8 November 2011
Though the event was billed as a ‘Food Festival’, this by no means prevented a handful of small businesses who retailed drinks from a variety of categories to grab a stall and show off their expertise. Scattered throughout the marquee on Palace Green were exhibitors selling a bounty of beverages, both alcoholic and non alcoholic, and, more importantly, offering samples – a sure way to win any student’s heart.
For those after some hard liquor, the ‘Spencerfield Spirit Company’ were the people to speak to. On offer was a selection of three distinct whiskies alongside their ‘Edinburgh Gin,’ all available to sample, including the multiple-award winning ‘Sheep Dip’ – a vatted malt Scotch whisky (meaning it is crafted from several single malt whiskies, though unlike a blended Scotch, contains no non-barley whisky) which had a smooth taste and long, warming afterburn. Another of the company’s most delectable offerings was a whisky blend, the 5-years-aged ‘Pig’s Nose,’ a wonderfully smooth drink with a light spiciness at the back, and quite reasonably priced at £18 – to anyone into their whisky, it is definitely worth a look!
In a similar area of business was ‘Hebridean Liqueurs,’ a company catering to those with more exotic tastes by selling a twist on the classic tipples of whisky, rum and brandy – liqueurs made by adding such ingredients as burnt sugar, orange extract, herbs, and spices following traditional recipes. The resulting drinks retained the character of their base liquor, but had a more well-rounded flavour which was less alcoholic, making them perfect to enjoy neat. A favourite was ‘William Shakespeare’s Whisky Liqueur’ (endorsed by the man himself), with notes of caramel and orange sitting beautifully with the smokiness of the whisky.
For those with slightly more docile drinking requirements, a few stands offering baked goodies such as gingerbread, sticky toffee pudding and the like also sold non-alcoholic ginger wines, which personally I had never tried – for others in my position, the drink imparted a very sugary sweetness leading to the spicy character of ginger building on the tongue. While in general a little too sweet for me, I found my favourite was that being sold by The Gingerbread Mam – a little less sugar allowed the taste of the ginger to really come through and gave the drink a fiery kick.
Last but by no means least, we came to ales and ciders. Two businesses were vying for custom, our local Durham Brewery, purveying a range of their own ales in bottles and 5-litres minicasks, as well as West Yorkshire’s Premium Drinks, who represented a selection of small independent producers. Sadly for us penniless students, ‘Premium Drinks’ were not offering samples, though their range of ales, ciders and perries were certainly impressive – and expensive – including the option to take home cider poured from draught in bottles. ‘The Durham Brewery’ were offering tasters from a selection of their range, though by the time I got there, they had all but run out – surely a testament to the quality of their brews!
All in all, I felt there could have been a stronger showing with regards to drink; ultimately though, this was a food festival, and the range and craftsmanship on that front was superb. For drinks, it was very much a case of quality over quantity, and the businesses that were present truly deserved the label ‘gourmet’ – so next year, get yourselves a ticket and see for yourself, although perhaps learn from my mistakes and get there early… and consider lining your stomach first!