Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival 2012

It’s that time of year again – the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival. This is a great festival to really kick-start the year – lots of dancing, lots of music, and lots of following a Straw Bear around from pub to pub drinking good beer. I won’t talk about what the festival is all about as I have done this before on previous posts, but click here and here  if you want to know more.

Straw Bear parade

Straw Bear parade

We took the train to Whittlesey from Cambridge – we decided this was the best mode of transport as last year we saw that every pub in the town was holding a mini beer festival. We changed at Ely; the journey only took just over 40 minutes. On Ely platform it was pretty obvious that most people were festival-bound – many passengers were carrying musical instruments, and some were Morris dancers with bells and bright clothes hidden under their thick overcoats. It was bitterly cold; one poor chap could barely drink his coffee as he was shivering so much. The fields were white with frost, the mist was rising from the rivers and streams and dykes, and at one point we had a white-out. Mist was all around us in the heart of Fenland.

Morris dancers outside the George

Morris dancers outside the George

As soon as we arrived in Whittlesey we headed with the crowds up Station Road and made for The George in a prominent position on Market Place for a big warming breakfast. This lovely old Wetherspoons pub was heaving at 9.45 am and we were lucky to find a seat. On at the bar was Grainstore Cooking, a great beer brewed in the town of Oakham (not brewed by Oakham) which I have enjoyed a couple of times in the Grainstore brewery tap. There was also the lovely Oakham Straw Bear on draft. I decided to opt for a warming cup of tea at this point, but others had already started on the beer.

Straw Bear and his minder

Straw Bear and his minder

Hubs Place beer fest

Hubs Place beer fest

We made it out for 10.30 to watch the parade which was bright and colourful with its 250 dancers and musicians. We watched a bit of dancing, and then headed indoors to thaw out. We chose Hub’s Place on the Market Square as I remember there being a beer festival in the courtyard garden last year. I wasn’t wrong; there was a cute outdoor bar set up selling Oakham Straw Bear, Oakham Inferno, Elgood’s Straw Beer, Everards Tiger, Woodfordes Wherry, Woodfordes Nelson’s Revenge, and Black Sheep Ale. I chose a Straw Bear at 4.4%, and sat inside by the fire, joined soon after by lots of Morris and Molly dancers with their painted faces. Straw Bear is a lovely straw-coloured peachy tasting beer, very refreshing, but not an awful lot of conditioning in this one which was a pity. It was pleasant enough though.

We moved around the corner, checking out the Falcon and its beer festival in the yard where they were also selling Elgood’s Straw Beer amongst others, and moved onto the Letter B. It’s quite unassuming from the outside, and it was only when we were inside that I realised it was Peterborough’s CAMRA pub of the year 2012. And what a fantastic little pub it was too; a traditional proper pub, and heaving with Morris and Molly dancers. On the bar was Oakham Straw Bear, Elgood’s Straw Beer and Tydd Steam Beartown. I bought a wonderful hoppy and sweet Beartown. I then realised that they had more beers out the back in the Grufton bar. (I found this out when I heard a man ask the barmaid: ‘Do you have any proper beer-coloured beer, rather than this pale stuff?’ and she directed him there).

Bruce's beer

Bruce's beer

I spotted that Oakham had brewed two special beers for this pub, and on asking the barman about them he told me they were brewed for the landlady and the landlord for winning the Pub of the Year award. The landlady’s beer, the Special, had already gone, so I had the landlord’s beer – It Has to ‘B’ Bruce’s Beer, with a picture of Bruce on the pump clip. It was chestnut coloured, maltier than a normal Oakham, but still with that Oakham sherbet hop flavour – the hops became more apparent and the malt less so the more I drank. It was good to meet up with Alcofrolic Chap here  who was also enjoying the beers on offer in the many great pubs in this small market town.

Hero of Aliwal beer fest

Hero of Aliwal beer fest

Next up was The Hero of Aliwal, round the corner and by the river, where we stood and watched some Morris dancers performing outside, followed by the solemn and black-faced Old Glory Molly who took a girl from the crowd  and performed what she found out later to be a fertility dance. Her friends were aware of this and were laughing all the way through. We went inside this pub that felt like more of a clubhouse and found an indoor beer festival. There were several Greene King casks, but they also had on Oakham Preacher which was a new beer and a nice find. It was 4.3%, relatively dark and full flavoured with sweet hop notes and a touch of fruit. We then decided to cross the road to the Boat.

Oakham Preacher

Oakham Preacher

Inside the crowded Boat there were several Elgood’s beers on tap. We moved to the courtyard outside to the mini beer festival where it was freezing cold (Alcofrolic Chap said it’s always cold here as it’s close to the water, and he was right!) and saw that there were 3 more Elgood’s barrels: Straw Beer, Black Dog and Cambridge Bitter. I hadn’t had a Straw Beer yet so opted for this, which was light and honey-flavoured, and very tasty. And freezing cold. We were about to leave when we spotted the Straw Bear himself entering the pub with his minder and followers. He had a bit of a dance, then set off for the Hero of Aliwal where we followed him. His minder patched him up where his straw was coming loose, I posed for a photo with him (you have to, don’t you) then we followed the parade of bears, dancers and musicians around the little back streets, where he ended up in the Falcon.

We walked to the heaving New Crown Inn and then to the Black Bull on the High Street, but couldn’t even get in the door.

Bricklayers Arms

Bricklayers Arms

Bricklayers beers

Bricklayers beers

We then went to the Bricklayer’s Arms, down Station Road, a small, crowded and very lovely traditional pub. There were lots of Morris dancers in there, and some musicians were playing in the corner which added to the atmosphere. There was a bar with about 6 barrels set up in the corner, including Bombardier, Tydd Steam Dr Fox’s Cunning Linctus, Marston’s Pedigree, and Tydd Steam Barn Owl – I went for the latter as I fancied finishing with another straw coloured ale (it’s Straw Bear Day after all). Very sweet, hoppy and refreshing. Old Glory Molly walked in, with their entourage of female musicians wearing hats of ivy and long black coats, and they proceeded to dance in the tiniest of spaces with their jerky, forceful movements – I had to squeeze past them, trying not to be elbowed as we left for our train.

All in all, it was another great Straw Bear and I look forward to the next one. And with all the good pubs in Whittlesey and the many beer festivals, the train is definitely the way to do it.

           

Oakham Straw Bear beer

Straw Bear

I went to the Straw Bear festival in Whittlesey on Saturday, mentioned in a previous post of mine in January 2009.  I just wanted to mention an amazing beer that I discovered there, one to rival Elgood’s Straw Beer at 4% which I enjoyed last time I attended the festival.

The Parade

The beer is Oakham Straw Bear, 4.4%. I discovered this in the Bricklayers Arms on Station Road, Whittlesey, whilst waiting for the parade to begin just before 10.30 am. I don’t know what time the pubs opened there that day, but I was very impressed and pleased to be drinking at that hour along with lots of other fellow revellers!

Happy with my Oakham Straw Bear beer

Outside the Bricklayers, looking happy with my Oakham Straw Bear

The beer is another wonderful Oakham cracker – pale, light, hoppy, incredible grapefruity – it was like lots of my favourite Oakham ales rolled into one.  I am sure there must be Citra hops in there (anyone?!) , so if you are a hop monster it’s a beer you should look out for.  However, I don’t know where you will find it as it’s probably only brewed once a year, hmm… next January then, same time,  same place?

Whittlesey seemed to have loads of real ales everywhere this year – some pubs were holding mini beer festivals: The Bricklayers, where I found the Straw Bear ale, and out the back there were more beer barrels including the wonderfully citrussy Tydd Steam Barn Ale as well as other interesting ales; the Falcon on London Road was holding a mini festival in its courtyard; Hubs Place restaurant on Market Place had lots of ales on gravity in its courtyard with some delicious sounding beers (including my wonderful Oakham Citra).  And these are just the festivals I saw.

New Crown Inn

We had a wander into the newly re-opened George Hotel on Market Place.  It was great to see this old coaching inn no longer boarded up, and instead converted into a Wetherspoons pub. The pub was filled with morris dancers and musicians so it was hard to get to the bar to see what beers they had on, but Wetherspoons do generally have a large selection of real ales on tap. The New Crown inn is also one of my favourites in Whittlesey, a cute thatched pub, with the added bonus of molly dancing outside (the fantastic Pig Dyke Molly).  I had some of the Elgoods Straw Beer, 4%, and it was lovely – light, easy to drink, hoppy, flavoursome. But between Oakham Straw Bear and Elgoods Straw Beer,  I have to say that it was the Oakham beer (or bear?!) that won me over this year.  Wonderful beer. Now, how can we convince Oakham to brew this ale all year round…?!

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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Cambridge Winter Ale Fest 2010

The 14th Cambridge Winter Ale Festival took place between 21st-23rd January at the University Social Club on Mill Lane. It was pretty popular – the beer ran out around 10pm last night! It’s great to see that it was so successful.

We popped down for a few beers yesterday during the day when it’s a bit less busy – the other night it was one in, one out. The venue had 3 bars open – the main upstairs bar, and the downstairs front and back bars (the back bar was where the cider barrels were located, and the heady waft of strong cider was all you could smell when you ventured downstairs!)

Ok, so let’s start with my beer of the fest, which was Harwich Town’s Misleading Lights, at 4.0%. It’s not exactly a winter beer, as in dark, mysterious, and fruity – it’s an amber, hoppy summery ale, with a citrus sherbet taste, and if you have read my blog before, you’ll know that’s exactly the sort of beer I am always searching for! Adam had some of the Buntingford Highwayman Porter, 4.7%, which he quite enjoyed as it was smooth, quite  smokey, and easy to drink. For a porter, which I don’t normally go for, I didn’t find it too bad, but I am a big fan of Buntingford brewery and all their beers are pretty good.

Misleading Lights

Misleading Lights

I decided I would try one of the Northumberland ales, a brewery that I hadn ‘t come across before. It was a toss up between Fog on the Tyne at 4.1% and Hoof Hearted at 3.8% . I couldn’t decide between the two, but when the man at the bar next to me ordered Fog on the Tyne and I watched a beautiful straw-colured, shimmering ale being poured from the barrel to his glass it pretty much made up my mind for me. It was a good choice, delicious, and the more I drank, the hoppier it became. It was another summery ale (yes, I know it’s meant to be the Winter Ale Fest..) and it even tasted of hay and meadows. Oh I can’t wait until I can sit outside in a beer garden, roll on summer….!

I suppose I should try to get back to the Winter beers. Hop and Spicy from the Hopshackle Brewery at 4.5% seemed a good choice. Wrong. We found it particulaly unpleasant. The taste of cloves, cinnamon and spices was overwhelming, and the hop taste was non-existant. Adam had a chat with an old man who had that same beer earlier in the day, and he said it had taken another two or three beers afterwards to get rid of the taste! If there was a section on the feedback form for the worst beer of the festival, that would’ve been it!

A decent beer was the Spectrum brewery’s Solstice Candle, at 5%, which was golden and hoppy but did taste quite strong as well. Wolf’s Santa Paws, 4.5%, was OK but full of berries, I couldn’t drink much of it myself so I was quite glad that it was Adam’s beer and not mine! It was a shame that Elgood’s Straw Beer had run out, I had some at last year’s Straw Bear festival and it was fantastic. But that’s what happens on the last day of the festival; the beers you wanted to try have usually all gone so you have to get  in early to avoid disappointment.

Some other great breweries present at the fest included Old Cannon, Milton, and the fantastic Woodforde’s.

I am sure my Misleading Lights is not ‘wintery’ enough to win the award for best beer of the fest, but good luck to them. I find my tastes dont change from season to season when it comes to beer, I love the golden hoppy ales whatever time of the year! Here’s to summer when there will be more of them available..!

A few more beer festivals coming up are the Rag Week Beer Festival on 5th and 6th March 2010 at the University Social Club, the Cambridge Blue Winter Ale festival between 24th and 27th Feb 2010 (at the Blue!), and of course, the one we are all looking foward to as it means sitting on the grass in the sun with a beer; the 37th Cambridge Beer Festival between 24th-29th May 2010 on Jesus Green. See you there!

Straw Bear Festival

Last weekend was the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey, near Peterborough. The festival lasts for 3 days, and this was the 30th anniversary of this unique Fenland custom. Over the weekend there is a whole host of events such as live music, dancing, and storytelling, but the main day of the festival is the Saturday, kicking off with a morning parade through the streets. The parade includes several teams of Morris and Molly dancers, musicians, Clog dancers, Mummers, Sword dancers,  Appalacian dancers, and last but not least, the Straw Bear. The Bear is a man dressed from head to toe in straw, and during the festival he is guided around the streets of Whittlesey by his minder, who takes him from pub to pub during the day to watch the dancing and to drink beer!

The Straw Bear

The Straw Bear with his minder

Straw Bear on the move

Straw Bear on the move

The festival generally falls on the weekend before Plough Monday, and is revived from the custom of a young boy being paraded around the town on the Tuesday after Plough Monday decked in straw to entertain the locals and collect money, gifts and beer.

It was freezing on the Saturday; the cold was biting during the parade and everyone was jumping up and down to keep their circulation going.  The dancers were, I am sure, the warmest people there, excluding the Bear of course.  We decided to look for a pub to warm up in, and we found a pleasant, traditional pub called the New Crown Inn, where we had some of the festival ale brewed by Elgoods, Straw Beer – and very nice it was too at 4%.  Lovely, light and hoppy – just right for a drink at 11 am! The bar staff were very friendly and helpful. Also on tap was Black Sheep, another favourite of mine. Another popular pub was the Black Bull on the High Street, but it was far too crowded to get in to see what beers they had on offer – even the Bear couldn’t get through the door!

On the Sunday, the final day of the festival, the Bear is burned. I understand that it’s all about renewal and making way for next year’s bear from the new harvest, but there is something quite sad about a bear enjoying his beer one day, and then being destroyed the next. However, I think quite a few of us have felt like that before…

straw-beer

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