Saturday 19 February 2011

Catching up - Again!

Where did the time go...?

Well here we are in 2011 and I see that the last time I scribbled anything on here was back in November 2010...

So what's happened since? Well, snow and lots of it, of course, which caused us major problems of frozen fruit, burst pipes on the water-feed to the cider-shed and worst of all, a shattered valve and tap on our water-heater in the washing and cleaning area of the cider-shed. The latter took a lot of time and expense to repair and replace, and stopped us dead. All is fixed now so we are up and running again.

We let some of our cider out to two festivals in February this year - way too early of course, but folks want it, so... The first was one box we sent out to the Chesterfield Beer Festival where it seems to have had a hit-and-miss reception - as we expected to be honest, with it being so young. However, over the weekend of the 11th - 12th February, we agreed to sort out some cider for the Hucknall Beer Festival & Farmer's Market, the first after an absence of seven years.

Rather then get the usual rubbish of national "ciders" often seen at small festivals, I wanted to match the beers, virtually all LocAle to Hucknall, that were being sorted by the good folk at Nottingham CAMRA. So I thought I'd see if the local folk were up for some Local and East Midland's cider and perry...? 

The East Midlands Ciders on sale at the Hucknall Beer Festival.

My first call was to Mark and Karen at Rockingham Forest Cider to see if they had anything I could beg...? I was offered a 2009 cider made with Worcestershire-grown cider apples and a 2009 single-variety 'Malvern Hills' perry. Perfect! To this I added a box of our popular "Floppy Tabs" cider made from a blend of Nottinghamshire-grown dessert apples and a box of our "Sheep Wash" cider which is also made with Nott's grown apples, with a good dash of tannic crab-apples thrown in.   

We opened at 11am on Friday 11th and by 7pm all of the Torkard cider was gone, quickly followed by the Rockingham Forest cider. The perry held out until closing time due to the mouth-drying tannic after-taste which we thought was great but was perhaps a little too stringent for the locals. So I had to get up early the next day and fill another 3 x 20L boxes of cider: two "Floppy Tabs" and another "Sheep Wash". These too were emptied very quickly and all had gone by 8pm on the saturday. I think that is known as a Sell Out.

We were very pleased by all of the great comments and positive feedback about the ciders - even the vicar liked our "Floppy Tabs" - and we hope to be involved in the planning and running of the 2012 Hucknall Beer Festival. Oh the beers? Well they all sold out as well - by about 9pm!  

Friday 19 November 2010

Ownership of stuff on-line

Fess up those who abuse copyright...

I'm not very happy at the moment to find that a certain James Russell, blog writer and 'author' of 'The Naked Guide to Cider' is using one of my photos both on his blog and (apparently - because I haven't read it) in his book. Now I'm an open minded and dare I say, helpful chap, giving up lots of time to help folks learn about and become confident in making their own cider - and for all the hours I help people I don't charge a penny. Most of what I do is of course on groups such as The Cider Workshop (the real one; not the sub-standard clones generated by ukcider's empire-building activities) and in particular as an Admin member of the Cider Workshop Google-group . I am also helping a number of folks local to me here in Nottinghamshire and across the border into Derbyshire with help vie email or at the end of a phone.

I was surfing those blogs with stuff about cider when I spotted a link to an article about my good friend and fellow cider-maker Rose Grant, when I stumbled across one of the photos that I took in 2006 during a visit to Rose's wonderful Dorset cider-making emporium (shown left). The photo showed no acknowledgement of the photographer. After contacting Rose, I am told that the same photo appears in James Russell's book for which I assume he is getting money. Again, it would appear that the photo has been used without checking whether he has the right to use it from the owner of said image (me) who I would assume still owns intellectual and moral rights to the image...   

I don't blame Rose, she just passed over some images; as she says, she doesn't take photos of herself. Rose asked if she could use the image on her own blog and of course, I had no objections. But I am not happy that the person who now uses these images for profit did not check fully that he had the right to do so. Let's make it clear as well that I don't want any money out of Mr Russell's pocket; judging by all of the mass email onslaught and on-line 'presence' being generated to publicise his book, he should be making a pretty dollar out of it? However, if I started copying stuff out his blog, book(s) or whatever and started making money from it, I'm quite sure he wouldn't be very happy.

I have tried to contact Mr. Russell via his blog and via a direct Twitter message to ask him about why he is using my image without my permission or acknowledgement, but he hasn't responded. Maybe he's out of the country...?

If anyone spots him at one of the events to publicise his book that he pushes via Twitter and Facebook, maybe you could let him know that I am trying to contact him? Or perhaps ask him on my behalf whether he is certain that he has the right to use all of the content in his book with the permission of the copyright owners?

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Out and About with the Beeb

The good folks at BBC Radio Nottingham have been very supportive of our efforts to produce true, real Nottinghamshire ciders. They have also cottoned on to the fact that as Nottinghamshire's only commercial producers of real cider, we are a bit unique. OK I know we are a very small producer but size isn't everything (cough!).

Following a recent visit to the BBC Radio Nottingham studios to chat with Andy Whittaker (who is a very nice man) and taste our cider - at 8.20 in the morning I might add - a quick appeal for apples and pears has resulted in the good folk of Nottinghamshire answering the call to arms. We have been very pleased by the response of folks who have fruit to spare that would otherwise be going to waste, composted or left to rot. We don't want to take the best fruit, as for cider it doesn't really matter what it looks like or if it is a bit bruised. Lots of people have phoned us or emailed us to let us know what they have going spare; some folks like Mr. Chappel in Hucknall, just turned up at our base with the car loaded with ready-picked and boxed-up apples. How kind and cool is that?

However, we would just like to point out that we can only collect so much fruit per day - and Nottinghamshire is a big county - so if we haven't got back to you straight away, don't panic. Many varieties of apple are still not fully ripened sufficiently for cider-making (they need to be starting to soften) so always remember that just because they are falling from the tree does not mean they are fully ripe. Thankfully we didn't need to turn many folks down as nearly everyone heeded our plea that Bramley's are not too much use to us for cider - they contain too much acidity for cider unless left to ripen for some months.

So yesterday I wound my way around Nottingham's ring-road (joy of joys) to the little town of Ruddington, just south of the city. Here I met up with Verity Cowley, radio journalist for BBC Radio Nottingham and Dan Sinclair who is a 'back-room boy' if you like, at BBC Nottingham  - whizz-kid with a camera and website production. We went first to Kathy and Ken's house who had phoned me offering Worcester Pearmains from their trees. I also spotted a pear tree in their garden and Ken kindly offered to let me have any spare Winter Nelis (the pear variety) for use in making a Nottinghamshire perry. An offer not to be refused! Verity followed the activities with microphone-in-hand getting sound bites and noises-off, while Dan snapped away from multitudinous angles and distances.

We then went across town to visit John and Jean, who had phoned me that very morning saying they had a couple of trees if I was interested...? John's garden was very large and impressive with neat lawns, productful vegetable plots and greenhouses, and some lovely big old apple trees: Beauty of Bath, Newton Wonder and some unknown apple that was very crisp and sweet, and reminded me of a Cox of some sort. John did point out a very large Bramley tree, but quickly added; "I know you are not interested in Bramley's..." The Beauty of Bath were a lovely deep red, very juicey and when cut open, showed red and pink tinged hues through the flesh. John thought they were too soft, but with a quick press of the pad of my thumb, the juice flowed - perfect state of ripeness for cider-making.

Once again Verity and Dan started recording sound and images while I spread out the tarpaulins under the tree and started to shake the apples down from the branches. John joined in and soon the apples were raining down and slapping onto the tarpaulins. Sack after sack were filled and the trailer was soon full of sweet-smelling apples. Time was against us so I am going back to John's to collect more of the Cox-like apples, perhaps in a couple of weeks when they will be riper.

The fruit of Dan's labours can be seen here on the BBC Nottingham website - just try to ignore the fat bloke with the glasses on... Verity's interviews and sound-bites will be broadcast on the morning of 30th September on BBC Radio Nottingham, between 8.00 and 9.00 am.

Great day, great fun. It is good meeting up with the friendly folk of Nottinghamshire.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Tempus fugit - ad nauseum!!!

Sunset from Croft Ambrey on summer-solstice 2010
 There just aren't enough hours in the day at the moment... What a busy summer - where did it go? One minute we were watching the sun set on Summer Solstice day from the summit of Croft Ambrey Iron-age hill fort north of Leominster in the company of the Marches Cyder Circle, the next... Well - being inundated with offers of apples and pears of all sorts from the good folks of Nottinghamshire, after listening to our little interview, tasting and appeal for excess fruit on BBC Radio Nottingham. Mind you, drinking our 8.4% ABV cider at 8.20am is not the sort of thing I'd recommend you do on a daily basis...

The work on the plot continues - sadly I have not been able to reach the big pear tree in time so I fear the pears - whatever they are - will be lost for this year. We have had bumper crops of Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Gages, Damsons, Plums - and of course apples. We threw lots of these into jams and crumbles and pies. The battle with the brambles shows little sign of success but we have shifted a great deal and are making headway. We need to clear the rest soon to get the heeled-in trees into the ground. Yarly was sort of helpful, but wasn't too keen on the bramble thorns having-a-go at her pads. 

Yarly posing in front of a wall of brambles
The cider shed is now filled with lovely smells and delightful 'plopping' sounds as the first ciders of 2010 get underway on their fermenting-journey into 2011. Gravities are still low-ish compared to last year, being around SG 1046 - SG 1050 (6.0% - 6.5% ABV). We hope to have a little cider ready by the early part of 2011 to supply a festival or two. However, we do want to keep the sales limited this year until we are sure it is at it's best. But the phone keeps ringing, the emails still keep coming in and people still want it for their pubs and festivals, even though we sold out in early August. We are hoping to take delivery of some 1,000 litre IBC's soon so that we can try to satisfy demand with our planned increase in production.

The last of the pre-ordered 2010 ciders will go out of the door in a couple of weeks for the 2010 Nottingham CAMRA Robin Hood Beer & Cider Festival (14th - 17th October).

Morgan Sweet
The first fruits have ripened well on our new 'orchard plot' - the lovely big and juicy Morgan Sweets have already been processed and the bright red Tremlett's Bitters will join them soon. A few Yarlington Mill's and Harry Master's Jersey's will need a few more weeks to ripen I think.
Tremletts Bitter


Thursday 20 May 2010

Figgy Pudding...

Maybe one year......?

A wander around the Torkard Estates revealed that the Fig tree that we planted in 2009 has survived the winter cold and the wet. This was a great surprise being that we bought this sad little specimen from the local Wilkinson's hardware store when they were selling them off; it had been left on the shelf, un-watered and was in a very bad way. For a few pence though, I thought it worth a go and so it was taken home and planted where we used to have a large Madeleine Angevine grape vine growing up the wall of the house. Lots of TLC and plenty of grit have meant that it has struggled through and now has lots of bright green fresh growth. I love figs and when we travel around Spain, I am always amazed by the number of wild fig trees growing at the side of the country roads. I have no idea whether it will ever bear fruit, but it is in a sheltered sun-trap so we will see. 

 After journeying to one of the further-flung Torkard Estates, I was very pleased to find that the blossom had opened on some of our Tremlett's Bitter cider-apple trees. This is the second season that these trees have been in the ground, so I am going to let the blossom stay on the trees with the hope of getting a couple of these full bittersweet apples. I will have to thin them though if too many apples set - these babies really need more time to develop strong roots and some form of structure before I can let them (hopefully!) go mad and bear lots of fruit. Yarly (our young dog in the background) can't understand why I spend so much time fiddling with the trees instead of playing with her... 

Yarly was very inquisitive and provided good company when I went exploring around the third side of our plot... We have cleared one side and spent some time repairing, training and replanting the original Hawthorn hedge; we have also had to remove a great deal of Elder, which although provides flowers and fruit great for wine, is a pain in the way it stunts and slows the growth of Hawthorn by the amount of shade it casts. The second boundary has been partly cleared of the tangle of briars and other growths - the old Hawthorn hedge had previously been mostly hacked down apart from a couple of stumps - but there are a number of plum-type trees growing further along the boundary which I suspect are either Sloe or Damson, though I've not seen much evidence of typical blossom.

The above photo was taken after we'd eventually reached the far opposite corner of the plot from the entrance. It took a good few hours to hack and chainsaw my way through the undergrowth to reach this corner, where I uncovered a pear tree of unknown origin - it had been so well hidden by the overgrown hedges and ivy that I never knew it was there! Looking at the photo, the amount of work still to be done to clear the rest of the plot before the autumn is daunting, but it will be fun (I hope). Fingers crossed that I do not find any more Japanese Knotweed...  

I also have a bag of onion sets that I need to get into the ground... plus a load of Garlic sets that I have nurtured from our own garden. Better start digging.  

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.