Sunday, 17 May 2009

Rail Ale

A bus man's holiday...

We had a good time yesterday at the Rail Ale Festival at Barrow Hill Roundhouse, near Chesterfield. Travelling by train from home via Nottingham was fine, but the free bus service from Chesterfield train station to Barrow Hill was overloaded - I don't think they quite expected the numbers who turned up. A couple of blokes behind us in the very long queue for the bus mentioned getting a taxi but were concerned about the cost - so we volunteered to split the cost with them. £2 each for a quick comfy trip and to save us standing in the cold wind and rain for another hour was a bargain!

A couple of the ciders had already sold out by the time we arrived at about 12.45pm, so we started off by going for the ones we really wanted to try - or those with a high ABV as these are usually the ones to go first. What is it about ABV-tickers? After two or three to set my palate, I always like to try our own when it is on. This might seem strange but when we are blending our ciders, it is sometimes difficult to judge it in isolation, so a taste comparison with a range of other ciders is always worth it. Plus we have to check that it has travelled well - Quality Control and Quality Assurance and all that...

We needn't have worried as our "Floppy Tabs" blend stood up very well against the others. It was also selling very fast. In fact we were surprised by just how many folks were drinking cider and perry; not in a get-it-down-yer-neck way, but clearly discussing and enjoying what was on offer. As the afternoon wore on, the sky cleared and the sun came out so we migrated out into the sun. We met up with our friends Paul and Julia, Carl and David, and later Andy and Julie, though Andy had a shift to work behind the bars.

I enjoyed the Green Valley "Rum Tiddly Tum" rum-cask cider (very rum-my), the Orchard Pig Dry and the Westcroft "Janet's Jungle Juice" - the latter also being really dry for once. Hurrah! We are fans of Westcroft ciders and like to visit when in Somerset, but at festivals J's J.J. is nearly always medium-sweet or sweet, rarely medium and we've never come across it dry unless we fetch it ourselves. It's a great pity as it is best appreciated dry when it's depth of flavour and subtle apple notes can shine through. Yum yum.

A disappointment was the Prinknash cider dated at 2004 - how would a cider stored for 5 years stand up? Not very well and I found finishing the half quite a challenge. It had a strange mouldy-mushroom taste that was not pleasant and I guess this meant it had not been aged in stainless steel, but had been aged in wood and possibly not a sterile barrel at that. There was also a distinct nose and after-taste of acetaldehyde - the sort of smell you associate with sherry - which pointed to a level of contact with air. Oh well, least I can say I've tried it.

Our "Heritage Orchard" blend was also on, but it was tucked under the bottom shelf being held back. About 4.30pm, I got a text from Carl saying that the Heritage Orchard was being put on, that folks were queuing up for it and that it was "flying out". This was the first time we'd let any of the Heritage Orchard out, so I was eager to see how it stacked up against "the opposition". I needn't have worried, as it was very good indeed - so I had another... Sounds a little incestuous, but I had tasted everything else that was left.

After a few more repeat ciders and trying some of the best pork scratchings I've ever had, it was time to go to get the bus to the station and the train home. Carl had bought us a bag of pork scartchings as an early wedding present! As we walked past the cider and perry bar, there was hardly anything left so we were glad we had chosen the Saturday afternoon slot again. The bar staff were having to tip our box up, so we knew that wouldn't last long either. I doubt there would be any cider or perry left for the evening session.

Back in Nottingham, we had 55 minutes to wait for the train home so decided to take the tram and stop off at The Lion at Basford. Nice pub, interesting decor and a nice mix of folks inside. However, we were disappointed to find the only cider on offer was Black Rat, a Thatcher's clone, not a patch on the old Mole's version but still tasty enough and better than many real ciders you'll find on a bar. The real ale selection was much better and though I was tempted with one at 10% ABV, I decided to be safe and go with a Castle Rock Harvest Pale, while Gail had the Black Rat.

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