Grape and Grain Festival

Grape and Grain Festival

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What did the Simple Lampoon team think of Grape and Grain festival? On the face of it there were some amazing exhibitors and a stellar line up, but it seems that all was not well in a foodies paradise. Louis header

When I first stepped into Grape and Grain festival, I felt like a kid at the fair. The official pamphlet was littered with producers, bars and restaurants I'd been meaning to investigate, and here they all were- all within a three minute walk in either direction. Stokes Croft's Poco was placed by one entrance; a Guinness connoisseur's dream at the other.

The celebrity cooks weren't ones that I'd personally put on my fantasy line-up (alas, Rick Stein is still unmet by me) but there were legitimate names on the list. The Queen of England Mary Berry had the headline spot, with the Fabulous Bakers Brothers Herbert, Britain's Best Dish's Ed Baines, and stereotype embracing Aldo Zilli filling in the preceding slots.

First things first... Beer

The first thing I do is to grab a bottle of Boom IPA from the Bristol Beer Factory guys and sit down in front of Mr Zilli’s booming voice as he rustles up a limoncello tart. The man knows how to present, that's for sure, but I was more taken with the hoppy drink in my own mitts, than the sweet pastry in his.

Ordering the beer in the first place, on the other hand, was a little too complicated for my liking.After receiving the entry ticket, you are given a sheet of various vouchers entitling you to a range of free samples. These samples are for 25ml of your selected beverage; and acceptable proposition at the gin bars, less so at the ale ones, considering that any self-respecting bartender will happily hand over the odd taster without asking for validation (something that has become the norm for many in Bristol’s Beermuda Triangle).

This arrangement resulted in my beer costing £5 instead of £5.50, because they had to open the bottle in order to give me my free sample, and then reduce the price to compensate for the diminished liquid within. You tell me who came out on top in that transaction.

Aside from the peculiar voucher issues, I did quickly warm to the event. To be surrounded by consistent quality, be it unknown or familiar, always provides me with a good balance of excitement and relaxation. The lads from Nomu had me tasting Japanese Whisky and cloudy Sake; I actually enjoyed Perry for the first time thanks to Severn Cider, and Psychopomp's Danny Walker helped me help my friend acquire some aged gin he's been excited about for a while.

So, all in all, I might possibly go again, but if I am required to stump up my hard-earned cash, I will need to see some changes to the sampling scheme - and maybe Rick Stein if the budget's healthy enough.

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Grape & Grain Festival was an event I was looking forward to for most of the summer. On the day (well, weekend), it delivered in some aspects, but it definitely felt like less than the sum of its parts. Any event which brings together some of the best names in the Bristol independent food & drinks scene has to be applauded - and walking among the stalls for local greats such as Poco, Pata Negra, 6 O'Clock Gin, Steak of the Art, Avery's, Nomu and Clifton Cakes definitely got me rubbing my hands with giddy, gluttonous glee. Each stand had a good selection of nibbles and drinks, and a decent amount to suit different budgets. The talks and demonstrations were fun and informative too.

However, for an event which was charging £22.50 per day (or £15 if you nabbed early bird tickets), expectation was deservedly high - and I'm not sure that in a city which already has a multitude of excellent festivals over summer - most of which are free or charge the same amount for a whole weekend ticket - that an A4 sheet of 25ml samples is enough to cut the artisan mustard.

Bristol is spoilt for choice...

The site itself was also fairly small, considering that Grillstock, Food Connections etc. took over the majority of the Lloyds Ampitheatre area, Grape & Grain was set across two smaller sites in Millenium Square and Anchor Square - and I think that the division of the festival between these two areas diluted the crowds even more than the ticket prices, which then affected the overall atmosphere of the event.

It seemed like many of the people who did attend were having a good time, but if Grape and Grain is to run a second year, I think they need to sort out their ticket pricing and location - I'm not sure a 4 day food event is necessary, especially when you could charge that £22.50 for 2 days, have a more condensed programme and a much larger crowd in attendance. In a year that has brought the successes of Eat Drink Bristol Fashion, Grillstock Festival, Vegfest, Bristol Beer Week and the inaugural Food Connections - there's definitely an appetite for premium food & drink events in Bristol, and more reason to celebrate our restaurants, bars, farmers, bakers and brewers than ever, but the key to all the events I've just listed is that they had a clear M.O., and a ticket price to suit their audience.

Lessons learned, I look forward to seeing what Grape and Grain come back with next year - any excuse to sip gin at 1pm and compare cheese toasties…

Editors note: Tickets were provided by Grape and Grain for our bloggers.

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