Saturday, 31 July 2010

All Tub'd Up

We're all barreled up and ready to go for the Tollemache Arms Beer Festival (2nd - 8th August), and the Raunds Town Cricket Club Beer Festival (5th - 8th August). Here's the full list of what we'll be sending:

Tollemache Arms Beer Festival, Harrington

Rockingham Forest Cider (Med) 7.0%
Red Kite Cider (Med) 7.4%
Vilberie (Med/Sweet) 6.0%
Green Horse Perry (Med/Dry) 6.3%

Raunds Town CC Beer Festival

Rockingham Forest Cider (Med) 7.2%
Red Kite Cider (single variety Yarlington Mill) (Med) 7.4%
Welland Valley Festival Special (Med/Sweet) 6.9%
Green Horse Perry (Med/Dry) 6.4%
Ross-on-Wye Cider (Dry) 6.5%
Ross-on-Wye Blakeney Red Perry (Med/Dry) 6.0%

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Frolicking Amongst the Fruitletts

As I keep being reminded by people who should know better, it's quite possibly less than eight weeks until the cidermaking starts again. Gulp!

Pushing this uncomfortable (yet slightly exciting) fact to the back of my mind, the Aylestone Panking Team and myself ventured down the A46 to John's orchard in Worcestershire, with a view to checking out the potential for this season's crop. Steady rain advancing across the country didn't bode well for a man who'd forgotten to bring any waterproof clothing, but luckily the weather stayed fine for the duration of our visit.

The first section of the orchard has a mixed-bag of pear and apple trees, including a stand of three very old Malvern Hills perry pear trees. These cropped fairly well last year, and I was expecting little or no fruit on them. As it is, the crop is fairly modest, but I'm still hopeful that with the help of our new patented Extra Long Panking Pole, we may get enough for a pressing or two. This is good news as the Malvern Hills perry we made last year is now tasting absolutely superb, probably our best perry so far, so I'm keen to make more this year.

The next part of the orchard has a few small Dabinett cider apple trees, all carrying a reasonable crop, and three large Blakeney Red perry pears. Another modest crop, but definitely worth picking. The Blakeneys are already well coloured, presumably the result of the fine weather we've been having, so all being well we could be in for good sugar levels this year. Further on we get to one of the stars of the season. Just past the Yarlington Mill trees, which are cropping reasonably well though nowhere near as good as last year, are the two Tremlett's Bitters. These are strongly biennial and had barely an apple on them last season. This year they're cropping heavily, and it looks as if this variety will be the most important for the tannic 'backbone' of our Rockingham Forest Cider in 2011.

The next section of the orchard contains the Vilberie, which are resting after last year's mammoth crop, and a few perry pear trees which are carrying just about enough to make a harvest worthwhile. There are also a couple of very large trees which produce a pure sweet apple, useful for blending, and cropping very well after an 'off' year in 2009.

The final part of the orchard is the largest, and has an open aspect with some very large old trees, widely spaced. A few modestly cropping perry pears can be found here, including a much better than expected crop of Green Horse. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the day was the very respectable crop of apples on the Kingston Black tree, which until now has yielded little more than a bucketful of fruit. There may be enough fruit on this tree to produce a single variety Kingston Black cider, and at worst it will contribute a good flavour to our blend.

In conclusion, I think there's sufficient fruit available to make an interesting range of ciders and perrys this season, though all depends on getting to the orchard at the right time to harvest what appears to be a more widely spread crop. All we need now is a bit more rain, and a good deal of warm sunshine throughout August and September.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Fleece Inn, Bretforton

It's the lull before the storm. We've been hard at work filling 18 barrels and boxes ready for dispatch over the next week or so, including a couple for a beer festival at the Globe, Hanslope near Milton Keynes. Cider and Perry stocks have taken a big hit, but we've still enough left to keep things ticking over for another few months.

Meanwhile it was high time for one of our irregular staff outings, and a good excuse to visit our friend John's lovely old orchard in Worcesetershire. Ace apple and pear wranglers Paul & Sue accompanied me to the orchard to help check out the forthcoming crop, but more on that later. Lunch was spent at the excellent Fleece Inn at nearby Bretforton, a truly historic pub, owned (and recently restored following a devastating fire) by the mighty National Trust. A National Trust property it may be, but it's run by its licensees as a true village local, not just a pretty tourist attraction.

So what makes the Fleece so special? The obvious answer is the building itself, a timber framed medieval former farmhouse, with adjacent Barn and orchard garden. The Fleece has a timeless, peaceful quality. There's a gaggle of friendly locals chewing the fat at the bar, Chickens clucking around the orchard (always a plus sign for Karen and myself), and the nooks, crannies, antique furniture and fittings are all authentic, not bought-in for the job. There's even a resident poet who'll recite a few lines to you as an accompaniment to your pint (whether you like it or not!).

Beer and Cider play a major role in the success of the Fleece too. The Hook Norton and Uley Ales were in excellent condition, and reassuringly local to this part of the Cotswolds. More local still was the home-made Fleece Folly traditional cider, which had just the right amount of 'tang', and was refreshingly (and properly) medium/dry, just how I like it. The cider is made on a replica twin-screw cider press, fed pomace by a restored scratter made by A. Day of Mark in Somerset. These wonderful pieces of equipment can be seen in use at the Fleece Inn's annual Apple & Ale Festival (1st - 3rd Oct). Over 20 ales, and 20 ciders and perrys will be available at this event, and I'm desperately trying to work out how I can fit this into one of our harvesting trips this year.

Put simply, the Fleece is up there with the very best of British pubs. A rural classic, and well worth the detour should you find yourself zipping along the A46 near Evesham any time soon.

Coming Soon: 2010 Orchard Report

Monday, 26 July 2010

There's a New Hen in Town

Since we lost our lovely Dolly Hen a few weeks ago, the Rockingham Forest Cider Flock has been in need of a little boost in numbers. It's important for us that we always have three hens so that should one die, we won't end up with one hen on her own. So here's our new bird, unnamed as yet (Karen's waiting to see what kind of character she has), and showing off by standing on one leg in her temporary run. She's a Hybrid crossed with a Maran, which has given her this beautiful speckled plumage. You'll see from this short video that the incumbent flock members have had their beaks well and truly put out by the new arrival. I don't think I've ever seen such rigid attention from our hens before. There may be trouble ahead....

Saturday, 24 July 2010

'Read all about it...'

I'm pleased to report that Rockingham Forest Cider has finally made it into the national press....

I say 'we'. What I really mean is we've piggy-backed our way into the Daily Telegraph on the back of our village local the Red Lion, Middleton. We'll take our publicity any way we can get it.

Anyway, congratulations to Kevin & Fiona on this bit of national recognition. You can read the feature here: Pint to Pint

Friday, 23 July 2010

Ciderhouse News - July/August

It's been a busy-busy few weeks in the (metaphorical) Rockingham Forest Ciderhouse, and it's about to get much busier...

First a bit of sad news. We recently lost our favourite hen Dolly to a series of illnesses. Dolly was as sweet a hen as you're likely to find, the baby of the flock, and the only one of the three who was always up for a cuddle and a pet. We're really going to miss that hen, and the Rockingham Forest Cider Flock just won't be the same without her. Sminky and Myrtle are both fine, and looking forward to the arrival of a new member of the flock in the near future.

Meanwhile, thirsty Red Lion customers have been enjoying our limited edition Red Kite Cider over the last couple of weeks, and we'll be delivering the last of this special single variety Yarlington Mill cider to the pub soon. A couple of barrels have also been put aside for festivals, more of which later.

More Rockingham Forest Cider will be winging its way to (err) Wing Hall in Rutland this evening, ready for weekend campers and anyone else who chooses to visit the shop or cafe. On a not-very-related Rutland theme, here's a picture of some of the famous Rutland Hippos. These ones were spotted in the market town of Uppingham. What a great idea, and much cuter than Northampton Town's rather scary Pride of Lions. Just another 23 to find on the terrific Rutland Hippo Trail...

Forthcoming events where you can find our ciders and perrys include the annual Tollemache Arms Beer Festival (2nd - 8th Aug) in Harrington, and Raunds Town Cricket Club Beer Festival (5th - 8th Aug). In addition to our Rockingham Forest Cider there will also be limited quantities of Red Kite Cider, Green Horse Perry, and in the case of Raunds some Ross-on-Wye Cider and Perry.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Hamfisted Humingbird Hawk-moth Video

30C in the shade. Nothing much happening but the drone of Bees, the Chuck-Chuck of hens, and a Hummingbird Hawk-moth flitting amongst the Lavender. Note to self: Remove sunglasses before pressing record....

Coming soon: Lavender II - The Bee Story

Friday, 2 July 2010

Red Kite Takes Wing

These boxes of our new Yarlington Mill single variety cider have now been delivered to Wing Hall in Rutland. There will be a box in the Farm Shop, and another in the Veranda Cafe Bar, ready to refresh the happy campers on site.

The cider is rich and fruity, a deep orangey-red, and has a strength of 7.4%. The cider has been named Red Kite, after one of the areas most famous residents.

This Red Kite Cider should also be going to the Raunds Cricket Club Beer Festival in August.

Closer to home, the Red Lion in Middleton currently has our Welland Valley Festival Special Cider (6.9%) on tap. This is a clean, fruity, medium cider, made from local dessert and culinary apples. This is a very limited edition cider, so get it while you can.