Monday, 26 April 2010

May Day Postponed...

The May Bank Holiday weekend beer festival at the Crown Inn, Elton, appears to have been posponed until the end of the month. Not sure why, but we will hopefully still be sending cider and perry for the re-arranged date.

On the same weekend we will also have cider and perry available at the Newark Beer Festival (28th - 30th May). It's been a few years since we visited the Newark Beer Festival, and it appears to have grown a bit since then. It's going to be a busy weekend, with the excellent Northampton Beer Festival also in full swing.

Coronation Tap

Looks like they've made it to Brizzle, and the (in)famous Corrie Tap. I really hope they didn't resort to the Addlestones...

Newton Abbot

In the absence of any hard facts emerging from Paul & Sue's Grand Tour of the West Country, I'll have to make some up...

This first pic shows a mixed double of ciders being enjoyed in Ye Olde Cider Bar in Newton Abbot. The smaller of the two appears to be Thatchers Cheddar Valley, a garishly orange cider known locally as Diesel! The larger, man-size glass contains local speciality Sam's Dry Cider, from the Winkleigh Cider Co. This is an exceptionally clean, low tannin cider in the Devon style, made by a former worker at the Inch's ciderworks.

I don't think it would be overstating the case to describe the Cider Bar as a national treasure. One of only a handful of genuine 'cider houses' in the UK, where cider (and fruit wines) hold sway and beer doesn't get a look in. The Cider Bar is notable for it's range of ciders (naturally), and basic but atmospheric interior, which if Paul had been more of a tourist and less of a 'local', I might have been able to show on here! Instead here's a video of Cider Bar owner Richard Knibbs, talking about Darling's recent attempt to increase duty on cider by 13%:

Last heard our intrepid cider tourists were overdosing on clotted cream scones and something called 'Real Ale'! It now looks as if they've 'gone native', so here's a couple of pics from the Newton Abbot archive.

Henley & Sons was a sizeable regional ciderworks at Abbotswell near Newton Abbot. They were taken over by Whiteway's Cyder in 1933 and eventually closed. The picture below is from a small exhibit at Newton Abbots other treasure, Tuckers Maltings, where Henley's Cyder was formerly bottled.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Buds & Blossom

From the top: Pear Blossom in Middleton Orchard, Pink Bud on Tremlett's Bitter cider apple, Healthy growth showing on Shepperdine Silt graft, Rondo Grape Vine cutting, Flower buds on Rondo Grape Vine

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Go West

This lovely pic shows Leicester CAMRA cider bar manager (and one half of the Aylestone Picking & Panking Team) Susan Shirley, enjoying the view from the inside of noted cider pub, the Plough Inn, Taunton. Ciders and perrys on offer included Hecks, Orchard Pig, Rich's, Sheppys, Tricky, and Thatchers. It's no wonder Sue has a smile on her face.

The Rockingham Forest Cider Envy-ometer is currently reading '9'... and rising!

We hope to bring you more cider-tinted images from Paul & Sue's West Country Grand Tour, if and when Paul remembers to send any. Gurt Lush, as they apparently say in Brizzle.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Mulching About

I've been meaning to mulch our orchard trees for the last couple of years. Mulching young trees has much to commend it, particularly if the ground is sandy and free draining, as it is for a couple of our trees. At the very least a decent layer of mulch will help to retain moisture around the roots during dry spells (like the one we're having now), and this is particularly important with newly planted fruit trees. If the mulching material is high in nutrients then all the better. Some people apply rotted farmyard manure, we've been composting our Chicken Manure for this purpose.

So, we've got recently planted trees, a ready supply of excellent quality composted manure, and a serviceable wheelbarrow and garden fork. Why then have we yet to mulch or trees? Well there's a bit of a problem, a hen-shaped problem...

Our hens have always had the free-range of the garden. They free-range in Karen's flowery borders, they free-range in the vegetable patch, given the chance they'll happily free-range into the kitchen (otherwise known as 'the source of all treats'). The trouble is, everywhere the hens range, they leave a trail of scratched-up destruction in their wake. The weed-free patch of soil around each apple tree is a particular favourite for scratching around and dust bathing, to the point where several trees have had their roots exposed in a most unseemly manner. Spreading a good layer of worm-rich mulch around the base of each tree would simply encourage the hens to spend even more time scratching up the roots. A kind of 'Garden Thali' for the hens, and a real waste of time and effort for us.

So I've been thinking long and hard on an elegant, yet affordable solution to the hen/mulch problem, without much success it has to be said. A low ring of chicken wire around each tree would look reasonable, and certainly do the job, but to do all 20 trees would need quite a bit of wire, which isn't cheap.

A scratch-resistant covering is perhaps the cheapest but least elegant option. The hens are tenacious scratchers though, and would make short work of all but the thickest covering, so a weighting down solution is also required. Old bricks won't weather well, large pebbles would look nice but are also expensive, so in the spirit of making the orchard look even more like a building site, I've opted for block paving brick-ettes. These are relatively inexpensive, will stand up well to a bit of frost, and I should be able to re-use them at some point in the future when the trees are sufficiently mature to allow the grass to grow up to the trunks.

The picture on the right shows an experimental covering of mulch and membrane, which seems to be holding up well to beak and claw. At last, orchard mulching is Go!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

'Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! (and other cider news)

The May Day bank holiday weekend is rapidly turning into 'National 1st Beer Festival of the Year Weekend' for many pubs. The promise of early Summer sunshine makes this one of our favourite weekends for kicking back with a beer or three, and who knows, maybe this year we'll get some proper holiday weather to go with the ales.

The Crown Inn, in the pretty Cambridgeshire village of Elton, has a well established May Bank Holiday Beer Festival (30th April - 1st May) which features a pretty decent range of ciders and perrys too. We enjoyed our day out in Elton so much last year, that we've decided to make a return visit. This time we're taking along a couple of close friends, a barrel each of our Rockingham Forest Cider and Blakeney Red Perry. The festival features live music and a BBQ, with a Hog Roast and Village Fete on the Monday.

The following weekend we'll be sending a similar range of cider and perry to the Waendel Walk Beer Festival (7th - 8th May) in Wellingborough. All beers and ciders have been sourced within 30 miles of the festival, making it a truly Locale and LocApple festival.

Closer to home, we're pleased to announce that the long wait is finally over, with Rockingham Forest Cider now available at our local outlet the Red Lion, Middleton. This cider is made from a blend of Yarlington Mill and Vilberie cider apples, with the dual purpose variety Blenheim Orange giving a dash of balancing acidity. This slightly hazy cider has an attractive deep golden colour, rich tannins and a clean fruity flavour. Alcohol levels have been boosted by the 'vintage' year we experienced in 2009. The Yarlington Mill cider apples in particular have contributed to a higher abv of 7.2%. Please note that our ciders and perrys contain no added sugars, so this represents the natural alcohol level achieved from the fruit alone.

Seeing Red

No, this isn't my reaction to Chancellor Darling's recent cider duty shenanigans. All I will say on this issue is this: If your expecting a bit of common sense from any of the other political parties following the forthcoming election, think again. Woolly-thinking seems to go with the territory when politicians start talking about the evils of alcohol....

Which brings me to real point of this post. The long anticipated bottling of our 2009 vintage Rockingham Forest Red Wine happened this weekend. Six lovely bottles the result, I only wish there were more. Despite a vintage which appeared to be much better than that of 2008, the wine has turned out lighter in body, and more like the flavour profile I'd expect from an English red. There's still plenty of Raspberry and Cherry, a fair bit of tannin, and a good balancing acidity, but a bit less oomph!

There are a couple of things which come to mind about this vintage. The colour is slightly less 'inky' purple than the 2008, possibly the result of leaving the wine on the grape skins for a slightly shorter time. This may be a factor in the wine being less 'heavy'. I also think the wine is a fair bit drier, and this could be the result of using a Champagne yeast rather than one better suited to red wine. Champagne yeasts are notorious in cidermaking circles for remorselessly fermenting a juice to bone dry, and this extra dryness may account for the lack of body. Perhaps there's more to this wine making lark than I'd thought!

As with the ciders and perrys, patience is the key with wine, and I won't be opening any of these bottles until Christmas at the very earliest. I'm excited by the idea that one day, when we've accumulated several different vintages of our 'Estate Wine', we'll be able to have a good old-fashioned Cheese 'n' Wine party, with a 'vertical tasting' of the various vintages.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Cider Blog Rankings - March/April

Our Wikio Ranking has slipped back a little....

38 out of 78 Beer & Wine Blogs.... humph!

Our dreams of a top 20 entry in the Beer & Wine rankings are fading fast....

I suppose we can console ourselves knowing we're the No.1 exclusively cider related blog....


Such disappointment calls for drastic and inventive measures. As of today, and updated only very occasionally, I give you the all-new, no beers or wines allowed, Mark-io & Karen-io's Cider Blog Rankings. Ta-dah!

I'm basing the rankings on an entirely arbitrary, and largely incomprehensible matrix of spurious fact and one-eyed opinion. A complex list which may or may not include Blog Activity, the presence of Nice Pics, overall Quality of Posts, Keeping On-Topic, and perhaps most importantly, Gratuities Received. My judgement is final, and generally speaking the No.1 spot can always be considered a done deal, so no blubbing or taking it all too seriously if your blog doesn't get the plaudits you think it deserves. It's never likely to on here to be honest! So here we go, the innaugral top 10 Cider Blog Rankings, as judged by me:

Top 10 CIDER BLOG RANKINGS for March/April

1. Rockingham Forest Cider - Another fine collection of first rate posts. Excellent use of gratuities. Bravo!

2. Real Cider - Jim's excellent website pipped at the post by a far, far better Blog. Better luck next time mate (might be worth considering some gratuities!)

3. An Autumn Response - Outstanding cider related posts, particularly considering it's not even a cider blog!

4. Torkard Cider - A last minute flurry after months of inactivity boosts ranking, but solar energy doesn't cut it here Ray! (Damson Vodka gratefully received...)

5. The Cidermaking Year - Another steady, solid performance from Dorset's finest. More pics/gratuities please

=6. James Russell - More quality cider posts from a non-cider based blog. Well done sir!

=6. Once Upon A Tree - Some very nice pics. A few cidery backhanders would help with this ranking.

7. Olivers Cider & Perry - Mr Oliver. I am not worthy to judge thee... more pics/gratuities please

8. 146 Cider - Started well, then stopped. Come on Jez, buck-up!

9. Mahorall Cider - Regular posts, but a little too much Landrover and Fencing fun for my liking. More pics/gratuities please

10. Perry Cider - Started well, but gathering dust of late. Excellent cider though (we accept bottled gratuities too you know...)

Didn't make it into the top 10 this time? You know what you need to do...

Sapping it Up

Now there's a sight to gladden the heart of orchardists and cidermakers alike. Each of the four seasons is of great interest to the cidermaker, but it's perhaps Spring which is the most eagerly anticipated.

Buds are swelling in the orchard. Plump fruiting ones like those shown above, as well as the much slimmer 'growth' buds which will give us this seasons new wood. The sap is certainly starting to rise, but is this 'budding' activity a little later this year? Well, after consulting last years notes I'd say it is, perhaps by as much as three weeks. This mirrors the widely reported late arrival of Spring throughout the country. I'm really not sure what this may mean for fruit-set and eventual cropping this season. On the face of it, there's likely to be less chance of a late frost to damage the blossom, and there's also the possibility of greater insect activity during the all important pollination period. Bumper crops for 2010? Let's hope so...

Activity in the ciderhouse continues, with some of the ciders and perrys showing a gentle Spring fermentation following the long cold Winter. Blends containing a high proportion of Yarlington Mill cider apples are the most active. Higher initial sugar levels, and a slower 'wild yeast' fermentation mean these ciders are unlikely to be ready for sale until May or even June. We're lucky in that there's no great rush to start selling our ciders, but the Yarlington Mill blends will be at the core of this years Rockingham Forest Cider, so if things continue in this leisurely way, we may be forced to sell something a little bit different at the Northampton and Welland Valley festivals.

Meanwhile, the last few pints of early season Blakeney Red Perry are still available at the Red Lion, Middleton. We've been enjoying a drop or two of this lovely perry at home too. It's particularly nice as an accompaniment to time spent sunning ourselves in the orchard with the hens. Here's a pic taken a few seconds before 'Dolly' helped herself to a generous beak-full. Binge-drinking hens! Careful Dolly, I know a man with a tax to cure that!