Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Admiral Nelson Beer Festival, Market Harborough

The bank holiday rush of orders fuddled my brain to such a degree that I very nearly forgot to supply the terrific Admiral Nelson in Market Harborough with our cider and perry! A very big thanks to Jan for jogging my memory with a timely phone call. Normal service will now resume.

The festival kicks off at 3pm this Friday, and you can expect a whole bunch of real ales, as well as several ciders and a perry from welsh producer Gwynt-Y-Ddraig. We've supplied the very last box of Red Longdon Perry and also a Red Kite Cider. There will also be music aplenty during the evening sessions.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Not the May Bank Holiday

So the traditional end of May Bank Holiday has been royally shifted into June this year, but thanks to a rash of beer and cider festivals, you can still Bank on there being a happy Holiday atmosphere this coming weekend anyway... ahem!

The weekend festivities start early on Thursday 24th from 5pm at the Northampton Delapre Abbey Beer Festival, where we'll be sending cider and perry. Friday lunchtime sees the Newark CAMRA Beer Festival open its tent flaps to revellers. The cider & perry list, which includes one of each from ourselves, can be viewed here. Friday afternoon from 5pm is the time to visit the Swan & Rushes in Leicester for their annual Cider & Cheese Festival, where our Red Kite Cider will be making an appearance.

It's worth noting also that our cider and/or perry have been dispatched to the Criterion Freehouse in Leicester, and Langtry's in Nottingham to help their non-Bank Holiday weekend celebrations.

Friday, 11 May 2012

They're All Cider Bars Now...

It's official. Nottingham drinkers have great taste in cider and perry. A recent ground-breaking initiative in the city has shown that discerning Nottinghamshire drinkers, when expressed to preference, will choose local and East Midlands ciders and perries, and blimmin' well like them too*

The image below (c/o Ray Blockley of Torkard Cider) shows the fantastic range of ciders and perries which were available at noted Nottingham ale house Langtrys, during their recent cider festival. I'm particularly pleased to say that our own cider and perry went down well, and we'll be sending more of the same (or similar) very soon. A big thank you to Ray for his part in helping source such a great range of ciders and perries, and Suzi of Langtrys for making it happen in such an eye-catching and professional way.

*Note: Other non-local ciders and perries were also available, and presumably also enjoyed.

Local and Good

Rockingham Forest Cider, Red Kite Cider and a limited quantity of Malvern Hills Perry will be available at Ye Golden Lion's Waendel Walk Weekend Local Beer & Food Festival from today. Nice pub, nice people, no previous walking experience required.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Perry Pear Blossom

Looking at these pictures now with the rain battering against the windows, our annual visit to the orchard in Worcestershire last weekend seems like an age ago. We timed our visit for maximum perry pear blossom, the Oldfields in the Far Orchard had a particularly striking display. I'm pleased to say that given the awful weather we're having now, it was bright and sunny, and most important of all, the trees were a-buzz with pollinating insects. It doesn't matter how much blossom there is, no pollination, no fruit. It was a little too early to judge the potential cider apple crop, so perhaps a return visit in a couple of weeks time is in order. 

Green Horse perry pear blossom, a reasonable showing after an 'off' year in 2011

The Green Horse tree dwarfs our picking and panking team. The tree in the distance (and the two images below) are an Oldfield, absolutely covered in white blossom

Some of the perry pear trees had lost a significant number of fruiting buds as clumps of blossom on the orchard floor. Our first thoughts were a recent hail storm, which was confirmed by John, but only a few trees were affected and the blossom was undamaged. Another possibility is bird damage, specifically Finches, or maybe some trees are reacting to the unusually dry conditions we've had up until the recent wet spell.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Ciderhouse News - April

It's been quite a long time since I last posted on the blog. Sometimes the ups and downs of day to day life are just not 'cidery' enough to warrant writing about.

With Spring most definitely in the air now, things are about to get a whole lot more cidery. The ciders and perrys themselves are in various states of readiness. Some are racked and ready to go, whilst others are still fermenting. This is what we've come to expect from unpredictable wild yeast ferments, and the fascinating natural variations of vintage, variety, and even as simple a thing as where abouts in the ciderhouse a fermenter sits. Each fermenter will be ready in its own good time, and the last thing we want to do is rush things, however...

The first events of our 2012 season pay no heed to notions of patience, and are rushing up to meet us as I type. There have also been a number of interesting and exciting developments with our small but carefully chosen list of regular outlets. So as we wait for the first call of the Cuckoo to herald the season proper, here's the latest clutch of news items:

Our first festival of the year is the mighty Reading CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival, an event which not only hosts the national judging for CAMRA'S Cider of the Year, but which has also built a reputation for having one of the biggest and best cider and perry bars of any festival in the UK. Our friends in the north at Torkard Cider will also be represented on the cider bar, as well as having their cider entered into the national cider competition as winners of the East Mids Regional Cider Competition. Good luck to them. The impressive cider and perry list for the Reading festival can be viewed here.

Reading will be closely followed by a trio of Nottinghamshire festivals, c/o those friends in the north at Torkard Cider for which we give thanks. The inaugural South Notts Beer Festival, and the Local & East Mids Cider Festival at Langtrys in Nottingham will both have our Rockingham Forest Cider and Malvern Hills Perry. Blue Monkey Brewery's Organ Grinder will have our cider as part of a mostly local range at their beer festival. I see a trip to Nottingham coming on...

We hope to start the season off in traditional fashion by delivering a box of cider to our friends at the Criterion Freehouse in Leicester ready for the May bank holiday weekend. Our ciders and perrys will be an occasional guest at the Criterion throughout the year.

A new outlet for us will be the Tea Rooms and Restaurant at Rockingham Castle, with draught cider available to accompany a meal or snack.

I'm pleased to announce that plans are afoot to retail bag-in-box cider from our local village shop. Ideal for parties, BBQ's or just as a handy supply in your fridge through the Summer. More details will be available on here when we have them.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Leicester Beer Festival 2012

The essence of the 2012 Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival can be seen in these two high quality images. I'd like to have shown a bit more of this essence, but these are the only two images I managed to come away with. Sorry!

Thanks must go to the hard working cider bar team of Susan and Paul for keeping my glass full, all the other CAMRA volunteers for organising such a well run and highly regarded festival, and Ray, Matt and others for indulging my strange passion for Push Penny. The festival runs until Saturday.

The top Three East Midlands Ciders nestle together on the cider bar
Cider bar manager Susan prepares a take out during the Push Penny tournament

Monday, 5 March 2012

Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival - Nearly There...

Blue is the colour, erecting snazzy new cider bar stillaging is the game. Followed by much humping and bumping of cider barrels ahead of this Wednesday's opening at the Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival.

The cider bar. Does exactly what it says on the banner.

Cider bar manager Susan supervises a Plank and a large Tub during the set-up. Also in this image, several barrels of cider and a large piece of chipboard... 'It's the way I tell 'em'.

The long wait is almost over for this 2010 vintage Rockingham Forest Cider & Perry.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

All Play, No Work

Now isn't that a thing of woody beauty. Actually it's a bit tatty around the edges, as befits a thing with a good bit of age and some robust competitive usage. There are one or three suspicious looking holes in the timber too, and the end piece could do with a bit of glue... but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and as polished bits of wood go, this one's a real looker.

It's not, as you'd perhaps be mistaken for thinking, a Shove Ha'penny board. No, this is a much rarer plank, and the result of a thoroughly local bit of carpentry too. This is a Push Penny board, a game played almost exclusively up the road in Stamford, and something I'd hoped I might find on my travels, without any great expectation it must be said.

The game itself is very similar to Shove Ha'penny, and similarly rooted deeply in pub culture. The main difference in play is that instead of the usual five Half Pennys shoved up the board, three old Pennys are used, which being that much larger mean the beds on the board are a fair bit wider too. Traditionally, the three coins are smoothed on one side, and each coin will have a slightly different thickness, adding an extra element of skill to play.

I'm really looking forward to a game, though there could be a short delay before the first Shove-Off. Not only am I embarrassingly short of old Pennys, but the lengthy process of smoothing and polishing the coins ready for play is not a job I'm particularly looking forward to!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival - Cider & Perry List

Yes, finally released from the bondage of embargo, it's another Rockingham Forest Cider Blog Exclusive.


The cider and perry list for the Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival is a secret we just can't keep to ourselves. So here it is, in its entirety, though as ever liable to change between now and opening day, but probably not by much:

East Midlands

There will be barrels just like these,
though with different stuff inside them.
Bottle Kicking Cider Co. Hallaton, Leicestershire - Dry & Med/Dry Scrambler Cider
Charnwood Cider, Leicestershire - Cider
Farmer Fear, Leicestershire - Cider
Rockingham Forest, Middleton, Northamptonshire - Kingston Black/Sweet Alford Cider & Perry
Scropton, Derbyshire - Cider
Torkard, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire - Cider & Perry

Three Counties and Wales

Brook Farm, Herefordshire - Cider & Perry
Gwatkin, Herefordshire - Perry
Gwynt Y Ddraig, Glamorgan - Two Trees Perry & Black Dragon Cider
Olivers, Herefordshire - Cider & Perry

Bridge Farm - Cider & Perry
Burrow Hill - Cider
Chant - Cider & Perry
Ermie & Gertie - Cider
Hecks - Port Wine of Glastonbury Cider & Perry
Naish - Cider
Parsons Choice - Cider
Perrys - Cider
Richs - Legbender Cider
Sheppys - Cider
Tricky - Cider
Westcroft - Janet's Jungle Juice Cider

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Village Orchard Project - Update

Work has moved up a gear in the village orchard now that the weather has turned clement.

With the brambles now all cleared from the perimeters, perhaps the most striking difference is that it looks so much bigger. So much so that the remaining trees look quite sparse against the expanse of orchard floor. Now this is important because one of the ongoing plans for the orchard is to plant a few extra fruit trees, and I'd been wondering whether there was really room for them. I can see now that a few well positioned saplings will eventually help give the space a more traditional orchard feel than it perhaps has at the moment.

Another major alteration has been the removal of the apple tree which fell during high winds a few years ago. Despite the fact that this tree has still cropped regularly since it was blown over, it was hard to see how a felled tree like this could remain as part of a more accessible orchard.

Footings are now in place, and the bricks from the demolished walls have been cleaned up ready to rebuild the walls along two sides of the orchards boundary. Presumably there are not enough usable reclaimed bricks to reinstate the rear wall, and this has now been replaced with a new timber fence.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Ciderhouse News - February Pt.2

  • Written confirmation of our Silver award in the East Midlands Cider Competition arrived by hand from competition organiser Dee Wright this weekend. There's an image of the certificate over there on the right, go on, have a look. Gold award winners Ray & Gail Blockley of Torkard Cider were also on hand to take receipt of their certificate, and since the presentation took place at the Canalhouse in Nottingham during a SIBA beer festival, it was a good excuse for a few halves and a natter. I wore a new woolly jumper for the occasion, and tried not to squeeze Dee's hand too hard.

  • The trip also gave us the opportunity to deliver a barrel of early season Medium/Sweet Blakeney Red Perry (4.9%) for the forthcoming Hucknall Beer Festival. This will be the first festival of 2012 where cider or perry from all three of the East Midlands regional winners will be available, which includes the Bronze winner, Scropton Cider of Derbyshire.

  • Another opportunity to try ciders and/or perries from the top three will be at the rapidly approaching Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival. We'll be sending the very last barrels of our 2010 vintage, including the Kingston Black/Sweet Alford blend which won Silver. There's a strong rumour that our friends from Torkard Cider will be sending their first ever perry, expect this rarity to sell out very fast. In other recently leaked news, rare and otherwise excellent ciders have been ordered from Ermie & Gerties, Tricky, and Bridge Farm. We still hope to break the full cider and perry list exclusively on here, because some traditions are far too important to let go.... aren't they Susan!

  • Work has stalled briefly on the Middleton Village Orchard Project. With temperatures down to -12C this weekend, the frozen ground has proven more than a match for the hardy workforce, even with the help of a digger. The dilapidated walls are all down, we're now waiting for them all to go back up again.

  • ...and finally, here's a nice pic from this morning, featuring the old Bramley in our own garden orchard covered in Hoar Frost. A proper cold snap like this can only be a good thing for our trees, hopefully forcing a good period of dormancy, and maybe killing a few pests along the way too.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Cider Workshop Photographic Challenge

The grandly titled 2012 Cider Workshop Photographic Challenge is now officially open for business. The theme of this years competition is 'Pressing 2011', which I'll be taking as meaning all aspects of the pressing cycle, not just the squeeze itself. Even so, this years theme could present a slight problem for some people.

We wrapped up our cider pressing way back in November, and not a day too soon as far as I'm concerned, as the chill of Winter finally settled in the valley. I've heard of other hardy folk pressing on into December, and even well into the new year. That'll be 'Pressing 2012' if I'm not mistaken! Let's hope any late pressers snapped off a few award winning shots earlier on in the season.

For full details of the competition, which is an amateur and fun affair, follow this link to the Cider Workshop Photographic Challenge Rules. The Flickr photo group where you can view the entries as they trickle in can be found here. Do enter a photo of your own or other peoples pressing adventures, the more the merrier.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Surplus Books For Sale

You know how it is. Rooting around on the dusty shelves of a second hand bookshop, looking for nothing in particular, but with half an eye on your chosen specialist subject. In this case, the old apples'n'pears geezer. The search, often as not, proves fruitless. But every now and then, you spot something interesting. Something interesting and ideally not too expensive, maybe even a bargain. Another hour of your life pencilled down in the Ledger of Life as 'Not Entirely Wasted'. Result!

So you get your new-old book home, and after a cursory flick through the pages, admiring the pretty colour plates, marvelling at the wide range of toxic chemicals available to orchardists of old, you nestle it comfortably onto the bookshelf next to that other copy of the same book you bought a few years ago... damn!

Now this wouldn't be an issue if I was a serious collector of books. Perhaps this newly bought copy is in better condition. Maybe it sports a dog-eared dust jacket I hadn't previously owned. Like as not, it's an entirely different edition, a rare 1946 copy, made from poor quality War Standard paper rather than the common as muck Velum pre-war editions. The content will of course be entirely the same...

I'm not a serious collector, so every now and then I like to clear out any unnecessary duplications for nothing more than the price I payed plus a little postage and packing. Top quality cider or perry works too in this regard.

The Fruit Garden Displayed (RHS, 1974 edition) - These are common, I've already got a slightly later edition, and a tatty harback (possible) 1st edition from 1951. Still very usueful, and worth having if only for the fascinating adverts at the back. Cost me £1.50.

CAMRA Good Cider Guide - David Kitton (Alma Books, 1987) - Useful in its day, but more of a historical reference book now. Very little editorial, but one of the better gazeteers of producers at the back. Cost me £0.99.

Modern Fruit Growing - W.P Seabrook (Ernest Benn Ltd, 8th Edition 1947) - A lovely little book covering all aspects of commercial fruit growing (though mostly apples), and featuring some nice b/w photos, and a great selection of vintage advertising at the back. I've already got a slightly earlier dust-jacketed edition. Cost £3.00

Good homes please, no dealers, and if you've already got a good copy, please leave this one for someone who hasn't. Leave a comment, or contact through the website if you're interested.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ciderhouse News - February

  • The season gets under way even earlier than usual this year, with a barrel of our very popular Blakeney Red Perry making its way to The Hucknall Beer Festival, c/o our friends at Torkard Cider. This special new-season perry is the result of our recent racking, blending and topping-up adventures. We used a smaller fermenter of Blakeney Red for topping up the big tubs, and ended up with 5 gallons of beautifully clear, naturally sweet, and modestly strength'd (4.9%) perry, going spare and needing a good home:

  • Work has now started on the renovation of Middleton Village Orchard. Walls are being re-built, with landscaping and better access planned. More details can be gleaned here, and I'll be popping across the road with my camera to record progress on an irregular basis.

  • Our garden orchard is currently enjoying a welcome cold-snap, much needed if we're to avoid the trees budding up too early and suffering frost damage. It's going to be touch and go over the next few weeks whether we get a proper spell of cold, encouraging dormancy, and safeguarding this years crop for orchardists everywhere. This picture features one of the few remaining Bramley apples which the Blackbirds and Redwings haven't had a peck at yet. They are of course, very welcome to them.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Mussels & Cider

Necessity really is the mother of invention isn't it, and what could be more satisfying than giving yourself over entirely to necessity, and in so doing creating something surprisingly tasty from a few fridge scraps... and a bag of shellfish.

I've featured Mussels before on this blog, they're my 'Home Alone' treat, and the perfect accompaniment to a glass of cider and hunk of crusty bread. Half a kilo of fresh shiny-black Mussels are one of lifes real pleasures. A pleasure to look at, a simple pleasure to cook, and just the most moreish finger food there is. Karen doesn't like them, which is obviously a bonus for me. Half a kilo each is a good weight for a Saturday evening at home with a good movie. You may need to use the subtitle option though, the annoying rustle of a crisp packet is as nothing to the rattle and slurp of a bowl of Mussels.

I bought my Mussels on Leicester Market. Proper barnacle-encrusted Brancaster beauties, bought by the weight, and wrapped in paper, not vac-pac'd and swimming in garlic butter from the supermarket. There's a little more work involved for sure. Barnacles and beards need removing, and a good scrub won't go amiss, but I really like this bit of prep, and it's a good opportunity to find broken or gaping shells which may need rejecting. If a Mussel doesn't snap to attention after a sharp tap on the sink, it's a goner and not for the pot.

When it came to cooking these Mussels, I started as I usually do by opening a bottle of good dry cider. On this occasion, a bottle of our dwindling stock of 2010 Kingston Black/Sweet Alford blend. Rich, fruity, full of varietal character, a slight suggestion of sweetness. In fact almost too good to cook with.

Normandie Mussel Surprise

Saute a finely chopped Clove of Garlic and a tablespoon of finely chopped Onion or Shallot in a nob Butter until softened. To the hot pan add the Mussels and a good slosh of the Dry Cider (Medium/Dry would be fine, but definately not any sweeter). Cover and steam for a minute or two until all the Mussels have opened for your pleasure. At this point, remove the Mussels with a slotted spoon and keep warm.

This is where necessity makes an appearance. I wanted to add a bit of cream to the stock, but the cream was somewhat past its best. Instead I was forced to turn to a scrag-end of creamy Camembert, a leftover from the Christmas cheese board, all gooey and ripe, but still in good condition. I added a chunk of this to the pan, and stirred until I had a thin sauce, seasoned with Black Pepper, and poured over the waiting Mussels. At this point you may want to add some Chopped Parsley, I would certainly have liked to but my luck had well and truly ran out by now. The Mussels were great nevertheless.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Cider Barrel Half-Empty

This evenings blog post was supposed to be a lengthy treatise on the cidery delights of Tewkesbury, a town set in the very heart of Three Counties cider and perry country. Our trip to Tewkesbury was long overdue, the perrys need racking off, and we can't do that without a couple of new Food-Grade Blue Tubs. It's a little known fact that Tewkesbury is a good source of these tubs, and we hoped to 'add value' to the trip with a day out in the town.

I'd researched my subject well, and was reasonably sure that the unspoilt medieval charm of Tewkesbury would conceal a reasonable range of traditional Ye Olde Worlde Local Cyders, and maybe even some Fyne Glostershire Perries. Sadly, t'was not to be the case.

The Royal Hop Pole almost delivered the goods. A Westons cider and Wetherspoon newcomer Gwynt-Y-Ddraig Black Dragon Cider might seem to you a good result, but the fact is I could have stayed at home for these. The Nottingham Arms proved to be another Westons stronghold, nice but not what I was after. The Berkeley Arms promised cider, but there was none to be seen, and Tewkesbury newcomer Theoc House listed bottles of Archies Cotswold Cider, but didn't have any on my visit. To make matters worse, the only pub in town I was guaranteed cider of sorts, was the White Bear, but I ran out of time for this pub. In the world of Twitter, this is known as a #totalciderfail.

Never mind, in an attempt to salvage the day, I turned to retail therapy, which is something Tewkesbury excels at. So here's what I got:

At last! Proper Gloucestershire Cider from Severn Cider of Awre near Newnham. This is a pure juice medium cider, full flavoured, fruity, tannic, and beautifully rounded and smooth to drink. That Wine Place on the High Street also have ciders from Three Choirs Vineyard, Gwatkin, and Lyne Down Farm. Thank heavens for that!

This weighty tome would certainly have been considered 'modern' in 1956 when it was first published, but there's still plenty in here of relevance to the fruit grower and orchardist today. It's got some nice pictures in it too.

This little scrumpy-swilling fella came with a 50p price tag, and will take pride of place amongst my collection of jars and jugs in the ciderhouse. I've decided to call him 'Little Ray', for no particular reason...
We've also got the aforementioned Blue Tubs, so next weekend I'll be racking the perries, and needless to say blogging about the experience here.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Bits'n'Bobs (Formerly Ciderhouse News) - January

It's no secret that we have a 'Mole' inside the Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival organising committee. She (or indeed He) goes by the code name of 'Susan', aka SueSusie, The Suse-let etc. depending on what disguise she (or he) is working under. Information can also occasionally comes to us via her (or his) intermediary, 'Paul' aka 'Susans Husband'. Now I'm not at liberty to reveal any more than this, certainly not her (or his) role in the organisation. Suffice to say that our Mole is very close indeed to the inner sanctum of the organisation, and has a key role in the drinks orders, though not necessarily anything to do with the beer... or soft drinks. I can't say any more.

Anyway, Susan has already supplied us with a few nuggets of information ahead of the event, on the strict understanding that we carefully 'leak' them here. So I can now exclusively reveal, that subject to all the usual issues of supply, this years cider bar will feature a whole bunch of local Ciders (and a Perry), as well as a whole bunch more ciders and perries from elsewhere. It's hoped that over the weekend the following producers will be represented in one form or another, including rather excitingly the current top three East Midlands producers as judged by CAMRA at last years Nottingham Beer Festival:

Bottle Kicking Cider Co - Leicestershire
Charnwood Cider - Leicestershire
Rockingham Forest Cider (Silver Medal Winner) - Northamptonshire
Scropton Cider (Bronze Medal Winner) - Derbyshire
Thirsty Farmer Cider - Leicestershire
Torkard Cider (Gold Medal Winner) - Nottinghamshire

If I've got any of these details wrong, I can only apologise. Sometimes the intelligence can arrive in a 'scrambled' southern dialect. One other snippet of information: Cider Bar in New Stillaging Shocker! - Folk singer already booked to lament the old ones...

In other breaking news, the Rockingham Forest Ciderhouse Pub Games Collection continues to grow, with the recent acquisition of a vintage Rings Board and accompanying collection of Tatty Hoover Belt Rings. Once a very popular pub game, but now mostly confined to Ireland and the Ventnor area of the Isle of Wight, this handsome board will take pride of place on the ciderhouse wall ready for the entertaining of visitors. A lovely old Mahogany Cribbage Board has been secured for the scoring, though lacking lovely-pegs as yet. We're still on the look out for a Sussex Toad in the Hole, though heaven knows where we're going to put one...

It's always nice to get a bit of feedback on this blog, nice and usually a surprise since we know our readership is usually quite slim (in numbers, not necessarily girth!). It was a genuine delight to receive the following message from across the water in Ireland, and on a subject close to my heart. The famous Anna McKean Christmas Pudding which I'm pleased to say we enjoyed again this year:
Hi, I'm Jane from near Rateen, St Johnston and Anna McKean was my grandmother......I can't tell you how delighted and pleased I was for my wonderful Granny when I saw your mention "tip of the hat to Anna's plum pudding". She was a very hard working farmers wife who spent her whole life rearing children - my Mum being the eldest - and cooking, cleaning and best of all baking for those around her. Many people over the years have said what a wonderful baker she was - her shortbread and Christmas cakes (wedding/christening etc cakes) where second to none. Oh and how could I forget her delicious chocolate sponge cake - oh man that was so good. She passed away in Sept 2006, I miss her still. It's heartwarming and deserving for my Gran that she gets some tiny taste of fame for her baking even though it's too late for her. My mum, Joan, and her sisters Mary and Anne are all good bakers too and it was Aunt Mary who discovered this website when she googled Rateen. Thanks again, Jane
Proof, should it be needed, of the wide demographic spread this blog enjoys, thanks for that Jane, the pleasure is all ours. Now, if only we could attract a few more cider enthusiasts to the blog...

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Dipping a Toe in the Perrys

With the mild weather we've been having this Winter, fermentations are much more advanced than during last years big freeze. I'm keen to get some of the earlier pressings, by which I mean the perrys, racked off from the sediment of primary fermentation. Hopefully I'll be in a position to do this within the next week or two, but in the mean time I couldn't resist dipping my 'wine thief' into some of perrys to see how they're progressing.

We sampled four batches of perry, and the contrast with the samples we tasted last year is really quite marked.

The first thing to say is that all of the perrys are clearing nicely, even the blend with quite a high proportion of Green Horse, which usually never clears entirely. Needless to say, the more advanced fermentation has resulted in drier perrys, with all but the Blakeney Red fully dry or med/dry now. Here are our scribbled notes:

Blakeney Red - Pleasantly sweet, soft, clean and with a rich pear fruitiness. There's quite a bit of tannin in the Blakeney this year which is a surprise.

Red Longdon - This is the first time we've had enough pears to make a single variety perry from this variety. At the moment it's producing a sharper, fruity perry which tastes quite similar to a medium/dry white wine.

Malvern Hills - The maceration has certainly had an effect, with much less tannin evident. This is the least impressively flavoured of the perrys at this stage. Dry, with some acidity, Karen described it as 'Crisp'. The Malvern Hills is a long way off being ready, and it should improve as it matures through the year.

Green Horse Blend - This blend has some Red Longdon and Oldfield in it, and it's perhaps the most complex of the perrys we tasted today. There's quite a lot of tongue-coating tannin, and Karen found a slight 'woodiness' in there. It's dry and fruity, with a long finish.

I'm very pleased with the overall condition of the perrys we tried, all of which are clean and fresh, with no signs of the potential problems which can sometimes afflict this delicate drink. I would have to say that at this stage they are all slightly less full-flavoured than last seasons perrys, largely down to being much drier, but possibly also the result of the more vigorous fermentation. Another 2-3 months maturation will give us a much better idea of how things have turned out this year.

Friday, 6 January 2012

2012 - The Year of Gluttony

I'm not one for New Year Resolutions. Every day of the year I resolve to 'do those things which I didn't do yesterday', 'try a little bit harder at that', and of course 'be a generally better person going forward...'. It's a constantly recurring theme in my life, and a major part of the strict Moral Code I endeavour to live by. The failure to achieve these resolutions on a regular and frequent basis is naturally cause for concern, but the trickle effect throughout the year helps to keeps me 'grounded' and 'generally hopeful' in a way that a big New Year Resolution failure probably wouldn't. I think I've said too much now, so on with the point of all this...

I've resolved to indulge myself more this year, mainly because a resolution as simple as this is relatively easy to achieve, and let's not forget that through indulgence lies happiness of a kind. For balance, I've also resolved to indulge Karen more this year too, which is of course entirely altruistic, and therefore carries none of the 'sinful baggage' of my first resolution. Clever eh! I've started early, spoiling Karen royally at Christmas with Chanel No.5, luxury Joules clothing, and Booja-Booja Chocolates. 'But what of yourself Mark?' I hear you ask... 'Don't forget your good self'' you cry. Well you'll be pleased to know I haven't.

Feast your eyes on these two beauties. Indulgence personified. I'm no stranger to the delights of Sampford Courtenay Cider. If nothing else, I'm a huge fan of their eminently re-usable swing-top bottles. The stuff inside is pretty good too, and by luck the Waitrose cider buyer seems to agree with me as this is where you'll find it. At the risk of becoming a full-on advert for Waitrose, have a look at this video, if only for a glimpse of the huge wooden 'Tuns' at Sampford Courtenay, which may or may not be in use but look fantastic nevertheless.

The seasonal offering is a Sloe & Elderberry Fruit Cider. The kind of mad concoction that could be little more than a sickly alco-pop in the wrong hands. The folk at Sampford Courtenay are a safe pair of hands where cider is concerned, and this is lovely, fruity, yet very grown-up stuff. The main point of interest for me is that it still has the tastes and aroma of cider. Rich, strong Devon cider, and really quite dry cider at that. Now it really shouldn't come as a surprise that a cider with other fruits added should actually taste of cider, but the fact is, most of these fruity concoctions seem to be made merely to disguise the cideriness, not enhance it. In the case of the bigger brands, it's all about making your cider as accessible to as wide a demographic as possible, and there's no better way of making your cider accessible than by making it taste like Ribena. We're absolutely not in Ribena territory here.

Did I mention it was Dry? Now that's a real surprise, not least because it's described on the Waitrose shelf as being Sweet. It's a full-bodied, chunky, dryish Devon Cider, carefully overlayed with a subtle berry sweetness, and a fair bit of mouth drying tannin which could originate from just about any of the primary ingredients. If you're looking for an easy-drinking alco-pop, look elsewhere, this is butch, grown-up stuff, at a grown-up price it must be said. If £4.99 a bottle seems a little pricey to you, just think of the lovely bottle you get free, and being a seasonal offering, hope as I do that a special offer is just around the corner.

Talking of special offers, there's really nothing  more special (or indeed underhand) than offering a generous free tasting of something absolutely delicious on one of the last shopping days of Christmas. This is how I found myself in possession of a bottle of Zeni Acquavite di Williams, for which the people at Ben's Wine Shop in Oakham can be thanked, or indeed blamed. They obviously know a weak-willed man when they see one.

What can I say about this bottle? In a word, Lush. In four words, Really Very Lush Indeed. You can read the company blurb and details of this spirit here, keep scrolling past the grapey stuff, it's near the end. It's a smooth little devil for sure, spirity, but not at all firey, with a long-long, juicy Williams Pear finish. This takes me all the way back to skiing holidays in Austria, without the troublesome bother of trying to ski that is. It's a versatile spirit, good in a Hip Flask, equally at home straight from the fridge with a slice of Smoked Salmon. It's lovely, indulgent, and a great start to my year of immoderation.