Thursday, 18 October 2018

A First Class Return To Dottingham - Pt.2

Nottinghams impressive Motorpoint Arena, as viewed from the main entrance on Thursday afternoon of the 2018 Nottingham Robin Hood Beer & Cider Festival. Beer, almost as far as the eye can see. A comfortable crowd for a Thursday afternoon, starting to fill out as we called it a day at around the time the workers of Nottingham started clocking off and arriving. We'd done our job, the volunteer staff were sufficiently warmed up and ready for the locals, no need to outstay our welcome. Besides, whatever our goals were at the beginning of the session, there was little hope of achieving them by close of play, the choice, as ever, was really quite bewildering...

The Cider Barn, the beer festival 'safe space' for those of us slightly overwhelmed by the huge barrelage in the main arena. A smidgen warmer too, certainly cosier, something of a festival within a festival. Not an exclusive zone though. At least one of our party favoured beer for the afternoon. Nobody said anything...

There was an American cider (above),which was rather good by all accounts. I wouldn't know, I forgot it was on.

I did however try the award winners in this years East Midlands Cider & Perry Competition.

Gold: Sneinton Cider Co Completely Wholesome Apple Beverage - A straightforward sharpish dessert apple refresher. A bit apple crumble, cloudy.
Silver: Three Cats Medium - On the drier side of medium. Clean, sharp, fruity, russet tannin.
Bronze: Oakfield Farm Taste The Orchard - Sweetish medium, vinous cideriness, fruity, sharp, slight apple pips astringency.
Gold: Blue Barrel Colwick Perry - Light, aromatic/perfumed, apricot and melon, with a bit of drying tannin in the finish.

Really good quality in this years winners, and surprisingly none were too sweet to my taste. Well done to the cidermakers who definitely seem to be raising their game year on year, and to the organisers and judges who've clearly recognised this. The whole point of competitions like this is to encourage and reward excellence, and I think we can safely say that based on this years results, the East Midlands competition is working.

Did I mention there was beer at the festival? Loads of it actually, including for me what is one of the best aspects of the Nottingham festival, the numerous stand-alone brewery bars dotted about the place. The outdoor bars have the feel of funky fringe venues to the main event, with bands, food stalls, and unlimited sunshine whilst stocks last. The Nene Valley Brewery bar (above) kept winking at me seductively, their delicious Pulping On Your Stereo a particular favourite that always gets my juices flowing, but we're regular visitors to the brewery tap in Oundle so it's all yours Nottingham.

A snapshot of the comings and goings at our bijou table in the Cider Barn. Just out of shot is the lengthy queue of friends and acquaintances awaiting their turn at the head table and a private audience with top cider and perry guru Ray Blockley of Torkard Cider (mutton chops, Rolex watch). Other notable appearances during the day included the infamous Charnwood Cider Jug Band.

What of the new venue? Well, from my perspective, as someone who generally arrives, stands at one or both of the cider bars, drinks a bit, then goes home, it all seemed pretty-much the same. Facilities are better, staff and volunteers nothing but helpful and professional, yes it's different, but not 'that' different. Thankfully there was plenty of seating available on a Thursday afternoon, as the arena seating itself is really not ideal for social drinking in my view. Besides, I climbed to the top to take the photo below, and felt a bit giddy when I got there...

It was good, very good in fact for what is in effect a debut in a new venue, and knowing Nottingham CAMRA and their work ethic, I've no doubt they'll be looking to make it even better in the years to come. I'm still no great fan of beer festivals, but the Nottingham CAMRA event is still special, and it's still on for a couple of days, so I recommend you get along and help make it the success it deserves to be. That way I can go again next year...

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

A First Class Return To Dottingham - Pt.1

It's been nearly three years since my last post on this blog. Whaddaya mean you hadn't noticed!... With the award-winning Rockingham Forest Cider micro-business mothballed for the foreseeable future, it seemed to me there was little that hasn't been said before, or is being said bigger and better elsewhere, to warrant blogging just for the sake of it. So generally speaking I don't, and I won't. So it takes something truly special, something new and inspiring for me fire up the Blogger page, try and remember the password, and put index fingers to keyboard in the name of cider and perry.

Turns out Nottingham Robin Hood Beer & Cider Festival is that special thing. A highlight of the October drinking calendar for several years now, but in a shiny new 'inside/outside' venue for 2018. Thankfully the cider bar remains unspoilt by this necessary progress, featuring as it does the same awe-inspiring range of truly 'real' ciders and perrys that we've come to expect from probably the finest festival cider bar in the country, maybe even the world! No concentrate concoctions, no fruity cordial pseudo-ciders, and absolutely no Rockingham Forest Cider neither! Whilst we do have substantial stocks of cider and perry 'resting' in the ciderhouse, it's all reserved for personal consumption these days. We couldn't sell any of it even if we wanted to, which frankly we don't, so that's alright then. But I have to say that when it comes to the annual Nottingham jamboree, it's a great shame, because this is one of only a handful of cider bars that we've always felt proud to be a tiny part of...

So the festival has moved. Not very far geographically, but by the best part of a thousand years in time! From the historical grounds of Nottingham Castle, a site first occupied around the time of the Battle of Hastings, to a brand-spankingly newish arena where the battles are generally confined to the rough and tumble of ice hockey and comedy wrestling. The impressively appointed and bewilderingly named Motorpoint Arena.

Now here's an admission, and quite a big one at that in the context of this post! Despite ample evidence to the contrary on this blog and elsewhere, I'm not, as it happens, the greatest fan of the beer festival experience [pauses for gasps]. In fact I rarely visit them unless there's a 'very' good reason. Don't get me wrong, I know that at their best, beer festivals can be a rollicking good day of social drinking, great music, and excruciating queues for the toilets, and I'm certainly not here to talk down the experience. I've lived and loved CAMRA festivals as much as, if not more than most, but in recent years my tastes have changed.

When it comes to drinking beer, I've very little interest in the kind of wide and wild variety that's de rigueur at all but the smallest festivals these days. I just want one that I like, and more often than not I want it in the convivial comfort of a well-run pub rather than a hall full of barrels and comedy t-shirts. I've not so much kicked the festival habit, as gone full circle and ended up back where I started, the pub. From a peak of maybe a dozen or more festivals a year, eagerly anticipated and thoroughly, sometimes overenthusiastically enjoyed, I'm down to just two, and one of those is more for the social side than anything else. Nottingham is a bit different though...

The cider bar at the Nottingham festival has for some years now been truly a site to behold. Huge! Huge I tell you! Carefully and lovingly curated by a tight-knit team of knowledgeable enthusiasts (left - artists impression), the choice on offer is really quite staggering, and with the added value that to the best of their knowledge, it's all very much the 'real' thing. Which is to say there has always been an insistence that the ciders and perries exhibited at Nottingham are as traditionally made and un-mucked about with as possible. This is a massive attraction for me, and in truth, the Nottingham Festival now represents one of the very few occasions where I'll happily spend the day drinking ciders and perries exclusively, such is the difficulty finding a range of drier pure-juice styles in pubs locally, and even at many beer festivals.

Another major draw for cider enthusiasts like myself is the burgeoning range of East Midlands produced ciders and perries, a range which has grown from what seemed an impressive number at the first Castle festival (right), to almost 70 varieties from 25 producers this year. That's a festival in its own right, and I look forward to trying this years award winners, albeit with a trembly bottom lip given that we've enjoyed a little bit of success in competition ourselves back in the day...

I'm hoping to meet up with some fully active cidermakers in the new 'Cider Barn' area of the festival, and your long wait for a post on this blog will be rewarded in time-honoured public transport fashion, by two coming along at once. I'll be taking my camera and trusty dictaphone along, and recording the whole shiny new event, with a particular emphasis on the cider, for posterity and your reading pleasure.

Footnote: For those of you who think there may be a typo in the title of this post, ask your parents...

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Leicester CAMRA Cider Bar 2016

As the hungry snail-bearing Thrush awakens mighty Smaug in his mountain kingdom, so too does Susan Kite rouse this sleepy blog from slumber with the gentle tap-tap-tapping of the 2016 Leicester CAMRA Cider & Perry list.

Real cider-drinking Elves and Dwarves everywhere may rejoice, for once again the wizard of Middleton can (as if by magic) break the joyous news a full month ahead of Durin's Day.....

Enough of this Hobitty nonsense, here's the list, subject as ever to minor change. Rumours that the cider bar has been renamed the Prancing Pony this year are of course entirely unfounded, though not impossible:

Leicestershire and East Midlands
Bottle Kicking Leicestershire
Scrummage 6.5%
Rambler 6%
Charnwood Leicestershire
Appley ‘Ave Another 5.6%
Disco Cox 5.6%
Cocky Fox 5.5%
Farmer Fear Leicestershire
Medium 5.5%
Dry 5.5%
Fynsburys Rutland
Gladstone Leicestershire
101 dry cider
Rockingham Forest Northamptonshire
Dabinett cider 6.6%
Saxby’s Northamptonshire
Medium 5.4%
Limited Edition 6.5%
Skidbrooke Lincolnshire
Medium cider
Apple County Monmouthshire
Medium dry cider
Barkers Worcestershire
Berriews Powys
organic cider
Biddenden Kent
Cider 8.3%
Broome Farm Herefordshire
Perry 5.5%
Burrow Hill Somerset
Medium cider 6%
Cadogan Gloucestershire
perry 5.5%
Green valley Devon
vintage dry 8.3%
Greys Devon
medium cider 6%
Gwatkin Herefordshire
Farmhouse perry 7%
Golden Valley perry
Gwynt y Ddraig Glamorgan
Two Trees perry 4.5%
Heron valley Devon
cider 6%
Hunts Devon
Mary Maude’s medium cider 6%
Marshwood Vale Dorset
Yarlington Mill cider
Millwhites Somerset
Rum cask cider
Nempnett Somerset
Somerset Redstreak cider 6%
Norburys Worcestershire
Medium sweet cider 7%
Olivers Herefordshire
medium cider
2 perry ?
Rich’s Somerset
Legbender cider 6%
Seacider  Sussex
Medium cider 4.6%
Hardcore 7.3%
Ty Gwyn Monmouthshire
Brown’s Apple cider 6.5%
Ventons Devon
whiskey cask cider
Westcroft Somerset
Janet’s Jungle Juice 6.5%
Worley’s Somerset

Monday, 23 February 2015

Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival 2015

Like the gridlock and panic of an English snow-flurry, the arrival of the Leicester CAMRA Beer & Cider festival is something we can both rely on, and sneak time off work for, every year without fail. For this we give thanks to the hard working organising committee, and small platoon of willing volunteers which make this annual jamboree run so smoothly, punctually, and most important of all, fragrantly.

It's all reassuringly similar to successful festivals of the past, details of which can be gleaned from the flyer reproduced here. Over there. On the right.

Top cider and perry enthusiast Susan has assembled a collection of fruit-based drinks any medium-sized rock festival would be proud of, including many sourced so close to Leicestershire, they could quite accurately be described as being from... well, Leicestershire. Surrounding counties are well represented too, with only poor old Warwickshire absent. And Staffordshire.

Exclusive early access to the cider and perry list is something I've come to rely on. Lord-knows I've got little else to blog about on here these days. And in time-honoured fashion, I've not hesitated in breaking the trust Susan has placed in me, by sharing everything I know with you the reader. So here it is, the 2015 Cider & Perry list, as usual, subject to change without notice or excuse.

UPDATE: Susan has 'finessed' the cider list, the latest version uploaded here. Some notable changes, including the sad loss of early-season Torkard which is so early-season it may still technically be apple juice!

Cider and perry 2015

Bottle Kicking, Hallaton, Leicestershire
Dry cider
Rambler medium cider 6%
Charnwood Cider, Leicestershire
Pure Charnwood medium Cider 5.6%
Apply Ave Another medium cider 5%
Disco Cox medium cider 5.6%
Gold medium cider 5.6%
Farmer Fear, Leics
Thirsty Farmer medium
Farmhouse strong medium
Jollydale, Lincs
Medium cider
Rockingham Forest, Northants
Home Orchard medium dry cider 7.4%
Malvern Hills medium perry 8.4%
Three Cats, Morley, Derbyshire
Medium sweet cider

Abrahall, Shropshire
Dry cider
Crackling Rosie perry
Barkers, Worcestershire
Medium dry cider
Cadogan, Gloucestershire
Medium cider  
Medium perry
Chant, Somerset
Singing cider
Chucklehead, Devon
Medium cider
Double Vision, kent
Sweet cider
Sweet perry
Green Valley, Devon
Medium Cider 6.8%
Grey’s Devon
Medium cider
Gwatkin, Herefords
Yarlington Mill cider
Farmhouse medium perry
Hecks, somerset
Port wine of Glastonbury
Blakeney Red perry
Heron Valley, Devon
Medium cider
Marshwood Vale, Dorset
Sweet cider
Olivers, herefordshire
Shezam  cider 6%
Medium perry 6%
Orchard, Gloucestershire
Medium cider
Ross, Herefordshire
Medium cider
Tricky, Somerset
Medium cider
Sweet cider
Ventons, Devon
Whisky cask cider
Westcroft, Somerset
Janet’s Jungle Juice
Winkleigh Cider co, Devon
Sam’s sweet
Sam’s dry
Worley’s, Somerset

Farmhouse medium cider

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Ciderhouse News - Cidermaking 2014

Here's a short round-up of what's been happening at Rockingham Forest Cider recently. As you'll notice from the pic above, we have a new certificate for the ciderhouse wall, having gone one better than our previous Silver effort in 2011 and won Gold for a Green Horse/Red Longdon Perry in the East Midlands Cider & Perry Competition. Competition organiser Denise Wright can be seen taking the full weight of the certificate, whilst I stand idly by in front of the impressive East Midlands wall of cider at Nottingham CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival. A great day out, c/o of all the hard working volunteers, but particularly Ray Blockley of Torkard Cider who put together this years impressive collection of nearly 300 ciders and perries from throughout England and Wales. In the spirit of friendly competition I'm encouraging Susan to go one better and present 301 ciders and perries at the Leicester Beer Festival next year.

The innaugral Cottingham Village Apple Day was held at the end of September, organised by Green Horizons a Cottingham based project for families with children who are on the autistic spectrum. In addition to having Red Kite Cider on the pop-up bar we gave samples of a Vilberie Cider to a steady stream of thirsty cider fans on what turned out to be a proper Summer's day. A really great event, and very well supported by villagers and visitors.

Perry making is in full swing, which in the case of the 2014 season is quite a small childs swing with a sensible safety bar. No Green Horse or Malvern Hills this year, but some Blakeney Red, and a similar quantity of mixed pears which will hopefully make something tasty for next year. Needless to say this means there will be no repeat of our award-winning perry, and no Green Horse, which is particularly sad as this is my favourite perry of all. Sniffle!

The Blakeney Red has come out at a modest 1.049 this year, the mixed batch a more respectable 1.055. Fermentation is progressing at a nice even pace, and every day we pray for sub-zero temperatures in a bid to slow things right down and therefore retain some residual sweetness in the perries.

The very latest news from the ciderhouse is that the Yarlington Mill apples are in the process of being picked, and Dabinett (below) are still hanging on the tree. This year, in a break from tradition we will be collecting a tonne of Dabinett from a top cider and perry maker near Leominster.