So the Cambridge Beer Festival has come and gone, and this year it celebrated 40 years. At the end of the trade session on the Monday evening, a cake was wheeled out, everyone sang Happy Birthday, Bert Kenward the festival organiser had his photo taken with the cake for Cambridge News, then we all munched on it – it was gone in minutes (it was very yummy).
This year I did a few shifts behind the bar as well as enjoying the festival from the right side of the bar (or the ‘wrong’ side, as another volunteer kept telling me). I worked on Hester’s bar, selling beers from breweries M to P, from Milton brewery to Plain Ales. Beers that flew out from this bar when I was working were Oakham Hare & Hedgehog, Moonshine Heavenly Matter, Old Bear Honeypot, and Moor Freddy Walker. Moor Dark Alliance was a popular one too along with Oakham Scarlet Macaw, Oakham Dreamcatcher and Oakham Midnight Mild. Pretty much all the Oakhams then. All good beers.
I was involved in a blind beer tasting session between sessions on Wednesday, judging 8 East Anglian stouts with the favourite to be put forward to the champion stout category at the Great British Beer Festival in August. We were a panel of 6, including bar manager Steve, Will the editor of CAMRA’s ALE magazine, and @pintsandpubs. It was a lot of fun, but we still don’t know which stouts we tried as it was all very top secret so I can’t elaborate any further apart from saying my favourite was number 5 – smooth, roasty and easy drinking! We think we guessed what the strongest one, number 8, was – but I couldn’t possibly tell you or I’d have to kill you.
Weather-wise, we had a mixed bag. Monday started off quite mild, although grey. Tuesday wasn’t a bad day either, a bit cloudy though. Wednesday was nice and sunny and I got slightly sunburnt, although it became chilly later in the evening. Thursday and Friday afternoons were pretty dire with heavy showers, and on a couple of occasions the rain came into the marquee near the pillars by the bars – a volunteer kept it at bay with a broom, much to the amusement of us lot behind the bar. So it became pretty muddy outside quite quickly. But on Saturday it all changed – the sun came out and stayed out, and we were in it all day as we weren’t working. I got burnt again, and everyone had a jolly good time.
So, favourite beers. I enjoyed a lot of light golden beers this year – the pale, dry and hoppy Oakham Hare and Hedgehog, the lovely sweet and grapefruity Moonshine Heavenly Matter, Bexar County Brewery Vaquero, a summery beer bursting with floral hops, and the golden Old Bear Honeypot, a honey ale. I also liked Buxton Moor Top with light citrus flavours, and Magic Rock Curious with US citrus hops. But Bishop Nick Heresy was my overall favourite, as it was at the East Anglian Beer Festival. It’s a mellow, warm, comforting, proper English beer with Challenger and Goldings hops. It’s just wonderful.
Strong hoppy beers I enjoyed were the 7% Hopshackle Resination as usual, Black Iris Intergalactic IPA, 6% with strong apricot flavours, and Oakham Dreamcatcher, 6.9%, a dark amber beer with strong peach and berry flavours.
As far as dark beers go, Moor Old Freddy Walker, 7.3%, was sublime – a well-blended, thick, stouty old ale that pours like Guinness (one satisfied customer kept coming back for pint after pint every lunchtime session as he loved it so much). Moor Dark Alliance was great, a dark coffee flavoured and hoppy beer, although so rich I could only drink a small amount (that’s where the new third pint measures come in handy – good move Cambridge CAMRA!). I also enjoyed Bexar County Seis Banderas, a strong and roasty American stout at 7.3%.
One draft foreign beer which stood out for me was De Prael Mary, where I tried for the first time in Amsterdam in the De Prael taproom. It’s a barley wine at 9.7% with sweet and strong deep peach flavours – beautiful, and goes down very smoothly.
The beers of the festival were announced yesterday, and the joint winners were….. drum roll please….. Moor Freddy Walker, and Oakham Dreamcatcher. Wonderful beers and well deserved. Looks like our lunchtime customer who ordered pint after pint of Old Freddy had great taste. Same again? Don’t mind if I do!