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.

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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.

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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!

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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

Finest Hour

 

Walk amongst the living remnants of history to enjoy the Great British craft beer and cider of today.

 

beer, craft beer, Finest Hour, Hillside Brewery, David Broadbent Photography, Summerhouse Studios,
Hillside Breweries craft special beer “Finest Hour” in support of the Royal British Legion to be launched at Gloucester Beer Festival.

Beer o’clock comes around awful soon doesn’t it? Yes it’s time to again to say “all hail to the ale” at the Gloucester city centre hidden historical secret – it’s the Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival at Blackfriars Priory on 22nd to 23rd April organised by Gloucester CAMRA.

This cathedral to the art of craft ale and cider making will once again open its hallowed doors of the cavernous hall and welcome beer fans from across the county and indeed the country. We visited last year and had a great time. The live music was good, the atmosphere was wonderful and it was nice to chat to the festival goers and absorb all that beer appreciation and chilled out vibe this festival always promotes.

The sad news is that Hillside Breweries “Anzac” the craft special brewed in support of the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal for last year’s event   is no more. Personally, I think that’s a shame since I loved it so much and always came home with a few whenever I was passing the Hillside Brewery shop at the Longhope hilltop redoubt. You never know what the future holds though – so there is always hope.

Lots of good news though in that the same great organisation (Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal) is the charity beneficiary again this year, and that Hillside have done it again and made another very tasty beer for the event. A little less ABV (3.6%) for this one to sit it firmly into the session beer category – we give you, Hillsides “Finest Hour”, ta da.

Hillsides impressive and decidedly upmarket new labels now also list the hops used in each brew. Hops, which is some case are completely new and could even be called experimental, all sourced from their usual long standing hop grower. Jester, Olicana and First Gold in Finest hour to give it a very pleaseant and subtle note with those hints of the tropical again for the more discerning nose. The symbol of the Poppy Appeal is also proudly displayed on the label so that too is a refreshing change to some of the PC and very weak excuses we hear for the bland nowadays. We? Well we just loved the taste and we think it’s going to be a real hit at the festival and beyond!

Honestly if you’ve never been to the festival before you are missing a real treat. If you like to weave in and out of very local people looking upward with their mouths open proclaiming that they “never knew this was here” you’ll realise just what a hidden treasure Blackfriars is (see our article on last years event). If you appreciate sampling the wealth of craft beers and cider available as an explosive reaction to the mass produced mega-brewery fayre this is the place to be. Or if you just fancy a nice afternoon in the city, chilling out with friends and a couple of beers, then fill your boots – you are going to love it and make space in your calendar for future events.

 

Links

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

http://www.hillsidebrewery.com/

Provisional beer list as at 26th March is here http://www.gloucesterbeerfestival.org.uk/index.php/real-ale/ales/

Twitter feed for the festival @GlosBeerFest