The 16th annual Powerstock Cider Festival
In 2001 the village of Powerstock needed a new roof for the village community hall, fondly referred to as “the hut.” Local amateur cidermaker Nick Poole organized a festival with four cidermakers and more food producers. The event was such a success, that they made it an annual affair, and replaced the food vendors with more cidermakers. Over the last 16 years the Powerstock festival has raised over £40,000 for local charities, including the Air Ambulance, as well as putting a new roof on the hut.
The “hut” is a wood floored community center, with solar panels on the roof, which not only power the hut, but also actually are a source of income for the community. The village of Powerstock only has about 50 inhabitants, and with neighboring Nettlecombe and West Milton the parish has about 300 residents.
Nick Poole and his wife Dawn have since made the jump to commercial production and their West Milton keeved cider even beat out the locals in a Normandy cider competition.
The Powerstock cider festival is unique in that home producers and commercial producers compete on a level playing field. Cider is submitted in glass gallon demijohns in dry, medium, and sweet categories. This year there were entries from cidermakers producing 20 liters to over 100,000 liters a year. (Cider Riot! made 64,000 liters last year). While the majority of cidermakers participating were from Dorset and Somerset, there were also participants from Wales, Hereford, Gloucestershire, Kent, Normandy, and Oregon. Over the years cidermakers from as far away as Scotland and Lincolnshire have taken part.
The ciders are judged at the beginning of the afternoon. All cidermakers who enter get to judge, and samples are pulled from the demijohns with turkey basters. It’s a tall order but judges must sample all the entries to make their decisions. This year that meant 22 dry ciders, 14 mediums, and 11 sweets. Used to competitions such as the PICC and GABF where judges have time to write comments on the ciders or beers being judged I was the slow judge, after taking meticulous notes on the drys I must admit I had to rush through the other two categories. The ciders varied greatly, from lovely and well-balanced ciders with notable varietal characteristics from Kingston Black, Sweet Alford (a native Dorset variety), and Dabinett, to more acidic ciders such as Wise Owl from Kent, which took first place in the Dry category, made with a blend of Dabinett and dessert apples, to downright acetic ciders, and even one mousey one.
After the judging concludes votes are tabulated as cidermakers talk shop. Tables are pushed to the sides, awards are given out, and then the public descends on the hut for the festival portion of the afternoon. Cidermakers are asked to stand with their ciders and pour samples and talk about their ciders to the public, in a festival format familiar to us in Cascadia. Again there is no divide between bigger producers, such as Dorset Nectar and Dorset Star and home cidermakers. Everyone has the opportunity to share their ciders with the public. (In the UK anyone can produce up to 7000 liters (about 14,000 pints) of cider without paying the excise tax, and don’t need a license to sell it, so the line between commercial and home producers is much thinner than in other countries.
As the evening fell, the Skimmity Hitchers took to the stage to play their brand of cider-fuelled Scrumpy and Western to an enthusiastic crowd. By the time they finished up the final encore at 11pm, the dance floor was soaked in cider, and the crowd was smiling broadly. Sadly this was the last Powerstock Cider Festival, as Nick Poole is stepping down as organizer. I was honor to compete in the final festival, and was happy to be able to share our 1763 Revolutionary West Country Style Cider with the crowd there. Though it did not win any prizes the cider was well received and I learned a lot from talking to the cidermakers from small scale producers such as Albert Rixsen from Gloucester and Phil Palmer from Wales, and Michele from Normandy, to larger producers such as Charlie Harris of Talbot Harris cider, and the Dorset Nectar family, who used to live near Port Townsend. This is the magic that was Powerstock.