Dandelion Wine 2016

2016 dandelion wine 6Finally I got round to bottling the dandelion wine we started in the spring! I noticed it had finished bubbling away a while ago, and had this sinking feeling I should really bottle it. As is all too often the case, other events always take priority, and I would guiltily glance aside if I walked past the demijohns, full of the yellow liquid.

Well today I plucked up the courage to finally do something about it – besides, we’re running out of space in the garage where the demijohns were taking up valuable floor estate! I carted them off to the kitchen (which is a building site at the moment as we finally extend it to cope with more than two people in it at a time), and prepared to decant them to the cleaned bottles. I really shouldn’t have feared, as I pulled the first gush through the tube I tasted it, and it was splendid! I was also worried that we’d left the green bits on the yellow dandelion heads, some people reported this made the wine bitter. Well, it did have a slight affect, but really nothing to complain about, and the sweetness of the wine more than made up for it! So now we have 29 bottles (30 including the one in the fridge that popped its cork early, demanding to be drunk), and we feel wine rich for the second time in a year! We still have the plum wine sat on the shelf, ageing, so we have over fifty bottles in reserve at Chateau Merrybower 😀

Cider Plans for 2016

Having watched various apples falling over the last few weeks, it’s time again to make cider plans – hurrah! We’ve started supplying a local farm shop with apples and pears – only around 3-4 kg a week, but it’s a wonderful feeling to finally start spreading the fruity love locally! The wonderful thing is that we swap it for some local meat, which keeps those food miles low and the taste is definitely worth it. The pears in particular seemed to go down well – the first basket was Beth, an extremely juicy variety whose development was impeded by the outbreak of WW2 and was only finally brought to market in the mid 1970s! And the second variety was Beurre Hardy, and old French variety from the early 1800s – a large and buttery pear with a slight hint of rose water. Like all good quality pears, they should be picked and left to ripen indoors for 2-3 days – it’s a nack we’ve forgotten in this age of supermarket shopping, but believe me, the taste difference is incredible!

Anyway – on to the important matters in hand – cider! We’ve two cider trees with a decent crop this year – Dabinett and Tremlett’s Bitter, so I’ve tried to team them up with equally as laden trees, one cooker and one eater each. Importantly, these two complimentary trees also have to mature at a similar time, or at the least, last well off the tree until pressing time. The final result is, in theory, with no scrumping from anyone else, three separate ciders – two incorporating the cider apples and one the more east counties traditional of two thirds eater to one thirds cooker. Below are the varieties, their use, and their orchard location number (so I know where to visit to pick!). I’ve also added a guess as to apple numbers – ‘lots’ means more than 100. Before you laugh your socks off, this is only the trees’ sixth year, fifth in the ground here, so next year should be even better! Cider plans 2017 will hopefully be even more of an adventure!


Cider 1 – mid October pressing

Tremlett’s Bitter (cider) – A2 – pick early Oct (some are already on the ground) – lots
Lord Derby (culinary) – C4 – pick late September – lots
Ellison’s Orange (dessert) – C6 – pick mid to late September – lots
Forfar (culinary/dessert) – H4 – pick early October (only 20 or so of these so just chucking them in!)


Cider 2 – late October pressing – “Tally Ho!” (our random cider for 2016)

Harvey (culinary) – H5 – pick mid September to mid October – lots
Sanspareil (dessert) – I3 – pick mid October – lots
Ashmead’s Kernel (dessert) – B4 – pick early to mid October – 20
Barnack Orange (dessert) – B3 – pick early to mid October – 20
Ribston Pippin (dessert) – D5 – pick late September to mid October – 20
Wyken Pippin (dessert) – D3 – pick late Septmber to mid October – 20


Cider 3 – early December pressing – “Sydney Camm’s Marvel Machine”

Dabinett (cider) – H3 – pick early to late November – lots
Rosemary Russet (dessert) – I2 – pick early to mid October – lots
Newton Wonder (culinary) – C1 – pick mid October – lots


And here’s some fun – probably totally wide of the mark. According to “Craft Cider Making” by Andrew Lea, a cider guru, the ideal cider apple would have 15% sugar content, 0.4% Malic Acid and 0.2% Tannin. Now you can find various tables on the internet giving you these values for certain varieties but they really do depend on seasonal differences, local weather, year to year discrepencies and so on. However, for fun I’ve entered the values for the fruit I’m mixing (or an apple of a similar heritage where none is present) to see what each of the three ciders ends up with. The values are below:

 SugarMalic AcidTannin
Ideal Cider Value15.00%0.40%0.20%
Cider 111.1%0.41%0.13%
Cider 2???
Cider 313%0.44%0.15%

Unfortunately there’s no data for Forfar, an apple from the Netherlands, going back to the 1700s. That helps to scupper Cider 1 slightly, and the values for Ellison’s Orange from from its heritage variety Orange Cox’s Pippin, so they may also be wide of the mark. And Cider 2 is just not worth attempting to work out, with more than three apples’ juice data unavailable. Still, at least we know Cider 3 gets close to the mark!

Importantly, when we’ve finally pressed the juices for each cider, we’ll take an acid reading. We’re looking, ideally, for anything between 3.2 and 3.8 pH. Higher than 3.8 and we risk microbial infection of the cider. Lower than 3.2 and the acidity can be mouth puckering!

Roll on pressing – I’ll probably pick the first batch over the next weeek, with a view to pressing it the week after.

Cider No.2 – Sydney Camm’s Marvel Machine

2016 cider sydney camm's marvel machineSydney Camm’s Marvel Machine is a popular phrase amongst a group of friends sharing a passion for flighty things (not the poultry type) and has always been a name chosen to adourn a cider. This cider, our second ‘mix’, is a little bit thought out, in that I know two of the varieties for sure! It’s approximately one third Dabinet cider apples, one third Rosemary Russets and one third a random cooker scrumped from Farmer John next door. You can see what it used to look like back in December, here.

As it used late varieties, in started to ferment, and then went dormant over winter, which is what I’ve been looking for. Come April it sprang back into life again and continued with a slow ferment. Still going this week with a bubble every twelve minutes or so from the airlock, I decided to measure the SG, which came out at around 1.000 – a bit above total dry. Bottling now is safe, but I don’t have the experience to know if there’s enough SG left to create a natural carbonation in the bottle – we’ll soon see, unless we drink it all before that happens! It did taste fuller bodied though, and a touch sweeter, but still very much a dry cider. This is the second time a Dabinet-based cider has overwintered, so this coming season I’ll make another version of Sydney Camm’s Marvel Machine, but replace the unknown cooker with a known variety, and bottle it with a slightly higher SG to ensure in-bottle carbonation.


Dandelion Wine – Step 3

2016 dandelion wine 5Right-oh – we’re three (well four, but it should be three) days after adding the sugar, yeast and yeast nutrient to the dandelion wine liquid, having first strained it. It’s bubbling along nicely, and so today’s task is to rack it into one gallon demijohns for the final fermentation stage. It was easy enough, I bought one of those auto-siphon things, which was a lot easier than puckering and sucking on the end of a hose, waiting for a mouthful of sugar and yeast concoction! A few minutes later and we have five full demijohns sat in the garage alongside the 2016 dandelion wine 4last slow ferment cider. Just a couple of years before we taste the results!

Dandelion Wine – Step 2

Dandelion Wine – Step 2

Well, the ten days are up and it’s time to filter the dandelion wine mixture into a new clean fermention bucket. This was a simple affair, except I managed to misplace our filter cloth, so we had to resort to using the kitchen seive.

Any fears of there not being enough liquid once the dandelion, orange and lemon mass was removed, were unfounded. The 7kg of granulated sugar added bulk enough to lift the level back up.

2016 dandelion wine 3It was a simple process – pour the liquid into a new sterilised bucket, through a seive (the smell is gorgeous – delicate and flowery, with the citrus tang in the background). I had to remove several little spots of floating mould with a spoon, then once all was in the new bucket, we added the granulated sugar. Again, as we were making five gallons rather than the one gallon the recipe assumed, we multiplied the 3lbs (1.4kg) of sugar by five, so 7kg of sugar! To this mixture we dropped a sachet of GP wine yeast and the relevant amount of yeast nutrient – it will say how much per gallon on the tub you bought.

Give it a really good mix, until the sugar has dissolved, and fit the lid again. Not having done this before, I fitted an airlock to our bucket, in case it starts to ferment wildy before the three days is up!

Dandelion Wine – Step 1

Dandelion Wine Recipe

Okay, so we de-head them, we mow them, we curse them (often), we pretend they’re not really there, we dig them up, and generally aim quite a lot of animosity in their direction. But do they deserve it?! Over the last few years we’ve made dandelion root coffee, and it’s been quite nice, in my opinion, but a lot of faff. This year Suz suggested we try dandelion wine – and not one to argue with that train of thought, I dug out the old 1970’s book “Easymade Wine & Country Drinks” by Mrs Gennery-Taylor.

The ingredients needed are:

  • 2 quarts (2.25 litres) dandelion flowers
  • 3lb (1.4kg) granulated sugar
  • G.P. (general purpose) wine yeast
  • Yeast nutrient
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1 gallon (4.5 litrs) boiling water

2016 dandelion wine 1Now being of that generation who was brought up in the metric system, yet who had to learn the old imperial system as his father worked in it, I’ve converted the imperial measurement above to metric. However, I’ll be putting it all in 1 gallon demijohns, so I’ll be basing it on that.

So we picked 10 quarts of dandelion flowers – Suz spent a couple of hours of back-bending picking, and I chipped in for the last hour, even stealing some from our grateful neighbour’s lawn! Essentially we just packed the big yellow dandelion heads into a litre jug, and called that one quart.

We washed the dandelion heads, placed them into a sterlised five gallon fermenting bucket, and added 5 gallons of boiling water, five2016 dandelion wine 2 finely sliced oranges and five finely sliced lemons. Gave it a good stir and sealed the lid. We now need to leave it for ten days – no longer! (according to the book).

I must add – it’s important to sterilise everything you use when making home-made wine, beer or cider. Cleanliness is everything!

Merrybower Cider – Tally Ho!

2016 tally ho cider 1I couldn’t resist a gratuitous photograph of the lovely line up of our Merrybower cider – Tally Ho! cider 🙂 Don’t they look smart all lined up! These aren’t for sale, but I’m making inroads into the process, for the day we may make too much and want to sell some. The name is indicative of the style of cider – a wild ferment from random(ish) apples, so you’ll never quite know what to expect when you dive into one! I have to admit it was fun designing the labels!

On a related note, the ‘special’ cider we only have one demijohn of, that was the second batch made last year, has woken from its winter slumber and begun to ferment again! I’m excited about this one in particular as it’s made from a mix of russets, cider and cookers. Fingers crossed we’ll be bottling it soon!

Cider Making – The Second Batch

2015 Second Cider MakingMore cider making! Today I made the second batch of cider – just enough for one gallon demijohn this time, and three pints of apple juice left over for drinking neat. The apples were a mix of Dabinet (cider), Rosemary Russet and a random cooker begged from Farmer John next door. The specific gravity came out at 1052, so a potential alchohol level of around 6.3%. As I sadly failed last time to intercept the fermentation in time to bottle condition the cider before the cider turned dry, I’m hoping the weather turns cold enough for me to have a bash this time. However, with doors still open as it’s too warm inside, and trundling around in a t-shirt as it’s around 14 Celsius outside, I fear this batch will also ferment too quickly. Ah well – it’ll be interesting to taste the difference between two ciders this year!

First Plum Wine Bottled

Well the time passed a week ago for the third and final racking of the plum wine into a demijohn, with the last racking happening just before Christmas, into bottles. However, this week I’d noticed one of the demijohns had stopped bubbling, whilst the other two had slowed down to snail’s pace.

Today was the day to see if the fermentation had indeed stopped – out came the various bits of rubber hose, plastic pipe and sanitising powder. Decanting some off into a sample tube, the hydrometer read just under 1.000, so bottling was on! Five bottles later, we’d racked as much as we dared from the one demijohn, and as I use the ridiculous method of sucking on the hose to get the wine to flow, I’m sure I drank a fair amount – enough to get me out of school pick up! I really do need to work out a better system – young wine isn’t that bad from this experience, but then it isn’t that good either! Hopefully, if we can manage, it’ll stay in the bottle to mature for a year, although I suspect that bottle on the left, with the big air gap, will need drinking fairly sharpish!

Year 2 – Cider Making

2015 Cider Making 1What a gorgeous morning to start cider making (hard cider to our friends in the US)! I’d booked the scratter and press from Melbourne Area Transition a few weeks ago, giving us time to pick the apples that were ready to crush, and leave them outside for three weeks to ‘sweat’ – if the weather had been wetter then we’d been advised to move them under cover as heat and wet can spoil them.

2015 Cider Making 2The press was a 20 litre cross beam press – a bit larger than our 5 litre spindle press, which really isn’t useful for any quantity of cider, but probably more suited for crushing soft fruits for juice.

2015 Cider Making 4The scratter could take around six whole average-sized apples in one go, or you could fill the hopper with cut apples. I chose the first method as it was easier with only one person, but it was a doddle!

2015 Cider Making 3The apples we used were roughly 60% dessert, 30% culinary and 10% cider. I had grand ideas of a ‘mix’ of certain types, but when it came down to it I took what we could get – around a third came from our lovely neighbours at number 1, the rest we scrounged from our trees – there were definitely Warner’s King, Elton Beauty and Catshead – the rest I really can’t remember, or I don’t know – hopefully next year I’ll be more organised!

2015 Cider Making 5The cider making method was simple – apples began in the green cart, a half bucket loaded into the white bucket, hosed down, washed around and inspected by Penny, who would have jumped in the bucket if there had been the slightest chance she’d fit! Then six at a time were dropped in to the scratter and munched into tiny pieces. It took about one full washing bucket to fill the smaller 2 gallon bucket which sat under the scratter. Two of the 2 gallon buckets of pomace filled the 20 litre press (don’t you love mixing imperial with metric?), so basically 2015 Cider Making 6two stints on the scratter for every stint on the press, and the press gave between 4 and 5 litres per pressing (that’s the white pouring jug under the press). The pomace left over after pressing didn’t feel as dry as that from the spindle press last year, but the pieces of apple seemed a bit chunkier than last year, so maybe that had something to do with it? Or maybe because we’d let the apples sweat some of their juice out – who knows!

Anyway – it took me about 6 presses to fill my 7 gallon fermentation bin, and about three hours in total, maybe a bit more. Assuming it works, that’s around 55 pints (assume one lost to keeving later into another vessel) – not bad for three hours’ (enjoyable) work! Last year was heart-breakingly slow, with our tiny press, and I expected this year to feel as bad – in terms of the effort-to-produce ratio.

2015 Cider Making 7But this cider making experience was a whole different ball game! To see the juice pouring from the press was a beautiful sight – and makes me realise that we need at least a 40 litre press. We really do need to decide in which direction to take this, once we have some experience under our belt? Do we stay as hobbiests, making our own product for friends and family to enjoy, or do we expand the idea to create a mini business that can self-fund? We’ll have plenty of apples to play with, there’s no doubting that! Plenty of time to worry about that, and for now it’s great that people like Melbourne Transition rent out kit that can suit a serious hobbiest.

A quick reading of the Specific Gravity showed 1.046, at a room temperature of around 19 degrees, which is fine. Again, as last year, I’ve decided not to sulphite, to rid the juice of wild yeast. That would mean adding a known yeast back into the cider, but I quite like the idea of seeing if natural yeast, present in the air and on the apple and pressing equipment, can do the job for us. Health-wise – sulphites can cause problems with people suffering from asthma, or people with allergies to sulphites themselves.

2015 Cider Making 8As it was, Jay and Smiler came back from school just as I’d finished – impeccable timing! Seeing the press, the dived right in and pressed out another 4 litres of apple juice from the Forfar tree – a light and slightly acidic juice, but then we may have been a bit early picking them. It only seems fair to press something they can also enjoy.

Despite that being the end of our first cider making day, we’re not done yet – we have some later maturing varieties on the trees still, so hopefully we’ll do another pressing come late November, early December 🙂