I managed a good six hours at this year's Leicester Cider & Cheese Festival, split rather unevenly between the Criterion and the nearby Swan & Rushes. More importantly, I had the pleasure of ten ciders and perrys, halves of course, before having to catch the train home.
The ciders at the Criterion had a distinct West-Country theme, Devon and Somerset making up most of the numbers. Here's what I tried:
Bollhayes - This cider comes from the people behind the Vigo, the cider and wine making equipment suppliers. If anyone should know how to make a good quality cider it's them. The cider was rich, dry, and full of spicy bittersweet character. The tannic, slightly bitter finish put this firmly in the enthusiasts category. An excellent cider, but perhaps a little too heavyweight for pint drinking.
Gray's - Another excellent, classic Devon bittersweet. Dry, full-flavoured, but more tangy than the Bollhayes. This tangy quality is quite common in West-Country ciders, the result of a controlled level of acetic acid which can lend the cider a more 'drinkable' quality.
Green Valley Cyder - This cider has a much more 'commercial' flavour. Smooth, fruity, easy-drinking, with a slight sweetness and a more restrained 'tang' than the Gray's. Another winner.
Reddaway's Whisky Cask - I'm not a huge fan of Whisky Cask matured ciders, so I was pleased that the Whisky character was barely perceptible in this one. A smooth, subtle cider, with a very slight vinegar taint. Not bad.
Upper House - A good dry and smooth, bittersweet cider, suffering with a slight 'Mouse' taint. Mouse is a common fault in ciders, giving a slightly musty flavour which can add a welcome complexity at very low levels, but this was a little too pronounced.
Swallowfield Perry - A lovely subtle fruitiness, in a very well made, rich perry. Excellent.
Heck's Brown's Apple - A very pleasant, richly sweet cider, which unfortunately didn't show much in the way of Brown's Apple character to my taste.
The 4 O'Clock alarm was the signal to move the party onto the Swan & Rushes, where the cider and perrys had more of a 'Three Counties' theme. Time was short, and tasting notes had been abandoned by now. I tried the Ross-on-Wye Foxwhelp Blend, the Minchews Perry, and a Westcroft Dry Cider. Three cheers for the bar staff, (un)suitably attired as they were in full 'Country-Bumpkin' regalia. Except Richard who perhaps wisely refused!
Another excellent festival from both pubs, and there's still plenty of time to try the ciders yet if you haven't already had the chance.