Our host, Martin, showed us around his cider facility in England. His cidery was much younger than most, if not all, of the others we had seen, and thus carried less of a traditional air to it. Pilton Cider, created in 2009, produces about 50,000 L of cider a year. He, like us, took on a French keeving expert for advice in order to perfect his technique. All of his ciders are intended to keeve. Any one that doesn’t work out is fermented dry into and English style cider. Apples are sourced and pressed by other farmers and he only buys the juice at a rate of 45-50 pence per liter. He’s not exactly in tune with which varieties of apples he uses. A catch-all of “old bittersweets” will suffice for him. He doesn’t measure the TA of any of his juice, but rather just aims for a pH of 3.7.
His style of production incorporates maceration at anywhere between 2 to 24 hours. If it’s warm out he prefers to juice it sooner. The juice is circulated in a heat exchanger and chilled to 8 degrees C. The fermentation rooms are kept cool with refrigeration fans. He’ll add PME to the juice, mix thoroughly, and wait 2-3 days before adding calcium chloride. He tests the cap formation by taking a sample each day into small tubes and put them in the fridge. When one of them turns cloudy, that means that it was time to rack YESTERDAY.
Our host only keeves the amount of juice that can be pressed in one day. He never adds more juice to a process that has essentially already started. He noted that keeving can sometimes only remove 20% of the inherent nitrogen. At Pilton, they do utilize a bit of filtration to control the fermentation rate. Martin will filter out 90% of the yeast (juice), but only after fermentation has peaked and the yeast cells have been properly built up. It is safe to bottle when the gravity has not dropped more than one point over 3 weeks at a temperature of 10 degrees C.
We had some questions about his use of IBCs used for some of his cider. We found that he uses steel inserts that circulate cold water to provide a cold ferment. He also had a current fermentation going in a whiskey barrel, post-keeve, but has not tested any of the product yet. He added that whiskey barrels needed to be neutral for him. If it imparted any detectable whiskey flavor his duty would increase from 40 pence per liter to about 2.60 pounds per liter.
I thought Pilton’s Cider was one of the more desirable English products we came across. Everything was clean, woody, earthy, properly balanced with acid, fruity, tannic and toffee-like.