Yarlington Mill - from a 'gribble' to a cider blend
Updated: Jun 24, 2019
A Cider Drinkers Pomona - Number 1.
Where to start this cider drinkers journey through some of the main apple and perry pear varieties?
Number one must be Yarlington Mill.
Well when you find out that this is the favourite cider apple of Tom Oliver, that most progressive of all cider makers; Gabe Cook, aka The Ciderologist; and Ryan Burk of leading US cider company Angry Orchard; then it picks itself.
This will be a weekly blog and social media post, a #CiderPomona. It is all about the apple and perry pear varieties that we curious cider drinkers should learn about, be able to recognise and describe.
In 1903, the Long Ashton Research Station established four different classes of cider apple: sweet, sharp, bittersweet and bittersharp. Any cider apple should ideally have high levels of sugar for fermentation, so the difference between them is in their levels of tannin and acidity.
The most common variety of cider apple is the bittersweet, with good tannin and lower acidity.
Yarlington Mill, the darling of the bittersweet world
Liz Copas describes ciders from Yarlington Mill, in her book ‘The New Pomona’: “medium bittersweet juice is good and makes a pleasant tasting cider with an agreeable aroma”.
Joan Morgan and Alison Richards in their ‘Book of Apples’ write that it “produces sweet, slightly astringent, medium bittersweet cider”.
Gabe Cook describes it rather more enthusiastically in his book ‘Ciderology’: “produces a cider the colour of the rich, red clay of The Shire”. He describes the unrivalled breadth of its flavours in colourful language and emphasises that Yarlington Mill is supreme in blended ciders.
Broad flavours for blends - colour, aromas and taste
The Yarlington Mill apple is a favourite because of its outstanding taste. It originates from deepest Somerset but is found growing throughout all cider areas. The apples are red and yellow in colour and late to harvest in late November.
The juice of Yarlington Mill is slow to ferment, which produces a rich, red, medium cider. Its wide range of flavours and distinctive taste makes it perfect in blended ciders.
Two Yarlington Mill Ciders
The outstanding and recognisable flavours of Yarlington Mill also work well in single variety ciders and single variety dominant blends. The two that Cath Potter and I tasted for this blog were opened at the same time and placed in identical glasses alongside each other for comparison.
Tom Oliver - Yarlington Mill 2017, 6.7% ABV
First up the ‘Oliver’s Fine Cider, Yarlington Mill Medium Season 2017'
The apples come from an orchard with old traditional trees. Harvest gets left right up until the last moment, resulting in seriously ripe fruit.
The colour is much a paler gold compared to the red gold of the Ross Cider. The aromas are similar but this one has the sweeter notes of dried fruit from a Christmas cake.
The taste also is much sweeter, a mellow sweet sherbet, smoother but less crisp, a harmony of broad flavours and sweetness.
With no answer to the source of the sweetness on the label, I consulted a review by Susanna Forbes in Imbibe magazine, February 2019.
And indeed, Tom Oliver’s magical skills of blending emerge.
Susanna writes: “Made through wild yeast fermentation, the final blend includes about 25% keeved Yarlington Mill, plus a splash of Foxwhelp for piquancy.”
During a blending masterclass at the Three Counties Cider and Perry Associations ‘Craft Con’ in April 2019, Tom Oliver explains that he always starts with the tannins and then seeks to blend in a balance of sharp and sweetness.
And that is the ‘Fine Cider’ balance he has achieved here, sweetness introduced with a little blending of sweet keeved Yarlington Mill and a balancing sharpness re-introduced with a touch of the Bittersharp apple Foxwhelp.
Susanna finishes her description with: “A whiff of smoke from the small barrel component. Off-dry and elegant, with ripe apple and orchard fruit sweetness.”
Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Co. - Yarlington Mill 2017, 6% ABV
Next up are the newly appointed winners of the BBC Food and Farming drinks award, Ross Cider. Their single variety Yarlington Mill was pressed in November 2017 and bottled after a long fermentation in October 2018.
This is also a recognisable Yarlington Mill cider with characteristically rich broad flavours. But there the comparison ends, there is a different approach at play here. This is all about the apple.
With richer amber colours, the aromas are also stronger, a rich fresh juice smell with more candied peel and hint of brandy.
The taste in initially crisp and fresh but with no sharpness. There is both depth and texture, there are recognisable sherbet notes but more of the deep mellow kind coming with a wild ferment tang. There is an emerging astringency and the finish is strong with a memory of mellow tannins surviving on the palate.
Unleashing the potential of the apple
There is a wonderful cider manifesto on the website of US cider maker ‘Eve’s Cidery’ which describes how:
“The cider making process should gently guide the fruit to cider, without leaving such a big handprint that the makers mark obscures the fruit characteristics.”
Tom Oliver does this by using the skilful techniques of a master blender and the risk taking of someone who has sought to continually learn by collaborating with other cider makers and brewers around the world. That is why he is the most progressive of all cider makers.
Ross on Wye bring something else to the table, a minimum intervention approach to allowing the apple to express its potential, reflecting both their integrity as cider makers and also their terroir, their orchards and their history.
Yarlington Mill – the story
There is only one person to return to for the full story, Liz Copas in the magnificent ‘New Pomona’.
In summary this genuine Somerset apple was originally found as a ‘gribble’ growing out of a wall by the waterwheel of the mill in the village of Yarlington in the late 19th century.
It was subsequently propagated at long Ashton by nurseryman Harry Masters and became very popular.
A ‘gribble’ is an apple tree that has germinated naturally from a pip in the countryside, in case you were wondering!
I will leave the last word with Ross Cider - from the origins of Yarlington Mill as a 'gribble' to the hope of new apple varieties in the future.
"What we have is promise and hope. These are new apple trees, grown from seeds, each one unique and unknown.
"Their tannin level, their susceptibility to disease, how vigorous their growth is, the colour of their fruit - everything about the apples these trees may grow to produce is an unknown.
"This is the first year of the project.
"It will take a long time. But it will give us something dear to aim for. And something sorely needed in today's climate - where across the US, English varieties are planted like mad, whilst our climate is ever changing and even on our farm we can't be sure our trees will welcome the rising temperatures and longer hours of sun...
"At Ross Cider we have only ever done what was natural to us. Trying to find one variety from a sea of randomness that has the qualities to be a good cider apple, grown and nurtured on our farm, is a goal that simply put, makes sense.
"Even if it is a bit mad."
Postscript – a cider drinkers Pomona No. 2
Yarlington Mill’s acidity measure is 0.22% and tannin 0.32%. This compares to the higher acidity 0.58% and lower tannin 0.19% of the next apple in our little cider drinkers Pomona – Kingston Black, the prince of the Bittersharps.
I started my proposed Cider Buzz Mcr ‘Pomona’ with a prequel about Flakey Bark, a very rare perry pear; and I intend to finish in weeks to come with the even rarer, single tree Coppy perry pear.