Monday, 28 February 2011

Leicester Beer Festival Cider & Perry List

It's here! A Rockingham Forest Cider 'Exclusive', and not a moment too soon. Big enough to satisfy, yet compact enough to fit neatly in your back pocket, it's the 2011 Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival Cider & Perry List. Fresh off the press, and 100% guaranteed almost 90% complete. Just add a stylish Festival Glass and a Crusty Cheese Cob for maximum drinking pleasure:

Brook Farm, Herefordshire
Winter Warmer Dry Cider (7.5%)
Blended Perry

Burrow Hill, Somerset
Cider 6.5%

Chant, Somerset
Cider 6.5%

Charnwood, Leicestershire
Cider 6.0%

Farmer Fear, Leicestershire
Dry Cider 6.0%
Medium Cider 6.0%

Gwatkin, Herefordshire
Farmhouse Perry 7.5%
Stoke Red Cider
Yarlington Mill Cider

Gwynt Y Ddraig, Glamorgan
Black Dragon Cider 6.5%
Haymaker Cider 5.5%
Pyder 6.0%
Malvern Hills Perry 5.5%
Two Trees Perry 5.0%

Hecks, Somerset
Port Wine of Glastonbury Cider 6.5%
Porters Perfection Cider
Blakeney Red Perry
Medium Perry

Naish, Somerset
Dry Cider 6.0%

Newton Court,Herefordshire

Olivers, Herefordshire
Cider 6.3%
Perry 6.5%

Pickled Pig, Cambridgeshire
New Season Porker Cider
Rum Cask Cider
Sweet Little Pig Cider 6.5%

Rich's, Somerset
Legbender Cider 6.0%

Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire
Vilberie Vintage Cider
Malvern Hill Vintage Perry

Ross Cider Company, Herefordshire

Thatchers, Somerset
Cheddar Valley Cider 6.0

Torkard, Nottinghamshire
Floppy Tabs Cider

Westcroft Somerset
Dry Cider 6.5%
Janet's Jungle Juice Cider

Willkins, Somerset
Cider 6.0%

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Drinking in the Round

The Beer Festival season is well and truly underway in the East Midlands. CAMRA festivals in Loughborough and Leicester are coming very soon, but yesterday I hitched a ride on a fast train 'up north' to the annual Derby Winter Beer Festival, though not for the beer you understand.

Derby has long been known for the quality of its pubs, sometimes claiming to be the Beer Capital of Britain no less. It's also blessed with a brace of highly regarded CAMRA beer festivals, the Winter one being held at the truly impressive venue of The Roundhouse. I only wish I could have captured some of its atmosphere in my photos. I think I did better with the cider bar though, covering almost every aspect of barrels, pouring, and... well, that's about it isn't it!

I was particularly impressed with ciders from the newish Bath Cyder Co, whose Rough Diamond had a very polished and well-balanced flavour. The Oliver's Medium Cider was also a winner, but then I expect nothing less from cider and perry making legend Tom Oliver. The Checkley Brook Dabinett was fresh, young, and typical of a cider apple variety we've had some experience with ourselves. I enjoyed it a lot, though I'm pretty sure this will improve even more as it matures. I was also impressed with the (draws breath) Venton Skippy's Scrumpy Single Variety Pig's Nose Straw-Pressed Whiskey Cask Cyder (phew!). A good, clean Devon cider, exhibiting very little Whiskey or Straw character, which is not necessarily a bad thing...

Of the perries, Mike Johnson's ever-reliable Ross Perry was the one I'd be happy to drink all day long. The Day's Cottage Blakeney Red was nice too, though a little too sweet and underdeveloped for my taste.

All this was washed down with a plate of quality cheeses, and the good company of Torkard Cider's Ray Blockley. I'd like to thank the whole beer festival team for organising such an excellent festival, and Gillian, Alistair, and Pam in particular, for seeing to our every need at the cider bar.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Spirit of Adventure

I was sipping a cider the other day, feet up, time on my hands, waiting. Waiting along with what seems to be the whole of ciderland. Waiting for fermentations to come to an end, and the brief excitement of racking, blending, tasting to begin. Tum-ti-Tum!

My idle thoughts turned to pondering one of the great imponderables of the cider world. Just what will be the next great 'Phenomemon' in cider drinking! Hmm!

The Cider Over Ice phenomenon which started it all has just about melted away now. Pear Cider?... soooo 2010. Fruity Ciders, meh! So where will the bright young things in the marketing departments take us next I wondered. Hmm!...

How about the tropical isle of Barbados?...

...or maybe the Peat and Sea-spray of rugged Islay?

What about sun-baked Jerez?

Spirit Casks at Broome Farm, Ross-on-Wye

You see it's Spirit Casks that I'm thinking of. Ex-distillery Rum and Whisky Casks in particular. Old news in the Craft Cidermaking world, but shiny, bright and full of sales potential for the lumbering giants of Industrial Cider. You read it here first.

Of course spirit cask ciders are hardly a new thing. Traditional cidermakers have been using ex-distillery casks to ferment and mature their ciders in for as long as they've been available. In fact before the widespread availability of cheap plastics, stainless steel and glass for fermentation and storage, practically all cider was made in wood, albeit often Sherry or Port pipes. So what's the big deal then?

Maturing cider in ex-distillery casks can add a whole new dimension to their contents. At its best, it can produce an award-winning cider such as the Rum-tinged beauty from Green Valley I tasted at a festival last year. But the practice also divides opinion amongst cider drinkers. Whiskey character is definitely an acquired taste, and in my opinion more of a clash of flavours than one of harmony. Rum character on the other hand is generally seen as being very complementary to the taste of a good cider, particularly those made from bittersweet cider apples. But even Rum Cask Ciders have their detractors, and as with most things in cidermaking, a light touch often produces the best results. A full-on Rum character can swamp the flavour of even the most robust ciders, and in my opinion the delicate flavour of perries do not stand up to the addition of any spirit character.

So a little bit of controversy too, which is of course even better for the flash suits in the marketing dept.

Now this got me thinking. We've been a little slow with previous cider phenomenons, and I don't want to get left behind with this one. I'm confident that the Gaudy Marketing Bandwagon is being hooked-up to the Wild Stallions of Passing Fashion even as I sit here writing this, so we're jumping on right now before all the good seats are taken. Now we don't have any spirit casks, and have no intention of getting any (I don't really like spirit cask ciders to be honest...), but that isn't going to stop us developing our very own Rum 'Character' Cider. At the risk of squandering our solid-gold marketing advantage, here's how we've done it:

For every litre of cider, add 20ml of a reasonable quality Rum, a bit of sugar to bring out the 'Authentic Rum Character', shake around for a bit, leave to mature for at least and hour, enjoy.

We're calling this latest potential Cash-Cow our Rockingham Forest Little Rum 'Un Cider, which we think accurately reflects its almost total lack of 'Heritage', 'Authenticity', and other things which sound good in the trade magazines. I'm afraid that if you want to try this unique 'Limited Edition' cider (ooh! that sounds good too), you'll have to be quick. A single bottle will be available for tasting at the Derby CAMRA Cider Bar tomorrow afternoon. Get it while you can.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Cordon Blues

In common with many people at this time of year, we've been looking for signs that Spring might be on its way. It's not been a particularly long Winter, and no-doubt there's more Wintry weather to come, but it does seem to have been a properly cold one this time around. After the fun and games of heavy snowfall late last year, we seem to have settled into a dull, damp, February chill. To be honest, I'm getting a bit fed-up with it now. Spring can't come soon enough for me.

Of course, below-freezing conditions can be a good thing in the garden/orchard, and it can also help give us the slow fermentation we prefer for our ciders and perrys. Recent mild Winters may well have contributed to the Aphid problems we've been suffering from this last couple of years. A prolonged cold spell can be just the job for killing off a good percentage of these damaging garden pests. A serious cold spell can also help to promote good fruiting in apples and pears, forcing the trees into a proper Winter dormancy ahead of the new
season. So it's not all bad, but now Winter's done its job, I just wish it would push-off back to Narnia for a few months and let Spring do its thing.

There are a one or two Spring-like signs in the garden. Karens carefully planted Crocuses are popping up all over the garden, some are even coming up where she planted them. That'll be the Hens and their 'Powerful-Dig-Action'. These lovely Snowdrops are sheltering under a nest of brambles in the village orchard, safe from the scratch and peck of the Rockingham Forest Cider Flock. In the orchard, buds are beginning to swell on some of the more sheltered apple trees. Bullfinches have been seen licking their beaks in anticipation...

Best news of all, the Rhubarb is up and about, which is great news for us custard lovers. Now that we've perfected our custard tart recipe, I'm really looking forward to trying a Rhubarb version with this years slender stalks, perhaps with a bit of ginger on top instead of the nutmeg.

So with the first hints of Spring in the air, a young mans thoughts turn to planting apple trees...

I've had a full year to decide what to do with the trees I successfully grafted last year, space being at a premium in our modest garden. When space is tight, Cordon trained trees are generally considered the best option for apple trees.

Cordon fruit trees are grown as a single stem, with lateral branches pruned out, and fruiting buds encouraged along the length of the tree. Fruiting is quite limited in this heavily restricted form, but the big advantage is that trees can be planted very close together, ideal for us, as we have several trees to plant in a very limited space. Cordons can be grown vertically, but it's more usual to train them at a 45 degree angle. I think this may help encourage fruit bud formation.

A Cordon trained tree can be a difficult form to maintain, particularly with more vigorous rootstock/scion combinations which will want to grow as big and bushy as possible. These trees are on MM106 rootstock, which is perhaps a little too vigorous for Cordon training, but needs-must, and it's certainly worth an experiment. At the very least we'll be able to maintain the varieties in the garden, giving us easy access to scion wood for grafting up trees at a later date.

The unsightly post and brick arrangement is a temporary guard against our Spring Chickens digging up the roots. I'll put in a more permanent solution when I can think of a more elegant solution...

Friday, 18 February 2011

2011 Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival

'Holy Mackerel', it's only Nineteen Sleeps until the 2011 Leicester Beer Festival opens its doors. Put another way, that's only twelve working days, or a measly three weekends, only one of which features Six Nations Rugby. It's come around so quickly again! I've not even thought about how I'll be getting there, or more importantly, how on earth I'll get home again! I've got absolutely nothing to wear!

Thankfully for those of you thinking of going to this great festival, the organising committee are well on top of all the little things that need organising, as well as the larger things, such as Beer, Curry, and of course the Cider and Perry.

Thanks to our 'Mole' on the cider bar, a few juicy bits of information are starting to trickle out with regards to the ciders and perrys which will be available. Here at Rockingham Forest Cider, we are nothing if not indiscreet, so here's the current Scrattings from inside the cider bar:

  • New local Leicestershire cidermakers, Charnwood Cider, will be sending a box of their Medium Cider, possibly the first showing for this producer at a CAMRA beer festival.

  • Our friends in the north, Ray & Gail of Torkard Cider have boxed-up a fresh young Floppy Tabs for the festival, which will be Medium, and somewhere around 6% abv. The term Floppy Tabs is apparently 'Northern-Speak' for when a Border Collie has had too much strong cider and its ears go all wonky! or something...

  • There will be more local Leicestershire cider from Farmer Fear of Mountsorrel. Their Thirsty Farmer Cider is usually only available as Medium, but hard bargaining from cider bar manageress Susan has resulted in the procurement of a tub of naturally Dry cider too. Nice work Sue.

  • Exotic foreign cider enthusiasts can look forward to a consignment of Cambridgeshire's finest from Pickled Pig Cider, including Sweet Little Pig, a cider containing a high proportion of Cox apples. Don't worry, I'm assured that no pigs are used in the production of these ciders!... except for the final bit where the dry pomace is fed to pigs... obviously!

  • We'll be sending the last of our 2009 vintage, a Vilberie Medium Cider (6%), and a Malvern Hills Perry (8%), but we won't be drinking any of it! That would be silly, we've got loads of it at home...

  • You've got even less time to plan for the Loughborough CAMRA Beer Festival, which starts on the 3rd of March. The cider and perry list is now up, looks a little too sweet for my taste, but has local interest with East Midlands Cider from Three Cats of Derbyshire.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Local Ciders for Local People

Is this the largest range of East Midlands Ciders and Perries ever assembled in one place? Probably, but even seven producers is less than half  the total now producing locally. These are the bottles I'll be taking to a talk and tasting session for Rutland CAMRA at the Plough, Greetham this week. More details of these and other East Mids producers can be found in a new leaflet, available to download here from the Nottingham CAMRA website. It is hoped that an even wider range of local ciders and perries will be available at the Nottingham CAMRA Beer Festival in October.

L-R: Skidbrooke Cyder, Spalding Scrumpy, Roundhead Cider, Rockingham Forest Cider & Perry, Torkard Floppy Tabs Cider, Beeches Cider, Marron Pear Cider

Monday, 7 February 2011

Ciderhouse News - February

'Ahoy There!' It's very nearly the time when the good ship Rockingham Forest Cider weighs anchor, and sets sail on the choppy waters of the 2011 Beer Festival season. It's been a long, cold winter in dry dock, but we've not been idle. The barnacles have been scraped off the barrels, we're fully provisioned, and ready to cruise the highways and bye ways of the East Midlands and beyond. There'll be a cider in every port, and hopefully a girl in every cider. Yo-Ho-Ho! Shiver me Timbers! and that's quite enough nautical nonsense I think.

First up is bijou northern event, the Hucknall Beer Festival, opening its doors this weekend, and featuring all that's local and best in ale, ciders, and well-filled Cobs (that's Crusty Rolls to our more southern readers). There'll be local Torkard Cider, and we've sent along the very last box of our 2009 Rockingham Forest Cider (7%), and another of Malvern Hills Perry (8%). There's a Farmers Market on the Friday, live music on Saturday evening, and I've been assured there's absolutely no restrictions on the wearing of Flat Caps at this event, so go along and fill yer (Hobnail) boots.

Further on down the line is the annual Leicester CAMRA Beer, Cider & Curry Jamboree. Same venue, similar huge range of quality real ales, ciders and perrys. We're aiming to send barrels of Malvern Hills Perry and a sweetish Vilberie Cider, and we've been assured by bar manageress 'Zoider Zusan' that there'll be other local ciders available, including a smooth Torkard number, a Thirsty Farmer, and something rare and fruity from new boys on the block, Charnwood Cider. The full cider and perry list will be 'broken' here, just as soon as we've persuaded Sue to give it to us before anyone else....

I figured it might be a good idea to get some practice in ahead of
all this festival activity, with a short trip to the Slug & Lettuce Beer Festival in downtown Leicester. Not a huge selection of ciders to be honest, but it was nice to see the range included something a little different to the usual from Orchard Pig of Somerset, and full-bodied organic Devon cider from Heron Valley. The ciders provided a bit of welcome interest in the flat ocean of Irish/Italian rugby mediocrity. We appear to be back at sea!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

My Perfect Tart!

Our carefully stored mountain of Bramley Apples shows little sign of diminishing. They've stored very well in the cool of the porch, free from frost damage and cheeky nibbling mice. Almost every day we're forced to convene a short brainstorming session, wracking our brains to think of what else we can use them for before they finally succumb to rot and the compost bin.

I've written before about the 'Holy Trinity' of apples, pastry and custard. A simple, perfect combination, and one we're loath to mess with too much. On this occasion, I broke my own golden rule, and risked contamination with a little pinch of spice. I'm usually a strict fundamentalist on this point. Cinnamon, No! Cloves, Absolutely Not! Nutmeg..... well, maybe just this once.

So, Bramley Apple Custard Tart it is then, with just a hint of Nutmeg because I'm equally hardcore about custard tarts. This recipe has come along at just the right time for us, what with the glut of rapidly deteriorating Bramleys, and a similar mountain of eggs from the ever reliable Rockingham Forest Cider Hens.

Line a deepish Flan Dish with Shortcrust Pastry (it doesn't have to be sweet), and blind bake at 180C until just cooked. Meanwhile, peel, core and chop a couple of medium sized Bramley Apples, and cook to a puree with a drop of water and sugar to taste. When the flan and apple puree have cooled a little, spread the puree onto the base of the flan.

Heat 400ml of Double Cream along with 50g of Golden Caster Sugar and a Vanilla flavouring of your choice. Vanilla Essence would be fine, but I used 25g of Vanilla Sugar, made up to the 50g with Golden Caster Sugar. Bring just to the boil and remove from the heat for a few minutes. Lightly beat 3 Large Egg Yolks with 1 Whole Egg, before whisking into the Cream. Pour the custard mix into the flan, dust with a little Nutmeg, and bake for an hour at 170C until the custard is cooked but still wobbly.

Quite one of the most delicious things I've ever put in my mouth, and that's saying something!