From Speyside to Somerset - the surprising Scotch whisky link to Glastonbury

Glastonbury is the UK’s oldest and biggest music festival and it’s set to kick off in a few days time. Rosalind Erskine looks at an unexpected link to Speyside and finds out if cider is the region's whisky equivalent.

The rolling orchards and varieties of apple that make up cider are as part of the Somerset landscape as fields of barley and the pagoda roofs are to Speyside, Scotland’s largest whisky producing region. It’s not surprising that Glastonbury, the UK’s oldest and largest music and performing arts festival, serves up gallons of cider, given that many of the region’s producers are on the site’s doorstep. One company that’s been serving cider at the festival since it started over 50 years ago is the Somerset Cider Brandy company, known to many thanks to their cider bus, due to the bar being located in an old double decker bus close to the Pyramid Stage. What people might not realise is there’s a link to Speyside, right there in the tranquil Somerset greenland, due to a chance meeting which has brought two long-standing family businesses together for a delicious collaboration.

While launching their first experimental series about five years ago, William Grant & Sons master blender Brian Kinsman got chatting to a member of the team working on the project, who spoke about his family cider business in Somerset. Samples were sent and Brian said: “I was fascinated by the Somerset Pomona, the flavour was beautiful and the history of making it and the maturation in oak casks was intriguing. We brought up a few casks quite quickly after that and the experiments were started.” This family business was the Somerset Cider Brandy Company, which has been making cider in Somerset for over 300 years - while William Grant and Sons has been in business since 1887. Both are still run by family, and it was this, along with the quality of the product which appealed to Kinsman. He said: “Typically, we enjoy working with other family businesses as there tends to be a shared long-term vision. William Grant & Sons remains family owned to this day and the family are very involved in every part of the company. I was struck by the long term planning of the Orchards when I visited Burrow Hill Farm and it mirrors many aspects of the long term planning for our whisky.”

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Matilda Temperely of the Somerset Cider Brandy company Matilda Temperely of the Somerset Cider Brandy company
Matilda Temperely of the Somerset Cider Brandy company | Glenfiddich

Matilda Temperley, managing director of Somerset Cider Brandy Company explained the chance encounter between Brian and her brother Henry saying: “it came about through my brother, who's a filmmaker, and he worked with Brian Kinsman at Glenfiddich. He shared with him a taste of our Somerset Pomona and Brian really, really liked it, and he thought it'd be a really good match for the Glenfiddich. He came down and saw what we did, and it went from there. It was one chance encounter - they had some barrels, and then they came down and a few years later they launched Orchard Experiment.” Temperley calls the collaboration ‘unusual’ and ‘flattering’ and said of the whisky: “It’s quite weird as you can definitely taste our orchards in the whisky. We all enjoyed it and we probably enjoyed too much of it in the first year, to be honest.” 

While Kinsman visited Somerset, Temperley also visited Speyside ahead of the release and could really see how the whisky and Pomona casks would work so well together. She said: “when we first tasted it, it was quite unusual as it was so apple-y in the beginning. But then I went to Glenfiddich, and I was walking around their distillery and I could smell apples and pears. It was so strange for me, because I was thinking ‘why can I smell apples and pears everywhere?’ They explained about their ferments and distillery character, which is apples and pears, I hadn't realised previously. So after that, using our casks seemed like just a logical thing.” Kinsman echoes this, saying: “We initially got a handful of Somerset Pomona Casks sent up to Dufftown and I trialled new make Glenfiddich in them. The flavour was amazing and it really accentuates the core Glenfiddich fruity, apple and pear notes. After that I moved onto experimenting with a cask finish on Glenfiddich that had already aged in American oak. The finish adds a lovely layer of additional fruitiness and brings out the Glenfiddich DNA really well.”

Both businesses are happy with the collaboration and while Temperley has been approached by others for their casks, she’s sticking with Glenfiddich. She said: “We’ve been really happy just working with Glenfiddich, because we're still a small company. We've been asked lots of times subsequently, for barrels, but any spare barrels that we have go to Glenfiddich for the moment as they're just such a nice company to work with. We share the same ethos and and they've been incredibly kind and quite nurturing for us as a family business. To see that they're still going after however many generations as an international family business, it’s great.”

The Glenfiddich Orchard Experiment is a fruity dram ideal in a summer cocktailThe Glenfiddich Orchard Experiment is a fruity dram ideal in a summer cocktail
The Glenfiddich Orchard Experiment is a fruity dram ideal in a summer cocktail | Glenfiddich

As for cider and cider brandy being Somerset's whisky, Temperely explained the importance of the product, and the orchards to the area. She said: “Cider is one of our very important heritages in this area  - Kingsbury Episcopi - which is one of the most famous villages for cider in the UK. Everything we do is for our orchards. We grow traditional orchards, and we are really committed to the traditional orchard. I think we probably grow around four or five percent of the UK's traditional cider orchards, where we make way less cider (than those not using traditional orchards). Lots of people have been ripping up these orchards. I think we've lost 81 percent of traditional orchards since the 50s. So we're holding tight to it, because it is such an important thing for the ecology of the area, for the environment and for the social aspects as well.”

As we head out of whisky festival season and into music festival summer, there’s something magic in knowing that the spirit maturing in the fields surrounding Glastonbury will one day make their way north to Speyside, ready for their next adventure.



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