Algarve in cider information

By Jake Cleaver, in Renature · 18-12-2020 01:00:00 · 1 Comments
Algarve in cider information

The Portugal News got an email from somebody called Joe Barfield saying a number of unusual things. First off he said he had been making his own cider from apple trees on the west coast. I had never seen any apple trees in the Algarve and always assumed that you needed a lot colder, frostier mornings to (ironically) ‘keep the doctor away’.

But this chap had not only made cider with these apples, he had entered it into an international cider competition in Astúrias in Spain, and up against stiff competition from 16 different countries (and 350 different ciders) his home brew won 2 bronze medals and a silver. And as if this wasn’t irregular enough he told me he was also from Texas. Ijust had to go investigate.

I picked Joe up at the bus stop at Figueira, a nice little town close to Vila do Bispo. I wondered who would turn up and how I would recognise them. I needn’t have worried, it could only be the Texan that came striding towards me in his cowboy hat, carrying a massive cool box and greeted me with a “howdy” and a big smile.

Joe is quite the character, and as we drove to the orchard where these award winning apple trees were hidden, he filled me in a little about his life and how he came to be here (of all places) making cider. He told me that in Texas he used to brew beer and very successfully too, he even ran and wrote for his own publication dedicated to the subject. He eventually gave it up though, which was just as well because he later found out he was a celiac. I didn’t know what that was, and Joe described it as a “sneaky and unshakable auto-immune disease that means he can’t have any gluten”. So, this means that unfortunately beer is off the table. You might think the next logical thing to put ‘on the table’ would be wine, but Joe said he’s a Texan and he “doesn’t like to sip”, and well... wine puts him ‘under the table’ too early.

Cider though is perfect. In 2018 Joe moved to Portugal with his wife to raise their kids in a tranquil and happy environment. They first moved to Penamacor in Castelo Branco. This put him right next to a major apple producing area and it was easy to get loads of unwanted apples with which he made his first batch of cider, which he aptly named ‘Castelo Branco Cider’. Joe made a lovely logo for it of a Black Castle that he laughed about and said is ironic given its name, however as I pointed out, there is a massive ‘white’ apple in the doorway. He entered it into this competition in Spain two years ago but didn’t win, however he learned a whole bunch as he got to sample the other ciders in the contest and got to pick the brains of expert cider makers from all around Europe, he even showed me a picture later of him sat tasting them in ‘La Sidra’, a Spanish magazine dedicated to worldwide cider culture, that covered the event.

But when he and his family moved down further south to Figueira, Joe inevitably found it a lot harder to source apples. However, amazingly he did manage to, and as we pulled up at the location he explained to me that it wasn’t his place, but the garden of a Cornish man who has all these apple trees that produce far too much fruit for him to eat and normally end up rotting on the ground. He lets Joe use them to save them from going to waste, and in return gets some nice home brewed cider directly from his own trees.

Here waiting for us already as we stepped out the car was Joe’s friend and helper Chris. Chris is from Florida, and these two Americans met because their children go to the same school together nearby. We opened the gate and went into the garden and picked our way through the muddy field and past the many different kinds of trees living there. There were the classics like almonds, figs, oranges, lemons and pomegranates, but also more obscure ones like walnuts, persimmon, pear and, of course, apples. Joe and Chris had been working hard to pick them all, and yet they were amazed to see that loads more seemed to have appeared since they were last there. The apples were a lot smaller than any I’ve ever known - but sweet and delicious.

But picking and eating an apple is one thing, how do you then go about making it into an award winning cider? Joe and Chris were only too happy to show me. At the end of the line of trees was a little shed that has been their workshop. It’s a fitting place to be turning fruit into drink, as it used to be the wine making shed, and in the corner there is still a tank where they used to put all the grapes before doing that thing where they all get in and stomp on them.

Now though, it’s a cider workshop, and basically (and I warn you I will only manage ‘basic’ - but Joe really knows his stuff and has all sorts of gadgets and gizmos designed to ensure the cider has the perfect density and that its been allowed to ferment for just the right amount of time so that it doesn’tbecome ‘apple cider vinegar’ instead) they chuck the freshly picked apples into a big tube that cuts them into bits and pieces. They then put the gloop into a press which along with water pressure from a hosepipe, squishes them tight, and pure 100 percent natural apple juice comes pouring out the tap. It’s then barreled and the lid is closed tight, however they do put a little ‘S’ shaped gadget on the top that allows the CO2 to get out and stops oxygen (the enemy of fermentation) from getting in. It’s then a waiting game until you bottle it.

But the bottling really is a lot of fun. Instead of spending loads of money on buying new bottles Joe and Chris recycle old ones. Outside they have a bathtub that they are using to soak used champagne and beer bottles. This helps wash them up and makes it easier to remove the old labels - after they’ve done this they have another gadget that disinfects the bottles. They then syphon out the cider slowly from the barrels and fill the bottles up. After that they have two nifty old contraptions, one that allows you to pull a lever and push a cork neatly into a champagne bottle (very satisfying, I tried it), and another to put the cap on the beer bottles. Joe even said that because it is a sparkling cider the corks could conceivably pop out of the champagne bottles, so he puts a beer cap on them too. I find this very amusing that in order to get into a ‘Castelo Branco Cider’ you need to both uncap the beer top and then unscrew the cork. It certainly adds to the ceremony and sense of occasion.

Chris said he was always fond of cider, but now he’s been working helping Joe with all the back breaking work it takes to harvest all the apples, the complex squishing ritual and the waiting game - it makes the moment he actually gets to sit down and taste it all the sweeter. Except of course, it’s not sweet. The cider they have been making is ‘dry’ cider, which Joe explained may seem unusual for people who think of cider as a sweet drink.

Joe entered the competition the first time 2 years ago with apples he got in Castelo Branco and didn’t get any prizes. This year though he has come down to the Algarve and, astoundingly, found some apple trees and this time he’s truly been involved in the whole process from ‘tree to table’ (and he can actually sit at the table sipping his cider and see the trees it came from). He’s made a new friend along the way and together they have saved the apples that would have otherwise been wasted, and all these unlikely twists of fate have come together to make, clearly, a winning combination.


Hey Jake! I enjoyed the article. I appreciate the tone and mood.
It's a shame most of the places people can pick up a Portugal News around here are closed for the holidays. I wasn't able to find any within 10km. Do you know where I can find them somewhere between Figueira and Burgau?
(I have a tough time not spelling that "Burgão")

By Joe Barfield from Algarve on 21-12-2020 11:16
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