Fermenting Away In A Hall Full Of Cider

Fermenting Away In A Hall Full Of Cider, With Dave Rowe – Head of Cellar.

It’s no secret that we are all apple obsessed at Sandford Orchards, and although apple juice is delicious in its own right, there is a little bit of something missing, that special friend we’ve come to know and love, alcohol.

As a cider maker my job is to make sure you enjoy the last pint of cider in the same way you enjoyed the first. Not easy when you’re dealing with tons of apples and millions of litres of juice.

After 15 years of harvests behind me, it isn’t down to luck and it’s certainly not left up to chance that the pint in your hand is as good as it is consistently. It is the result of a thousand best judgements, timing, and months of waiting for the perfect moment to give the apples their chance to shine.

How Do We Do It?

It starts with only the best, traditional cider apples, locally harvested from orchards and growers that we know and trust. We take careful steps to ensure only the best apples make the cut, from hand selecting fruit to starch testing ensuring optimum ripeness and sugar levels. Once we know we are working with only the best we can begin the milling and pressing to extract the juice we need.

Now the real work of the cider maker can begin. As a smaller craft producer, tank space at Sandford Orchards is always at a premium. Unlike larger scale producers who use concentrate as their starting point or brewers who are able to hold smaller stocks and produce on demand we have the trickier job of having to press enough apples to fill our tanks with juice to last us until the next crop of apples are ready. Harder? Yes, but we find it tastes better.


The Thrills Of Fermentation!

Tanks full, sugar and acidity checked and checked again, we are ready for the fun bit (before the drinking of course), fermentation. Fermentation is where the sugar from the apples is converted into the good stuff, alcohol. This is done by selecting the right yeast and nutrient for the cider we want to make. Wild, cultured, well fed or deliberately starved. It’s worth noting that yeast is a very fickle thing and can be a cruel mistress. Requiring a very specific set of conditions to work its magic, not too hot and not too cold. Any stresses will result in a bad batch. That’s why we select the perfect yeasts that are suited to our environment down here in Devon, bringing out the best flavours of the fruit.

Yeast added, we then leave it to do its work. But our job doesn’t finish there, the fermenting cider is needy and requires checking daily to ensure the development is happening in a timely manner and all is going to plan. 7-14 days of careful monitoring and nurturing the yeast should have done its job and we are left with a tank of liquid that no longer resembles apple juice, and instead has an alcoholic content. Now officially cider this raw, crisp liquid is the fundamental ingredient in building our beloved Devon Red and Mist.

Please Be Patient

Ferment complete, that yeast that has worked so hard for us simply dies leaving behind the sediment, ‘lees’, that you see in cloudy cider. We take only the top, giving you a clean, clearer cider. Could you drink this now? Yes. But like most things it needs time to develop to be at it’s best. We ‘rack’ this fresh cider into large tanks to mature. We don’t touch this for at least 6 months. This is the maturation phase, vital to making sure it builds the complexity and delicious lip smacking qualities that our customers demand. Even at this stage we don’t like to leave anything up to chance, always watching and checking to make sure it stays stable before blending into each of the ciders we offer.

So next time you lift a cold pint of Sandford Orchards to your lips you can know that it has been cared for and carefully nurtured from apple through to pour.

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