can by taste, but here’s the thing: I actually think that a not-so-good growing year can actually be beneficial when it comes to keeving and bottle conditioning. Simply because of the way we do it. And the reason I think that is that the sugars aren’t that high so the alcohols won’t be that high. So the general character within the juice is usually still there. It’s just you don’t have to be worried about high alcohol levels. Because as you’re keeving, the idea of all these is to try and get things that weigh in between 5-5.5%. Because for me, that’s quite often, for a medium cider, where they sit best. In terms of drinking and balance.

So I don’t know if 2017 was harder – they’re all quite demanding as years, there’s no smooth sailing year unless, when you get to mid-October, the temperature hits 10 degrees and never deviates until you get to Christmas. That would be an absolutely ideal bottle conditioning year. So temperature’s the key to it, ambient temperature. The fruit – we have enough coming from good sources now to be able to put a mix of suitable, basically bittersweet, together. And I’m sure that bottle conditioning does mirror the year, but to be honest I think it more mirrors the ambient temperature.

Malt: Given how gleeful Jarek looked when he gave me the bottle of your Old Rustic … and given you almost tried to stop him … I have to ask about it!
Tom: Yes, he does that to wind me up I think! The Old Rustic … we started with the idea of, from my home orchard, doing a sort of “estate cider” – a strong, tasty cider. And we did, for a few years, we were actually calling it “Ocle Pychard”. And one year we did it and it was not good, in the sense that it was Old Rustic. It just backfired on me. I think it was lack of … I probably wasn’t paying enough attention to it or something. Anyway, we got something that was just a little bit denser, a touch of VA, and all the qualities you’d expect with a scrumpy cider. And I said “oh, right, this is not going to sell,” and Jarek said “you should sell it, you know, people like this.” And of course he took great delight in proving it to me by offering people tastings of it – people going “oh yeah, that’s proper old-fashioned cider” or whatever. And I go “oh. So ok. What are we going to call it?” So we called it Old Rustic. And I think a lot of people, just to annoy me, they said they really like it, because they know it sort of winds me up. But yeah, that’s it really. It’s what I think scrumpy is.

Malt: Personal preferences notwithstanding, is the entrenched idea of that being what real cider tastes like a problem?
Tom: See it depends whether that becomes a limitation as to your view of cider. Having myself gone to Seale-Hayne Agricultural College in Devon and spent two and a half years in Devon drinking Devon cider and visiting Newton Abbot Cider House I’ve drunk probably more than my fair share of farmhouse cider or scrumpy. And I love it for what it is, but I’m also acutely aware that cider is a far, far bigger, broader, wider, more exciting category than just that. And as long as people know that scrumpy’s just one small facet of a glorious selection of drinks then I’m happy. It’s when it defines people by that’s what they drink and only that and everything else is rubbish that it winds me up.

Malt: You wrote on twitter a year or so ago that, whilst totally behind it, the notion of rethinking cider was perhaps in something of a small bubble and would need a decade or so to really gather momentum. Is that still a timeline you’d agree with?
Tom: That’s a great question. My hope and optimism was that we had a pretty optimistic projection for 2020. And I was really excited for this year because I saw a lot more ideas, a lot more events, a lot more makers, a lot more hybridisation from different parts of the world. This was a really, really exciting year and prospect. And then COVID hit. And I think that while that has stymied a lot of the things that people were going to do – as with all things – it will allow people to look again at what they do, and of course at the moment they’re all concentrating on providing those who are still in the game with the right packaged cider for what is needed at the moment. Which will mean that lots of things aren’t going on that would have gone on etc. So what will come out of this year is we’ll see how quickly we think on our feet and how adaptable we are as an industry. And especially in the smaller, more craft makers I think we are pretty adaptable, pretty flexible, bearing in mind we’re working with a once-a-year opportunity in terms of fruit and fermentation really. For those that aren’t they’ve always got the same number of multiple opportunities, but for those that do there is only one opportunity.

I still think we’re getting more people involved, we’re getting more people who are thinking and working at it, but at the same time, from that, we’ve got to have people who will want to take things further. You’ve got to want to increase your reach or increase your offering in terms of the regularity of it, the consistency of it, the ability to rely on it, because ultimately, unless your ambition is to retail all your own cider to the public, you’ve also got to be making cider that somebody else can make a living out of as well. And if they can’t then you’ve got to give them the opportunity to work with multiple producers so that we’re building something that is sustainable. Because if you’re making under 7000 litres and you’re selling it all yourself then, in a way, in terms of cider and its reach and its profile and its potential then it’s glorified farm-gate. You’ve got to have aspirations, you’ve got to want to grow. That doesn’t mean you have to dominate the world, it doesn’t mean you have to supply the whole world with cider. But you’ve got to allow the qualities of what you’re doing to come to a wider audience. Because that’s what will increase the perception of cider and the ability for those that do like cider – and there’s far more people out there who do love cider, but can’t get the cider they want on a regular basis. We’re not even scraping the surface yet. We don’t have to find many more cider drinkers – they’re out there already, it’s just that they can’t get the bloody stuff!

And this is one of the things that I think, as a maker, we need to bear more in mind. This comes down to understanding the principles of the marketplace too and everything. We need to provide those who want to sell our cider with more cider and it has to be at a price where everybody can make something out of it. That’s one thing I’ve always tried to do – I understand that I must be stable and everything, but I also must make sure that if it goes to, for instance, Felix, he’s got to have the opportunity to be stable from it. And he’s got to give the people he sells it to the opportunity to have the sort of quality of cider that can get the sort of price it needs to in order for the public-facing retail outlet to make money from it. And for me, part of making cider and part of what cider can do – we’ve got to be much, much more understanding of that side of things. Because that’s what’s going to bring cider in front of more cider drinkers in a more sustainable way.

Malt: What are the key changes that you’d like to see in cider and perry generally?
Tom: So I still think we need more producers making more quality cider with the desire to see it sold more widely. And that needs to all be cemented by bottlings of a certain quality. We are, it seems within the world of cider, determined to shout – maybe I’m talking more about craft cider here – about quality, and that we are quality. But nobody seems really prepared to stand behind what they mean by “quality”. The definition of quality is a somewhat grey area.

I think we need to be a little more forthright about what we consider quality to be so that people can understand what it is they’re supporting and championing. Both for a producer and a consumer, there’s big opportunities there. The real crux of it all for me is, once again, it goes back to we’ve got to be making cider that people want to drink. And by that I mean it’s got to be cider for the occasion. So if you want a cider that’s just going to refresh you after a day’s work that’s one thing, if you want a cider that will go with a certain food that’s another thing, if you want a cider for a celebration that’s another thing. You know, cider can be all of these things and more, and we need to work much harder at letting people understand that there is this drink for that occasion out there and that it’s at a price and a quality that if they don’t stock it the consumer’s going to be missing out, and they’re going to be missing out on a good part of their business.

And I think the thing that we have still got a lot of work to do on is this persuading of the publican, the restaurateur, the sommelier, the shopkeeper of the value that good cider can bring to their business. Because more and more, those who are doing it are seeing it. I mean it’s not going to sweep away craft beer overnight at all, it’s no intention of doing that. But there really is a place for it. You have to believe in it, understand it, and we have to provide the tools for the understanding of it, and we have to fuel that belief by providing consistently high-quality, readily-available good cider. It’s coming. It’s always going to be a slow-burner. But it’s like making it – you need to be patient. And, you know, we’re making lots of friends. Both as drinkers and as retailers and so forth, and it’s growing. And I remain eternally optimistic, but I think the optimism is being fuelled by what I observe and by what I drink. There’s some lovely drink out there.

***

On the subject of which, we should probably get round to drinking a couple of Tom’s. Specifically two we discussed in some detail above: The 2017 bottle conditioned medium dry and the collaboration with Anxo. American readers may still be able to get their hands on some of the latter; the former is available from The Fine Cider Company from £8.17 or Tom himself for £8.50.

Oliver’s Bottle Fermented Medium Dry 2017 – review

Colour: Bright but hazy rust.

On the nose: Complex. We have sweet caramel and savoury leather, oak and aged rum and dried citrus. A little stone fruit, but to me this sits in the deeper tones. Is that a tiny flutter of volatile acidity? Yes, I think so. Just the fainest whiff. Nothing to put me off and – to be fair – I’m specifically looking for it. As the cider sits in the glass the fruits begin to unfurl and express themselves above the tones of oak and process.

In the mouth: Mouthfilling foamy carbonation initially, which subsides into a really impressive, lip-smacking matchup of voluptuous fruit and drying, lightly-coarse tannins. This feels as though made specifically with food in mind. Plums and satsumas and peach mingle with sweet spices of ginger and nutmeg alongside raw leather and oak. There’s a slightly autumnal tone, too. Brisk, full, beautifully-structured, contemplative cider. Very easy to recommend.

Anxo-Oliver’s Ocle Pychard Dry 2018 – review

Colour: New penny.

On the nose: Again that developed, casky leather and toffee beside dried apples. It’s a more delicate nose than the Bottle Fermented, though that may be because the carbonation is significantly less forthcoming. A little farmy funkiness, lapsang souchon tea, dunnage warehouse and pith. One of those ciders that doesn’t present as overtly “fruity” per se – it’s more complex than that. A high-toned, bright green leafiness maintains vibrancy.

In the mouth: Whatever bone dry is, this is a shade drier. The big-boned fruit comes with a serrated edge of coarse tannins that are crying out to sink their teeth into the muscle and protein of good roast pork. Again it’s a complex, cask-sculpted creature; smoky oak, malt whisky and earth. The fruit is brighter than on the nose though – green apple and dried grapefruit leave a pithiness in their wake. Cider for grown-ups, thinkers and dinner tables.

Conclusions

Both lovely. Indeed it says much about Tom’s liquid corpus that neither would sit in my personal top three Oliver’s ever. Both are excellent, deep, complex drinks that deserve time and good food. Buy whichever you can find.

Many thanks to Tom for taking the time to speak to us.

CategoriesCider
Adam Wells
Adam Wells

In addition to my weekly-ish articles on Malt I write about whisky for Distilled and cider for Graftwood and Full Juice Magazines. Somewhere amidst all that I've also done the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. I share my home with several hundred bottles and one geophysicist. For miscellaneous drinks banality, find me on twitter at Twitter.com/DrinkScribbler

  1. Avatar
    Timp says:

    Great interview Adam and nice insight into Tom’ s thought processes behind his production.

    I picked up one of Toms Dabinett Dry 2017 bottles last week.

    It was wonderfully complex whilst being dry, austere and clean in a way that really had me on the edge of like/dislike for a while through the first glass. As I consumed the rest of the my own over the next few days, as its too dry for my wife’s tastes, I found it to be a lovely cider with just something in the taste I cant put my finger on. Really interesting.

    More experimentation required I think and will try and aquire some of his perry also, as you recommend it so highly.

    Got a nice bottle of Find and Foster Huxham blend for tonight. They are the closest cider makers to where I live and after your steer I thought they looked an interesting lot. Lovely ethos and one I should support being local, and in the tree industry! Looking forward to trying it.

    Cheers

    Tim

    1. Adam Wells
      Adam Wells says:

      Hi Timp – thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      You know, it’s been ages since I had that Dabinett of Tom’s, but I seem to recall that I really wasn’t sure about it, either. Must revisit, perhaps.

      Absolutely give his perries a go if you can find them. Of the current crop his Keeved Perry and Writer’s Perry have my highest recommendation, and his ’15 and ’17 Blakeney Reds are charmers too. I have a bottle of his new pet nat which I’ve yet to broach, and I don’t think it’ll stay unopened much longer.

      You’ve very lucky to have Find and Foster as your local. Polly and Mat are wonderful folk doing wonderful things and making wonderful cider. Wonderful all round. Their new 2017 Methode Traditionelle Oak is one of the best champagne method ciders I’ve tried this year – worth every penny.

      Best wishes and thanks again

      Adam W.

    1. Adam Wells
      Adam Wells says:

      Hi Mike. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Some absolute gems from Tom’s shed, for sure. Do check out the article on his new Out Of The Barrel Room series if you get a moment.

      Best wishes

      Adam W.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *