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.

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