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...
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...