Snowy Sunday afternoon

It snowed pretty heavily overnight, which meant our travel plans were well and truly scuppered. Luckily, we live in a great area full of lovely pubs within walking distance, so what better way t0 spend the day than going on a snowy walk and taking in a few of the local boozers.

I recently wrote an article for the local CAMRA magzine, ALE, about a pub crawl around the Kite area in Cambridge which is full of fantastic, tucked-away little pubs. Here are a few pictures and words about some of them:

The Elm Tree

The Elm Tree is a lovely little pub on the corner of Eden Street,  Melbourne Place, Orchard Street – it has many addresses. All you need to know is that it serves around 10 regularly changing real ales from the likes of Banks and Taylor, Dark Star and Youngs, lots of specialist Belgian beers, and hosts live music every week. A cool pub. Oh, and no sport is shown here so you can have a quiet drink and chat.

The Free Press

The Free Press

The Free Press is just round the corner, and is a cute, quiet Greene King pub with a cosy little snug and two open fires to keep you toasty warm on these cold days.

The food and service are great, and the beer, served in oversized glasses, is the best quality beer served in Cambridge, in my humble opinion. They are one of very few pubs serving the GK XX Mild. Interesting guest ales are served on draft, plus an unusual bottled beer weekly.

The First and Last

The First and Last

The First and Last was once called the  Cricketers until very recently. It is an airy, bright pub which serves large Sunday roasts and shows live sport on large screens. It’s another GK pub, but has regularly changing guests on draft.

The Clarendon Arms

The Clarendon Arms

The Clarendon Arms has been taken over since I wrote my ALE article, so the lovely pub dog (Casper) is no longer there. But the team from the Green Man in Grantchester have taken over (literally a few weeks ago upon writing this) and aim to turn this into a thriving boozer.

It’s a GK pub, but there is a fridge stocked with unusual bottled beers including American ales, as well as real ales on draft plus a new menu, including great chunky chips (and when I say chunky, I mean CHUNKY!) Beer and chips go so well together.


The Hopbine

The Hopbine

The Hopbine reopened in August 2011 under new management (the team from the Portland Arms). It has held a couple of beer festivals since reopening, and there are usually interesting ales from local breweries available at this free house plus good food served all day.

The Cambridge Blue

The Cambridge Blue

We had a wander out of the Kite to the Cambridge Blue, just off Mill Rd, and drank some Rogue Brutal IPA, a great beer from a fantastic brewery in Oregon. Another great pub that serves an ever-changing range of real ales from the likes of Nethergate, Cottage Brewery and Prospect, plus lots of bottled European and world beers. And good food.

While I’m at it, here are some more snowy pics of Cambridge to finish off with, and here is a link to @pintsandpubs blog post with some more lovely snowy Cambridge pub pics. Now I’m going to curl up with a nice cup of tea.

Snow BuddhaOrchard Street

Christmas Beers

I have tried a few Christmas beers this month,  for obvious reasons.  Some were good, some not so good. Here’s my take on a few of them.

Humpty Dumpty Christmas Crack, 7%, was a very enjoyable dark ale which went down very smoothly considering its strength. I don’t generally go for dark (or strong) ales, even at this time of year, but this was a very nice surprise, and it was very warming! A spicy taste due to late hopping, but no actual spices added (these words are from the brewer himself, who told Adam when he asked which spices were in it). We originally found this bottled, but were pleased to come across this on tap in the wonderful Cambridge Blue and it was just as lovely. Great pump clip too!

The Cambridge Blue

The Cambridge Blue at Christmas

Another beer I enjoyed there was a beer with cranberries, Newby Wyke Festive Ale, quite light and easy to drink at 3.9%. On their website it mentions that it’s brewed with white port, but no mention of cranberries – a different brew? It was very nice nonetheless.

Also in the Cambridge Blue I had a lovely Oakham Citra, 4.2%. Not a Christmas ale, but what the hell, I love the stuff – light, hoppy, grapefruity, sets the mouth buzzing with freshness and flavour. My sort of beer.

Beer! Beer! Beer!

Some of the beers on at the Blue

In the Hardwicke Arms in Arrington, another wonderful old inn and hotel (and decorated beautifully for Christmas)  I tasted a couple of pleasant enough beers but nothing spectacular – Brains Party Popper and Shepherd Neame Tins’ale, 3.7%. They were both very similar, malty, dark amber coloured, and not very exciting. But the atmosphere and decorations  made up for the beer.

Hardwicke Arms

Hardwicke Arms, Arrington

A not-so-great beer I tried was Rockin Rudolph, cleverly branded as the brewery Hardy and Hansons but is really Greene King. And you can tell. It’s dark red with some malty bitterness but plain, dull and so very unexciting. I wish GK wouldn’t try to catch us out like this. This was served in the lovely Royal Oak pub in Barrington.

Royal Oak

Royal Oak, Barrington

Another ale which was not as nice as expected was Thwaites Santa’s Sack. This beer at 4.3% was on draft in the Regal, Cambridge, and was dark with a frothy head, but was tasteless. I have never tasted such a tasteless ale. It had a slight aroma of spice, but unfortunately this was not evident in the tasting. What a shame. Maybe it was just a  bad batch.

A beer that Adam tried was Salopian Christmas Rappin, which was a quite nice ale initially, light and golden (5%), but the taste of cloves or dried fruit, or whatever that overwhelming flavour was, became too much for me so I couldn’t drink much of it.

Santa's Sack, Christmas Rapping and Jingle Knockers

I must say I enjoyed Skinner’s Jingle Knockers, also served at the Regal, Cambridge. I just presumed it was their rebranded Cornish Knocker, and I knocked back a couple as if I was drinking water (the beer went down very well, nice and light), but didn’t realise it was actually their strong Christmas beer at 5.5%, too strong for little ol’ me to be drinking like that.  Nice, light, sesssion beer taste  (or so I thought), with a fruitiness and pleasantly hoppy.  Anyway, I liked it a lot and would definitely drink it again. Just more slowly.

This is just a handful of Christmas beers I have tried and I am sure I will be trying plenty more before the season is over. If any ales are exceptional I will give them a mention on here. Happy New Year all!!

Village pubs

We went out for a little drive around some Cambridgeshire / Bedfordshire villages the other day and found ourselves in some pretty nice pubs – some new to us and one old favourite.

The Engineer's Arms

The Engineer's Arms

The first stop was The Engineers Arms in Henlow, Bedfordshire. This is a village we have driven through before but never stopped at. The pub itself is a strange looking building from the outside; round and curvy, and painted a terracotta colour, with a nice wrought iron gate leading to the beer garden out the back.  It was recommended as a good real ale pub, and it did not disappoint. There were loads of ales available, all chalked up on a blackboard – there are about 20 different ones a week. I noticed Oakham Citra, 4.2%, on tap, so naturally went for that with hardly a glance at the other beers and sat in the comfortable lounge area of the pub; the nice chilled out pub dog joined us for a bit before loping off somewhere.  There is a large outdoor covered area, and another seating area with a TV. I got a 2 pint take-out of Citra as it was so lovely, bursting with Citra hops, an incredible light grapefruit and sherbet aroma and taste. The landlord was friendly and told us about the beer festival at the end of October, so we will definitely be returning for that. Probably on the train.

The March Hare

The March Hare

The next stop was The March Hare in Dunton, Bedfordshire. This pub was boarded up last time we drove past which was a pity but we did stop to take a photo of the lovely sign. But this time the pub was open and refurbished, having reopened a short time ago.  It was quiet inside with a few ales on tap, Banks and Taylors Two Brewers at 3.6%, Nethergate’s Priory Mild, 3.5%, and Nethergate’s Suffolk County, 4%, the latter of which we opted for and took a seat by the window overlooking the churchyard. The beer is not the most interesting of ales to me, to be honest,  a bit too malty and quite dull, and I wished I had gone for the Two Brewers. The landlord told us that the refurb took a good few months, and they have done a nice job inside with carpeted areas and wooden floors as well, although it does need to feel more lived in, which I am sure will come in time. The exterior refurb is coming next. I am looking forward to more people discovering it.

The Royal Oak, Barrington

The Royal Oak, Barrington

We then drove back to Cambridgeshire and went to the village of Barrington, to the Royal Oak, a favourite of mine. Barrington has one of the largest village greens in England, you need to see it to believe it, it’s ginormous, and the pub sits facing it, a beautiful thatched and beamed old building dating back to the 13th century. This pub has a lovely garden and interior, and you can’t go wrong if you are looking for a village inn with character to take your friends or family too. The food isn’t cheap but it’s good; for a snack I particularly love their chunky chips. Oh, and the beer is nice too.  They have some Potton beers on tap such as the hoppy and moorish Shannon IPA, but on this occasion I opted for a good old Adnams Bitter.

The Red Lion, Histon

The Red Lion, Histon

The Red Lion in Histon, a village just outside Cambridge, is a pub we visited yesterday on a separate drive out, but may as well include it this post as well, why not, just in case I don’t get round to mentioning it again. The Red Lion is filled with pub memorabilia, with the lounge bar ceiling covered with pump clips and jugs, and the bar room filled with cabinets of old bottles. There were lots of real ales on tap which was great to see and an older clientele – although this was lunchtime so this may change in the evening, who can tell. Whilst supping on my Oakham Wotalegacy, I found myself staring at the ceiling for ages looking at clips of beers I have tried and seeing others I want to try – similar to when I am in the Cambridge Blue, who have much the same decor.

There are lots of great village pubs around the area, some of which I hope to include here someday, when I get round to it.

Cambridge Winter Ale Fest 2010

The 14th Cambridge Winter Ale Festival took place between 21st-23rd January at the University Social Club on Mill Lane. It was pretty popular – the beer ran out around 10pm last night! It’s great to see that it was so successful.

We popped down for a few beers yesterday during the day when it’s a bit less busy – the other night it was one in, one out. The venue had 3 bars open – the main upstairs bar, and the downstairs front and back bars (the back bar was where the cider barrels were located, and the heady waft of strong cider was all you could smell when you ventured downstairs!)

Ok, so let’s start with my beer of the fest, which was Harwich Town’s Misleading Lights, at 4.0%. It’s not exactly a winter beer, as in dark, mysterious, and fruity – it’s an amber, hoppy summery ale, with a citrus sherbet taste, and if you have read my blog before, you’ll know that’s exactly the sort of beer I am always searching for! Adam had some of the Buntingford Highwayman Porter, 4.7%, which he quite enjoyed as it was smooth, quite  smokey, and easy to drink. For a porter, which I don’t normally go for, I didn’t find it too bad, but I am a big fan of Buntingford brewery and all their beers are pretty good.

Misleading Lights

Misleading Lights

I decided I would try one of the Northumberland ales, a brewery that I hadn ‘t come across before. It was a toss up between Fog on the Tyne at 4.1% and Hoof Hearted at 3.8% . I couldn’t decide between the two, but when the man at the bar next to me ordered Fog on the Tyne and I watched a beautiful straw-colured, shimmering ale being poured from the barrel to his glass it pretty much made up my mind for me. It was a good choice, delicious, and the more I drank, the hoppier it became. It was another summery ale (yes, I know it’s meant to be the Winter Ale Fest..) and it even tasted of hay and meadows. Oh I can’t wait until I can sit outside in a beer garden, roll on summer….!

I suppose I should try to get back to the Winter beers. Hop and Spicy from the Hopshackle Brewery at 4.5% seemed a good choice. Wrong. We found it particulaly unpleasant. The taste of cloves, cinnamon and spices was overwhelming, and the hop taste was non-existant. Adam had a chat with an old man who had that same beer earlier in the day, and he said it had taken another two or three beers afterwards to get rid of the taste! If there was a section on the feedback form for the worst beer of the festival, that would’ve been it!

A decent beer was the Spectrum brewery’s Solstice Candle, at 5%, which was golden and hoppy but did taste quite strong as well. Wolf’s Santa Paws, 4.5%, was OK but full of berries, I couldn’t drink much of it myself so I was quite glad that it was Adam’s beer and not mine! It was a shame that Elgood’s Straw Beer had run out, I had some at last year’s Straw Bear festival and it was fantastic. But that’s what happens on the last day of the festival; the beers you wanted to try have usually all gone so you have to get  in early to avoid disappointment.

Some other great breweries present at the fest included Old Cannon, Milton, and the fantastic Woodforde’s.

I am sure my Misleading Lights is not ‘wintery’ enough to win the award for best beer of the fest, but good luck to them. I find my tastes dont change from season to season when it comes to beer, I love the golden hoppy ales whatever time of the year! Here’s to summer when there will be more of them available..!

A few more beer festivals coming up are the Rag Week Beer Festival on 5th and 6th March 2010 at the University Social Club, the Cambridge Blue Winter Ale festival between 24th and 27th Feb 2010 (at the Blue!), and of course, the one we are all looking foward to as it means sitting on the grass in the sun with a beer; the 37th Cambridge Beer Festival between 24th-29th May 2010 on Jesus Green. See you there!

Decent Real Ale pubs in Cambridge

I’m really lucky to live near some really good pubs that serve great beer in Cambridge. Most of the pubs in the city centre are unfortunately Greene King pubs, which although housed in lovely buildings and in great locations (you can’t beat the setting of The Granta,  The Eagle and The Anchor, a Cambridge institution) the Greene King beer is just mediocre (although they do sometimes serve some interesting guest ales). There are some exceptions though: The Mill, next to the Anchor and by the river, serves  real ale such as Deuchars and London Pride, which you can take out in a plastic cup (you pay a 20p deposit) and sit by the mill pond on the grass watching the punters go by whilst supping on your beer.

The Maypole in the city centre is a great little real ale pub, tucked away in an alleyway  on Park Street, curving around to Portugal Place, which is a pretty narrow street just off Bridge Street. It serves several well kept locally brewed ales as well as tasty Italian food, and has a large outdoor patio area where there is an outdoor serving hatch too to save your poor legs so you don’t have to go all the way indoors to get served.  On my last visit I had some wonderful Buntingford Chinook, 4%, one of their single hop beers – I couldn’t get enough of it, my sort of beer!

Other pubs worth visiting in the city centre are The Mitre on Bridge Street, The Pickerel on Magdalene Street (reputedly the oldest pub in the city), and The Castle Inn on Castle Hill (an Adnams pub, not to be confused with The Castle on Regent’s Street).

Rround the Kite area there are some great little pubs tucked away that serve decent beer. Take the Elm Tree. This pub is in a perfect location, in the little villagey-feeling area known as the Kite, just round the corner from the Grafton Centre. The Elm Tree has outside seating and a tiny secret courtyard. The owners have been running this pub since May last year, and they have done a great job in creating real ale heaven, with this Banks & Taylor pub serving no less than 10 ales on tap which change constantly.

Morris men outside the Elm Tree

Morris men outside the Elm Tree

On recent trips to the Elm Tree I have had Sharpe’s Doom Bar, Milton Sparta and Pegasus, Eagle IPA, Banks Dragon Slayer  ( a lovely golden ale, 4.5%, which they have on regularly) and Crouch Vale Golden Duck (one of my favourites). They have had two lots of morris men dance outside the pub in the recent summer months which proved popular in this little neighbourhood and much beer was consumed – and it wasn’t just by the morris men!  (check out my Favourite Beer Gardens post).

Another pub with decent beer in the Kite area is The Free Press, 30 seconds from the Elm Tree. It’s a Greene King pub so it has mostly GK ales on tap, but it always gets good guest ales in and they keep them really well, and there are plenty of ‘craft’ beers from this country or overseas in the well-stocked fridge. They serve their beers in oversized glasses too so you get a good measure. Some of the guests I have enjoyed there include Holden’s Golden Glow and Ossett’s Big Red. It’s a cosy pub with a nice back garden, a proper snug, and it is always busy.  It was the original non-smoking pub in the city. The food is good, the service is great, the atmosphere is fantastic (no games machines or mobile phones), and in the winter they light a log fire. They also have morris men dancing outside in the summer. You can’t ask for more than that!

Off Mill Road there are many good pubs that stand out – a couple being The Cambridge Blue and The Kingston Arms, within a stone’s throw of each other. I really like the Blue on Gwydir St  (as you may have guessed if you have read any of my other posts)  – I love the old pub memorabilia dotted around the interior of the pub, and I also like it’s large garden that backs onto the cemetary where they put up a marquee for their beer festivals (the last one was at the end of June, when they served the wonderfully hoppy and moorish Gwydir St Bitter, brewed by Milton for the  Gwydir Street Party which was going on at the same time). They have just refurbished their garden – (see My Favourite Beer Gardens post). The next Gywdir Street Party takes place on 26th June 2010 and also coincides with another Cambridge Blue Beer Fest!

The Cambridge Blue, during the Gwydir Street Party

The Cambridge Blue, during the Gwydir Street Party

The regular house bitter, Dew Drop ale, is fantastic, and on my last visit they were serving Oakham’s JHB (a lovely and refreshing ale, and a quaffable 3.8%), Handliner at 4% (Cornish Coastal brewery), and Palmer’s Dorset Gold (4.5%) to name a few. The Handliner was russet coloured, not the colour I usually go for,  but it  actually tasted like a light golden bitter and was so lovely I went back for more; the  Dorset Gold, although pleasant, didnt taste as golden as the Handliner –  if that makes any sense!

The Kingston is just round the corner, on Kingston Street. This pub has so many good ales on tap I never know what to do for – some of the regulars are the lovely JHB, the award-winning Brewers Gold (Crouch Vale, always a favourite, 4%), Timothy Taylors Landlord, and Summer Lighting by Hop Back (great but too strong most of the time for me at 5%). They even have some Recession Busting guest ales which change every week. There is free internet access there (with a couple of free computers for those who don’t have laptops), and they hold Sunday and Thursday BBQs in their little secluded garden out back, equipped with sofas and pretty fairy lights.

The Kingston Arms

The Kingston Arms, tucked away on Kingston Street

When we were last there they held their first monthly beer festival – the casks were located in a little ‘grotto’ in the main bar behind plastic doors to keep the temperature just right – interesting to negotiate with hands full of beer! The Fenny Popper (Concrete Cow, 4%) had to be my favourite beer there, being light and with sherbet hops flavours. I was pleased to see Natterjack from Frog Island brewery, Northampton, there, as that’s where I’m from – good ale too. The Kingston beer festivals are held in the garden during the summer months. Good on them – it’s great to see a pub putting on beer festivals like this every month at what must be considerable hard work for all involved. Go Kingston!

Another real ale pub still in the Mill Road area but a stroll over the bridge into Romsey Town is The Empress. This pub is hidden away on Thoday Street; you wouldn’t really know it was there unless you went looking for it. It just won an award for CAMRA’s Cambridge Pub of the Year, and on our last visit, during the Spring Bank Holiday week, it held a beer festival. I tried some very nice and hoppy Oldershaw Caskade beer amongst others. One thing that makes this pub stand out is that it is the home of 3 pigs, Barney, Chester and Romsey, who live in the garden.

The pigs at the Empress The Empress

There are also rabbits in the garden, and there are pub cats. Kids love it. I love it. I spent all my time there talking to the pigs and looking under the tables at the lovely ginger rabbit running around. Anyway, animals aside, this is a great pub with a large garden, good beer and it was a really fantastic beer festival. More about this pub on My Favourite Beer Gardens post.

More good pubs in the Mill Road area are The Salisbury Arms on Tenison Rd, The Live and Let Live on Mawson Road, and The Geldart on Ainsworth Street.

If you are in the Hills Road area, visit The Emperor on Hills Road (see separate post, and also the Flying Pig on Hills Road, near the station.

* For a more updated post than this one, including some new pubs, check out @pintsandpubs fantastic Cambridge Pub Guide with a helpful map so you know where to find them. *

The Maypole, with some Buntingford Chinook

The Maypole, with some Buntingford Chinook

Cambridge Blue Beer Fest

At the end of June the Cambridge Blue (a great pub on Gwydir St, Cambridge) had a week-long beer festival. I tried some fantastic beers from the main bar, their tap room, and the marquee they had set up in their large beer garden. My favourites were Fanny Ebbs Summer Ale from Tring – very light and citrussy – and Crouch Vale Golden Duck which was hoppy and gorgeous.

We got there too late and missed out on Fox’s Heacham Gold, one of our favourites at this year’s Cambridge Beer Festival, and also missed out on Wolf’s Golden Jackal. Surprisingly I didn’t really enjoy Salopian’s Hop Twister or Derventio’s Summer Solstice (anything with hops or summer in the title is generally something I am drawn to!) – I found they both had strange flavours and not very easy to drink. But Nethergate’s Dew Drop made for a refreshing finish – it’s only 3.9% and the special house beer of the Blue, which was formally named the Dewdrop Inn. We went to the pub on the day of the Gwydir Street Party, which takes place every year, and the atmosphere was great with the road closed to traffic and live music in the street, stalls selling books, children running around chalking pictures onto the road, other kids were jamming on their guitars. Residents had dragged their sofas out onto the street and were sitting chatting to their neighbours and eating together. It was lovely standing outside the Blue and listening to the live music, all the nicer with beer in hand.

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