Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Ciderhouse News-ette

With our cidermaking over for another year, and pleasant days spent harvesting in the Cotswolds but a distant memory, it's nice to sit back with a pint of something appropriate and read all about it from the comfort of home. We're nothing if not self-absorbed.

Not content with cluttering up this Blog with our torpid adventures, we also like to graffiti other peoples online space. So I was delighted when the obliging folk of the Shakespeare Branch of CAMRA kindly allowed us a full colour page in their lovely newsletter Shakesbeer to document a day in search of Real Cider in the tourist hot-spot of Broadway during this years harvest. You can read all about it by following this link (We're on page 18, but there's plenty of other good reads too):

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Ciderhouse News - November

That's it, our cidermaking is all over for another season. No more apples will darken our doorway, we've had our fill of the Mill, and early morning Pressing has become thoroughly depressing. We've ran out of room, we have no more fermenters. So no more! Here is the news:

The final batch of bittersweet Vilberie apples reached full maturity well ahead of turning rotten, which is always a bonus in cidermaking. They were surprisingly juicy, and have helped pushed our fermenter capacity to the limit. In fact over the limit, as there are still six sacks of apples left we've no room for which will now end up as pig food in nearby Keythorpe. So here's the final inventory of what seems like the longest cidermaking season yet:


Home Orchard Blend (70 litres) 1.060
Dabinett/Harry Masters' Jersey/Yarlington Mill Blend (70 litres) 1.062
Yarlington Mill Blends (1340 litres) 1.057 - 1.062
Vilberie Blend (470 litres) 1.060 - 1.062


Malvern Hills (240 litres) 1.069 - 1.071
Blakeney Red (190 litres) 1.060
Green Horse/Oldfield/Blakeney Red Blend (120 litres) 1.065
Red Longdon (120 litres) 1.058
Unknown Perry Pears (120 litres) 1.066

In other news, I feel I must draw your attention to the latest edition of award-winning CAMRA publication, Nottingham Drinker. Always a good read, with a stronger than average focus on cider issues under the editorship of Hucknall cidermaker and CAMRA activist Ray Blockley. The latest edition has confirmation of all the winners in the recent East Midlands Cider of the Year Competition held at Nottingham Beer Festival. We came a commendable second to Torkard Cider who took the top spot, with Scropton Cider of Derbyshire third. We also rated very highly amongst the Nottinghamshire Constabulary...

The soon to be announced 2012 Cider Workshop Photographic Challenge will be announced... soon. More details will appear on the Cider Workshop webpage just as soon as it's been agreed that pressing for 2011 has finished. We've finished! Get on with it Jez...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Travelling Vilberies*

It's been very, very busy these last few weeks, both in the orchard and in the ciderhouse. The Yarlington Mill harvest is now all in, and we've made a good start with the substantial task of pressing it all. More recently we spent a few days in the orchard harvesting the yellow sharp apples that we use to add a bit of acidity to the bittersweet blends. The plan was to haul these home and spend another day working through the Yarlington Mill mountain, but a quick exploration in the top orchard revealed that the Vilberie apples were ripe and more than ready to be shaken from the trees. Another few days and the slightest breeze was likely to bring the whole lot down, making the harvest that much more difficult from the long wet grass. A change of plan was required...

So the final day of our long weekend turned out to be our final day in the orchard this season. Karen pulled on her wellies, rolled up her sleeves, and on a cold drizzly day helped harvest all four Vilberie trees. The fruit is now gently maturing at home ready for pressing at a later, unspecified date. It's been the longest harvest we've ever had, starting way back in mid September with the Malvern Hills perry pears, and finally finishing with these dull green, late season bittersweets. So it's goodbye orchard, hello ciderhouse for the next few weeks. It's time to make some cider.

We've applied a bit of science to the pressing this year in the form of a small bottle of Iodine to test starch levels in the apples. When a cider apple is ready to harvest, in common with all apples it should have dark brown pips, and come away easily from the tree. This doesn't mean it's ready to press though. At this point the fruit may still be quite hard, the flavour may not have developed fully, and most of the stored energy will be in the form of unfermetable Starch. This Starch needs to turn to fermentable sugars before the apple is ready to press, and this is why we leave some fruit to mature for a time after harvest.

Some good rules-of-thumb for judging when an apple is ready to press include testing the softness of the flesh with your thumb, which should give easily and not be too hard. Waxy or greasy skin is a good indicator of optimum ripeness, and the skin of some apples will turn from green to yellow as the fruit reaches full maturity. Rules-of-thumb only get you so far though. To be really confident that we're pressing our fruit at the optimum time, we need to turn to a bit of Junior School chemistry.

You can see from the picture below how the Mid-Late season Yarlington Mill apple on the right has very little starch remaining in the flesh, as evidenced by the unchanged colour of the Iodine. The late season Vilberie on the left has turned the Iodine dark blue, indicating there is still plenty of unwanted starch present in the flesh. From this we can deduce that the Yarlington Mill are ready to press, but the Vilberie will need more time, possibly several weeks more. We'll be testing the Vilberie every week now until all the starch has turned to sugars.


*Headline c/o the Grantham Picking & Panking Apprentice