gavin smith

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Cider Making The Whisky Way

by Gavin D Smith

Most of us imagine that when a whisky cask is no longer of use to the Scotch whisky industry, after three, four or even more 'fills,' it is inevitably converted into garden planters or woodchips for smoking salmon. Not so.

Some casks discarded by the whisky makers enjoy a further throw of the maturing dice and end up in cider country, among the orchards of Herefordshire and Somerset, where they are used to store and mature 'real' cider.

Most cider makers, even the most 'artisanal' ones, run their freshly fermented cider into stainless steel or plastic vats. However, a number of small scale operators do employ ex-whisky casks from time to time, though Ian Sinclair of Ermie & Gert's in the picturesque Somerset village of Pitney, is one of the few to mature all his output in whisky wood. The only exception is a small percentage which is filled into former rum casks.

   Ermie & Gertie's was established by Ian Sinclair in 2000 and takes its name from two Guernsey cows - Ermentrude and Gertrude - which provide milk for the company's home-made ice cream. Sinclair explains that "Certain types of cider apple really bring out the whisky flavour. Yarlington Mill, for example, works extremely well with it. We use 40 gallon casks, often sourced from the Strathclyde Cooperage in Glasgow, though we also sometimes get them through local sources who have bought a big batch in Scotland and brought them down to Somerset."

Using ex-whisky casks with varying provenances for maturation means, of course, that no two bottlings of Ermie & Gert's cider are exactly the same. Effectively, they are the cider world's equivalent of single cask whisky bottlings, and Sinclair notes that the varying whisky influences are definitely noticeable from cask to cask.

Not surprisingly, his cider is popular at CAMRA 'real ale' festivals in the West Country and beyond.

According to Sinclair, "Once it's fermented, we rack the cider off into the whisky barrels, and it will sit there for around three months. We have kept some for up to a year, and it was excellent. The whisky casks increase the flavour tremendously, we don't wash them out, and it increases the alcohol content marginally, and gives the cider a great depth of flavour. Some cider producers re-use the casks, but we only use them once. I think there's a danger it taints the cider if you use them again, and you certainly get less depth of flavour."

Sinclair grows some apples in his own orchards and buys in further supplies, concentrating on single varietals or blends of two varieties such as Yarlington Mill and Crimson King. He makes between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons per year, which is pretty small beer (or cider) compared to larger independent Somerset cider makers such as Thatcher's, who currently turn out some three million gallons per annum.

Ermie & Gertie's cider sells in farm shop outlets and delicatessens in the West Country. See


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