Online Prohibition Talk for Cider School

This Thursday, May 7th at 6 pm I’m presenting “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?” for Cider Culture‘s Cider School. It’s a free Zoom meeting. You can find the login at the event’s Facebook page.

Hope you can make. Drinks are optional, but strongly encouraged.

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New Ciders & a New Year

The last time I made cider was two years ago. And the previous vintage was two years before that. Happily, I made so much both times that there was plenty of cider to get through the off years. I don’t like the lulls though. The whole idea of being a cidermaker is to make cider.

So I am happy that in November I started five batches of new ciders, which I racked into secondary yesterday. They include:

  • Cherry cider (6 gallons; potential ABV 7% )
  • Penn cider (6 gallons; potential ABV 8%)
  • Brown Sugar (3 gallons; potential ABV 8%)
  • Medaille d’Or single varietal (1 gallon; potential ABV 9.5%)
  • Raw blend (2 gallons; potential ABV 7.5%)
Top: Raw Blend * Brown Sugar
Bottom: Penn * Medaille d’Or * Cherry
Everything is now racked into secondary.

I’m hopeful there will be a few more ciders added, particularly Golden Russet. I’m waiting on the orchard.

While I’m not crazy about off-years, it does offer a little time to think and plan. This was especially helpful as these last two years offered a few unexpected opportunities, which have helped me refine my thinking about my cidering and cider history research.

One of the things I was noticing over the the last two vintages is how “bready” some of the ciders tasted, even a year after they were bottled. While it wasn’t all of ciders fermented in plastic, all of the “bready” ones were fermented in plastic. I decided to drop the plastic fermenting buckets this year and see if that changed anything.

Perhaps the worst offender of “breadiness” is the boiled cider. Since it’s so commonly referenced in historical sources, I was excited to try it. However, whether it was through the processing (you reduce the volume of sweet cider by half and then ferment that) or the plastic fermenters, or something else altogether, these ciders have not aged well. J. pointed out that I usually find something good to say about all of the ciders I’ve made. Not this one. It is unpleasant to drink.

Along with making goals, there are some research goals for the 2020. I want to continue to expand my archive of period recipes. Since we’re in the middle of Prohibition’s centennial, I want to get back to the “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?” series. And, after a heated conversation with someone on a cider Facebook group, I want to explore the desire to connect the Founding generation to cider. There might even be a survey.

Lastly, I want to get out into the world more. I’d like to increase the number of cider talks I give, particularly the Prohibition talk. I also want to finally make it to Franklin County Cider Days.

For now, I’d better call the orchard back and see if the rest of the juice is ready. Here’s to a productive 2020!

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Roadshow Lessons – Fall 2019

It’s been a busy fall for offering cider history roadshows. I’ve presented at a beer festival, a living history market fair, and two cider events. Presenting at such different events in such a short time offered a glimpse into the state of cider culture out in the world. Well, around Philadelphia and in one Delaware town anyway.

The following is a quick encapsulation of many of the conversations I’ve had.

  • There is a growing number of people who say they like, even prefer dry ciders. This includes women of all ages. (Philadelphia)
  • Angry Orchard and Woodchuck continue to be the ciders most people are familiar with, especially beer drinkers.
  • Grafting and tree planting has suddenly become a favorite topic. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve started to include more about it, or because it’s a surprising addition to what they thought they knew about how apples are grown, or both.
  • Older folks continue to remember making sweet cider when they were kids (and that one relative who made the “special” bottles).
  • There was some surprise that cider could be anything other than sweet. (Delaware)
  • Many families are attracted to the wholesomeness of apples and cider, and are surprised to hear that so many early American families made alcoholic cider at home. (Delaware)
  • I was surprised at the historic market fair event that almost everyone who saw cider maker on my sign automatically thought it was sweet cider. I tried to edit the sign to be more explicit.

I sincerely enjoy offering these presentations. If I have any complaint about recent events, it’s that I was yet again forced listen to a beer “historian” talk about German purity laws and how water wasn’t safe to drink “back then,” but beer was.

Perhaps the most unusual conversation was with a large family at the market fair. I was talking with them about seedling and grafted apples. I mentioned that apples are extreme heterozygotes, that the seedling apple is nothing like the parent apple. The mother heard this and said how can anyone believe in evolution when nature does this. I am still trying to understand what she heard.

I also got thinking about where I heard some of these comments. If place is important for cider, it’s equally important for cider culture. For instance, based on what I heard over the last two months, Philadelphians are more aware and more sophisticated about cider than Delawarians. However, that might be because Delaware only has one cidermaker. Most people’s cider experience is what they can find at the store, which seemed to be mostly six-pack ciders.

While this is all anecdotal, it still supports the common observation that while cider drinkers are looking for new ciders, cider is still a long way from most people’s tables, much less from reclaiming its place as America’s drink.

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Preserving Southern Heritage Apples

Museums, collections of items from the past, come in many forms. So it’s conceivable to say orchards of historic fruit are living history museums, keeping the past alive and growing in the modern world.

Lee Calhoun is among those who are collecting, preserving, and sharing Southern heritage apples and their relationship to Southern culture. Check out his story.

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Does this make him an apple curator? Curator of apples? Pomological preservationist?

 

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Irish Cider As I Found It: Longueville House Cider & Brandy

Simple is good.

                                               Jim Henson 1

If you’ve read this blog before, you know I prefer simple. Simple can produce some wonderful things. But simple is hard. Especially for me, because I often complicate things. Usually it’s out of enthusiasm. I want to do everything, simultaneously and immediately. It’s worse if you add the probability that I’ll only have the opportunity to do something once. Our Irish cider tour was a perfect example of this imperfect side of me – I wanted to try every cider at every cidery.

As usual, time and space got in my way. Such obsessive touring was impossible. It didn’t help that many of the places we found didn’t seem to have tasting rooms. A few even actively discouraged visitors. At one point I was despairing of visiting any cidery, when J. told me she reached out to the staff at Longueville House and had scheduled a visit for us.

Longueville House, in Mallow, County Cork, produces a range of ciders and cider products.

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When I first saw Longueville’s website, I thought yes, let’s visit. Then, in looking at the estate, I wasn’t sure what we would find. What I found online felt contradictory. Their ciders had near-universal acclaim, but based on their website they’re also a rather posh hotel and restaurant. Was this going to be the triumph of money over process? Did they basically buy their way into making good cider? We would find out soon enough.

In the meantime, and despite the fact that we weren’t visiting until mid-week, I avoided trying any of their ciders because I wanted to hear their story first.2

Their story was told to us by Rubert Atkinson, sales and marketing manager. Rubert, a tall man who reminded me of Chris O’Dowd, was a generous guide. We met and dove right into the history of the place, quickly going from the 17th century up through the late 20th century.

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He told us this tale while we stood in front of the house looking across the Blackwater Valley spread out in front of us.

Originally owned by the O’Callaghan Family, the property was forfeit to Cromwell sometime after 1649. Ultimately, the Longfield Family acquired it. They built the core of the present house in 1720. After Richard Longfield was made Baron Longuefield in 1795, he expanded the house.

In 1938, William O’Callaghan, a descendant of the seventeenth-century owners, bought the estate back. It was William’s son, Michael, who created Longueville’s restaurant, orchards, and cider.

After Rubert finished his history we followed him into a self-contained world of gardens, orchards, and barns, all supplying the restaurant and hotel.

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Longueville is as self-contained as they possibly can be.

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The apple trees in the walled garden are for eating.

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So are the pigs in the piggery.

As we left the garden and turned right, we headed straight into the orchards.

Jane and Rubert in Orchard

Rubert and J. talking orchards on a beautiful Irish day.

Of the estate’s 500 acres, 30 are orchards. Those orchards consist solely of two apple varieties, Dabinett and Michelin. Most of the orchards were planted by Michael in 1985. He researched cider apples and found those two made the best cider for his taste.

The estate has continued his cidermaking almost unchanged. Apart from the choosing two apples to focus on, they also have a very simple cidermaking operation. Once apples are harvested (they let them fall naturally and then pile them up and collect them from there), they mill and press onsite.

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The cider shed had the belt mill/press (left) under cover, with two large fermenting tanks just outside.

They run the press for 24-hours straight through cidermaking season. As the pomace is pressed and ejected, it is shoveled out of a little window into piles outside the cider house.

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I love that the open-sided cider house’s pomace window has a small latched shutter. You know, to keep the bugs out.

Exterior Pomace Door

The small pomace window is in the center of the cider shed’s cinder wall.

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They’ve used the same shovel for a while now.

The juice is piped from the press to two collecting tanks just outside the cider shed. They wild yeast ferment everything to 5.5%. This base cider is used for everything they make.

And they only make two ciders, entirely from their own products. Their House Cider is made by backsweetening with their unfermented juice, to bring the ABV down to 5%. Their Mor cider is aged for over a year in their fresh apple brandy barrels, bringing the ABV up to 8%.

Once everything has conditioned for a year, it’s sent off-site to be lightly carbonated, bottled, and labeled.

The fermented juice that does not became one of these ciders is distilled into apple brandy. Though Ireland has a cider tradition, apple brandy had never been legally made there. That is, until 1985 when O’Callaghan obtained the first new distillery license in Ireland since the the 1770s and began making apple brandy.

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They double distill everything using the same equipment they’ve had almost from the beginning.

Longueville achieves what I value in cidermaking. Since they grow, ferment, and distill everything themselves on the estate, their cider captures their terroir. And their cidermaking process is uncomplicated and thoughtful. They work with what it gives them, instead of trying to redirect it into being something else.

Lastly, I appreciate that their cider is directly tied to their past. What they do and how they do is informed by what came before. Their cider is simply living history.

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1. Reflecting on Henson’s words, Jerry Juhl said, “We always used to kid Jim that after telling everybody “simple is good,” he would turn around and try to produce the most complicated work in the world and just about wipe out all of us – him most of all – in the process.”

2. I’m not sure why. I know that cider is good or bad independent of its story, but there was something about not trying it beforehand that appealed to me. Perhaps it was offering myself a surprise, since no Irish cider had to that point in the trip. Or maybe I was being lazy.

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Upcoming Presentation & Tasting at Lemon Hill for Philly Cider Week

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On November 3rd I’ll be presenting “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?” for Philly Cider Week at Lemon Hill Mansion in Fairmount Park. Along with the talk, Dressler Estate will be offering tastings of their ciders.

Hope you can make it to get answers to all your cider and Prohibition questions (and you should question everything) and sample some wonderful ciders!

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Upcoming Living History Demo at First State Heritage Park

On November 2nd I’ll be at First State Heritage Park’s 18th-century Harvest Festival presenting my cider living history demo.

Hope to see you there!

woman in 1700s clothese walking a tightrope and holding an unbrella There’s all manner of 18th-century fun. I wonder if I can break into her act again?

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