2018 Cider Making season in review

The 2018 cider making season has now finished, finally. Hip hip hooray!

bit wet for 2018 cider making

A bit wet for cider making today

Cider making season is always a hectic time of year. Essentially you have 2-3 months to make all the next years cider. Thus every minute is valuable and every decision you make is important. You can get a bit apple crazy by the end!

Not to mention sometimes you just have to knuckle down and deal with mother nature in all her fury…

Now it’s over we can sit back review the 2018 cider making season. We also know what delightful ciders and perries we can look forward to in 2019.

2018 harvest affected by climate change

It may be a contentious title to some but 2018 has been a year of climate extremes.

Katy apple on tree

Katy apple on tree

In March we had an exceptional cold spell delaying flowering for our orchard by several weeks. Remember the snow?

Then we had the hottest and driest summer since the 1970’s. This put our orchard trees under considerable stress. Meaning they did not have enough water for their fruit.

Finally, just before harvesting the earliest varieties it finally rained. The fruit swelled with water but didn’t have enough time to develop sugars before harvest.

Closeup of apple pulp

Closeup of apple pulp

All in all it meant the harvest of 2018 was greatly affected. Fruit was a lot smaller than usual and the yield from Llanblethian Orchard was noticeably reduced.

Early apple varieties were watery and flavourless affecting the resultant cider. Thankfully later varieties had considerably higher sugar contents than normal. Meaning the resultant cider will be much more potent!

Government meddling

For a small scale cider maker such as myself the above is manageable. However larger cider makers over the duty limit are finding it difficult.

From April next year a contentious new tax bracket is being introduced for ciders between 6.9% and 7.5%. The tax is ostensibly:

to encourage reformulation to lower ABV levels of cheap, high strength ‘white ciders’ associated with problem drinking.

Unfortunately there is no legal difference between 100% whole juice artisan cider made with care and dedication and white cider made from imported apple concentrate for minimal cost. This means artisan cider makers over the duty limit are being targeted as well.

mornings are getting colder

Mornings are getting colder at Llanblethian Orchard but we must press on, many more apples to squish yet!

Given the out of character summer they are finding their apples’ sugar content is too high. This means their ciders will end up in the bracket. They are left with the unenviable alternative of watering down their wonderful products.

A sad case of unintended consequences from pooly thought out legislation.

All is not lost however. A new association of cider makers has been formed called the Small Independent Cidermakers Association  (SICA). It’s aim is to promote whole juice cider not made from concentrate. Together with active lobbying the government to change the duty system to a sliding scale like used in beer brewing. Other bodies such as The Welsh perry and Cider Society (WPCS) have also expressed support for their proposals. So things may be looking up in the future 🙂

Sourcing fuit: the biennial nature of orchards

A large part of cider making is of course sourcing fruit. For the 2018 cider making season we have a selection of interesting varieties to play with.

Llanblethian Orchard

In our orchard in Llanblethian we have 36 varieties of cider apple and 16 of perry pear with around 120 trees in total. A lot of our varieties are traditional cider varieties and have a tendency to biennial bearing.

What this means is they will fruit heavily one year and not the next (or sometimes not at all GULP!).

small early kingston black apples

small early kingston black apples on the tree in Llanblethian orchard 2018

Thankfully not all varieties or trees will have their off year at the same time but a lot will often have a year off together.

For the 2018 cider making season Llanblethian Orchard is in it’s off-year and fruit yield is down. Combined with the summer it was a double whammy!

Several perry trees in Llanblethian Orchard fruited for the first time this year however. The juice has a great flavour and is full of sugar so expect some great perries for 2019 🙂

Further afield

Two of the orchards we use around Monmouth and Hay-on-Wye were also completely devoid of fruit this year. As such we had to make contact with new orchards to replace them.

Stoke Red apples

Stoke Red apples from a Monmouthshire Orchard. Fruit is muddy and in need of a good wash!

Our new contacts have meant we have a supply of varieties we usually struggle to source. As such we are able to do some interesting single variety ciders we have been unable to make before.

The 2019 Llanblethian Orchards Vintage

So, what new products can we expect for 2019?

For 2019 we are doing a series of single variety ciders and perries. To explore the individual characteristics of different apple and pear varieties.

We will have on offer the following:

  • Barnet Perry
  • Blakeney Red Perry
  • Breakwells Seedling Cider
  • Browns Apple Cider
  • Dabinett Cider
  • Hendre Huffcap perry
  • Stoke Red Cider

Given the strength of some of our ciders expect our Barnocalypse and Barn-shine ciders to make an appearance at our open days as well 😉

We will of course have all our standard blends available for 2019 as well. We are also going into craft cider in a big way for 2019 so expect some interesting announcements in the Spring.

Cheers all!

2018 Cider Making Gallery

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