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 and pears directly from the trees in our very own Pool Cottage orchard.
We then set up a mini production line. The fruit 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 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.
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 pizza oven is fired up, and fresh pizza and other treats are cooked.
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 tree variaties we have in the orchard:
Tydemans Late Orange. Our favourite and a prolific producer. Our single tree regularly produces 10 gallons a year, with additional crates for storage. This is an eating apple that is renowned for it's keeping qualities. We have stored these apples in past years right through to late March.
Dabinett. This is a pure cider apple tree, which often gives 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.
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.
Pear. Pear or Perry cider is a light and refreshing cider and we are lucky enough to have an ancient pear tree right next to the Dizzy Pig. The pears are large and rock hard when picked, but if left for a week or two rippen enough to crush and press. Though they don't make for good eating, the tree produces fruit in abundance every 2 years and on its good year will give us 5 gallons of perry and 200+ lbs of fruit for the pigs.