The 6th Welland Valley Beer Festival rumbled through the valley this weekend, leaving in its wake a trail of empty barrels, full-on hangovers, and a faint whiff of diesel from the fabulous vintage buses which ferried us about on Saturday. A grand day out, featuring 11 pubs, over 130 real ales and ciders, and the backdrop of the Welland Valley itself.
We visited almost all of the pubs throughout the weekend, starting on Friday evening with a short trip to the Hatton Arms, Gretton to deliver a box of Torkard Cider from Ray & Gail of the Hucknall Cider Co. We followed this with our traditional 'roll down the hill' from the Royal George, Cottingham to the Red Lion Middleton, this year via the Spread Eagle, a newcomer to the festival.
The George had their range of ales set up in the bar on a stillage which appeared to be made mostly from straw. Ciders on offer included Biddenden Bushells, a pale, strong cider made from culinary and dessert apples in Kent. We managed to catch a little of the late evening sun on the decking overlooking the village before taking the short stroll to the Spread Eagle.
This was our first of many encounters with the strong stomached men of the Welland Valley Olympic Drinking Team, a high-spirited bunch who were attempting to drink the festival dry long before Saturday opening! I enjoyed a Malvern Hills Perry from Welsh producer Gwynt-Y-Ddraig before moving on to the Red Lion in Middleton.
I was pleased to see that the Red Lion's mighty 'pyramid of beer' was still standing in the corner of the bar, a diabolical construction of ratchet straps and upturned barrels the ancient Egyptians would have been proud of. We worked our way through the small but perfectly formed selection of ciders and perry, including our own Welland Valley Special cider, cool and fruity from the fridge. Shortly before we called it a day we were joined for a chat by fellow East Midlands cidermaker Malcolm Grant and his partner Eve, of Eve's Cider. A terrific photo opportunity of the three cidermakers present that evening was duly missed, and off to bed we went via a glass of the excellent Ralph's Perry we'd brought back from the Three Counties Show.
Tomorrow was going to be a big day, and I didn't fancy starting it with a hangover...