Sunday, 1 September 2013

Gearing up for a good harvest

IMG_20130817_160415_111    It's my favourite time of year! Apple harvest time!
    To be fair so far that means the earlies rather than the cider apples. Grenadier, White Transparent, and of course the Beauty of Bath being enjoyed by the wasps in the picture. But the mere fact of picking and eating fresh apples for me means summer has finally delivered.
    After last year's disaster we're going to have a huge yield. Time will tell exactly what the apples will be like, but with decent sunlight I hope they'll have a good sugar content.
    I'll be getitng out the press for a good clean, and making a Vigo order for any sundries I've run out of.
    Good luck if you're pressing this autumn, and may your apple juice run sweet and clean!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Single varietal

    With the pruning long past and the resulting pile of branches disposed of, there's not much going on in the orchard at the moment. The daffodils are coming through, and like ciderists everywhere I'm left worrying about the rain, the frost, a late spring, and all the myriad other factors that can deprive me of my apple crop this year. A cheery sales email came through from Vigo a few days ago promising that 2013's climate so far would give us a bumper crop. I'd expect the rest in 2012 to have done my trees some good, but I wish I had some of the cider they're drinking!
    The lull in activity does however provide an opportunity to talk about an experimental batch of cider from the 2011 pressing that I mentioned in passing last year. My first attempt at a single varietal.
    Single varietal ciders have attracted some attention in recent years as producers use them for marketing effect, to attach a connoisseur's cachet to their product in the same way as the wine industry has marketed their product by grape varieties rather than by region. Some apples give rather good single varietal pressings, but I can't help at times feeling that they miss the skill of selecting the mix at pressing time to achieve a balance of flavour otherwise unattainable. Cider differs from whisky or wine in this respect, this blending is not done to hide an otherwise cheaper product.
    My single varietal came from an unusual standpoint. I did not want to create a balanced and enjoyable cider, instead I wanted to create the sharpest cider I could, as a drink for mixing with my apple juice. You should try it, it's rather refreshing and the alcohol doesn't go straight to your legs!
    So the apple I chose is not a cider apple at all. Bramley. Great in apple pies, makes surprisingly good juice for drinking, but too sharp for normal cider.
    I happen to think Bramley is an interesting apple. We have several Bramley trees from different sources, when my parents planned the orchard they had a winter's worth of pies in mind. The reason for my interest is that those trees, though all giving classic Bramley shaped apples, all exhibit different characteristics. There is one whose Bramleys are slightly yellow with sometimes a red blush on their skin, are palatable to eat, tart but not too much so and with flesh that's easy to bite into. Another gives much more acid fruit, still unmistakably Bramley but greener and harder. I'm unsure why this is as all the trees are unmistakably the same variety and grow in the same part of the orchard so I'd expect would share the same terroir.
    My Bramley cider used the sharper fruit. I wanted it to be mouth-puckeringly sharp. The fresh juice was very drinkable as even a sharp Bramley has plenty of sugars. I didn't press much, just enough for a one-gallon demijohn. I didn't want much of the stuff.
    It seemed to take longer to ferment than my normal cider, and it kept going slowly after racking. Bottling came in Autumn, giving me sixteen 330ml bottles. I don't expect any of the secondary fermentation that develops with storage in my normal cider, this stuff is far too acid for that.
    So, having opened a bottle and tried it, what's the verdict?
    Success, definitely. Mouth-puckeringly, painfully sharp! But with a decent alcohol content and still with that "pippy" apple taste, after all this is still a craft cider. Mixed with juice, gives it a "kick" without the resulting drink feeling like watered-down cider.
    There it is then. My first single varietal cider. And not one you'd expect. Not one you'd probably drink either, to be honest. But it works for the application I made it for, which is all that matters.

Friday, 25 January 2013

It's pruning time!

    Well, here we are again, hello January. Standing around in the orchard pruning the trees again. This year we've not had much of the wonderful crunchy frost and bright sunlight, it's either been squelchy mud and rain, or snow. Neither of which are much fun, to be honest.
    I have to admit it, I envy people with traditional cider orchards featuring huge unpruned trees. They can stay indoors at this time of year, or watch over their fermenting juice. Our orchard was laid out for producing fruit to be eaten, so all its trees have been pruned to an artificial shape and need regular maintenance. We cider makers don't care in the same way about the size or visual quality of our fruit, so it's mildly annoying to have to spend so much time in the cold.
    The 2012 fermentation has slowed right down, I'll be thinking about racking it in a few weeks. Meanwhile the 2011 cider has turned out rather well. My unexpectedly cloudy batch I wrote about in the summer is slowly beginning to settle too, I was expecting it to take longer. As an experiment I've put some of it in an outbuilding where it'll be frosted to see whether that helps.
    Meanwhile as usual I gave cider to my colleagues in lieu of Christmas cards. Now the label is adorned with a line drawing of an apple, courtesy of Wikipedia. I suspect I'll have to locate some little stubby bottles for next year if I want to give it out then, so poor was the 2012 harvest.
    Otherwise, everything's quiet until May, blossom time. Here's hoping for a better spring than last year.