5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer & Cider Festival – Blackfriars Priory.

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,

 

Amidst the background buzz of the conversation of friends and fellow beer and cider enthusiasts alike, the names of quality craft ale and ciders from great small producers punctuated the hubbub like little siren calls in the glorious afternoon sunshine. These sirens shouts popped out of the hum filling the square and rooms of the festival like echoes as those lucky people drinking great craft ale and cider mulled over the taste and colour of the cup presently under consumption.

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,
Ready to go at Blackfriars Priory.

There cannot be a grander, more historic place to hold a festival to celebrate the great taste of craft beers and cider. Where once the harmonic utterings of Dominican friars echoed around the ancient quadrangle – now lovers of beer and cider, studied the form of the festival card. Some with a plan of just which beers they hoped to sample in half or third measures and some with a more randomised approach.

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,
Runners and Riders. 5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival, Blackfriars Priory.

Good beer and good conversation are made for each other. Beers were sipped and sampled, occasionally exchanged for taste, held skyward for  comparison of their amber hues now illuminated in the bright blue of the glorious city centre Friday. The combination of the buzz and the wonderful acoustics of the priory square filtered out just about all noise from the city that is wrapped around this ancient monument.

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,
Early Doors on Day One. 5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival, Blackfriars Priory.

It’s a true oasis in Gloucester city life insulated from the noise and traffic smell of the workday commuting. Friday welcomes many local CAMRA members and beer lovers from further afield. Many locals had used their GL residents cards to proudly claim the discounts on offer but all were glad to be back in the Cathedral to Beer now in its fifth year and fast becoming part of the history of the city itself.

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,
Stag Day starter. 5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival, Blackfriars Priory.

Wye Valley Brewery were one of the the main event sponsors bringing the fabulous Lady Marmalade, Daisy Duke and their HPA, Chepstow’s Baa Brewery where there with a best bitter and , in this anniversary period of the crossings,  Two Bridges. The great forest brewer, Hillside were here of course with a couple of light beers, HCL and a new brew Don’t Stop.

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,
Basking in the Spring sunshine. 5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival, Blackfriars Priory.

The chosen charity for the event this year was the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge and their events manager David was on hand to tell everyone about the charity but with strict instructions not to sign up any new members under the influence. That would have been a good  night wouldn’t it, to wake in the fug from the night before only to realise that somehow, you had become a member! It’s a great charity, with a great restaurant incidentally, and very close to our hearts so well done Gloucester Beer & Cider Festival.

Spring sunshine at the 5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival historic Blackfriars Priory.

Beer festivals aren’t a headlong dash into oblivion and debauchery. They are an appreciation and days of revelry mixed with self-education and shared passions, particularly Fridays, which seems to attract many more CAMRA members. Here there is a like-minded convivial group with whom to shared passions for the craft of beer and cider and the industry and skill of small producers across the country.

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,
Ten deep at the bar. 5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival, Blackfriars Priory.

Whatever their style all sampled and tasted a fabulous range from Porter through session to light craft beers by breweries such as…….For lovers of the apple, great names and great ciders abounded. Many single varieties were in evidence like Gwatkins’ Yarlington Mill and Weston’s with County Perry.

Visitors ranged from far and wide. Many travelling in by train or with designated driver from the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley and
even a large group from the states visiting Gloucestershire for the first time had heard about the festival and called to check it out and sample the beers on offer.

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,
5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival, Blackfriars Priory.

Those in need of sustenance had burgers and hotdogs available in the quadrangle and a really well stocked cheese bar in the refectory. Well stocked and well-chosen with some great local cheeses on offer including our own favourite Charles Martell Gloucester. Accompaniments included chutney and celery and fabulous pickled eggs made near Stroud.

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,
Dinosaur eggs for sale with cheese. 5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival, Blackfriars Priory.

Finally some post-match stats for you hot off the press from the organisers. Over 1700 people attended over the two days, with 90 and 92% sales on beer and Cider/Perry respectively – a great success for a great event!

beer, festival, craft, ale, beer, cider, perry, blackfriars, wyedeandeliconfidential, david broadbent photography,
5th CAMRA Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival, Blackfriars Priory.

Voting for best beers went as follows: IN reverse order ladies and gentleman, boys and girls in third place Imperial Porter. In second place Millionaire Stout and the winner of Best Beer of the Festival went to Stouty McStoutface from Mad Dog Brewing in Monmouthshire.

All three winners being dark stouts and porters (we started the day with half of Old Moor Porter from Acorn Brewing) is a really interesting indication of where the craft beer market is going.

It’s research Jim, but not as we know it: 

Read our previous article on the event here

Watch our time-lapse of the set up here

http://www.gloucesterbeerfestival.org.uk/

Twitter @GlosBeerFest

Beer Festival Facebook page

The Monmouthshire Food Festival 2017

 

Food Festivals are great fun and, quite rightly, big and very good news. Especially in this fabulous area in which we live, stuffed full as it is with great produce, makers and eateries. So don’t miss The Monmouthshire Food Festival on 20th to 21st May 2017 at Caldicot Castle. Monmouthshire has some outstanding producers and makers (many of which have featured in this magazine) and so The Monmouthshire Food Festival is definitely an unmissable food event. There’s a full programme of demonstrations, talks, tastings and lots of food and drink to try and buy.

The Chef’s Theatre always features many of the finest chefs from across Monmouthshire. They will showcase the finest food the county has to offer in dishes that show both flair and imagination, a positive treat for the taste buds. The Look and Learn Theatre features master classes, tutored tastings and demonstrations on a wide range of food and drinks. Meet the people who really know about the food on offer, the producers.

Bring the kids too. The Children’s Quarter will have lots of activities for our young foodies to enjoy with one or two surprises! Browse the Producers Market which will have stalls with many different products to try and buy. Come and taste beer brewed just a mile from the festival or take home locally made preserves made from foraged fruit.

 

This year the supported charity Guides Dogs for the Blind. Staff and dogs from the charity will be on hand offering visitors a chance to get up close to a guide dog or puppy and find out more about their vital work – and of course help out with a small donation. So don’t miss this event. A food event packed with great tasting food, top tips and help with “how to” sessions it’s going to be fab! All set in the glorious surroundings of Caldicot Castle and grounds.

How about a family picnic in the glorious Caldicot Castle Country Park with delicious food and drink from the food festival? So why not take an empty picnic basket with you and buy your picnic at the show, find yourself a great spot in the castel grounds and dine like Lords and Ladies?  

 

The Queens Head Micro pub, Chepstow

Queens Head micro pub
Lights back on at the Queens Head

 

On the face of it the last thing Chepstow needed a couple of years go in the high street economic climate of the day was another pub. Why then is Glen Ellis’ Queens Heads micropub on Moor Street in this quiet border town, still going strong?

In an age when reality TV delivers anything but reality, people have become jaundiced by tripe served as prime beef steak. This group of people, who are largely immune to advertising, are known by the red spectacle wearing advertising crowd, as the Millennial Generation. Traditional methods of advertising conjury don’t work on this group – a phenomenon so worrying to TV market traders that actual scientific research has been done into this disconcerting group. They are sometimes defined as “native digital” (Forbes magazine) and the first generation to have grown up with digital communication and social media rather than mainstream media. But, whatever age you are, you may be one of them.

People don’t change and they know genuine when they see it. And you could never accuse this great little pub tucked into the row just above the town gate and next to the Police Station of being anything other than good and honest! Walk into the single room bar and it feels like a pub. The wooden bar, tables and seats have the homely warm glow that only good old solid wood can offer, a rough timber post props up the roof while a ramshackle shelf, just about, holds thick tomes on craft beer. The timber floor leads to a decoratively carved bar and the bare stone walls are decorated in beer mats and other treatise to drink good beer. The pub strap line is the famous Hunter S. Thompson quote “Good people drink good beer” – I thank you.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micropub

There’s a good reason for all this architectural pub bonhomie. It’s in the building DNA.  It was The Queen’s Head for many years but was closed as a pub for about 20 years (it had a midlife crisis and became a hairdresser, clothes shop and an office in the intervening years). Glen found it on the property website Rightmove and fell in love with it and the town of Chepstow. Having secured the change of use back to a pub he has just sort of revived it in a way, brought it back to life with a real ale defibrillator in a craft beer paramedic kind of a way. The bar is actually an old church altar, Glen purchased before ever finding an actual venue for his dream micro pub.  The carving IHS in the middle stands for the first 3 letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. The Alpha symbol on the left stands for the first, and the Omega symbol on the right for the last. So, ladies and gentlemen, please step up to the altar of great Welsh beer.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micropub

In many ways what you see today is the manifestation of Glen’s lifelong dream. Now 34 years old and married to Catherine with a 9 month old daughter called Ivy, Glen has worked in pubs since university days. Back in the day when you could choose how you spent the student grant, Glen invested very wisely in an appreciation of good beer and he’s had – important word here – passion for Real Ale ever since.  After university Glen worked at his mum and dads (The Tower Hotel in Talgarth), running the public bar for them which is where all of that academic research became practical experience and customer service.

Don’t get the idea that this is some sort of beardy man cave though. This is a pub for all, young old, couples, workers – all are welcome and the common denominator is that they like a proper pub for proper people who like their beer to be interesting and taste of something. We chatted to Jon at the bar during “early doors” on Friday. He owns Toytastic the toyshop nearby and calls in for a pint after work. OK, he has got a beard, but otherwise he’s largely normal and very charming. Mike runs Trans Wales Trails, horseback trail riding based near Pengenffordd at the foot of the Black Mountains. He is a regular customer in my Mum and Dads pub at Talgarth where Glen learned his trade craft in working a bar. Mike always calls in on his occasional visits to Chepstow from the hills above Pengenffordd .There’s a northern saying that you can’t stand in a pub there for more than a minute without someone talking to you. At the Queens Head – make that a few seconds and after a few seconds more the regulars will also be congratulating you on your discerning choice of hostelry and telling you what a great pub this is.

Queens Head micropub
Queens Head micropub

Generally and not unreasonably being situated in Wales, Glen offers a wide and ever changing range of beers and ciders from the home nation. He’s a bit of an authority on small Welsh beers in fact and something of an almanac on the breweries they are made in. There’s a “when it’s gone, it’s changed” approach to stock and the result is a roving travelogue of Welsh craft beer, ably assisted and illustrated by a chalk board map of Wales hanging on the wall. It’s not all about Welsh beer though and when the context allows – like the Six Nations Rugby you’ll find suitably partisan guest beers from your own backyard.

There is of course good beer and cider, a warm and genuine welcome from a knowledgeable and enthusiastic landlord and great Welsh beers. But, there is something here that not all pubs have got. There was good conversation at the bar with nice and interesting people. You could hear what was being said because there’s no “musak” or escalating irritating digital pings or distracting light show from a Tardis in the corner offering Las Vegas style riches at the pull of a handle.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

There are difficult choices of where to start given the range of beers on offer. You could of course go the logical/analytical route and start on the left working your way across during the night or, more responsibly, you could opt for the Queens Head beer tapas. Tapas (sampling the beers in third of pint measures) will be familiar to anyone who has been to a big beer festival, like the upcoming CAMRA Gloucester event (article coming soon). It helps you sample several new beers, without turning the evening into a train wreck. We tried Grey Trees’ JPR, a very nice IPA beer from the Cynon Valley of South Wales (Cynon Valley lies between Rhondda and the Merthyr Valley).

In Italy all bars offer “Aperitvo” to the early evening crowd, often vying with neighbouring bars for the reputation of the best or tastiest. It’s just a complimentary selection of tasty nibbles to go with a few drinks after work. It suits the Italian psyche of food at every opportunity, enjoyment, talking and above all – welcome. The Queens Head does it Gwent style with short dated food on the “offers” shelf from Marks & Spencer’s across the road – plump and tasty sausage rolls the night we were in!

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

When the new M & S opened about a year ago, regulars from the pub started doing their bit to reduce the food waste mountain by bringing in reduced price bargains to share out amongst the other patrons. Thus, the Yellow Label Club was born. In the Queens, as all over Italy, competition has set in and the goal to find the item with the greatest reduction is now a grudge match. Currently in the lead is another Mike who found a Banquet Pie reduced from £25 to £2.50.

There is a movement to “Save our Pubs”, a fine cause and never a more relevant sentiment than now. You can do your bit too – by drinking in them! Occasional aperitivo is one other way the Queens rolls out the welcome carpet. Saving pubs is important because we are only just now realising that the plight of all those great pubs, now gone, was a litmus, a precursor to what’s now happening in our high streets.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

Going for a beer is many things. Going for a quick beer after work is a specific thing. It’s an opportunity to unwind and put the working day behind you before going home to family. Psychologists would say that it’s a chance for the brain to compartmentalise whatever has happened in the day as “work”, provide a clear separation between work and home and also to stop you boring the pants off the family with tales of the widget you made today that mysteriously appeared with the face of Jesus on it.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

Perhaps though the Millennial Generation should be redefined? Perhaps they are in realty just a group of cross-generational discerning men and women who use their powers of research to seek out places like the Queens Head they heard about on the grapevine, who don’t need the hype but instead rely on their own ability to go there and use their eyes and quality of judgement to recognize the real deal when they see it.

Queens Head micropub
Queens Head micropub

We’ll be writing all of our Grand Tour Wye Valley postcards from here in the future…..

Head over to Glen’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/queensheadchepstow/ and hit the “Like” button to support the pub. If you are part of the Twitterati – you’ll need this  @QueensChepstow you know what to do.

12 Moor Street, Chepstow. Call 07793 889613

Wassailing Again

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,
Pete Symonds as The Butler

Forest of Dean legend Pete Symonds has finally hung up his wassailing top hat and waistcoat and handed the baton to his successor. For many years Pete has performed the role of Butler at wassailing’s all over the Forest of Dean and beyond. From Twelfth Night onwards his “master of ceremonies” confident baritone voice could be heard ringing around the counties orchards and apple barns. Wishing everyone “Wassail!!” and educating as many of us as possible in the process. But all great things change and Pete is moving on. There couldn’t have been a better bookend to our recent Wassailing piece at Apple County Cider’s Monmouthshire orchards.

In the foulest of weathers well and truly off the Beaufort scale, Pete’s bonhomie was sorely needed for the hardy bunch who had braved the winds and the stair-rod rain of storm Imogen. The resultant flooding which had turned the valley road into a lake and the inclined road to Ragmans Lane Farm into a mountain stream that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Iceland! But brave it the bunch did to see Pete on his Butler’s best form for his last ever wassailing.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,

Ragmans Lane Farm is a 60 acre site around a cluster of farmhouse and outbuildings. It is a beacon of permaculture farming training as well as offering a myriad of complimentary agricultural courses. Matt Dunwell, who has owned and run the farm since 1990 had (in the circumstances) set aside the Mushroom Shed for an indoor ceremony – much to everyone’s relief.  Once inside the Mushroom Shed, all the visitors began to overheat under the many layers they had assumed necessary and quickly started shedding outer layers of fleece and down jackets before hanging them on the rack by the door. From the other side of the room the sweet smell of mulled Ragmans apple juice wafted from stove top pots and there was a jug of Kingstone Black cider on hand to fuel the crowd and prime Ragmans own wassailing bowl. In the centre of the shed was an apple tree in a pot. The very healthy looking sapling was very nicely decorated by Matt’s team, who had also provided straw bale seating around the edge of the room, but it was nevertheless an anti-climax.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,
Ragmans apples

Don’t misunderstand; the crowd were in good spirits. Pete was imparting about 0.01% of his local knowledge to a couple sipping on Kingstone Black transfixed by his enthusiasm and .com-like access to anything anyone ever wanted to know about wassailing, apples, cider, orchards……Really, someone should record Pete Symonds!

The folk music track of The Life of Riley band of Morris and Penny (the latter being, Pete’s accomplished and now blooded successor) set the scene against the chatting crowd, waiting for proceedings to begin. Impatient for action, the kids had already started and were careering around the cider apple tree centrepiece in a dizzying blur. Matt suggested that we all brave the weather for the traditional orchard procession. Cue furtive glances out of the windows and door and he didn’t, let’s say, have the most enthusiastic take up. But with overwhelming enthusiasm, and his offer of wellingtons to anyone without, the crowd had nowhere to go but the orchard.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,

Just what it all needed really. Although now wet and windswept the assembled “good healthers” exhaled their collective sighs relief at being out of the storm and the rest of the ceremony continued in the welcome warm and dry.  Good music, lots of singing, party poppers (to represent the traditional shotgun noise), adorning the tree with toast, all handed out by the wassailing “fair maiden” and the blessing for the health and wealth of the orchard for the coming year and the ceremony was bought to a close so that the Ceilidh could begin.

Bringing the wassailing year to a close, and in a final personal and heartfelt thanks, Matt paid tribute to Pete Symonds’ contribution to the Ragmans harvest and ethos in the many wassails conducted at the farm. There were attempts to get him to commit to one last year, but to me he did not look like he was going to budge on retirement.

And the anti-climactic sapling – well that will takes its place in the orchard planted in Pete’s honour as a thank you.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,

Wassail!!

wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,

 

Lots of fun being invited to the very first Apple County Cider wassail ceremony at the cider orchards at Newcastle in Monmouthshire at the weekend. For this inaugural event, there was a modest but very enthusiastic crowd too on a cold, but stunningly beautiful, Monmouthshire day. Just a short walk from the roadside car parking and we were into the orchard proper. Stark and bare at this time of year the orchard was mid-winter prune but the mistletoe was on full power with bright white gelatinous berries glinting in the afternoon sun.

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Penny Plowden. The Butler. Wassail with Apple County Cider

Wassailing is a one of those fabulous pagan ceremonies that date back thousands of years. The name Wassail is thought to originate either from the old Norse Scandinavian language “Ves heil” or the old English “Was hal” in either case a hearty toast to good health. Mix in a little bit of medieval German drinking tradition and, well anyway you get the picture…Fabulous English pagan tradition that Christianity (like so many of our other traditional ceremonies) put up with, adopted and adapted.

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Dogs can Wassail too.

Wassailing is a ceremony to wake up the trees from their long winter snooze and to give them life and vigour just as spring is about to spring (very early as it happens this year). Actually, the history of it is far more complicated than that it would seem  with any number of geographical variations. Wassail, is more accurately, the name for hot mulled cider drink which accompanies the festivities and Ben & Steph Culpin had a large pot of their cider on the burner with their secret mulling recipe on a gentle simmer. The smell of the mulled cider on the breeze was just fantastic.

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Wassail with Apple County Cider

No pagan tradition seems complete without a tipple or indeed music, singing and generally being pretty hopeful that, you, having a good time and paying respect to nature will pay off with a bumper harvest. You start to see the attraction of paganism….? On accordion the magnificently bearded Morris Wintle played some lovely traditional music and with him (as Life of Riley folk band partner), Penny Plowden, in her own very first act of, master of ceremony of the wassail, led the singing and read the traditional wassail texts. Dressed in her black school teachers gown and blazer with top hat decorated with ribbon and of course, the traditional black face (no-one seems sure why, but probably just a notional “disguise”).

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Wassail with Apple County Cider

And so, what could be nicer than a couple of hours outdoors in a fabulous orchard, drinking mulled cider, respecting tradition and having some exercise with a processional walk around the orchard behind the band. We wished everyone “good health” and drank a tipple to, hopefully, a great harvest and another great year for this young but fast becoming famous Welsh craft cider maker.

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Wassail with Apple County Cider

The band and the crowd moved on to The Bell at Skenfrith where to the musical score provided by the Life of Reilly in Ceilidh music and dancing mode the pagan well-wishers dined on confit belly pork, mash and cider jus or roasted sweet potato, apple, chestnut and blue cheese pie followed by apple crumble or apple tarte tatin.

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Cider maker Ben Culpin. Wassail with Apple County Cider

Exclusive – New Single Variety

Not everything that tastes fantastic looks fabulous.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall wrote a great piece, intended to compliment another of his insightful food investigation programmes, for the BBC recently. It was unequivocally about food waste. The waste caused domestically was examined but one of the other main themes was about perfectly good vegetables that go straight from farm to skip! Why? They aren’t pretty enough for the supermarkets root vegetable fashion parade and ever present size and shape guidelines. Interestingly echoing the same point we made out in why the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley is a bit like Tuscany piece.

We spent a great morning, albeit an early start on a misty October dawn, in Monmouthshire with Apple County Cider inspecting and photographing the individual apples for their single variety Dabinett and Vilberie award winning ciders – and they have the Golden Fork Great Taste trophy to prove it!

Apple varieties. Apple County Cider
Apple varieties. Apple County Cider

If you have ever been to a craft cider producers you will know that any preconceived romantic notions of wooden barrels, rickety small outbuildings and ancient machinery are , well just romantic. More likely is a somewhat more workaday air – which incidentally, we here at WyeDean Deli Confidential are hopelessly romantic about anyway. The raw materials don’t get much better in the fashion stakes either. Cider making varieties, taste sharp and sometimes very dry (Dabinett has a dessert apple flavour at first with a very dry note on the back of the palate) and they look anything but appealing. They are small, perfectly formed – but small, and the cider maker doesn’t care much for how they look – scabby, with chunks missing is just fine. Piled up in the cider yard they look for all the world like a Waitrose sound stage back lot of the extras that didn’t quite get the Director’s nod. We watched them getting their first wash of the process from the elevated water contents of a large mechanical digger bucket from about ten feet high. It made them glisten but they still looked about as far away from a dessert apple as you can get.

But the skilled cider maker, as Ben Culpin has already proved himself (against stiff national competition) to be, can see the whole Act and Play and not just Scene 1. Ben is interested in the backstory and the bitter-sweet sub-plots, essential if you are intending to make a block-buster with appeal and longevity rather than a B movie. It’s the complex taste and personality, not the look, that is in demand. It’s a bit like, instead of casting Hale Berry in the female lead you choose ______________, sorry we bottled offending anyone – so insert your own suggestions in the space provided!

Ben Culpin. Apple County Cider
Ben Culpin. Apple County Cider

Tell you what Ben, don’t go for the easy option of using any apples you can get and then blending. Why not try and make stunning single variety ciders and a perry in a traditional method and then trying wowing the public and cider glitterati and winning national awards for your work? Oh, you did that already! Anyway, there is the crux of it. It’s all about the taste. In Ben’s and Steph Culpins’ case, the quality of the taste of the craft product they are happy to call Apple County Cider.

Apple varieties. Apple County Cider
Apple varieties. Apple County Cider

It is sometimes frustrating (identifying cider apples can be a very nuanced hobby!) but always very rewarding to see the varieties in the growers orchard. The difficulty of identification can be easily demonstrated by “Googling” images for any apple variety and trying to work which, of the half dozen different results, is the right one! WyeDean Deli Confidential always brings you the news and back story to makers, growers and suppliers. Although we can’t say too much, we think that there may be news in the not too distant future of a possible new variety from the Apple County Cider yard……Exclusive alert!! You didn’t hear it from us but we think that a single variety Yarlington Mill cider will soon be added to the Apple County stable. If you do, and we recommend you do, visit their cider shop you’ll find all the same great taste in farmyard chic but always remember it’s really about the taste. Stock up for the holidays.

Apple varieties. Apple County Cider
Steph Culpin. Apple County Cider

 

Food Pairing Update

As an update to our blog of 18th August about the, then upcoming, Food and Beer Pairing event hosted by Harts Barn Cookery School and Hillside Brewery we caught up with Paul Williamson and Yvette Farrell to see how it all went.

Paul; the evening was a great success, with lovely feedback from our 40 visitors. The atmosphere was great too, very lively with great food and beer, with a fun interactive pub quiz based on beer throughout the evening.  Derek Orford, Master Brewer & Beer Sommelier, kept everyone entertained and informed with his wisdom and deep knowledge discussing the beer and food pairing. The food of course, (menu and food created by the talented Yvette Farrell) was a complete hit! Check out the menu in our previous blog post Food & Drink Pairing

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Unashamed plug time

Paul says; Hillside is an exciting brewery running green sustainable brewing methods with a wide range of beer & craft ales. It’s a family owned and run company, based in the Forest of Dean on a stunning 40 acre farm. We opened in May 2014 and have since received over 16 awards. We offer Brewery tours & tasting, team building days including additional fun activities, cookery classes and more! We also have an onsite shop selling our beers, merchandise, and local produce such as wine and chutneys and even beer ice cream! We are the perfect location for the perfect day out! We pride ourselves in producing high quality ales in small batches of the finest ingredients using traditional methods which have been developed and mastered over a lifetime. We want to change people’s perception of beer and what can be achieved. We are dedicated to sustainable brewing and we want to share our passion for great beer with you.
Yvette; Harts Barn Cookery School launched in 2011 and have gone from strength to strength. We believe in the ‘socialisation’ of food, bringing people together whether they are learning a new skill in the kitchen to sitting down and enjoying the fruits of their labours. Most of all though, we believe in the food, the freshness, the quality, the flavours, the localism and above all, great ingredients cooked simply to produce the finest plate from the Forest & Wye.

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Upcoming Events for food and beer lovers.

Check out both websites for full events listings this autumn and winter.

Have a beer and warm your cockles by the fire – Hillside bonfire night on Friday 6th
November, Christmas Market 5th and 6th December and a Christmas carol service on Friday 18th December.

Harts Barn have published their Supper Club schedule with “Indian and the 80’s” on 30th October, “Asian Flavours” on 27th November, Traditional Christmas Supper – several dates and a homage to the apple at their Wassail on 15th January 2016.

 

 

Very tasty! New single variety Perry launched.

 

Ben and Steph Culpin over at Apple County Cider have been working really hard to consolidate the Whitehouse Farm brand of traditionally made cider. And their latest addition to the range is a beautiful single variety Perry. The award winner cider maker, Ben Culpin, is on a mission to put Monmouthshire back on the cider making map as one of the top apple counties. And he’s not doing too badly already! Ben and Steph have previously scooped the “silverware” at the Welsh Cider and Perry Championships. And now their Vilberie dry cider beat off 10,000 entries to be named as one of Britain’s Top 50 Foods in the Great Taste 2015 awards. Apple County success in these awards, run as a blind tasting by some of the food industry’s most sensitive palates puts them in with a chance of winning the Great Taste Golden Fork award to be announced on 7th September.

 

Apple County Cider from Monmouthshire.
Apple County Cider from Monmouthshire.

 

 

We’ll be running an in depth feature on Apple County later in the year but for now, Ben and Steph welcome visitors to the farm in the picturesque village of Skenfrith situated in the beautiful county of Monmouthshire. Or you can buy cider from them online. Just visit the website for more details.

Apple County Cider new Perry
Apple County Cider Perry

 

 

Hillside Brewery goes from ABV to ABV

 

We were lucky enough to be invited to the launch of several new Hillside Brewery products last night! And what a very nice evening it was. Paul Williamson introduced three new products from his ever popular and ever growing brewery on the hill at Longhope, Gloucestershire.

Proof that Paul has Hillside Brewery written right through him.

Firstly we had the new HCL craft lager – that’s right lager – (4.3% ABV), served only slightly chilled so that all of the fabulous fruit aromas could come through. Next up, The Forest Falcon (4.6% ABV), a lovely golden ale with hints of spice and cherries. And, finally we had the introduction of Hillsides first foray into cider making with the HR8 & GL17  (6.4% ABV), a traditional cloudy farmhouse cider with a tangy, dry sharpness made from 100% apples – a real treat and one to watch for sure.

As Paul gave a presentation on the new products and chatted informally about them, family and staff from the brewery made sure that everyone’s glasses were charged to accompany the tasting notes. Here then, was a masterclass for the assembled beer aficionado’s in the production of craft ales (and now cider) from the beer geniuses up on the hill.

Paul Williamson launches new beers launch at Hillside Brewery.
Tasting and nibbles in the run up to presentations.

Also on hand to add even more interest to this very educational event was Mark Andrews from Charles Faram, hop factors, growers and merchants. Mark followed a short presentation with a lively Q&A session particularly on the new world beating experimental hops in development at the Herefordshire Farm. The Forest Falcon is the very first beer to use these hops in a commercial product!!

Paul Williamson launches new beers launch at Hillside Brewery.
Lively and informal Q&A session.

Paul Williamson finished the presentations with a quick recap of the last year at the Gloucestershire brewery (Hillside recently turned 1) before teasing the audience with the plans for the next 12 months. Plans, which included a home brewing completion where the winner will get to brew their winning recipe at Hillside! Paul and his team have already been tipped as one of the country’s top 4 new breweries to watch by a leading beer writer and this evening did nothing to dent our confidence that this is a craft producer going places.

But enough with education; Paul finished with the, all important and oft neglected, health benefits of beer drinking (in moderation) before the bread and cheese and a few more beer and cider tastings. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Tuesday evening.

Paul Williamson launches new beers launch at Hillside Brewery.
Relaxed atmosphere in the barn.

If you, or anyone you know, have been affected by reading this article and being missed off the invitation list for this launch event, make sure that you follow Paul and his endeavours via the web and their social media and I’m sure in return, you’ll get invited to the next one…..

 https://www.facebook.com/hillsidebrewery?fref=ts

https://twitter.com/Hillsidebrewery

#deanwye #craftale #craftcider

The Marches Delicatessen – Nevill Street, Abergavenny.

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenny, cheese,

 

We aren’t experts! Let’s get that cleared up straight away, but, and this is just our opinion, there are several key elements to running a cheese shop! First, one needs a shop and some cheese – self evidently and preferably, it should be very good cheese. Next, one needs a person – but not just any person! A person who truly knows about cheese (not gained from an in-house training course or gleaned via product notes) , but whose passion  about cheese … well … over flows. There is a type of knowledge you only get when you hit the buffers and realise that you don’t know something. This spurs you on to investigate and to research and learn, as well as appreciate and test. This type of enlightenment is what we like to call “bicycle knowledge”. Bicycle knowledge, once obtained, never leaves you, it never grows old or out of date, it’s even immune from the cruel ravages of ages.  Like great cheese itself, this knowledge matures.

Bankers in general, or anyone who “worked in the city”, often get a bad press. Gordon, Fred and the crew have a lot to answer for I’m sure! But that in no way speaks about the men and women, like you and I, whose occupation happened to be in the biggest and best financial centre in the world. However, there comes a time though when people want more.

How do you get “more”? – that’s the tough one.

Not for Tom Lewis, he just followed his dream and passion to one day own a deli. And now he does – The Marches Delicatessen – and it’s a very fine deli indeed, in a Welsh country town that really needs one.

The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.
The Marches Delicatessen window, Abergavenny.

“Having spent 6 years in London I was ready to come back to Wales. I was not really enjoying the job I was doing and lacked the drive to push on. I grew up near here and had been looking at opening my own delicatessen. An opportunity presented itself to move to Abergavenny – so I quit my job, moved back from London and opened The Marches”.

Our latest best friend, Tom Lewis – a very bright eyed and cheerful fella, already has some bicycle knowledge about cheese and seemingly there is nothing going to stop him from acquiring more. He is ever present in the shop and at the weekends his girlfriend and mum occasionally help out.

The obvious question of course….Why a cheese shop/deli?

“I’ve always been interested in it since childhood holidays in France. I really got into it whilst at university in Aberystwyth. There is an amazing delicatessen called Ultracomida, which first opened my eyes to some of the great Welsh produce being made. I knew I wanted to do something focusing on local produce and did not want to restrict it to Wales, so hence why I called it The Marches. I focus on produce from Wales, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire”.

Have you ever made cheese?

“Not yet, but there are plans to dabble in making some fresh cheese like ricotta or mozzarella. But having seen how much skill goes into making the cheeses we sell, I fear anything I make would turn out to be an embarrassment by comparison”.

Tom’s favourite cheese (anywhere) – “Mouldy Mabel  is a beautiful creamy blue cheese from Carmarthen & made using Jersey Cows milk or Celtic Promise, a wash rind cheese which although pungent has a that taste is much more a subtle, smooth & buttery”.

Tom on the spot time – Favourite maker and why? “Harry & Sue Ryder of Wye Valley Cheese – not only is their cheese amazing, it is very local and they were the first people I visited when I started to meet the producers. Sitting with Harry and watching him make the cheese was a real privilege”.
Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenney, cheese,
Tom Lewis’ The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

Whilst we were chatting we met Jane, a lovely customer of Tom’s and a regular customer and Abergavenny resident. She popped in intrigued by the “cheese of the week”  billboard outside offering  Rachel (a Somerset goats cheese by Pete Humphries). Jane told us,  “I just love this shop. When I walk in it makes me feel happy. Tom has transformed this place into somewhere you just want to walk into – it’s fantastic that someone would do this for our town. I can’t really say any more than that.” Except, Jane doesn’t like goats cheese, “It’s too strong!” – a woman whose opinion has been tainted by the plethora of goat’s cheese starters!

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavnney, cheese,
Very well stocked deli – The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

Tom says “I get lots of customers who decline even a tasting of anything – goaty. A bit like Jane their palates have been spoilt by mass produced goat’s cheese. It does generally have a tang to it, but some of them are very subtle indeed, not at all what you would expect. It can depend on how you are serving it or what you plan to drink with it. I’m always on hand to advise customers and let them try a little”

Tom stocks lots of great and tantalising deli products, but we really wanted to concentrate on the cheese today. We first met Tom, by luck, back in early December 2014 and he’d been in business for a little over 2 months (Sept 2014). Even then, despite the spartan premises, he had founded something special and had us hooked. For us it was cheese and what he was trying to do with Marches Deli. Well, it took us a few months to return – and in the meantime he seems to have worked wonders on all manner of tasty and different stock in the shop and the cheese counter was bursting with goodness!!

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenney, cheese,
Blue Monk – The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

Everything looked fab, but we singled out a couple for tasting. The health and safety wallers will have you keep your cheese in the fridge , take it out, not put it down anywhere, but eat it straight from the wrapper whilst wearing gloves. But, we aren’t feeding anyone, we aren’t serving it and we absolve anyone in the council from blame – so, if it’s all the same to you, we adopted the French method of cheese management and put it on the passenger seat for the sunny drive home before leaving it out on the kitchen worktop for a few hours. We lived long enough to write this thankfully.

Wye Valley Mellow

Tom Lewis, Marches Deli, Abergavenney, cheese,
Wye Valley Mellow, The Marches Delicatessen, Abergavenny.

 

The back story to this farmhouse maker is frankly incredible. The cheese lived up to the back story admirably. It has a nice thick crust that conceals a very creamy coloured, crumbly, but smooth tasting cheese which was just a delight. It has a milky cheesiness with a very pleasant slight hint of chewiness. We got the faint smell of exceedingly fresh shellfish, not fishy, just, well fresh! It’s very creamy to taste with a lovely tangy mature after-taste on the back of the palate. We’ll take some!

Crottin Affine – France

Cute rounded individual cheeses, with a nutty soft white crust from the cave-aging process. Beneath that is a yellow waxy layer and inside a white creamy cheese with a wonderful smell of a classic French camembert. This would be perfect with a soft fruity chutney and a glass of ice wine. Is this a good time to tell you that…  it’s actually a Goats cheese – this is the one Jane!