RG 2005 September

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8289401_8cd6453906_s.jpg This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant

September, 2005



Measuring Alcohol percentage

I have had a Vinometer since my winemaking days. It is a small glass capillary tube with a little reservoir on one end. The idea is that you put a little wine in the reservoir and wait until it drips freely out of the other end via the capillary. Then you turn the thing upside down and watch where the column of wine in the capillary comes to rest. This part of the tube is calibrated in percentage alcohol which allows the operator to read off the value against the position of the point reached by the wine. The further the wine falls the higher the percentage alcohol.

It seemed to work pretty well with wine as the readings were much what I had expected, give the starting SG and sugar added. I reasoned that cider is very similar to wine and that the gadget would be useful for this as well. However it seemed to me to be always reading about 2% too high.

Now the other day on ukcider came the useful input about the 'French Vigo', a company called Tompress. I emailed for a catalogue and it arrived a day or two later. They have a good range of products including a Cidrometre and a Vinometre. Both are the capillary devices that I have described, but the cider version appears to be bigger. It seems that cider needs to have a different capillary and perhaps explains why my device is unreliable. I am tempted to send for one, but will await cautionary feedback from anybody with experience of these things. www.tompress.com sell some items that are also available from Vigo. They are also cheaper, but do not get too excited. It is a long drive as they are in the south near Toulouse. I suspect that postage would be prohibitive especially on large items like vats and mills.


Vintage cider

Having originally got into orcharding and cider making by reading the book, Cider &Juice Apples by RR Williams, I've always assumed that 'vintage' refers to the quality of a particular apple variety. Table 10 in the book lists vintage apples, eg Stoke Red, Kingston Black, Dabinett etc, as being apples that will make high quality cider in their own right, without blending. I see this list as a go no/go indicator for single variety cider. I used it as a basis for planning my orchard but having recently discovered other 'quality' apples such as Porter's Perfection, I know that the list is by no means exhaustive.

It is not surprising that wine drinkers find' vintage cider' confusing. Rose

RE blending

I did notice that some of the varieties were noted as being good for blending, so I did not plant those. I preferred to concentrate on those that can produce good cider on their own, like KB. Part of the fun, for me, is being able to compare the flavours of cider made from different apples. If Andy will forgive me, rather like comparing Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot and...... Medoc. I also think that it is instructive to know what each apple variety is contributing to a blend, so I make singles in demijohns of every new apple that I come across. This makes for a few surprises when I put them out at my annual cider tasting. Some people love bone dry Bramley. A good friend of mine swears that there is no cider that beats that of Ashmead's Kernel, which isn't even a cider variety. I have to make it as a single for him every year.

Actually, having blenders in the Vintage list rather spoilt my perceived definition of the term. I wondered why they were there, because there are all manner of cider apples that are good in a blend, eg Tom Putt, Redstreak etc. Were they perhaps selected as having a minimum of a certain percentage of each of the 3 main attributes,ie tannin sugar and acid? If so, then this would define 'Vintage' and it would be useful for this to be known. At present the vintage cider thing is very woolly, as recent postings have shown. It would be nice to be able to say why a particular apple is 'vintage'.

Interestingly, we once discussed Sweet Alford here. This is listed as a good vintage 'sweet' so I duly planted one, 15 years ago. I now realise that like your own, it is actually Le Bret. Nevertheless, it makes a pleasant single. I am looking forward to making a few jars of it this year. Last year I was deprived, as it is totally biennial. Could Le Bret to be a vintage Apple, I wonder?

An explanation of 'vintage' (possible new page)

If you are looking for a chemical explanation, I would
hazard a guess that vintage varieties are primarily the slow fermenters,
the low-nitrogen uptake varieties which consequently seem to develop the
more interesting characteristics as ciders.  Or, in addition, they are
the ones which have the more characteristic inherent flavours that are
preserved or generated during fermentation.  The distinction was (and
still is) between vintage cultivars for high hedonic quality and bulk
cultivars for the mass market.  The major drivers behind the non-vintage
varieties are orcharding considerations such as yield, regular bearing,
manageable tree form, freedom from disease etc. Vintage varieties are
selected purely on ultimate cider quality, not on how tricky they are to
Andrew Lea

Thank you Andrew. As usual, you have provided us all with good insight into another of Cider's mysteries! I think that what you have said, sums up the vintage situation rather well. I've filed it for my future reference when somebody asks yet again; What is vintage cider ? Your note about speed of fermentation was interesting. I had noticed this with my single varieties, but until now, had not placed any significance on it.

Mill for sale on eBay

"That looks like Rose's old one"

Yes. It was mine. I sold it earlier this year after I bought the Vigo 800 mill. It is a good little mill but having only a 1/4 hp motor, is somewhat slow. Nevertheless, although it was monotonous, I put about 3 tons through it last year. It would suit someone only making a small quantity and is much easier to use than those hand cranked mills that require superhuman strength to turn. The Vigo 1500 that I've just bought, has a 2.8 hp motor. I've just started using it. It is a superb machine and I do not think I will ever yearn for anything bigger. Now I just need a bigger press to go with it! I'm getting the bits together to make a hydraulic, 30 inch cheese press, but I can't see me being able to make it until next year.

It is that frantic time again now!

On Ray's Press

RE: Homemade_Press_Mk_II

Hi Ray, That is a fine looking new beam on your press. You should be confidently set up for the new season. Make sure you have a chunky steel plate where the jack bears below the beam. I had one only 1/8" thick and the jack nearly drilled a hole in it!

The 17 inch press I made last year is similar to yours except it is made of 4 x 2" oak. I found that the two beam timbers bent alarmingly so I packed the gap between them with plywood. I thought, it wont bend now. You can't bend plywood that is sideways on, the crossed grains would surely prevent it. How wrong I was, the whole thing still bent! Then John Cutler came to the rescue and got a friend of his to make me a U shaped under beam bracing plate in 5mm steel. That's it, I thought, the perfect solution. Would you believe it, the whole thing still bends like Robin Hood's bow! I've stopped worrying about now, but I'm careful not to push things too far as the jack is capable of exerting 12 tons. Also, guess what, it has still made a dent in the 5 mm steel plate at the contact point.

I like your idea to try making the racks of polyprop. Home made wooden racks are expensive of time and materials and like you say Vigo's are far too expensive. The plastic racks should also be more hygienic. I am building a bigger press that will use a ram from a tipping trailer. The frame will be made of 9 x 9" oak gate posts. Will it bend? I expect so!

Stainless steel nails

I used a scratter for several years that had a wooden drum driven by an electric motor. There were umpteen rows of stainless steel screws around the periphery of the drum. Having screwed the screws into the drum, the chap who made it had then cut the heads off, leaving lots of sharp stainless spikes, each protruding about half an inch from the surface of the drum. It was a vicious but effective method of producing a fine pomace. Stainless steel screws can be obtained at a reasonable price from screwfix.com

I can vouch for the non corrodible nature of the Stainless Turbo Ultra wood screws sold by Screwfix. Last year I used them for making the cheese former and racks of my rack & cloth press. They were and still are, totally unaffected by apple juice. They are also remarkably cheap. For example the little ones that are good for making racks are 3 x 12 mm. The cost of these is only £6.43 per 1000.

The larger ones still only work out about 50% more than the plated screws, so I now use them for all fixtures and fittings in the ciderhouse. I have found that ordinary screws even if not actually in contact with the juice, tend to corrode very quickly. It is as though the malic acid is in the air! I expect that it is really just that the humidity is always high where cider is being made, due to all the washing and sterilising etc.


Anybody else noticed that there is a wonderful lack of wasps this year. Usually my orchard is festooned with bottle traps by now. A lady on the radio, who sounded like an expert on the subject of bugs, said it was because the queens were all killed by a cold snap in the spring. I can't recall the cold spell but maybe that was also why some varieties of apple are not bearing well this year. You win some, you lose some! On the winning side were the remarkable plums, ripened to perfection by our good summer. Great to enjoy plump juicy Victorias without all those infuriating wasp holes!

Dick Dunn writes: They're not gone, Rose. They just moved over here!!!

Sorry to hear you've been so badly afflicted with them , Dick. How on earth did European wasps cross the Atlantic? Last year we had a plague of big fat French wasps, but they only had to fly across 20 miles of water to make it here.

I've had a lifelong hatred of these nasty little striped things with their stings all a twitching ready to inflict severe pain. I was brought up in a plum growing area and our garden was surrounded by orchards. There were so many wasps that it was impossible to get through the summer without being stung several times.

A more pleasant memory is that there were also a great number of Red Admiral butterflies that feast on the fallen fruit. They are really eye catching as they have a bright crimson stripe on their wings. I have been glad to see more than usual of these amongst the plums, this year.