Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Rockingham Forest Zoider

We opened the last bottle of the 2006 vintage cider this evening. This is the third time I've opened the last of this vintage, every time I think it's the last bottle, another one appears from somewhere. This is definitely the last one, and quite a interesting bottle it's turned out to be.

In making our cider we aim for a few basic criteria. The blend of apples is designed to give an approachable, fruity, and smooth cider. Not too tannic and full flavoured as to be heavy going, yet not too sharp either. We're not in the business of making ciders which only appeal to the connoisseur, so it was quite a surprise to find this (absolutely, definitely) final bottle was just that, a heavyweight, gob-filling spicy Somerset style cider.

So what had happened? Why was this cider of an altogether different style to everything else we made last year? I think the answer is probably the thing we try hardest to eliminate at all points in the cidermaking process, 'air'. The thing which has changed the taste of this cider so markedly is the presence of a tiny amount of acetic acid, cider vinegar to the layman. Cider vinegar is usually not welcome in our cider at any level, and it's production can be limited, or prevented completely by the careful exclusion air. The bacteria which metabolise the alcohol in cider to acetic acid can only thrive in the presence of oxygen, so making sure everything is well topped-up, under airlock, or sealed, should prevent a cider from turning vinegary. In over a decade of cidermaking I have never had a problem with acetic acid in my ciders, until this evening that is.

Having said that, as with many of the common flavour defects in cider, acetic acid at very low levels can introduce a desirable added complexity, especially if your aiming to produce a cider with a chunky, west-country twang. The difficulty is controlling how far this process goes, and that's why I have a zero tolerance policy to acetic acid in our ciders.

The cider we sampled this evening was certainly not unpleasant, and was similar in taste to quite a few west-country farmhouse ciders I've tried. The acidity was higher, but the level of acetic acid was at just the right level to give the 'twang', but without an overt vinegary flavour. Interesting, and quite pleasant actually, but I'm pleased to say that this is certainly not part of the 2007 vintage flavour profile.

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