Thursday, 29 April 2010

Fresh young thing...

2 Bees has landed

We were offered quite a few Jonagold apples last year and as these are dessert apples, I was not sure what to do with them. Jonagolds are an American-bred apple from the 1940's, produced by cross-pollinating Jonathan apples with Golden Delicious... hence the name. The fact that Golden Delicious apples were part of the Jonagold parenthood, did not endear them to me! However, after consulting with the good and  knowledgeable folks on The Cider Workshop the news came from some folks "across the pond" in the US of A that Jonagolds make a perfectly good cider. So the idea of fermenting them separately and seeing if they were suitable as a single-variety cider germinated.

After careful racking and blending of the various containers of Jonagold cider, I was very pleasantly surprised by the results and so we decided that it was worth the gamble in offering this cider as a Single Variety. Now we are not claiming that this is a "vintage" cider - but it is light, refreshing and crisp. Dessert apples are often higher in acidity than the traditional cider-apples like bittersweets such as Dabinett or Yarlington Mill, but the Jonagolds seem just fine: slightly sharp, but no more than many a West Country cider I have tasted. It is also much hazier than I am used to, with a fine pale burnt-orange colour; whether the haze and colour will last as it matures, I'm not sure. However, after years of making clear ciders without trying, we are quite amused to have produced a hazy one. Hopefully this will also please the die-hards who claim that it can't be a "proper" cider unless it is cloudy... Hmmm - I'll pass on that one! At present it is slightly sweet, sort of off-dry rather than dry, and has an ABV of about 8.4% - this is a reflection of the naturally high sugar-levels of Jonagold apples, as we do not add any sugars to our ciders, they are fermented from pure fresh-pressed apple juice. At the moment it looks as if "2 Bees" first public appearance will be at the 15th Newark CAMRA Beer Festival 28th-30th May, 2010 - a Nottinghamshire debut for a Nottinghamshire cider: very apt.

By the way, the name for this cider came before the cider... I wanted to name one of our ciders in celebration of the fact that Gail and I got married in 2009, and as we both now have the same surname beginning with "B" so calling it "Two B's" - or "2 Bees" - seemed natural. I've always had a fondness for Bumble Bees so the image for the label popped into my head almost instantaneously - with a little artistic licence of course.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

In praise of Sol (Part II: The Sequel)

Humph - everyone's a critic...

After spending the last 12 days or so exploring the cider-makers, real-ale brewers and watering holes of Norfolk, it is pleasing to be able to report that there are other cider-makers with vision out there who are also fans of solar panels...

Jim and Pete at Whin Hill Cider, Wells-next-the-Sea, are waiting for final planning approval for their array of Photovoltaic solar panels to be fitted onto the roof of one of their cider shed roofs: much better looking than sheets of corrugated iron... This will not only supply all their electrical power needs, but will also make them a tidy profit by selling the surplus electricity to the National Grid. Plus the fact that grants are available for installing Photovoltaic panels makes this a no-brainer for Jim and Pete.

I hope that a certain Middleton-based cider-maker will (*cough*) remember the six bottles of Whin Hill's best SV cider (3 Brown's and 3 Major)  that we have brought all the way back for him - at great personal sacrifice, may I add - when he next compiles his Top Ten Cider Blogs... Otherwise they may meet an "accident" before being delivered...

More on our travels later.

Friday, 2 April 2010

In praise of Khepri, Ra and Atum...

A few words about Solar Power - or in this instance, Solar Water Heating.

We've had a Photovoltaic solar panel for some years now to provide electrical power for the 12v systems on the caravan - its a large 50 watt panel, so produces loads of useful power and drives the numerous 12v systems in our van even on a cloudy day. The concept of "free" energy is a non-starter of course as manufacturing these systems and buying them are quite costly on many levels. However, the photovoltaic panel does give us the freedom to stay at many small caravan sites for long periods of time without having to worry about the battery going 'dead' and leaving us without light and water pumps. We are not keen on sites that have mains electric hook-ups because they tend to attract those with massive vans who spend 90% of their time sat in their vans in front of the telly... Why bother going away?

So with some real-world experience and a lot of background research, I was quite struck on the idea of using some form of solar power to heat or pre-heat the water for our home. I'd been to the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth in Powys, Wales in the early '90's and had been impressed with much of the stuff I saw - and I vividly remember seeing the amount of hot water they were getting by painting old steel flat-panel radiators matt-black, placing them in a sunny position, and pumping water through them... Hmmm.

The recent BBC TV series "It's Not Easy Being Green", with moustachioed Dick Strawbridge as the driving force, rekindled my interest, particularly with the advancements in solar technologies. I was captivated by the episode where they installed the solar water heaters at Newhouse Farm. I was also well impressed by the water-wheel providing electricity, but that's another story...

During our stint working the Cider & Perry Bar at the Moorgreen Show at Watnall in August '09, I had chance for a break and a wander round the site. During this amble, I came across a stall run by a local company who specialised in sustainable, renewable and solar heating applications, so I picked up a leaflet. Time to do some more research. Fortunately, the rear of our house faces SSW, so gets sunshine from about 9.00am until the sun sets, and the pitch of the roof is quite steep - ideal for a solar collector in these latitudes. The second photo here was taken at about 9.30am in late March. By December 2009, I felt informed enough to go for it, so started getting an idea of costs and quotes.
We decided on a local company called Solar-Heat UK, mainly due to Chris, the boss and technical wizard, being straightforward and open about the job and quote. No sucking in of air through teeth or loads of glossy brochures, nor did he turn up in a flash car and wearing a suit... With clipboard in hand, it only took him 10 minutes to survey the house, airing cupboard and loft. He said the job would be quite simple and it was, all done and dusted in two days. Apart from the solar collector array of evacuated tubes on the roof, the only other obvious signs of the conversion are a larger hot water storage tank and a few extra bits of pipe in the airing cupboard. There is a little bit more in the attic space with additional pumps, a pressure vessel and a small radiator to shed excess heat during hot sunny days.

As mentioned previously, the interesting bit for me is the animated information screen on the control panel; this shows the activity of the two pumps and the temperature displayed from the three sensors in the system: one at the solar collector, one at the top of the hot water storage tank, and one at the bottom of the tank. Over the past fortnight at the end of March 2010, with showers of rain and sleet, cold winds, the odd sunny spell and an ambient outside day-time temperature of 10C to 14C maximum, the hot water boiler hasn't even fired up for four days, the solar collector easily raising the water temperature at the bottom of the tank to 51C... And this is with the cold feed coming into the bottom of the tank at about 10C - 12C! Even on the grim and cloudy days of this early spring, the solar collector has managed to pre-heat the water at the bottom of the tank to between 25C - 30C, so reducing the amount of energy needed by the boiler to heat the water. So looking good so far. I'll be very interested to monitor the meter readings and energy bills though over the long term.    

So would I recommend solar water heating? Definitely, but with some provisos. Financially: If you have an electric shower and don't use the bath much, it will take many years to pay for itself. We have a gravity-fed shower from the hot water tank, so are already reaping the benefits. Some sources quote savings on heating water of only £50 per year; I think this is pessimistic - and is also based on recent fuel prices. If we do only save £50 per year, it could take us over 60 years to recoup our costs - strewth! However, as we currently pay over £700 a year for our energy (so little you cry?), I am convinced that the savings for us will be much more than this. Does anyone believe fuel prices (Gas / Electric) will fall though? From a long-term viewpoint, I think we have made the right choice from both an environmental and financial stance. Better still for those thinking about it, grants for renewable and sustainable energy resources - including solar hot water systems - come on-line in 2011. We decided not to wait...  

Oh and for those who didn't know, Khepri was the ancient Egyptian God of the rising or morning sun and Atum was the ancient Egyptian God of the evening or setting sun. Ra was of course the God of the noon-day sun.