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 LINK www.hillsidebrewery.com and cider Severn Cider LINK 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.

Alongside these headline names in the now thriving local craft drinks industry, was the very tasty Apple County Cider applecountycider.co.uk 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. 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!

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.

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 for their stay and to take home.

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 parked around the 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 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 ? 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”.

Overall we loved the concept and thought that, as 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.

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.

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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