Digging Digfield Ales – a beery stay in the East Northamptonshire countryside

An article I wrote about beer and pubs in East Northamptonshire which appeared in the Cambridge & District CAMRA magazine ALE, May 2019

Rural East Northamptonshire was the perfect spot for a weekend break, with its pretty villages with stone cottages, medieval churches with tall slender spires, village greens with red kites circling above – and of course, its traditional country pubs. This region, and neighbouring Rutland, just over an hour’s drive from Cambridge, feels like a secret Cotswolds but without the hoards of visitors.

After having sampled Digfield beers at Booze on the Ouse in St Neots the previous weekend, brewed in Barnwell, East Northamptonshire, and having always enjoyed beer from Nene Valley Brewery in Oundle and The Grainstore Brewery, Oakham, we were looking forward to trying them on draft in their local area.

The Shuck

Our first pub of the trip was The Shuckburgh Arms, in the attractive village of Southwick, about three miles north west of Oundle. ‘The Shuck’ is the home of the World Conker Championships, which we have previously attended but in its former location on Ashton village green, Northants (and incidentally, that’s the place where we first ever came across Digfield Ales, when we had a tasty Fools Nook, a refreshing fruity and mellow golden ale). This traditional pub on the main street with a large back garden is community run, and it was good to see several chatty locals gathered around the bar. The beers on offer were Digfield Barnwell Bitter, Brewsters Hophead, Tydd Steam Piston Bob, Grainstore Rutland Osprey, and London Pride; Hophead and Barnwell Bitter are regular beers. The Barnwell Bitter, a tasty malty amber ale, was on fantastic form and had us going back for more. A couple of the locals were talking about ales brewed in their region, and mentioned that they prefer Digfield Ales to Nene Valley Brewery as they had suspicions that NVB sent their best beer to London while local pubs get watered down versions! I actually really like NVB beers, especially their Big Bang Theory IPA.
Digfield ales

The second pub of the night was The White Swan in picturesque Woodnewton. We booked dinner here as the pub in the village we were staying in was fully booked. This stone pub was actually quite quiet for a Saturday night, but we were dining relatively early. It has been totally renovated inside, creating a one room modern gastropub vibe, with high-backed leather-esque chairs and light wood tables. It also has an extensive food menu, something for everyone. However, the beer menu was not quite so large – it was a choice of London Pride or Doom Bar on our visit. We opted for London Pride, which was on OK form, but it was a shame there weren’t any local beers on offer. We enjoyed our tasty ‘veggie fish and chips’ – deep fried battered halloumi – and moved on.

Queens Head Bulwick

The next pub we visited was The Queen’s Head in Bulwick, the village where we were staying. When we entered this stone pub on the High Street, overlooking the church, we noticed a difference from the last pub; it was rammed with drinkers and diners. The classy candlelit dining rooms were full, but we spotted a table in ‘The Village Bar’ that someone had just vacated, so we jumped in there and got ourselves a drink – a light and fruity Digfield March Hare; one we had tried at Booze on the Ouse. I don’t think you can ever beat the taste of beer served straight from the cask, such as it is at a beer festival, but this was on fine form. This bar appeared to be a waiting area for diners, as many were called through and headed to their tables as we drank, but it was a very pleasant people-watching spot. We then had a Nene Valley Brewery Release The Chimps – a dry hopped tasty pale ale, described as an everyday IPA. Spitfire was also available. We asked the barmaid if Nene is pronounced ‘Nenn’ in this region (as it is in Northampton, where I am from, and everywhere west of Thrapston) or ‘Neen’ (as it is pronounced east of Thrapston). She said Neen, and mentioned that she’d had an hour long argument with a customer the other night who told her it should definitely be Nenn. “The Nenn people are the most argumentative!” she said. I wanted to argue that I think the customer was right, and that Neen is just plain wrong, but then that would have confirmed her point! It seems that the Nenns and the Nenes are very protective about their local pronunciation…

Fotheringhay Castle

The next day we found ourselves at the site of Fotherinhgay Castle, close to Oundle. This is where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded in 1587. Despite that horrific thought, it is a peaceful place, and from the top of the mound where the castle keep once stood you can see the meandering River Nene twinkling in the sunlight. Fotheringhay village was the location of our final pub this trip, and I was hoping to try more Digfield ales.

The Falcon, Fotheringhay

We headed along the main street of this beautiful village lined with stone cottages to the Falcon Inn, another lovely stone pub, which we have visited before, but on this occasion it looked lighter and brighter, with quality furnishings including cushioned window seats, and a roaring open fire, which was great to see despite the fact it was sunny day. This spacious pub is popular for food, with a dining room in the conservatory – The Orangery – which spills out onto the terrace. Although the pub often has Digfield beers on draft, the barman told me that they rotate their guest ales often, and Grainstore’s Rutland Osprey was the local beer on offer that Sunday. We bought a couple of those and sat in the lovely grassy beer garden in the sun and enjoyed the light citrussy golden ale which tasted stronger than its 4% ABV.

We bought a few bottles of local ales from one of the village stores, and as soon as we returned home from our weekend break we cracked them open – a smoky and rich P51 porter from Kings Cliffe brewery,  brewed in Kings Cliffe, few miles from Bulwick, and more bottles of Rutland Osprey, to remind us of that sunny beer garden in peaceful Fotheringhay. East Northamptonshire and Rutland are a world away from Cambridge, and worth a trip for their pubs and local ales alone.

Rutland Osprey in the Falcon beer garden

Published in: on July 15, 2020 at 9:26 am  Leave a Comment  

44th Cambridge Beer Festival – preview

Here’s an article I wrote for Local Secrets about what to expect at the fantastic 44th Cambridge Beer Festival – read on..!

Cheers! It’s time for the Cambridge Beer Festival

Raspberry, ginger and chilli stouts, porters brewed with coffee beans, chocolate orange ales, and beetroot-flavoured wheat beers — these are just a few of the interesting and inventive ales that you’ll be able to try alongside the more traditional beers, ciders, perries, wines and meads at this year’s Cambridge Beer Festival.

The 44th Cambridge Beer Festival takes place on Jesus Green from 22-27 May, and it is the longest running CAMRA beer festival and one of the biggest regional beer festivals in the UK. Visitors can look forward to over 200 real ales from the local area and further afield, over 80 ciders, and perries, meads, wines, and a foreign beer bar with offerings from the USA, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands on draft and in bottles.

Our fantastic local breweries will be showcasing their beer, and they include (take a deep breath..!) Milton from Waterbeach, Lord Conrads from Dry Drayton, Moonshine from Fulbourn, Fellows from Cottenham, Crafty from Stetchworth, Son of Sid from Little Gransden, Calverleys from Cambridge, Cambridge Brewing Company from the Brewhouse, Beach Brewery from Waterbeach (Milton’s craft keg offshoot), Turpin’s from Cambridge, and Three Blind Mice from Little Downham. And from ever so slightly further afield, Bexar County from Peterborough, Oakham from Peterborough, Elgood’s from Wisbech, Mile Tree from Wisbech, Tydd Steam from Tydd St Giles, and Xtreme Ales from Whittlesey.

Amongst our local breweries we are lucky enough to have some CAMRA Champion Beer of East Anglia award-winners: Milton, Moonshine and Cambridge Brewing Company. Milton will be bringing along their popular Marcus Aurelius, the beer that won Gold in the Stout Category, a 7.5% black, rich and velvety beer, dubbed an Imperial Roman Stout. Moonshine’s Chocolate Orange Stout won Gold for Speciality Beer, and this full-bodied chocolate and coffee flavoured stout with a hint of orange will also be available at the beer festival. Cambridge Brewing Company will be bringing their hoppy and easy-drinking pale ale Misty River — this brewery won the Gold award in the Porter category for their delicious Night Porter, and Silver for the Overall Champion Beer of East Anglia also for the Night Porter — a great achievement.

The beers sourced for the beer festival seem to get more exciting and inventive each year. Bexar County will be pouring I Am Not A Fruit Beer, a sour beetroot wheat beer; Elephant School from Brentwood are providing a Crème Brulée Dubbel with cream oat, wheat, necatrine and berry flavours; Gyle 59 are bringing a ginger-infused IPA called GIPA, and Three Blind Mice are showcasing Russian Blud, a strong (11%) imperial chai latte stout, which will be served on KeyKeg.

The KeyKeg Beer Wall will make an appearance for the second year running, with beers suited to higher carbonation and colder temperatures. This year, brewers with beers on KeyKeg include Cheshire Brewhouse with an 8.1% Belgian hopped IPA, Cloudwater brewery with a double IPA at 9%, Bexar County with a coffee stout called Bitter Invention of Satan, and Moor with a new quaffable session ale at 3.5% called Alldayer. The queues at the KeyKeg wall last year showed how popular this bar quickly became!

Cider, mead, wine and perry are always very popular at the festival. Ciders and perries are mainly sourced from Cambridgeshire and East Anglia, and producers include the likes of Simon’s, Pickled Pig and Hereward. All the mead  — or fermented honey — comes from the British Isles, and is one of the largest selection at any CAMRA beer festival; mead lovers can expect a variety from sweet to dry mead, and producers include Lyme Bay, Lindisfarne, Moniack, the Rookery and Crowded Hive. All the wine available at the festival is English, with some of the producers being Chilford Hall, Winbirri Vinewards, and Dedham Vale. Beer glasses can be swapped for wine glasses at the wine bar or glasses counter.

This year’s festival theme is Paradise Lost, to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the first publication of the poem by the 17th century English poet John Milton about the Biblical story of the Fall of Man. Look out for beers called the likes of Fallen Angel (Grain Brewery) and Devil’s Side (Bexar), and spot Caskman on the festival poster/souvenir glasses who can be seen with his split personalities, both devilish and angelic!

When you enter the beer festival, grab a souvenir beer festival guide, browse the drinks list, buy a sale or return souvenir glass, and make your way to the bars! The breweries are arranged in alphabetical order around the marquees, with the exception of the row of brewery bars on the left as you enter. The bars accept cash (rather than a token system) —  come well prepared as there are no cashpoints on site.

There is always plenty of tasty food to eat at the festival, including delicious cheeses, bread and deli items from the famous Cambridge CAMRA Cheese Counter, Pieminister Pies for great pies and mushy peas, Daisy’s Diner for hog roast, wood-fired pizza from Fired Up Pizza, artisan Spanish food from Azahar, veggie dishes from Vegetaria, and more.

Blue Smile is the charity that the Cambridge Beer Festival is supporting this year; it supports children with mental health issues, and provides expert counselling and mentoring in schools for children between three and 13 years old. Visitors can donate their spare change to volunteers with collecting buckets, or by giving Blue Smile your festival glass when you leave.

The festival, which attracts around 40,000 visitors per year, couldn’t take place without volunteers, and around 300 are needed! Sign up at the festival website, and you could help build the site, collect glasses, serve at the bars, work on the cheese counter, or take down the site when it’s all over. Volunteers receive food and drink tokens, a festival t-shirt, and get to meet new people.

The Cambridge Beer Festival opens on Monday 22 May at 5pm. It is free to enter on weekday afternoons (12-3pm), while evening sessions (5-10.30pm) from Monday to Wednesday are £4, evening sessions on Thursday and Friday are £5, and on Saturday it’s £3 to enter all day. Entry is free for CAMRA and CURAS members with a valid membership card.

Published in: on May 17, 2017 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Cambridge Beer Festival

Here’s an article I wrote for Local Secrets about what to expect at this year’s Cambridge Beer Festival: 

An award-winning dark ale matured over sloe berries, a Japanese-inspired vegan IPA brewed with fresh yuzu juice and fermented with sake yeast, and a new ‘CAMRA KeyKeg Beer Wall’ showcasing a relatively new format for dispensing real ales – these are just some of the interesting offerings at this year’s Cambridge Beer Festival.

Cambridge-beer-festivalThe 43rd Cambridge and District CAMRA Beer Festival takes place on Jesus Green from Monday 23rd to Saturday 28th May. This is the longest running CAMRA beer festival, and as well as being the branch’s biggest, it is one of the largest regional beer festivals in the UK. With over 200 real ales from over 100 breweries, including a new range of beers served from KeyKeg (more of that later), over 80 ciders and perries, a foreign beer bar selling bottled and draft beers, and a wine and mead bar, there really is a beverage for everyone.

This year the festival is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the opening of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in 1766 and will be helping to raise funds for the hospital through its dedicated charity Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT).

Our local breweries are well represented, as always, and we certainly have some great ones around Cambridge and our region. Moonshine Brewery, based in Fulbourn, will be bringing the refreshing and summery Raspberry Wheat ale and their delicious pale and floral Heavenly Matter – perfect on a hot sunny day (fingers’ crossed). Cambridge Brewing Company, based in the Brew House, will be showcasing their hoppy Brew House IPA and interestingly-named Chicken Porter, a porter with coffee and vanilla. Milton Brewery, based in Waterbeach, will be providing Apollo, a strong blonde, hoppy beer, and Othello, a full-flavoured stout with chocolate and a hint of orange; they will also be bringing the first beer from Beach Brewery, their ‘craft keg offshoot’, called Waikiki, a beer packed with US and NZ hops and bergamot oranges.

Other fantastic local breweries to look out for include Calverleys, in Hooper Street, Fellows, in Cottenham, Crafty Beers in Great Wilbraham, Lord Conrad’s, in Dry Drayton, and Cambridge’s newest Cambridge brewery, Turpin’s, in Perne Road (who brew a tasty stout, Cambridge Black).

Beer glassAs well as local breweries, there are plenty from far and wide, such as Siren from Berkshire, Thornbridge from Derbyshire, Tiny Rebel from Newport in Wales, and Moor from Somerset, who are bringing their Old Freddy Walker old ale, which won beer of the festival here in 2013, as well as a version of the ale matured over sloe berries called Sloe Walker which sounds wonderful. Weird Beard are also bringing Tsujigiri, a vegan, Japanese inspired IPA brewed with fresh yuzu juice and fermented with sake yeast. So lots of interesting beers coming to Cambridge this year.

This popular beer festival attracts up to 40,000 people over the course of the event, and as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. “We don’t change much at the festival each year – people seem to like what we do,” explains Bert Kenward, Festival Organiser. “However, one thing we have more of this year is beer in KeyKeg,” says Bert. “This is a relatively new format for real ale, and it’s one that a lot of new breweries are using. So by having those, it makes more beer available to us and our customers.”

The ‘CAMRA KeyKeg beer wall’ will showcase 13 British beers in KeyKeg, and there will also be two KeyKeg beers on the brewery bars. So what’s so different about KeyKeg beers? Essentially, instead of a cask, a KeyKeg  – a plastic bottle containing a bag full of beer – is used. Gas is pumped in to the bottle, but remains outside the bag and never comes into contact with the beer; it just exerts pressure on the bag to force the beer to the tap. Certain beer styles work better with this extra carbonation, such as the stronger, hoppier ales, dry stouts, and saisons, and also more of the hop aromas are retained because the bag is sealed, so brewers can really play around with their aromas, which is actually a big part of the beer drinking experience! KeyKeg beers are real ales as the carbonation comes from the secondary fermentation which occurs in the container, and no gas is artificially added to the beer itself, unlike with classic keg beers. Some of the beers on KeyKeg are also available on cask, so try both versions and compare the two and see which you prefer.

cam beer fest posterBeers are arranged in alphabetical order by brewery around the large marquee. On the bar to the far left, however, there is also a row of brewery bars. Grain, from Norfolk, is a new brewery bar this year, joining favourites Adnams, Woodforde’s and Nethergate. Experimental brewery Bexar County, from Peterborough, will be sharing a brewery bar with Ely’s Three Blind Mice;  make sure you try Bexar County’s Oak Aged Papa Steve, a rich, dark beer aged in a Glenmorangie Oak Cask for 8 months and coming in at 9% ABV – maybe one to leave towards the end of the session! Luckily the festival serves third of a pint measures…

Cider, apple juice and perry can be found at the cider bar, featuring local ciders such as Angry Wasp from Cambridge Cider Company, Summer Session from Cassels and Cambridge Cider from Hereward, as well as those from further afield. Perrys include Malvern Magic perry from Herefordshire and Pickled Pig’s Apples and Pears. Fine English wine and mead – brewed from honey – have their own bar; swap your beer glass for a wine glass to try these. Bottled and draft beers from the USA, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium are also available at the Foreign Beer Bar.

As far as food goes, visitors are spoilt for choice. As well as the famous Cambridge CAMRA Cheese Counter, with tons of interesting cheeses, breads, pork pies and soups, there is the fantastic Fired Up Pizza, traditional pies from Pieminister, and vegetarian dishes from Vegetaria, to name a few.

If you want to get more involved in the festival,  sign up to volunteer for a session or more to work behind the bar, collect glasses, or to set up or take down the festival – volunteers receive beer tokens, a festival T-shirt and free food. Around 300 volunteers are needed to make the festival happen every year!

The Cambridge Beer Festival opens at 5pm Monday 23rd May. Opening hours for the rest of the week are 12-3pm and 5-10.30pm Tuesday to Friday, and 12-10.30pm on Saturday. It’s free to enter on week day afternoons, while evening sessions from Monday to Wednesday are £4, evening sessions on Thursday and Friday are £5, and on Saturday it’s £3 to enter all day. Entry is free for CAMRA and CURAS members with a valid membership card.

Published in: on May 25, 2016 at 11:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Manchester and Buxton pubs

Last month we took a trip to Manchester, and then to Buxton in the Peak District. Here are some of the pubs we visited.


Port Street Beer House

PortStreetBeerHouseThe Port Street Beer House on Port Street in the ‘hip’ Northern Quarter was probably my favourite pub in Manchester. Set in a little terraced street, and shuttered up during the day so you would hardly know it was there, this two-floor pub has a good selection of beer on tap and keg. Downstairs was pretty busy on the Friday evening when we were there, and upstairs was more spacious with big comfy seating and large tables. The Hawkshead IPA on keg was beautiful with thick resinous hops, the Founders All Day IPA on keg was light, hoppy, and easy drinking, and the Cloudwater Session IPA was deliciously moreish. Here’s a pic of some of the beers they had on that evening, taken from their Facebook page.

Beer Studio Bar and Kitchen

This new bar is located in studentville, or Fallowfield – take the bus right through Curry Mile from the city centre, and it’s further along Wilmslow Road. One part of this impressive big building, once a church, is the 256 bar, and the other part is the Beer Studio, a Hydes pub designed in a modern ‘craft beer bar’ style, with a tiled bar, bricks, stressed wood, and a board listing lots of beers. Most beers are bottled, but there were several on draft (they mention that they have 23, but I can’t remember seeing as many as that on our visit) and I was pleased to see Flying Dog Pale Ale on draft amongst the other not-very-exciting offerings such as Amstel, Tiger, and Erdinger. A nice – and incredibly loud – bar on this Saturday night.

Piccadilly Tap

IMG_1200We were lucky enough to arrive in Manchester on the day this new beer bar was opening. We just happened to be in Beermoth (great bottle shop) buying beer when the guy behind the counter told us this new bar was opening at 4pm. By 4.30 we were near the station trying to find it, and then spotted people drinking beer in what looked to be a dark, closed shop in a 60s looking shopping arcade, known as Gateway House. Inside it was pretty bare, and rough and ready, but functional – the few tables were taken, so it was standing room only. A large bar circles the top end of the space with keg and cask lines at the back and some along the sides near the tills. A large blackboard detailed the ever-changing beers on keg (around 20) and cask (7). I went for a lovely Summer Wine Redwood, rich, spicy and full of berry flavours. The Saison Dupont was pretty good too (@pintsandpubs thought it was ‘superb’). Other beers included Lagunitas IMG_1204IPA, Magic Rock High Wire. I didn’t enjoy the Bristol Beer Factory Sorachi on cask – I just really don’t like the Sorachi hop flavour, but I keep trying it in the vague hope that my tastebuds will change their mind (they never do). It’s a great place with decent beers at pretty reasonable prices, but go there expecting to stand while you’re drinking, unless you get there early.

Night and Day Cafe

IMG_1228I only came to this bar in the Northern Quarter, located near Afflecks and lots of record shops, in the daytime  so can’t comment on the ‘night’ part, but I really liked it. It reminded me of the Central Saloon bar in Seattle. It had a chilled out vibe, and people were eating brunch. We just had a coffee (very nice) and soaked up the atmosphere, and I can’t even comment on what beers they had on (a few on draft), but it was just a very cool place with great décor and friendly staff. The back of the bar is a stage area, and there was a sold out gig taking place that evening. I’ll go there at night next time.

Brew Dog Manchester

This bar is a typical Brew Dog bar with its industrial decor, graffiti, bags of malt dotted around, etc. I liked it. It was busy on a Saturday afternoon, but there was loads of seating on the ground floor and more upstairs. We munched on chips and drank tasty 5AM Red Ale (formerly 5AM Saint), Mikkeller Tomahawk, a really beautiful single hop IPA, and a Brew Dog This is Lager, which isn’t really one I’d go for again – not to my taste.

Crown and Kettle

IMG_1241Located just over the road from Oldham St on the edge of the Northern Quarter, this is a proper pub that serves real ales. This Grade II listed pub has an ornate, stunning ceiling in the main bar and back bar, covered in netting to protect us from any errant falling masonry I suspect. A Smiths CD was playing in the background – very apt. There were several ales on at the bar – we had Wild Beer Fresh, a pale citrus hopped ale Wild Beer Millionaire, a chocolate and salted caramel stout – too rich for me – and Caveman Citra.


A few weeks after Manchester, we headed back up north to Buxton, the ‘Gateway of the Peak District’. This spa town has around 16 pubs to explore, and it’s only about an hour from Manchester, so it’s possible to do both places on a trip to that area. On the way to Buxton we popped to Hartington; the village shop stocks lots of decent Thornbridge beer including Thornbridge Jaipur X, Bearded Theory, and Bear State (we picked up more Bear State from the Thornbridge Brewery, just outside Bakewell, as it was so good – the brewery is worth a visit).

Buxton Tap House

IMG_1269 The tap house for Buxton Brewery was the pub of this trip. Located just round the corner of the Crescent, on George St, it’s dimly lit around the bar area, with exposed brickwork in the walls, and quite bright in the area to the right where the walls are painted white. Fairy lights run along the bar giving it a lovely atmosphere. There’s a small outdoor seating area out the back too. There were 8 beers on keg and 6 on cask, including Ring Your Mother XS, a soured mild, and Tap House Lager, a variant of Moravka lager, brewed at Taddington. We sampled several, including Axe Edge on cask, High Tor on both keg and cask, and Rough C’s. Axe Edge was delicious, but could have been slightly colder. High Tor was nicer on cask as the spicy favours came out more and it was rounder and more delicate, even though it was lovely on keg, where the hops punched you in the face a bit more. Rough C’s is a colab with Brew Dog, and this amber lager was very tasty with caramel flavours.



The Old Courthouse Wine and Coffee Bar

A couple of doors down from the Buxton Tap in the Old Courthouse complex is a Thornbridge bar – people up in these parts are lucky to have Thornbridge and Buxton brewing on their doorstep. It reminded me of a little Parisian cellar bar/cafe, with chandeliers, old pictures, low vaulted ceiling, comfy leather sofas and chairs, and flowers and candles in wine bottles on the tables. There were three Thornbridge beers on keg, including American Sister and Made North. I had the Made North, which was easy drinking if a little thin, and it was less than £4 a pint – great prices for keg beer compared to what we are used to in Cambridge. The American was less tasty – the ‘new worldy’ hops were a bit overbearing, it’s ‘brewed with experimental hops from across the pond’. I’d like to know what particular variety of hops they are so I can avoid them in future. I’d like to have seen something like Jaipur X on tap, but I know the taps are constantly rotating so it’s just chance what you get.

The Ale Stop – micro pub

IMG_1277This small pub housed in a former wine shop just off Buxton’s market square is cute, and more spacious than you’d think, but doesn’t particularly feel like a pub, probably because it is still quite new, even though pump clips are stuck on the walls to give it a pubby atmosphere. The walls are brightly painted, and it’s a nice little space. The bar has three beers on cask available, as well as bottled beers and ciders. We had a Hopcraft Deutsch Projekt, with orange/fruity flavours and a bit of spice (didn’t really like it) and a Cornish Crown SPA, a golden and relatively dry beer.

The Cheshire Cheese

This Titanic Brewery pub was holding a beer festival on our visit, with casks lined up at a bar at the side of the pub. It’s pretty spacious, with some nice features and rounded windows creating pleasant rounded seating areas. It was busy but we managed to get a seat. We had a Salopian beer from the festival casks which was slightly flat unfortunately, and Wreckage, a strong Titanic ale at 7.2% which is a winter warmer – it tasted more of sherry than beer, and had nutty, spicy flavours.

Cat and Fiddle Inn, Wildboarclough, between Buxton and Macclesfield

The second highest pub in the country (the first being the Tan Hill Inn). Unfortunately, when we visited it was so foggy and rainy that we couldn’t see the view to admire it, which was the whole point in going really. Shame. We sat inside in the main bar on a comfy shabby sofa and drank the one and only Robinson’s beer, which was rather uninspiring, so much so that we don’t remember its name. The other large bar is a wooden panelled dining room. A lot of live gigs take place at the pub; several posters on display advertised the various bands about to play. It would have been nice to see this pub in its traditional state, before its refurb which turned it into more of a dining pub.

Three Stags Heads, Wardlow Mires

IMG_1295This is a proper traditional pub, with a historic interior, completely unchanged for years – it’s on CAMRA’s National Inventory of unspoilt pubs. The landlord Jeff is a character, and he took great pride in his pub, cleaning the iron range and throwing coal on the fire before taking a seat in his chair by the fire accompanied by his three lurchers who occasionally jumped onto the tables. The four cask ales were all from Abbeydale Brewery; one called Black Lurcher, at 8%, is named after one of the dogs and brewed exclusively for this pub. The Abbeydale Absolution was in great condition. Don’t try to order lager in here or the landlord will politely ask you to leave (he probably won’t ask you politely actually) – there’s a sign by the bar telling you not to ask for it.

three-stagsThis pub really feels as if you are in the middle of nowhere, despite the fact it’s on a busy A road – once you enter you step back in time. As well as the main bar with its stone flagged floor there are two other rooms; one with a fireplace, and the other displaying pottery made by the landlords. We were there as soon as it opened at 12 (well, when they unlocked the door about 12.20), but it would be great to see the place jam-packed in the evening with locals. There really aren’t many pubs like this left anymore, unfortunately.


Published in: on May 16, 2015 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Liberty Belle Micropub, Ely

photo 3On a visit to the cathedral city of Ely, Cambridgeshire, we headed to the Liberty Belle micropub for a beer. This small and cosy pub on Forehill is decked out with old memorabilia including a petrol pump, a bus stop, and old metal trade signs. The tiny wooden bar area on the raised level doesn’t have any hand pumps; instead, there is a blackboard on the wall near the door detailing the ales available, and the barman heads into the cellar to pull the pints straight from the cask, then delivers them to your table. You can ring the big brass ‘liberty belle’ which dominates the pub to attract his attention if you need serving.

photo 1There are just a handful of tables in the micropub; some in the large windows looking out onto the street, and some at the back of the pub, on the slightly darker raised level. We sat at a table by the window. Two other groups of people were sitting by the windows – one a group of lads in their 40s, and two men snacking on pies and hard boiled eggs to accompany their beers.

photo 2The cask ales are sourced from relatively local brewers, and beers available that day were Jo C’s Norfolk Kiwi, Humpty Dumpty Railway Sleeper, Batemans Hooker, Mauldons Blackberry Porter, Grain 3.1.6, and Batemans XXXB – a pretty good selection for a micropub – all priced around the £3.80 a pint mark. The Norfolk Kiwi was a tasty full bodied golden ale with delicious fruity hops, and the very pale 3.1.6 from Grain was floral with citrus notes and incredibly moreish.

The Liberty Belle is a lovely atmospheric pub, and the window seats are perfect for watching the world go by. It would be great to see more free-of-tie micropubs popping up to rival the big pub chains which seem to be dominating the towns and cities nowadays.

During the summer season, the Liberty Belle runs boat cruises along the Ouse – it was a pity that this was a March afternoon and we were a couple of weeks too early. We’ll just have to head back soon to take to the water – after sinking a few more ales in the micropub…

Published in: on March 11, 2015 at 6:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Yorkshire Dales pubs

I thought I’d finish the year off with an epic post which I was actually meant to publish months ago – July in fact. We took a trip to the Dales in June, and visited plenty of pubs during our stay, which happened to coincide with the run-up to the Tour de France. It would’ve been a shame not to publish the post, even though our visit took place 6 months ago, and being the last day of the year, I thought if I don’t publish it now, I never will. So, here is it.

IMG_1610In June we headed up to the Yorkshire Dales, a lovely part of the world, and during our trip we visited some great pubs. Upon arrival we found out that the village where we were staying (Aysgarth, in lovely Wensleydale) was on Stage 1 of the Tour de France route, which was passing through two weeks later; there was lots of bunting, yellow bikes, and tiny knitted jerseys dotted around the streets and draped around trees, and over houses and pubs pretty much everywhere we went. Here are some of the pubs when we were there.


George and Dragon: This pub in the village where we are staying is on the main A road, although it doesn’t feel like a main road. It has a small outdoor terrace, and inside it is decorated in an olde-worlde style, with dark wood, brasses, lamps, and cosy snugs. On the bar was a house beer, George and Dragon, brewed by Yorkshire Dales brewery down the road in Askrigg, as well as Black Sheep, which was available in almost every pub we visited. The G&D was smooth and malty and easy to drink; it went well with the fantastic food on offer.

IMG_1619Aysgarth Falls Hotel: This ivy-covered hotel, close to the famous Aysgarth Falls, has several drinking areas – a modern bar area, a courtyard terrace, benches out the front facing the road and fields, and a pretty outdoor back patio in front of the conservatory dining area. There were several ales on draft, including Wensleydale’s Semerwater, a blonde, refreshing ale, and the delicious Salamander MudPuppy, a chestnut ale with rich malty flavours. Black Sheep’s Vélo was also on, a Tour de France-themed light golden beer brewed with Cascade, coriander and orange.


IMG_1550The Wheatsheaf: This pub/hotel in the little village close to Aysgarth is famous for being the honeymoon destination for James Herriot and his wife – this is displayed on the front of the hotel and elsewhere so you can’t fail to notice this. IMG_1751It’s a pleasant place and was popular with diners when we visited – we ordered some tasty Black Sheep Velo and munched on some chips while sitting on the benches outside and watched the world go by.


IMG_1576Green Dragon
: This old, dark, traditional pub full of stuffed animals – reminiscent of the Queens Head in Newton, Cambridgeshire – is the gateway to Hardraw Force waterfall. Visitors pay £2.50 at the bar for tickets to see the waterfall, and it can only be accessed through the pub (it’s worth seeing). The front of the pub was covered in bunting, and the outdoor benches are a great spot to sink a pint in the sun. There’s plenty of seating inside, and a roaring fire (even in June). IMG_1687The evening we were there two musicians with guitars and mouth organs set up on the table next to us and played some Dylan songs which we all sang along to. There were four beers on draft, including two from the Yorkshire Dales brewery. The YD Nappa Scar would have been a really nice bitter, with tasty caramel flavours coming through, but it didn’t have much condition and was probably at its end. I then went for a Theakstons Best, which everyone seemed to be drinking and was fine. Overall the Green Dragon was a nice pub, and the larger than life landlord was a friendly and helpful chap.


IMG_1667Sun Inn: This lovely old whitewashed pub in a pretty cobbled village which felt miles from anywhere is a proper down to earth boozer with locals chatting at the bar. IMG_1663

One of the locals recommended the Kirkby Lonsdale Tiffin Gold, saying that everyone there was drinking it which had to be a good sign. It was beautiful and full of flavour at 3.6% – mellow hops, great condition, wonderful aroma. Kirkby Lonsdale Monumental was also on.

IMG_1669 IMG_1674George and Dragon
: Just across the street from the Sun is the George and Dragon, the Dent Brewery Tap. This pub has loads of Dent beers on tap – Porter, Aviator, Golden Fleece – but we could only stay for one unfortunately. I chose the Aviator which was tasty; we sat in the bar and watched some World Cup as we drank. There’s also a large dining room out the back, decorated in light wood. These two village pubs deserve more time spent in them; next time we’ll make sure we stay overnight in this village!

West Witton

IMG_1833 Fox and Hounds: This village close to Aysgarth is lucky to have this lovely proper little pub in the middle of its high street. As we wound our way through the corridors to get to the bar we saw the landlord pouring and testing beer, holding it up, deciding it wasn’t quite ready, and making sure the clip was turned around.  It was good to visibly see someone taking so much care over the beer.IMG_1834 I ordered a Yorkshire Dales Brewery Tour de Yorkshire Dales beer, and the citra hops hit me even before my first sip.  Very lemony and grapefruity, on a nice delicate body of malt so it wasn’t completely hop heavy – delicious. Black Sheep Velo was on, as well as Black Sheep Bitter.


Tan Hill

IMG_1597 IMG_1596 Tan Hill Inn: This pub, the highest in the country, took a bit of getting to. When we were in Hardraw, we thought ‘Oh, it’s only just up the road!” That road happened to be the Buttertubs Pass, a very long, steep, winding road with crazy hairpin bends that goes up to wild Swaledale from cute Wensleydale, and where one of the Tour de France’s ‘King of the Mountains’ races took place. Luckily the weather was great; I wouldn’t fancy the journey in a rainstorm. Qhen we got to the top, and reached the village of Keld, we realised it was even further up – 4 more miles up these desolate roads with no houses, cars, pretty countryside in sight, just moorland.  And these are Yorkshire miles – they last longer than normal ones.

IMG_1592When we finally saw a remote building on top of a hill, we nearly jumped for joy. The pub is 1732 feet above sea level, and really is miles from anywhere. When we entered the pub we saw that the open fire was blazing – it’s lit all year round for weary travellers. The main bar feels ancient and is furnished with dark wood; there is a more modern (but still old fashioned) lounge bar next door, complete with piano. By the bar is a sheet of A4 listing all the highest pubs in the country, as well as the lowest. The barman was chatty and friendly, and recommended the Black Sheep Velo. I ended up choosing the Bitter and and we sat outside with the chickens squawking around us as we gazed out over the bleak moorland.  We bought some bottles of Tan Hill Inn beer by Dent Brewery, and left to continue our journey around Swaledale.


IMG_1789Farmer’s Arms: This pretty Swaledale stone village – the prettiest in the dale, some say – is home to the lovely Farmer’s Arms pub, set amongst a cluster of houses, shops and a church. We sat on the picnic benches out the front and gazed up at the hills whilst drinking a Buttertubs by Yorkshire Dales, a blonde and relatively dry ale.


IMG_1549The Rose and Crown: This pub is located in a great setting, close to Hawes and overlooking a lovely village green and the remains of a Roman hill fort. The sparse bar was showing the World Cup when we visited; next door to this there are some olde worlde rooms serving dinner. We sat out the front to take in the views whilst sipping on some refreshing Golden Sheep. Theakstons Lightfoot was also on draft.


IMG_1872The George: This a lovely ancient and small stone pub is tucked away in this quiet little village near Aysgarth. It was immaculate, and even though it was so small that the loos were located outside, they were immaculate too – nothing was out of place. The food was great, and the two beers we tried – Northallerton Gun Dog and Yorkshire Dales Howgate – were on good form. The Gun Dog was a red-style ale, with lots of sherbet flavours – gorgeous; reminiscent of a Buntingford beer. The Howgate was nice and light, but one woman kept saying how sharp she thought it was. I liked it. Great pub, great service, and really good beer.

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East Witton

IMG_1735Cover Bridge Inn: Situated south of Leyburn, this pub on a sharp corner is located next to the River Cover, and the pub garden is large, pretty and well-manicured, and leads down to the river where there is a lovely stone bridge. The pub serves several well-kept ales including Theakstons Best, Old Peculiar, and the gorgeous Thornbridge Jaipur amongst others.


IMG_1710The King’s Head: This pub in this grey stone village between Hawes and Leyburn is famous for being the pub in All Creatures Great and Small, the Drovers Arms, but although it’s quite pretty on the outside (and was covered in Tour de France bunting) it’s not as atmospheric as I previously imagined on the inside. IMG_1545Sure, the big fireplace in the old bar is attractive, although there are candles burning inside rather than logs, and when you look at the All Creatures pics on the walls you can imagine what it would have been like once upon a time, but a lot of the soul of what once made it a traditional Yorkshire pub has gone – and the droning music playing on the stereo didn’t help re-create the atmosphere I was looking for. Having said that, it is quite a nice place, and the food served in the modern dining area at the front is said to be really good. Two Yorkshire Dales beers were on, one a house brew. I would go back; I just wish it still looked and felt like a traditional old pub.

IMG_1706The White Rose: In the middle of the High Street, this pub/hotel has quite a large bar area and a conservatory dining room. Beers on the bar included a couple from Yorkshire Dales Brewery: Askrigg Bitter and Askrigg Ales. We had the Bitter, which was very nice; we’d had it in a bottle before and it’s a lovely, hoppy, refreshing beer. The barman said the Ale is less ‘in your face’ than the bitter – less hoppy and more traditional.

IMG_1713We popped down the road, went up a lane, and came across the Yorkshire Dales Brewery, with beer brewing in a little shed. We told the brewer how much we were enjoying his beers, and suggested he sends some down to Cambridge!


IMG_1852IMG_1841Victoria Inn: This tiny village on the main A road between Aysgarth and Hawes is home to one pub, the most eccentric, interesting, unusual pub we visited on the trip. A springer spaniel called Hendrix greeted us at the door at around 2pm when we visited, the landlord put the lights on when we entered, his elderly mum came into the room thinking it was her friend coming to pick her up – it felt a bit like we were interrupting their family life. The pub really stood out for us – it was like stepping back in time. The fireplace is decorated in red tiles – the previous landlord (this landlord’s dad) used to dry sheep by the fire, and a picture on the wall shows this. Stags heads decorate the walls, and there is plenty of dark wood and a beamed ceiling. The side room is home to a pool table, and felt like somebody’s living room.

The landlord didn’t talk much, but he was pleasant enough, and whistled a lot when on the phone to his supplier. I asked him what he recommended, and he said ‘The Theakston’s OK’. So I had that. We settled down on the old chair by the fireplace, and soaked in the unique atmosphere. There aren’t many places like this left anymore.

So that was our trip. I love the Dales, and will be back to explore the beautiful National Park even further and visit even more pubs that we passed by and didn’t get a chance to have a drink in. Cheers!


Published in: on December 31, 2014 at 12:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Golden Pints 2014

82ca1-goldenpintslogoIt’s that time of year again when I rack my brains trying to remember the best beers I have tried over the last year to nominate for the Golden Pints awards. So here are my choices. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few good ones, but that’s probably because I was having such a nice time drinking them that I never noted them down.

Best UK cask beer: Dark Star Hophead. A tasty, hoppy, easy drinking session beer that I’ve had quite a lot of over the past year.

Best UK keg beer: Magic Rock/Toccalmatto Custard Pie. Heaven in a glass. Brew this again guys pleeeease/per favore!

Yorkshire BlackoutBest UK bottled/canned beer: The Great Yorkshire Brewery’s Yorkshire Blackout bottle/Beavertown Gamma Ray can. Yorkshire Blackout, with its deep chocolate notes, was discovered on a trip to the Dales earlier this year, and we just stocked up again on a recent trip to York – a beautiful bottle of beer. I’ve had many many cans of Gamma Ray (the last one being on Christmas Day) and I just love it – a wonderful hoppy American-style session beer.

Best overseas draught beer: Lagunitas IPA. On draught regularly in the Cambridge Brewhouse, and it’s beautiful stuff with lots of lovely tropical fruit flavours.

Best overseas bottled/canned beer: Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA bottle/Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi can. Finest Kind is a great US IPA, easy to drink and a go-to beer when I want those American IPA flavours. Same goes for the tasty Modus Hoperandi.

Best collaboration brew: Magic Rock/Toccalmatto Custard Pie. As mentioned above.

Best overall beer for 2014: Magic Rock/Toccalmatto Custard Pie. See above. Sorry if this is getting boring.

MAGIC-ROCK-carnivalBest branding, pumpclip or label: Magic Rock artwork.

Best UK brewery: Magic Rock.

Best overseas brewery: A tough one. I’d say Port Brewing, CA, USA. I love their gorgeous Wipeout IPA.

Best new brewery opening 2014: Hillside Brewery, Gloucestershire. The brewers of the lovely resinously hoppy Centurion and many other great beers. Hard to believe they are a new brewery.

Pub/bar of the year: Pivni, York. Lots of space on 3 levels, quirky seating areas, lots of great beers on keg and cask, good atmosphere.

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Hopinator in the Mash Tun, Norwich

Best new pub/bar opening 2014: Mash Tun, Norwich. Clean and fresh decor, good beer, good food, and oh that hopinator/infusinator..!

Best beer and food pairing: Champagne truffles with the deliciously rich Founders Breakfast Stout. Works like a dream.

Beer festival of the year: Cambridge Beer Festival. It’s big, it’s in the middle of a park with lots of seating and grass to sit on, it has over 200 beers, and it’s on for almost a week.

Supermarket of the year: Waitrose. Always an interesting choice.

Independent retailer of the year: Trembling Madness, York. Sooo many beers to choose from.

Online retailer of the year: Beers of Europe, nr Kings Lynn, Norfolk. Reliable and lots of choice.

Best beer book or magazine: BEER. Always a good read.

Best beer blog or website: Pints and Pubs. Lots of well-researched pub history, quirky facts, and he really brings the history to life.

Best beer twitterer: Broadford Brewer. Always find his tweets amusing, beer related or not.

Best beer app: I don’t really use beer apps, but I’d say when I’m in the capital Craft Beer London occasionally comes in handy.

Best brewery website/social media: Magic Rock. Informative website, interesting blog.

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  

London, York and Norwich pubs

Over the festive period we made a few trips to a few different cities, and had a few beers when there. Here’s a pick of some great pubs that we visited in each city during our travels.


Old Coffee HouseLondon was the first festive trip of the season, and after a trek to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland we headed into the West End for a much deserved beer. The Old Coffee House was the first stop, a pub run by Brodie’s Brewery from Leyton and situated down Beak Street, just off Regent Street. It was pretty busy on a Saturday lunchtime, but we managed to get the last free table (we needed a sit down after all that Winter Wonderland wandering), settling down with a Brodie’s Kiwi on cask – I wanted to try their keg version but it wasn’t on unfortunately. It’s a lovely old dark wood pub, with paintings and memorabilia dotted all over the walls, lots of vintage mirrors, chandelier lamps, a couple of screens for sports, and even a guitar hanging from the ceiling just above my head. As expected, there are lots of Brodie’s beers on at the bar, both cask and keg, including the likes of Dalston Black, London Fields Pale Ale, and Bethnal Green Bitter. Kiwi IPA – almost double the strength of the session Kiwi I was drinking – was on keg also, but also not available that afternoon. We’ll be back for it!

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Craft Beer CoAnother great pub is Craft Beer Co Covent Garden, which is located at the top of Endell Street where it meets High Holborn. It’s light and contemporary, with quite a long, narrow bar area upstairs, and instead of tables (there’s no room) there are mostly bar stools lining the shelf-style tables against windows and walls – but there is a larger, smart seating area downstairs, but with a different atmosphere. There are 45 taps, cask and keg, and lots of bottles in fridges, so it’s pretty difficult to choose what to drink, and out of beers from breweries such as Burning Sky, Marble, Thornbridge and Wild Beer, I took a while to decide as we only had time to stay for one. I opted for a Siren Sound Wave IPA on keg, bursting with tropical hops – lovely. We also left with a bottle of the deliciously hoppy Port Brewing Wipeout IPA.

Exterior - Craft Beer Co Covent Garden


photo 2 (2)There are so many great pubs in York – a mixture of historic inns and modern tap rooms. One good one is Pivni, located close to the famous Shambles in an ancient building with lots of dark wooden beams on three floors – but despite its history, it also feels fresh and modern, and has lots of great beers on cask and keg. Over a couple of visits during the busy Christmas market period in the city we tried Victory Prima Pils, Magic Rock Acrobat, a tasty saison with apricot and tarragon, and Summer Wine Zenith, a citrussy pale ale. This pub is friendly and cosy, and one of my pubs of choice in the city.

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photo 4 (2)The York Tap is another great find. It’s a light and airy Victorian pub right next to York train station, with a oval bar in the centre and an attractive stained glass skylight. It was heaving when we arrived on the Saturday afternoon (I think a train load of football supporters had just arrived just before we did). There were mainly cask ales, and several keg beers too, including Sierra Nevada Mandatory, a beer brewed with mandarins, and a nice and easy drinking Brass Castle and York Tap collaboration, Oatmeal Pale. I also had a Summer Wine Oregon, a West Coast Pale Ale, which had tasty sherbet and citrus flavours but lacked some condition.

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Another pub which deserves a mention is Ye Old Shambles Tavern, which is, you’ve guessed it, located on the Shambles, but actually isn’t an old tavern at all – it’s only been in the guise of a pub for a year, previously just a cafe and gift shop – although you’d think there’d been a pub there for centuries. It still sells gifts, but now the walls around the small bar are covered in bottles of beer from Yorkshire breweries that you can purchase, and there are three hand pumps selling beers from Rudgate, including their own Shambles house beer. There are just a few bar stools, but there is also a cosy back room also, and if you want a beer you have to sit down to drink – that was one of the council’s odd laws when they were granting the new license. You also have to eat as well, so everyone is served complimentary sandwiches and crisps after taking a seat! There’s a food menu also. It’s a charming, atmospheric place, and I highly recommend a visit – just make sure you arrive before 9pm if you want a beer, as the door is locked at that time and they are not allowed to let anyone else in – another one of those odd laws..

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I’ve written about Norwich pubs several times, but there’s no harm in mentioning some again. The Mash Tun was a new one for us – this is run by the same Redwell guys who run the fantastic Tap House around the corner – it’s larger than it looks, and with exposed brickwork throughout and a clean finish, it’s a great looking contemporary pub with a big beer list. Keg beers are chalked onto a blackboard, with cask beers from breweries such as Crate on at the bar. But the main feature in the pub is the hopinator/infusinator, which on the evening we visited was crammed with mango and kiwi and had Magic Rock Acrobat running through it, so you end up with an Acrobat – which is already full of tarragon and mango flavours – infused with even more fruity delights. Delicious. We also went for a Weird Beard Five O Clock Shadow, a beautiful strong IPA loaded with resinous hops. There was no going down in ABV after that.

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Finally, we took a bus out to the Plasterers, one of our favourite pubs just slightly out of the city centre. It was all very festive and lovely, with a proper Christmas tree and lots of Crimble music playing. As usual, there was a great beer selection, including Green Jack Golden Best, Five Points Hook Island Red on keg, Brass Castle Sunshine IPA on keg (a beautiful beer from Yorkshire) and a wonderful, rich breakfast stout from Siren called Broken Dream. A fine way to end an evening!

Published in: on December 20, 2014 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Halloween pubs and beer

Beer in the Blue

Halloween beers in the Cambridge Blue

There were plenty of scary beers and scary-looking people out last night around Cambridge on our mini Halloween pub crawl. It was good to see that so many pubs had embraced the fright night theme, with bar staff dressed up in their most terrifying costumes, and beers having suitably gruesome names and pump clips.

First stop was the Cambridge Blue, which was fantastically decorated for Halloween as usual. The marquee was decked out for a children’s Halloween party, and there were lots of costumed kids filtering through the pub, broomsticks and all, as we enjoyed our beers. Köstritzer Six out of the 14 cask beers were Halloween themed, with ales such as Brains Open Casket, Hales Brewing Black Heart, Wolf Brewery Werewolf, and Hop & Soul Pumpkin on draught. I went for a Cameron’s Thirst Blood, a tasty ruby ale with caramel and dark fruit flavours. Hales Black Heart was really nice, a black IPA which thankfully wasn’t too hoppy (I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this style) and with the flavour and aroma of roasted coffee beans. I also went for a Köstrizer on keg, I really like this smooth and chocolatey German black lager.

Next stop was the Blue Moon, the sister pub to the Blue. Again, this was decorated for the season, with a party (adults this time) taking place later that evening. We got a Tiny Rebel Cwtch (that’s not a typo; it’s Welsh for hug) and a Castle Rock Most Haunted, and ended up sitting in the middle of a literary group doing an open mic, where one guy was reading excerpts from Dracula – very apt. The Most Haunted was a pumpkin porter, dark with lots of clove flavours, but not too overwhelming. The Cwtch was as good as all the other Tiny Rebel beers I’ve tried – an amber beer bursting with tropical hops, and served freezing cold from the keg. Lovely.

Elm Tree bar staffThe Elm Tree was the next pub en route, and this pub is always well decorated for Halloween, with witches hats attached to the ceiling alongside giant spiders, and pumpkin lights and tinsel everywhere – these decs are put up a good week or two before the day itself. The bar staff were well dressed for the occasion too. We went for Belgian beer, despite the 10 hand pumps – the smooth caramel flavours of St Bernardus Pater 6 goes well with this time of year.

Free Press pumpkinLast up was the Free Press, which had a wonderful big pumpkin on the bar with lovely pop out eyes and big wide mouth with a pipe hanging out, and a mop head for hair – fantastic. We had some bottles of Rogue Dead Guy, a great beer from one of my favourite US breweries – lots of spicy caramel flavours and hop fruitiness. It’s quite a strong one at 6.6%, so after a couple of those it was time to call it a night.

It was great to see so many pubs making the effort for Halloween, one of my favourite times of year. I guess we’ll be drinking plenty of fright night themed beers over the next week in the pubs – but then it won’t be long until the festive beers start appearing! Happy Halloween/Samhain!

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.


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.


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.


Published in: on April 28, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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