Saturday, 30 April 2011

Ciderhouse News - Down Under

It's all cider and perry at the moment, I'm writing this ahead of a trip to Leicester for the Swan & Rushes Cider & Cheese Festival. A little birdy has told me that first to sell out was our Blakeney Red Perry.... Yay!

Cider festivals are breaking out around the world. Here's a report from 'Our Man in Australia', Wal McWalbert drinking for England at the 23rd Kellybrook Cider Festival:

Awesome day. Full cider variety. Well rounded fruity English to crisp sparkling (Bulmers Norman included) average band but great weather. Slightly wobbly. Thank you.

Morris dancers good. Well practiced. Same guys but getting greyer. No one died this year. Yay. Classic dances that bring a great sense of occasion while still encouraging further drinking. Sorted. Thank you.

It's very dark and we're the last ones here again. Becoming a bit of a habit. Excellent.
Nice work Wal, G'nite...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

2011 Crop Predictions

Following our stroll around John's lovely orchards in Worcestershire last weekend, I can now give the Rockingham Forest Cider long-range crop forecast for the season ahead*

Cider Apples

Yarlington Mill (Bittersweet) - Last year we had a very good crop from two mature trees, the other three trees having an 'off' year. All five trees are in full blossom this year, and we expect Yarlington Mill to be our main cider variety again, with plenty of our Red Kite single variety cider available in 2012.

Dabinett (Bittersweet) - One or two trees are showing very well, but these are all quite small, so modest crops expected.

Bulmers Norman (Bittersweet) - This tree appears to be fully biennial, giving nothing last year, but looking to be cropping well this season. Bulmers Norman is not considered a 'vintage' variety, giving quite 'hard' tannins more suitable for blending.

Sweet Alford/Sweet Coppin (Sweet) - These trees cropped very heavily last year, and we're expecting a much smaller crop this season. Very useful varieties with good flavour, can also help tone down the harder tannic qualities of some other varieties.

Kingston Black (Bittersharp) - The three Kingston Black trees are back to their usual showing after last years bumper crop. We're expecting a bucketful or two. Incidentally, the 2010 Kingston Black ciders are still fermenting!

Tom Putt (Sharp) - Reasonable crop, good aromatic multi-purpose apple, Timing is critical with this one as they tend to rot easily on the orchard floor.

Perry Pears

Green Horse (Sharp) - This tree seems to be a very regular cropper, carrying a good, or excellent crop every year we've been coming to the orchard. This year looks like being a good crop.

Blakeney Red (Mild Tannin) - Patchy this year, with perhaps only enough fruit to make a small batch of perry, or possibly enough for blending with other varieties.

Malvern Hills (Full Tannin) - There are several huge Malvern Hills trees in the orchards, and it looks as if they may be carrying the best crop we've had from them yet. Malvern Hills perry is strong, and quite tannic so may need blending with a milder, or sharper perry.

Red Longdon (Full Tannin) - Little or no crop this year.

Other Perry Pears - There are sevearl unknown perry pear trees dotted around the orchard, all high tannin varieties, and for the most part carrying a good crop. We think this should be a good year for perry pears.

* Crop forecast is for guidance only. True cropping levels could be higher or lower than the figures quoted. This crop forecast is given for one specific orchard in Worcestershire, other orchards may differ. We can accept no liability for crops failing in other peoples orchards.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Blossom Trail

The Far Orchard, home of Green Horse and other perry pears, several sweet cider varieties, and the Kingston Black trees which are having an 'off' year after last years bumper crop
These three Yarlington Mill trees had an 'off' year in 2010, but are covered in blossom this year. The logs and stump to the left are the remains of the huge, dead, and highly unsafe perry pear tree which John has now removed

Heavy fruit-set on this unknown variety of Perry Pear

The huge Malvern Hills Perry Pear trees in the Top Orchard. We're expecting a better than average crop of Malvern Hills pears this year

There is a reasonable fruit-set on the Green Horse Perry Pear tree this year. This variety seems to be a good annual cropper, it hasn't let us down yet...

Beautiful Yarlington Mill blossom. Plenty of bees about too

The Dabinett trees are small, but this one should carry a very heavy crop

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Ciderhouse News - Bank Holiday Special

Our two regular outlets for cider and perry are now both up and running for the Summer. The Red Lion, Middleton continues to offer Red Kite Cider (7%) on handpump, plus Blakeney Red Perry (4%) from the chiller cabinet. We feel that this lower alcohol, sweetish perry benefits from being served at a cooler temperature than the more robust Yarlington Mill cider. Extra ales will also be available at the Red next weekend, with local band 'This Way Up' playing their hearts out on Friday evening.

Wing Hall Cafe-Bar
Wing Hall in Rutland is now accepting happy campers for the new season, with Zia's excellent Cafe-Bar also open following a Winter break. We've supplied the cafe with Red Kite Cider, which is also available for takeaway from the well-stocked Farm Shop along with our Blakeney Red Perry. You don't have to be a camper to enjoy the delights of Wing Hall, a love of very Free-Ranging Chickens helps though!

What's being billed as 'The Event of the Decade' is shaping up nicely. Here's the latest version of the cider and perry list for the mighty Swan & Rushes Cider & Cheese Festival which kicks off next weekend (the cheese list can be viewed here):

Some of the Cheeses at last years festival
Greggs Pit (3 perries)
Ross-on-Wye (3)
Carey Organics
Springhern (2)
Upper House Farm
Border Orchards
Olivers Cider & Perry
Gwatkins (3)

Wilkins Dry & Med
Westcroft Dry & Janet’s Jungle juice
Rich's (2)
Hecks (4)
Naish Cider
Chants Cider
Broadoak Moonshine

Hartland (2)

Barbourne (2)
Boston Farm

Rockingham Forest Red Kite Cider & Blakeney Red Perry


Mr Whitehead’s

OK Grant, you've made your point. Probably the largest range of ciders and perries ever assembled in the county and all that... Leicester Beer Festival need to raise their game etc... Size isn't everything you know!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Go East...

If there were ever a time to kick back, soak up the rays, and enjoy a cool glass of cider, it's probably next weekend to be honest. But in the mean time, there's plenty of hot festival action this Easter Bank Holiday weekend, which should act as a kind of warm up for the Big Royal One.

I've started early, with a pre-weekend snifter at the terrific Pig'n'Falcon in St Neots. Real ale rules here, but there's a good selection of ciders and perrys available too, usually from Westons or Gwynt-Y-Ddraig. During festival weekend the range has been max'd with a few local specialities from Cam Valley and Pickled Pig. If you're anywhere near the area, I can highly recommend it.

The Pig,n,Falcon, not to be mistaken for the nearby Wetherspoon!

Pickled Pig 'Old Spot' and Cider List

Locals polishing the bar

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Cuckoo Heralds Return of Cider & Perry

Yesterday, whilst pottering in the garden, the distinctive call of a Cuckoo could be heard in the valley. This is good news on a couple of levels.

Firstly, the Cuckoo has been designated as having 'Red Status' by the RSPB, which means the species has experienced severe decline in recent years. This part of the Welland Valley must therefore represent some kind of refuge for these birds, either that or some local wag with a Cuckoo Clock is playing tricks on us again!

The return of Cuckoos to these shores is a sure sign that Spring, and warmer weather is now firmly established, and in cidermaking lore, a reasonable indicator that the new season cider and perry is ready to be tapped. We're slightly ahead of the Cuckoo, and have already delivered cider and perry to our local 'Cider Tap' the Red Lion, Middleton.

Dry cider lovers will enjoy our Red Kite Yarlington Mill Cider (7%), whilst those with a sweeter tooth might like to try a naturally sweet Blakeney Red Perry (4%). Medium fans can always ask for a blend of the two.

Friday, 15 April 2011

'It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...'

Tremlett's Bitter blossom, our earliest Cider Apple variety

Calville Rouge D'Hiver

Eaglethorpe Community Orchard

Pear Blossom at Eaglethorpe Community Orchard

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Blakeney Red - The Sweetest Pear

Blossom on Pear Tree
Middleton Village Orchard
Well that was one hot-hot weekend.

Friday was spent drinking some very good (and some not so good) ciders and perries in the metropoli' of Nottingham and Beeston, of which I'll write more at a later date. Saturday was just made for a spot of gardening. Sowing seeds, constructing Sweet Pea supports, mowing the tufty remnants of our hen-pecked lawn, and generally working up a good honest thirst. Three cheers then for Red Kite Cider. Three cheers too for a profusion of Pear Blossom and generally frost-free nights. Looks like it could be a good year for perry pears.

Sunday is strictly a day of rest in the Rockingham Forest Cider household. I spent most of the day 'resting' in the ciderhouse with a length of hose and several empty barrels, whilst Karen was 'resting' at Saddington Car Boot Sale, along with a boot-full of highly desirable junk. Not much of a rest then!

'Polymeric Perry Pear Tannins' floating
on top of this batch of Blakeney Red 
I'd earmarked this Sunday as the day for barreling up cider and perry for festivals at the Crown, Elton, and the Swan & Rushes, Leicester (see right). I've selected a lateish pressing of Yarlington Mill/Dabinett/unknown Sweet/Bramley, which has cleared nicely for a bittersweet blend, and weighs in at 7% abv. This will go out as a Medium version of our Rockingham Forest Cider.

More intriguing is the perry I've chosen, a single variety, naturally sweet Blakeney Red. Most of our perries have finished quite sweet this year, although one or two are still fermenting away quite merrily. This one has finished with a very high gravity (1.023), giving a full-on sweet perry, not too tannic, and clear as a bell in the glass. It's lovely stuff, but thanks to the higher than normal gravity, it's unusually low in alcohol at around 4% abv. The holy-grail of cider and perry making is to produce a naturally sweet, relatively low alcohol drink, so I shouldn't complain. Whilst it's well-known that many people prefer their cider and perry on the sweeter side, we've also noticed that some people (women in particular) can be quite put off by the high strength of the more traditional drink. A 4% perry is not something we would normally aim for, but it's certainly a very 'commercial' strength, and I think this perry will sell very well indeed, particularly if we're blessed with more of this lovely warm weather. Oh! sorry, I forgot it's a Bank Holiday. Never fear, it should go equally well with rain...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Ciderhouse News - April Pt.1

  • An New Season batch of our Red Kite Yarlington Mill Cider (7.4%) is now available at the Red Lion, Middleton. It's a lovely reddish golden colour, quite soft, and a little spicy, with soft tannin in the finish. Try it as an accompaniment to warm Spring sunshine, Sunday papers, or a spot of gardening.

  • Details of the forthcoming Swan & Rushes Cider & Cheese Festival are beginning to filter out. Grant has successfully applied to close part of Grange Lane to traffic, setting up tables and chairs during daylight hours so that even more people can enjoy the ciders. The cider and perry list is still in its early stage, but already looks very good, featuring some of the very best producers in the Three Counties... and us! Stinking Bishop cheese is already confirmed, and subject to condition, we may send a barrel of our own 'Stinking Bishop' Perry (aka. Malvern Hills) to accompany it.

  • That's it for now...

Friday, 1 April 2011

Mulching - When Hens Go Bad!

The rainy season has finally arrived after one of the driest Winters I can remember. So far it's hardly been the kind of prolonged downpour we really need, but welcome all the same. Let's hope 'Showery' April lives up to its reputation.

With the soil a little bit more moist it's a good time to Mulch the cider apple trees, taking the opportunity to give the them a good weeding too. We've got plenty of well-rotted Chicken manure, which is pretty good stuff for fruit trees, but once again we've got the problem of how to keep the feathery producers of all that manure from scratching it all away just as soon as we've applied it. The Rockingham Forest Cider Hens have the free-range of the garden, we wouldn't have it any other way.

I've tried a weed-suppressing membrane weighted down with bricks, which works well enough, but looks pretty dreadful. This is a garden orchard after all, so things need to look nice as well as be productive. It's time to take things to the next level. Keeping the membrane, I've now invested in a bag of large natural pebbles as a permanent ground cover . Advantages: Looks quite nice, rain can easily penetrate, seems to do the job well. Disadvantages: Expensive, probably not an environmentally sound aggregate, Hens may still be able to scratch the smaller pebbles off.

I'll give it a few weeks to see how the pebbles perform, then it might be worth having a ton delivered and doing the other 30 trees (gulp!)

The Problem: Exposed roots... and weeds
The Culprits: Holes Dug (no job too small)

The Solution: Pebble Dashed, Hens Miffed