RG 2008 February

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

February , 2008



Cherry Norman

When Ni came to stay for a few days, to help me with the pressing, his car was weighed down with four bags of Cherry Normans and a potted Cherry Norman tree. When I became aware that Ni's extra cargo was a thoughtful present for me, I was of course delighted. The prospect of having a new variety for the orchard is always exciting, but I was also very interested to learn the characteristics of a cider apple that I had not even heard of before.

They were the tiniest cider apples I've seen, being mostly about three quarters to an inch in diameter. Had I not known, I would have thought them to be ornamental crabs because they looked so pretty. Their skin was golden with a soft pink flush. It was easy to see how they came by their name, since they looked just like ripening cherries. The compulsion to taste them could not be resisted and it came as a surprise. I'd expected sharpness but instead found a soft sweetness that overpowered the low level of acidity. I could not detect tannin at all.

As always when presented with a new variety, I wanted to see what it could do on its own. When Ni was here we were fully occupied with the main pressings on St Em to help fill the tanks with blend. It was not until several days after he had returned that I found time to put the 'Cherries' through my small press so that I could keep them pure. They made 50 litres of juice at 1055 with a pH of 4. Is this really a cider apple? I thought. Then I remembered the look on nurseryman John Dennis' face when I asked him if he grew Bulmer's Norman. "I don't do Norman" he said disdainfully, making me wish I hadn't mentioned it. Was the Cherry version of the same ilk? I wondered.

I knew that what ever sort of cider the juice of the Cherry Norman was going to make, it would be tainted somewhat by Mr. Mouse, if I left it alone at pH 4. I therefore added 10 litres of Ashmead's Kernel juice to get it down to a respectable 3.7. Airlocked it into two plastic 30 litre fermenters, this rather odd dual variety was then forgotten until now.

I've been doing 'quality control' tastings of the blend on a regular basis since New Year, but had quite forgotten to taste the specials. I always make an odd assortment of single or dual variety ciders in 300 litre fermenters, just for fun and also because it is a bit of education about apple characteristics. If these oddments prove to be any good they then end up in bottles for local consumption and for selling at events. A few days back I decided it was time to have a sampling session of the specials. Nothing was outstanding as being either undrinkable or especially promising. After all, I thought, it is still early days yet.

Well so it was, until I tasted the Cherry Norman / Ashmead's Kernel! Here was something definitely special. Already aromatic, an almost scented sort of flavour. Great to drink , even now. What will it become? I'm suddenly rather excited about it. There is one thing it has taught me already. I will never pre-judge a cider apple again!

The recent mention of the Strawberry Norman has got me wondering too. With a name like that it has got to be something special! Perhaps Ni can tell us about it.


Putley Big Apple

I'm wary of "counting chickens before they hatch", but should you be able to pop across country to Putley for Big Apple (5 - 6 May), there could be a few bottles under the table as presents for ukcider friends. The better specials sometimes need to be rationed! I expect most people realised that my 300 litres was a typo. The specials are limited, being all made in 30 litre plastic fermenters.

There is 300 litres of 'keeved' which this year is Dabinett / Porters. This is intended for sale and hopefully will be on top of my table in champers bottles, for sale alongside the Cider by Rosie.

I've just seen Michael's note about high pH ciders. I did not mean to imply that mouse is inevitable, rather that the risk of it, in my opinion is unacceptably high. Given absolute hygiene it should be possible to avoid it, as I believe some manage to do, much to their credit even without the help of SO2. My views are formed by sad experiences in the past, when I just made small amounts of cider in demijohns.

I had this thing about making single varieties of vintage apples like KIngston, Stoke Red, Yarlington and Dabinett. I'd been a home wine hobbyist so I just used to throw in one campden tablet per gallon and hope for the best. It was before my introduction to ukcider and Andrew's expertise, so I was unaware of the susceptibility of low acid ciders to infection. I could not understand why the KB and the Stoke Red were always so wonderful when the Dabinett and the Yarlington often seemed to develop that 'funny taste'. Sometimes they were delicious in the early summer but became spoilt a few months later. It seemed a mystery because I was so careful with the cleanliness of the jars and always washed the apples well, removing all the baddies etc.

The funny taste was of course the dreaded mouse and I soon learnt that others had trouble with it too. I once bought 5 gallons of Yarlington at Putley that seemed lovely at first. It soon became more and more mousy and had to be thrown away.

I hate that mousy flavour with a passion and will never now accept the risk of it in my own cider. I like the pH to be 3.7 or lower for safety's sake and always add the amount of SO2 appropriate to the pH of every cider that I make. If anyone reading this is a newbie cidermaker, see Andrew Lea's website. Understand what is happening and be converted! It is so sad having to tip all your hard work down the sink.

MDPE tanks for cider?

I'm looking at what is available in plastic tanks that may be suitable for the bulk storage of cider. Polypropylene seems to be the material that is most used for food safe storage and I am already confident in its use with cider. This is the white plastic used to make the 1000 litre IBCs that I have successfully used for several years.

Though IBCs can be obtained cheaply second hand, they have a disadvantage when they are used to store a larger quantity of blended cider. During the pressing season they are filled with a various types of juice as differing types of apple are harvested and processed. Assuming that one wants to produce a uniform style of blended dry cider, there comes the day of the big pumping operation. The sequence has to be planned very carefully to achieve exactly the same blend in all tanks. Half of tank A plus half of B is pumped to C + D..... and so on until the contents of all tanks have been equally distributed throughout the battery. It takes me all day and it is quite a performance!

The easier alternative is to 'mix as you go' using a larger tank. The drawback then becomes the price. I've checked around the likely websites and found, for example, that a new 6000 litre tank in polypropylene costs between £1,500 and £2,000. I've not looked for used ones, being unable to entertain the thought of taking any sort of risk with that quantity of cider.

My searching led me to potable water tanks. Typically these are sold to farms for supplying livestock with water in remote locations. They are also used for household drinking water in out of the way places where water has to be pumped up from a private borehole. These tanks are made of MDPE ( medium density polyethylene ) and the good news is that they are half the price of their polypropylene equivalents. I found 6000 litre MDPE tanks for £900 on a farm supplies website.

This plastic is safe for drinking water, indeed most of our mains water now comes via blue MDPE pipe. The big question is, could there be any possibility of a taint being leached out of the plastic, if used to store an acidic product such as cider? I wonder if the 30 gallon blue tubs that a lot of us successfully use for cider are made of MDPE. Does anybody know?

I would be grateful if anyone is able to offer advice.



Thanks Jon,

Your circulatory blending system seems a good idea but I'm afraid the thought of all that pipework is terrifying. I have enough trouble doing battle with two lengths of the 3/4 inch food grade hose. The stuff seems to have a mind of its own! There is also the additional problem of keeping such a lot of extra piping clean and sterile.

It is an interesting problem and one that has me wondering how others go about it, every time I get involved with blending. I stand there watching the level fall to the required proportion in each IBC so that I can switch the pump off at the right moment. This can take half an hour or so each time, so the mind tends to wander. I daydream of the little, no expense spared, cider works with all the tanks plumbed together with stainless pipe, with computer controlled pumps and valves allowing the contents to be swished around the system with the greatest of ease........ wake up Rose, the level's reached that black mark you made on the side of the tank!

As there have been no adverse comments concerning the use of MDPE tanks, I'm beginning to think they must be alright. Thank you Mark and Dick for confirming that the ubiquitous blue 30 gallon tubs, cider for the use of, are actually HDPE. This appears to confirm that polyethylene is OK. I have used the tubs for a number of years with no problem at all. They are so handy aren't they? This year I'm using two. One for the Nehou/Tremletts experiment and the other as a sample blend from my own orchard. (I like to be able to offer cider made entirely from my own trees at our orchard event in May).

Halogen lamps for reading litmus papers

Andrew Lea wrote:

> I quite like the narrow range pH 2.8 - 4.6 strips which are widely available eg from
> http://www.the-home-brew-shop.co.uk/acatalog/Testing_Equipment.html as
> ref 101811 and just the right pH range for cider. But I have found
> that due to the dyes used they really do have to be used in daylight and
> not even a 6400K fluorescent tube will suffice!

I discovered this too, when doing some late night pressing. The fluorescent lights in the press room were hopeless for viewing the strips. I thought that having more light at the blue end of the spectrum they would be better than tungsten lighting, but they were just as bad.

Then in desperation I tried a desk lamp that uses a low voltage halogen capsule. This worked surprisingly well. It was possible to read the strips properly and I was impressed that the tonal match seemed as good as it is in direct sunlight. Sometimes even in daylight, on a dull day I find it hard to match the colour tone of the test segment with any of the reference colours.