Friday 30 October 2009

0 to 146 - the story so far

OK, I admit it. I am proof that Magners drinkers ARE human beings and can go on to actually make real cider! I used to believe that I was a sophisticated cider drinker – well, may be all the marketing money that they spent actually worked a bit eh! No, I wasn’t into ale or beer and although having been to a few festivals, was by no means versed in ‘real’ cider.

The first year of cider making, I made about 50 litres from apples that I either scrounged, scrumped or nabbed from trees that I found at the roadside. The cider was thin, flat, but drinkable. And I had caught the bug and had not made a fool of myself.

A couple of things that you realise as a new cider maker. First, if you have the passion, you never make enough. Secondly, in order to do this, you will realise that the weakest part of the cider making process is the thing that is replaced the following year until you become the weakest part of the process. Oh, and you can never get enough barrels, tubs and things to hold juice/apples/equipment – cider makers are very creative when it comes to what you can use containers for!

One other thing, which is a useful tip for anyone wishing to make cider and improve it, is that having cider making friends is very, very useful. I joined an online community and found a ton of information, as well as a ready source of experienced folk to ask my daft questions. On the whole, I would recommend this to anyone with an interest (which is why there is are links to it all over the blog!)

In my first year, I used a small 6 litre Vigo screw press and a blender. I decided, in order to double the amount I produced the milling needed to be quicker and less complicated. This is the weakest link theory in practice. With a Vigo hand scratter, I doubled the amount to 100 litres in the second year.

In the second year of making cider, a valuable relationship with Fruitwise Heritage Orchards was born. Located near to 146 in Southampton, Fruitwise boast extremely fine fruit for sale at markets (yes, to actually eat and cook with!). 146 has been lucky enough to strike a solid relationship with the owners which will go on for as long as they are allowed to grow whatever apples they wish. If you have tried 146 Cider, the odds are that it will have been made from heritage apples from the Fruitwise orchards. In 2009, 146 has used pretty much all of their windfall or ‘ugly’ apples to produce a heritage cider – a name that will stick to this particular blend as 146 grows.

The second year produced a cider that was technically better, and had more body to it. It seemed to disappear far too quickly, with relatives and friends scoffing the lot (well, we are generous people!). It was still fairly light, but there was a distinct flavour to it – not too West Country, yet more so than a typical Eastern style.

And this has been the blend that we have worked with ever since; a cider that contains both quality cider apples with heritage desert varieties and sharp (cooking) varieties. I often refer to it as the ‘Hampshire’ style… well, there is no real tradition in Hampshire (although there are long standing cider makers that I respect tremendously, such as Barry Topp of New Forest Cider). I would have thought that sitting neatly in between East and West, our style fits rather nicely.

The quantities doubled again to 200 litres in the third year, and again to 405 litres in the fourth, together with a new steel framed ‘Ray’ press, named after Ray Blockley of Torkard cider who laid out the design for it (see weakest link principle in action). The 2008 batch forms our first commercially available cider. This is more Western in style than in previous years – something that we hope to correct with 2009’s pressings. Incidentally, this year we replaced the mill with an electric mill and are currently aiming to produce 800 – 1000 litres.

What are the plans? Well, as a one man band, 146 will continue doubling production year on year until either I fall over or one of the family give in and decide to start helping out. This doubling up of cider gives time to evaluate equipment, play with styles and, most importantly, take my time over doing things. There is no rush to make thousands of litres – the apples will be there next year.

This is a very short version. I haven’t mentioned my micro orchard of ‘obscure’ cider varieties, or the cider ‘garage’. There is so much more to say about the apples that go in to 146 cider… and the people who grow them!

Next time maybe?!

Tuesday 27 October 2009

A new cider blog is born

Welcome to the web blog for 146.

Having made cider in ever increasing quantities over the last 5 years, I have finally taken the decision to start selling some of it (well, couldn’t really drink it all now!!) The idea is to sell it locally via a few outlets (watch this space) and slowly increase quantity each year. So, this blog is a part of the start of this ‘enterprise’ – to produce the best ‘Hampshire style’ cider possible, using craft techniques and as close to 100% apple juice as possible … and sharing this journey through this blog.

One of my passions as a cider maker is to create an honest cider, using good ingredients and good practice. This has helped create a cider that my family love (always the harshest of critics!) and that I am proud of. I have a list of things that I want to put into this blog – images of the press, apples and cider, information about the cider; where it comes from, what goes into it, how its made (etc. etc.) However, one step at a time eh!

So, lets see how this blogging thing pans out.