The first New Zealand Cider Festival was held in Nelson last Saturday. Cider fan Ned Bartlett was there:
Certain smells take you back to very specific times in your life. This particular smell of wet Barbour jackets mixed with a musty air of farmyard hay and undertones of roast pork sandwiches can only mean one thing for a man raised in the West Country - a cider festival.
The Energy Centre (circus big top) in the centre of Nelson's Founders Park seemed to be the perfect place to hold New Zealand's inaugural cider-dedicated event - the circumferential nature of the stall holders led to an amicable, approachable feel to the festival in general. More importantly, it was a sensible choice of venue as it was covered in the event of rain. And boy did it rain.
Perhaps in the true heritage of cider drinking, this did little to dampen the spirits of the punters; back in the West Country cider is the proper drink - even the mention of an ale will be met with disdain and accompanied with something like, ‘Beer?! What in god’s name would you want to drink that shit for? Here you are, this'll put hair on your teeth...’
Many in New Zealand have been waiting for this cider thing to really take off, and I think the general consensus can be that following the festival, it's not only taken off, it's thriving. It's just to do with the reaction of the public, it's about the quality of the cider on show too. You can erase those memories of sticky-sweet bright yellow 'children's booze', real cider is here and here to stay.
I get talking to Brian Belluomini from Forecast Cider in Wairarapa. He is the self-confessed smallest producer in the festival, but his modest range is amongst the most challenging, yet traditional, on the market. My request for a sample of his Gusty in Exposed Places is met with, ‘Are you sure?’ He seems a little sheepish about his traditional farmhouse product – cloudy, yeasty, full of tannins and dry as a bone, this is what many proper cider drinkers are after. Cider shouldn't taste like Fresh Up, it should taste like this.
Paul Donaldson from the cult favourite and most secretive of cideries Scoundrels & Rogues stands at the opposite side of the room. There is a grin so large on his face you can almost hear it. Today marks the release of two new ciders for him (technically one cider and one perry), both of which won gold at New Zealand Cider Awards. A third gold for an old favourite sees him hit a 100% gold record for the year. His style is big and bold, but with winemaking in the blood you wouldn't expect any less. Think Calvados - they're barrel aged, they're freeze concentrated, they're alcoholic-hot and for the most part they're getting up to ten percent.
Add all of these ciders to the vast array of fruit cider, chilli cider, pear cider, traditional cider, dry cider, single variety cider amongst others and you have a diversity of product to rival any of the country's best beer festivals.
A special mention to the champion cider Peckham's Major Tom, which took out champion cider once again. Buyer's tip: Anything from Peckham's is a polished product from a thorough and passionate cidermaker.
So the question is not will there be another festival next year, but ‘Can I come?’