The one thing you can count on in the cider making season, is that you can’t count on anything. Every year is different in so many ways that you spend your whole time trying to work out how to re-create that excellent cider you made last year / decade / century.
It might be the timing of the harvest, the sugar levels, the availability of that particular apple variety you desperately want to include in your mix or your new Single Variety product, or simply being floored by an unexpected event at exactly the wrong time. But this year, the biggest bind has been the temperature.
Hot, hot, hot
Although there’s no denying how much more pleasant it is to be harvesting in warm, dry conditions than when the orchard resembles a scene from WWI but with trees, it does tend to mean you have to HURRY UP! The earlier-harvesting varieties tend to have thinner skins, so are more easily damaged. Add in temperatures of 25 degrees, and you have a recipe for very fast decomposition. By the time you get back to those lovely Kingston Blacks you found and picked up in a long-forgotten orchard in a little-known corner of Somerset they’ve turned to smelly brown sludge.
We prefer to work with the later varieties as their sugar levels are more predictable, they have thicker skins, and by the time they’re ready to be picked up the weather has usually turned colder, giving you a bit more leeway on the pressing need to press. Cold weather slows everything down, it gives you time to consider your decisions, it sees fermentations starting and proceeding at a more leisurely pace – and generally helps you make better cider.
Blending your way out of trouble
But of course nothing’s ever that easy. The late apples tend to be much stronger in flavour, and for producers of full-juice ciders such as ourselves, this can leave you with a product that the mainstream cider drinker finds just too powerful to stomach. We feel that late apples need to be blended with sweet and sharp varieties to lighten and sharpen their flavour. The sharps also help keep the ferment safe from bugs while giving that all-important tang to the final product.
Trouble is, those sharp and sweet varieties are much more prevalent at the start of the season, so you have to deal with them about now. And this year that has meant lots of dashing around trying to get the early varieties picked up and pressed before they turn to mush in the unseasonable heat. And there’s little you can do to control the fermentation – each batch takes off like a rocket in these temperatures.
So with a good chunk of our early needs collected and pressed – about two weeks ahead of last year – we’re hoping for a brief respite while we try to assess what we’d like to go with all those fast-fermenting thin, sharp early batches to blend into 2012’s Worley’s Cider. But who really knows what going to happen? There’s no point planning things too precisely, because the one thing you do know is that the end of the season is very unlikely to be the same as last year…
PS: Why not come along to an introductory talk on cider making we’re giving at Dick Willows’ Apple Day near Bath next Saturday 22nd October at 1:30pm http://bit.ly/pxwiuw