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

44th Beer FestivalRaspberry, 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.

44th beer festival

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.

44th beer festival

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.

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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  

St Neots Beer Festival – Booze on the Ouse

The 42nd St Neots Beer and Cider Festival, organised by Huntingdonshire CAMRA, took place Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th March at the Priory Centre. We’d never actually been to the festival before, so on this sunny Saturday we decided to take the bus to St Neots.

The easy 40-minute bus ride on the X5 from Cambridge took us to the market square, which is a 5 minute walk away from the venue by the river. We arrived around 12.30 and were pleased to find that it wasn’t jam packed at this early hour, unlike the Ely beer festival was at midday in February!

Beer casks, courtesy of @pintsandpubs

Beer casks, courtesy of @pintsandpubs

The main hall was half filled with chairs and tables, which was great to see – lots of space to sit, drink and chat. At the back was a farmers market type stall selling ploughmans – cheeses, olives, bread, all lovely and fresh looking, and a hot stew (not veggie, unfortunately).  Along the side and back were the ales  (over 60 available over the course of the fest) and ciders, bottled foreign and local beer (including a festival special from Draycott) and a tombola thrown in for good measure (we had a few goes, and no, we didn’t win anything). The signs leading to ‘the smoking area’ actually led to a lovely little riverside terrace where we sat in the sun enjoying our beers.

The staff were really friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere was relaxed and chilled out. I was pleased to see that they were serving thirds – it meant that I could try a few more beers…

Grain beer, St Neots Some beers that I really enjoyed:
Hopshackle Kinesis – Light, golden and hoppy – at only 3.8% it was an easy drinking beer to start with.
Skinners Splendid Tackle – My beer of the fest – fresh, hoppy, honey flavours, very mellow and English tasting, and very moreish.
Bexar County Café Pequeño – Lots of flavour packed into this little 2.8% unfined coffee stout. Went down very easily.
Bexar County American Pale – A tasty golden strong ale (5.7%) with lots of hops. Didn’t taste its abv at the start, but felt it warming me up after a few more sips!
Grain Year of Hops: Cascade -Big hop aroma and flavour. Only 4.4% but full bodied and nicely balanced.

We tried a few more decent beers, including Mighty Oak English Oak, and one that I wasn’t so keen on, Mauldons Lemon Adder, with too much ginger and strong lemon flavours for my taste – but according to bar staff it was going down very well!

A great, well-organised little festival and one we’ll definitely go back to next time – and at a mere 40-minute bus ride from Cambridge there really is no excuse not to…

Terrace, St Neots

Published in: on March 16, 2014 at 8:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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40th Cambridge Beer Festival

Birthday CakeSo 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).

Cake demolished

Behind the barThis 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.

Magic Rck Curious  Beers behind the bar

Beer tasting panelI 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.

Sunny day 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. Broom!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.

BeersSo, 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%.

Beers on the bar

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!

Serving Old Freddy Walker

Great British Beer Festival 2012

Yesterday we headed down to London to the trade session of the Great British Beer Festival.We were slightly concerned beforehand about the transport situation, having to get to and across London in the middle of the Olympics, especially after discovering that both tube lines we intended to use were suspended or delayed due to signal failures. But by the time we arrived the District line was up and running again, so we took the tube to West Kensington then walked 10 minutes in convoy with a group of other beer enthusiasts who seemed to know the way to Olympia better than we did. Well, one of them did have the Google map app on his phone, so we trusted that he and Google both knew where they were going.
Upon reaching Olympia, the GBBF’s home for 13 years before moving to Earl’s Court in 2006, we joined the queue and waited until 12 for the doors to open. We were entertained by a hobgoblin of sorts having his photo taken with unwilling volunteers from the queue, and then the real entertainment began – the Skinners Brewery coach pulled up. Off piled the Skinners lot, with flag and Betty Stogs (one of their beers is named after the delightful – ahem – lady) accompanied by the Falmouth Marine Band who immediately started to play and march. Yes, Skinners certainly know how to make an entrance, and throughout the session the marching band would march around the venue, banging their milk churn type drums. If you didn’t know Skinners before, you most certainly do now. (Skinners Cornish Knocker is a great beer, as is Betty Stogs (the beer, that is, not the man.. sorry, I mean ‘lady’..!)).

Never having been to Olympia before, the first thing that I noticed was its glass winter-garden style ceiling – it was as if we were in a giant greenhouse, slowly sizzling away down below. It was a massive venue, although smaller than Earl’s Court, with bars, shops and food spread over two floors. I would most definitely get lost some point later. The exhibition centre was certainly big enough to house over 800 beers, ciders and perries – and they were expecting over 50,000 visitors over the 5 days. We picked up programmes and pint glasses for £3 sale or return, spotted lots of bars named after sports stars (inkeeping with the Olympic theme) and we walked around in circles in bewilderment trying to find Ruth B5 bar where the American ales were located (we didn’t realise there was a site map in the centre pages of the brochure until much later, it was far too well hidden). Like the previous year, I had made a list beforehand featuring no less than 30 US beers – I realised that some might not be available yet, being day 1, so thought with 30 I was in with a good chance of trying many of the ones on my list.

There were just 5 on from my list. Hmm. And about 10 altogether, many of which were very strong, even too strong for a third measure at that time of day. Many were oatmeal stouts and porters, which I didn’t want to drink just yet – I was saving those for later after I had dealt with the hop monsters. I decided to go first of all for a Notch Brewery Session Ale, at a manageable 4.5% for 12 pm. Pintsandpubs stocked up on bottled US and Italian beers, and we grabbed a table near the stage and sat down to drink. My Session Ale was full of juicy tropical mango hops , whilst pintsandpubs‘s Deschutes Doc Watbrown– one of our favourite breweries from Portland, Oregon – was mellow, caramelly and malty with subtle hop flavours. They know how to balance their beers, Deschutes.

After that I tried a few more US beers – the insanely tropical Sebago’s Fry’s Leap, at 5.2%, and the Lowell Beer Works Sour Red – one that I would never have tried if it wasn’t for the suggestion of Mat Wilson, the organiser of Ely Beer Festival who happened to be volunteering behind the bar there. I don’t normally like sour beers, but this one was very interesting with biscuity and sour fruit notes. At this point Eric ‘the Crafty Cockney’ Bristow took to the stage for a world record attempt for the fastest 301 game, playing against Dean Gould and Keith Deller. Keith Deller ended up beating the world record, which was pretty cool. I took a few pics and drank more beer. Then the Skinners clan sang some folk songs, then started banging their drums again and marched off, Betty leading the way. (Check out pintsandpubs’ great photo of the ‘lady’ herself).

I decided to go for a selection of English ales as my USA list was turning into an #epic fail. I went to ‘Ben’s Bar, B7 Hutton, for the wonderful Buntingford’s Hurricane, a delightfully mellow caramel malt and subtly hoppy beer – it went down a treat, as their beers generally do. I then had a Marble Lagonda IPA, a full bodied tropical hop monster at 5%.

Roger Protz announced the Champion Beers of Britain at 3pm on the stage, after being introduced by festival organiser Marc Holmes. The overall winner was Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, at 8.5%. I really thought a weaker beer would win, just like the Oscar Wild last year, so it was a big surprise – so well done to them! Green Jack Trawlerboys Best Bitter came second, and the lovely Dark Star APA came third (I thought that one would win, actually).

After a curry that was far too spicy I needed to sort out my mashed taste buds, so I  went back to the Ruth bar and got myself a Watch City Breakfast of Champions, an espresso oatmeal milk stout – very interesting roasted sweet malty flavours. My taste  buds slowly returned to normal. This was then followed by a Brodie’s Dalston Black IPA, with massive hop aroma and flavours followed by a subtle sweet dark roasted malt aftertaste, a good one from this East London brewery. I then tried some of pintsandpubs Allgates Hopgate, and was so impressed with its sweet and nicely balanced incredible hop flavours that I went back to Ben’s Bar for some of my own. Beautiful stuff from this Wigan brewery, I will have to keep my eyes open for more of their beers. I think this was my beer of the fest.

And then, suddenly, I was all beered out. Time to get back on that tube…

There are so many beers I would still like to try, but I always leave beer festivals saying that and there’s no way to try them all when attending a festival with several hundred beers available – not even, alas, when drinking thirds. It was a great festival, and I look forward to reading the #gbbf tweets throughout the rest of the GBBF week with interest. Cheers!

London for Beer Lovers

I recently wrote an article for Viator Travel about the beer scene in London, showing how it has been changing and developing in recent years. I mentioned some of the pubs and bars worth visiting for the best craft beers in the city, as well as a few to try. Here is part of the article – click here or the link at the bottom of the page to read the complete article on Viator.

London for Beer Lovers

Not so long ago London was seen as one of the worst beer cities in the country, with only a handful of breweries remaining, despite once being the brewing capital of the world and the birthplace of traditional beer styles such as porters, IPAs, and stouts. But now new beers and bars are starting to appear in every corner of the city as part of this craft beer explosion; there are now over 30 breweries in London, around 5 times more than in 2006, and this number is increasing rapidly.

Micro-breweries such as Redemption, Kernel, Brodie’s and Camden Town are experimenting with beer styles and creating a new wave of craft brews, making it an exciting time to sample what’s on offer, and London has something for everyone on a beery quest. Here are some ideas on where to find fine beer in London, which brews to try, and which breweries are worth a visit.

Craft Beer Pubs

The resurgence in brewing in London, which was partly due to the discerning drinker’s desire to try more diverse, well-produced, flavoursome beers rather than the mass-produced beers that dominated the industry, has brought about the opening of a whole new breed of bars and pubs. These craft beer establishments showcase quality beers from innovative local and regional breweries and also feature unusual beers from around the world.

The Craft Beer Company  — Nearest tube: Farringdon

Craft Beer Company

Photo credit: calflier001 via Flickr.

The Craft Beer Company on Leather Lane, off Holborn, is a great place to start your craft beer crawl. This Victorian pub was taken over only a year ago, but with its ever-changing beers sourced from some of the best microbreweries in the country it has become very popular very quickly.  There are 37 beers on tap including 16 cask and 21 keg taps, and beers range from the light and hoppy Camden Town Pale Ale and the full-favoured Dark Star Espresso Stout (around £3.95 a pint), to interesting German, Scandinavia and US hop monsters on keg (at around £3.95 for a half pint).

There are also over 300 bottles on sale, including many rare small-batch US artisan beers—you won’t find big US names like Flying Dog or Anchor here. The pub has been nicely restored; in the downstairs traditional but sleek bar there is a lavish mirrored ceiling and chandeliers, and upstairs there is a small light and airy lounge. It’s very easy to settle yourself down here on one of the comfy chairs, but it’s not so easy to leave.

The Euston Tap — Nearest tube: Euston

Euston Tap

Photo credit: Bernt Rostad via Flickr.

The Euston Tap is housed in a 19th century station gatehouse opposite Euston Station, and this miniscule square bar has an impressive beer list with about 8 beers on draft and 20 on keg, the names of which are scrawled on a blackboard behind the bar, plus shiny fridges lining the walls stocked with around 150 bottled beers.

It’s not cheap if you go for a US keg beer—a half pint can set you back around £3–4—but a pint of UK beer from micro-breweries such as Redemption (just up the road in Tottenham) should cost less than £4. It’s sparse inside and there isn’t much seating downstairs apart from a few stools—it’s more of a standing pub, inside and out—but up the steep spiral staircase you will find comfy sofas and a few tables. The pub also has a cute terrace, which can be a nice little suntrap in the summer. Despite its small size, the Tap has a kitchen and offers New York style pizzas so you can have something to munch on to soak up some of the beer. It’s great spot to stop off when waiting for your train. Just be aware that you’ll probably end up missing it.

READ FULL ARTICLE  (link takes you to Viator Travel)

Cambridge Winter Ale Festival 2012

Today is the third and final day of the 16th Cambridge Winter Ale Festival. The festival takes place in the University Social Club on Mill Lane, with a great selection of over 100 beers and ciders available in both the upstairs main bar and downstairs back bar, including lots of locally-brewed ales. I went to the festival on Thursday and Friday – it’s a very popular event and was therefore packed out –  and am going back again today; there are a few beers I still want to try. Here is a run-down of some of the beers I have tried so far:

Hopshackle Flinders (when I was sitting under green lights!)

Hopshackle Flinders (when I was sitting under green lights!)

Hopshackle Flinders, 4.8% – A wonderfully light and hoppy straw-coloured ale full of flavour. Very tasty and moorish. Great brewery. More of their beers to follow..

Hopshackle Marillo, 3.8% – Another light and hoppy beer, but not as moorish as the Flinders but also not as strong. A dominant citrus taste and aroma. Very easy drinking.

Hopshackle Historic Porter, 4.8% – Mmmmm berries, lots of them. Berries and dark bitter chocolate. Beautiful.

Hopshackle Smoked Porter, 5.2% – Now we’re talking. Absolutely delicious, my beer of the festival so far. Like drinking an open fire – smooth, warming, smoky, comforting, chocolate (not bitter). Lovely.

Redemption Urban Dusk, 4.6% – Love this beer. Its caramel malt flavours shine through. Very smooth, quite smoky actually, and slight hop flavours present.

Redemption Big Chief, 5.5% – Hazy, but tasty. Golden/orange colour, tropical hops dominate – @pintsandpubs summed it up nicely when he said it was like drinking alcoholic lilt!

Mauldon’s Black Adder, 5.3% – ‘Ooooh’ was the noise that came out of my mouth when I took my first sip of this wonderful stout. Rich, bitter, nutty, full flavoured. Loved it.

Dark Star Milk Stout, 4.5% – Very very sweet and rich, lovely roast malt flavours. Lots of flavour.

Downton Chimera IPA, 6.8% – Strong tasting IPA, hoppy, rich and resinous with floral flavours. Tasty.

Downton Baltic Red, 4.2% – A chestnut coloured premium bitter that smells of sesame oil, and tasted of it too. Not in a particularly unpleasant way; just slightly unusual. Not sure if I enjoyed it or not.

Pictish Porter, 4.4% –  A very nice smoky flavour, but slightly thin in the mouth. Easy to knock back, if you want a porter you can just knock back. There was no comparison when I did a head to head with this and the Hopshackle Historic Porter. I prefer a richer flavour myself.

Blue Monkey BG Sips – Similar to the Hopshackle Marillo, but with a slightly fuller flavour and unidentified underlying fruit that I thought was perhaps pineapple..? Very smooth in the mouth. Tasty.

Big Chief, BG Sips & Historic Porter

Big Chief, BG Sips & Historic Porter (almost gone)

That’s it for now. Another great festival – well organised (new management this year as well) with friendly, helpful service. Off there again soon to try some more beers, hopefully the Rogue Chatoe OREgasmic from Oregon in the US will be on draft; one of my favourite breweries in the world. See you there maybe.

Published in: on January 21, 2012 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Green Man Grantchester Christmas Beer Festival

Mulled wine steaming at the bar – tick. Giant marquee out the back containing lots of barrels of really cool well-sourced beers from some of the best local (and regional) brewers around – tick. Stage and a live jazz band – tick. Tons of fairy lights (6000 to be precise) – tick. And lots and lots of Santa hats. This can only mean one thing – the Green Man Grantchester Christmas Beer Festival.

After a 10 minute bus ride to Grantchester (No. 18 from bay 5 in Drummer Street, Cambridge, Mon-Sat only) we arrived at the village and made our way down the High Street to the beautiful 500 year old Green Man pub. The aroma of mulled wine hit us as soon as we entered the building, and we made our way through to the back to the marquee.

At the bar, the bartenders were wearing Santa hats – they needed them to keep warm on this chilly day, but there were several heaters inside the marquee so all was OK. Fairy lights were strung up all along the bar, the ceiling, the seating area opposite – everywhere, and very pretty. There were about 25 or so barrels of beer on at the bar, plus several barrels of cider. Breweries of particular interest to me were Cambridge Moonshine, Redemption, Buntingford, Tydd Steam, Summer Wine and Blue Monkey – mainly because I like their beers, or they were offering new beers I hadn’t tried before. We were handed some printed out tasting notes (much appreciated!) and spent a little while pondering over which beer to go for first. We had a voucher from Explorer mag which meant we got one free pint on our first round (again, much appreciated!) and I went for a Buntingford December.

Redemption Fellowship Porter

We took a seat inside the old pub, by the Christmas tree, and munched on some tasty chunky chips – they go so well with beer. (Inside the marquee they also had a snack menu on offer, including burgers, sandwiches and chips). The Buntingford December, 4.2%, was a pale ale, and light, hoppy, fruity with that unique Buntingford flavour and smell. And freezing cold – hardly surprising considering the weather. Adam’s Redemption Fellowship,5.1%, was a porter full of rich flavours of chocolate and roasty goodness. Lovely beer from an exciting London brewery, and this one was a SIBA gold medal winner.

Next up was Blue Monkey 99 Red Babboons, 4.2%, a ruby red porter crammed full of berries. I couldn’t taste any of the coffee flavour said to be in the beer – just deep berries. Very pleasant. Then it was the Prospect Nutty Slack, 3.9%, a dark mild which won a SIBA National Silver Medal in 2009 – lots of roasted malt flavours and smokiness and very easy to drink.

The Cambridge Moonshine Chocolate Orange Stout, a strong 7.6%, was tasty, rich and dark with a slight bitterness from the chocolate and coffee flavours and lots of hop flavour. I had a nice chat with Mark from Moonshine the other day in Bacchanalia where he was doing a beer tasting session at the Mill Rd Winter Fair, and he is single-handedly making a massive quantity of wonderful beers covering all different beer styles (well, with the help of his dog). I think the Moonshine beers are really exciting and becoming even more so – if you like a massive hop kick see if you can get hold of some Incomparable Beauty (try Bacchanalia). Anyway, I am veering off the subject.

Summer Wine Barista

Next it was Summerwine Barista at 4.8%. This beer shocked me. I ordered a half, thinking that I would find it tough to get through this rich coffee-style beer (named an Espresso Stout) but had to give it a try as this is one of the newest most exciting breweries around. But no. I could have drunk a pint of the stuff if not more. It was like drinking a coffee truffle laced in strong alcohol – which is heaven to me. The aroma of an espresso hits your nose as you take a sip, and this flavour carries through. It was sweet, not bitter at all (although pintsandpubs disagrees with me on this), smooth, roasted malt flavours. Stunning. My beer of the festival.

The last beer was Fellows Jolly Snoutsman, 6.0%, a beer exclusively brewed just up the road in Cottenham for the Green Man. This ruby beer had berry flavours combined with hop and malt flavours and slight spice (cloves?). It wasn’t as effervescent as I would have liked, but was pleasant to drink and had some lovely flavours.

The festival was really well organised, and the staff were very helpful and friendly, offering tasters of the beers available and passing on their knowledge. For a small pub beer festival, they are somehow managing to get hold of beers from some of the most sought-after breweries in the country which even the CAMRA beer festivals don’t always manage to do, so well done guys for making it so exciting. Oh, and if I didn’t say so already, I love all the fairy lights 😉

The Green Man Christmas Beer Festival runs until today, 18th December – get down there before it’s too late!

Published in: on December 18, 2011 at 10:27 am  Comments (2)  

5th Cambridge Octoberfest, 2011

The 5th CAMRA Cambridge Octoberfest took place on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th October at the University Social Club on Mill Lane, the venue for the Winter Ale Festival.  This is the youngest of the Cambridge and District CAMRA beer festivals and therefore the smallest, with just 2 bars available in the main hall of the venue. One bar sold English ales, mainly sourced from East Anglia, and the other bar served German beers – beers from the ‘big 6’ breweries from Munich as well as other German beers and bottles. Downstairs was also open for food and there were about 3 beers on draft on the bar there too.

Octoberfest beersWe went to the festival on both days. Entrance was free for CAMRA members (or £2.50 if not a member) and themed festival glasses were £3 sale or return.

Friday evening was incredibly busy even by 6 pm, an hour into the festival, and by 7 pm it was heaving. Saturday afternoon was much calmer and relaxed and it was nice to have room to move. I am guessing however that it became much busier later into the day.

I was pleased to spot the new Ale magazine at the festival, with my photo of the Hopbine on the front and my article inside about a tour of the pubs around the Kite, Cambridge (As this is my blog, I’m allowed to do a shameless plug 😉 ).

Right, onto the beers. The beer list was pretty good and I selected plenty that I wanted to try – however, I am not a great fan of German beers, preferring the flavours of real ale, so my choices were mostly from the left hand bar, or in other words, the English cask ales.

Friday eveningSaturday afternoon

Here are the beers that I tried:

October and RoysteinerBuntingford Engineer, 3.9% – This is a new beer from this Hertfordshire brewery, a malty copper coloured ale and low on hops.  I loved it – it had that distinct Buntingford aroma and sherbet taste, full of flavour despite its low abv. That one went down pretty quickly

Buntingford October, 4.2% – A single-hopped and flavoursome ruby beer, but it didn’t have much conditioning which made it slightly flat.

Buntingford Roysteiner, 4.2% – A tasty English beer but with German malt and hops – slightly thinner than most Buntingford beers but enjoyable.

Tydd Steam Golden Kiwi, 4.1% – This golden beer was wonderful at the Cambridge Beer Festival. This time it was served slightly warm, and had a slightly unpleasant sulphur aroma. However, the luscious grapefruit flavours cut through and the aroma subsided – the beer improved with time.

Casks

Hopshackle Resination, 7% – This is a personal favourite, however I was slightly disappointed with it on this occasion. It was warm, the hoppy resinous flavours didn’t quite come through as much as they normally do, and I couldn’t finish it. And I ALWAYS finish Resination. I don’t know – maybe if it had been served a bit colder it would have been better, but I understand there are issues with the USC not allowing a cask cooling system for the festival, and it has been a particularly warm October. Maybe holding the festival slightly later during October might help solve that issue – it’s going to get much colder from this point on, I hear..

Hopshackle Hopnosis, 5.2%- **My Beer of the Fest** Wow, now this beer was fantastic, and my beer of the festival –  wonderful hops, sweet malty flavours, fantastic aroma, spicy, fruity – I couldn’t get enough of it.

Hopshackle Smoked Porter, 5.2% – Another wow from this wonderful brewery. This beer is one to savour – rich and smoky, it’s like drinking an open fire. Chocolate and hop flavours, with fruit and malt. Absolutely gorgeous, and a real winter warmer.

German beer bar

Augustiner Octoberfest, 6.1% – A German beer from the German bar, served from a very nice small stainless steel cooling system, which made it freezing cold. Beers on this bar were served from this system in rotation as there were a limited number of taps, so there were just a few on tap at any one time. But although the temperature was great, the beer was just like a slightly more flavoursome lager to me and lacked those hoppy flavours that I love, and I found it just a bit, well, meh. I am not the best person to review German beers, so I will leave that to the experts. Onto the next English ale.

Cambridge Moonshine Effervescence & Spiritual Matter, 3.7% – I had ‘Spiritual Matter’ at the Green Man Beer Fest in Grantchester – is this the same beer, although they have tagged an ‘Effervescence’ in front of the name? Not sure. But I do know that this predominately grapefruit, possibly citra-hopped beer, would have been really good if it wasn’t for the poor conditioning and temperature. A shame.

I had a taster of Humpty Dumpty Hop Harvest Gold, 4.9%, which was wonderfully cold with great conditioning and full of hop flavours. I didn’t get round to trying Redemption Big Chief, but I know I like this hop monster as I had it at the Green Man beer festival last month. And I tried the Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel 7.1%, but this sweet dark beer with chocolate / caramel flavours was not to my taste – think it was possibly the raison flavours in there. Or maybe it’s just me, as others seem to like this one quite a lot.

Beer List

Beer list

So that was my 5th Octoberfest, the most successful yet with over 1500 visitors, with over 4500 pints poured, 2500 of which were the English ales.  A great festival and big thanks to the volunteers and organisers who make these festivals run so smoothly.  The 16th Cambridge Winter Ale Festival takes place 19th-21st January 2012, see you there!

Green Man Beer Festival, Grantchester

I was looking forward to visiting the Green Man Beer Festival in Grantchester, mainy because I’d missed their first ever festival and heard good things about it, and secondly because I’d heard which breweries were providing beers.

The festival was held between Friday 30th September and Sunday October 2nd. We headed there briefly on the Friday (by bus, too hot to walk), got off at the Blue Ball and headed to the lovely old Green Man pub in the middle of the village.

The beer festival marquee had been set up between the pub and the garden. The beer selection was very impressive, with beers from Redemption, Skinners, Buntingford, Summer Wine, Thornbridge, Milton and more. The festival glass was £2 to hire, and for CAMRA members beer was priced at a reasonable £3 a pint. There were over 50 cask ales and there were also ciders available.

Green Man Beers

Green Man Beers

Immediately I went for a Redemption Trinity, having missed out on this beer at the Cambridge Beer Festival. I couldn’t believe this beer was only 3% – I had to question the chap behind the bar and he confirmed that was right. He also said it’s quite difficult to get hold of Redemption beers, and he was pleased that they had managed to get some. We took a seat in the shady area of the long garden. The golden ale was full of fruity hops and was very pungent and piney. Lots of flavour for its impressively low abv.

Next up was some Summer Wine Diablo IPA, 6%. It was double the abv of the Redemption, and it tasted strong but incredibly tasty. Those resinous US hops and tropical flavours made this beer a winner.

I then got myself a Cambridge Moonshine Spiritual Matter, 3.7%, and was told I was probably the first member of the public to try this in Cambridge as it was brand new. It was fantastic; light fruity and flavoursome, and probably the best Moonshine beer I had tried. But we then had to head off.

The Green Man, with the Red Lion behind

The Green Man, with the Red Lion behind

On the Sunday we strolled back to Grantchester, despite it being far too hot to be walking across the meadows to the village from the city centre.  Those last few steps to the back garden entrance of the Green Man were pretty tough, I could hardly put one foot in front of the other by that point. But I knew what was inside, so I just kept going.

Redemption Big Chief had taken the place of Trinity, so I went for some of that straight away, although water may have been a wiser idea. On the label on the barrel it stated that this was 3%. Really? It tasted so much stronger. Then again, the Trinity did too. I asked for confirmation of this, as before, and it was confirmed. However, after knocking back this hoppy and full-bodied beer and realising that it couldn’t possibly be that weak I checked the beer list on the bar. It said it was 5.5%. I looked at the barrel again. That said 3%. Hmm. I brought this to the barman’s attention. He said he knew, and had now informed all bar staff. Bit of an issue, though, if you are driving and thought you were just drinking a quick half of weak beer. Luckily we weren’t.

Brewsters Decadence was  next, a tasty beer at 4.4%, hoppy and refreshing and moorish. I love Brewsters beers, especially their wonderful Hophead. I then wanted to try some of the fantastic Skinners Cornish Knocker on cask (I usually drink it bottled) but was upset to find that I had missed out and it had all gone – this tasty beer is one of my favourites; full of hops and wonderful flowery flavours.

We sat inside the marquee to watch a fantastic jazz band, Have You Heard, and I finished off with a Buntingford Polar Star, 4.4%, a great beer from one of my favourite breweries. Pale and light with US hops giving it a grapefruity and citrussy flavour, it was delicious and perfect for the sunny weather –  recorded as the hottest October day ever in England.

The Green Man Garden

The Green Man Garden

The Green Man did a great job in sourcing their beers and organising this wonderful festival. My one comment would be that I’d have liked some tasting notes – it cuts down the time spent at the bar wondering which ale to try next! All in all it was a great event and I look forward to the next one with anticipation.

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