When I learned about the 5th Manchester Beer & Cider Festival taking place in January 2018 from Eric West’s list of international cider festivals and events I realised that I’ve never been neither to Manchester nor to a cider festival in the UK before. So I thought that I might as well kill two birds with one stone. The decision was made, I’m going to Manchester to get a taste of English cider from the North.
For the record, Manchester Beer & Cider Festival is the biggest festival in the northern part of the United Kingdom gathering once a year brewers and cider makers, not to mention beer and cider lovers from the UK and abroad. In 2018, the festival took place on 25-27 January.
The venue is located within a 10-minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly in Manchester Central Convention Complex, which is the former Manchester Central railway station built in 1880. It is a beautiful, giant exhibition. In my opinion, Manchester Central is a perfect place for an event like this. The organisers have picked up a really beautiful location.
There were three beer bars in the back and a few more in the centre and international beer bars to the right from the entrance. The cider & perry bar was located to the left from the entrance. Food vendors had their stall just opposite the cider & perry bar on the left side. All around the exhibition hall, there were countless banquet tables and chairs around them creating a large sitting area for visitors. Only, it was actually quite chilly inside the hall.
There were two ways to purchase your entry ticket to the festival. Either at the door or online. Knowing that tickets can sell out quickly at similar events in the UK, I’ve decided to purchase my ticket online for Thursday, 25th January at 7.63 GBP as I wanted to avoid the crowds. Tickets for 26th and 27th were slightly more expensive to my knowledge. Also, CAMRA members would get a ticket at a discounted price.
I thought it was an excellent idea that a festival glass was already included in the ticket price. In addition, you could get to choose between either a regular pint glass or a tasting glass lined at the third or half pint measures if you wanted to sample more. Also, glass washing devices were available if you needed to clean your glass. I loved it that you could even swap a glass at any time for a clean one at the glass stand. To be honest, it’s the first time I experienced festival glasses being washed in a dishwasher at the spot. Brilliant! At the end of the festival, you could either return the glass to the glass stall and collect 3 GBP or take your glass home as a souvenir.
Festival programme was not included in the ticket price and was available for purchase at 1 GBP. I had the impression that the festival programme was dedicated almost entirely to beer. Each beer would get a short description, whereas cider and perry were just mentioned by name of the cider makers and cider name. In the end, out of 66 pages, only 6 were dedicated to cider. Don’t cider & perry deserve a proper description?CIDER MAKERS
Overall, 77 ciders and 25 different and perrys coming from 63 different English producers were available over the three days. Meaning, some of the ciders and perrys that I was eager to taste on Thursday were simply not available. So if you thought you’d be able to try selected ciders and perrys on one day you’d be disappointed as it was in my case. There was no list of cider and perry available that day at the bar so literally, no one was able to prepare a list of ciders to try. Not sure what sense does it make, as in the end of the day you don’t want to stay with all these full or half-empty bag-in-boxes. Usually, vendors want to leave with as little products as possible. I’m afraid I couldn’t get the logic behind not making all ciders available at the same time. Also, as you can see I was a bit frustrated because my list of ciders to try that I prepared before the event had to undergo massive changes.
Since taste description for cider and perry was not provided in the festival programme, you could rely only on a taste guide with the level of sweetness (see the picture) or ask staff behind the bar for a recommendation or a sample.
Interestingly, cider at the bar was poured only from bag-in-boxes, different to what I’ve seen at other festivals in Europe. Where did the tradition of serving cider from bag-in-boxes actually come from? Also, both cider & perry were still and served at room temperature. I wonder whether the surrounding temperature and bag-in-box might have led to the observed changes in the flavour profile of cider and perry sampled at the festival.
As I just mentioned in the beginning of this section, I was really looking forward to getting a taste of cider and perry from the North of England. Sadly, only cider & perry from 15 various producers from North and West Yorkshire, Cheshire Lancashire or Greater Manchester were on sale at the Cider & Perry bar. To be honest, I expected cider makers from the North to make up most of the cider & perry selection, not less than half! But Phil of Pulp Craft Cider, who I met up with at the festival explained to me that in the North the climate is not good enough for growing cider apples, thus there are not so many cider makers around here. Judging by the number of present producers from the North I guess it must be true then. For the full list of cider & perry available at the festival click the link.
FOOD & ENTERTAINMENT
Since the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival is advertised as the largest festival in the North I expected many visitors. Indeed, there were lots of beer and cider drinkers around already on Thursday, the first day of the festival. But to my surprise, the number of food vendors was rather limited compared to the number of visitors as there were perhaps only 5 stalls offering the choice of Polish pierogi, burgers, Mexican food, cheese toasts and Caribbean cuisine. Despite the relatively high number of visitors, the lines to each food vendors were not very long so you could get a set of pierogi in relatively low time. I found it very interesting, as in Berlin you have to wait sometimes in very long line for your burger from a food truck. Once I had to wait over an hour! But here I got my burger in less than 5 minutes. I guess people in the UK don’t eat and drink at the same time.
Moreover, I was hoping to listen to any kind of music, but at least on Thursday, there was no such entertainment. The whole afternoon and evening were filled with voices of visitors and vendors, sounds of poured beer and cider but sadly no music. I think that music creates a great drinking atmosphere. So music is something that was simply missing that day in my opinion. Did anyone attend the festival on Friday or Saturday and can tell me if there was any music?
However, I’ve learned that there are quite interesting English pub games. I must say I found some of them quite amusing and spent some time watching folks playing various games that I can’t even name.CIDER & PERRY COMPETITION 2018
The festival was not only about sampling real cider and perry but also about a competition. Cider and perry were entered to be judged by the festival’s jury. Interestingly, festival attendees could also vote their favourite cider and perry during the festival with a voting card.
And here are the results of the Cider & Perry Competition 2018 judged at the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival on 26th January 2018. La Cantina’s Yesterday’s Dreams was the winner, whereas the Waterloo Sunset from Udders Orchard was the Runner-Up in the perry category. As for cider, Hedgehoggers’ Old Aged Pig was the winner, and the Traditional Still from Ampleforth Abbey was the Runner-Up.
Festival attendees had a slightly different opinion about their favourite cider and perry as Cleeve Orchard Dry was voted the best cider and Hecks Perry won in the perry category.
Sadly, I’ve managed to sample only the Traditional Still from Ampleforth Abbey. It was actually quite ok. For my detailed tasting notes scroll down.
Ampleforth Abbey Traditional (ABV 6.5%)
Appearance: slightly cloudy, golden, still, low body. Aroma: weak, red and yellow apples, acetic, hints of funk. Taste: low sweetness, low lemon-like acidity, crisp yellow apple, yellow apple flesh, a hint of alcohol, lightly watery, very light astringent taste. Overall: it tasted quite alright. Nice an easy drinking pour. 4/6
Blackmore Vale Sweet (ABV unknown)
Appearance: clear, golden with orange hues, still, low body. Aroma: polyfloral honey, burnt caramel, acetic. Taste: moderately sweetness with low lemon-like acidity, yellow apple, polyfloral honey, burnt caramel, fresh apple, light bitterness, light astringent taste, beeswax, lightly watery. Overall: a beautiful apple forward taste with notes of beeswax and honey. 4.5/6
Grumpy Johns Dry (ABV 6%)
Appearance: clear, golden, still, low body. Aroma: beeswax, caramel, fermented apples, vinegar. Taste: low sweetness with low to medium lemon-like acidity, beeswax, leather, funk, lightly watery, light bitterness, but not disturbing. Overall: tasted pretty average, but drinkable. 3.5/6
Hartland Perry (ABV unknown)
Appearance: cloudy, golden, still, low body. Aroma: nail polish and vinegar. Taste: low to medium sweetness with low vinegar and lemon-like acidity, blood orange, pear, light bitterness, a sweetener-like aftertaste. Overall: quite dry for a perry. Rich with a nice palate and pleasant tannins to it. 4/6
Madhatters Farting Dog (ABV 6.5%)
Appearance: almost clear, golden, still, low body. Aroma: nail polish and vinegar, pear, sweetener. Taste: low sweetness with low to medium vinegar-like acidity, citrusy, yellow apples, sweetener, medium to high astringent taste. Overall: Tastes quite ok. Rich, but not overwhelming. 3.5/6
Newtons Thorn Perry (ABV 6%)
Appearance: clear, dark golden, still, low body. Aroma: pear, ripe pear, vinegar. Taste: low sweetness with low to medium vinegar and lemon-like acidity, citrusy, green and yellow pear, unripe pear, lightly watery, low to medium astringent taste. Overall: a decent nearly dry perry. One of the best I had recently. 4.5/6
Oliver’s Medium Dry (ABV 6%)
Appearance: cloudy, pale amber, still, low body. Aroma: leather, red apples, beeswax, vinegar. Taste: moderate sweetness with low vinegar-like acidity, citrusy, sweetener, grapefruit, red apples, light apple-seed bitterness, blood orange, medium astringent taste, lingering acidity. Overall: very rich palate, with good levels of tannins. I guess you can’t go wrong with Oliver’s cider. Can you? 4.5/6
Thornborough Dry (ABV 6%)
Appearance: cloudy, golden, still, low body. Aroma: yellow apples, lemon, vinegar. Taste: bone dry with light to medium lemon and vinegar-like acidity, yellow apples, barnyard, low to medium astringent taste, light bitterness, beeswax. Overall: beautifully dry with lovely tannins and a pleasant finish. For those who like their cider dry. 4.5/6
Ventons Medium (ABV unknown)
Appearance: cloudy, golden, still, low body. Aroma: vinegar, beeswax, honey, barnyard. Taste: moderately sweet, with medium lemon and vinegar-like acidity, barnyard, fermented apples, red apples, medium astringent taste. Overall: Lovely drop. I enjoyed it. Goes down easily. 4.5/6
Yorkshire Scrumpy Still cider (ABV 6.5%)
Appearance: clear, golden, still, low body. Aroma: red and yellow apples, tannic, a hint of an apple juice from concentrate. Taste: slightly sweet, with low medium lemon-like acidity, yellow apples, light astringent taste. Overall: It lacks depth and I didn’t enjoy having it. I suspect it might be made from concentrate. 2/6
If you made it through my tasting notes you might have noticed that almost every cider or perry I’ve sampled had at least a light acetic note. It wouldn’t be suspicious if only a few tasted of vinegar, but all of them, including Oliver’s, which I used as a benchmark here? Since some of the tasted ciders had a very strong acetic note I basically felt like at a Spanish sidra festival, not an English Cider Festival. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the vinegary note and I do enjoy Spanish sidra natural. Also, I had bottled English ciders that had a vinegary note before. Also, I agree that the acetic note can make the palate richer but I was completely perplexed with ALL English ciders and perrys I sampled that day to taste like this.
I was trying to understand why would each cider develop this note. The only culprit I can think of is the bag-in-box itself. Bag-in-box is basically a plastic bag in a carton box. Since the bag is made of plastic it lets some air through, thus leading to oxidation of ethanol to vinegar. If bag-in-box is the reason for the development of the vinegary taste I really don’t understand why would English cider-makers rely on a bag-in-box for cider. My understanding is that a bottle can preserve the actual cider flavour just like the cider maker intended it to taste like at blending because it doesn’t let much air come in. But cider poured from bag-in-box would already have a different palate, other than at the moment of blending by the cider maker.
This leads to a further question, why would a cider festival prefer bag-in-boxes instead of kegs? Are kegs not suitable for cider? Does any of you have a similar experience with the acetic note accompanying cider served from in bag-in-boxes? Perhaps there is something I’m missing.
Another observation I made was that beer was internationally represented at the festival, including Irish, Belgian, German or Spanish brewers or beers, while cider & perry were available only from English cider-makers coming from all around the UK. Like there were no international ciders to try. If you need an introduction to cidre/sidra/sidro/siider/siideri/cydr/Apfelwein I can help you with that.
Furthermore, I think I got spoiled by cider and craft beer festivals in Germany and Czech Republic as usually, the producer would be present at the festival promoting its own product. But not here, at the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2018 only the product, cider & perry were available. As I found later when talking to Phil of Pulp Cider, cider makers in the UK usually don’t attend cider festivals. They arrange for the shipment of their cider to the festival and that would be it. Given the fact, that there is a cider festival every day in the UK (on the next day I visited Liverpool and discovered a Winter Ale Festival in the beautiful St George’s Hall) it is difficult to expect them visiting every festival. But still, I was a bit disappointed.
Summarizing, my expectations towards the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival 2018, my first cider festival in the UK, were high. I was really excited at first. But I must admit that I feel now slightly disappointed. No music, no cider makers to meet and chat with (thank you, Phil, that you were there to talk to!), decent and pleasant ciders and perrys but all with a vinegary note, all in a beautiful environment. I must stress that I enjoyed Slavnost Cideru 2017 (read my visit recap here) in Prague much better in that sense. This is why I’ve decided to attend the cider festival in Prague also this year.