AG #12 – Nova: Homegrown Cascade

Homegrown green gold...

With #projectcider out the way for another year, it was time to brew some beer again. I decided I needed to use up some of the hops in the freezer, so attempted my first American Pale Ale.

I’ve had this recipe ready to go for what seems like months, but finding the time to get it brewed has proved tricky. The brew schedule I’d worked up earlier in the year had me brewing something completely different for AG #12, but I decided to change it when I harvested my hops. There was simply no space in the freezer to put this years harvest, especially as there was half of last years and the year before that’s, still sitting crammed in there.

So instead of brewing what I’d originally planned, another Binary Star, I decided it was high time that I used up some of the homegrown hops, while using the malts I already had to hand to try a few different recipes. I’ve wanted to brew an American Pale Ale for ages, I felt it was the right thing to do, before attempting a proper American IPA.

I’d previous worked up five different recipes, all using last years homegrown Cascade, differing only in their malt bills. The idea being to see which one I liked the best and then move on from there. A great idea in principle, but I’d not realised that most of last years homegrown hops were frozen green. This meant that I didn’t have anywhere near enough for five brews, as you need to use five times as many green hops as you do dried, so that idea went out the window.

Around the same time, the homebrewing community on twitter started going on about Hop Stands, essentially a hop steep after flame out, generally above 80°C. Otherwise known as a flame out steep, or an 80°C steep. Kids… Always renaming stuff. The Beer Engine program that I use for building my recipes in, can’t work out the IBU’s provided by this kind of hop steep, so I looked around and found the Brewers Friend website and recipe calculator, which can calculate IBU’s from a hop steep.

So I spent a few afternoons plugging various combinations of malts and hops into the calculator until I ended up with five recipes (you only get five unless you pay to join) I was happy-ish with. I’d decided that since I had 4.7kg of Marris Otter, I’d use it in trying to make my first American Pale Ale. As this style allows for a small amount of speciality grains, I decided to use up the little CARAMUNICH I that was kicking about. I couldn’t decided if I should also use some CARAPILS or Wheat for head retention and body, but in the end decided not to.

My hop drawer in the freezer contained two bags of homegrown Cascade from 2012, so I decided those should be used up first. One bag, 66g, had been dried in the dehydrator, the other bag, 374g, had been frozen green. I decided to add the 66g bag for a full 90 minute boil to maximise extraction and then add the rest for an +80°C steep. There was to be no traditional flavour or aroma hop additions, a real step into the unknown for me.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Thomas Fawcett Marris Otter 5 EBC 4,720 grams 96.3%
Wayermann CARAMUNICH I 90 EBC 182 grams 3.7%
  15 EBC 4902 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2012 Homegrown Cascade (dried) Whole 2% 90 66 18.57 61.1%
2012 Homegrown Cascade (green) Whole 2% 80°C steep 374 11.81 38.9%
          30.39  

  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 18.75 litres
Mash 90 mins at 67°C 90 mins at 68°C
Original gravity 1.053 (12.9 Brix) 1.056 (13.6 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.010
Attenuation 81%
ABV 5.01%
GU/BU ratio 0.61 0.54
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling

My digital thermometer had been knackered a few months before in a random accident and I hadn’t got round to replacing it. I managed to borrow one from Bert, but the batteries had leaked and as I was in such a rush when I picked it up, it wasn’t cleaned up and checked if it was working. I should probably have tried it before switching on the hot liquor tank. (HLT) Luckily, it turnned out that my old digital thermometer wasn’t quite as knackered as thought, you just had to submerged the whole probe and handle and leave it for a few minutes and it’d give you a reading. Not the greatest, but serviceable.

I felt totally unprepared to brew and for some reason, I was late in getting started. It wasn’t until 20:00 that the HLT finally got switched on, so I knew it would be a pretty late finish, just as well that I’d loaded up on caffeine. Everything went pretty smoothly though, although I missed my mash temperature by a whole degree. In my defense, I knew I was adding water from the HLT that was about three quarters of a degree to high and with the shonky thermometer, the temperature reading from the grain to determine the strike temperature, may not have been wholly accurate.

I’d originally considered mashing in at 68°C, before changing my mind at the last moment, and deciding to mash in at 67°C. So hitting 68°C didn’t really bother me, as having a touch more body might be useful depending on what the homegrown hops turn out like. I collected exactly 12.5 litres from each batch sparge, which was made a lot easier by my half litre graduated 15 litre bucket, that I bought for helping with the cider.

As I had issues with run off last time out, even while using oat husks, I decided to use up the remainder of the packet, which was around 400g. I also forced myself to run off each of the two batch sparges more slowly than I have in the past, to try and ensure there was no issues with the mash sticking. There wasn’t and run off was constant and for a change, pretty clear. I may have to start using more oak husks than I have in the past, it’s not like they’re massively expensive or anything.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to try first wort hopping, rather than adding the first load of hops when the boil starts. I left the wort from the first batch sparge in the 15 litre bucket and only when I was ready to draw off the second batch sparge, did I add the wort to the boiler and switch it on. It’ll be interesting to see if I can detect any sort of change in the underlying bitterness or not. I’m also not sure about how this will affect the IBU’s, as when you select First Wort on the Brewers Friend recipe calculator, it gives less bitterness units for that amount of hops.

After 90 minutes the boiler was switched off and the wort allowed to chill to 85°C, which didn’t take long. 374g of homegrown Cascade were then added and left to steep for half an hour, with the boiler switched back on and set to keep the temperature there, or thereabouts. Then the chiller went in and in no time, due to the fact it was baltic in the shed, the wort was down to 25°C, so I transferred it into the fermentor, pitched the yeast, tucked it up in the brew fridge and headed inside to go to bed.

After four and a half hours of restless sleep, I was back up and out to the shed to start clearing up. In a change for how I normally empty the mash tun, I dumped the whole thing into a grain bag suspended over the HLT. This allowed all the remaining liquid to runn out of the grains, so what went into the green bin was much dryer than normal. I also did the same with the spent hops, which allowed me to squeeze all of the liquid out of them too. I’m sure this will help stop the green bin becoming quite so clarty and mean I don’t have to clean it so often.

I did have a couple of issues though, which I can only put down to tiredness. For some reason, I didn’t switch the HTL off when doing the second batch sparge, so part of the element got scorched. I also forgot to turn the boiler off when I put the chiller in, so initially, it didn’t drop in temperature as quickly as it could have. Those issues aside, from an overly stressful start, it turned into a pretty uneventful brew.

I’m not sure yet if I’m going to dry hop it, as I didn’t plan to originally, but I do have half a packet of Motueka pellets that need used up. I might just wait till fermentation is over and have a sample and see what I think. I don’t think I’ve been dry hopping with enough hops to make a difference anyway, so I may just save the Motueka for something else.

#projectcider: A Descent into Madness, Part Two

Pressing.

In which I ponder on the morals and ethics of scrumping and document my second attempt at making cider, using a hired Speidel apple mill and hydropress.

You’d think that I’d have waited a few days or weeks before thinking about having another go at making some cider, especially after the stress of the first attempt. You’d also think that the the broken crusher and finishing at 03:30 due to chopping apples in a food processor, would have dented the enthusiasm some what. Far from it though, as it was the very next day that I tweeted Virtual Orchard in Milton Keynes to enquire about hiring their apple mill and hydropress.

I figured that if I was going to hire some proper cider making equipment, I may as well make the most of it, so I spent the time leading up to the big day gathering as many apples as I could. I started to raid all the trees I’d found in verges, as well as continuing to go out to the orchard at Childerly. It got to the point where I was out collecting apples for a couple of hours before work and then again for a couple of hours during my hour long lunch break. The rear suspension on my little Saxo was getting a bit of a work out.

Yvan, who now runs the local Jolly Good Beer distribution company, mentioned on twitter that there was another orchard in the village of Over, just to the North West of Cambridge. A quick email to a friend who grew up in Over gave me an approximate location and it was off one lunchtime to see what was what. As it happens, I met Yvan there and he can attest to how, pardon my French, fucking angry I got. An absolutely massive orchard, full of multiple varieties of apple, pear and plums, all going to waste. Plums withered on the trees, tons of pears rotting on the ground and apple trees that hadn’t seen any management in years. I was absolutely seething.

I was conflicted about bothering to try and locate the owner, as it was pretty obvious that they didn’t give a stuff about their orchard, other than having cut the grass at least once that year in some of its segments. Some of it was so overgrown, it obviously hadn’t been tended in years. Don’t get me started on the state of the trees either, whacking great old apple trees that had obviously been shown a lot of love in the past, now with their centres full of small branches crisscrossing every which way; they were an utter mess.

So I went back, day, after day, after day, and filled the boot of the Saxo with buckets and buckets of apple and pears. It did think on more than one occasion, while perched on top of a wobbly ladder and reaching as far as I dared for yet another apple, that I should really have at least tried to contact the landowner. I’ll be honest and say that the more I went back, the less comfortable I became with taking all that fruit, even though it was all going to waste. I half expected to get challenged by some of the early morning dog walkers, or nearby residents, but nobody batted an eye lid.

It wasn’t just scrumping from an orchard I wasn’t 100% comfortable with either. Some of the trees I scrumped from were on the verges of back country roads and looked like they’d been put there on purpose. Yet they weren’t obviously cared for and all the fruit was going to waste. It also wasn’t totally obvious who owned the land they were on either, as they weren’t necessarily next to, or near a house. I think the chances of there being three wildlings in a row for instance, all of the same variety, is infinitesimally small.

Should I take them? Should I leave them to rot? Who do I ask to try and find out who owns them? I know that, in all good conscience, I should try and find out, but most people I talked to about the subject, just seemed happy to know that someone was making use of all the apples, as they normally just see them going to waste.

The ethics and morals of scrumping, are a difficult topic and one worthy of a blog post on their own. I think that what I did at Over orchard, while morally defensible, they were going to waste, was ethically dubious, they obviously belonged to someone and I didn’t even try and find out who. Whatever your opinion on that kind of behaviour, all told I collected around three quarters of a ton, or thereabouts, of apples and pears, the majority of which I did have permission to take.

You may be wondering why I collected the pears, as it’s not like you can make perry out of any old pears (as far as I know), like you can cider from any old apples. The reason is due to the chemical makeup of the pear, it has more sorbitol in it, which doesn’t ferment. So adding some pear juice to the cider must, results in a perceived sweeter cider than you would get with apples alone. So I’d decided to add 15% pear juice to most of the fermentors.

I should probably elucidate on the state of the fermentors at this juncture. At that point in time, I had two fermentation buckets to my name, one with 30 litre capacity, the other with 25 litre capacity. Obviously they wouldn’t be enough to hold the juice from a quarter of a ton of apples, let alone three quarters of a ton. So I begged and borrowed from friends and colleagues and ended up with an assortment of nine buckets, varying from bog standard 25 litre ones, up to a whopping 60 odd litre one. All told, it gave me capacity for somewhere in the region of 270 litres of cider. So that’s what I made.

Lawrence at Virtual Orchard hires out his old mill and hydropress, the very ones he started off with, before upgrading. The hire period is for 24 hours, so if you pick it up at 16:00 one day, you have to have it back at 16:00 the following day. This meant that I was going to lose out on a bit of time, as it takes at least an hour and a half from my house to get to Milton Keynes and the cidery is on the other side of the town from where the A421 dumps you at the M1. So I asked to pick up at 17:00 on a Saturday, I think it was 17:00 and not 18:00, I can’t quite remember.

I’d been stressing during the week about not having enough Sodium Metabisulphite to treat 270 litres of cider and hadn’t left enough time to order any online. Luckily for me, I know the organiser of the Cambridge CAMRA Summer Beer Festival and he said I could have one of the tubs from the beer festival, as they didn’t really get used much. Cue desperately trying to get hold of the chap who was going to let me into the container on the Saturday afternoon.

Needless to say, things didn’t go quite to plan, he didn’t reply to my txt’s, so I waited as long as I could and then just went to see if he was there, he was, no idea why he couldn’t have txt’d me back. It wasn’t like he was just sitting waiting for me though, I had to hang around for an age, while he finished putting some sealant onto a container door. I can’t really complain though, I got a 5Kg tub of Sodium Metabisulphite for nothing. I was quite late getting to Milton Keynes though.

I think I liked Lawrence from the moment I met him, he seemed like a really nice bloke. He happily answered all my inane, clueless questions about cider without any exasperation, while also giving me a few pointers based on his experiences. He also showed me round the unit containing his cidery, very impressive. He’s got a Kreuzmayer washer elevator mill and belt press and can process somewhere in the region of 650Kg to 1250Kg per hour. Lawrence told me, that with two working in tandem, they’d been able to process a ton a day with the kit I was hiring. Quite a jump in productivity with his current setup and a lot less manual effort too.

The following morning I was up bright and early and out into the garden to get cracking. I didn’t quite know how loud the mill would be, so I left it till 08:00 before starting it up and attempting my first press. For some reason I decided that I wanted to see the pomace coming out of the bottom of the mill and if I was busy emptying a trug into the top of it, I wouldn’t see anything coming out. So I loaded the mill with pears and switched it on. Cue a distressed grinding noise and then nothing.

I’ll admit to panicking. I couldn’t believe that I’d knackered a second mill in the space of a few weeks. What was I going to do with all these apple? I rushed inside and checked the fuse box, but nothing had tripped out. In a moment of clarity, I opened the plug, noted the type of fuse and went in search of a similar one in the house. Twenty minutes later, with the fuse from the toaster in place and the mill emptied of pears, I flicked the switch. Thank [insert favoured deity here], the mill burst into life and we were off.

Wow, the Speidel apple mill is a thing to behold. No sooner had a trug of apples or pears been deposited into the hopper, than a trug of pomace appeared at the bottom. It looked nothing like the pomace I’d got from the manual crusher, or the food processor a few weeks before. This pomace was literally leaking juice everywhere and was really, really well milled, without any large chunks. I filled the hydropress to the top and before I’d even switched on the tap to pressurise the thing, I had nearly 5, yes 5, litres of juice in the container below it.

With the manual crusher and basket press, I was lucky to get four litres on a press of 12Kg, with the hydropress, I was getting in the region of 15 litres a press from 30Kg, with minimal physical effort. It was a revelation. Everything happened so fast, from the milling to the pressing and I wasn’t even going as fast as I could have. Lawrence reckoned that you could get four presses an hour in, which I totally believe, especially if there is two of you, one washing and crushing, the other pressing. I was running at about two to three and hour depending on other tasks and just got sucked into a kind of rhythm and ended up stopping trying to document what I was doing, as there just wasn’t the time.

I did try and note down the mix of apples that went into each fermentor though, as they were mostly in separate piles on the patio and all processed together. Other than that though, it was just, wash, mill, press, repeat, until I ran out of fermentors. Only then did I surface for air and take stock.

To help with the distribution of the must amongst the fermentors, I’d been storing the freshly press juice in the spare plastic kegs. When all the fermentors were full, there was still quite a bit of apple and pear juice leftover. I have a load of old brown Grolsch swing top bottles and even older internal screw top Lucozade bottles, that I’ve been given over the years. So I filled all of those with as much juice as I could, with the intention of pasteurising it at the earliest opportunity.

Even after all of that, I still had at least another two presses worth of apples and pears left over. It seemed like such a waste to leave them on the patio, but I literally didn’t have anything to put their juice in. Yes, I could have stored it in one of the kegs for a few days and run out and bought another fermentor, but I just didn’t have any spare money. If I’d had any spare money, I wouldn’t have had to beg and borrow fermentors from friends and colleagues, I’d just have bought a few really large ones before starting all of this.

While there was a feeling of accomplishment for having filled every available container, I couldn’t relax. I had to quickly wash everything down, load the car and get it back to Lawrence in Milton Keynes. I was late again. I was also absolutely knackered, which made the jam packed M1 a barrel of laughs, even though I was only on it for a junction. I got everything back in one piece though and managed to get home safely. I still wasn’t finished for the night though.

After dinner, it was back out to the shed, as I still had to take PH and gravity readings. This also gave me the opportunity to make sure the spreadsheet I had created, was filled out with all the information I could think of at the time. Essentially which fermentors had pear juice in them, which didn’t, which fermentor I’d put 2.5 litres of bramble juice into etc. That last one was quite easy though, as the contents of the fermentor were purple. At this point, I had to stop, I’m not a spring chicken anymore so headed off to bed.

I was up early the next day so I could rearrange all the fermentors in the shed, as I wasn’t happy with how I’d left it. I also had to deal with a paddling pool full of spent pomace. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to fill the kids paddling pool, rather than just dumping it in a pile of brambles between the garden and the paddocks. As that’s where it all ended up, I was cursing my stupidity at not having just dumped it there as I’d gone along. Live and learn though.

When I made the first batch, I’d used packets of cultured yeast. This time I wanted to experiment, so I used some packet yeast, dosed some with a starter I’d made from the dregs of a couple of bottles of Orval and some I just left to do their thing. Depending on which fermentor got which yeast, they were also dosed with a suitable amount of Sodium Metabisulphite. Either enough to either kill everything, or half that amount, so bad stuff would die, but not enough to stop natural fermentation from happening.

I put a fermentor into the brew fridge, made sure the rest were under airlock and sat back and waited for fermentation to start. I waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing. So I removed that fermentor from the brew fridge and put a different one in. I knew it was too cold for those that were sitting the shed to ferment, but I was expecting the one in the brew fridge to get on with it and ferment out. So I increased the temperature from 15°C, to 18°C and sat back and waited again. Still nothing. So the temperature went up to 20°C and I waited again.

I’d just assumed that this batch of cider would ferment as easily as the first batch did. I’d assumed that I would be able to pass each fermentor, except the 60 litres one, through the brew fridge, changing them every two weeks when they’d fermented out. How wrong I was. I ended up putting yet another fermentor in to the brew fridge and bringing two fermentors into the house. This was on the assumption that, if they didn’t ferment in the house, I needed to add cultured yeast to them, rather than trying to reply on wild yeast.

After a month of waiting, one of the fermentors I’d brought into the house finally started to show signs that it was doing something. It didn’t look like a normal krausen, instead, there was green globular lumps suspended in the must and some patches of foam on the surface. I thought that this was it, any moment it would break out and start fermenting. It didn’t though, I had to endure another ten days before it really kicked off. Meanwhile, the fermentor in the brew fridge had also come to life and started fermenting, we were well and truly underway.

What was interesting, was that only one of the fermentors I’d brought into the house had started fermenting, the other hadn’t. My wife was getting rather annoyed at them taking up space in the extension, which has underfloor heating by the way, which may or may not be relevant. She complained most vociferously about the smell, which I didn’t really think was too bad, until I came downstairs one morning to find the second fermentor had finally kicked off. Jings, fermenting cider doesn’t half pong!

I love the smell of fermenting beer, it reminds me of my childhood and getting off the train at Haymarket station in Edinburgh and smelling all the nearby breweries. I do not however, like the smell of fermenting cider and had to make rather a lot of apologies to my wife, who works from home, from the dining table, in the extension. I was not flavour of the month. It wasn’t like I could moved them into the brew fridge either, as it was occupied. So they stayed in the house till the last moment, before being whisked off to the cold of the shed, just before my parents arrived to spend Christmas.

I didn’t bring any more into the house. Partially as I had an inkling that it was too hot for cider, especially with the underfloor heating, but mostly because I didn’t want to get a divorce. For some reason, this batch of cider just wouldn’t ferment at 15°C like the first batch had, even the fermentors that had cultured yeast in them. They also took longer to ferment, one I ended up adding cultured yeast to after it had been sat in the brew fridge for three weeks doing nothing.

I hadn’t bargaining for things taking this long and people were starting to ask for their fermentors back, as they wanted to make their own beer and wine again. So this meant I had to do lots of moving stuff around, or decanting into one of my boilers, cleaning the fermentor and putting the cider back into it. It all depended on the size of the fermentor and if I had a free keg or not. I even gave my brother 20 litres of must from the massive fermentor, the rest was split into two smaller fermentors, when I had to give it back. It was a bit of a stress to be honest and I’m very grateful to those who lent me their kit. I still have a couple of fermentors that I’ve not yet given back (they’ve currently got some of this years cider in them).

It wasn’t until May, after nearly seven months, that the last fermentor spontaneously kicked into life in the shed. I hope that these extended periods where the must has been sitting under airlock won’t have a detrimental affect on the end product, I suppose only time will tell. The main problem with this though, is that of maturation. I was expecting to be able to drink some of each batch this Autumn, after at least nine months or so of maturation. Nine months after May though, is next year and take it from me, cider that hasn’t matured for long enough is vile.

The cider I’d made with the Abbey Community Press had to be bottled before they’d had long enough to mature, as I needed the poly cubes, as I needed some kegs. Due to this early bottling, they hadn’t undergone malolactic fermentation, so ended up being really, really acidic. I didn’t want to make the same mistake with this lot, so I tried everything I could to leave them for as long as I could. With the contents of the last few fermentors finally chugging away though, I was forced to bottle the poly cubes and a keg to make enough room for it all to start maturing.

It was at this point, to my horror, that I discovered the fermentor I’d put some elderflower heads in, had mould growing in it. I hadn’t checked it for a few weeks and one of the heads hadn’t sunk under the surface like all the rest. The fermentor reeked like blue cheese. Twitter to the rescue though and it was soon dosed up with Sodium Metabisulphite and put into a fully evacuated poly cube, where it remains to this day. As it came out of a 30 litre fermentor and the poly cube only holds 20 litres, I bottled the rest.

The reasoning behind this, was to see if it developed an infection, without having to continually sample from the poly cube. If the bottles tasted fine, then there would be no need to dump the whole lot. So far, I’ve had bottles that have been fine and some that have had a bit of a blue cheese pong about them and tasted a bit iffy. I’m going to leave it for as long as I can, then I’ll sample it and see if it’s worth bottling or not. It’s a shame, as the elderflower worked really well with it, especially on the nose.

The bottles from the other batches all exhibit various levels of acidity and yeastiness. I’m assuming that being fermented in the house and being warmed by the underfloor heating, hasn’t done them any favours. I find two of them quite hard to drink, unless they are sweetened, not to counter any acidity, but to counter the dryness and yeastiness. The third isn’t quite as dry, or as yeasty, and I can manage on it’s own, although I have had to doctor a couple of bottles. All three appear to have undergone malolactic fermentation, as they’re no where near as acidic as the first lot.

There is still 150 litres of cider maturing in the shed, five 25 litres kegs, one 20 litres poly cube and a 5 litre demijohn. The demijohn is an out and out experiment, with the cider maturing on the soles I made last years Sloe Gin with. Evidently this is a thing and the end result is called Slider. Another experiment I would like to try is dry hopping, so I need to buy some Brambling Cross hops to add to the one that I added the bramble juice too. Mainly though, they’re all just sitting there maturing for as long as I can give them. Eventually I’ll bottle them, probably in batches, as I don’t have enough of the right size and shape of bottle to do them all at once.

I learnt a lot making all this cider, mostly that you need to have patience. Lots and lots of patience and lots of fermentors. I also learnt that it’s important to have the right mix of apples, as using all cookers, results in an overly acidic cider, especially if it isn’t matured for long enough so it undergoes malolactic fermentation.

You’ll be able to find out what happened when I decided to make some more cider this year, in part three of my decent into madness. Where in, I bypass morally defensible behaviour and in desperation head straight past ethically dubious too; I’m not proud.

#projectcider: A Descent into Madness, Part One

Scratting...

In which I document my first attempt at making cider, using a basket press and basic crusher.

I love going out for a ride on one of my bikes during my lunchbreak at work. While I like that it helps with shifting a few calories, it’s being outside in the open air, that’s the best part. I can switch off from whatever I’m working on and just revel in being outside in nature, especially if I’m going off road on the mountain bike. You might be wondering why I’m mentioning this in a blog about making cider, but if it wasn’t for the cycling, I probably wouldn’t have had enough apples to make cider with.

The benefit of having 50p legs (I also ride a 50p bike, so it’s a perfect match), is you have plenty of time to have a look around while you ride. With so many apples in the trees last year, they were impossible to miss, once I started actively looking, I started seeing them everywhere. One day on the way to work, the A14 was in a bit of a state, the slow average speed meant I had plenty of time to have a look at the verges, I spotted seven apple trees on the three and a half miles of the stretch I have to take.

However, it wasn’t directly through the cycling, or driving, that I found all the apples, I was actually after some damsons for making damson gin. I’d cycled past some on a bridleway out near Lolworth, so went back with the car, as I needed a ladder to get to them. It just so happened that I decided to park at the other end of the bridleway at Childerly, as it was closer to the damsons. As I drove along, as it turns out, their long private access road, I drove past an orchard. An orchard absolutely dripping with apples.

I have a pathological fear of failure, a course of CBT has helped, but the mere thought of asking a stranger for something fills me with dread and brings me out in a cold sweat. I assume they are going to say no to whatever I ask, so there generally seems little point in asking. For some reason, on that day, I put aside my anxious predictions and walked into the Childerly Estate Office and asked if I could have some of their apples. They were very nice, they didn’t bite or anything and most importantly, they didn’t say no. Their response was essentially, knock yourself out and thanks for asking, rather than just taking.

This made life somewhat easier, as it meant that I had a source for all the apples I would need, in one place. I didn’t have to go tramping round individual trees on bridleways, byways and road verges all over South Cambridgeshire to ensure I had enough. I read somewhere, that you need about six times the volume of apples, as you want in liquid after they’ve been pressed. Using this as a rough guideline I popped back to the orchard a couple of times during my lunch breaks with a fermenter and picked enough to easily fill it about thirteen times.

The problem now, was how was I going to turn all these apples into cider, as I don’t own a crusher or a press. I can’t remember who it was, but someone pointed me to the Abbey Community Apple Press and Crusher that is available to anyone to borrow. So I sent off an email to enquire and after a few back and forth, I had booked the press and taken a day off work. It was all starting to fall into place.

When the day of the pressing finally dawned, it was gray and miserable, not quite the sunny autumnal weather I was after. I didn’t fancy crushing and pressing in the rain, so I emptied most of the brew shed onto the patio and covered it was a tarpaulin. This left just enough space in the shed for the press to be operated, while still leaving me one of my work benches to stick the laptop and other bits and bobs on.

I’d read a lot since booking the apple press, I don’t like to go into things blind, I need to know a little bit about what I’m doing before I start anything. I knew that I needed to wash the apples in some 0.5% – 1% Sodium Metabisulphite solution and then rinse them. I also knew that large apples, like cookers, need to be chopped up for use with that kind of crusher. I knew that it’s best to press all your different types of apples separately, so you can blend them to get the best result.

So I had everything I needed to hand, a couple of trugs full of water, a chopping board and knife and I’d borrowed a load of fermenters from friends to collect the juice in. I was all set to begin. The only thing I didn’t know was how long it was going to take, I knew I had more than enough apples to make 50 litres worth, probably enough to make 75 litres, the only question was how fast could I process them.

It wasn’t long before I’d crushed my first load of apples into the basket of the press, just under 12Kg worth, if my notes from last year are correct. It was very satisfying to see the juice starting to run as the pressure was slow cranked up. I’m not sure quite how long it took to wash, rinse, crush and press that first batch, EXIF timestamps are about they only information I have in that regard, as I hadn’t set a timer. It was probably somewhere in the region of 35 to 40 minutes, which isn’t particularly good, but to be expected for a first attempt.

Feeling happy and confident from the successful first press, I was brought swiftly down to earth with a crunch, when the crusher broke, while filling the basket for a second press. Cue a rather good impersonation of a headless chicken, as I tried to determine what the problem was and how to fix it. It turned out, that one of the metal pins holding the gears to the axle had failed and been sucked under the cog and around the axle, causing it to slip when the teeth hit anything solid.

Unbeknownst to me, this pin had actually failed a couple of weeks earlier and had been "fixed" by someone inserting a homemade pin, which was of a more malleable metal that wasn’t up to the job. This only came to light when I started emailing everyone in a panic, asking what I should do, as I couldn’t see how to remove all the teeth and cogs to get at the pin and replace it. I lost about 3½ hours in the end, trying to take it apart and fix it, which I failed to do. I wasn’t impressed and to be honest, was in a bit of a panic, as my carefully planned day was unraveling at the seams.

This left me with a stark choice. Either call it quits, with less than a demijohns worth of usable cider must, or try and find another way of crushing the apples. There was no time (or funds) to go and buy a garden shredder and convert it into a crusher and I didn’t know anyone who had one that I could borrow. Putting the apples into a bucket and hitting them with a fence post sounded far too much like hard work and the resulting pomace didn’t sound like it resulted in a quantity of juice that was worth the effort.

I briefly considered using my twin gear masticating juicer, but it’s not that fast and foams terribly when you stuff lots of apples through it. Which just left the food processor, which was promptly relocated from the kitchen to the shed. Ten presses and 10½ hours later, I had two fermentors with about 27 litres of cider must in them. I had managed to chop, process and press about 125Kg of apples, I was knackered. I still had to clean up and treat the must though and it was another half an hour before I took the gravity readings and finally went indoors, loaded the dishwasher and headed off to bed, which I climbed into at 03:30.

While I was quite tired the following morning, I wasn’t that bad, it’s not like I get a lot of sleep anyway. It was gratifying to open the shed and see the two fermentors sitting there full of cider must, with all the pectin sediment at the bottom. As they had been treated with a full dose of Sodium Metabisulphite, I waited for two days before adding any yeast. I wasn’t sure if the sediment cause by the addition of the Pectolase would affect it in anyway, so decided to syphon the must off the sediment and then add the yeast. One fermentor went into the brew fridge, which was set to 15°C, the other was left to the mercy of the temperature fluctuations in the shed.

I inoculated one fermentor with some champagne yeast and the other with some cider yeast, I’m not a hundred percent sure which got which, as I don’t seem to have noted that down. Either way, the fermentor in the brew fridge was showing signs of activity about twelve hours later, while the one in the shed, took a further two days before showing the same signs. I think it was the temperature drop over night, that was retarding the yeast and slowing the fermentation down, even though the daytime temperature was sometimes higher than that set on the brew fridge.

I have lots of photos of refractometer readings, most of which are impossible to pin on either of the fermentors. I should have been better at taking notes, and probably should have worked up a sheet similar to the one I use for the homebrew beer. Either way, they both finished fermenting, the one in the shed taking about a week longer than the one in the brew fridge. As I needed the fermentors, I transferred each one into a plastic keg and left them in a corner of the shed to mature.

I’ll be honest at this point. I initially thought cider was like beer, you make it and a few weeks later you drink it. Cider is a bit more like a 10% Russian Imperial Stout, than a 3.8% Session Ale though, it requires time, rather a lot of time as it turns out. Most people make cider in the Autumn for the following summer, roughly about 9 months, although some would rather leave it for 12 to 18 months at a minimum. This put rather a strain on the equipment, as you’ll find out in the next installment, as I don’t actually have that many vessels and had already had to borrow fermentors and kegs from friends and colleagues

We were round friends in the village for a Christmas party and they had a couple of ploypins of beer from the local Milton Brewery. I asked if I could have them when they were empty and a few days later they turned up on the doorstep, unfortunately without their cardboard boxes. A bit of a soak and a scrub later, they were almost as good as new and ready to be filled with the cider from the kegs. I’d managed to give it three and a bit months, but I needed those kegs, so it had to be transferred. As the polypins were only 20 litre ones, it meant that there was too much cider to fit in, so I bottled some with differing levels of primings as an experiment.

Two weeks later I opened one bottle of each to check on their progress. Talk about acidic! I nearly lost the enamel on my teeth, they were borderline undrinkable. By this point, I’d bought a book, so knew all about how to sweeten it to make it palatable. I made up a sugar solution and started dosing bottles until they became drinkable and wow, were they drinkable! They were full on, in your face, appletastic. I was dead chuffed, it looked like I’d make something drinkable.

After another month maturing in the polypins, I needed those too, so was forced to bottle the contents well before I really wanted to. I bought some sucralose online, as you can’t add sugar syrup to your cider and then bottle it, as it’ll just use it as primings and the bottles will still be dry and acidic, just carbonated. You can add sugar syrup and then pasteurise, but this affects the flavour and produces bottles of still cider, I wanted mine to be sparkling, hence the need for the sucralose.

A little tip, when the packet says that sucralose is many, many, many, many times sweeter than sugar, beleive it. Especially if you want to taste anything for the next few hours, it’s overpoweringly revolting. This means you don’t need to add very much to your cider to sweeten it, so another tip, get some good scales, ones that do 0.01g increments, you really don’t want to put too much in, which it would appear I did. My scales claim 0.1g increments, but they’re rubbish with really light weights, and as you only need 10g of sucralose in a litre of water to make up the right concentration, any error can have large consequences.

After bottling, I waited for two weeks and then checked to see if they had conditioned, they hadn’t. There was no sign of any sediment in any of the bottles of either batch, so I left them for longer. After a further two weeks of nothing happening, I had a decision to make, either leave them and have a ludicrously sweet still cider (sucralose and priming sugar), or decant all the bottles, seed with new yeast and re-bottle. So that’s what I did, decanting each bottle painfully slowly so as to try and minimise any oxidation. While it was all a bit of a faff, it worked and a few week later I had some bottled conditioned cider.

We had a soirée in May, with loads of friends from the village, quite a few of whom wanted to try the cider they’d been hearing about. It seemed to go down quite well, especially with some, who kept asking for more. May also sees the Cambridge CAMRA Summer Beer Festival, so I took a few bottles along to that and let the volunteers who man the Cider and Perry bar have a taste. The reactions were all positive, extremely positive in some cases, which was really satisfying and a great boost to the confidence.

While it’s great to have produced something drinkable, the whole experience was a bit on the stressful side, right from the crusher breaking at the start, all the way through to having to re-seed all the bottles with new yeast at the end. Yes, the cider is drinkable, but it’s not without its flaws. I know in my head that this was all an experiment so I shouldn’t be too disappointed, but my heart can’t help but being too disappointed. I know I could have and should have done better; glass half empty.

Firstly, it should have been left longer to mature in the kegs, so that it could have undergone malo-lactic fermentation to reduce the acidity. Secondly, the mix of apples was all wrong, being mostly cookers, if there had been more eaters (any eaters) in the mix, then again, it wouldn’t have been so acidic. If those two things had happened, then I may very well have been able to bottle it all without having to add any sweetener. Yes, it would still have been dry, but that’s the nature of the beast, it would at least have meant that your face didn’t get turned inside out with each mouthful.

Saying all that makes it sound like I’m all depressed and disappointed, which I’m not really. I can’t expect to get things right first time and you only learn through your mistakes; glass half full. Unlike with beer, where mistakes are evident after only a few weeks, it could be months before you realise that something is amiss with your cider. I produced just over 50 litres of drinkable cider while knowing pretty much next to nothing, on kit that most people use to produce a couple of demijohns worth. That alone is an achievement I should be incredibly proud of.

So what happened next? Well, it turned out that I’d picked rather more apples than I needed and there was still a large pile of them on the patio. I only had the Abbey Community Press for a day, before having to hand it on to someone else. Since the crusher was broken, there didn’t seem much point in trying to borrow it again, as it wouldn’t be fixed until the season was over. So I did a quick search online for local apple press hire and stumbled across Virtual Orchard in Milton Keynes, who hire out their old Speidel apple mill and hydropress.

You will be able to find out what happened when I hired those, in part two of my decent into madness.

Apologies for the state of the some of the photos, I quite liked the distressed look at the time…

#projectcider: A Descent into Madness in Three Parts

Childerly Orchard...

I’ve been meaning to write about my adventures in making my own cider, since this time last year. I’ve just spent the weekend making this years batch, so it’s about time I wrote down some thoughts.

Last year was a mast year, which is a boon for anyone like me who enjoys making prserves. Apples and pears especially benefitted from the lengthy cold start to Spring, which caused all the blossom to come out at the same time. There was so much fruit, it was literally rotting on the trees.

I hate waste and seeing all those apples rotting made me really, really angry. Anyone who owns an orchard and lets all the fruit in it fall and rot in the ground, doesn’t deserve the land the trees are on. In a country where tens of thousands of people are having to rely on food banks, wilfully allowing tons of fruit to go to waste, is in my mind, criminal.

So I decided to try and save some of this unloved fruit by turning it into cider. How hard could it be? It’s just fermented apple juice at the end of the day. However, like all things that look simple on the surface, the moment you delve into the subject, the more and more complicated it gets. Leftover apples......Cider is absolutley no different in that regard; thin-layer chromatography to check for malo-lactic fermentation, or Folin-Ciocalteau Colorimetric Reaction for tannin analysis, for example.

And so began my journey into making cider, that culminated this last weekend with literally, blood, sweat and tears. There will be three posts about, what I’ve been tweeting as, #projectcider, as I’ve made three batches so far. The first installment will be along as soon as I’m not quite so broken. I managed two and a half hours of "sleep" on Saturday night, my lower back is totally knackered, my hands feel like they’ve been flayed, everything aches and I’m popping Co-codamol and Ibuprofen like they’re going out of fashion.

Making cider? Yeah, that’s easy that is…

A Night on the Black Stuff

Gunniess

It’s not exactly new news that Diageo wants a slice of the craft beer pie and their latest attempt is with a couple of new bottles that are interpretations of beers brewed by Guinness in the 1800s.

I was quite interested when I heared that there would be two new beers being added to the Guinness range, Dublin Porter at 3.8% and West Indies Porter at 6%. Especially as, at first glance, it looked like they might be historical recreations. It’s a shame then, that Diageo didn’t go the whole hog and give us a glimpse of what Guiness used to be like, but plumped for the safer, and dare I say more boring option, of mere interpretations. So we are still left to imagine what Guinness tasted like back in the day.

I’ve been meaning to write about these beers for over a month, but life sort of got in the way. They were on special offer in Morrisons at £1.50 a bottle, for a limited time period. The nearest Morrisons is a bit of a trek, and the first time I popped over, they were out of stock of the West Indies Porter (a bit unsurprising really given that you were getting 500ml of 6% ABV beer for £1.50). Guinness Original Going back the following week, I managed to procure bottles of both beers, but drank them with friends, so didn’t take any notes.

I finally managed to get back out to the local Morrisons the other week, only to find the promotion had finished and, again, there was no sign of any West Indies Porter and only a couple of bottles of the Dublin Porter left on the shelf, at an increased cost of £1.89. So I decided to buy some ordinary Guinness and as I had to swing by a Sainsbury a few days later, I also picked up a bottle of Foreign Extra Stout (FES) and decided to drink them all on one night (partially inspired by Boak and Bailey) to see how they differed.

I thought the Guinness Original was quite effervescent in the mouth, with the carbonation raking the insides of the cheeks. There wasn’t much in the way of body or flavour. I was expecting a touch more roasted malt, but it was all quite restrained and wishy washy. The aftertaste was initially sweet and watery, but started to dry out and leave a slightly sweet, roasted maltiness behind. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I was expecting, but I wouldn’t rush out and buy another.

It was interesting to sit down with a bottle of the Dublin Porter and actually think about what it was like. Guinness Dublin Porter The previous bottles had all been drunk in a social setting and we’d all thought that they weren’t bad. They had slipped down nicely and were relatively tasty, it’s interesting how the taste of a beer can change depending on what you’re doing when you drink it.

It felt pretty similar to the Guinness Original, but with less body and carbonation. It was slightly lighter in colour, with more of a red tinge to it. The flavour was milder, softer and longer lived. While it’s undoubtedly a brain off quaffing beer, it was much nicer to drink than the Original. The aftertaste had hints of treacle and wasn’t anywhere near as sweet or dry; it also lingered for longer.

  • RateBeer Diageo
  • Guinness Dublin Porter, 3.8%, 500ml

I was quite looking forward to trying the Foreign Extra Stout, as it has a good reputation. I’m not sure I’ve ever had it before, maybe I’ve had a bottle in the dim distant past, but it would have been so long ago that I’ve forgotten all about it.

It wasn’t as dark as I was expecting, you could see through it as it was being poured, I was expecting something pitch black. I was also expecting it to be thicker, more viscous, with legs that would coat the glass when it was swirled around to release the aromas. It was far more restrained than that, with not much on the nose, and only pleasant levels of treacle and molasses in the mouth. It did have a tickle of bitterness that was lacking in the other two though, which was nice.

The best thing about the Dublin Porter and the West Indies Porter was the price. You really couldn’t argue with £1.50 a bottle, especially for the West Indies Porter. According to the Morning Advertiser, they are going to retail at £3.65 for the Dublin Porter and £4.00 for the West Indies Porter, which is just bonkers. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout Neither were good enough to justify that kind of price, especially when you consider the cost of a bottle of something like The Kernel Export India Porter, or Harveys Imperial Extra Double Stout.

I was also seriously disappointed by the FES, I was just expecting something bigger and better. Again, I’m not sure why you’d buy one over the two beers I’ve just mentioned, other than for the fact that you can buy FES in a supermarket. I’m not going to say much about the Original, other than I baked a Chocolate Guinness Cake the other day, and used Fuller’s London Porter, as I actually wanted to enjoy the half of the bottle that didn’t go into the cake.

Will Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter survive more than a few months on the supermarket shelves at that price? Will new interpretations be forthcoming from this Guinness Brewers Project, or will it be swiftly and quietly discontinued? It will be interesting to see where Diageo take this.

How Bad Can It Be…? Canadian Cherrywood Finish

Innis & Gunn Canadian Cherrywood Finish

I was given this be the kids for Fathers Day, they picked it as it’s Scottish. I hadn’t quite got round to educating them as to why one doesn’t by any beer from Innis & Gunn, so it languished at the back of the fridge for months.

I was originally going to just pour it down the sink, but it couldn’t be that bad though, could it…? Surely they’ve finally managed to get round to having a beer contract brewed for them, that doesn’t tasted like melted vanilla flavoured butter? There was only one way to find out, mainly as there was no other beer in the fridge to drink instead.

I’ll be generous and say it was much better than I was expecting, I still wouldn’t hand over any of my own money to buy one though. At least it didn’t taste of vanilla butter, which is an improvement as far as I’m concerned. Everyone has now been educated as to why I don’t drink beer from Inns & Gunn and I’m hopeful that next year, the kids will pick a beer from a Scottish brewery that I’d actually like to drink…

Richmond Brewing Company

Richmond Brewing Company

During July, I found myself up in Yorkshire chasing the Tour de France. It helped that my brother is currently based at Catterick Garrison, so I had somewhere local to kip between Stages 1 and 2. On the Saturday, my Sister, Brother, Brother-in-law and I were all out on the course together, standing around for hours to watch the worlds best whizzing by in a blink and you miss it moment.

It was while we were all standing around that that they all mentioned a local microbrewery in an old station in a town nearby. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough to visit the Richmond Brewing Company after all the excitement and as I was up early on the Sunday to chase the tour down to Sheffield, I didn’t have any time to track any bottles down. Luckily for me though, my parents, came down to visit a few months later and brought me a three bottle presentation box containing Swale Ale, Station Ale and Stump Cross Ale.

I was going to write a load of tasting notes, but it’s been a while since I actually drank these, so I’m not going to bother. All three beers definitely fell into the traditional mould, if you’re looking for something new wave, progressive and hop forward, then these probably aren’t for you. While I’m not generally a fan of malt driven beers these days, I didn’t think any of the three were that bad. I’m not sure these bottles were in the best state though, two were a bit lacking in carbonation and I have a feeling that all three would be much nicer from cask.

Even though they’re not my usual cup of tea and I didn’t think I would, I did enjoy drinking them. Hopefully next time I’m up visiting my brother and his family, I’ll be able to fit in a quick visit to the brewery and hopefully try some on cask. If you find yourself in the Richmond area and like tradition malty beer, then check them out.