Throughout the weekend, the previous year’s cider is used to quench the thirst of the pickers, crushers and squeezers, as well as a supply of yummy apple cake to soak up the brew. In the evening the clay oven is fired up, and fresh pizza and other treats are cooked. As everyone drifts off to bed, a leg of our own pork is put in the clay oven to slowly cook overnight, resulting in the best pulled pork ever the next day.
Approximately 10 weeks after pressing, the now fermented cider is siphoned into barrels and left to mature, though regular testing of the cider is carried out (obviously), with the first test of a new batch traditionally carried out at Christmas. The batch is usually ready for drinking as Spring comes upon us and is enjoyed over the summer months, either as a still "Scrumpy" style cider, served directly from the barrel, or we now are able to utilise the Dizzy Pig Cornelius kegging system to condition the cider for a refreshing fizzy draught cider.
We only ferment 15-25 gallons each year dependent on the crop and how many helpers we can convince to do all the hard work. Perhaps it's not enough to challenge Magners or Bulmers, but it keeps us very happy and who knows, as Dizzy Pig catches on, we could make lots more!
We have different varieties of cider given the different trees in the orchard and each displays their own individuality. However, unlike the Dizzy Pig beers we brew, where we use many different malts and hops to produce a specific ale, we tend to let Mother Nature have a hand in the cider making process. Each gallon of juice that is fermented takes approximately 20 lbs of apples, thus to make 25 gallons takes a good 500 lbs of apples! We pick apples from a particular variety of tree, wash, crush and press, add the yeast and let her do her thing. If the cider comes out a little sweet, no problem, if it's dry still no problem, we enjoy it. If we have two extremes, we simply blend them. If we don't have enough apples from one individual tree we mix the varieties and off we go again. In all the years we have been making cider, we have never had a batch that couldn't be consumed. Admittedly, some were better than others and if only we had been legally able to use the micro-distillery system for the Grainfather (if of course, we had bought the system), we could of distilled the not so good cider into a fine spirit indeed. But we didn't, so that's that, honest.
Lised below are the ciders created in October 2017, which we will enjoy throughout 2018:
Tydemans Late Orange. Our favourite and a prolific producer. Our single tree produced 10 gallons this year, with additional crates for storage. This is an eating apple that is renowned for it's keeping qualities. We have stored these apple in past years right through to late March.
Dabinett. This is a pure cider apple tree, which this year gave us a full 5 gallons of cider. Dabinett forms the basis of many of the commercial ciders available today. When conditioned in the Cornelius kegs it's better than Magners any day.
Discovery. Strictly speaking this is a cooking apple, producing huge apples big enough to have their own gravity! These generally get used for crumbles, pies, tarts and apple sauce, but over the years they have also produced some excellent cider. This year being no exception once again giving us a full 5 gallons, with approximately 100 lbs left over for pies etc.
Russet/Bountiful. Our Russet never produces a big crop, but the small eaters are always sweet and juicy, in order to make up a full five gallon batch we made up the shortfall with Bountiful apples. This is a cooking apple that only fully crops every 2 years, but it's a cooking apple that is sweet enough to eat straight off the tree. This year was it's good year and we fed the pigs these apples from late August through to November when they went to slaughter.
For us, cider making is a celebration of the apple (and the pear) and a weekend in October is put aside especially for this celebration. Friends and family gather and we pick the apples directly from the trees in our very own Pool Cottage orchard.
We then set up a mini production line. The apples are first washed and checked for bruising and grubs. They then pass along the line to the crusher, which helps the juice extraction and then on to be pressed in our home made press. The resulting apple juice is then transferred to 5 gallon fermenting bins. The only other ingredient is some cider yeast, making our cider some of the purest available.