Porto Beers and Bars

Last month we headed out to Porto, Portugal, for a long weekend. We didn’t have high expectations for the beer there as the micro-brewing revolution that has reached many parts of Europe hasn’t quite hit that area yet – Sagres and Super Bock are the big beer names there (when we asked our taxi driver what his favourite beer was, he replied “Ah, I love Super Bock”!) And of course, Porto is all about the port wine, which is fantastic (especially the white port). But there were a few surprise beer discoveries along the way, and some decent pubs/bars too. Here are some of the bars we visited and the beers we tried.

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Uma Velha Tinha Um Gato

IMG_0922Or, loosely translated, ‘A Grandmother had a Cat’. Yes, I know. When I asked the smiling waiter why the bar had such a strange name, I was told it was because a grandmother had a cat. OK.

This was one of a handful of bars on the lovely Praça da Ribeira, overlooking the Douro River in Porto’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was our first evening there; we sat at a table gazing out across the river at the twinkling lights of the port houses reflected in the dark water. I ordered a Super Bock stout which I enjoyed; it didn’t have the fullest body, but it was pleasantly creamy and easy to drink, and by the time I reached the end of the bottle I was left wanting more.

Galeria de Paris

IMG_1076This brown wooden cafe bar, in the student/night life area of the city centre on Rua Galeria de Paris, was a pleasant surprise, with lots of old collectables in cases around the room such as computers, toys, telephones, dolls, and even half a car sticking out of the wall. The ornate golden tap on the bar served Sagres. We ordered two bottles; one of Sagres Preta (stout) and a regular Super Bock (€3.50 for both – bargain).

IMG_1077The Preta was very drinkable – there were more roasted flavours than the Super Bock stout and it had more body, although I didn’t necessarily prefer it over the Super Bock; both were decent enough stouts. The regular Super Bock was pleasant enough, as far as lagers go. I’m not particularly a lager fan, but I did enjoy the sweet caramel finish.

We’d been in the cafe/bar for about 20 minutes when the waitresses began to put tablecloths on empty tables, transforming the place into an evening restaurant with only a few simple pieces of material. When it was just our table and another that were still occupied, with the waitresses lingering in the corners, tablecloths in hand, we decided it was time to move on.

Mercearia das Flores

IMG_1074This little light and airy deli/cafe on Rua das Flores was a breath of fresh air – it sold all kinds of Portuguese produce, including the ubiquitous port, but surprisingly, it also sold bottles of locally-brewed beer (actually, it wasn’t a surprise – that’s why we came here in the first place). Beers from Porto brewer Os Tres Cervejeros lined the shelves (brand name Sovina) with varieties including an IPA, a helles, a stout, a wheat beer, and an amber. They also do a seasonal Bock and Christmas beer.

IMG_0864There were also beers from Cerveja Letra brewery – beers brewed by two scientists from Braga, down the road from Porto, with each of their beers named after a letter: Letra A, Letra B;  you get the picture. Their beers included a wheat beer (Letra A) pilsner (B), a stout (C), and a red ale (D).

We munched on lovely lupin beans (they go so well with beer) and a sheep’s cheese sandwich (which tasted of the smell of the country) whilst drinking Sovina Helles on draft – a clean, refreshing, delicate lager. We were told that their draft Sovina beer changes as soon as the cask runs out, so we tried our best to help it along its way, but despite our keen efforts we had to be content with buying the other varieties in bottles.

IMG_1057Out of the bottles we purchased, the Letra B (pilsner) stood out, this cloudy beer packed with lovely sherbet and floral flavours. Delicious. The Sovina IPA was thirst quenching, but would’ve been even better if loaded with more hops. The stout was rich and pleasant. All in all, these beers were a great find.

The ladies in the deli also told us about new artisan beers that had just been produced by brewery Vadia, not far from Porto, so we searched them out in a nearby restaurant and bought the Vadia Ruiva. It wasn’t massively impressive – not a bad beer, but not that exciting either – but these are beers from a brand new brewer, and that’s a great thing to see in itself in Portugal.

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Caves de Cerveja

IMG_1027On the opposite side of the river from Porto, in Gaia where the port houses dominate, there is a large beer bar/restaurant at the far end of the Cais de Gaia waterfront (just keep walking…). A contemporary building in a modern entertainment complex, it is themed as a microbrewery, with faux brewery equipment by the doorway, producing a strange bright green liquid – just a gimmick (I hope…). But in reality the beers available are brewed by big producers Unicer and Republica da Cerveja.

IMG_1022It’s a pleasant environment, with large picture windows, a long stainless steel bar with several taps, decent enough food (such as the famous francesinha sandwich served in beer and tomato sauce) and friendly waiters.

IMG_1026We munched on fries whilst perusing the beer menu, and ordered small glasses of several of them – handily, the beers were offered in a choice of pour size. The creamy stout was good, but I reckon it was the Super Bock stout in disguise. The Abadia Super Bock was strangely just like Super Bock, although it’s meant to be stronger, and a wheat beer; it was a challenge to tell any difference. The Puro Malte (100 % malt, it says on the tasting notes) was just an uninteresting light lager (for me). The Cerveja Artisenal was very similar to Super Bock, but just a touch sharper. So all in all, the stout was the best. To be fair, as I don’t particularly enjoy lager beers, I’m not really the best judge on these styles – but all I can say is, give me the Sovina Helles over these lagers any time.

While we were there we learnt that mixing beer with soft drinks is popular: mixing beer with 7up is called panache, with Coca-Cola it’s called diesel, and with gooseberry it‘s called tango. You learn something new every day.

Casa da Horta

IMG_1089Whilst not a bar, this establishment – a cultural and environmental association that aims to promote sustainable and alternative ways of living – has a vegan/veggie restaurant that just happens to serve bottles of Sovina. We enjoyed a bottle of organic Sovina IPA in a cave-like basement setting surrounded by local artwork and dreadlocked staff whilst enjoying a soya and veg stew with rice. Nice.

A few other beer bars/pubs to visit

There are many, many bars in Porto – far too many to mention – but these listed below are beer-oriented (if you want port and wine then every other bar offers them; they’re pretty easy to find). We didn’t have time to visit the bars below, but they were firmly on our beer to-do list.

Bonaparte, Foz do Douro
A popular Irish style pub in the popular suburbian seaside setting of Foz, a short tram or bus ride away from the city centre on the main road (Av. do Brasil) opposite Praia de Luz beach cafe. Guinness and bottled beer available.

Ryan‘s Irish Pub
Another Irish pub on one of the main streets (Rua Infante D. Henrique) close to Porto’s waterfront. Narrow and long, dimly lit, stools lining the wooden bar, and Guinness on tap as well as Kilkenny and bottles of beer available.

Portobeer, at Porto Palacio Hotel 
A contemporary restaurant/’beer hall’ in this 5 star hotel a little out of the city centre. More restaurant than bar (with veggie francesinhas on offer) plus a large-ish beer list, including regulars Sagres and Super Bock.

 

Porto is a wonderful place to visit, and I have no doubt that in a few years the beer scene will have evolved dramatically. The country is on the verge of a major change with regards to beer, and with breweries such as Os Tres Cervejeros, Vadia, and Cerveja Letra already making an impact, the number of artisan brewers can only increase, and beer in Portugal can only get better. And that’s an exciting thought.

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Published in: on April 28, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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St Neots Beer Festival – Booze on the Ouse

The 42nd St Neots Beer and Cider Festival, organised by Huntingdonshire CAMRA, took place Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th March at the Priory Centre. We’d never actually been to the festival before, so on this sunny Saturday we decided to take the bus to St Neots.

The easy 40-minute bus ride on the X5 from Cambridge took us to the market square, which is a 5 minute walk away from the venue by the river. We arrived around 12.30 and were pleased to find that it wasn’t jam packed at this early hour, unlike the Ely beer festival was at midday in February!

Beer casks, courtesy of @pintsandpubs

Beer casks, courtesy of @pintsandpubs

The main hall was half filled with chairs and tables, which was great to see – lots of space to sit, drink and chat. At the back was a farmers market type stall selling ploughmans – cheeses, olives, bread, all lovely and fresh looking, and a hot stew (not veggie, unfortunately).  Along the side and back were the ales  (over 60 available over the course of the fest) and ciders, bottled foreign and local beer (including a festival special from Draycott) and a tombola thrown in for good measure (we had a few goes, and no, we didn’t win anything). The signs leading to ‘the smoking area’ actually led to a lovely little riverside terrace where we sat in the sun enjoying our beers.

The staff were really friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere was relaxed and chilled out. I was pleased to see that they were serving thirds – it meant that I could try a few more beers…

Grain beer, St Neots Some beers that I really enjoyed:
Hopshackle Kinesis – Light, golden and hoppy – at only 3.8% it was an easy drinking beer to start with.
Skinners Splendid Tackle - My beer of the fest – fresh, hoppy, honey flavours, very mellow and English tasting, and very moreish.
Bexar County Café Pequeño – Lots of flavour packed into this little 2.8% unfined coffee stout. Went down very easily.
Bexar County American Pale – A tasty golden strong ale (5.7%) with lots of hops. Didn’t taste its abv at the start, but felt it warming me up after a few more sips!
Grain Year of Hops: Cascade -Big hop aroma and flavour. Only 4.4% but full bodied and nicely balanced.

We tried a few more decent beers, including Mighty Oak English Oak, and one that I wasn’t so keen on, Mauldons Lemon Adder, with too much ginger and strong lemon flavours for my taste – but according to bar staff it was going down very well!

A great, well-organised little festival and one we’ll definitely go back to next time – and at a mere 40-minute bus ride from Cambridge there really is no excuse not to…

Terrace, St Neots

Published in: on March 16, 2014 at 8:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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Golden Pints 2013

It’s December, which means it’s time for this year’s Golden Pints awards:

Best UK Cask Beer
1st) Cambridge Moonshine Ison. Wonderful, resinously hoppy beer from a great brewer.
2nd) Oakham Green Devil. Always wonderful to find this fruity IPA on draft. Such a shame they stopped bottling it.
Honourable mention: Bexar San Jacinto – a hop monster from this Texan brewer based in Peterborough doing in-your-face exciting things with beer.

Best UK Keg Beer
1st) Buxton Wyoming Sheep Ranch. Fantastic beer, first sampled at the launch event of the beer at Euston Tap, and I’ve had it several times since (on keg at Norwich Tap was the last occasion, and very nice it was too).
2nd) Summer Wine Pacer. Light and easy drinking with lots of floral hops.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
1st) Any of Buxton’s bottled beers really, from their IPAs such as Axe Edge and Wild Boar to their Rednik Stout. I’ll settle on Buxton Axe Edge today, but that could change tomorrow…
2nd)  Magic Rock Rapture. A fruity red ale, one of my go-to beers.
Honourable mention:  Thornbridge Jaipur - another go-to beer, citrus hops and full bodied.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
1st) Ithaca Flower Power (NY, USA). I had this in Salem, MA, and Boston, MA. Loaded with fruity and floral hops, golden, drinks SO easily, wonderfully balanced, I could go on…
2nd) Maine Beer Co Peeper (ME, USA). I drank this in New York, Portland, ME and Boston, MA. Fresh hops, sweet and delicate, wonderfully crafted beer.
Honourable mentions: The lovely Mendocino Imperial IPA (CA, USA) and the fantastic Lagunitas IPA (CA, USA) with its tropical fruit flavours. And De Praal Mary should also get a mention, a wonderful barley wine from the Netherlands. Wow to all five of these beers.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
1st) Green Flash West Coast IPA (CA, USA). Intensely hoppy, my sort of beer.
2nd) Ithaca Flower Power. Ditto
Honourable mention: St Bernadus 6 -Pater. A go-to beer when I’m after something velvety and comforting.

Best Collaboration Brew
Hard to call.. I haven’t had that many, and none have particularly stuck in my mind.

Best Overall Beer
Ithaca Flower Power. Just lovely.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
1st) Grain Brewery wooden pump clips in general – you can immediately see if there’s a Grain beer on at the bar.
2nd) Magic Rock – I like the carnival/funfair style of their designs.
Honourable mention: Buntingford Brewery, for the witty and sometimes rambling wording on their pump clips.

Best UK Brewery
1st) Buxton. Consistently great.
2nd) Magic Rock. Love their beers, keg or cask.
Honourable mention: Partizan. They are are doing great things with beer; I haven’t had a bad one from them

Best Overseas Brewery
I’d have to go with Rogue (OR, USA) – I’ve had many of their beers on draft and in bottles, and I love the Dry Hopped St Rogue Red, Mocha Porter, Juniper Pale Ale, Brutal IPA… the list goes on…
2) St Bernardus, Belgium – high quality, easy-drinking beer.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013
Redwell in Norwich, even though strictly speaking they opened towards the end of 2012. Great little brewery that sells good quality keg beer and lager and hosts many events in its small and cute space.

Pub/Bar of the Year
InternationalMcSorley’s Old Ale House, NYC. Wonderful atmosphere with sawdust on the floor, banter from the barman, dusty antiques and newspaper cuttings all over the walls, and when you order one beer (light or dark) you receive two, whether you like it or not.
Closer to homeThe Free Press, Cambridge (quality beer, banter and atmosphere) and the Elm Tree, Cambridge (cosy, candlelit den and lots of Belgian beer).

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

Pint Shop, Cambridge, for the large range of high quality hard-to-get-hold-of keg and cask beer from breweries far and wide.

Beer Festival of the Year

Cambridge Beer Festival. Great beer and crowd, and fantastic location on Jesus Green – you can’t beat drinking beer on the grass in the sun.

Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose. Good selection of beer from the likes of Thornbridge, BrewDog and Fullers.

Independent Retailer of the Year
Bacchanalia, Cambridge. Nice and local with a good range of local and national beers, as well as beers from Europe and the USA.

Online Retailer of the Year
Beers of Europe. Fast delivery and a good selection of beers.

Best Beer Book or Magazine
CAMRA’s quarterly BEER magazine. An interesting read.

Best Beer Blog or Website
pintsandpubs.wordpress.com. Lots of well researched pub history, amusing anecdotes, and random interesting information about beer and breweries. Always an enjoyable, informative read.

Best Beer App
Craft Beer London. Well, it was useful when visiting London! I don’t tend to use beer apps much.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
@pintsandpubs .

Best Brewery Website/Social media
For social media I’ll go for Buntingford Brewery – the blog posts are very amusing, dry, witty, and ever so slightly sarcastic.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Thai green curry with a light, refreshing Oakham Citra.

East Coast USA beers and bars – New York, Salem, Boston and Portland

In September we headed over to East Coast USA and visited bars and bottle shops in New York, Salem, Boston, and Portland, Maine – here are the bars we visited and beers we tried. (This post  is very long – you have been warned..!)

New York

Greenwich Village

Blind Tiger beer boardThe Blind Tiger

We visited this bar several times when we were in New York.  This dimly-lit dark wooden one-room bar was atmospheric and had a great beer choice, with 28 craft beers on tap plus 3 cask ales which were chalked on a few blackboards behind the bar. The bar was busy on every visit, but the later it got the busier and louder it became. Me and pintsandpubs sat at the bar and worked our way through some of the beers on offer.

Blind Tiger beersTwo Brothers Bitter End APA,  5.2%, was a pleasant malty caramel beer from Illinois with lots of hops. It wasn’t quite as APA-tasting as I’d have liked – it didn’t really slap me around the face with its massive hop flavours – but it was tasty nonetheless. Troegs Perpetual IPA, 7.5%, from Pennsylvania didn’t taste its ABV; it was quite light with hints of peach and orange. Again, I would have preferred more of a hop kick. However, the Mendocino Imperial IPA, 8.0%, was more like it – this West Coast IPA certainly delivered. Bursting with hops, both in the aroma and flavour, made for a wonderful taste experience. Delicious!

Blind Tiger interiorEmpire Amber, 5.5% from New York, was enjoyable – a caramel malty beer which was light and very easy-drinking. I wasn’t too impressed with Weyerbacker Last Chance IPA, a session beer which didn’t have much going on – it was sweet and sour at the same time, and I found the hops to be too astringent for me. But Barrier Medulla, 7.1%, really stood out. This beer is known as an English IPA, but it’s more American Imperial IPA; it’s wonderfully strong and malty with beautiful resinous hops and caramel flavours. Barrier, from Oceanside, New York, is a great brewery doing exciting things with beer, which seemed to be the opinion of everyone we spoke to in NYC.

White horse tavern White Horse Tavern

This lovely old pub on Hudson Street is where Kerouac got thrown out of when drunk (he lived in an apartment opposite), where Bob Dylan used to hang out, and where Dylan Thomas had his last drink before dying later that night. The dark wood interior is beautifully kept, especially the large polished bar, and there are photos on the walls and paintings of white horses. White Horse barIt’s a place that could tell a tale or two, and history oozes from the walls. The bottles of tomato ketchup on every table sticks in my mind; they seemed glaringly out of place in this ornate and old fashioned pub – but I guess it caters more for diners than drinkers nowadays. We settled on a table outside and had a $7 pint of Lagunitas IPA, with its juicy tropical fruit hop flavours. A very refreshing, delicate, and underrated beer.

Rabbit Club entranceRabbit Club 124

This subterranean speakeasy-style bar is located on well-known MacDougal, a few doors down from where the old Gas Light Cafe was situated (the reason I wanted to visit was to try to picture what the Gas Light might once have looked like, where Dylan played and Kerouac recited poetry). It’s easily missed, and located underneath a taqueria sign – look out for the black door and small writing above it saying ‘rabbit club craft beer bar’ (and a painting of a rabbit, which is a slight give-away) then descend the steep steps. I was expecting the door to be closed and that we’d have to ring a bell, which I’d heard about,  but it looks like they’ve changed all that – the door was open, which was slightly disappointing and ruined the anticipation somewhat! It’s dark, dingy, shows no sport (which has to be a first) and surprisingly, a relatively new addition to the bar scene on this busy street – I’d have thought it dated back to those Kerouac times, but no. Rabbit Club interior

Rabbits are painted on the black walls, figures of rabbits are scattered on the shelf behind the bar, and candles cast dim light. This is a great place to come if you like Belgian beers – it has probably the biggest selection of Belgian bottles in the area – but they are not cheap, as to be expected.  I fancied a draft US beer, but unfortunately both draft beers needed changing – Founders All Day IPA and a Bear Republic brown ale. I ended up having Evil Twin Hipster Pale Ale in a can, a light and fruity, easy-drinking hoppy beer.

Carmine Street Beers

This new beer shop was very close to where we were staying in the West Village. It’s nice and bright, has a great selection of beers, and had a lovely seasonal window display!

Carmine Street beers Beers

 Kettle of Fish

Neon Bar signOn Christopher’s Street, a few doors from where Kerouac once fell off a fire escape on a nearby house, is the Kettle of Fish, the third location of the bar which was previously frequented by Dylan when it was on MacDougal St next to the old Gas Light Cafe. If you descend a few steps you enter the relatively dark wooden bar, with old photos of the old Kettle on the walls, fairy lights everywhere, and the original neon Bar sign around the corner.Kettle of Fish It’s large – much larger than you think when you walk to the other, quieter, side. We sat at the bar and had a Red Hook IPA, 6.2%, on draft, which was nice, hoppy and easy drinking but didn’t have an awful lot going on compared to some of the other brews we’d tried.

Old Kettle of Fish

Old Kettle of Fish

Lower East Side

Top Hops draft beersTop Hops Beer Shop

This taproom/bottle shop is located in the Lower East Side on Orchard St, just a block from lively and once edgy Ludlow St where musicians and artists used to hang out in bars and venues such as Luna Lounge and Max Fish, before they shut down and relocated to Brooklyn.

Outside Top Hops

Although you might head to Top Hops for the 700-odd bottles on sale, I would go just for the taproom – there are about 20 taps selling US and imported craft beer, with the beers available all chalked up on the board behind the long curvy stainless steel bar along with beer style and ABV. The bar tender was friendly and helpful, and gave me a few tasters before I decided on the Founders All Day IPA, a light hoppy session IPA at 5%. Carton Boat Beer across the water in New Jersey was another great find, another session beer and paler than the All Day IPA. Needless to say, we left the bar with several bottles.

Top Hops bar

Hell’s Kitchen/Theater District

Pony BarPony Bar

This mid-town bar close to Times Square which sells ‘All American Craft Beer’ was pretty noisy by the time we arrived in the evening with sports showing on TV and loud shouty conversations taking place. Pony bar beersHowever, the beer list was really extensive, including beers like Mendocino Pumpkin Ale, Barrier Imposter Pilsner and Abita Pecan Harvest – the beers, brewery names and pour size were displayed in neon lights on a couple of boards behind the bar. I went for a Cricket Hill Big Little IPA, a slightly floral session IPA, which to be honest could’ve done with a bit more ooomph; I maybe should’ve realised from the use of the word ‘little’ in the name that it wasn’t going to be as big and exciting as I would have liked. The bar soon became even noisier and packed, so we moved on after another beer.

Outside Pony Bar

House of Brews

Chelsea Hop AngelThis was a nice lamp-lit bar filled with dark shiny wood, rows of bottles above the bar, and TVs showing sport. They have around 100 beers on their beer list; most of these are bottles from around the world including beers from Belgium and the UK (Young’s Double Chocolate Stout made the list, which was interesting to see). House of Brews beers

The small draft beer list included Bronx Pale Ale and Founders Centennial IPA.  I opted for a Chelsea Hop Angel IPA, 6.8%, brewed in New York, for $7 a pint, which I really enjoyed – an easy drinking smooth and hoppy beer with lots of malt and hints of caramel.

East Village

Mc Sorley’s Old Ale House

McSorleysMcSorley’s has to be one of my favourite pubs in NYC. It’s old, and the old photos and framed newspaper cuttings covering the walls and dusty ornaments on and around the bar are testament to its age.  There’s a pair of handcuffs locked to the bar, allegedly Houdini’s. Light and dark

Sawdust covers the floor, grafitti is carved into the wood, and there is an unforgettable aroma of wood chippings mixed with old beer, which has stayed with me to this day. If you order a beer you get not one but two half pint glass tankards – they serve their own house brews, ‘light’ and  ‘dark’ – for $5.50. Both were good beers, but I really loved the easy drinking dark – smooth and quite creamy with a hint of smoke; delicious. We went back for several more and stayed much longer than we had intended.

Bar area Bar and sawdust  Locals at bar Bar

Jimmy’s Number 43

Inside Jimmy'sThis subterranean bar a few doors down from McSorleys couldn’t be more different. From the outside it doesn’t look that inviting, with lots of metal grating, but once you get down those stairs then it’s warm, cosy and has tons of bottles, and a good draft beer list including Six Point Apollo Wheat (Brooklyn) and their Beljam Wheat. Jimmy's Beer listWe had a beautiful Firestone Walker Double Jack Imperial IPA, 9.5%, which was bursting with resinous hops, followed by a dark rich and strong (10%) Thornbridge Hall Bracia from our own shores. Not ideal beers to have one after the other with my tolerance levels suffering after having had several in McSorley’s previously, but it all made for a great evening.

Jimmy's by day Jimmy's by night

Good Beer

This friendly craft beer shop with tons of great bottles including Green Flash, Anderson Valley and Founders (shame about the lack of space in our cases, although we did manage to squeeze a few more in) also had several beers on tap including Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin IPA and the lovely Maine MO. This beautifully delicate pale beer is fresh and fruity, refreshing and zingy, and is just wonderful -  a beer you could just keep on drinking.

Good Beer bottles Outside Good Beer

Brooklyn

The Owl FarmOwl Farm

This pub is over the river in Brooklyn and a short stroll from the  4th Avenue/9th Street subway. Long, narrow and painted burgundy and white inside, with exposed brick, wooden floor and low hanging lights, this sleek pub-style bar showing sports (as usual) had 28 beers on tap from the likes of Evil Twin, Stone and Narragansett.

Inside Owl FarmI had a Stone Levitation after several tasters – not a new beer for me, but one that I always like to go to. We also had a Stone Enjoy by 9.13.13 – a limited edition beer. At 11% it probably wasn’t the best beer to have just before attempting to walk back to Manhattan over Brooklyn Bridge…!

Beer board in Owl Farm  Beer

Brooklyn Bridge

Salem

Beer Works Bar Salem Beer Works

After moving on to the small and historic ‘Witch City’ of Salem it was great to find this down-to-earth sprawling modern bar filled with stainless steel, sports screens, large booths, and a big beer list, all brewed by the Beer Works. I didn’t really have any expectations, but was really surprised – I enjoyed all their beers. The Double Pale Ale was strong at 8.5% and was a great full-flavoured imperial IPA, but I actually preferred the Back Bay IPA, a fantastic 6.5% beer that cut through everything, even after drinking the Double. Witch City Red, 5%, was gorgeous, like drinking a fruity sherbet, and the Salem American Pale Ale 5.5% reminded me of London Pride which I didn’t expect or want (don’t get me wrong, London Pride is a good beer; I just wanted something more American). I just wish I’d had more time to try their other beers, including Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale, Black Bay Stout, Bay State ESB – the list goes on…

Beer list 1 Beer list 2

Howling Wolf Taqueria

Howling WolfThe great thing about restaurants in these parts is that they always seem to have great beer on offer. This Mexican joint didn’t disappoint, and we shared a tasting tray/flight of beers including Shipyard Pumpkin Ale, Ithaca Flower Power, Allagash Black, and one other which escapes me. Ithaca Flower Power, 7.5%, had to be my favourite out of the four – strong but easy drinking, bursting with citrus hops and floral flavours, and as in-your-face as they come. I didn’t enjoy the spicy Shipyard as I’m not a great fan of cinnamon, and the Allagash Black was OK, but after the Ithaca there really was no contest.

Quality Liquors

This bottle shop on Gedney Street sold a good range of craft beers, including some seasonal pumpkin ales from Dogfish Head Pumpkin beersand Weyerbacher, bottles from Maine Beer Co and Pretty Things.

Beers 1

Salem Witch Museum

Portland ME

Great Lost Bear

Outside Great Lost BearAfter a 2.5 hour train journey from Salem to Boston we got straight on a bus to Bier Cellar, an excellent bottle shop on Forest Avenue, and realised this pub was a 10-minute walk up the road, so we decided to visit it. This dull-looking warehouse building with a bear painted on one wall surprised us as we went inside, with its neon lights, an eating area separated from the long bar with etched glass, and beer signs dotted around everywhere – very colourful and pretty. And a big beer list with 69 taps. The first thing the hostess said to us, pointing at our large brown paper bag of beer from Bier Cellar, was “You’re not planning on drinking that in here, are you?” Urr, no, why would we do that, what with your massive selection of draft beers…? “Well I thought that might be something you do where you come from” she stated unsmilingly. Ohhhkay…

Great Lost Bear barDespite the odd welcome, it was a nice place. We ordered some Maine Peeper (gorgeous delicately hopped and fresh, like all their beers) and munched on fries whilst drinking Sebago Fry’s Leap, an absolutely wonderful IPA, Six Point Simcoe IPA, which was almost as good as the Fry’s Leap, Funky Bow So Folkin Hoppy, which wasn’t really, even though it was a decent IPA, and Magic Hat Not Quite Pale Ale, which I can’t say we liked – it was like a malty bitter but not a great one at that which was a shame.

Beer list Taster flight

Novare Res Bier Cafe

Novare ResThis ‘bier cafe’ is tucked down a little alleyway off Lower Exchange Street, one of the main shopping streets running down towards the port. It was well presented, with candles on all the tables creating a cosy and relaxed atmosphere. The food looked good, but not much for veggies so we passed. They have around 30 taps and over 500 bottles, plus a couple of hand pumps. We had more lovely Maine Peeper, and a Marshall Wharf Pale Ale, which was too sulphurous and not to my taste. We could’ve stayed longer, but there were more places to seek out on our mini Portland crawl.

Thirsty Pig

Thirsty PigThis place for sausage lovers in the centre of town also does lots of great beer. We were pleased to discover it sold veggie hot dogs, so along with one of those smothered in onions and ketcup (pintsandpubs regretted asking for one with hot sauce, which ended up being so hot that it killed his taste buds), we enjoyed some more Maine MO, as lovely and fruity as ever, and some Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA, which was sweet and malty and a bit too sulphurous but with a pleasant after taste. There were about 10 draft beers available as well as lots of bottles, and the friendly staff offered tasters. A nice patio area out back overlooked the back end of Portland’s downtown redbrick buildings- very similar to buildings in England, actually. Nice place.

Gritty McDuff’s

Grittys beersStyled as an English pub, this microbrewery and restaurant is the sort of place you can imagine long-gone sailors hanging out outside in the gas-lit cobbles of dark old fashioned Wharf Street. The downstairs bar (Wharf Street level) is small and ‘gritty’, and upstairs (Fore St level) is noisier, larger, brighter, and full of locals and visitors.

Some of the locals are part of the Mug Club; their numbered mugs hang from the ceiling of the bar, they pay $75 a year to join, and they receive cheap beer and special deals on Sundays and Tuesdays; the bar tender fishes the mugs down with a giant hook which was very entertaining to watch.Mugs! I ordered a Gritty’s Pub Style Pale Ale which was light, hoppy and quite weak, and pintsandpubs had a Maine’s Best IPA which was darker, maltier and quite rich – both were decent beers. I liked Gritty’s, and loved atmospheric Wharf Street with its gas lamps.

Outside Gritty's, Wharf St

Wharf St

Boston

Downtown

StoddardsStoddard’s

The first pub we visited upon arrival in Boston, our final city, was Stoddard’s ‘Fine Food and Ale’. This was quite an elegant bar, with plenty of dark polished wood and chandeliers, and about 20 shiny taps along the bar which we couldn’t get to due to the crowds. There were many diners and not much room to sit though, so we perched on a bench near the door and ordered a bottle of Maine Beer Co Lunch, which pintsandpubs had been searching for since NYC. It was filled with mellow hops, maybe not quite as fresh as the MO and Peeper – Maine beers have to be drunk within days or at the most a couple of weeks after they are brewed to taste them at their best – but it was still a great choice.

Beacon Hill

Tip Tap Room

Tip Tap - Ballast Point Sculpin This bar on Cambridge Road, on the edge of pretty Beacon Hill with its gas lamps and cobbled streets, was a pleasant surprise, with about 36 taps stretching around the long sprawling bar. It was heaving with diners and drinkers, and we managed to grab the two last seats at the stainless steel bar (the hostess sitting diners said it was busy because it was ‘hump’ day – Wednesday, when everyone comes out as its midweek -  we’d never heard of this before in the UK!). Beer list

I had a lovely Ballast Point Sculpin, a very nice 7%  IPA that I’d last enjoyed at the GBBF in August. Pintsandpubs had a massively hoppy Port Brewing Wipeout IPA, 7%, which he raved about, and we then had a Founders Double Trouble, 9.4%, which although was rich and resinous it didn’t quite match up to the well crafted Wipeout;  the strong alcohol flavours were not very well disguised.

The Sevens Ale House

Sevens Ale HouseOutside SevensThis pub on Charles St, Beacon Hill, is a locals pub – not your touristy pub like some others in town. It’s long and narrow, quite dark, full of old faded wood, sports photos, breweriana, and has locals propping up the bar drinking beer or munching on food and watching sport on TV. I ordered the house beer Sevens Dark Ale, which was actually Dark Munich brewed by Harpoon – a strong dark beer, similar to McSorley’s dark, but a fair bit stronger. Harpoon IPA was also on, as was Sam Adams Boston Lager.

Cambridge

Cambridge Brewing Company, Cambridge

CBC This brewery-restaurant is located across the river from Boston in Cambridge on Kendall Square , just a few subway stops from the centre of Boston on the red line. We went there to meet some friends, and found them at the back of the light and airy pub next to some bags of grain and close to some large shiny brewing vessels.

I had a Tall Tale Pale Ale, a pleasant beer with Cascade and Centennial hops, followed by a See You Next Tuesday, which although billed as a pale-amber beer was more of a dark bitter to me. CBC beer listA bit too spicy and malty and not as hoppy as I would’ve liked; I couldn’t really taste all the citrus hops. I preferred pintsandpubs Mind Left Body, a wonderfully hoppy bitter with a slightly sour finish. The food was great, service was good, the atmosphere was pleasant, and all in all it was a lovely evening with friends in the ‘other’ Cambridge.

Back Bay

The Salty Pig

Salty PigOpposite the Back Bay station and the entrance to Copley Square mall, the Salty Pig is apparently a good place to eat meat (which we don’t) but it also happens to have a good beer selection.  I fancied something relatively weak as a nightcap after our evening out in Cambridge, so I went for a 21st Amendment Bitter American at 4.4% which was light with lots of lemon hops. Salty Pig beersPintsandpubs had a Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA, 7%, which he loved, resinously hoppy – a great beer. Sport was showing on TVs behind the bar again, of course, and people around us were enjoying munching on ‘salty pig parts’. All in all, it was a decent place with a good atmosphere and close to where we were staying, so a nice short walk back.

Allston

Sunset Grill and Tap

Sunset Grill and TapThe Sunset Grill and Tap is one of those pubs that you have to go to when in Boston, and we did save the best til last; this was probably my favourite bar in the city. Although not in central Boston, it is worth the trek out to trendy Allston, although it took the longest time to get there – our own fault, we decided to head there during rush hour. Crowds were gathered in the underground T stations waiting for green line trains which were all clustered together waiting for the trains in front to move forwards. It must’ve took an hour to get from central Boston (Park St) to Packard’s Corner in Allston, which would have taken half the time if we’d travelled off peak. Anyway, back to the pub.

Outside SunsetThe exterior is painted in bright colours depicting a bar scene. The inside is cavernous and colourful with lots of neon lights and pictures, and there are over 100 beers on tap, and hundreds of bottles.

BeersThe beer menu is several pages long. You can choose a set menu of flights of beer, create your own flights, or just order a pint. We ordered lots of food (nachos, fries, burgers) and pintsandpubs ordered his favourite, Maine Peeper,  and I went for a delicious Green Flash West Coast IPA, as gorgeous and as resinously hoppy as ever. Sunset beers

Other beers included the beautifully fresh Ithaca Flower Power, my beer of the trip, Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp which had live yeast and it showed – far too yeasty for me - Green Flash Symposium Ale, 7%, which had an unusual hop grassy flavour but was tasty, Smuttynose Rhye IPA which was OK with slightly spicy notes but not quite as lip-smacking as the rest, and Green Flash Le Freak, a lovely strong Belgian style ale. A great place to spend our last evening in Boston.

So that was the end of our trip. We managed to bring some beers back with us, one of them being my favourite, Ithaca Flower Power, as well as some Maine beers. Unfortunately, these are all gone now, so I guess we need to start planning another trip soon. Better start saving up…

Swan Boats, Boston

The Pint Shop and the Blue Moon – two new Cambridge pubs!

This has been a pretty exciting few days for Cambridge – two new pubs have opened a mere day apart, and they both sell decent beer. Hurrah!

 First of all, the brand new Pint Shop opened its doors on Monday 4th November,  and then the Blue Moon on Norfolk Street (formerly the Man on the Moon) had its opening night on Tuesday 5th November – just in time to welcome in the crowds after the fireworks.

The Pint Shop, Peas Hill

Cask 'snug' barPint Shop (opposite Jamie’s Italian and a few doors away from the Corn Exchange) is an exciting addition to the Cambridge pub scene. Specialising in quality beer, with 10 beers on keg and 6 on cask from some of the most exciting breweries in the country and beyond, it also sells locally-produced food and about 45 gins; it’s slogan is Meat, Bread, Beer. As I am a veggie I’ve sampled the last two, which are great, and I understand the first one is pretty good too – if you eat meat.

Keg barWe went to the pre-launch party on the previous Thursday (Halloween) to see the place in all its splendour after massive renovation work to convert it from office to pub. They’ve done a fine job in creating a great space with nice touches; there’s a light and spacious bar area with giant beer chalkboard, a ‘snug’ style small cask beer bar, a surprise terrace garden out the back (I can’t wait for summer already) two sleek and simple, cosy and candlelit dining rooms (separate to the main bars) and lots of seating in every available nook and cranny. There are bar snacks such as chips and curry sauce and fennel pork scratchings, and their specially-baked bread and butter is wonderful (now I don’t usually enthuse about bread, but this one is g-o-o-d – and a perfect beer soaker-upper!)

There were about 6 of the potential 16 beers available at the pre-launch event including the light and easy-drinking Kernel Table Beer and the much stronger but fantastic Rogue Dead Guy Pale Ale from Oregon, USA. There was also Adnams Dry Hop Lager on keg, and their Old Ale on cask (which seemed to be going down very well). The house gin is Adnams Copper House gin, and was served with juniper berries and was very tasty.

Beer board in Pint ShopThe opening night saw all 16 beers on, and on Tuesday night, before the fireworks, I had a delightful De Molen Vuur & Vlam on keg, one of my favourites from the Netherlands, and a very tasty Buxton SPA on cask – hoppy, sweet, and moreishly delicious.

The staff have all been well trained, having attended several training sessions including beer tasting run by Mark Dredge (which we walked in on) as well as gin and wine tasting. It’s a hard life!

It’s great to see this former office building converted into a pub – we were lucky enough to be shown around by Rich and Benny before the renovation work started where they were enthusiastically explaining their vision and showing us the plans, so it’s wonderful to see it all come together so well. Good luck guys, it’s what Cambridge has been waiting for…

The Blue Moon, Norfolk Street

The Blue Moon is the new baby of Jethro and Terry from the Cambridge Blue and The Three Horseshoes, Stapleford. This former dive music venue/bar had squatters in between the last owners leaving and Jethro and Terry moving in, which was a shame for them when they just wanted to get stuck into the renovation, but it finally all came together and they were in there for a good few weeks stripping the front bar and making it their own. When we went in on Tuesday we were pleasantly surprised; what was once quite a run-down bar was much fresher feeling, with old sepia images of old Cambridge pubs on the walls, candles on every table, and  music playing on the stereo in the background. It’s simple and still only half-finished, but they’ve made a huge difference already.

Blue Moon - Redwell Pale AleThe line of 10 keg beers is the central focus on the bar, and a few cask ales also feature including old favourites Oakham Citra and Inferno. I had a Redwell Pale Ale on keg, an easy drinking beer with tropical hop flavours. The Harbour IPA at 6% was great; pretty potent and full-flavoured. Fruli strawberry beer was also on tap as well as Köstritzer, Duvel, and Brooklyn Lager.  So plenty to try.

Jethro and Terri’s empire keeps growing and they work hard, so I wish them the best of luck with their three pubs. I understand the beer selection is going to get very exciting at the Blue Moon so I am looking forward to that – watch this space!

It’s fantastic in this economic climate to see two new pubs springing up in the space of two days in Cambridge – one brand new one, and one much improved. Could this be the sign of things to come? Wishful thinking perhaps, but now I’m just happy that the choice of pubs in this city where you can find good beer has suddenly increased. Cheers to that!

A few London pubs – Cross Keys, Lamb and Flag, Old Red Cow

When in London on Wednesday afternoon I visited three pubs with some friends – the Cross Keys in Covent Garden, the Lamb and Flag, Covent Garden, and the Old Red Cow, Barbican. Each pub is very different with its own character and personality.

Cross Keys ExteriorI was last in the Cross Keys a few years back where I sat on the benches outside enjoying a beer or two, gazing at the colourful hanging baskets and foliage covering the ornate exterior of the pub and watching people wander by. With these memories in mind we’d arranged to meet a friend outside for a drink on the benches on the hottest day of the year so far. Upon arrival, however, we discovered that the outdoor seating no longer existed. There was nothing to sit on at all. Ah. That’s our plans scuppered then. ‘It was the council’ the barman told us. ‘They told us we had to choose between standing or seating outside – so we went for standing.’ ‘When was this?’ we enquired. ‘Five years ago’ he replied. OK. No sunny beers for us then.

Interior of Cross KeysSo we took a seat inside the dimly lit pub, next to the fan and open window where we could gaze at the hot world outside. It was probably for the best anyway – that sun and 32 degree heat was harsh.

The pub itself is a tiny one-bar pub, with small lamps lining the walls above the dark red leather seats, providing a red glow. The pub is covered in clutter – photos, mirrors, brass ornaments, everything you can think of. It’s beautiful.Brodies beers

We ended up staying in the pub for a few hours (some time was spent standing outside, it wasn’t all in the dark), during which time I worked my way through the Brodies range on offer at the bar and started over again. There were 4 Brodies beers available – Citra, London Fields Pale Ale, Bethnal Green Bitter, and Old Street Pale, plus a Windsor and Eton Guardsman. The Citra was only 3.1% and was just what I needed – light, lemony, refreshing, very neckable and not strong at all – wonderful citrus hop flavours for its low ABV. London Fields Pale Ale, 4%, had a hint of smokiness to it and was also quite citrussy (lots of US hops) – this also went down well. Bethnal Green Bitter at 4% was quite a dark bitter, and although pleasant enough, it was a touch too malty for me, I was on a hop kick. Then the Old Street Pale Ale gave me back the hops I was after, a 5.0% American Pale Ale loaded with Simcoe and Citra – lovely. It was hard to follow this, so when I went for the W&E Guardsman next it didn’t do it for me – another best bitter, tangy, malty. I guess I just needed hops at that point. Lots of them. It was one of those days.

Outside Cross Keys

Lamb and FlagWe then headed down the road to the Lamb and Flag. It was heaving as always, this time with the after work crowd. The alleyway and courtyard outside was filled with men in suits – well, shirts; it was too hot for suits. This low wooden beamed pub, the oldest in Covent Garden (if not in all of London) dates back to the 17th century and is very atmospheric with lots of dark wood, mirrors and panelling. Charles Dickens apparently used to frequent the establishment. It used to be pretty violent -  its nickname was the Bucket of Blood.

This Fullers pub had several of their beers on offer: London Pride, ESB, Chiswick Bitter, etc. I went for their seasonal Wild River, another APA with lots of West Coast US hops including Willamette and the ubiquitous Citra hop. Very nice.

Beer boardWe then moved on to Smithfield, where a couple of minutes’ walk from the Barbican/Farringdon Tubes is the Old Red Cow, right opposite the meat market. This is a 2-floor light and airy craft beer house, with loads of beers on draft and keg and a beer menu chalked up on the wall- one of the biggest selections in London they say. Again, busy with post-work drinkers, it was hard to get a seat (and far too hot to be sitting inside anyway) so we stood outside for a quick one before the train home. It was hard to choose just one beer from that massive selection, but I stuck with the light and citrus hop theme and went for a Buxton Special Pale Ale, 4.1%. Beautiful mellow flavours and full of Citra but not overpoweringly so; not top-heavy – it was really nicely balanced.

So that was that, time to catch the train home after a lovely day with friends. I’ll definitely return soon to some of these pubs – maybe the Old Red Cow first next time and try to work my way through their enormous range – but then again, if I do that then I probably won’t make it anywhere else…

40th Cambridge Beer Festival

Birthday CakeSo the Cambridge Beer Festival has come and gone, and this year it celebrated 40 years. At the end of the trade session on the Monday evening, a cake was wheeled out, everyone sang Happy Birthday, Bert Kenward the festival organiser had his photo taken with the cake for Cambridge News, then we all munched on it – it was gone in minutes (it was very yummy).

Cake demolished

Behind the barThis year I did a few shifts behind the bar as well as enjoying the festival from the right side of the bar (or the ‘wrong’ side, as another volunteer kept telling me). I worked on Hester’s bar, selling beers from breweries M to P, from Milton brewery to Plain Ales. Beers that flew out from this bar when I was working were Oakham Hare & Hedgehog, Moonshine Heavenly Matter, Old Bear Honeypot, and Moor Freddy Walker. Moor Dark Alliance was a popular one too along with Oakham Scarlet Macaw, Oakham Dreamcatcher and Oakham Midnight Mild. Pretty much all the Oakhams then. All good beers.

Magic Rck Curious  Beers behind the bar

Beer tasting panelI was involved in a blind beer tasting session between sessions on Wednesday, judging 8 East Anglian stouts with the favourite to be put forward to the champion stout category at the Great British Beer Festival in August. We were a panel of 6, including bar manager Steve, Will the editor of CAMRA’s ALE magazine, and @pintsandpubs. It was a lot of fun, but we still don’t know which stouts we tried as it was all very top secret so I can’t elaborate any further apart from saying my favourite was number 5 – smooth, roasty and easy drinking! We think we guessed what the strongest one, number 8, was – but I couldn’t possibly tell you or I’d have to kill you.

Sunny day Weather-wise, we had a mixed bag. Monday started off quite mild, although grey. Tuesday wasn’t a bad day either, a bit cloudy though. Wednesday was nice and sunny and I got slightly sunburnt, although it became chilly later in the evening. Broom!Thursday and Friday afternoons were pretty dire with heavy showers, and on a couple of occasions the rain came into the marquee near the pillars by the bars – a volunteer kept it at bay with a broom, much to the amusement of us lot behind the bar. So it became pretty muddy outside quite quickly. But on Saturday it all changed – the sun came out and stayed out, and we were in it all day as we weren’t working. I got burnt again, and everyone had a jolly good time.

BeersSo, favourite beers. I enjoyed a lot of light golden beers this year – the pale, dry and hoppy Oakham Hare and Hedgehog, the lovely sweet and grapefruity Moonshine Heavenly Matter, Bexar County Brewery Vaquero, a summery beer bursting with floral hops, and the golden Old Bear Honeypot, a honey ale. I also liked Buxton Moor Top with light citrus flavours, and Magic Rock Curious with US citrus hops. But Bishop Nick Heresy was my overall favourite, as it was at the East Anglian Beer Festival. It’s a mellow, warm, comforting, proper English beer with Challenger and Goldings hops. It’s just wonderful.

Strong hoppy beers I enjoyed were the 7% Hopshackle Resination as usual, Black Iris Intergalactic IPA, 6% with strong apricot flavours, and Oakham Dreamcatcher, 6.9%, a dark amber beer with strong peach and berry flavours.

As far as dark beers go, Moor Old Freddy Walker, 7.3%, was sublime – a well-blended, thick, stouty old ale that pours like Guinness (one satisfied customer kept coming back for pint after pint every lunchtime session as he loved it so much). Moor Dark Alliance was great, a dark coffee flavoured and hoppy beer, although so rich I could only drink a small amount  (that’s where the new third pint measures come in handy – good move Cambridge CAMRA!). I also enjoyed Bexar County Seis Banderas, a strong and roasty American stout at 7.3%.

Beers on the bar

One draft foreign beer which stood out for me was De Prael Mary, where I tried for the first time in Amsterdam in the De Prael taproom. It’s a barley wine at 9.7% with sweet and strong deep peach flavours – beautiful, and goes down very smoothly.

The beers of the festival were announced yesterday, and the joint winners were….. drum roll please….. Moor Freddy Walker, and Oakham Dreamcatcher. Wonderful beers and well deserved. Looks like our lunchtime customer who ordered pint after pint of Old Freddy had great taste. Same again? Don’t mind if I do!

Serving Old Freddy Walker

Cambridge CAMRA Pub of the Year Awards 2013

We were invited along to the Cambridge and District CAMRA Pub of the Year Awards which took place last night at the Hopbine. As well as the award for pub of the year there were 10 other awards going, including community pub of the year, locale pub, and most improved pub.

Audience

By 8pm the Hopbine was heaving with familiar faces including Jethro and Terri from the Cambridge Blue, Jess and Steve from the Elm Tree, and Lawrence from the Champion of the Thames (and now the Clarendon as well). There were also several local brewers present such as Joe from BlackBar, Mark from Moonshine, Jon from Lord Conrads, and Richard from Milton.

I drank Moonshine’s Cambridge Pale Ale pretty much most of the evening, a lovely easy drinking bitter with caramel and floral hop flavours. We were asked to take a seat in the back room of the pub where there was a large award display board for the event – a nice backdrop for the winners photos.

The compere made light hearted jokes as he read out pub descriptions before each award was presented, to try to make us guess which pub he was describing (he quite liked the word ‘breweriana’, which came up a couple of times in the descriptions. Guess which pubs he was referring to..!)

Will SmithWill Smith from CAMRA presented the awards and posed for official photos with the winners and their framed certificates; he even received the occasional kiss.

The winner of Pub of the Year went to the Flying Pig. You know, that wonderful pub that’s under threat of being demolished (which I wrote about in a previous post). Congratulations Justine and Matt. Hopefully this award will open people’s eyes as to how valuable a lovely pub like this is to the community.

The Flying Pig

Here’s a list of all the winners – well done everyone, especially to some of my local favourite pubs, you know who you are ;)

Pub of the year 2013:  The Flying Pig

Locale Pub of the year(Rural) 2013:  The Crown Inn, Linton

Locale pub of the year 2013 (city):  The Cambridge Blue

Community Pub of the year  2013 (Rural):  The Plough and Fleece Horningsea

Community Pub of the Year 2013 (City):  The Elm Tree

Dark Ale/ Mild Pub of the Year 2013:  The Maypole

Most improved pub of the year 2013( City):  The Mill

Most improved pub of the year 2013( Rural):  The Chestnut Tree, West Wratting

Cider pub of the year:  The St Radegund

Real Ale Champion 2013:  Richard Naisby, Milton Brewery

CAMRA Lifetime Achievement award:  Lawrence Dixon, of The Champion of the Thames and Clarendon Arms.

Lawrence Plough and Fleece Jethro and Terri, Cambridge Blue Jess and Steve, Elm Tree

There’s one rural pub on the list that I haven’t made it out to yet, so I will make sure I rectify that as soon as possible. And if you haven’t visited these pubs in a while, make sure you do – they all need our support!

Green Man Grantchester Easter Beer Festival 2013

Grantchester Meadows

Grantchester Meadows

On Good Friday we wrapped up warm and braved the cold to stroll across Grantchester Meadows to the Green Man‘s Easter Beer Festival. This festival was the first of five that the pub will be holding this year, and what better time for the first to take place than over the 4-day weekend – plenty of time for drinking.

Although this was apparently the coldest Easter in the country since records began (we are always told nowadays that we are experiencing the coldest/wettest/driest/snowiest season – but never the hottest, funny that) it didn’t put people off heading to the village, and at least it didn’t snow (that was last weekend). Many visitors chose to walk an hour from central Cambridge or cycle to Grantchester; buses don’t run to the village on Sundays or Bank Holidays, which I think is crazy, being a much-visited destination with limited space for parking. Sometimes you don’t want to exert yourself and just want to jump on a bus – especially when you just want to get home after a beer festival.

The Green Man

The Green Man

If you haven’t visited the Green Man before then you really should. It’s a lovely traditional English beamed pub in the centre of the pretty village, full of dark wood, nooks and crannies, and great food and beer. The fire was roaring when we got there around midday, so we bagged a seat then headed outside to the large marquee in the garden where the festival was taking place.

There were over 65 beers and ciders available over the course of the long weekend (fantastic for a village pub). Beers ranged from local breweries such as Cambridge Moonshine and BlackBar to breweries further afield like Spire and Kelham Island. I tried a Buntingford Queen Mary, a lovely hoppy copper coloured ale with sherbet aroma, fruit notes and caramel flavours. You can never go wrong with a Buntingford beer. Full Tilt was also on, but the Single Hop Archer wasn’t quite ready.

Beer list

Beer list

I enjoyed Bexar County Brewery’s Come and Take it, a strong amber IPA at 7.3% with lots of citrus hops  and a big malt backbone. Steve the brewer is from Texas; I first tried his beer a couple of years ago at the Peterborough Beer Festival (his Lonestar Texas Pale Ale brewed with Hopshackle went down very well, check out my post about it). He is brewing aggressive American-style beers, and he loves experimenting and not doing things by the rule book. We visited the brewery in Peterborough a few weeks ago and played around putting chilis in beer – check out @pintsandpubs blog post about our visit. Bexar beers are unfined (no additional ingredients added to clear the beer) and are naturally cloudy, so don’t be put off by this, embrace the haze – this means they are vegan friendly and I’m all for that. Also from Bexar was the Chocolate Covered Bananas Mild, a strong and interesting full-flavoured mild with distinct banana and choc flavours. Look out for this brewery, exciting stuff is in the pipeline…

BlackBar BBSB

BlackBar BBSB

BlackBar’s BBSB (Big Black Stuff for Barrels) is another fantastic beer, rich and full bodied with roasted coffee and choc flavours. Joe from BlackBar Brewery in Harston is another brewer doing exciting stuff with beer and loves experimenting, and I have to say that his beers just keep getting better all the time, especially his dark strong beers (which keep getting stronger and darker). Again, another person to look out for who has interesting stuff brewing, so to speak.

Tydd Steam Scoundrel

Tydd Steam Scoundrel

Tydd Steam beers from Wisbech were also present – I went for a Scoundrel, a lovely hoppy, easy-drinking beer. Their refreshing Barn Ale was also there.

It was good to see a Cambridge Moonshine beer there too in the form of Trumpington Tipple. I first tried this ale at the Cambridge Brew House a few weeks previously and was impressed. It’s a beautiful malty beer with fruity flavours brewed with several types of US hop – lovely. Another great local brewery I have written about several times before.

As well as drink, there were bar snacks available such as scotch eggs and sausage rolls, as well as the main menu inside the pub. Live music was provided all weekend in the marquee including the Andy Bowie Quartet, the Freddy Hall Band, Groove Tube, and Tiger Blue (an acoustic duo playing famous classic indie songs who we caught when we popped back to the festival on Easter Monday.)

I’m already looking forward to the Green Man’s next beer festival which takes place over the first Bank Holiday weekend in May …only 4 weeks to go. Let’s hope the weather is warmer by then for our stroll across the meadows – the hottest on record maybe…?

Here are the dates for the next Green Man beer festivals – put the dates in your diary.

3-6 May

19-21 July

23-27 August

27-29 September

See you there!

Searching for Moonshine – Sampling beer at the Cambridge Winter Ale Festival

This is an article that I recently wrote for Local Secrets – I thought I’d put it on here as I never got round to writing a full blog post about the beer festival..

I swirled the beer around my glass. ‘What can you see?’ Lots of bubbles forming a large foamy head. ‘Too much carbonation,’ said Mark. ‘It needs to breathe a bit longer to reduce the amount of bubbles. Is it clear or hazy?’ I held the glass up in the air; the yellow liquid was far from crystal clear. ‘Once the haze clears it’ll be ready. Right, which one shall we try next?’

beer We were at the Cambridge Winter Ale Festival at the University Social Club which this year took place Thursday 17 – Saturday 19 January, chatting to Mark Watch, the man behind Cambridge Moonshine brewery. Mark is passionate about real ale and can often be seen at beer festivals helping out behind the bar and passing on his expertise to the staff.

Cambridge Moonshine brewery, located near the Gog Magog hills, was established in 2004 and the beer is brewed using water from the brewery’s own well. The beers vary from light and hoppy ales such as ‘Heavenly Matter’ to full bodied ales like ‘Chocolate Orange Stout’ and speciality beers such as ‘Red Watch’ brewed with blueberries – ensuring everyone’s beery tastes are pretty much catered for.

The crowds gathered in the street outside well before the official 5pm opening, and as soon as the doors opened beer lovers swarmed in to purchase their refundable festival glasses and to find a seat. There is seating both upstairs and downstairs as well as bars on both levels. We perused the beer list, featuring both dark winter warmers, light, fruity ales and cider from a mix of local breweries such as BlackBar and Milton and Fellows as well as national and foreign suppliers.

Once at the bar, we chatted to Bert, the organiser of the summer beer festival, who’d been there since early that morning setting up, and Steve, the bar manager, who’d rushed down there after his day job. According to Steve this festival tends to organise itself – they already have all the equipment, so the main task is to select and order in the beer.ale festival

‘There were five Moonshine beers on the list but they weren’t all available yet – it was only day one of this three-day event. ‘Limitless Abundance’ was on – a 10% oak-aged imperial stout, which was very strong, warming, and an incredibly oaky beer. I was on the lookout for ‘Moonshine Ison,’ an 8% imperial IPA brewed with seven different US hops, but it wasn’t yet available. When I asked Mark when it would be ready he asked me if I wanted a sneaky sample of it as well as a few others. How could I refuse?!

So here we were, swishing beer around our glasses, trying several beers that weren’t yet available to the public with Mark explaining how to establish if a beer was ready. So much care goes into looking after real ale, and if a beer goes on sale that is ‘green’ (too young), the customer won’t experience the beer as the brewer intended.

Mark disappeared with his glass and came back with a deep amber-coloured ale. I held it up to the light – clear. I looked at the bubbles – not too few, not too many, nice big bubbles at the beer line. I smelt it – a wonderful hoppy aroma. I took a sip – wow. Resinous flavours, tons of hops, full bodied. I looked at Mark. Is it the ‘Ison’?! He nodded, smiling. But why wasn’t it on sale yet? It looked and tasted great. ‘Remember what it tastes like today, and try it again tomorrow,’ he said. ‘It will be even better by then’.

So it looks like I’ll be at the beer festival again tomorrow – for educational purposes, naturally. And very probably the next day too…

Published in: on February 1, 2013 at 8:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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