We started off on Friday evening with festival regulars Ray & Gail of the Hucknall Cider Co in tow. Ray & Gail like a drop of cider or two, so it seemed a sensible idea to stick to apple and pear based drinks this evening. The traditional roll down the hill from Cottingham to Middleton started at the Royal George where we were very pleased to see six ciders on offer. We passed on the Biddenden, Broadoak and Thatchers though, opting instead for the more exotic trio from Welsh producer Gwynt-Y-Ddraig. The more tannic single variety Brown Snout was the favourite of the three, though the Dog Dancer and Scrumpy were also very nice if a little too sweet for our taste. Drinks apart, the main attraction of the George is the large decked terrace at the rear, which gives a wonderful view down the valley to Middleton on a fine evening such as this.
Next stop was the Spread Eagle, and another good range of ciders from Gwynt-Y-Ddraig, including a nice Pyder, which is made from a blend of apple and pear juice and definitely not a Pear Cider! Westons Old Rosie was also available here. The small, sheltered patio at the front of the pub was a pleasant place to watch the world go by, and led to the first of many encounters we would have with the Welland Valley Drinking Team, already looking decidedly the worse for wear! When Spread Eagle barman Matt decided to reveal a sordid history of Lederhosen wearing, it was time to move on...
So, on to the Red Lion, and perhaps the most eclectic range of ciders and perrys available at the festival. We tried Ray & Gail's own Floppy Tabs Cider, which was of course excellent, and our own two ciders and perry. The Broome Farm Blakeney Red Perry was being held in reserve until Saturday, but Kevin & Fiona had kindly allowed us to indulge in a spot of off-piste cider tasting this evening. As the sun finally faded, and things began to cool down a little, out came the bottle opener, and a range of local-ish bottled ciders to 'nose, sip and swallow'.
David Bates makes a small quantity of cider from apples grown at his vineyard just over the border in Leicestershire. The Roundhead Cider from Welland Valley Vineyard was given the thumbs-up from all who tried it, a good, medium cider, with a decent amount of bittersweet cider apple character. Next up was the JW's Dry Fen Cider from Spalding, a light, dry cider in the Eastern Counties style. The Cromwell Oliver's Choice Cider from Huntingdon divided opinion. I quite liked the light, almost perry-like taste, but others found the herbal, almost resinous aroma a little odd in a cider.
Another sampler which divided opinion was this year's Rockingham Forest Slider, which seemed to find favour with the lads, but not so with the ladies. The Slider has emerged from maturation quite a bit drier than the previous seasons efforts, and there's a slightly harsh bitter edge to it which doesn't help. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
Another grand night out at the Welland Valley Beer Festival concluded with a stroll back home, and a spirited 'Swingin' Safari' singalong to Karen's extensive collection of Bert Kaempfert records. Classic!