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…

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