Friday, 14 November 2008

Yum Yum

Spent an enjoyable hour or two late this afternoon checking and topping up the tubs of slowly fermenting cider in t' Cider Shed.

The recent cold weather has certainly ensured a slow and steady fermentation in the metal shed; the tubs of cider were dripping with condensation and that is with an air temperature of around 12 celsius. Still, makes for a better, deeper flavour at the end - I hope...

Of course when checking that all is well, you have to have a sniff and a taste, so I entered armed with a large "wine thief" which I picked up in Ross-on-Wye during our visit for the Ross-on-Wye Cider Festival. A wine thief is a shaped glass tube, open at both ends, that you immerse into your wine or cider; as the liquid fills the empty space inside the tube, air is displaced out of the top. When you have enough liquid inside the thief, you put your finger or thumb over the top, so closing the open end and creating a vacuum. Then all you need to do is lift out your 'stolen' liquid and release the vacuum over a suitable glass.

After working my way through all 12 tubs, I can happily report that all is well. The earliest started cider, a blend of our windfalls, all our Tom Putts and a donated sack of John Downie crabs, is really quite dry already. The tannins from the crabs have given it a somewhat harsh bitterness, but then these are early days and this batch will be blended over the next four or five months as it matures, and approaches the time of the calls of the first cuckoos.

All of the tubs are working away quite happily without airlocks, but I am looking forward to the delivery of the bungs and airlocks arriving which I ordered from Brouwland in Belgium. It doesn't seem right to have anything fermenting without an airlock. Anyway, I miss the satisfying - soothing? - sound of a series of air-locks gently 'plopping' away.

Did you know each bubble from an airlock has resulted in an equal weight of alcohol being released into the cider?

Tomorrow we are off to the Hempsall Heritage Orchard to collect more windfalls for more cider. I must get my backside in gear and order more tubs...

Monday, 10 November 2008

725 litres and counting...

Cleared all of the remaining apples from our trees on Friday afternoon; we were surprised to find how much fruit was still clinging to the trees. We filled a number of 40 litre tubs with Royal Somersets (Sharp), Stoke Reds (Bittersharp), Yarlington Mill (Bittersweet) and Harry Master's Jersey (Bittersweet). I'm really pleased with the HMJ's - they are such beautiful apples and polish-up to a rich red lustre. In fact, I could get all prosaic and waffle on about how good looking some cider apples are when really ripe. I won't.

We mixed these with the unknown Bitters (definitely not Bittersweets) and unknown Sharps we collected from Dierdrie in Norfolk, and spent the rest of Saturday milling and pressing our time away. The weather was good, the November sunshine warm and welcoming. A great change from what we've experienced so far in our cider-making this year.

I must do some research to try to find out what the two varieties were that we brought back from Norfolk... Should have taken a photograph. Doh!

The juice was a rich red-brown in colour and slightly tart from the Sharps, but with an underlying dryness from the tannins in the Bitters and Bittersharps. I wish we had more to do a seperate blend, but we will have to blend it into the whole. So apart from these few bags of Norfolk-sourced apples, we are producing a cider which is going to be at least 90% pure Nottinghamshire-grown fruit - according to my calculator anyway (I always was crap at maths though!).

The end of the pressing on Saturday was rushed, as we were due to be picked up at 7 for a night out and meal with some of Gail's Ladies Hockey team - I was the token male. It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it...

We started off in the "Bread & Bitter" pub in Mapperley Top, owned and run by the guys from Castle Rock Brewery. Superb pub, great range of well-kept ales - but only one cider - Weston's "Stowford Press". So it was ales for me: Castle Rock "Harvest Pale", washed down with Thornbridge "Jaipur". Lovely. But I would have still preferred a good real cider or perry; I can get real ale anywhere! Well, almost...

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Today we've been mostly milling and pressing apples...

November dawns...
It was the turn of the trailer-load of mixed-apples from the Hempsall Heritage Orchard to be milled and pressed today. The apples are mainly mixed varieties of dessert apple, with some dual-purpose and a few culinary thrown in for good measure.

The aroma rising from the trailer was extraordinarily rich. We used some of the non-returnable builders sacks which held the materials we used for the base of the "Cider Shed" to hold the apples for the journey home. They are very useful bags, being strong, rot-proof and easily washable.

The apples were transferred to tubs to be taken to the bath for washing before milling. As all of the apples we collected were windfalls, they had quite a bit of mud on them so careful washing and in many cases scrubbing, was the order of the day. Worm casts in particular were a pain.

The apples looked great though, the few Norfolk Beefing being instantly recognisable; the colour of the skins looked just like aged beefsteak. I wished that I had not collected so many Russets though, as their rough skins really held onto the mud and soil.

The apples pressed really well; I know that some folks have had problems with the softer flesh of dessert fruit clogging the mesh of the press-cloths. Luckily we had no problems. Both presses handled the pulp really well and after two tandem pressings, we had another 18-odd gallons of juice to add to the total. So far this season we've produced about 115 gallons; small-fry sure, but great for us after such a late start.

The taste of the juice was something else...

Rich, full of honey notes, something like toffee... Toffee apple? The juice was also thick and syrupy. Acidity was quite high, with a Ph of less than 3.5, but we didn't expect anything else with the mix of apples we had.

Whatever, it tasted great - we just hope this rich fruity taste comes through in the cider!

The weather was lousy as usual, so Gail retired to mill the apples under the car-port for greater shelter, while I stayed inside the Cider Shed. As usual the morons were letting fireworks off most of the afternoon and they were also joined just after lunch by someone burning a whole load of garden waste - it was like a thick fog. Hope it doesn't affect the cider...

Friday, 31 October 2008

Busy, busy, busy!

The lasy couple of days of "Teacher's Rest" have been very hectic.

Thursday we journeyed north to the Hempsall Heritage Orchard to collect the windfalls from a good proportion of the 300 varieties of apple trees that form the orchard. John Hempsall has planted at least two of each variety, the aim being to preserve some of the old and not-so-old apple varieties that have fallen foul of the fickle demands of supermarket-buyers and the fashion-dictates of the buying public. We crawled around under the trees for around three hours in a biting northerly wind, with something that was part-sleet, part-rain stinging our faces and freezing our hands.

But it was worth it, to end up with a trailer-full of such a wide variety of apple types. All the trees are labelled, so we focused on finding dessert or dual-purpose varieties with copious windfalls at their feet. Some of the varieties date back to the 1600's; some are from Canada and America, some from France, many old and forgotten UK apples. I was pleased to find many types of russetts and in particular, a lovely little apple called "Golden Pippin". I am very curious to see what they will taste like in our cider. We are hoping to get enough fruit to produce an orchard-specific "Heritage" cider.

We travelled East to the land of the Iceni and the North Folk, and in particular, to the secret base of Whin Hill Cider. Our mission was to present Jim and Pete of Whin Hill with a CAMRA "Cider of the Festival" certificate for their "Brown's Apple" cider which was ever so popular during our 2008 Mansfield Beer & Cider Festival.

Jim and Pete kindly had a break from pressing their 2008 apples to pose for a photograph with Gail; they are two really nice guys who are passionate about cider, perry and real ale. They have been making some cracking ciders and perries over the past 14 years that Whin Hill Cider has been in existence - we first came across it in 1996 at the "Three Horseshoes" at Warham in North Norfolk (great pub!) and have been fans ever since.

After the presentation, Jim (on the left) had to return to manning the Voran belt-press, while Pete very kindly gave us a tour of the orchard, chaperoned by Fred, their chocolate-Labrador dog. Fred pointed out and barked at many a pheasant during the tour, while Pete explained their planting strategy and how they were grafting over a number of their trees to varieties that suit their style of ciders, and the local climate and soil conditions. They have planted a number of perry-pear trees and unlike some parts of the country, have had a good crop this year.

For more information on Whin Hill, check out their website:

After leaving Jim and Pete, we travelled further East to the little village of South Creake, where a lady we have known for some years had sent us a postcard asking if we would like her cider apples...? Dierdrie had planted a few apple trees and after talking to us some years ago, had decided to plant a couple of cider-apple trees, sourced from "Keepers Nursery" in Kent. One of the two trees was covered in medium-sized green apples, obviously of a "jersey" shape, which have a sweet, slightly sharp taste - quite good for eating. The other tree had very little fruit left on it, but bless her, Dierdrie had saved all the fruit and put it into boxes for us. These small, spherical apples have a red-flush on a green background and are rich in tannins - quite mouth-puckeringly dry. Unfortunately, Dierdrie had "mislaid" the names of the apples, so what they are is a mistery at the moment. Anyway, we filled five large sacks with apples and totally filled the boot - a good result.

From then on, it was pure hedonism as we headed on into Wells-next-the-Sea and went straight to French's fish & chip shop for the best fish & chips we know of!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Winter bites...?
The first really cold and frosty day brought a few challenges to our cider-making... The sun was up and a bright day was in store when Gail asked me what the fountain was that was spouting forth from the middle of the garden? Looking up, I saw a myriad of drops of water glistening in the new-born sun... Very pretty.

Bugger! I'd left the spray-head attached to the hoze and the frost had frozen the water inside the spray-head, which of course had expanded and cracked the body. Gail was dispatched to fetch a new one, while I set about washing and milling the load of apples left soaking overnight. Well, I would have done - but first I had to break through the ice which had formed around the apples. I had to grit my teeth to plunge my hands into the freezing water. Such are the joys of cider-making in the open air at the end of October. Undaunted, the Shark was set running and fed a mixture of dessert, dual-purpose and a couple of containers full of our own cider apples.
Upon Gail's return, she donned some suitable warm clothing and took over the milling while I prepared the presses. We now have the two presses running side-by-side: the Mark II Homemade Press and the Rockingham Forest cast-off Vigo Rack & Cloth Press. Gail can quickly fill enough 5-gallon tubs for a days pressing, so I can work inside the "Cider Shed" to keep the presses fed.

As 'Machine Mart' had one of their "VAT-Free" days recently, we decided to buy a few hand-tools for the proto-orchard and also invest in a larger capacity hydraulic jack to power the Mark II handmade press. Moving from a 6-tonne press to a 10-tonne press has certainly made the job physically easier, but as far as I can ascertain, has had very little impact on efficiency; it still runs at about 1 gallon of juice per cheese. To get this figure, I used the frame supplied with the Vigo press to make the cheeses, so giving a direct comparison between the two cider presses. Both produced just under 1 gallon of juice per cheese using the same pulp; in fact the Vigo only manages just over 5 gallons for 6 cheeses, while my "Mark II Homemade Press with 10-Tonne Hydraulic Power" produces a fraction under 4 gallons from four cheeses. So each "tandem pressing" results in about 9 gallons of juice. I need to make another rack or two so that I can increase the capacity of my homemade press.

One thing that is painfully clear though: having my homemade press mounted in a "workmate" certainly saves my back! A priority must be to make myself a custom base for the Vigo press to raise the press-bed to an ergonomically suitable and less painful height!
We've still got plenty of fruit left on our trees so are now going to visit some of the kind folks who contacted us ages ago about collecting their un-wanted apples so that we can blend them all together. We're still after a "Nottinghamshire Cider Taste" but are not really certain what that should be... What is for certain though, is that it will not be an imitation of a West Country cider.

This Yarlington Mill grown on an espalier still has about a third of it's fruit left on it. There are also lots of Royal Somersets, Stoke Reds, and a few Harry Master's Jerseys and Dabinetts still to pick.
Andy Dowson from Chesterfield CAMRA popped over in the afternoon to pick up a box of cider for the Chesterfield Market Festival which is taking place this weekend (31st Oct - 2nd November). This is the last of our 2007 cider, bar a box for The Arkwright Arms at Long Duckmanton (East Midlands CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year 2008). Now just one lone 30 litre container is all that remains of 2007's fruit - I think we'll drink that!

Sunday, 26 October 2008


Having a full-time day job as an evil destroyer of young minds (well that's what the kids think anyway...), means that term-time makes it a bit difficult to keep-up to date on here. Plus we have had a "Quality Assurance" inspection (like a three-week OFSTED) which in my view is not only a waste of time and resources, it also came at a very bad time of year for a cider-maker...

Still the apples will only wait for so long, so once we had cleared the crap we were able to start. Unfortunately, many of our existing and new contacts for apples had assumed we weren't bothered this year, so we have lost out on a lot of fruit. Fortunately, Liz still had plenty of apples left, so we headed up the A1 to load up; it's a pity that Bramleys don't make a particularly good cider, as Liz's plot is covered in them. Still, we got a good mix of dessert, dual-use and wildings, about half-a-tonne or so in total, filling our trailer. When we mixed them with our Tom Putts and windfalls, we ended up with 50-odd gallons of juice, but the Specific Gravity is quite low, as expected after the wet summer; we reckon we'll end with something around 5.5% - 6.0% ABV.

On Saturday 25th October, we popped down to "The Dumbles" to relieve Helena and Dean of their apples. The weather was grim - rain and gale-force winds - which were slamming into the slope of the hill where the apple trees stand. Gail was volunteered to climb the trees for a good shake-down and we quite quickly filled all our sacks and the car - with loads of apples still left on the trees. We may need to make a return visit! Surprisingly, the apples were only just ripening on the whole, much different to last year, but then so was the weather. We dropped off a 10 litre box of "Dumbles Special" cider for Helena and Dean as a thank you; hope they like it...

When the skies had cleared on the Sunday, we headed north to Hempsall's Heritage Orchard and spent a few hours wandering up and down the rows of apple trees marvelling at the variety of shapes, colours and sizes of the fruit. There are around 300 different apple varieties, covering a wide range of flavours and tastes; tasting is free and you can buy what you want for a cover-all price of £1.30 a Kilo. The place really is a revelation. We came across an apple labelled "Vicar of Beighton" which was large, pale-yellow in colour, sweet and had a distinct taste of aniseed - much to our surprise! However, according to my web searches, "Vicar of Beighton" is described as a cooker and the photos show it as a red apple with some russett. Confusing.

Today we hope to start milling and pressing the sacks of apples littering the driveway. Plus we have our own cider apples ankle-deep on the garden following the winds this week. There are still many Yarlington mills, Dabinetts, Harry Master's Jerseys, Stoke Reds and Royal Somersets still on the trees, but we'll probably pick and mill the lot this week to clear the garden.

We also want to try to get over to Norfolk at some point soon, having received a postcard from a friend informing us that their cider-apple trees are loaded with fruit and do we want the apples...? A long way for a load of apples but it will give us a chance to visit Whin Hill Cider in Wells-next-the-Sea and also pig-out on fish and chips from French's chippy on the quayside. Yum!

We also plan to lay a new deep-bed screed on the concrete floor in the Cider Shed, so that we can paint it to meet Environmental Health requirements. Then we can complete kitting the shed out, including purchasing some 120 litre containers for blending. We may also be getting some nearly-new IBC's to check over that have been used for food stuffs; they are used for one trip only to carry ingredients to Thornton's the chocolate people. Whether we take them will depend on what they've been used for of course. Chocolate-flavoured cider anyone?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Woah!!! So long ago!

Sheesh! Been so busy over the summer what with still fighting nettles, brambles and Japanese Knot-Weed on our 'proto-orchard'; attempted car-jacking and robbery at 75mph on the Autoroute in Spain(!!!); visiting Cidre and Calvados producers in France; buying a new caravan; and working very hard on the Cider and Perry Bar at Moorgreen Show, Watnall... And this weekend we are off down to Ross-on-Wye for the Cider and Perry Festival at Broome Farm! I'm afraid I've got loads to catch up on - but too busy to add stuff at present.

However, I am taking loads of photos of the proto-orchard's development, so will start to post these and describe the (long) process of trying to clear 5-odd years worth of neglected ground. Feels almost Neanderthal, like we are the first folks who decided to settle down from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and clear the primordial forest.... Slight exaggeration, but I hope you get the picture!

Friday, 11 July 2008

Derby Beer Festival: 9th July, 2008

We always look forward to the Derby Summer Beer Festival, having been going there together for over 12 years; it's become some kind of close-to-end-of-term ritual for me and for both of us a prelude to the start of our holidays in a couple of weeks time. We also visit the Derby Winter Festival too, to support a local CAMRA branch and of course to taste lots of (hopefully new and different) ciders and perries.

And that's one of the great things about real cider and perry - they are natural products which are always slightly different due to the weather, climate and growing season. Not like beers which are always brewed to fixed recipes and are (usually) utterly predictable and, to be honest, sometimes a bit boring. Nothing like a bit of natural variation in something to add that extra bit of interest...

We were really excited before the Derby Festival this year, as we had received an official invite and according to the letter of invitation, were to be treated as VIPs! We have had our cider on sale at a number of festivals, CAMRA and otherwise, but unlike the brewers and hangers-on (of which there are legion!), we have never been invited to the Producers Session and opening ceremonies. However, thanks to Andrew and Carl we finally got the green light to attend.

Getting to my mum's house at Sandiacre (where we were going to crash-out for the night) was a nightmare due to the almost total gridlock situations on the roads west of Nottingham. But we made it in one-piece, just in time to shed work-clothes and leg it down to the bus stop to catch the Rainbow 4 into Derby.

We hastened into the VIP entrance at the Assembly Rooms and after showing our VIP letter and passes to the nice lady and gentleman on the door, made our way into the Darwin Suite where we were promised a free commemorative glass, free real ale and a buffet. We attached our Hucknall Cider Co. identity badges to our shirts, collected our glasses and made our way to the "free ale" bar, but found only beers; this was no surprise to us, but hey! no problem as there were six or seven tubs of cider and perry on the 'real' bar, so off we trotted across the room to slake our thirsts. Unfortunately, when we asked for a glass of cider, we were told that they couldn't serve us due to not having a till nor any float. We explained that we were official "VIP" guests, flashed our ID badges and so could we just have a 'free' half to wet our whistles, as we didn't want to mix beer and cider. The answer was that we were at least the third folks to ask for cider, but he was very sorry that he couldn't serve us - we'd have to make do with beer!

We weren't even allowed to buy our own cider, sat on a shelf a metre or so away!!! How ironic is that?

Someone else (who will remain nameless) then intervened and was extremely rude and brusque in language and attitude towards us. We explained that we only wanted to buy a half of cider as we did not want to mix beer and cider, and that we thought arrangements would have been made for folks such as us, who had been invited as cider producers. We were then very curtly told: "What do you expect? This is a BEER festival!". So it was a case of take it or leave it, it seemed. So we decided to leave it.

Were we being treated this way because as local CAMRA members we were known and deemed therefore un-important compared to the local brewers? Or maybe it's because the chief protagonist who was so rude is a confirmed beer-drinker and cider-hater?
Whatever, we left the Darwin Suite and decided to go over to the Great Hall to buy a glass of cider and bring it back to the VIP reception. The couple on the door were surprised to see us leaving after a few minutes, so we explained that we wanted to go over to the Great Hall to get a glass of cider and return. The nice and friendly door folks said not to worry, go back upstairs and if you push the side of the partition which separates the Darwin Suite off, you'll be able to get to the Great Hall - please just shut the divider after you. Great, we thought...

Ha, not so fast or easy. As Gail tried to push open the partition, we were accosted by the person-who-will-remain-nameless plus another side-kick. Again, we were treated with absolutely no respect or politeness and sent packing, no matter what explanation we tried to give. By this time were very unhappy and wondering why we had bothered going to the "VIP Reception"; we would have received much better treatment if we had gone along as regular punters, as we have never had any problems whatsoever in the past at Derby. So we made our way (again) down the stairs to the entrance, much to the surprise of the still-very-nice lady and gent on the door. We explained the situation to them and so they told us how to get straight into the Great Hall without queuing.

We went into the Great Hall and were treated with respect and friendliness by the staff working the bar, and their welcome, plus seeing friendly faces (such as Julian), helped lift our gloom and spirits. I started off with a very dry Naish cider while Gail opted for a dry Parson's Choice; we prefer dry ciders and perries so that there is nothing masked or 'hidden' by sugar and sweeteners. As we had attended the APPLE AGM last year at Derby, we thought we might be able to go through the same meeting room to slip back into the Darwin Suite and resume enjoying the "delights" of the promised VIP reception... No one challenged us, simply saw that we were wearing our VIP producers badges and let us through and so it was that we entered what had now become a bit of a free-for-all...

It must be a hidden rule for many Homo Sapiens that if there is something being given away, any group of people can quickly de-generate into an "owt for nowt" feeding- or drinking-frenzy. Such was the case in the Darwin Suite where the hangers-on and beer-groupies were pushing, shoving and squabbling over the remaining beer left in the casks on the "guest's bar". We stood on the sidelines and watched with amusement, tinged with a little disgust, at the antics of some of the beer-groupies. We noticed how some CAMRA members wearing the official Derby Festival T-shirts were fawning round and ingratiating themselves with some of the brewers, and with a certain Peter Tulloch who was there to test the beers for Cask Marque accreditation. Oh, to have received a soupcon of such politeness!

Fortunately, there were also some great people in there too, such as Rhoda, Russ, Rob and Andrew, who made us feel welcome, and who had time for a chat with a pair of cider lepers.

And that sadly, is how we felt. Throughout, we were treated like lepers or second-class citizens just because we wanted a glass of cider, not the free beer available. Some people cannot get it into their heads that Gail and I actually LIKE beer - you have to like real ale in a cider desert such as the East Midlands! - but sometimes we choose to drink cider or perry only. We don't like to mix our drinks and have no interest in getting "hammered" or "wrecked" by doing so.

It is perhaps unfortunate that too many CAMRA members, particularly (and sadly) those who hold responsibilities, appear to be paying mere lip-service at most to the National campaigns that are part of CAMRA's desire to promote and protect the production of real cider and real perry within the UK. Can a Leopard change it's spots?

So here's the rub:
I would be horrified to think that any other genuine un-known-locally non-CAMRA Cider or Perry producer would be treated the way that we were. Without respect, politeness, nor any attempt to understand what we wanted (ie: to buy one glass of cider each!).

Back to pleasanter things: Cider and Perry
We decided to leave the Darwin Suite for good and not bother getting involved with the free-for-all bun fight which we now knew the VIP Presentation Buffet would degenerate into. Back in the Great Hall, I tackled the dry "Ostlers Scrumpy Blackcurrant" - which looked like normal cider, but had a distinct aroma of blackcurrant and a subtle taste of the same fruit: weird, but nice! Gail had a Hecks Glastonbury Port Wine, which pleasingly was much drier than when we've come across it before.

We had a chat with Chris Rodgers who had put the cider and perry list together, along with wife Sue. Chris is an interesting, animated guy, with a real passion for cider and perry - and like us he also likes beer! Chris was dismayed to hear about our experiences so far and apologised for being treated that way; he's going to try to ensure something similar does not occur again, perhaps by having special tokens for those who do not want to / can't drink the beer, but making it clear that they can ONLY be exchanged for cider / perry. As we said to Chris, two tokens each would have been ample for the duration of the VIP Presentation. We congratulated Chris on the cider / perry list; it was nice to see a balance of very dry through to sweet ciders and perries.

Carl stumbled past looking harrassed and busy, but had time for a quick chat on his way back. I wonder how Carl manages to fit all his CAMRA activities in and still find time to earn a living - and find time to eat! Kim landlord of The Old Poet's Corner, Ashover, stopped for a chat and asked if we had some cider for him? Unfortunately, we've sold out, but I've told him I'll put some on one side for next April / May. Kim also asked if I still do my cider talks and would I be prepared to do one at his new pub, The Poet & Castle at Codnor? Kim explained that cider sales have really taken off there and we agreed that was due to the fact that it is really obvious that they sell real cider / perry; it isn't hidden away and has to be asked for like many pubs - it is in-your-face. I told Kim I had recently given a cider talk to the Ladies' Monday Club at Heath (including the lady vicar, who sat on the front row!) so would be happy to do another one for him.

Now that the presentation stuff was over, we walked back to the Darwin Suite and again met up with the very friendly and helpful guy who was on the door downstairs; he remembered us and asked if we were sorted now? We thanked him for his help and efforts, and said we understood that all CAMRA festival workers are volunteers and that opening sessions can be stressful (not least for the invited ones!).

We then bumped into "The Usual Suspects" pictured with Gail: Rob, Russ and Andrew. They all looked like smart dudes in their shirts and ties. Mind you, we also got a lot of comments about our T-shirts!

Will we be going to Derby Festival again? Yes, but not as VIP's. Nor would I recommend any other cider / perry producer to go! It has left us with a bad taste in our mouths, shame as it is a great Festival. We were planning to go back today (Saturday) for a day-time session, but not this year... Think we'll pass...

Friday, 4 July 2008

Barrow Hill Rale Ale Festival

Barrow Hill Rale Ale Festival, May 17th 2008.

A highlight of the year if you like the smell of anthracite, oily-steam, soot and coal-smoke with your cider or ale. Barrow Hill is the home of a steam railway
locomotive preservation group, and comprises the workshops and engine shed, including a round table. Sorry to disillusion those with an imagination full of
chivalrous antics and hirsute men in clanky armour, but this round table is the sort that was used to turn around real trains - those that lived on a diet of coal and water, and spoke in a voice rich of huffs, puffs and clanks.
Eeh, when I were a lad...

We travelled by train from Hucknall to Nottingham on the Robin Hood Line and then caught the train to Chesterfield; here we were picked up by vintage buses which took you up the hill out of Chesterfield towards the cluster of houses north-east of the town which bear the same name as the roundhouse. Which came first...?

When you enter the shed, the first thing that greets you is the immense bulk and brooding power of "Blue Peter", along side which are arranged the rows of casks of ales. Those of you who remember Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton, will also remember seeing this wonderful loco being celebrated on the BBC TV programme "Blue Peter". However, we had come along for the cider and perry selection, which has always been good - and this year was no different. Young Chris Gascoyne had a big hand in this year's collection of goodies and we enjoyed working our way through them all (apart from the sickly-sweet of course!).

To make the cider last longer - and so slow down the rate at which I was getting through it - a straw was procured which was very useful. That is until a certain Andy tied a knot in it... Must remember to ask Julie to keep him on a shorter rein...

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Where did it all begin?

A brief historical perspective.
We are often asked how come we started making cider? Well, for me it seemed a natural progression... Throughout my life I’ve always been making or brewing something or other. I blame my science teacher back at Friesland County Secondary School (as it was then), in Sandiacre, Derbyshire, who was quite inspirational to me in that he made science seem real and exciting, not hung up on targets and statistics like education is today. As far as possible, he ensured everything we did was practical and fun, so when we started to study Biology – and in particular fermentation – it was natural to my teacher to start a Wine Making Club at lunchtimes and after-school. Naturally enough I joined up and was soon making apple wine; we were only Year 8’s (second years in old money...), about 12 years old; it didn’t matter though – I was bitten and hooked. We couldn’t drink the stuff of course, our parents had to come up to the school to collect our brews and chaperone us home clutching our concoctions tightly.

Within a year, I’d read up on winemaking using the excellent C. J. J. Berry books on Amateur Winemaking, assembled all the kit and was going at it hammer and tongs! My father got involved too and soon we were putting together all sorts of recipes and competing with each other. By the time I reached the age of seventeen, I was being invited to all the best parties – provided I brought along either my Carrot wine or my Apple wine... As I got older, I started brewing ales and lagers, and cider from kits, plus I settled on making red wines based on what I could scrounge or pick free from hedgerows – Elderberry and Damson being particular favourites. However, as I’ve always drank and enjoyed real cider, I had an itching to set myself up so as to be self-sufficient in cider by making it myself.

Cider making comes to Hucknall...
In the early 1990’s and now living in Hucknall, I found myself ignoring the beers at Festivals and instead focussing on the delights of the ciders and perries available. When Gail and I got together, I suddenly had access to loads of apples from her dad’s garden, so a first foray into real cider making became a reality. I searched books and the net for information on presses, and made my own Mark 1 press. The apples were cut up and milled using a small food-processor, then wrapped in net curtain to make the ‘cheese’ for pressing. That first year, we made about 5 gallons of ‘Sore Finger Cider’ – named after our very sore fingers from cutting up the piles of apples so that they’d fit into the small food-processor…

That first cider was ok, but was ‘thin’, lacked tannin and was on the acidic side; we only had access to eating and cooking apples. So a decision was made to plant as many true West Country cider apple varieties in our garden as we could fit – and to purchase a proper ‘scratter’ or apple-mill to save our sore fingers! We were by now also travelling around the country to various Cider and Perry Festivals, visiting real cider makers – and picking their brains.

We planted our first trees in the winter of 1999/2000 and made sure we had some ‘vintage’ bittersweet and bittersharp cider-apple varieties in our plans including Kingston Black, Stoke Red, Yarlington Mill and Dabinett. We decided to grow all our apples as organically as we can, we do not spray the apples and only use our own home-made compost. By training the trees along the boundaries in espalier fashion and carefully selecting rootstocks, we found we were able to squeeze in a good number of varieties; by 2005 we had over a dozen productive trees and had been able to include more cider varieties such as Tom Putt, Harry Masters Jersey and Royal Somerset. A John Downie crab-apple tree was also planted to aid pollination.

I had rebuilt the press to include 6 tonnes of hydraulic power and we had upgraded from a hand-powered scratter to an electric apple mill that I imported direct from Czechoslovakia.

A barrow-full of apples yields around 5 gallons of juice - providing that you can crush or ‘mill’ the apples finely enough. Our Czech stainless-steel ‘Fruit Shark’ does an excellent job of reducing the apples to a fine shredded pulp. As soon as the apple pulp is wrapped in the net-curtain material to make the ’cheese’ the juice begins to flow. Pressure is slowly increased until the pulp or pomace is squeezed dry and no more juice flows; the dry, spent pomace gets placed on the compost heap and is used to put goodness back into the soil and garden - or is given to Ian at work who uses it to feed his chickens.

Torkard Cider is born...
As soon as the cider bar managers at festivals learnt that we were making our own truly Nottinghamshire cider, we were asked if we’d supply some cider for their next festival. We always turned them down, but after joining Mansfield & Ashfield CAMRA in 2005, we thought we’d go the ‘whole hog’ and let our cider loose on an unsuspecting world... The official, legal side of things was quickly sorted and by late 2006 we were ready. We do not have an off-sales or farm-gate licence so can only provide our cider wholesale to licence-holders, so a festival is an ideal outlet for us. We have purchased a number of 10 and 20 litre Bag-in-Box containers to supply festivals and ensure the cider stays fresh and keeps well.

As we only use genuine 100% Hucknall, Nottinghamshire-grown apples in our cider, thinking of a name was not too difficult. Up until 1916, Hucknall was known as Hucknall-Torkard; the name Torkard is used by a number of businesses in the area and is synonymous with Hucknall. So Torkard Cider became the name of our first official blend.

Are we the only cider-makers in Nottinghamshire? We thought we were until some friendly folks from Newstead corrected us! More folks have expressed an interest since the Mansfield Festival - could a Hucknall Cider Co-Operative or Nottinghamshire Cider Makers Association one day exist? We are willing to share our knowledge and experience - and we are also looking for folks who have apples (or pears ) to spare...

Torkard Cider is made from 100% pure un-pasteurised apple juice with no additives, colouring agents, water, sugar or such like. It is a blend of West Country bittersharp and bittersweet cider apple varieties grown in our own garden. The only addition is a small amount of Sulphur Dioxide to kill off unwanted yeasts and spoilage organisms. Primary fermentation is by the natural yeasts found present on the skin of the fruit, followed by a later pitching of wine yeast to get the desirable ABV of 6.5% - 7.0% to ensure it will keep. It is allowed to clear naturally and so is unfiltered and un-fined; it may have a slight natural haze. It is pale gold in colour, with medium body and medium-to-light tannin.

Torkard 57 Cider is made from a blend of apples collected mainly from orchards, gardens and hedgerows around Nottinghamshire, plus a small amount of Somerset cider apples to give more body and tannin to the cider. Torkard 57 is also made from 100% pure un-pasteurised apple juice with no additions, but is fermented wholly using true cider yeasts. The russet apples shown here were collected from a tree found growing wild in a hedge bottom; their crisp and juicy nature were ideal for adding to our cider. We are always on the look-out for 'wildings' such as this which are to be found in the Nottinghamshire countryside.

Torkard 57 Cider is similar in style to Torkard Cider, but is more 'cidery' in taste due to the use of a true cider yeast throughout the fermentation rather than the later pitching of a wine yeast which we employed with Torkard. Kathy and John of The Arkwright Arms at Sutton-cum-Duckmanton, East Midlands Regional CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year 2008 have asked if they can feature our ciders on a more-or-less permanent basis and Torkard 57 has been on sale there since March of this year.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


After much wrangling and gnashing of teeth, I've finally gotten round to starting a blog about the everyday cider-exploits of a couple of (idiots?) people who have a desire to make real, full-juice craft cider in Nottinghamshire, predominantly from Nottinghamshire-grown fruit. The picture on the left is a bath-full of Nottinghamshire apples ready to be washed and inspected, taken in October 2007 on our 'estate' (ie. in our back garden).
The inspiration or should I say coercion for doing this, came from our good friend Mark of Rockingham Forest Cider fame. Bless him. Blogging is very new to me, so the start will probably be shaky, but hopefully I'll get the hang of it - eventually! Cheers!