Wednesday 27 April 2011

Cider & her sour cousin Beer

Wild yeasts. Farmyards. 3rd generation family business. Fruit. Passion... you're thinking about Cider and I'm talking about beer, Lambic Beer. They are specialist beers brewed in Belgium and as much a beer as every other you drink, except its older in style and tastes like none of them.

Before you get your knickers in a twist, my justification about talking about Lambic beers on a cider and photography blog are these:

1. If its in a bottle and you pour it into a glass, you can photograph it -just like cider. ('He's such a pro' I hear you thinking)

2. They have a unique similarity with real ciders, that link being the flavours they derive from using wild yeasts. In a Venn diagram between beer and cider flavour, Lambics would sit in or very near the middle.

For the most part, they don't actually taste like cider but, for a beer, you might say they have a cider like quality - there are some definite similarities on the palate. It can a difficult style to enjoy, the Gueze probably the most difficult, so if you're keen, start with a fruit lambic and go from there.

What makes it 'Lambic' is that at the end of the brewing process, when the weary brewer wants to cool the beer, he does the exact opposite to what the rest of the brewing world do. He allows it to cool naturally exposed to the open air (some even open a window and let the wind blow over the beer) exposing it to all the shite the air can carry. All that warm sugar gives any and all wild yeasts the chance to dive in and have a slow dance. Bacteria even crash the party. Different organisms all work at different rates, taking individual metabolic pathways mostly fermenting their way along until the sugar is gone or the process is stopped. The result concoction benefits from the skill, patience and passion of an experienced artisan to carefully blend and age the beer (or cider) to bring out its best. Its tangy, refreshing, and unlike any other beer style. The wild yeasts in cider come from the skins of unwashed fruit colonised on the orchard floor or from inside the core itself where they became trapped inside the flower after germination. There are also the native yeasts living the cider house, the barrels etc all of whom have a role to play.

When introducing (non fruit based) lambics, known as Gueze in Belgium, to someone who has never braved them I set them up as 'The Jazz of Beer'- often difficult to understand but beguiling nevertheless. You hear alot of people describe the aroma as 'horsehair', 'farmyard' and 'vomit' -and other such undelightful whiffs.

Fruit Lambic is the same but whole fruit is added to it at the conditioning stage to flavour the beer, the most popular being Cherry. You've probably tried some, they are delicious and can be alot sweeter. The Knickerbocker-Gloriousness of Lindemans Kriek is an easy place to start, even if it is the least cidery! As is Mort Subite.

I really love English Ale and drink it regularly, but Belgium beers are so different and so good too (the Lambic family is a prime example.) In an obscene generalisation I going to say they're more luxurious, at least to an Englishman. Try them. Try them all. If you're a cider drinker, your liver can take it. Trust me, you really really won't regret it.

Here are some photos.

Thursday 21 April 2011

A single tree...

It can be quite difficult to find a nice shaped tree that stands alone or far enough away from anything else to really show off the classic shape of an apple tree, so I was really pleased to see this on my travels one day. I'd love to see more, especially at different times of the year. I would have taken it from a slightly lower angle except I was already standing in a pile of cowshit which, even though is vegetarian, is still shit, so I didn't want to lie down.
Due to the bright conditions I had to stop down alot in my lens which has brought more than usual into focus but its nice to show off the landscape behind and give the tree a context. This would once have been a whole orchard, but as the trees die and farmers don't replace them, the land is given over to cattle or horses and used as a paddock now. Shame!

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Sheppys Cider Film

A brief post -  more of a link really!
Somerset filmmaker Kevin Redpath was commissioned some time ago to remake the Sheppy family cidermaking video and this is the result. Check it out.

Monday 18 April 2011

Thursday 14 April 2011

Stella Cidre (part deux) 'The Contextualiser': Industrial & Artisan Ciders

OK, in the interests of creating a more balanced argument and highlighting the context of my initial remarks on Stella Cidre, I think its only right to point out that its could be seen by some as a little unfair of me to compare it to the traditional farmhouse ciders that surround me here in Somerset. It's like comparing flat pack furniture with the bespoke handmade equivalent. Or steel vs wood even, that is to say: mass produced industrial ciders are not the same thing as artisan ciders. They're not supposed to be and I don't want anyone to think that they are or worse still, that I do! They are different kettles of fish.

Cider is a very diverse market. Artisan cidermakers produce smaller quantities using specialist ingredients and traditional techniques. They may share part of the cider drinking market with industrial cider producers as well as some ingredients, but are made in totally different ways and essentially cater for different people who want different things from it. The two tend to have a fairly easy symbiotic relationship; one bringing new cider drinkers into the market by providing a readily available, neatly packaged and unoffensive alternative to beer and wine. The other offering drinker more challenging flavours, offering a larger variety of premium products and a local alternative whilst maintaining traditional values and heritage. To that extent, they actually do each other some good. The majority of artisan cider available here in the UK (for the time being anyway) is British and that's something all of us want to support.

Although Stella Cidre is not my cuppa tea, I will give thousands of people satisfaction and if you were to compare it to many of the other industrial ciders readily available all over the country (many of which are also made in the UK- oh the irony) it is actually better than a good proportion of them. I think the appearance of SC on the scene will hopefully cause enough concern to those UK producers who churn out the lower quality industrial ciders to stop and think. If their market share should take a hit, I hope it forces them to rethink their game plan (ahem-quality.)

So here it is (the second bottle) as they might want you to see it: spritzed, crisp and bright ready for my stepson to drink at our next BBQ. The only things missing are a pint glass and about 20 ice-cubes (& 50 more ribs)

To show you just how different a different kettle of fish they are from artisan producers, I have here some photography taken at a few of the larger cidermaking companies here in UK. Between them make a wide variety of ciders, industrial and traditional, some of them excellent.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Please Ring For Cider

A photo only today as a reminder to all photographers to be less obvious. Enjoy the rain!

Monday 11 April 2011

Stella Cidre - Quel dommage

The scene was set, hottest day of the year so far, the sun is baking down, is Saturday afternoon we've got ribs marinading and all the time in the world. I rinse my favourite pint glass and pour myself a Stella Cidre. I REALLY want it to not be bad...

How disappointing. The label says 'made from hand picked apples' but believe me, it doesn't make it any better. What it should have said is 'no cider apples we harmed in the making of this product'. I was so hopeful about it, I even bought two bottles. Having of course read the serving recommendations, I momentarily considered venturing to the dark side and 'serving it over ice'. When the shuddering died down and staying true to my roots as a Somerset farmhouse cider lover, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Ice is for G'n'T. Maybe this is why I have a problem with it, why do you feel the need to mask a flavour with lots of ice? Does it really taste that bland? Well, Yes. That and the fact its another missed opportunity. There is no tannin, no bitterness, no dryness. To me, it tastes diluted and sweetened at the same time. Far too sweet to drink in any volume for a cider drinker and not in a fruity way. It is a lovely looking cider, slightly darker than expected which could have been the reason I bought two of them. Darkness can often be a sign of cider having been aged in oak. I should know better despite its beautiful warm dusky colour, its possibly the most uncomplex cider I have ever had.

When will one of the massive mainstream players produce a cider of quality? Of distinction? One that that tastes like cider should? Its such an opportunity to make more money but they manage to miss the boat everytime.

In fact I was so disappointed, I had to drink a beer instead. Even though this blog is about cider and photography I couldn't bring myself to put a photo of the product up here, so here is a photo of the ribs.

About 50 BBQ ribs

As the owners like to bastadise my favourite product, I would like to return the favour by bastardising their well known beer tag like in conclusion:

Stella Cidre - reassuringly unoffensive to those who don't drink cider.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Blossom -its what you don't see...

Right now, up and down our fair land, you can see the pink swells of blossom buds amongst the emerging foliage of the apple trees. Not quite open, but ready to burst and this is how I like them most. They are anticipation, unopened and neat like a well wrapped gift under the Christmas tree, ready and waiting for the right time. There is a my sense of excitement in the coming crop. As soon as they're open, something is lost, no matter how beautiful they are. You could compare it to waiting for sunrise, as soon as its up, its over and time to move on. Or burlesque, there is something of a tease about the fact you can't quite see what you came for, which I really enjoy.

Last year, the lovely Kate Merry organised a Full Bloom celebration at Cotehele Monor in Cornwall where I managed to photograph a selection of images based on this stage. Its really lovely Elizabethan granite manor house with a fantastic old orchard, all now owned and run by the National Trust. They have a mother orchard there, where people can go to collect grafts of specific local varieties to grow for themselves. Itself a great idea.

I was invited to document the day, and I'm not one to miss an opportunity like that. On arrival, we discovered everyone was a bit disappointed by the fact the season was a few days just behind the calendar in terms of the blossom not being open ready and in time for visitors. I however loved it. Visually speaking, its a treat to see so many varieties at this stage where they look more unique than when they are open, the markings on the outside/back of each petals is where the variety gives itself away. Photographically speaking, its less obvious than your normal blossom shots, which is always a good idea when your trying to stimulate people visually. This was the last time I borrowed my dentist-brother-in-law's 100mm macro lens (thanks Tim!), I decided to buy one the following week and use alot now.

Anyway - here they are.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

RE: Cidermaking and (im)patience

******* child locks, I know they're a good idea and all that but I came close to yanking the thing off.  And I was trying to get out of my own damn car! Impatience not being a virtue.

It was Apple Day 2010 (Oct 21st) and I was on my way to the residence of Tom Dunbar, my most patient wife Lisa was driving, alongside her up front was the lovely Beer Widow and I was in the back  with an effervescent Pete Brown. I'd had less than a skinful, but too much too drive, so I was thirsty but still had work to do. There was a full moon (or thereabouts) and as we arrived I had already attempted the door release before I was even aware I wanted to get out. Having realised I just seen the establishing shot, my heart was racing. It was all set, everything felt right, there was no more time to waste, except I was trapped. I kept trying the lever as if it might change its mind but it didn't. We were already late and I had that desperation that rises in you get when you're late for a meeting. Now to make things worse, there was the frikken door lock to deal with and I was still stuck in the car -ARGH.

Anyway, when finally released I grabbed my gear and leaped into position focused entirely on getting it before the moment was lost. Putting up a tripod on uneven ground in the dark is difficult enough anyway, let alone when you're in a desperate hurry. I had just about got it when I saw my next idea.... I grabbed my tripod and so the night continued.

What I am trying to describe is how difficult it is for me to retain a modicum of patience, method and thought when I'm really passionate about something, something like cider anyway. Photography should have an element of spontaneity but it should also be considered and approached thoughtfully. Maybe this phenomenon happens to all of us? After its triggered, something deep in my brain stirs- the reversion starts, my behavior changes and I become childish. Processes become unprocessed, thoughts race excitedly, I tense up and things get a little wilder. I ignore loved ones easier and become more self indulgent and selfish than is acceptable for an adult. Whilst that often means I have more fun, it can mean I miss my target, really irritate the Mrs only to really regret it later. Its got something to do with zoning right in, like finding the heartbeat through your finger when searching for a pulse, you tap in, follow the rhythms and then I seem to get stuck there. Is this obsession?  Only in the best possible way... surely? I never feel that bad about it because it can help my work and my work is important to me but I feel it would be better if I could minimize it somehow.

Anyway - aside from Toms unique crazy French press that he picked up in Brittany, the most important two things I remember from that night are:

1 -The kids. It was so lovely to see them involved, stimulated and made welcome. They were fascinated. I assume they were allowed to stay up late and that always makes you feel special. Cidermaking this way is special and that's why its important to teach the next generation about it early on. They got stuck right in, taking turns twisting the press arm, stuffing apples here and there, excited and bubbly. It felt right. Them being there really added to the atmosphere in the same way a child can re-kindle the spirit of Christmas for an adult. I was proud of their parents who I had never met before. Cider people are good people and these cider parents were good parents.

2- The hosts. Tom is his partner Amanda are lovely hosts and really generous. They laid on food for the assembled crowd (who were pressing as a community for the Kingsbury May Festival where you can find me staggering annually.) They keep pigs and had made some of the most fantastic sausages I have ever eaten, they served bread and cheese as well as Tom's own cider. They put a pot out for contributions (to which I added a healthy paper note) and just wanted everyone to have a good time. And we did! Thanks guys - you know how to roll.