Thursday, 29 December 2011

Weighing-Up the Year

As 2011 draws to a damp and windy conclusion, it's traditional amongst bloggers to look back, take stock, and write a festive space filler in leiu of something more interesting. Well we're bucking the blogging trend, looking firmly forward, and writing a festive space-filler....

To be honest, there's little to report from the ciderhouse. Fermentation continues to bubble away without the interuptions for cold weather we experienced last year. Just as soon as we can get to Tewkesbury for a couple of new tubs, we'll be racking the ciders and perries, and getting a first taster of the 2011 vintage. Needless to say, you'll be able to read all about it right here.

In the mean time, our thoughts turn to forthcoming events where we hope to sell a bit of what we've made. Pre-orders from earlier this year merely need confirming closer to the date, and I'm pleased to say that there are a few new events that we're hoping to be at next year. As ever, the first festival of the year will be the Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival in March, where we'll be sending the very last barrels of our 2010 cider and perry. The theme this year appears to be the Charles Dickens bi-centenary, which is a little worrying to be honest! I do hope nobody rises to the challenge of a Dickens Cider re-badge...

The first opportunity to try our new-season cider and perry is likely to be at the innaugral South Notts Real Ale Festival in May, subject to confirmation.

Enough of the future, let's turn our attention to the presents. Christmas Presents to be precise. It's was a good year for gifts in the Rockingham Forest Cider household. Everyone seemed to get what they wanted, even Karen, but I can honestly say that no-one got what they wanted more than I did.

I swear someone must have been actually listening when I dropped all those unsubtle hints in the run-up to Christmas. How else would a deluxe Jelly Straining Bag have found its way under the tree! The same can be said of the beautiful Acacia wood Pizza Paddle I found stuffed into my Christmas Stocking (even if I did buy that one myself). A Christmas dream come true I hear you say, but hold on, I've saved the best till last...

It's a well-worn tradition in this household that underneath the Christmas Tree, in amongst the little packages of sweet smelling Girly Things, mini-bags of Reindeer Poo Chocolate, and carefully wrapped Hen Treats, there'll always be found the two things I most crave at this time of year. Two neatly wrapped, cool-blue, 120 litre Open-Top Kegs (cider for the fermenting of). These bulky beauties are truly the way to a cidermakers heart at Christmas, which made it all the more perplexing when the tell-tale tub-shaped pressies failed to appear under the tree. What was she thinking!

Well fear not patient readers, I got something even more exciting than 4.5 kilos of food-grade plastic, and a cute-as-a-squirrels-nut Boy Toy no less. Witness the goosebumpingly thrilling MYCO MZ-600 Digital Pocket Scale. Mmm!

This gorgeous brushed aluminium gadget, beloved of small-time drug dealers the world over, is more than capable of (reasonably) acurate measurment down to a (quite) impressive 0.1g. The ideal instrument for measuring out the tiny quantities of Sulphite required to keep our ciders and perries fresh and clean. Backlit for comfortable work in the gloom of the ciderhouse, wipe cleanable, and with a lid for putting 'things' into. The best Christmas EVER!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Ciderhouse News-ette

With our cidermaking over for another year, and pleasant days spent harvesting in the Cotswolds but a distant memory, it's nice to sit back with a pint of something appropriate and read all about it from the comfort of home. We're nothing if not self-absorbed.

Not content with cluttering up this Blog with our torpid adventures, we also like to graffiti other peoples online space. So I was delighted when the obliging folk of the Shakespeare Branch of CAMRA kindly allowed us a full colour page in their lovely newsletter Shakesbeer to document a day in search of Real Cider in the tourist hot-spot of Broadway during this years harvest. You can read all about it by following this link (We're on page 18, but there's plenty of other good reads too):

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Ciderhouse News - November

That's it, our cidermaking is all over for another season. No more apples will darken our doorway, we've had our fill of the Mill, and early morning Pressing has become thoroughly depressing. We've ran out of room, we have no more fermenters. So no more! Here is the news:

The final batch of bittersweet Vilberie apples reached full maturity well ahead of turning rotten, which is always a bonus in cidermaking. They were surprisingly juicy, and have helped pushed our fermenter capacity to the limit. In fact over the limit, as there are still six sacks of apples left we've no room for which will now end up as pig food in nearby Keythorpe. So here's the final inventory of what seems like the longest cidermaking season yet:


Home Orchard Blend (70 litres) 1.060
Dabinett/Harry Masters' Jersey/Yarlington Mill Blend (70 litres) 1.062
Yarlington Mill Blends (1340 litres) 1.057 - 1.062
Vilberie Blend (470 litres) 1.060 - 1.062


Malvern Hills (240 litres) 1.069 - 1.071
Blakeney Red (190 litres) 1.060
Green Horse/Oldfield/Blakeney Red Blend (120 litres) 1.065
Red Longdon (120 litres) 1.058
Unknown Perry Pears (120 litres) 1.066

In other news, I feel I must draw your attention to the latest edition of award-winning CAMRA publication, Nottingham Drinker. Always a good read, with a stronger than average focus on cider issues under the editorship of Hucknall cidermaker and CAMRA activist Ray Blockley. The latest edition has confirmation of all the winners in the recent East Midlands Cider of the Year Competition held at Nottingham Beer Festival. We came a commendable second to Torkard Cider who took the top spot, with Scropton Cider of Derbyshire third. We also rated very highly amongst the Nottinghamshire Constabulary...

The soon to be announced 2012 Cider Workshop Photographic Challenge will be announced... soon. More details will appear on the Cider Workshop webpage just as soon as it's been agreed that pressing for 2011 has finished. We've finished! Get on with it Jez...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Travelling Vilberies*

It's been very, very busy these last few weeks, both in the orchard and in the ciderhouse. The Yarlington Mill harvest is now all in, and we've made a good start with the substantial task of pressing it all. More recently we spent a few days in the orchard harvesting the yellow sharp apples that we use to add a bit of acidity to the bittersweet blends. The plan was to haul these home and spend another day working through the Yarlington Mill mountain, but a quick exploration in the top orchard revealed that the Vilberie apples were ripe and more than ready to be shaken from the trees. Another few days and the slightest breeze was likely to bring the whole lot down, making the harvest that much more difficult from the long wet grass. A change of plan was required...

So the final day of our long weekend turned out to be our final day in the orchard this season. Karen pulled on her wellies, rolled up her sleeves, and on a cold drizzly day helped harvest all four Vilberie trees. The fruit is now gently maturing at home ready for pressing at a later, unspecified date. It's been the longest harvest we've ever had, starting way back in mid September with the Malvern Hills perry pears, and finally finishing with these dull green, late season bittersweets. So it's goodbye orchard, hello ciderhouse for the next few weeks. It's time to make some cider.

We've applied a bit of science to the pressing this year in the form of a small bottle of Iodine to test starch levels in the apples. When a cider apple is ready to harvest, in common with all apples it should have dark brown pips, and come away easily from the tree. This doesn't mean it's ready to press though. At this point the fruit may still be quite hard, the flavour may not have developed fully, and most of the stored energy will be in the form of unfermetable Starch. This Starch needs to turn to fermentable sugars before the apple is ready to press, and this is why we leave some fruit to mature for a time after harvest.

Some good rules-of-thumb for judging when an apple is ready to press include testing the softness of the flesh with your thumb, which should give easily and not be too hard. Waxy or greasy skin is a good indicator of optimum ripeness, and the skin of some apples will turn from green to yellow as the fruit reaches full maturity. Rules-of-thumb only get you so far though. To be really confident that we're pressing our fruit at the optimum time, we need to turn to a bit of Junior School chemistry.

You can see from the picture below how the Mid-Late season Yarlington Mill apple on the right has very little starch remaining in the flesh, as evidenced by the unchanged colour of the Iodine. The late season Vilberie on the left has turned the Iodine dark blue, indicating there is still plenty of unwanted starch present in the flesh. From this we can deduce that the Yarlington Mill are ready to press, but the Vilberie will need more time, possibly several weeks more. We'll be testing the Vilberie every week now until all the starch has turned to sugars.


*Headline c/o the Grantham Picking & Panking Apprentice

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Tollemache Arms Firework & Music Day

A last minute order for cider has come in from our friends at the Tollemache Arms in Harrington. We're sending the last few pints of our Red Kite Cider ahead of the Tolly's annual Firework & Music Day on Saturday 5th November. Here's what the Landlord has to say about the day:
Our fourth annual fireworks party will take place on Saturday 5th November. The event commences at 2pm with live music all day, bouncy castle and our new play area will be floodlit for the evening. As well as our normal menus, hot food will be served outside from 6pm. The fireworks display will be at 7.30pm. Entry is completely free and there are large covered areas outdoors.
Sounds good, and if we can squeeze it into our busy pressing schedule, we may pop along for a goggle ourselves.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Ale & Apples... though mostly Apples to be fair!

The Rockingham Forest Cider Apple Mountain continues to surge tectonically upwards, causing a good deal of interest in the village, particularly from horse owners! It's currently a single variety mountain, consisting almost exclusively of Yarlington Mill, a vintage quality bittersweet cider apple which we use to create our popular Red Kite Cider.

Every weekend is orchard/pressing time now, and I'm pleased to say that our compact picking team has risen to the substantial challenge ahead. We've even got a new trainee, young and fit, all the way from Grantham, a little wet behind the ears, but willing to get his hands dirty in the name of good cider. There he is on the right, taking a well earned nap on the trailer with one of our veteran pickers Susan. Consider yourself fully initiated into the Guild of Master Pankers sir.

Hard work like this should be rewarded with a bit of hard play, so with the Yarlys secured it was off to the Fleece Inn in nearby Bretforton for a relaxing drink in the orchard garden. The Fleece is a truly great destination any day of the year, but this weekend had the added attraction of their annual Ale & Apple Festival. Yowzah!

A fine display of Dessert and Culinary Apples in the Ale & Cider tent.

The Cider Bar - Favourite of the day was the Gregg's Pitt Aylton/Blakeney Red Perry, closely followed by the Olivers Medium Cider. The Fleece Inn Cider was good too. The Plum Jerkum.... interesting!
The press was fully wound down from an earlier pressing, and showing little activity other than a healthy population of local Wasps.
The antique Scratter, made in Somerset at the foundry of Albert Day.

Susan struggles under the weight of a Newtons Wonder from the Fleece Inn orchard. I think she may have taken this home...
The famous Sweet'n'Savoury Pastie, one half Meat'n'Veg, the other appropriately Apple'n'Custard. Delicious. Unless of course you're not expecting it to be sweet'n'savoury!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Yarly Mountain Visible from (Parking) Space

The time to stop fiddling around with a few bags of perry pears here, and a small batch of Blenheims there, has finally come. This is what we've all been waiting for, and what marks us out as proper grown-up cidermakers. The Yarlington Mill harvest has arrived...

Though not all of it, and we won't actually be pressing them for a week or two yet...

The van wouldn't take the whole load, so we're back in the orchard tomorrow, mob-handed and keen as mustard to get the rest of the harvest in, which includes a load of sweet apples for blending and some extra sharp-'uns for a bit of balancing acidity. I'm guessing a couple of tons at this stage, with maybe half a ton of Vilberie still to come. That should put us about where we need to be for the amount of cider we would like to make this year.

These Yarlington Mill apples are still quite hard, and need another couple of weeks to mature before they're ready for pressing. Maturing the apples like this ensures that all of the starch in the apples has turned to lovely fermentable sugar, and the flavour will also develop with the rising sugar levels. In the mean time, our wonderfully accommodating neighbours will be opening their curtains to a growing mountain of cider apples over the next few weeks. I think a few bottles of cider may help ease the situation...

Cluckin' Hell - Snoofy-Doof eyes up the Wall of Yarlington Mill Cider Apples

Monday, 17 October 2011

Cider Apples Are Go...

It's been a very productive weekend in the orchard...

Shaking down the very large crop of Yarlington Mill cider apples. Five of the seven trees are cropping heavily this year, though sadly some of the the trees have suffered as a result. The very dry conditions seem to have made the wood drier and less flexible and the very heavy crops and high winds have caused several large branches to break under the strain.

By the time we finish harvesting all the Yarlington Mill trees, we will have approaching 100 of these bags of apples to transport home. It will then be a couple of weeks or more before they have fully matured and are ready to press. Despite the large quantity of these 'vintage quality' bittersweet cider apples, it remains to be seen how much juice they'll actually yield, since the apples seem rather light in weight to us this year.

The Aylestone picking team take a well earned rest at the Crown & Trumpet after a hard day in the orchard. The illumination around Susan head is not an optical effect, that really is a Halo. Susan capped her performance on Sunday with a difficult perry pear picking session today.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Welcome Break - Nottingham

Home grown Dabinett cider apples
After a couple of weeks of cidermaking inactivity, it's nearly time to get back on the horse and make a bit of cider.

Putting our feet up last weekend, as we did, turned out to be less relaxing than I'd hoped for. With nothing much ready to harvest, and very little at home to press, it was hard to shake the feeling that we should be doing something. Anything really! We're in the cidermaking zone now, and a weekend off just doesn't seem quite right. I've missed being in the orchard, and I'm acutely aware that the nights are drawing in, and the clocks will be going back very soon. Daylight hours for pressing will become that little bit more... err... squeezed.

So we're off to Worcestershire tomorrow to get the Yarlington Mill harvest in. I'm hoping that most of the fruit will still be on the trees so we can shake them down onto a clean tarpaulin, rather than digging fallen apples out of the grass. It's a crucial difference since the sooner we get finished in the orchard, the sooner we get to the Crown & Trumpet for well earned refreshments.

Today would have perhaps been a better day for orchard work. The sun has been shining all day, and after the early shock of a ground frost, it's been a wonderful warm Autumnal day. Unfortunately, none of the harvest team were in the mood for the obligatory early start, largely owing to a day of intensive 'research' at the Nottingham CAMRA Beer Festival yesterday. It's taken a couple of weeks, but we're finally getting the hang of these 'days off'.

Ru in full flow
This was my first visit to the festival on its new site at Nottingham Castle, and I must say I was very impressed with the whole setup. Professionally run, and with a real 'Festival' atmosphere created by the various food stalls and outdoor music. The range of ciders and perries at the festival was so extensive it had been split into two (three if you include the bijou Castle Rock Bar). We started at the West Country & Wales bar, efficiently run by local CAMRA activists Dee and Ru. It was hard to know where to start, or indeed finish, but I particularly enjoyed the Raglan Barn Owl Perry, and the Dry version of the Dorset Nectar.

We then moved up the hill to the Main Marquee, if only for a change of scenery. The cider bar here included a range from the Three Counties, and the ambitiously titled Rest of the UK. I recall enjoying a Checkley Brook, and a Marches Cyder Circle Kingston Black, but perhaps the highlight of this bar was the extensive Local & East Midlands selection, which featured examples from every county in the region, and quite a few rarities never before seen at a festival. Congratulations to the cider bar organisers for assembling such a ridiculously wide range of quality ciders and perries.
The winning cider

Congratulations must also go to Ray & Gail Blockley of Torkard Cider fame for winning the Best of the East Midlands Ciders competition with their 256 Cider, just pipping ourselves into second place.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Ciderhouse News - October

It's been a very long time in the planning, but the Big One has very nearly arrived. Yes, the Nottingham CAMRA Beer Festival is very, very Big, and of course every-One is welcome (provided they're old enough and behave themselves), which by definition makes it the Big One... you see what I did there... quite clever eh!... Oh well, suit yourselves.

The Robin Hood Beer Festival is the last major event we'll be sending our cider and perry to, and I'm pleased to say we'll be in very good company. This year the festival is sporting a new, and from an East Midlands cidermakers perspective, much improved cider bar. There will be a whopping 22 ciders (and a perry) from 11 East Midlands cider (and perry) makers. The full list for the festival features over 170 ciders and perries from all over the UK, far too many to list here so follow the link below when you've got a few minutes spare.

Nottingham Robin Hood Beer Festival Cider & Perry List

The cider we'll be sending is a Kingston Black/Sweet Alford blend, and the perry is a late season blend of unknown pear varieties which has finished in the 'Opaque' style Green Horse Perry fans will know and love. I'll also be sending myself for a good old fashioned loiter at the cider bar during the Friday afternoon session.

Meanwhile, pressing continues. We've now got approximately 700 litres of assorted perries fizzing merrily away, and a mere 120 litres of cider made from Blenheim Orange apples, with a similar amount still to be pressed. The Blenheim cider will be used to blend with the low acid bittersweets and sweet cider apples that we'll be pressing later in the month. This will help to lower the pH, and act as a vigorous yeasty starter too. The very warm weather we've been experiencing means we're unlikely to have a repeat of the low alcohol, naturally sweet perries we had last season. It will be interesting to see how popular some of these drier 'full-strength' perries will be next year, none of which are likely to be below 7% abv.

The organisers of the popular Brocks Hill Apple Day in Oadby have been in touch, though sadly only to advise us that the event has been cancelled this year owing to cuts in available funding. A great shame, and we hope that plans for an event in 2012 come to fruition. There are of course other Apple Day events happening all over the country, but since Common Ground now no longer coordinate the event, there is currently no UK wide listing of these events available. Probably best to check local press for details throughout October.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Best Dressed Apple Picker

Today we've been harvesting Bramley Apples from our own mature tree. It's probably true to say that they're not fully ripe yet, but I wanted to get them into store before the winds whip up later in the week and blow them all off. Under-ripe Bramleys will come good in storage, bruised or damaged fruit simply won't store for any great length of time, and we want to still be cooking with these Bramleys well into the new year.

Over the last few years I've pruned out quite a bit of wood from the interior of this tree, and also taken out one or two of the tallest branches. As a result, the fruit is much less 'scabby' than it was previously, and we can also reach almost all the fruit with the aid of a fruit picker.

The fruit picker we used today has been on loan from sister-in-law Susan, one half of the Aylestone Picking & Panking Team, for a few years now. I believe she may want it back now, which meant it was high time we did a bit of repaired work!

It's a top-of-the-range Wolf picker, but even the Rolls Royce of orchard tools wear out eventually, and so it was with the collecting bag which hangs at the business end of the tool. As you can see, Karen pulled out all the stops, knitting (I think that's the correct term) this delightful, and very 'now' floral print bag as replacement for the rather functional original. I think Susan will be pleased with the result, and I hope she gets many hours of picking pleasure from it herself.

Pubs We Like - The Plough, Prestbury

The perry pear harvest is now almost done for us, and there's a slight lull before the cider apples are fully ripe and ready. This gives us a great opportunity to behave like proper Cotswold tourists and go stare at the locals in some of our favourite pubs.

The Crown & Trumpet in Broadway continues to act as our temporary 'local' during the cidermaking season, with Gwatkin Silly Ewe Cider my 'pint-of-the-usual'. The other nice thing about the Crown & Trumpet is the way it seems to attract Morris Dancers and their brightly coloured ilk from literally miles around. The mighty Morris Federation recently held their AGM at the nearby Morris Stronghold of the Fleece, Bretforton. Never ones to miss the opportunity of fine ale and cider, the massed sides of the Federation descended on Broadway to shake bells, bash staffs, and generally make getting served at the bar a bloomin' nightmare. Nice work from all the dancers on the day, and it doesn't end there. Next weekend sees Adlington Morris on their (seemingly) annual tour of the Cotswolds, and they'll be dancing at the Crown & Trumpet during the Saturday lunchtime session. Hmm! Tempting...

Another favourite of ours is The Plough in the well-appointed village of Prestbury near Cheltenham. I say well-appointed, the village is lucky to have at least two truly outstanding pubs, the Royal Oak being the one which usually draws the plaudits, and for good reason. They hold an annual Cider & Cheese festival in August, what more need I say...

The Plough is more of a village secret, tucked away as it is on a tiny back road opposite the church. A thatched and beautifully unspoilt village local which has a little of the feel of a rural ciderhouse. Real ales are stillaged behind the bar, with handpumped ciders from Westons of Much Marcle. I went for the Wye Valley HPA myself but the locals appear to prefer the ciders. There's a nice orchard beer garden for the Summer, and a real fire in the bar for when the ice and snow comes. I could easily see myself losing an afternoon in the cosy confines of The Plough, so it's really just as well I'm not allowed to!

Ciders on handpump, Beer from the cask

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Back on the Green Horse

Green Horse - One of the few!
One of the good things about harvesting fruit from a truly mixed orchard, is that for every tree having an 'off' year and bearing little or no fruit, there's likely to be something else fully turned 'on' as it were. It's not good for consistency, but it means there's always something to press.

There are two Green Horse perry pear trees in Johns 'Far Orchard', one of which has cropped very heavily for us for the last couple of years. The other tree is tucked away in the corner, close to a row of conifers which compete for water and nutrients, consequently it's never had much of a crop on it. This year, Green Horse is having an 'off' year, which means instead of the usual half a ton or more of fruit, we've got barely four sacks of pears to play with. To fill our press we need something like seven sacks of fruit, so there will be no single variety Green Horse Perry for the 2012 season. A great shame as its one of my favourite perrys, even more so because its specific gravity came out at a whopping 1.064, up from 1.050 last year. I guess this is down to a combination of factors, including the dry Summer, optimum ripeness (these pears really needed pressing today), and the paucity of the crop.

To fill the press, and go most of the way towards filling a large fermenter, we pressed the sharp Green Horse pears with a few sacks of another more tannin rich perry pear (another whopping gravity of 1.068). This will be topped up tomorrow with a vigorously fermenting 25 litres of Blakeney Red from last weekends pressing session, making a three pear blend which will hopefully taste great, and won't be as lumpy as our last blending experiment.

The weekend harvest included our first few sacks of apples from one of two Blenheim Orange trees we'll be using to produce a nice sharp blending cider. This will be used for much needed acidity, and as a fermenting starter for the Yarlington Mill and Vilberie apples later in the season. There's perhaps one more perry pear pressing session ahead (Red Longdon is having an 'on' year), then it's full steam ahead with the cidermaking.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Brigstock Beer Festival 2011

Once again the Brigstock Beer Festival (Fri 23rd - Sat 24th Sept) neatly bookends our cidermaking year (well almost*), and once again we'll probably have to miss it.

It's unfortunate that this excellent village festival occurs slap-bang in the middle of our perry pear harvest. Whilst villagers and visitors enjoy the beer, bands, and bonhomie in this pretty Northamptonshire village, we'll be shaking trees again, up to our ankles in a carpet of fragrant perry pears. Maybe next year...

In addition to the ales on offer, we've delivered barrels of our Red Kite 'Yarlington Mill' Cider, Kingston Black Cider, and the very last box of Malvern Hills Perry (well nearly**). There will also be cider from Cromwell of Huntingdon. Friday night is a comedy evening, with live bands on Saturday evening. The Saturday afternoon session is entirely free entry.

* The mighty Nottingham Beer Festival is still to come
** We've held a barrel back for the 2012 Leicester Beer Festival

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Blakeney Red - Yields Down, Gravity Up

Our Perry merry-making continues. This time it's the Blakeney Red pears that need our attention. The orchard has (or had) three Blakeney Red trees, good annual croppers, and more compact than the huge old Malvern Hills trees making them so much easier to harvest.

Sadly, as with many of the trees in this elderly orchard, the Blakeneys are not in the best of health. In fact one of the three trees appears to have given up the ghost this year. We've noticed die-back on the odd branch before, not necessarily a fatal situation, but the whole tree now appears to be either dead, or having a very serious rest! I think that an already struggling tree may have been pushed over the edge by the extremely dry Summer we've had this year. John will be leaving the tree in for the time being, just in case it shows a spectacular recovery next year...

So, only two trees harvested, which is a great shame as the Blakeney Red Perry was probably our most popular drink this year. Even so, we've come home with a similar quantity of pears to the Malvern Hills, and managed to press almost 50 gallons of juice from them, which is a little less than last year. I think the pears were close to a peak of ripeness. Larger than usual, mainly yellow and still quite firm, but perhaps not as juicy as the Malvern Hills. The sugar levels are similarly high, with a very respectable specific gravity of 1.060, the highest we've recorded for Blakeney Red by a long way. It's that dry Summer again I think.

A quick scan of the orchard revealed that the Green Horse perry pears are almost ready for harvest, once again around 1-2 weeks earlier than last year, so we'll be hard at it again this weekend.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Perry Pear Day at Hartpury Orchard Centre

It's been a hell of a weekend of perry making action already, and we've still got pressing to do. Meanwhile, here's a few images from this years Perry Pear Day at the Orchard Centre in Hartpury, Gloucestershire. Exhibitors included the Gloucestershire Orchard Group, Charles Martell, Albert Rixen and friends, Out of the Orchard Cider & Perry, plus many other food and orchard related stalls.

What it's all about. A world record 90 varieties of Perry Pear on display, presided over by perry pear expert Jim Chapman. Jim couldn't make the event last year, so I was delighted to meet him this time around, and deliver my small collection of unknown perry pear varieties for identification.

Workhorse of the world, a Lister Junior powers the Scratter for the vintage pressing demonstration

Levelling out the Perry Pear pomace on the vintage Workman Press.
Charles Martell, accompanied by Britains youngest distiller George Lewis, presented their new 'Owler Pear Spirit in the afternoon sunshine. I can confirm that it's very nice indeed, and despite being a little pricey for a young spirit, I've now secured a bottle for future enjoyment.

Gloucester Cattle crop the grass in the recently planted Perry Pear orchard.

The Goodnature Squeezebox Press in action

Perry Pears. All types, prior to washing and sorting.

Building the Cheese on the vintage Workman & Sons press. The pressing demo proceeded at a leisurely pace, interrupted by lunch breaks, downpours and the odd sample of last years vintage. Just as it should be.
Washing and sorting perry pears the 'hand-raulic' way, much as we do at home.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Thoroughly Modern Milling

I've got a love-hate relationship with Malvern Hills perry. Obviously I love the taste or I wouldn't bother making it, but from a commercial perspective the high tannin is a bit of a problem.

Here are some other loves: Usually nice weather for harvest. Loads of fruit available. Consistently high sugar levels can give very high alcohol in the finished perry. A naturally clear perry. Nice name.

...and for balance, some hates: Very tall trees make harvest difficult. Harvest/Pressing time ultra critical. Consistently high sugar levels can make for a perry which is hard to sell.

Freshly Milled
But back to those high tannin levels. Malvern Hills perry is a clean, fruity, and quite subtle tasting drink, but the tannins are really quite fulsome and astringent. That's to say they dry the mouth in an uncompromising way. I'm fine with tannins generally, but even I find them a bit 'wearing' at this level. It means that our Malvern Hills Perry is perhaps more of a connoisseurs drink, when we'd much rather it had more general appeal, though the last thing we want to do is dumb it down.
After Maceration
After our recent disastrous blending experiment, I've decided I need to tackle the issue at source. My new-fangled innovation for this years Malvern Hills perry is the old-fangled processs of Maceration. Maceration is simply the process of milling the pears to a fine pulp, and leaving well alone for a few hours before pressing. In this way, the tannins in the pears oxidise, and hopefully precipitate out, leaving all the lovely perry taste but with less of the mouth-drying tannin. It's a bit of extra work because it spreads the processing out over two days instead of one, but hopefully the results will be worth the effort. I went for a 24 hour maceration, milling the pears on Saturday, ready for pressing on Sunday.

I can't say that the pressing was a pleasant experience, but then the first of the season never is. Nothing is in the right place, every piece of kit needs a thorough clean, and fatigue takes hold as we're using muscles that have lain idle since the last cidermaking season. Putting the fun-factor aside though, it was a successful weekends pressing, giving us around 220 litres of juice with an average Specific Gravity of 1.070. One batch achieved 1.071, the highest gravity we've recorded, with the potential to give a final alcohol level of around 9%.

The warm weather we're having at moment should mean fermentation will romp away, and it now remains to be seen how successful our maceration has been, and whether it's worth repeating again next year.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Time for a Swift One

In between the arduous task of harvesting a trailer load of perry pears, and the equally hard graft of milling and pressing them, I managed to find time for a mini cider crawl in the tourist hot-spot of Broadway. All work and no play as they say...

First a refreshing Cup'O'Tea, kindly supplied by the owner of the orchard we'd been bending our backs in for the last few hours. While we chatted, Johns wife dug out a few old photos of the cidermaking from back when my Voran press was still under warranty. It's good to see these old photos, which feature a spectacularly quiff'd John, his father the original cidermaker, and Ted, an old boy from the village, milling and pressing in the ciderhouse as it's always been done. It's represents a nice bit of continuity as we're now using the same press, and harvesting the same orchard as John was over 20 years ago, and his father before him. With Johns permission I'd like to reproduce a few of these on the Blog some time.

Tea refreshes up to a point, but real thirst requires something a bit stronger, so into the village for a pint of Hogans Draught Cider at the Horse & Hound, our usual lunchtime refreshment venue when working in the orchard. This pub is also handy for several top quality charity shops, so something for the ladies too.

Onwards to the smart and bustling Swan Hotel. Always busy it seems, and very popular with thirsty tourists. I retired to the patio with a pint of Aspalls Draught Cider, a great vantage point to watch the world crawl by whilst basking in what may well prove to be the last of the Summer sunshine. Beer options here include the excellent Purity Brewery Pure UBU, which is what I'll usually have when I'm not drinking cider.

My final destination was the ultra-cosy Crown & Trumpet, tucked away off the main drag and all the better for it. Popular with visitors to the village, but still a proper locals pub, and always very welcoming even when busy.

The beers are generally all from local brewers, including Cotswold Spring, Stroud, and Stanaway, but I was here for the local ciders. Hogans Draught Cider is a long standing regular, but occasionally during the Summer there's also something from Gwatkin of Herefordshire. The bottled cider and perry in the fridge were a little too sweet for my taste, but on handpump was a fresh barrel of Silly Ewe, a new-ish dry cider from Gwatkin. Properly dry, and surprisingly full-flavoured for a cider of only 4.5%.

There's much to admire in the Crown & Trumpet, not least the unusual range of traditional pub games on offer, which apparently include Evesham Quoits (otherwise known as Dobbers!), Devil among the Tailors, and the rarity shown in this picture, Ring the Bull. Perhaps not quite as sophisticated as our beloved Northants Table Skittles, but a game of some skill nonetheless. It definitely warrants a return visit in the hope of catching a competitive game in full flow. At the very least it's a chance to try more good ciders in one of our favourite Cotswold pubs.