Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Royal Bath & West; the greatest (cider) show on earth!

If you're luck enough grow up in the countryside you might relate to the joy and nostalgia of a visit to an agricultural show. For many they are a part of life, especially if if your not from a farming background in which case they tend to hold a little more wonder and a chance to experience the best of the best agriculturally. On half terms and holidays, the Royal Bath & West Show was about being amazed with the things I saw. What always surprised me, was the size of the bollocks on the bulls- a fascination that still prevails today. It still makes me chuckle and I'm still impressed if a little jealous. The other thing that attracted me back year on year was the more-available-than-usual booze. I remember my honorary grandfather supplying me with as many Babycham samples as my friends and I could guzzle on heady half-term afternoons behind a marquee.... Surely, the combination of giant testicles and sweet perry based alcohol is the best kind of marketing there is? The show has a really long relationship with cider, far too long to go into in a single post, but this year gave local historian Alan Stone the chance to launch his most recent publication 'Cider at the Bath & West Show.' For those of you who might be interested, its a modestly priced small booklet outlining the relationship between the show and cider which started in 1777, and yes, cider was an important part of it right from the start (arguably probably more important then than it is now...)

Since 2005 I have been lucky enough to have a presence in the best tent on site - the Cider and Orchards tent. I can found there annually with a small display of my photos and a large amount of business cards blabbering about on about cider and how much I love it. The tent hosts the largest cider competition in the world over 400 entries this year and growing year on year. Its a place where fans and industry can get together over 4 days,  really tune in, bitch about whatever their beef is at that time and catch up.

Amongst the 40,000 visitors to the show, we get a really encouraging mix of patronage, endorsements and guests visiting the Cider and Orchards each year. Recent notables include dignitaries such as The Bishop of Bath & Wells, The Countess of Wessex, Lord (Tom) King, Lord (Julian) Fellows of West Stafford, sleb chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall & Mark Hix, as well as the cream of the UK cider community that travel across the country to spend the day. There are workshops for grafters, orcharders, worshops for amateur cidermakers who need help with their cider by Andrew Lea. There are free tutored cider tasting sessions twice a day run by the cidermakers. Talks on historical aspects and folklore of cider by the likes of James Crowden. In 2008 we even had 3 inches of water running through the tent like a stream. This year a lifetime achievement award for services to cider was given to Frank Naish, the oldest cidermaker in UK who still makes cider every year and he's 87. Good on you sir! He was invited to guest judge the farmhouse entries (he likes it dry.)

His medal was presented by old friend, neighbour and best-festival-ever legend Michael Eavis. 
We've even got the most successful bar, run by the South West of England Cider Makers Association that sells 60 or more ciders and perries, in half pints, and works so well that manages to earn more and contribute more to the Bath & West fund than any other on site (which goes some way to help when making requests for extra space and improved facilities. Long live the cider bar!)

Rather than typing up the results of the competition, I decided I should photograph the sheets using my images as a backdrop. Yes, its lazier, but its also more a more creative approach. Finding new ways to photograph things is part of the job and its these were taken on my phone (as Chase Jarvis says, the best camera is the one you have with you... nice one Chase)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Welsh Perry & Cider festival

Another bank holiday weekend spent working (such is the plight of the freelancer!) but this particular event was fantastic and it felt more like personal work than work work.

The Welsh Perry & Cider Society festival is an annual event and was held this year at the fantastic Clytha Arms. This year was the 10th year and the first time I had been. I was asked to go along for half a day to provide photographic material for promotion and document aspects of the day; the judging, the camping, the venue, the variety of cider and perries, 80+ in all (one chap reckons he'd tried 62 of them...!) Needless to say, I loved it. I felt very at home there and was made very welcome. I can always judge the quality of a crowd anywhere I go with my camera kit because, in crowded places, I inevitably nudge someone as I turn or twist my way through the mass. The response I get is the meter-stick I use to measure the quality of people at the event. Sometimes I get a bit of agro, even threatened as if I did it to deliberately antagonize people. More generally I get a 'look' and followed by indifference. But at the very best events and certainly in this case, when I turn to apologise, I get a pleasant smile, a gentle wave of the hand and an understanding nod. The atmosphere there was lovely and its somewhere I want to return to with family. ("Pay attention -this is how you do a cider festival kids...")

Anyway - the day had bags of appeal and the natural beauty of both the area and the pub grounds was one of them. The setting is rural Wales, beautiful countryside, gently sloping beer garden, wandering ducks, two bars, a large covered stage area and a giant paddock for camping. Hundreds of people were camping so it had that real festival feel. It was quite a young crowd too, not too beard and sandals, but enough old faces and cider geeks to keep the quality up.

The ciders I had were lovely and so different from the Somerset cider I'm more accustomed too. They use different apples up there, more Herefordshire apples and the flavour did have a distinct difference. One producer told me they use more sharps than up there than we did in Somerset which would partly account for some of the difference. I asked for a few to photograph in the branded glass you were given upon buying tokens. The organiser grabbed a few she knew well and poured away. That being done, I tried them... wow, delicious. The two that stood out for me that day were Hallets and Balegawney medium, both interestingly made by the same man, Andy hallet, who went on to win 9 awards that day. Quite right too!

It made me realise that Welsh cider is something I want to explore. You can taste the passion in the juice and it tastes familiar!