Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Delapre Abbey Cider Bar - Update

Yesterday I delivered eight barrels of cider to the Northampton Beer Festival site at Delapre Abbey. The 239 beers are all ready to go, and very impressive they looks too. The famous Mad Apples Cider Bar is all set up too, and was filling out nicely while I was there. Here's an updated list of what should be available at the cider bar (though I take no responsibility for accuracy, there could be more, could be less):

Eve's - Northants

Wilding Cider

Gwynt-Y-Ddraig - Glamorgan

Happy Daze
Two Trees Perry
Kingston Black Cider
Dabinett Cider
Sweet Farmhouse Perry
Pyder

Millwhites - Hertfordshire

Scrumpy Cider
Premium Rum Cask Cider
Premium Whisky Cask Cider

Rockingham Forest - Northants

Rockingham Forest Cider
Sulgrave Orchard Cider

Monday, 25 May 2009

Powdery Problems in the Orchard

Orchard-Watch continues throughout the month of May. The Aphids are under control, and all appears to be growing well, with quite a bit of fruit-set awaiting a June Drop or manual thinning out. But careful examination of the new growth yesterday has revealed the presence of Powdery Mildew on one of the Dabinett's.

Powdery Mildew is a nasty little fungal disease, perhaps not as bad as Canker, or worst of all, Fireblight, but very damaging all the same. If allowed to spread without control, Mildew can eventually kill a tree, and at best it is likely to seriously stunt the growth of infected shoots.

Conditions for Powdery Mildew are ideal at the moment. Warm, dry, and following a spell without significant rainfall. Watering the trees would help, and mulching is ideal to reduce the likelihood of Mildew taking hold. Unfortunately, a nice thick layer of mulch is also the ideal playground for free-ranging hens, so wouldn't last very long, and the water butts are feeling the strain with so much garden to irrigate.

Control of the disease without resorting to sprays involves removing infected leaves, buds, and shoots. Pretty drastic action on a young tree with as yet minimal growth, so I'm currently pinching out any dodgy looking leaves in the hope I won't have to resort to such drastic measures, and watering a little more frequently than I have been doing.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Delapre Cider Bar

Early indications are that the Northampton Beer Festival will feature ciders and perrys from the following producers:

Eve's Widling Cider -Northants
Gwynt-Y-Ddraig - Glamorgan
Lyne Down - Herefordshire
Millwhites - Hertfordshire
Rockingham Forest - Northants

More details as they emerge.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Welland Valley Programmes Are Go

Programmes for the 7th Welland Valley Beer Festival are now available in the participating pubs. Featuring the full beer list, the Saturday vintage bus timetable, and other interesting bits'n'bobs about the pubs, Welland Valley, and vintage buses, and all for a paltry £1.50. Buying a festival programme shows your support for the event, and helps ensure it's future success.

Last minute details will appear on the festival news website, and a fuller listing of the available cider and perrys will appear here nearer the date.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Red Lion - Spring Pub of the Season

Congratulations to Kev, Fiona, and all the team at the Red Lion, Middleton, who were the proud recipients of Northampton CAMRA's Spring Pub of the Season last night. Much beer and cider was consumed, before Chairman Phil presented the framed certificate. Cue weeks of wrangling over where to put it...

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We're particularly pleased that we've finally managed to get a picture of 'Camera-shy Fiona' on the blog. Possibly a UK exclusive.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Orchard Centre - Hartpury

On what turned out to be quite a busy weekend, I managed to squeeze in a visit to the shiny new Orchard Centre in deepest rural Gloucestershire. This is the latest venture from cidermaking guru Peter Mitchell of Mitchell F & D Ltd, in partnership with the Hartpury Historic Land & Buildings Trust.

The centre is based in rolling pastureland near the historic village of Hartpury, well worth a visit in it's own right. The trust are active in preserving a number of historic buildings in the parish, including a fascinating medieval Bee Shelter, but they are also custodians of the area's unique orchard heritage. The name Hartpury is derived from the Saxon word for the pear: Hardepirige – hard pear tree, and there is a long history of perry making in the area, as evidenced by the naming of the Hartpury Green perry pear.

So this was the background to establishing a centre of excellence for traditional orcharding and the various crafts associated with orchard fruit, near the village of Hartpury. Cider and Perry making are an obvious bolt-on, and this will represent the initial core of activities run from the Centre. The processing barn will shortly be equipped with a full fruit processing plant, which will enable production of Cider, Perry, Fruit Juices and other products designed to add value to orchard fruits. The idea being that the best way to preserve traditional orchards, is to make profitable use of their crops, and so the centre will act as the UK base for a wide range of courses and associated services, all designed to help people like myself and the wider industry achieve this end.

The Open Day on Saturday was blessed with fine, if blustery weather, and the wide-open landscape made it easy to spot and avoid incoming showers. The smart, traditional oak-framed main building is situated on the edge of what may be the centre's most important project, the Hartpury National Collection of Perry Pears, also known more prosaically as the Perry Park. This is Hartpury Trust member Jim Chapman's pride and joy, over 100 varieties of rare and unique perry pears, planted in pairs across several acres of gently sloping meadowland. Even now the sight of so many fruit trees planted at such wide spacing is inspiring, but when mature, this orchard will be a truly glorious sight, though sadly one which many, including Jim himself, will probably never get to see, since perry pear trees take quite some time to reach maturity!

During the open-day I had a chance to chat with Peter Mitchell, someone I've bumped into on many occasions since attending one of his early cidermaking courses at Pershore College. There were a few stalls to peruse, including one with samples of Herefordshire perry from award-winning producer Tom Oliver, and Gloucestershire apple juices from Day's Cottage.

I also had a very useful chat with Jim Chapman, who kindly put me straight about our own small batch of perry. We've always understood that the pears we used to make our perry were Blakeney Red and Moorcroft, but Jim's much greater knowledge of perry pear growing indicated that this couldn't be so. Moorcroft are an early ripening pear, which would have gone over by the time we harvested our fruit, so in all probability we have made a single variety Blakeney Red. Oh well! we like Blakeney Red perry a lot, so nothing lost there.

The day was rounded off with a visit to another award-winning cidermaker, Mike Johnson of Ross Cider & Perry. The samples were as generous as ever, and I was particularly pleased to try the cider blend which won the top prize at the recent Big Apple Cider & Perry Trials in Putley. A very well balanced medium/dry cider, which Mike & Sophie were busy bottling-up for sale. I also returned with some excellent new-season Blakeney Red Perry to compare with our own. This perry will also join ours at the Red Lion, Middleton, during the forthcoming Welland Valley Beer Festival.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Orchard Update - May

Blossom time still holds sway in the orchard. The Tremlett's have a particularly fine display, the fruitletts from which will need to be pinched out before too long. These recently planted trees are still establishing a good root system, and certainly don't want to bother with the tiresome task of bearing fruit.

Pest-watch continues, with occasional clusters of Green Aphid to squish. One or two of the more serious Rosy Apple Aphid have been found too, but this year I aim to keep well on top of this pest. I'm inspecting the leaves every other day at the moment, easy to do with a small orchard like ours, larger commercial orchards would have to resort to spraying to control any serious pests. There are plenty of other insects about, including spiders, assorted larvae, and a few of the tiny wasps which seem to like feasting on Aphids. Bon App├ętit!

Taking my lead from 'The Grafter's Handbook' by R.J.Garner, I've decided to use the far dark corner of the orchard to propagate rootstock. The technique is known as 'Stooling', and the first part of the process is to plant out my single remaining MM106 rootstock and let it grow for a season. This Winter I'll be pruning it back and earthing it up to hopefully create several new rootstock, which may even be ready for grafting onto next Spring. Graphic details will be posted here as and when they happen, meantime's here's a picture of a twig in a prison...

The OTT fencing is there for protection from nibbling rabbits, and worse still, scratching hens!

Cider Chat

A brand new virtual cider bar has opened for business. Hobby cidermaker, and enthusiastic cider drinker Jez Howat, has been busy in his workshop constructing what promises to be an excellent resource for anyone with an interest in the fermented apple, or indeed pear.

The 'Core' of the Cider Workshop is an online discussion forum hosted by Google Groups. Think of it as a cosy, welcoming, barrel-lined cider barn. A place to draw-off a glass of cider, and put the ciderworld to rights in convivial and respectful company. Anything cider and perry related is open for discussion, from the technicalities of production, through to recommendations on where you might find a glass of the good-stuff to drink. Normal forum rules apply, ie. respect for other peoples opinions, and of course no abusive posts will be tolerated. That way the forum will be a safe and pleasant environment for all.

It's also hoped that in time The Cider Workshop will become a useful online resource. As the website grows, it's hoped that members will contribute articles, and snippets of information on their particular fields of interest, and in this way the site will become the pre-eminent online destination for the craft cider enthusiast. It will also be a portal to the many excellent cider-based websites which already exist.

You can sign up for the discussion forum by visiting The Cider Workshop website: http://www.ciderworkshop.com/Workshop%20Site/index.html

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Ciderhouse News - May

As I'm writing this, the 3rd Castor & Ailsworth Beer Festival will be up and running. Now I'm no expert in matters of the malt & hop, but licensee Simon Fitch and his team appear to have assembled a beer range of rare good quality. Cider has quite a following at the Prince of Wales Feathers too, in addition to our own Sulgrave Orchard, there will be ciders from Cromwell of Huntingdon, New Forest Snakecatcher, and Lyme Bay Jack Ratt amongst others. With a spot of rain forecast for the weekend, this cosy village boozer is as good a place to sit-it-out as you're likely to find.

It's now only two weeks before Northants CAMRA take over the grounds of Delapre Abbey for their excellent early Summer Beer Festival (Thu 28th - Sat 30th May). Somewhere in the region of 200 beers are promised, and all Northamptonshires breweries should be represented. We aim to supply our Rockingham Forest and Sulgrave Orchard ciders, and there will also be cider from Eve's of Kettering. If all goes to plan over the next two weekends, I'll be parading my Leicester Tigers colours at the cider bar on Friday as usual. If not, you'll find me sulking under a tree, that's if you can find me at all.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Cider Jar of the Month - Taunton

A slightly topical stoneware cider jar this month, what with Taunton's recent 'ruffling of feathers' over a reduced strength and sweetened up Blackthorn Cider. Taunton Cider Co founder, the Rev. Thomas Cornish, is presumably spinning in his grave, though never having liked Blackthorn myself it's hard to see what all the fuss is about.

The Taunton Cider Co were at one time the only serious competition to Bulmers dominance of the UK cider market. Blackthorn and Autumn Gold were their principle brands, both industrially produced ciders in direct competition with Bulmers own Strongbow and Woodpecker. By 'industrially produced' I mean ciders which contain a relatively low percentage of apple juice, possibly as a concentrate rather than freshly pressed, and often bulked out with sugar syrups, colourings, and artificial sweeteners. The antithesis of a pure juice, craft produced cider.

The Taunton Cider Co is now a somewhat reduced entity as part of the massive Constellation Brands Co, and as the news item above suggests, their 'ciders' are now principally distributed to a loyal customer base in the West-Country. Bulmers and Magners seem to hold sway nationally, though another sub-division of Constellation is more widely represented through the various Gaymers brands.

The days when the Taunton Cider Co would have produced the kind of full-juice ciders which may have been sold in these stoneware jars, are sadly long gone. Only the 'pseudo-real' cider Taunton Traditional has any pretence to authenticity, and in my experience even this 'cider' falls way short of the full-juice, craft product. If it's a reasonable quality cider you're after, we have to turn again to the Gaymers division who put their name to one or two interesting bottled products, notably the Orchard Reserve and County series of ciders available through supermarkets.

So what manner of cider would have been sold in these (probably not so very old) jars. David Mabey's book Good Cider (1984) lists a couple of possible candidates. Special Vat was in those days a strong, medium dry cider, available in bag-in-box as well as the more usual bottles and cans. Exhibition is described as a strong, still cider, so could also have been available in stoneware.

Which brings me to the slightly scary gentleman, holding forth with his glass of cider and an accusing finger on the front of these jars. Could this be the Rev. Thomas Cornish, the man who having started making cider in the 19th century, set up the mill at Norton Fitzwarren which would later become Taunton Cider? He certainly appears to be in full preaching mode. Perhaps he's warning about the folly of chasing quick profits at the expense of quality. Amen to that!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Gamekeeper Turned Poacher

It's been a mixed-bag of a May Bank Holiday weekend. A little bit of sunshine but rather too cold for comfort, and of course predictably wet today. We've put the usual business of cidermaking on the back burner this weekend and put our cider-drinking hats on instead. Call it Research & Development, though sadly not tax-deductible!

First up was the LocAle festival at the Jolly Brewer in Stamford. A fine selection of locally brewed beers, augmented by our own LocApple ciders. The sun was shining at this early stage of the weekend, so I celebrated with a 'quality-control' half of Rockingham Forest Cider whilst soaking up the rays out-front of the pub. Pick of the ales for me was the Barn Ale from the Tydd Steam Brewery near Wisbech. At this point I'd like to make it absolutely clear, just in case there might be any confusion, that our ciders are made from 100% pure apple juice, and contain no Orchids whatsoever!

Today's 'Grand Day Out' to the Elton Society Village Fete was more of a 'Damp Day Out', but luckily we managed to find a dry spot in the spacious tent of the Crown Inn Real Ale & Cider Festival, which was in full swing in the village centre. The pub is well worth a visit any day of the week, but particularly when the beer range has swollen to around 30, plus a very reasonable range of real ciders and perry. I was more than happy to re-acquaint myself with a half of Hereward Dry, an award-winning cider produced as a sideline to the Hereward Brewery in Ely. I last tried this cider at the 2007 Leicester Beer Festival, and must say that if anything it's improved since then. There were also draught ciders and a perry from Biddenden, Thatchers, and Westons, but I decided to try a delicious fruity Mild and a floral, hoppy Golden Ale instead, though can't remember what they were called or who brewed them. It's a good job this isn't a beer blog...

Coming Soon: More opportunities to drink real cider and perry (hopefully in the sun) at the 3rd Castor & Ailsworth Beer & Cider Festival (14th - 17th May), and the Northampton Beer Festival (28th - 30th May).

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Bees-a-Buzzing

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The drone and fizz of busy bees has been quite deafening in the garden today. Good news for pollination, which in turn means good news for fruit set in the orchard. There's certainly plenty of blossom this year, and with predictions of a warm, dry Summer ahead (it says so in the Leicester Mercury, so it must be true!) things are looking good for the first truly 'Vintage' year for cidermaking since we started.

The short video above shows activity around the Bee Log we cobbled together last year. It's a slightly modified version of the bamboo cane boxes you can buy at garden centres, designed to act as nesting sites for solitary bees. We're not short of bees, the stone wall adjacent to our garden is littered with nooks and crannies occupied by all manner of insects and birds, but a few more crannies never went amiss. I wasn't sure whether hanging a bit of tree trunk on the wall would prove to be attractive to solitary bees, but as you can see, they appear to love it.

Talking of insects, the dreaded Rosy Apple Aphid has re-appeared on one or two of the cider apple trees. We can handle the regular green Aphids, but these nasty pests can do very serious damage if left to get out of control. The one tree which became infested last year had it's growth completely checked, and is now the smallest, runtiest tree in the orchard. I've squished the blighters where appropriate, and removed leaves in some cases, so hopefully we've nipped this problem in the bud, but vigilance is the key word here. As Shaw Taylor of Police Five used to say, 'Keep 'em Peeled'.