Monday, 29 August 2011

Ciderhouse News - Late-Late August

It's the last knockings of the August Bank Holiday weekend, and it really feels like the Summer is drawing to a damp and chilly close. Cidermaking starts up again in a couple of weeks time, maybe earlier if Hurricane Irene makes it to the UK with any great force. The current cider season is anything but over though:

  • The Hangar One Beer Festival (2nd - 4th September) is a new one on us, and indeed everyone else since it's the very first one. There seems to be a firm focus on beers from local breweries at this event, and we've been asked to supply a few barrels of cider and perry to give fruit lovers some local choice too.
  • Local CAMRA festivals on the horizon include Hinckley (15th - 17th Sept)  and Melton (16th - 17th Sept). We're sending cider and perry to both, but will probably have to toss a coin to decide which one to visit...
  • I'm sure that like us you've been having sleepless nights over our recent disastrous perry blending experiment. You haven't! Oh well, whatever. I'm pleased to report that all that clumpy cloudiness has done the reasonable thing and floated to the top, leaving lovely clear perry underneath ready to rack off for yours and our drinking pleasure.
  • In marked contrast to the blending experiment, our Perry Vinegar seems to be going in the right direction, ie. vinegary. In the image you can see two sheets of 'Mother' which would have originally formed a film over the surface of the vinegar. I've disturbed them so they've sunk into the vinegar, but another has formed on the surface, helping to keep the aerobic bacteria responsible for vinageriness in contact with the air. It may be that this also helps prevent the perry vinegar from oxidising, so I'll try not to disturb its formation in future batches.
  • A plug for our friend and un-payed artistic director Diana Fegredo, who's exhibiting her stylish work, this weekend and next, at the Artwave Festival in Lewes, Sussex. As if Lewes wasn't attractive enough already...

Friday, 26 August 2011

Festive Season

I've been to a good few beer festivals over the years. Less than some folk I know, quite a few more than most I'd imagine. Possibly enough to consider myself an 'experienced' festival-goer, which is not that big a deal in itself, but perhaps surprising when I tell you that actually (and I'm going to whisper this) I'm not actually that big a fan of beer festivals!

Shocking I know, particularly when you consider that a fair bit of our own cider and perry is consumed at festivals, and many of our friends are involved in running, working at, and indeed spend a good deal of their time drinking at them. So why the antipathy?

Put simply, it's not so much that I find beer festivals necessarily bad (though some inevitably can be), more the fact that by and large they're not located in pubs (though some naturally are). For my taste, I've always found that drinking is a social experience best enjoyed in the atmospheric environs of the pub. For the most part, beer festivals resemble a pub only in the fact that beer and cider are served into glasses by friendly bar staff, and with the best will in the world, it's just not the same.

The busy Cider Bar
At their best, beer festivals are busy, bustling social events, with the added attraction of music, good food, friendly faces and, well... Beer. Some, can quite literally be the highlight of the local social scene, with a wide mix of clientele, there for the buzz as much as the beer. Sadly, this isn't always the case, and there's no getting away from it, at worst a beer festival can be nothing more exciting than a big hall full of barrels and (ahem!) beer enthusiasts. Alright if you like that kind of thing, but in my opinion, that's not a festival, it's a Conference. I need something more or I really might as well be in a good pub.

So what for me makes a beer festival worth travelling for? Well, to use a well-worn cliche, Location, Location, and for me at least, a really good range of ciders and perries. A well located stillage makes a hell of a difference to a beer festival, and I'm not just talking aesthetically. Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival is, on the face of it, a hall full of barrels, but what makes it a destination is that the hall is located within a top quality Indian Restaurant. Our local Welland Valley Beer Festival has a head start by being spread out around several rural pubs, connected by a truly unique vintage bus service. The recent Rutland CAMRA Beer Festival has as its backdrop the County Museum, which is eye-candy of sorts and helps to give the festival a unique character. The Derby Winter Beer Festival is located in the similarly eye-catching location of the Roundhouse.

Which one would you vote for...?

A cider-gut, yesterday
I must say at this point, that the old fashioned 'hall full of barrels' style of beer festival is getting much harder to find now. Festival organisers are only too aware that if they want to attract more fringe custom (arguably the whole point of a beer festival, particularly a CAMRA organised one), they have to raise their game a little and offer something more than a very well stocked beer cellar.

Perhaps the best example of this is the well-established, and extremely popular Peterborough CAMRA Beer Festival. Located under canvas on the edge of the town centre, and probably attracting more 'non-enthusiast' drinkers than any comparable festival in the country. Live music plays a very important role in the success of this festival, along with a wide range of good quality food, English Wine bar, funfair, brewery bars, and an all-round proper 'festival' feel. The fact that well-supervised children and dogs are welcome on site during the daytime sessions, is I feel a crucial factor in the ownership Peterborough folk obviously feel for the festival. It's a big social day out for many, the beer just one of several attractions to locals and visitors alike.

Cyderman (aka Ray Blockley of Torkard Cider)
almost ready for lift-off
I went to the festival yesterday, met up with friends, chatted, drank a little too much perry, and came home fully satisfied and slightly envious of those staying for the evening entertainment. Congratulations to the organisers on another great event, and thanks also to the hard working volunteers who kept filling my glass throughout the day.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A Tale of Two Perries

It's getting close to End of Season Report time. We've still got cider and perry available for sale and there's stock put aside for a few important events going into October, but the ciderhouse is little more than a storage area for empty fermenters now. It is of course, little more than two weeks until we start pressing again, assuming the Malvern Hills perry pears haven't dropped much earlier than we expect.

On the subject of Perry, it's been a generally good year for us here at Rockingham Forest Cider, although not without a few difficulties. Getting them all to ferment in the sub-zero temperatures of Winter 2010 was perhaps our biggest problem, although on the up-side, this did lead to most of our perries finishing naturally sweet and relatively low in alcohol, which is no bad thing from a commercial perspective.

The Malvern Hills pears continue to produce a high alcohol, high tannin perry. As perries go it's quite a refined flavour, but the tannin is astringent and mouth drying, and not likely to be to everyones taste. With this in mind I've been experimenting with a new blend, not entirely successfully it has to be said.

It's often stated (without too much in the way of qualification) that some perries simply don't blend well. I've never fully understood the reasoning behind this to be honest. Is it a flavour clash, or maybe just a bit of reverse logic since a fair few perry pears can make a good single variety perry. I think I may now know at least part of the answer...

The thinking behind my experimental blend was to take a low acid, high tannin perry (Malvern Hills), and blend 50/50 with a low tannin, high acid perry (Green Horse), thereby achieving a balance of sorts, toning down the tannin, and perhaps even giving a more complex and interesting flavour. Simple. What could possibly go wrong? Well the blending went well enough, and the flavour was indeed better than the sum of its parts. The tannin is still there, but more restrained, and the acidity of the Green Horse makes for a more drinkable perry. Everything was looking good so I barreled up a couple ready for delivery to a local festival. The problem with this blend became apparent a few days later on the eve of delivery. Apparently, and unbeknownst to me, if you mix a crystal clear Malvern Hills perry with an opaque Green Horse perry, what you get is a typically odd bit of perry chemistry, and an unacceptably cloudy perry. The fact that this doesn't become apparent immediately is no help at all. Oh dear!

Polymeric Perry Tannins
Unfortunately, by the time the blend was ready for sale at the festival, it had gone from quite cloudy to quite clumpy, which is not an attractive look in any drink I think you'll agree. I've reason to believe this is down to Polymeric Perry Tannins, a common occurence in perries, and not usually a problem so long as they sink to the bottom, or float to the top as shown in this image of a Blakeney Red ferment. The only thing we could do was apologise to the organisers, remove the offending barrels from the invoice, and chalk the whole sorry tale down to experience.

This simple blending experiment may not be a complete loss though. Another 70 litres of the blend is now sitting in the ciderhouse clearing nicely. Unsightly clumps of rubbery tannin like this are bad news if they're floating around in the perry, but thankfully they have a tendency to sink to the bottom of the fermenter out of harms way. Given a little more time, this blend looks like it will come good after all. The moral of this tale is, be careful when blending perries with very different characteristics, and always blend well ahead of the time you'll need it, rather than the week before!!!

On a much brighter note, I finally got round to racking off this years 'Mystery Perry', the one we make from a late pressing of unidentified perry pears. I have to say, this fermenter has been shamefully neglected. The quantity of gelatinous sediment left behind (see pic) suggests that it may not have been racked before. Even worse, there was a good 4 inches of head space above the perry, which by luck was filled with a blanket of CO2 due to a continuing slow fermentation. I wasn't holding out much hope for this one, but to my surprise and delight, it's probably the best perry we've ever made. Vive Neglect!

Mystery Perry 2010
It's always a difficult task trying to describe the taste of traditional perry. Yes, there's citrus, grapefruit, melon, maybe pear, but perry has a unique flavour all of its own which can only really be described as... well, perry! This years Mystery Perry is 'all perry', and I'm very tempted to say 'all mine'. But no, this stunner had always been earmarked for the East Midlands section of the Cider & Perry Bar at Nottingham Beer Festival. All except for a few precious litres destined for Champagne bottles, which will be staying at home with us here at Rockingham Forest Cider (& Perry).

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Sidra With Tobie

Today, being a Saturday, and more importantly being the first Saturday of a long-awaited holiday week, we decided to sally-forth and indulge our foody (and drinky) passions on a day trip to upmarket Stamford. Mmm! Lovely, lovely Stamford. Home to some of the finest pubs, cafes, cheese shops and wine merchants in the land.... and a Waitrose. Yay!

Whenever we visit Stamford, we're inevitably drawn to the top of the town and the cosy, boozy, foody delights of the Tobie Norris pub. Top quality Pizza and fine Ufford Ales are the main draw, though the historic building itself is worthy of investigation. We like it in the Tobie (yes, we're on first name terms now). It's the perfect place to lose an afternoon, aided and abetted by the three 'P's of civilised lunchtime pubbing. A Pint, a Pizza, and a stack of the days Papers. Lovely! There are probably other pubs in Stamford, maybe even really great ones. We really wouldn't know.

As if things couldn't be bettered at the Tobie, they've only gone and increased the range of ciders on offer. There's now a Westons cider on handpump, and the rare treat of Hogans Draught, a full flavoured keg cider not often seen round these parts. I'd really better stop drooling now before I start to sound like a fan-boy...

Anyway, inspired by our friends Tania & David of Birmingham, who're always doing exciting things with food and drink and Tweeting about it to make us really envious, we decided to stock up on a picnic basket full of Epicurean delights, and have a Spanish themed evening. In front of the telly. With some French and English bits thrown in for good measure.

All praise to Waitrose for supplying the Manchego and Aged Ossau Iraty cheeses, as well as the Paleta Iberico air dried Pig meat. Other cheeses came from here and there, the star of the cheeseboard being a ridiculously runny Ă‰poisses de Bourgogne, rind washed in local Brandy for extra pungency/offensiveness. To complete the (ahem!) Spanish theme, I opened my very last bottle of Basque Sidra Natural, bought several years ago on a holiday in Bilbao. Standing manfully in the gathering dusk of the garden, I poured the precious drink in the traditional way, from a great height into our prized pair of Basque Sidra tumblers.

It was a little bit past it to be honest. Sidra like this isn't made to be kept for any great length of time, and this bottle had gone a little too far down the road of vinegariness to be entirely enjoyable. It was however thoroughly authentic, which is more than can be said for our Spanish themed evening.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Blackberry Boogaloo

If you haven't already noticed, the Blackberry season is well and truly upon us. To be honest, I hadn't noticed myself. It's thanks to sister in law Susan that I'm now on the case Blackberry wise. Thanks Susan.

Not that I'm a big fan of the common-as-muck Bramble. I'm more of a Raspberry man myself. A far more noble berry to my taste, and besides, I've been digging the barbed blighters out of the orchard ever since we moved to Middleton. It's a free harvest though, and I'm all for exploiting natures bounty, so I've been for a little Bramble Ramble across the road to the village orchard, plastic tub in hand.

Picking Blackberries is a Summer ritual as old as the hills, and it's important that we get the basics of the tradition right. Only the darkest, juiciest, least worm-infested specimens will do. Shorts and a light-coloured T-shirt are the traditional costume, all the better to collect scratches, nettle stings, and an artful selection of ruinous purple stains. You could of course wear more protective apparel. A nice pair of Black Chinos say, or maybe a long Woollen Skirt. You could also buy your Blackberries in tiny plastic trays from Sainsbury! Come on. It's Summer. Live a little...

I've decided to experiment with my Blackberry booty. I've also decided to shamelessly follow the current hot trend in cidermaking, and make a 'Fruity Cider'. It's what we do here at Rockingham Forest Cider. Bandwagons jumped-on, dignity not an issue, no frivolous trend too small. Fear-not though 'Real Cider' fans, we won't be making enough to sell. It's just for personal interest, and besides, the duty payment is far too large for a cidermaking minnow like ourselves.

I've taken as inspiration the excellent Sandford Orchards Fanny Bramble I tried at the Criterion Cider & Cheese Festival. A cider of modest strength, but chock-full of smooth Brambly loveliness. It's not a cider though is it. More a pint-drinking country wine. Nevertheless, I liked it a lot, and it's only natural that I want to slavishly copy it.

1,2,3 - Blend, Red Kite, Perry
I started with three samples from the Rockingham Forest Cider cellar. A sharpish, scrumpyish blend which I'm currently enjoying (Sample #1); our Red Kite Yarlington Mill Cider (#2);  and some Green Horse Perry (#3). The Blackberries needed juicing, a horribly messy task best done whilst Karen was busy elsewhere! You may need a bottle of bleach at this point...

I was aiming for something balanced, with plenty of berry flavour, but still distinctly a cider. The first thing I needed to do was find the optimum blend of cider/perry to Blackberry Juice. After some trial an error, I decided that two thirds cider to one third juice gave the best initial balance. From there it was a case of assessing the three different samples with varying levels of sweetness. So here are my hurriedly scribbled notes (Karen was due back any minute):

Sample 1
Unsweetened: Reasonable berry flavour, but too sharp and cidery. Tannin showing too.
Sweetened slightly: Good balance of berry and cider. Less sharp and more integrated tannin. Nice
Sweetened quite a bit: Like a berry cordial. Not enough cider, too sweet.

Sample 2
Unsweetened: Good balance of berry and cider. Smoother and less sharp than sample 1. Pretty good.
Sweetened slightly: Excellent blend of cider and deep berry flavour. Lovely stuff.
Sweetened quite a bit:  Like sample 1 but less sharp.

Sample 3
Unsweetened: Pear, citrus, slight berry finish. Odd flavour to this, not nice.
Sweetened slightly: Better, but perry flavour dominates. Little berry flavour.
Sweetened quite a bit: Just tastes like sweet perry with a very slight berry finish.

So, there you have it. The lower acidity of the Yarlington Mill cider works very well with the Blackberries, although the sharper cider is good too. Perry and Blackberries just don't hit it off at all. I'll be bringing a bottle of the most succesful blend to the Peterborough Beer Festival later this month, where you're likely to find me propping up the cider bar on Thursday afternoon. Do feel free to ask for a sample if you like that sort of thing.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

More Trouble With Tremlett's

A feature-length Horror Story about the consequences of not thinning heavy crops on fruit trees.

Featuring (in no particular order):
  • Young Trees with Excessive Top-Growth
  • Poor Crotch Angles*
  • High Winds
  • A Bit of Rain
  • A Shamefully Neglectful Orchardist
  • Hens

Since my last spot of bother in the orchard, I've been working myway through the trees, replacing some of the older rotten stakes with newer longer ones, weeding, tidying, and even doing a bit of Summer pruning. All seemed well. Some of the trees are carrying heavy crops, but thanks to the modest rainfall we've had this year, the fruits are generally small, and the branches seem to be coping with the weight well enough...

Then it rained... and the wind got up! Blissfully unaware of the rapidly swelling fruit, I felt secure in the knowledge that the new, taller, sturdier tree stakes would keep the slender trees fine and upstanding. Which they did, but what I hadn't accounted for was the increased weight from rapidly swelling apples pushing several branches to the point of breaking. As you can see from the photo above, one heavily laden Tremlett's Bitter couldn't take the strain, and has lost a branch in the most undignified of ways.

Quelle Disaster! This branch is obviously now beyond repair. I'll leave it hanging until harvest time since there's possibly enough bark intact to continue ripening the apples, but how I wish I'd thinned the apples in the first place, or propped up the branch with these (Karens) natty little crooks. Lesson learnt.

*The 'Crotch Angle' is the angle between the main trunk of the tree and a branch. Too acute an angle creates a weakness at the union, and leads to an increased likelihood of breakage under the strain of a heavy crop.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Trophy Wife

The Uppingham Fete, Flower and Produce Show comes around but once a year, which is just as well in my opinion. Winning prizes at this level of competition takes some effort. Late nights bottling and baking, early mornings straightening carrots and polishing Marrows. It takes real dedication, even without the aid of a hangover the size of Rutlandshire (more of which later...). So was it worth it?

Well, yes and no!

It's certainly true that the High Sheriff of Rutland will awake tomorrow wondering where half the county's silverware has gone. Three of the coveted Flower Show Cups have now been smuggled across the border to a small village in Northamptonshire. We're particularly pleased to have retained the Mathews Rose Cup, but we also won the Uppingham Home Produce Association Cup, and the mighty Uppingham Flower Show Cup for the most points in show. There are of course many Cups, but there's only one Uppingham Flower Show Cup. It's a kind of 'One Cup' to rule them all, and rest assured, we're keeping it safe, keeping it secret...

Our Cups Runneth Over
The downside of all this is that I won't be getting my name on any of this hard-won booty. Each year we take it in turns to 'own' the entries, and this year it was Karens turn. Her name, and her name only, will be inscribed on the silverware for all eternity. Bah! Not Fair!

Anyway, back to that epic hangover, brought on by a late-late night of fried Lough Neagh EelsChucklehead Cider, and an all-you-can-drink Wot's Occuring buffet in a secret location in Cottingham. Bad is it was, it could have been so much worse. The polite offer of a decadent dip in the Hot Tub was intriguing, but very sensibly declined. Another day maybe...

Hangovers like these need a jolly good feeding, so once the early morning business of delivering Karen's entries to Uppingham had been accomplished (I'm not bitter, honest...) , it was off for a bit of cosy comfort food. The Veranda Cafe Bar at Wing Hall provided the cure with homemade Cheese-topped Beef Chilli with Nachos (and 'stuff'), washed down with a restorative pint of Rockingham Forest Red Kite Cider. Goats Cheese Tart with Salad (and 'stuff') for the ladies. Both equally delicious, though for a hangover I can only really recommend one of the above... with cider of course!

We took the opportunity to deliver more of that Red Kite Cider to the Farm Shop and Cafe today, so they won't be running out any day soon. I'll also be delivering some of our Green Horse Perry in time for the live music session next Saturday (featuring multi-talented local muso-legend Chris Conway in cool Jazz mode). Karen will be available for autographs, and photos with the Trophys during the interval.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Happy Tolly-Days

Happy days indeed at the Tollemache Arms in Harrington. Their annual Beer Festival week has now kicked off, and the event seems to get better every year. The beers have settled, the bunting is up, and Braybrooke Morris will be shaking their bells and bashing sticks this evening.

Other highlights include a Classic Car & Bike Rally, Beer Festival Bingo, Quiz, 4-a-side Football, and a Tug of War. The music starts on Friday with over 25 acts lined up for the weekend Music Festival.

There will of course be cider and perry available, including our own Rockingham Forest Cider & Perry, and Eve's Eastern Promise Cider from nearby Kettering.

Some of the ales, racked and waiting for a tap'n'spile