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.
The 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).
As 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.
Beers 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.