Saturday, 15 November 2008

Tasting, Topping-up, and Blending

The steady glop of fermentation has eased-off a little in the ciderhouse, and it's time for a spot of topping up. Vigorous fermentation should produce enough CO2 to purge the cider of harmful levels of oxygen, and being heavier than air should form a protective 'blanket' of gas over the surface of the cider. The most common faults in traditional cider, oxidisation and vinegar taint, can only occur when the cider is exposed to oxygen, so it's when fermentation slows right down and less CO2 is being produced that it's essential the ciders are under airlock and topped right up to exclude air.

I decided to use this as an opportunity for a spot of tasting and blending, which in turn led to the first racking-off session of the season. I don't usually rack the ciders off the old yeast deposit (lees) until the new year, but the early dessert apple cider we made in September has just about finished fermenting and most of the sediment has now settled out, so I was keen to assess the different batches ready for blending.

Whilst pressing the eight different varieties of dessert apple which went into this cider, we tried to blend the fruit as we went. We were aiming for consistency across the separate fermenters, but the specific gravities, which ranged from a fairly feeble 1044 up to a more respectable 1051, gave a good indication of our lack of success in this respect. Interestingly the flavour reflected this quite accurately too, the higher gravity ciders were much fuller flavoured, and also a fair bit sharper than those with a lower gravity which tended more to a lighter fruitiness. It seemed sensible to blend these to give an average gravity of 1047-48, equivalent to an alcohol level of around 6.4% if fermented out to a dry cider.

I'm pleased to report that the perry, which was also topped up, has a very good, healthy aroma. So far, so good, the incantations appear to be working.

The picture has of course got nothing to do with the topping-up and blending, but gives a good indication of the current state of the village orchard. These fallen Bramleys made for a nice picture, though sadly they're too bruised to store well, and far too acidic for cidermaking, so the orchard floor is where they'll stay.

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