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