Gifted post: free tickets to the festival
I had been looking forward to visiting some food festivals this summer, so when Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival sent me press passes, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a tasty day out! – And my sister, who comes with me to all foodie festivals, agreed to come with me with very little persuasion and lots of enthusiasm. We were on! One of my favourite things about food festivals is the opportunity to try something new, and the Cheltenham festival did not disappoint.
Having arrived slightly later than planned due to a bit of a train fiasco, we immediately headed straight for something to eat. After a couple of circuits of the food stands to assess our options, we settled on a Greek style chicken pitta and mac n cheese respectively. Perfect. While we were tucking in and working out what to do next, Ciderologist Gabe Cook happened to be passing where we were stood, rounding up the last few people for a cider tasting in 15 minutes. Keen to make the most of the day and try something new, we finished our food and headed up to the tasting tent.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a cider tasting as generally I find the popular brands available in supermarkets and pubs to be far too sweet. But there was something in Gabe’s enthusiasm that persuaded us that this was the place to be. As it turned out, that was absolutely true. We got into the tent just as another incoming downpour of rain showered the festival (an already suitably muddy affair by this point) and settled in front of 2 glasses each and a copy of Full Juice cider magazine.
After a short introduction into the current negative perceptions of the drink, and the people championing cider who are trying to change this, we started with a taste of a deep golden cider from Apple County Cider Co.. As with any tasting of fine wine, we discussed colour and aroma before a hearty ‘Wassail!’ and a taste. Scents of spices like cinnamon and caramel translated into a rich bold cider, and most surprisingly for me, a pleasant level of sweetness rather than a mouthful of over-sugared syrup. A very good start. But it was about to get better.
The second cider we tasted, and my absolute favourite by far, was Gospel Green Cyder. After a quick swirl of this very pale drink, my first thought on the aroma was that it smelt very noticeably like champagne – as odd as that seems. Well not so strange as it turned out. Gospel Green is made using the same process as Champagne, the only differences being the apples rather than grapes, and of course it’s made in the heart of rural Hampshire rather than in France. It’s light in colour and taste, bubbly, and very drinkable. It’s far more like a very light champagne than a cider, and I absolutely love it.
We both enjoyed the tasting so much that we stopped to chat to Gabe after the tasting, to find out his thoughts on cider and why it’s so important to him to share it. Gabe said, ‘I’m passionate about cider because the drink is indigenous to where I’m from in Gloucester. Cider and especially Perry are native drinks that inform the landscape, culture, heritage, myths and stories from the area and bring these together. It’s got a challenging reputation, but I’m working to change that.’
I have to admit I was completely taken by surprise by what’s actually available vs. how little is generally known about these artisan ciders, and by how much I enjoyed the tasting. Even the slightly sweeter cider and the Perry we tasted, while not my personal preference, were a refreshing new experience compared with the average bottle or can bought from the supermarket. There is a delicious and varied range available out there, and now, it seems like an untapped goldmine of new experiences. I came away feeling inspired, and determined to seek out a supplier of Gospel Green!
So what would I recommend? If you have an opportunity to do a cider tasting and haven’t heard of any of the ciders on the list, do it! You might just discover your new favourite drink.
For more on cider:
Ciderologist Gabe Cook: theciderologist.com
Gospel Green Cyder Co: gospelgreen.co.uk
Apple County Cider Co: applecountycider.co.uk
Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival: www.cheltenham-food-festival.garden-events.com