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

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Green Man Grantchester Easter Beer Festival 2013

Grantchester Meadows

Grantchester Meadows

On Good Friday we wrapped up warm and braved the cold to stroll across Grantchester Meadows to the Green Man‘s Easter Beer Festival. This festival was the first of five that the pub will be holding this year, and what better time for the first to take place than over the 4-day weekend – plenty of time for drinking.

Although this was apparently the coldest Easter in the country since records began (we are always told nowadays that we are experiencing the coldest/wettest/driest/snowiest season – but never the hottest, funny that) it didn’t put people off heading to the village, and at least it didn’t snow (that was last weekend). Many visitors chose to walk an hour from central Cambridge or cycle to Grantchester; buses don’t run to the village on Sundays or Bank Holidays, which I think is crazy, being a much-visited destination with limited space for parking. Sometimes you don’t want to exert yourself and just want to jump on a bus – especially when you just want to get home after a beer festival.

The Green Man

The Green Man

If you haven’t visited the Green Man before then you really should. It’s a lovely traditional English beamed pub in the centre of the pretty village, full of dark wood, nooks and crannies, and great food and beer. The fire was roaring when we got there around midday, so we bagged a seat then headed outside to the large marquee in the garden where the festival was taking place.

There were over 65 beers and ciders available over the course of the long weekend (fantastic for a village pub). Beers ranged from local breweries such as Cambridge Moonshine and BlackBar to breweries further afield like Spire and Kelham Island. I tried a Buntingford Queen Mary, a lovely hoppy copper coloured ale with sherbet aroma, fruit notes and caramel flavours. You can never go wrong with a Buntingford beer. Full Tilt was also on, but the Single Hop Archer wasn’t quite ready.

Beer list

Beer list

I enjoyed Bexar County Brewery’s Come and Take it, a strong amber IPA at 7.3% with lots of citrus hops  and a big malt backbone. Steve the brewer is from Texas; I first tried his beer a couple of years ago at the Peterborough Beer Festival (his Lonestar Texas Pale Ale brewed with Hopshackle went down very well, check out my post about it). He is brewing aggressive American-style beers, and he loves experimenting and not doing things by the rule book. We visited the brewery in Peterborough a few weeks ago and played around putting chilis in beer – check out @pintsandpubs blog post about our visit. Bexar beers are unfined (no additional ingredients added to clear the beer) and are naturally cloudy, so don’t be put off by this, embrace the haze – this means they are vegan friendly and I’m all for that. Also from Bexar was the Chocolate Covered Bananas Mild, a strong and interesting full-flavoured mild with distinct banana and choc flavours. Look out for this brewery, exciting stuff is in the pipeline…

BlackBar BBSB

BlackBar BBSB

BlackBar’s BBSB (Big Black Stuff for Barrels) is another fantastic beer, rich and full bodied with roasted coffee and choc flavours. Joe from BlackBar Brewery in Harston is another brewer doing exciting stuff with beer and loves experimenting, and I have to say that his beers just keep getting better all the time, especially his dark strong beers (which keep getting stronger and darker). Again, another person to look out for who has interesting stuff brewing, so to speak.

Tydd Steam Scoundrel

Tydd Steam Scoundrel

Tydd Steam beers from Wisbech were also present – I went for a Scoundrel, a lovely hoppy, easy-drinking beer. Their refreshing Barn Ale was also there.

It was good to see a Cambridge Moonshine beer there too in the form of Trumpington Tipple. I first tried this ale at the Cambridge Brew House a few weeks previously and was impressed. It’s a beautiful malty beer with fruity flavours brewed with several types of US hop – lovely. Another great local brewery I have written about several times before.

As well as drink, there were bar snacks available such as scotch eggs and sausage rolls, as well as the main menu inside the pub. Live music was provided all weekend in the marquee including the Andy Bowie Quartet, the Freddy Hall Band, Groove Tube, and Tiger Blue (an acoustic duo playing famous classic indie songs who we caught when we popped back to the festival on Easter Monday.)

I’m already looking forward to the Green Man’s next beer festival which takes place over the first Bank Holiday weekend in May …only 4 weeks to go. Let’s hope the weather is warmer by then for our stroll across the meadows – the hottest on record maybe…?

Here are the dates for the next Green Man beer festivals – put the dates in your diary.

3-6 May

19-21 July

23-27 August

27-29 September

See you there!

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