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.

1 comment:

Matthew Wastell said...

Oh my goodness Ray, starting at the beginngni of your blog and reading your story, I appear to have followed down the same path as you pretty much! I'm not quite hoping to get to your scales, hwoever some free cider festivals at our house will be on the cards.

I've been longing to buy a nice scratter, rather than my pulp master (which gives surprisingly good results and can knock out enough to produce 6 gallons in about 30 mins), however I've big plans for a new DIY one using a (new) waste disposal macerator unit!

I think you'll be inspiring me to write my own blog next!

Thanks for such a great read.

Matthew in Hampshire.