It’s November 2020 and I think we can all agree that we will be happy to see the end of this year. It’s absolutely been a year like none other for us at Duckchicken, partly our own doing and partly due to the pandemic. We had grand travel plans, events planned and festivals to attend. All cancelled or put on hold until another day. For our cider production our pét-nat went very wrong, our first attempt at Keykegs experiment go partially wrong and BIB sales fell through the floor. Despite all of this we’ve still managed to sell nearly all the 2019 stock with only a few cases of 750ml bottles kicking around and 2 Keykegs of Gigglejuice remaining. Thanks to everyone near and far for keeping us going and keeping us hopeful for the future.
With all of our usual outlets like the Harp pub and CAMRA festivals across London out of action this year, we switched our focus at the start of lockdown to sales outside our local pub the Earl Ferrers. This opportunity to do some rare direct sales was a godsend. It allowed us to connect with locals, which we haven’t been able to achieve easily in the past. It showed us there was demand for our dry ciders that we didn’t know was there, which has given us hope that in the future we can sell more in South London than we previously have. We did these sales for 4-6 weeks and ended up selling a few hundred litres at which point we had to stop. If we didn’t stop we’d have hardly any cider to sell to pubs and bottle shops over the summer, who we want to keep happy and supplied with cider when we can.
After our slow down on local sales we focused on getting our pét-nat ready for sales and we were incredibly excited to share it with everyone. When we put it into bottles in January, all of the ciders were tasting the best they ever had, especially Gigglejuice. A couple months later when we sampled a few, they were very lively out of the bottle. We thought if we said to keep cool and open slowly they would be ok to sell. We were really proud of how it tasted and didn’t want to give that up. So when we thought it was finally ready and our new labels were ready, we began packaging for delivery. It was at this point we started hearing a slight wheezing from the caps on some of the bottles. It’s not a sound any alcohol producer wants to hear, especially at the point of putting labels on and boxing up for delivery. We pulled those few that were wheezing, but the more we packaged, the more we realised it wasn’t a product we could confidently sell. We regretfully called off all the sales to the bottle shops who had ordered in cases, all of whom were extremely understanding.
All was not lost though as we were able to repackage it into a sparkling cider through our corny kegs and CO2 tank. It was a lot of extra effort on our part, but we learned a lot from the experience. We realised we need at least one more racking before putting our cider into bottles to remove more of the lees and to bottle at a slightly lower specific gravity. Yes, we could just force carb our ciders going forward, but we still believe there is something special about pét-nat and want to share that. This 2020 harvest we will be doing more pét-nat with the hopes an extra racking and bottling at a slightly lower specific gravity will give us the product we want to achieve.
It was much the same story with our Keykegs. We made 12 20 litre Keykegs of Gigglejuice, but they too ended up being very lively, likely due to being kegged at too high of a specific gravity (1.005). This year we will try again and aim more for 1.002/3 for the Keykegs.
The response to our ciders has none the less been positive and we are pleased so many people enjoyed drinking them.
Because of the pandemic we both had plenty of holiday time from our day jobs to devote to the harvest season. It started in early September with flying visits to our two orchards in Kent we normally pick and a visit to the new (to us) orchards outside Staplehurst we’ve been given permission to pick from. These new orchards consist of mostly of Bramley and Lord Derby with a few other varieties scattered in. We picked up a few bags of Discovery apples at our original orchard too, something we haven’t fermented before. The following day we headed up to Herefordshire full of enthusiasm for the picking season for a long weekend with friends and camping in the orchards of Broome Farm. Our friends Albert and Mike Johnson were nice enough to let us pick a few bags of Moorcroft pears and take a few bags of Thorn pears, which were just delivered from an orchard nearby, so we could have our first proper go at making perry.
Our first big picking day was 17 September- a week earlier than we’ve ever picked before. Thanks climate change. The weather held most days and we were able to recruit some good South Londoners to come join us for picking days. Thanks to Sophie, Lionel and Mike for your help! There were only a few hiccups along the way, but with a day or two extra picking and pressing, we were able to have our biggest production year yet. All tallied up it’s just a tad under 2300 litres (2269 litres officially in our books).
We obviously have no idea what 2021 will hold for humanity, let alone the cider industry. But as you can see, we don’t give any fucks and are going for it anyways. It helps we both have full-time jobs that are secure and allow us the freedom to do what we want with Duckchicken. We’ve already gotten in a pallet of 750ml bottles, which we’ve begun to fill. We also have the opportunity to do some canning, that we are super stoked for. As mentioned earlier, there will be less fizzy (hopefully) keykegs and of course BIBs available, cause who doesn’t love a nice still cider and perry? We sure do.
Let’s hope we can see you all very soon and share a glass of Duckchicken together.