RG 2006 April
| This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant
I always enjoy a trip to Devon to see Vigo. I've been able to justify several such outings when the carriage charge for my latest order exceeded the cost of going and picking it up myself. I made two such trips last summer to collect stainless steel tanks and a pump. What I love, is a chance to browse around Vigo's show room and drool over all the wonderful equipment that is available for the manufacture of wine and cider. It is a cider maker's daydream!
The last time I went there I decided to investigate bag-in box fillers. I had seen the wine bottle fillers in the catalogue. As many of you know, these consist of a small stainless tank that is attached to a stand that places it above the bottles to be filled. The bottles are simply gravity filled by means of nozzles with shut off valves that project from the underside of the tank. I imagined that there must be something similar but larger that could be used for filling B-in-Bs. I had already been wrestling with the problem at home so I wondered if I could possibly aspire to a professional way of doing the job.
There was no such machine in the showroom so I asked one of the sales staff. I was ushered off to another part of the building to see what I imagine must have been the latest wonder to arrive. It was all gleaming stainless and looked like a piece of trolley mounted hospital equipment. Basically it was just a larger version of the simple bottle filler with expensive embellishments. A roller table allowed the bags to be filled to be presented below the filling nozzle. An array of switches and a digital display suggested to me that the filling system had an integral electronic flowmeter and probably a few other bells and whistles besides. I did not want to waste anyone's time by asking questions as the thing was obviously well out of my league, but I caught a whisper that sounded like 'in the region of £4000' . The dream ended abruptly.
The day trip was not wasted because it did get me thinking. I'd been using a 5 litre demijohn, two goes at a time, to fill my 10 litre bags. This was not ideal being somewhat heavy and cumbersome and I knew that it just would not answer when I moved up to 20 litre bags this year. In short, if I couldn't afford a filling machine then I would have to make one.
If a B-in B bag is laid on a table, the filling of it is no big deal as far as measuring of the liquid is concerned. The bags will only accept a tad more than their designed capacity. This means that you could just fill them to overflowing and not be overgenerous but it would be a messy and irksome business. You can imagine what happens when it comes to clicking the tap into the neck of the bag! I decided that rather than just pipe the cider into the bag I needed to feed in a measured quantity from a small reservoir just as in Vigo's bottle filling machines. In case any one else is working along these lines, I will describe the machine that I've made.
The cider reservoir is a 5 gallon wine fermenter cask, (the screw top type that has a hole in the top for the bung and airlock). 20 litres of water were carefully measured into this. The lid was screwed on and the cask turned upside down. The 20 litre liquid level was then marked on the outside of the cask. I used an indelible marker pen ,taking care to ensure that the cask was truly vertical as I made the mark. After discarding the water a tap was fitted to the bung hole in the lid. I used a 1/2 inch BSP lever tap. From what I've said you will have realised that the cask is used upside down.Therefore a hole had also to be made, in what was the bottom of the cask, for the filling pipe to enter.
Then what was needed was a small gantry to support the reservoir above the bag to be filled. I found that a plastic garden kneeler was ideal.( For non gardeners I should explain that these are the things that you can plonk down in a flowerbed and kneel on so that you don't get your knees dirty whilst weeding. A mixed blessing because the wretched thing usually manages to crush your favourite bulbs and emerging perennials at the same time!) Here was a much better use for the thing. If the kneeler is turned upside down the part that is knelt on becomes the support for the reservoir. The handles become the supporting legs and being 2 ft apart, perfectly straddle the bag to be filled.
Further refinements were to add a 2 x 2 ft plywood top to support the reservoir on top of the kneeler. A hole was made through this and the kneeler itself to allow the reservoir tap to poke through. The bag to befilled is laid on the table so that its filler hole is below the tap. A small pump ( one of Vigo's Europumps ) was mounted to one side of the filler to allow cider to be pumped from a storage vat into the reservoir.
Having filled the first few bags successfully, I realised that it would be kinder to my back not to have to lean over and hold the neck of the bag whilst it was being filled. I therefore fitted a strut between the legs of the gantry, 4 ins above the table top. I cut a semicircular notch in the middle of the strut to allow the neck of the bag to be held in the correct position for filling. This also has the advantage making life easier when it comes to the fitting of the B-in-B snap in tap. A small plastic funnel is also a good thing to have in the neck of the bag whilst filling is in progress.
I've done about 20 boxes with the machine already and it is a pleasure to use. The bags are filled right up, yet not overfilled, so there is no mess. It was well worth the effort of making it.
Finally a tip for anybody else B-in-B ing. The snap in taps must be fully pushed home. This involves two clicks. The first click is easy. The second is more difficult and requires pliers.( I expect there is a special tool available somewhere). B-in- Bs are a disaster waiting to happen if the taps are only in as far as the first click!
I took some of my boxes of cider to the Red Lion in Swanage yesterday. The landlord was keen to add a' locally made' to his collection of 12 ciders. The Red Lion is like a permanent cider festival. I was amazed to see that virtually every cider made by Westons was on draught (mostly by virtue of their B-in-B s) as were 3 of Perrys. their Dabinett, Sweet and Scrumpy. Such dedication to the sale of cider is rare in these parts. There is also a good selection of real ales. Oh the joys of a week by the sea in Swanage this summer!
This year I have five gallons of perry which is something of an experiment, being the first I've ever made. It was made in demijohns from two varieties of perry pears. One variety I brought back from Gloucestershire and the other I found by chance growing in the hedge of a cider orchard in Dorset.
Two weeks ago I decided to taste the two resulting perries. The Gloucs one was clear, smooth to drink but was very lacking in flavour. The Dorset one was cloudy, horribly astringent but with a very strong flavour. I could not see a great future for either so I thought I might as well blend them and see what resulted.
Yesterday I came back from a holiday and when I saw the demijohns of perry I was astounded. Each one had the most incredible pancake like growth that had developed in the neck of the jar and folded itself back to occupy the whole of the curved upper part of the demijohn. The 'pancakes' are creamy coloured, about 5 mm thick and have a solid rubbery texture. They must be about 150 mm in diameter. The perry below them is golden and clear.
This evening I decided that I may as well have a little taste before tipping it all away. (I'd become convinced that an awful fungus had afflicted the stuff). What a surprise! It is as though a minor miracle has occurred. I could tip the jar up and pour the perry out without disturbing the pancake at all. Best of all, I now have a clear and enjoyable perry that I'm drinking as I type and has started to make me feel very pleased with myself!
I've never seen anything like this happen to cider but I wonder if the pancake is akin to the brown cap in keeving. Can any of you experienced perry makers explain what has happened?
Weird stuff, this perry!
Andrew Lea reponds:
I am not a first-hand perry maker but I can explain what's happening and have seen it myself when I worked at Long Ashton. It's not to do with pectin (although it was in the past believed to be so) and not at all related to keeving. The key is in the fact that one component of the blend was 'horribly astringent' and the cap is due to the 'tannins' which made it so. The 'tannins' of perry pear are very different from those in apples and their 'procyanidins' (previously known as 'leucocyanidins') are much more polymeric and potentially more unstable than those in apple. This means that they will emerge from solution quite readily and in large amounts if there is any physical destabilisation of the system. This may happen simply on storage (may be triggered by slight oxidation) or as in this case most probably after mixing a low and high tannin perry, where the pH change or endogenous proteins may be a trigger. This is a frequent occurence especially where high tannin varieties such as 'Butt' are involved. Of course the benefit as Rose has discovered is that it takes a lot of the astringency out of solution and the physical aggregation gives a sort of fining action so the drink becomes clearer.
In traditional German and Swiss cider and perry making, the juice from such high tannin pear varieties can be / has been used as 'Scheidmost' (Separation Juice). Small amounts of this juice are / were deliberately added to low tannin ciders and perries, thereby stimulating the effect which Rose observed in order to clarify them.
Wittenham Hill Cider Page http://www.cider.org.uk