Friday, 29 February 2008

Leap-Year Day Conundrum

This morning the BBC Radio Leicester 'Thought for the Day' featured some chap babbling on about today's 'Free' leap-year day, as if his listeners were all twiddling their thumbs trying to think of ways to fill it. I decided to use this 'free' day to indulge my passion for paid work, in much the same way I do on all the other weekdays of the year... Getting that excitement out of the way, I could now turn my attention to something that's been puzzling me of late.

The village of Barrowden is a short drive down the Welland Valley from us in Middleton, and home to a rather nice pub called the Exeter Arms, which is in turn home to the Barrowden micro-brewery. The village is pleasant, rural, and full of the sort of ironstone buildings which are common to this part of the Welland Valley. In the centre of the village is a lovely old orchard, reasonably well maintained, and of a size not often seen hereabouts. Well worth a return visit in the Spring when they should be laden with blossom.

So far, so ordinary, but on the edge of the village is something altogether more intriguing, at least to me it is anyway. Why would a relatively new road, in a rural Rutland village be called 'Cider Close' I wonder?

The word cider crops up in road names all over the traditional cidermaking areas, most often as a memorial to a long gone cider mill, or the site of a grubbed-up cider orchard. So what does Cider Close in Barrowden commemorate? Is it another tiny clue to a cidermaking tradition in this area, or was it simply that the developer was fond of a pint or two of cider, and had a slightly odd sense of humour?

My investigations continue, but if anyone reading this knows more, perhaps they could help me solve this mystery. I'd like to crack this one before the next Leap-Year Day comes around.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Criterion Freehouse - Leics Pub of the Year 2008

Congratulations to Russell and the team at the Criterion Freehouse in Leicester, which has just been voted Leicester CAMRA's Pub of the Year for the second year running.

We like the Criterion, and not just because it's the best selling outlet for our own Rockingham Forest Cider. The Criterion has an enviable reputation for the wide range of quality draught and bottled beers it offers, and Russell has always had a firm commitment to traditional ciders and perrys. The cider range varies throughout the year, with Westons being the most commonly available, but this is often supplemented by a cider or perry from one of the smaller craft cider producers. The Criterion also plays host to an excellent Cider & Cheese Festival in the summer. The picture above shows Karen and myself enjoying a drink and a natter at the 2005 festival with Birmingham CAMRA member Tania McMillan, and Lincolnshire cider legend 'Snoozy' Freeth.

The Criterion is currently the exclusive Leicester outlet for our own Rockingham Forest Cider, and probably Leicester's premier cider and perry pub. We look forward to supplying our cider to the Criterion very soon, and are keen for the opportunity to congratulate Russell on his success in person.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Leicester Beer Festival 2008

I thought I'd put in a short plug for the forthcoming Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival, which runs from the afternoon of Wednesday 12th March until the beer and cider run out on Saturday 15th. More details including times, directions to the venue, and shortly, a full list of the beers, ciders and perrys which will be available, can be found on the Beer Festival Website.

We won't actually be supplying any cider for this year's festival, which falls a little too early in the year for our ciders to be at their best, but we will have a hand in sourcing the 30 or so ciders and perrys which will be available at the cider bar. The bulk of the order will be supplied by AleExpress, the Northampton based wholesaler which also runs the 'Mad Apples Cider Bar'. We will be supplying a few perrys and bottle-conditioned ciders from our friend Mike Johnson of Ross-on-Wye Cider & Perry Co, plus Leicestershire Wines from Chevelswarde Organics and the Welland Valley Vineyard, and apple juice from Stamford Juice Co. Unfortunately I won't be working on the cider bar this year, and this will be the last time I have any involvment in the festival, but I certainly aim to attend at least once for a pint and a chat.

Monday, 18 February 2008

The Role of the Chicken Baster in Cidermaking

Things have gone very quiet in the ciderhouse. Fermentation has finished in all but a couple of vats, and it's now just a waiting game until the cider is ready to drink/sell. At this stage, during the really cold Winter days, I like to remove the airlocks and replace them with something more solid. This gives me the ideal opportunity to see how things have developed since the racking off in January.

A Chicken Baster is the ideal tool for this task. A suck and a squirt into a waiting sample glass is all it takes, before the fermenter is screwed down and sealed. I sampled from half the fermenters, and was very pleased to find that the ciders range from good to very nearly excellent, even at this early stage. The Welland Valley Cider, which was the earliest cider we pressed, is ridiculously 'Appley' and probably ready to drink now, which is a shame as this is destined for the Welland Valley Beer Festival in June. The other fermenters are still a little young, and will certainly improve over the next few weeks, but even these are clear, fruity, and eminently drinkable. Fermentation was a little quicker this season, and the ciders seem to be more advanced than previous years, so we may be able to start supplying our cider to our regular outlets a little sooner than we thought. Keep an eye on this Blog for news.

Monday, 4 February 2008

New Press

Rockingham Forest Cider is at last moving into the 20th Century! This weekend we braved the snow and ice, and took a van down to Worcestershire to collect our new (second-hand) Voran hydraulic press. Bigger, better, and considerably heavier than the screw press we sold-on last weekend, which meant calling on the assistance of a pair of family strong-men to ease its journey home.

We’ve been on the lookout for a bigger press for some time, and I’ve had my eye on a couple of antique twin-screw presses which I spotted were for sale in deepest Somerset. Our Summer project was to negotiate a reasonable price on one of these old and therefore expensive curios, construct a modest lean-to shelter for it in the garden, and upscale from the hard graft of pressing 5 gallons of cider a time, to the hard graft of pressing 30 gallons or more with each pressing. I was quite looking forward to having one of these original old cider presses about the place, the hope being that the lesser the number of times we have to build and dismantle a new ‘cheese’ of apple pulp, the more we’ll get pressed in a day. The other option for up scaling is to go hydraulic, an even more expensive option if you’re forced to buy new, and not really a serious option for us.

In the relatively small world of cidermaking, it’s worth keeping at least one ear permanently to the ground, figuratively speaking. Cidermakers from the traditional heartlands of the West Country etc. will occasionally call it a day, and rarely is there any interest from family members in continuing the tradition since there’s so little money in it for the effort involved. That’s where enthusiastic amateurs (idiots?) like us come into play, and it came to my attention that just such a West Midlands cidermaking enterprise had pressed it’s last a couple of years ago. The owner was happy to sell-on the press for a reasonable price to someone who would hopefully put it to good use, and so a deal was struck and the delicate business of transporting a third of a ton of steel-on-wheels up the M6 was undertaken on a bright and freezing Saturday morning.

Hamming it up during the offload at Middleton are the ‘Auld Fella’ Ron, and the ‘Auld Bruvver’ Nigel who both put in a sterling effort of brains and brawn, which is sadly more than can be said for the second-half performance of the England rugby union team. Ho-hum!