Monday, 29 June 2009

July - 'National Cider Festival Month'

It's official (1), July has been designated National Cider Festival Month. Yay!

I say 'National', to be fare we're talking mostly about the East Midlands..... Leicesterhire and Northamptonshire to be exact. Nevertheless, the hot and humid month of July is literally awash with cider festivals, which is jolly good news for those of us who like cider..... obviously!

The inaugural National Cider Festival Month (which is official (1) remember) kicks off with a Pork & Cider Festival (3rd - 5th) at the Victoria Inn in Northampton. 22 ciders are promised, along with 20 different varieties of sausage and other porky delights. Mmm! Pork, Cider, the classic combination. Killjoys can eat vegetarian fare and drink beer if they so choose.

There are no cider festivals that we know of the following weekend, but if you're getting withdrawal there's the Derby CAMRA Beer Festival (8th - 12th) to help plug the gap. A '...big range of ciders...' is promised, and I'm reasonably confident there will be some perry too.

Things take a turn for the better the following weekend, when the excellent Criterion Freehouse teams up with the equally fine Swan & Rushes to host a Cider & Cheese Festival (16th - 19th). Mmm! Cider, Cheese, a classic combination... you get the idea! We'll be sending two ciders to the Criterion for this well-established festival.

The final fling of the month is a new event at the award-winning Cow & Plough in Oadby, Leics. Over 30 ciders are promised here, with live bands, a BBQ, and free camping helping to make a weekend of it. We will also be sending a couple of ciders to this event.

So there you have it, cider festivals are King, and July will be the month when cider takes it's rightful place on the 'throne of delicious drinking'... OK, that'll do for now.

(1) - An official Rockingham Forest Cider promotion!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Chorizo a la Rockingham Forest Sidra

I often seek culinary inspiration at our local farm shop, Ashley Herb Farm. The latest eye-catching produce to appear in the chiller cabinet is a spicy Ashley Chorizo Sausage, combining locally reared pork and that most Spanish of spices, Paprika. This is a fresh sausage for cooking, a cured version is also promised later in the year.

Well I don't know about you, but when I've got a spicy sausage in my hand, my thoughts turn to balmy Spanish evenings, cruising for tapas. In the blink of an eye we had Patas Bravas; finely shredded dark Green Cabbage stir fried with Garlic, Chestnuts and a squeeze of Orange juice (Karen's speciality of the house); and of course Chorizo a la Sidra.

The recipe for the Chorizo tapa is hardly a recipe at all. Just fry slices of the sausage until browned a little, add a good slosh of Dry Cider, and the leaves stripped from a few sprigs of Thyme. Cook until the cider has reduced by around half and serve immediately. Eat slowly. You might like to put on a Flamenco record at this point.

Carnival of Ales & Ciders

We had a very good day out on Saturday at what will hopefully become Oundle's annual Carnival day. The procession was well supported by both floats and spectators, and the party continued at Oundle RFC until late.

The Beer Festival at the rugby club was also a huge success, with our three barrels of cider and all the real ales selling out well before closing time. This can only have been helped by the extremely efficient bar staff, who had a very good system going which meant vast quantities of ale and cider flowed, without any of the tiresome need to queue at the bar. Always a bonus.

Congratulations to festival organiser Lee Green and his hard working team on an excellent event. The only downer on the day was the British & Irish Lions leaving their magnificent fightback against the Springboks just a little too late to win the day.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Orchard Update - June

In the few days break between one beer festival and another, there's been just enough time to barrel up more cider, and to give the orchard a really thorough examination for signs of pests and disease.

First the good news. We have many more apples this year, with around half of the trees bearing something worth picking. Having said that, I'd say fruit set has been quite poor this year, with even the ever-reliable James Grieve showing only a moderate crop. I usually have to thin the fruit on this tree by up to 50% to get reasonable sized apples, but this year I doubt I'll need to bother. I'd heard on the grapevine that pollination hadn't been great this Spring, and my observations seem to bear this out.

Green Aphid continues to be a problem, but one which is easily dealt with so long as you're not squeamish. The same goes for the minor but persistent outbreaks of Rosy Apple Aphid, which are easily squished between fingers when spotted. Ray kindly did a bit of squishing at the weekend. He seems keen, I'll get him to do a bit of digging next time...

Other finds were a very pretty Caterpillar, chomping its way through an apple leaf. I've left it there for now, but if I find out it's a serious pest it's days are numbered. More serious was the discovery of our first instance of Canker, a nasty fungal disease which can spread through a tree and eventually kill it if not dealt with. The only treatment for Canker is pruning out infected wood, which is what I've done, hopefully removing all the disease. I'll have to keep a close eye on this tree to make sure the Canker doesn't re-appear further up the stem.

Last week a decent sized Grass Snake was spotted in our neighbours garden, creating quite a commotion with the ladies! This week it was the Hens turn to get into a flap after encountering a much smaller reptile amongst the shrubbery. Sadly the baby Grass Snake was a goner by the time we manged to rescue it from three vicious jabbing beaks. Hens don't like snakes, though in the case of Grass Snakes, I'm guessing the feeling is mutual.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Carnival Time

The attractive market town of Oundle is the place to be this Saturday (20th June) afternoon. The Oundle Carnival returns after a 30 year gap, and looking at the website, there appears to be quite a bit going on, including music, a WW2 fly past, and fireworks to finish the day.

What's not mentioned on the website is the mini beer festival at the Oundle Rugby Club, where we will be delivering a few barrels of our Rockingham Forest Cider. The final barrel of Welland Valley Special will also be going to this event, so if you missed it at the Welland Valley Beer Festival, this will be the last chance to try our most local of ciders.

As an added bonus, and a huge motivating factor in our own attendance at the Carnival, the first British & Irish Lions test match against South Africa will be broadcast in the Rugby club bar from 2pm. Yes, that's the same bar where the beer festival takes place. Now that's what I call great planning.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Welland Valley Beer Festival - Sun, Cider & Skibbereen

Every year, the Welland Valley Beer Festival gets busier and busier. Bad weather doesn't seem to hold the event back, and good weather can only add to the popularity of what is largely an outdoor event. This year was a scorcher, and it seemed as if everyone in the valley and beyond had come to drink in the atmosphere.

Saturday was a family day out for us, with champion perry pear pickers Paul & Sue arriving in the valley just in time for opening at the Royal George. Ray, Gail, Karen and myself left them to it for a short while, having no great desire to down a breakfast pint after the late night Friday session. Instead we all met up for a couple of ciders at the Red Lion, where trade was building nicely at midday.

Travelling on the vintage buses is an integral part of the day out on Saturday, so after a bit of a wait due to some technical difficulties with the service, it was off to picturesque Lyddington to start the day proper. The Marquess of Exeter has only recently re-opened following a lick of paint and a bit of a gastro makeover. Celebrity chef Brian Baker is at the helm, and was keen to be involved in this year's festival. I must say, Brian and his team made a very good job of it, with a marquee and BBQ set out on a grassy area at the rear of the pub, and a novel cask-cooling system adapted from garden irrigation tubing. Ciders were from Gwynt-Y-Ddraig, including a very good single variety Dabinett. The food was good, Rutland Morris Men shook their hankies with aplomb, and we all cheered as Rob from the Welland Valley Drinking Team received a verbal warning (and a hefty slap across the face) for his latest act of booze-sozzled mis-behaviour...

On to Harringworth for the White Swan, principally for a drink, but also for the chance to play Giant Jenga in the courtyard. We travelled on a lovely old double-decker which gave us an opportunity to see parts of the Welland Valley countryside not usually visible from ground level. A nice journey then, but sadly, we never made it to Harringworth!

As the bus pulled into Seaton, a rumour rippled down the bus that the White Swan had ran out of beer! Now a pub without beer may still be attractive to some, but not to us, and certainly not on a day like this, so a snap decision was made and off we got for a swift jar at the very busy George & Dragon.

A pint of the ubiquitous Gwynt-Y-Ddraig cider hit the spot, and it was decided the best bet for continued ease-of-drinking was to hoof it back homeward on the next available bus. A shame, as the George & Dragon is a fine pub, but the cider had now ran out, and the beer looked likely to follow shortly. The journey back to Cottingham was a jolly affair, with much singing of songs, and grinding of gears on the steep climb past Rockingham Castle.

The terrace at the Royal George was packed with a good-natured crowd, gently swaying to the trad-jazz sounds of the Welland Valley Stompers. Cider was in short supply, so I switched to something golden and hoppy, the festival special ale, 'Teck' It To Ride from the local Potbelly Brewery. Other beers were consumed here, but you'll perhaps forgive me if I can't remember what they might have been!

Rather than rolling down the hill to Middleton, we went on a short safari along the Jurassic Way footpath to the Red Lion. Here we had a final few ciders before Paul & Sue had to leave for Market Harborough and the train home. At this point it seemed like a good idea to break for something to eat. We retired home to demolish a huge leg of rare-breed pork which had been cooking very slowly in the oven for around 24 hours now. A tender treat, washed down with a bottle of Whin Hill Yarlington Mill Cider that Ray & Gail had brought along for the occasion.

Suitably fed, it was back to the Red Lion for more cider, and good-time traditional Irish music from the mighty Skibbereen. The pub was heaving, and the beer barrels were rapidly being drained. The bar staff had glazed but happy looks on their faces, and the atmosphere was as good as it gets. The Hucknall Cider Co, and Rockingham Forest ciders were also running out, so my final act of an exhausting day was the delivery of a last minute barrel of our Welland Valley Special to help keep the party swinging until closing time.

Phew! I think that the 2009 Welland Valley Beer Festival may well have been a success.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Welland Valley Beer Festival - Friday Frolics

The dust has now settled on another massively successful Welland Valley Beer Festival, and before the Monday rain storms wash away all memory of the weekend, it's time to commit some thoughts to the blog.

We started off on Friday evening with festival regulars Ray & Gail of the Hucknall Cider Co in tow. Ray & Gail like a drop of cider or two, so it seemed a sensible idea to stick to apple and pear based drinks this evening. The traditional roll down the hill from Cottingham to Middleton started at the Royal George where we were very pleased to see six ciders on offer. We passed on the Biddenden, Broadoak and Thatchers though, opting instead for the more exotic trio from Welsh producer Gwynt-Y-Ddraig. The more tannic single variety Brown Snout was the favourite of the three, though the Dog Dancer and Scrumpy were also very nice if a little too sweet for our taste. Drinks apart, the main attraction of the George is the large decked terrace at the rear, which gives a wonderful view down the valley to Middleton on a fine evening such as this.

Next stop was the Spread Eagle, and another good range of ciders from Gwynt-Y-Ddraig, including a nice Pyder, which is made from a blend of apple and pear juice and definitely not a Pear Cider! Westons Old Rosie was also available here. The small, sheltered patio at the front of the pub was a pleasant place to watch the world go by, and led to the first of many encounters we would have with the Welland Valley Drinking Team, already looking decidedly the worse for wear! When Spread Eagle barman Matt decided to reveal a sordid history of Lederhosen wearing, it was time to move on...

So, on to the Red Lion, and perhaps the most eclectic range of ciders and perrys available at the festival. We tried Ray & Gail's own Floppy Tabs Cider, which was of course excellent, and our own two ciders and perry. The Broome Farm Blakeney Red Perry was being held in reserve until Saturday, but Kevin & Fiona had kindly allowed us to indulge in a spot of off-piste cider tasting this evening. As the sun finally faded, and things began to cool down a little, out came the bottle opener, and a range of local-ish bottled ciders to 'nose, sip and swallow'.

David Bates makes a small quantity of cider from apples grown at his vineyard just over the border in Leicestershire. The Roundhead Cider from Welland Valley Vineyard was given the thumbs-up from all who tried it, a good, medium cider, with a decent amount of bittersweet cider apple character. Next up was the JW's Dry Fen Cider from Spalding, a light, dry cider in the Eastern Counties style. The Cromwell Oliver's Choice Cider from Huntingdon divided opinion. I quite liked the light, almost perry-like taste, but others found the herbal, almost resinous aroma a little odd in a cider.

Another sampler which divided opinion was this year's Rockingham Forest Slider, which seemed to find favour with the lads, but not so with the ladies. The Slider has emerged from maturation quite a bit drier than the previous seasons efforts, and there's a slightly harsh bitter edge to it which doesn't help. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Another grand night out at the Welland Valley Beer Festival concluded with a stroll back home, and a spirited 'Swingin' Safari' singalong to Karen's extensive collection of Bert Kaempfert records. Classic!

Friday, 12 June 2009

Ciderhouse News - Welland Valley Beer Fest #8

Less than five hours until the Welland Valley Beer Festival kicks off, and everything is just about ready to go. Unfortunately, these things don't come together without a huge amount of last-minute sampling, and that, you'll be pleased to know, has been my burden today.

First off, in the ciderhouse, where the Broome Farm Blakeney Red Perry (5.5%) is tasting absolutely delicious. Our Perry is good, but Mike Johnson's Perry is one of the best examples you're likely to find. Rich, fragrant, perhaps even a little pungent, it's very moreish and should sell very well.

Our own Rockingham Forest Perry (6.4%) is a much more subtle drink. It has a similar fresh, fragrant taste, but is lighter in style. If anything it's probably a little more drinkable than the Broome Farm, though certainly not as complex. We're very pleased with this, our first attempt at a perry, and it should go very well, particularly if the weather stays as warm as it is today.

The Rockingham Forest Cider (6.4%) is my favourite. Pleasantly dry rather than being austere, with a gentle bittersweet character, not too rich and cloying. I'm very pleased with how well balanced this cider has turned out, and this makes it very easy-drinking despite the depth of flavour.

The Welland Valley Special has been sweetened a little to give a rich, medium cider, full of apple and juicy-fruit flavours, all enhanced by a smack of refreshing sharpness. All these ciders and perrys are available at the Red Lion, Middleton, with the Welland Valley Special available at the Talbot Inn, Gretton too.

The sampling continued at the Red Lion, with Kevin & Fiona keen to show off the excellent range of ales they have for the weekend. I'm under strict instructions to not reveal the names of any of the beers, but what I can say is that there is a very good range at the Red Lion, from Light, hoppy refreshers, through to Mild, Porter and even a delicious Stout.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Ciderhouse News - Welland Valley Beer Fest #7

Things are taking shape at the Red Lion in Middleton ahead of this weekend's Welland Valley Beer Festival. As you can see, it's all 'Ales & Bales' in the bar area, though quite what's in those barrels remains a closely guarded secret. I just wonder how many requests the bar staff will have for '... a straw with my pint!'

Monday, 8 June 2009

Ciderhouse News - Welland Valley beer Fest #6

Fingers Crossed!

Ciderhouse News - Welland Valley Beer Fest #5

Programmes for this year's Welland Valley Beer Festival are available from all of the pubs taking part. Amongst other interesting bits'n'bobs about the festival, it includes a full listing of the real ales which will be available (though not where they'll be, you have to find that out for yourself), and the all-important timetable for the vintage bus service on Saturday.

The cider list in the programme is not as complete as it could be, they rarely are at beer festivals for some reason. I've done a little bit of detective work to put together a slightly more detailed listing, though again, you'll have to visit the pubs to find out where they are.

Broome Farm - Herefordshire

  • Blakeney Red Perry (5.5%) - Single Variety Perry from an award winning producer

    Gwynt-Y-Ddraig - Glamorgan

  • Barnstormer Cider (7.0%)
  • Black Dragon Cider (7.2%) - Cider of the Festival - Stockport 2009
  • Pyder (6.0%) - Made from a blend of apple and pear juice
  • Various other ciders and perrys, including some Single Variety Ciders

    Hucknall Cider Co - Nottinghamshire

  • Torkard Cider (6.0%) - Multi award winning (and recently married!) producers

    Millwhites - Hertfordshire

  • Various, including Single Variety and Spirit Cask Matured Ciders

    Rockingham Forest Cider - Northampton

  • Perry (6.4%) - Probably a Single Variety Blakeney Red, but we're not 100% sure!
  • Welland Valley Special Cider (6.4%) - Made exclusively from local Welland Valley fruit
  • Rockingham Forest Cider (6.4%) - Available regularly at the Red Lion, Middleton

    Westons - Herefordshire

  • Old Rosie (7.3%)

  • There may also be cider from Thatchers, and possibly something from Eve's of Kettering.

    Sunday, 7 June 2009

    Ciderhouse News - Welland Valley Beer Fest #4

    There's is, of course, more to a successful beer festival than the beer. There's the cider... and not forgetting the perry. But even then, it wouldn't be much of an event without a little something extra to keep visitors amused throughout the day. The Welland Valley Beer Festival is blessed with an abundance of extras. The Vintage Buses on Saturday are a day-out in themselves, and there will be a wide range of food on offer at the various pubs. There's also the unique (and possibly illegal) Welland Valley Drinking Team, who make their annual re-appearance at the festival despite last year's near-death experience following 3 days of solid competitive drinking. Good luck lads, go easy on the cider!

    There will also be whole a host of entertainment throughout the weekend, with the pick of the bunch for me being the mighty Skibbereen at the Red Lion, Middleton on Saturday evening. Traditional Irish music doesn't come much better than this, and we'll be propping up the bar of our village local for as long as we can stay the pace, at the end of what promises to be a long and exhausting weekend.

    Saturday, 6 June 2009

    Ciderhouse News - Welland Valley Beer Fest #3

    We're flushed with success here at Rockingham Forest Cider, but it's not the cider we're crowing about, it's the Perry. This morning was spent barrelling and bottling our 70 litres of perry ready for the Welland Valley Beer Festival, and what a perry it is. Lovely and clear, rich, aromatic, and surprisingly sweet!

    When I racked the perry off the sediment in January, it was bone dry with a bitter tannic edge. I could taste the promise in it, but was a little surprised at how dry it had become. Several months of maturation later, and the tannin has mellowed nicely, allowing the fragrant, Elderflowery fruitiness to come through, and a gentle sweetness has returned from somewhere. Most peculiar you may think.

    Having checked the specific gravity of the perry, and found that it has fermented right out with no residual sugar, there's only one explanation for the apparent sweetness. Sorbitol, a non-fermentable sweetener which occurs naturally in perry pears, and means that traditional perrys are rarely completely dry, and often quite sweet. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I'll take this sweetness and run with it. It should be a popular choice at the festival.

    On a slightly more cautious note, it should be noted that Sorbitol is not only a natural sweetener, but also a very effective purgative! Over-indulgence of pure juice perry can have serious repercussions, particularly if combined with strong spicy food, Rhubarb etc. It can, and will if taken to excess, (ahem!) 'Go Right Through You'. Don't say you haven't been warned!

    Our Rockingham Forest Perry will be available exclusively at the Red Lion, Middleton during the festival.

    Friday, 5 June 2009

    Ciderhouse News - Welland Valley Beer Fest #2

    Leicestershire apple enthusiast Melanie Wilson paid us a visit today. Mel is the brains behind the terrific UK Fruit Scion Wood Exchange, an online forum for 'people with fruit tree wood, you'd like to get to know better'. Actually, it's a place for the discussion of fruit tree grafting and propagation, and perhaps more crucially, for the free exchange of scion wood to help achieve this purpose. Mel's interest in our little cidermaking enterprise stems from the fact that she'll soon have more apples than she knows what to do with. All this grafting has a purpose you see, and apple pies alone can't deal with the glut of fruit she's expecting from her orchard in the near future.

    Mel's visit was as good an excuse as any to crack open a few vats of Cider, and most excitingly (for me at least!) the chance to sample our first attempt at a traditional Perry. I must admit, I've been avoiding this for quite some time now. More than a little luck, magic and superstition surrounds the making of perry, and I've been working on the premise that the less I even think about 'the vat with no name', the less there is that can go wrong with it. However, there comes a time when denial is simply not an option, and the procrastination has to end. In this particular case, the fact that we're supposed to be selling it in less than a week's time has certainly forced my hand.

    So, the verdict. Well, it's all good news in the ciderhouse today. The perry is in fine-fettle, rich, fruity, aromatic, a little tannin remains on the side of the tongue, but all in all, a very nice perry indeed and certainly ready to drink. What a relief! Only seven sleepless nights to go...

    The jury is out on the Rockingham Forest Cider, I'll need to sample a bit more before I decide which vat to go for, but the other good-news story from the ciderhouse is the Sulgrave Orchard Slider which we had a sneaky sip of. I'll be bottling this up over the weekend, with full tasting notes, and on-the-spot reaction from the Red Lion staff and regulars. Stay tuned.

    Thursday, 4 June 2009

    Ciderhouse News - Welland Valley Beer Festival #1

    Anticipation of this year's Welland Valley Beer Festival is reaching fever-pitch, or at least it is in this house! It's now only eight days until the event kicks off, and months of planning by the licensees, brewers, and the volunteers supplying the magnificent range of vintage buses, are finally coming to fruition.

    I've spent most of the morning in the ciderhouse racking off this year's Welland Valley Special Cider ready for the festival. This cider is 'special' because the apples used to make it were sourced exclusively from within the Welland Valley itself. Old, unsprayed orchards in Cottingham, Rockingham, and our own village of Middleton provided the fruit. By using full-flavoured dessert apples, and limiting the quantity of sharp culinary fruit to a minimum, we've ended up with a rich, fruity cider, naturally medium/dry, and beautifully clear with a pale yellow colour. There's also a hint of the buttery roundness which develops from the Malo-lactic process, definitely desirable in an 'Eastern Counties' style cider like this.

    I'm very pleased with the WVS Cider, and hope it hits the spot with visitors to this year's festival. You can try this cider at the Talbot, Gretton; and our 'cider-tap' the Red Lion, Middleton during the festival.

    As if the first taste of our 'Festival Special' was not exciting enough, I've still got the thrill of tasting our first ever Perry, and also the bottling of this year's Rockingham Forest Slider to come, more of which later...

    Monday, 1 June 2009

    Sunny Cider Life at Delapre Abbey

    This year's Northampton CAMRA Beer Festival at Delapre Abbey was another huge success. Perfect weather conditions for outdoor drinking, and a thirsty local crowd combined to drink the festival dry of nearly 240 beers, and the best part of 100 barrels of cider and perry. In the case of the cider bar, a hasty re-order was required following strong trade on Friday evening, and even this was barely enough to last until closing time on Saturday.

    The Delapre Abbey event is rapidly becoming known as one of the best CAMRA beer festivals in the East Midlands, and is set to grow even further in the coming years, staff and venue permitting. Congratulations to festival organiser Phil Greenway, and all the hard working volunteers who helped make this year's festival such an enjoyable, and successful event.

    I propped up the cider bar during the Friday afternoon session, where a small but steady flow of customers kept the staff busy (the lull before the storm as it turned out!). There were a wide range of ciders and perrys from Gwynt-Y-Ddraig, Millwhite's, and Thatchers, including some single varietals and spirit cask matured ciders; plus LocApple ciders from Eve's of Kettering, and our own Rockingham Forest and Sulgrave Orchard ciders. As usual I didn't manage to try any of the beers, though I'm led to believe there were quite a few good ones! Mention must also be made of the excellent Malt Shovel Tavern, which provided a useful staging post for many people on the way to the festival.

    The FAQ picture is c/o Ben Coulson, who has kindly made this image available under a Creative Commons Licence.