Saturday, 25 April 2009

Out and about

The Invaders...
Nothing nasty though, but as I was messing around under the Royal Somerset sharp apple tree t'other day, there was an unholy racket coming from over my head. Looking up, I saw a small bird with a beak full of wriggling grubs watching me closely - and complaining bitterly about my presence. Coal Tit or Great Tit? Not sure. Whatever, after a moment or two (still watching my every move) it flew over and into a nesting box that we have mounted on the side of the house. Now this nesting box is allegedly a Sparrow box, having three entrances and compartments adjacent to one another, but it has been empty and unused for some 3 or 4 years now. No longer!

I'm getting quite used to our residents and hopefully, they will to me bustling around "the estate". At the moment though, every time they spot me, they start loudly complaining. It is good to see them searching around the apple trees with great diligence and I hope that they are leaving the spiders and lacewing larvae alone, and instead going for any aphids, scale-insects and caterpillars that may be getting ready to dine out on my apples. I'm going to set the camera up and try to get a photo of one of them diving in and out of the nest box. Watch this space.

Real Cider comes to Hucknall...
Hurrah! Finally one of our local pubs has opted to try a box of real Nottinghamshire cider made on its doorstep. The landlord and a party of regulars popped up to the Mansfield Festival and tried our cider; one of them, Lee, took a particular shine to our cider and took the details back to Hucknall with him. The result is that The Flying Bedstead on Watnall Road, Hucknall, is the first Hucknall pub to feature a cider made in Hucknall, from fruit grown in and around Hucknall. We dropped the cider off yesterday evening and Jacqui, the landlady, is going to let us know how the regulars get on with it and give us any feedback. It will be interesting to hear what the locals think of a local real cider.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Dog on the loose

Those ears are unleashed...
Mansfield CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival has now finished and while we recover from four days of hard work and mayhem, we can look back at what was a very successful festival for both us and the Cider & Perry Bar.

We decided (well, I did...) to name our newest cider blend after my mum's dog. Well, not the whole of the dog actually, but her ears! "Shambles" is the moniker given to this young Welsh Border Collie who is a bundle of hyper-active fun and fur. To all intents and purposes she looks like any other Border Collie - apart from those tabs! They are on the large side, to put it mildly and are more like semaphore signalling equipment. I have never seen a dog with such expressive and mobile ears, which are capable of any number of permutations of movement and terpsichorean abandonment. Imagine a Basset Hound's ears on speed and you pretty much get the picture...

The name was also an antidote to all the folks who cannot say: Torkard. Now they could just ask for "floppy tabs", "tabs", "the one with the dog", or most amusingly, stand in front of the bar flicking their ears. We sold out of the first container by 9.00 pm-ish on the Friday night so took another container along on the Saturday - this second one was empty by 8.00pm. A number of folks took carry-outs of Floppy Tabs away with them too.

The cider itself has a character that matches the dog - lively, young, sharp, complex and refreshing. I think the only thing missing is the agility, which my niece Katie takes Shambles for every Sunday...

Another First for the Mansfield Festival was the promotion of local ciders, under the NearCide banner. I'd tried to assemble a few East Midlands Ciders to show folks that real, good-quality cider is available almost on your doorstep, if you look for it. To this end we had Three Cats from Derbyshire, Skidbrooke from Lincolnshire, Rockingham Forest from Northamptonshire and our own Torkard from Nottinghamshire. The idea is to have something for ciders and perries which parallels the LocAle concept for Real Ales. The ciders generated a lot of interest and questions, and I hope that folks will be spurred on to find out more.

Mark from Rockingham Forest came along on the Friday afternoon for a sampling and a chin-wag. He also kindly brought along three other local ciders that he'd discovered while working out around Spalding in Lincolnshire. They are from three small producers but showed that good quality cider is available at a very local level, with all the carbon-footprint and food-mile benefits that such enterprises entail. I wish them all well. I really enjoyed the Spalding Scrumpy.

Chris from Three Cats turned up later in the afternoon after cycling the 18-odd miles from his home and the three of us got together to chat about cider (surprisingly!). Chris has a sweet-tooth when it comes to cider and he believes that sweet ciders are the future for sales; something that Mark and I are at odds with, preferring to taste the fruit and depth of flavour without too much sweetness masking subtle notes and wiping out one's palate. Talking of subtle flavours, I was intrigued by the DanY Graig Welsh cider we had ordered; it had a distinct nose of ginger, but a burst of lime-and-lemon on the palate. Very nice and zesty.

Friday evening Julie and Andy, our friends from Chesterfield Branch, came over to work their way through the cider bar's offerings. To be more accurate, Julie did, while Andy worked his way through the beers, while having a sip of everything that Julie tried.

Overall the Festival was great fun, though Gail and I were both exhausted by the end of it. Take-down on Sunday was very onerous, but at least we'd sold out of everything, which is a great feeling. Saturday night was less fun, as a few idiots were present who were just intent on drinking too much and being abusive. They forget that we are all volunteers and not professional bar workers. Or maybe that's giving them too much credit and they actually don't care.

We'd also met and chatted with loads of really nice people, which is the key thing for us when working the cider and perry bar. We can pass on information, dispel myth and legend, help folks find out more and encourage the planting of more apple trees, whatever the variety. It is especially great when folks come to you before they leave to thank you not only for having the time and knowledge to chat with them, but also to thank you for having such a good selection of ciders and perries available.

So I'd like to thank them in return for making it all worthwhile. Cheers!