3rd CAMRA Gloucester Beer & Cider Festival

medieval, Blackfriars, copyrighted, Priory,

Well that was a blast! Whenever we stray far from the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley to bring you a story, it has to be for a good reason. We found one! Stick with us though because there is lots of local interest to be had in this the third great event organised by those lovely people and beer & cider aficionados.

We first met the guys and girls from CAMRA Gloucester at Hillside Brewery (see ANZAC beer feature below) and have already covered the story of this fabulous charity fund raising commemorative ale. We thought that we would just bring you an update on the story as well as wax lyrical about this fabulous county beer event. First of all I need to assure you that there was lots of commemorating done over the weekend, so much so that the ANZAC beer was a sell-out. No flippancy intended for such a sombre historical event but we are sure that our Aussie pals would be celebrating too. Even the British Legion stand (the chosen charity for the festival) was selling presentation packs of ANZAC beer and we hope they made LOTS of money for a good cause!

12:30 Saturday 25th April 2015, Gloucester, England. 3rd CAMRA G

Neil Richardson (CAMRA Gloucester’s head of light entertainment) told me at Hillside, “wait until you see the venue – it’ll blow you away”. OK, so Neil has now been outed as a master of understatement because the Blackfriars Priory on Ladybellegate Street a.k.a. Gloucester’s Via Sacra, did more than that. Not heard of it? No, neither had the guy who lived in flat 100 yards away, or the countless other Gloucester residents who said the same thing. If I’d have had a half a pint of Wye Valley, Kingstone, or Bespoke for everyone I heard comment in a similar vein, well I wouldn’t have been here now.

My first thoughts about this imposing ancient monument, which don’t forget now housed a beer festival for the weekend, finally – a Cathedral to Beer! This cavernous space with a high vaulted ceiling felt just that.

priory, blackfriars, beer,
A cathedral to beer & cider

This finest surviving example of a Dominican Friary in the UK isn’t a finely crafted polished visitor experience you might expect from the Chatsworth Devonshire’s, this a building in the raw. A building where beer festivals should be held. Chapeau to English Heritage and Gloucester City Council at this point for allowing the venue to be used for a such a great event. We are all used to that conserve/preserve viewpoint which doesn’t envisage anything other than a slowly deteriorating pile for a visiting few maintained at public or charitable expense.

Not here though. The building itself, stripped bare of plaster belies that viewpoint. Stand in the hall, as I did on VIP night, and “read” the building with Nick Bull of Severn Cider  (an event sponsor and providers of the most serious bar I have ever seen), and the building shouts makeover upon makeover! It strips bare the concept that buildings should be “preserved” instead shouting loudly that they should, as Blackfriars has, evolve. Every use and every brutal change for every different use since 1239 is there for the layperson to see. Vaults, now going nowhere, false windows, filled in windows, tiny windows that once lit something no long there and projecting masonry used for – well who knows? The truth, for a building to survive and prosper for future generations, it has to be useful!

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Beer and Cider lovers are life lovers. From time to time they may over train, but lovers of craft ales and ciders are a lovely bunch of people. Everyone I spoke to not only appreciated the building for its beauty and history but also the custodians for allowing it to be used and promoted to a wider audience. In the lower section beneath the huge glazed wall (replacing masonry lost to history) the monumental bar (Severn Cider bar hire) stood ready to prop us all up in style while we chose from the inexhaustible supply of great beer and cider. The modest festival entrance price includes a beer card worth £10 (I know, bargain) which you can cash in at the bar in pints, halves or thirds to sample and appreciate as many beers as possible. Wye Valley Brewery (HPA and Pedal Pusher), Hillside (Anzac, Compatriot, Legend of the Hillside and Legless Cow) and Severn Cider (a full suite of their fabulous Perry and Cider on tap) were heavily involved in supporting the festival but also there and very popular were;

Bespoke from Mitcheldean with their King Shilling mild ale with English hops.

Castles from Caldicot with a refreshing pale ale hopped with Saaz as well as White Knight American style pale ale.

Kingstone, Tintern with their 1503 Tudor and Abbey ales.

 

3rd CAMRA Gloucester Beer  and Cider Festival

The raised second level of the main hall (North Range) housed the stage and ample room for sitting or standing and the limited number of available tickets  meant that it was a very comfortable atmosphere even when full. There was a very respectable chicken curry and other hot food on sale in the Language Centre restaurant as well as, my preferred option – Gloucestershire cheeses. I opted for White Heaven (to go with my Hillside heaven) a soft creamy Camembert style from the people over at Woefuldane. There were also several smaller rooms (East Range) for drinkers to sit and chat but The Scriptorium across the quadrant was just the most delightful piece of medieval architecture I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying a pint in!

3rd CAMRA Gloucester Beer  and Cider Festival

The 4th CAMRA Gloucester Beer & Cider Festival?  One for the diary!

Full gallery of images at David Broadbent Photography

Not just for Tourists

mining, Clearwell Caves, iron, coal, Forest of Dean, cafe

Sometimes we tend to overlook great things just because we perceive them to be intended for something, or someone, else and not for us. Here in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley (#deanwye if you tweet by the way) we are blessed with a number of very good cafes indeed; award winning Aunt Martha’s at Steam Mills for a Victorian high tea experience, or Dean Forest Cycles at Parkend for a good honest tea and great cake hit or The Good News Centre at Newent for spiritual reinvigoration through the medium of great café food, Taurus Crafts cafe in Lydney, The George Cafe at Newnham………

How many of though, would include in our list of top ten cafes those outlets based in some of our best known tourist attractions. Would those of us who are lucky enough to live locally think that they were intended for us to use as well or just for visitors? It doesn’t work like this if you are a visitor of course. You may be taking the kids for a fun day out at an attraction and choose to have lunch there, or you may pick a likely spot along your walking route or your town or village visit it doesn’t really matter to you. But if you do live locally there is a tendency to forget about the attractions cafes. Some of them are open to the public (without having to pay for entrance), have great parking, and offer a really full daytime menu. Outside of peak times and school holidays they can also be nice and peaceful and who knows you may even get a thing some people in the Forest call, wi-fi!

Visiting Clearwell Caves  – we had just such a lightbulb moment. The Caves are one of our top tourist attractions (visited lots by local people too) and a magnificent natural film set for countless TV programmes and feature films.  Our top snapper happened to be there again shooting pictures for their new brochure – and there it was, right under our noses all along!

Clearwell Caves café space is light and airy with a homely and old world feel to it. The café tables and church pew seating are solid and reliable and on cold days the log fire might be glowing and creaking in the background (the Forest of Dean has had fantastic weather this Spring, ideal for taking tea on the patio). The ceiling is a hanging museum of miner’s lamps through the ages, and the walls form the basis of a gallery of Freeminer portraits whilst other assorted mining memorabilia is displayed throughout the café.

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20 minutes in the oven and….

But, less history and more food! There are lovely homemade cakes to suit everyone’s cake peccadillos, sandwiches made on the premises by the girls behind the counter and light lunches galore. And of course, that archetypal and very British institution – the cream tea. Chantal was busy making the fruit scones in the tiny kitchen by the deli counter faithfully following the Clearwell recipe and then 20 minutes later the golden brown scones were cooling on the cooker top. With the judicious application of clotted cream and jam, and yes we are aware that some of you just can’t agree on the right order – but we don’t care, we able to tuck into a lovely cream tea. Jonathan, the boss and mining magnate, loves a nice cuppa himself and so he and café manageress Kim keep the lid on their selection of fine leaf teas. So if you prefer an Oolong to a Darjeeling, we think that you’ll find something there for you. We were very tempted to try the “Gunpowder” but were a bit worried about the possible results underground!

Clearwell Caves cafe

 

Next up we were treated to the Courgette and Brie homemade soup with a dark nutty granary roll to go with it. The soup, a lovely summer light green, was exceptionally tasty and roll had a really deep and satisfying flavour and together – really filling. Just the thing you might need to keep you going if you get lost for a few days in the fantastic underground caverns right beneath you (joking – there are only a couple of people who’ve never been seen again!).

Clearwell Caves cafe

We think we know when somewhere is going to be good before we ever set eyes on the food. The secret? It’s nothing to do with an innate Derren Brown style super-powers. It’s just enthusiasm and pride. The enthusiasm of the owners and staff of café, restaurant or hotel and the sheer pride in what they do that, actually, is impossible to hide, even if they wanted to project a modest public image. You know that things are going to be good when you sense this pride in the staff that “hey – we did that”. It doesn’t have to be Michelin starred to be good. It just has to have been made by someone who cared and who wanted you to like it and have a great time.

Clearwell Caves cafe

You can of course read the fascinating history of Clearwell Caves on the world wide interweb if you want, and it’s true you’ll be able to see great pictures and learn lots, but it won’t be the same as being there and you won’t get to enjoy tea and cake or soup of the day unless you actually Go!

*Freeminers is the term given to men born within the “St Briavels hundred” who hold the historic rights to mine coal and iron ore within the Forest of Dean http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeminer.

A new annual food and drink event for the Forest & Wye? We hope so.

Well the dust has well and truly settled on the inaugural Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism Association’s new food and drink event Local Produce, See, Taste, Buy.  The event, originally conceived to match producers with potential clients from within the tourism associations’ extensive and diverse membership, was quickly turned over to a public event to coincide with English and Welsh Tourism Weeks respectively. Sited in the spacious “The Venue” function room on the CSMA site at Whitemead Park, exhibitors and visitors were protected against the worst the Forest spring weather might throw at anyone. In the event it turned out to be a beautiful Forest of Dean spring morning.

As the exhibitors built their stands before public opening at 10am the sights and sounds, and most of all, smells of our fabulous local producers started to build and fill in the background hubbub.

Great names in beer Hillside Brewery www.hillsidebrewery.com and cider, Severn Cider www.severncider.com were there in strength with Paul Williamson owner and head honcho from the Hillside Brewery with a broad selection of the great beers crafted up on the hill. Also showing, and tasting for the first time, their new Anzac beer brewed especially for the Gloucester Beer Festival. Nick Bull was in charge over at Severn Cider where, even though we were working hard, we had to have a small sample of their killer Severn Cider Perry.

Severn Cider, perry,                 3K5C1907          3K5C2145                 3K5C2154

Alongside these headline names in the now thriving local craft drinks industry, was the very tasty Apple County Cider with their “deciderly” good Dabinett and Vilberie dry and medium brands – very easy to imagine drinking those two beauties on a warm sunny evening! We also had Ty Gwyn cider, VQ Country Wines sporting their new swanky designer labels with the same great quality fruit wines still inside and Wye Valley Brewery. Parva Farm Vineyard were there too, showing a good selection of their Welsh wine from the terroir of Tintern  – some great news for Judith and Colin lately in that Marks & Spencer have taken their award winning Bacchus white wine into stock. We couldn’t resist a tasting stop at the amply stocked Chase Distillery stand either – hic!

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Adding to the ambience were the great aromas of James’ Gourmet Coffee brewing constantly in the background, Rayeesa’s Kitchen homemade curry sauce bases simmering away in the tasting pot and fabulous charcuterie cooking on the hot plate from the guys over at Native Breeds. Smarts Gloucestershire Cheeses seem to be essential to any successful food and drink event and no matter how many times you’ve tasted their Gloucester’s before, resistance is futile! Celia’s Pantry was on hand to dispense Caribbean inspired tangy chutney flavours to go with it all.

For dessert there were two great ice cream makers were there Kelsmor Dairy and Hillbrooks Luxury Ice Cream with their own distinctive flavours – all of course available for tasting. The Chocolate Bar had a dazzling array of beautiful handmade chocolates to tempt the palate for that sumptuous finish.

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The timing of the event is driven by the original concept to put producers and tourism association and other local buyers together before the busy Easter season and we think that that makes a lot of sense. A little later mind you and Whitemead would have been thronging with visitors to increase the footfall for the traders and give visitors a fantastic showcase of the produce and the ability to stock up the holiday larders both for their stay and to take home.

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The Venue is a great place for this event although perversely Whitemead don’t actually signpost the halls location at the site entrances which makes things difficult for new conference visitors. The public parking there is also very restrictive (the design and concept of the site envisaged all of the visitor cars being spread out over the whole site outside respective holiday lodges, caravans or tents).  We spoke to Mike Carter (centre manager) who had already identified this issue as a growth limiting factor for this and other conference events. He’s on the case he assures us.

Does this new event conflict with the hugely popular Forest Showcase event in the autumn fields of the Speech House Hotel  www.thespeechhouse.co.uk (Peter Hands and his chef from the hotel were there and actively looking for new local suppliers – featured image)? Not according to John Theophilus of the Tourism Association. “We developed this idea primarily as a trade show for producers to meet buyers from the local economy and tourism sector – and we think that it has worked extremely well! We are delighted so many members of the public came along too as it helps to spread the word about the great work being done in our tourism sector. This incidentally adds a great deal to the local economy. It’s events such as this that make you realise how widespread the influence of a thriving tourism economy can be to the whole local economy”.

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Overall we loved the concept and thought that, for a first year launch event, it was a real bonus to the local food and drink network. We would definitely have liked to have seen even more buy-in from local businesses – every tourism association member and every pub in the area were sent invitations and we think all of them should have attended!

We know only too well that profit margins for local businesses are always tight and the drive for economy in purchasing is a constant pressure on small business. Small artisan producers make up for this lack of “scale costs” with bags of flavour, localism, innovation and skill. This added value is demonstrated nowhere better than in the tourism sector because those values produce a cash sales equivalent and really register with visitors who want to buy local great produce.

If you run a business selling food and drink, why not follow the lead of the Tourism Association and look for one new local supplier today? Let us know how you get on, we’d love to tell your local collaboration story.

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ANZAC Day beer special and The 3rd Gloucester CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival

beer, CAMRA, real ale, craft ale, ANZAC,

If you happen to be an Australian or a New Zealander, you’ll already know that 25th April is a very special day in the antipodean calendar. It is ANZAC Day and the remembrance of Australians and Kiwi’s who have died in conflict, this is a day deep in the down under psyche. Originally a day to remember those of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) who died in the failed attempt to capture the Gallipoli peninsula from the Ottoman Empire in April 1915 during the First World War. It was the first occasion that the joint expeditionary force took heavy casualties in that war and as such it has, ever since, been an important day for both nations.

beer, CAMRA, real ale, craft ale, ANZAC,
Hillsides special ANZAC beer for the 3rd Gloucester CAMRA Festival

Now though, ANZAC Day has come to be a more general day of remembrance for the dead and all of those who suffered in all campaigns and Aussies and Kiwi’s, wherever they are in the world, hold this day dear. In the UK there will be major events at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and  I don’t think that I’ll ever forget the emotional tension at the ANZAC Day memorial at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium a couple of years ago.

Essex Farm, copyrighted, war,
Essex Farm dressing station

And given that the dates of the 3rd CAMRA Gloucester Beer & Cider Festival coincide with ANZAC Day, and…the nominated festival charity is the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal, our great friends and beer geniuses over at Hillside Brewery have come up with their own fitting tribute. Quite fitting that such a sombre day is being marked by the creation of something many of those from the southern hemisphere would appreciate very much – a great beer. Personally, I think that it is a great, and touching, opportunity to commemorate ANZAC Day and in doing so to help out the charity, based in this country, which has similar goals and very close links with the ANZAC associations.

The beer will be officially launched upon us at the festival, being held at the impressive Blackfriars venue, Gloucester. We had exclusive access to the new ANZAC beer and spent a very pleasant hour conducting a very in-depth and scientific tasting session whilst sitting in our shorts outside on a glorious spring day in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley.

Fosters – it is not! This is a full bodied craft ale from Paul, Derek, Will and the boys. We served it slightly chilled – it being “scorchio” at tasting HQ – and although it has body it tasted light and refreshing, with clear citrus tones and with mango coming through onto the palate. As the beer warmed in the sun, those flavours persisted throughout the tasting, as did the fabulous hop aroma you would expect from a Craft Special beer from Hillside. That hop flavour and aroma is created using British Challenger for the bittering blended, very fittingly, with Galaxy (passion fruit and citrus) and Rakua (more tropical fruit aromas) from Australia and New Zealand for that long lasting aroma.

All in all, we thought it was a fantastic beer. It’s sad when you recall the story behind it but we think that all those ANZAC’s from back in the day would have appreciated the sentiment in their honour so make sure you try at least one – especially on the 25th.

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The 3rd CAMRA Gloucester Beer & Cider Festival kicks off proper on Friday 24th April and then you have to go back and do it all again on the 25th! Full information is on their website at http://www.gloucesterbeerfestival.org.uk/ and of course there is more information about all the beers from the Hillside stable at www.hillsidebrewery.com who also offer brewery tours and brewery experience days.

The product shot is a compilation done by us here in the WyeDean Deli Confidential studio. The back drop is a poppy cut into mild steel from the Essex Farm Dressing Station memorial site and the foreground is a shot of the battlefield debris as it would have looked and currently on display in the Tyne Cot Cemetery visitor centre, both of which are in the countryside around Ypres, Belgium

Official Brewery Tasting Notes:

On the nose is tropical fruit, pineapple and mango. The flavour is a full bodied, tropical fruit flavour with passion fruit, mango and pineapple with a caramel malt backbone with a slightly dry finish – leaving you wanting more. We have used Challenger which is a British hop for the bittering and Galaxy and Rakau from Australia and New Zealand for the flavour and aroma. 

Raglan Castle cafe

The Raglan Castle Café is named for it’s proximity to the imposing 15th century monument rather than because of it’s being a part of it. The café itself is situated a 3 minute walk from the castle, in a small beautiful red brick complex at the rear of the castle known as the Mews. The Mews is a mini commercial hub with Bens Bakes, an on-site bakery (supplying the café’s bread and cakes as well as a butchers). News had reached us of the particularly good homemade soups – the very definition of hearty we were told. Who could we send to research this café with stunning views from the terrace over the surrounding farmland looking northwards? Only really one option, time to put The Mamil’s to work!

Raglan cafe

We know that their sophisticated palates don’t really get going until they’ve been through their usual cycling warm up routine of umpteen road miles on the highways and byways of Britain. And so our merry band of cake engineers will talk about the nice easy cycle rides from Monmouth or Abergavenny but we all know they will taking one of the three steep climbs straight out of the Wye Valley. In places these climbs Whitebrook, Catbrook and the Angiddy valleys can be steep up to the village of Llanishen. The boys say it’s downhill to Raglan after that. Caution here though because their idea of downhill may not necessarily be ours. Oh, and they suggest a loop route, to make the ride longer, via Usk. I don’t think we need to be Dave Brailsford (legendary Sky Cycling and England Cycling Team leader) to know which they opted for.

Raglan cafe

Alison who has run the café for the last four years needs to be on her game. The boys have refined expectations of good coffee and good cake. Dennis (the wee guy in the Ross jersey) is the legend of the group. At 84 years old he still holds the Welsh record for the 12 hour time trial and 168 miles on the roads around Raglan. Oh, and he’s in training now and hoping to improve on his time in next event so he’ll have his usual large cappuccino and a nice piece of cake!

We’ll start with the Illy coffee and barista machine, which churns out good espresso, cappuccino and Americano coffees. There are tea’s from “builders” to refined. On offer from the patisserie is a daily selection (from Bens Bakes as above) of great cakes in a variety of flavours. The coffee and walnut being popular but by far the best seller is the carrot Bara brith (fabulous spread with butter) for a traditional Welsh afternoon tea – or any time you fancy really.

Raglan cafe

All the soups are home made by a very nice local lady and supplied to the café. There are normally seven or eight choices and they are super tasty and hearty! On today’s soup menu were great old fashioned favourites like ham and pea, country vegetable, my favourite – leek and potato together with some nice spicier alternative like sweet potato and apple and tomato and red pepper and carrot and coriander. The soups change whenever the last of it runs out and all of are served with fresh crusty bread and butter.

Raglan cafe

The café is open seven days a week and is an ideal spot to re-fuel, break up your day out or to just while away an hour in the glorious Welsh countryside. Great coffee, great cake and great hearty soups and lots of friendly staff  – what’s not to like?

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