Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Three Festivals and a Wedding

The last weekend of April looks set to be a Right Bloomin' Royal Wedding Bank Holiday Jamboree Knees-up, Cor-Blimey Guv! Needless to say, this calls for a drink!

It's now accepted tradition in Olde England that we celebrate absolutely everything and anything with a pub festival, so it's no surprise that those pubs still loyal to the crown are going quite literally 'Beer & Cider Festival Crazy' in honour of the royal nuptials. In our own local trading area there appears to be much more festival action than we can possibly digest in a single weekend sitting, but three in particular have caught our somewhat bibulous eye. For want of a better idea, I've arranged them as a three course Royal Cider & Perry Banquet... in French... naturally!


The weekend kicks off in very local style at the Red Lion Mini-Beer, Cider & Perry Festival, in our own bijou villag-ette of Middleton. Monsieur et Madame Barby will be our Gourmands for the weekend, and we recommend an Amuse Bouche from the Rockingham Forest Cider drinks trolley, washed down with... oh, I don't know... perhaps an Entrée or two of Rockingham Forest Perry. Fine local music and all-round Bonhomie will also be on tap during the Friday evening sitting. Bon Appétit. (Incidentally, we're now le cidre du patron, de la maison at the Red Lion... Voilà!).

Le Plat Principal

The Swan & Rushes in Leicester is renowned for delivering generous portions and the very topper-most quality during its annual Cider & Cheese Festival. A whopping 30-40 Ciders and Perries have been promised for the weekend's Plat Principal, accompanied by a similar selection of quality Fromage to aid digestion. In fact so much cider is being imported from the West Country for this popular event, we're seriously worried that the delicate tectonic balance of the British Isles could be upset, plunging most of Anglia and the Fens below the icy waters of the North Sea. Sacré flippin' bleu! We know a few people in the Anglian region. They're not great swimmers to be honest! In view of this we're aiming to help restore the balance by bringing some of our own cider and perry to the festival. I just hope Grant won't be charging corkage...

Le Dessert
Will we have room for Le Pudding I hear you ask? Never fear, there's always room for one last Cidre or Poire, particularly when we can combine it with a small Digestif of genuine Cambridgeshire Bric-a-Brac and Jumble at the Elton Village Fete. The cider and perry selection at the Crown Inn Beer Festival in Elton is modest, but usually includes a few local specialities, including a barrel of our own cider or perry, both local and special... Bien Sur!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Sap is Rising

Enough beating about the bush. It's official! Spring has definitely arrived in all its 'almost Summer-y' glory. Buds are a-bursting, blossom is a-bloomin', and right on cue my nose is a-runnin'.

Bramley Seedling bud at 'Mouse Ear' stage
Spring blossom is a joy to behold, but with it comes Spring pollen... closely followed by Spring hayfever. Bah! Could this be the reason Morris Men start waving hankies around at this time of year? Coincidence? I think not!

Whatever. I'm greatly looking forward to blossom time, and this year I'll be making a special trip to our friend John's beautiful old orchard in the Cotswolds to experience the perry pear and cider apple trees in full bloom. Expect some eye-popping orchard-porn on here very soon.

Meanwhile, I have to content myself with some bought-in orchard loveliness in the form of a new book, 'For the Love of an Orchard' (Anova Books, £25). Described by authors Jane McMorland Hunter & Chris Kelly as 'Everybody's guide to growing & cooking orchard fruit', it's a delightful book to dip into, and full of the sort of images we've come to expect where orchards are concerned. Is it possible to take a bad picture of an orchard I wonder!

This is no textbook, but neither is it merely a coffee-table tome. There are certainly better books available for the nuts and bolts of orchard planning and planting, but that's not what this is about. It's an inspirational book, with just enough hard facts and advice to set the suitably inspired potential orchardist on the right road to creating their own bit of orchard heaven. For me, I love the little snippets of fruity prose, such as this one from Geoffrey Grigson's Aphrodite (translated by A.L Loyd) on the lusty Quince fruit:
It is yellow in colour, as if it wore a daffodil tunic, and it smells like musk, a penetrating smell.

It has the perfume of a loved women and the same hardness of heart, but it has the colour of the impassioned and scrawny lover.

Its pallor is borrowed from my pallor, its smell is my sweatheart's breath.

When it stood fragrant on the bough and the leaves had woven for it a covering of brocade, I gently put up my hand to pluck it and to set it like a cencer in the middle of my room.

It had a cloak of ash-coloured down hovering over its smooth golden body, and when it lay naked in my hand, with nothing more than its daffodil-coloured shift, it made me think of her I cannot mention, and I feared the ardour of my breath would shrivel it in my fingers.
Yep, that's Quince for you. There are similarly earthy descriptions of Medlars, PlumsApples, Pears, Cherries and Mulberries. I'm going to need a bigger garden...

As yet I've only dipped into this book, and needless to say, being largely non-technical in nature, there are likely to be a few errors. In a classic bit of reverse logic, the authors make the assertion that 'Perry is fizzier than cider...', presumably because it was frequently marketed as a Champagne substitute. Perry is certainly not inherantly 'fizzy', unless of course you make it that way...

It's a good book though, and I can attest to it's effectiveness by the fact I'm now wistfully searching the garden for space to plant a Quince tree... and a Medlar...

Friday, 18 March 2011

Skibbereen, Ale & Cider

Every year around this time (or any other time for that matter), Middleton villagers (and others) like to celebrate International Skibbereen Day by raising a glass (or two) at our local the Red Lion, Middleton. This year is no exception, so we'll be raising a glass (or two) at our local the Red Lion, Middleton this evening, in honour of Skibbereen and all its inhabitants.

Skibbereen is a small town at the southernmost tip of County Cork in Ireland. Famous for being possibly the only town in southern Ireland called Skibbereen, and also for being the birthplace of Percy Ludgate, designer of an ingenious Analytical Engine, although not the Analytical Engine, which was designed by Charles Babbage, who wasn't from Skibbereen. He was from London. But it was pretty ingenious nevertheless.

It sounds like a lovely place for sure, and we like to celebrate this fact by raising many glasses in the company of fellow Skibbereen enthusiasts at the Red Lion, Middleton. Local Corby folksters and fellow Skibbereen enthusiasts, Skibbereen, have been invited along for the Craic, and we're hoping they may even play a tune for us at some point during the proceedings. Let's face it, they might as well after coming all the way from Corby... with their instruments!

Our village local, and host of this years International Skibbereen Day, have got into the spirit of the occasion by re-naming the pub after our favourite southern Ireland town. Extra ales have been brought in for the occasion, including the world famous Abbey Stoat from Great Oakley Brewery, and their slightly less famous Marching In ale (something to do with Northampton Saints Rugby apparently...). There will also be a limited edition box of Rockingham Forest Cider to fill your (raised) glass with, a subtle blend of new season Red Kite Cider, with a dash of vintage Malvern Hills Perry. A fitting toast to a great Irish town and its people. Sláinte!

Thursday, 17 March 2011


The clamour for a taste of our new season ciders and perries has reached an all time high. 'Clamour Factor 7' or thereabouts, which is quite high I think you'll agree.

In response to this persistent (and altogether welcome) customer demand, I've taken to mooching around the ciderhouse. Sniffing here, dipping my 'Cider Thief' there, looking for that which all cidermakers yearn for at this time of the year. A cider that's ready to go-go-go...

It's mostly bad news I'm afraid. The plop and fizz of yeasty activity is still evident in several vats, and most of those that have finished fermenting are still far from ready. So the outlook from the ciderhouse is still rather cloudy, though clearing from the (erm!) top down. Things are looking brighter for April... or maybe May, by which time the Clamour Factor will have probably reached 11... with storms brewing at several pubs we know!
2010 Yarlington Mill Cider Apples

It's not all bad news though. There's just a slight possibility that a rogue fermenter may have gone quite literally 'fermentation crazy', and finished slightly earlier than its sluggish cidery pals.

Now I can't promise anything at this stage, but plucky old Vat #5 (a mostly Yarlington Mill blend) appears to have cleared quite nicely, and could just possibly be ready to go. I need to have another, more careful, slightly bigger taste tomorrow morning, before there's any chance I can pass it fit for release. If it is ready, we're looking at a full-bodied 7.2% abv version of our very popular Red Kite Cider. Ooooh!...

...and if it isn't!... well, can you come back in April?.... or maybe May?...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Cidermaker Scooping at Leicester Beer Festival

So another Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival has come and gone, well up to its usual standard I might add. From my position at the Cider Bar, things seemed even busier than usual, although this could have been down to myself being even slower than usual.

This years festival was something of an East Midlands cidermakers summit. I 'ticked' cidermakers from Charnwood, Eves, Torkard, and Three Cats. In fact there were so many of them milling around, I had to take a couple home in Pandas Pops bottles to enjoy later...

So congratulations to all the volunteers and organisers on yet another successful festival. Here's a few candid pics from the cider bar for your pleasure:

A Nice Pair

Work in Progress

Peters Slider Rules

A 'Tump' of Cidermakers

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Roll Out the Barrels

Eager young casks of Cider & Perry wait for a space on the Leicester CAMRA Cider Bar stillage
Find out why some of these casks have travelled from as far away as SomersetWales, and even Hucknall-in-the-North, by visiting the 2011 Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival, which kicks off this Wednesday. Details below:

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Respect Your Elders

Our recent Spirit Cask Cider experiment was reasonably successful (albeit that no 'Casks' were actually used in its production). We're determined to get ahead of the game and develop the next big thing in cider marketing, but let's be honest, Cheap Cooking Rum and lightly toasted Hungarian Oak Chips are never going to deliver the kind of 'story' our increasingly picky customers demand. It's got to be genuine old Spirit Casks, and we haven't got any, so I guess it's back to the drawing board...

Anyway, it's now become apparent that we were wasting our time searching for the cider-zeitgeist in a bottle'o'rum. Apparently, Flowers are where it's at. Elderflowers to be precise, and needless to say, someone's already picked them. We've missed the boat... again!

Homemade wine enthusiasts have been putting these delicate Spring blossoms in their fruity concoctions for years, and one or two craft brewers have dallied with a bit of blossom in their time, but now it's the turn of cider. The distinctive flavour of Elderflower is widely regarded as a 'positive' taste experience whenever it occurs, so it's perhaps no surprise that someone's decided to shoehorn it into their cider. Although needless to say, it came as a complete surprise to us.... harumph!

The 'someones' who've already done it are the ingenious folk at the Sampford Courtenay Cider Co, who make jolly good cider in deepest Devon from apples grown on their own farm. Described as 'undiluted', 'lightly sparkling', and only 'slightly sweetened', it sounded right up my street. I just wasn't sure about the Elderflowers!

The first surprise came when I popped the swing-top on the bottle. I'd chilled things down nicely, but even so the cider frothl'd invitingly up the neck like a fine sparkling wine. The fizz is anything but harsh though, and certainly suits this style of cider. It's a robust little monkey, full of chunky bittersweet flavour, and just a hint of tangy farmhouse character for added drinkability. The Elderflower is subtle. Very subtle. I got a bit of flora in the nose, but not much in the mouth to be honest. Best of all, it's not the sticky sweetie I was expecting, more Medium or even Medium Dry, which is a very pleasant change. I love it, and so does the missus.... bah!

The packaging is real quality too. A 70cl swing-top bottle, labelled in such a way that a gnarled old apple tree can be seen shimmering through the golden liquid. You'll be pleased to learn that this cider was procured from one of the larger Waitrose stores around these parts (Stamford), and at £4.99 is reasonably good value for a cider of this quality (particularly as I get a lovely swing-top bottle to re-use at my leisure).

Now then, back to the laboratory. I'm sure we've got a bottle of Elderflower cordial somewhere in the house....