Friday, 14 November 2008
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
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
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 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.
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
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: http://www.whinhillcider.co.uk/index.html
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
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.
Sunday, 26 October 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 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.