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!

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The Great British Beer Festival 2011

On Thursday we headed to the Great British Beer Festival in Earl’s Court, London. This is the mother of all UK beer festivals, with over 700 beers on offer as well as a multitude of ciders and perries.

At around 12.30 we emerged from Earl’s Court station straight into the pouring rain. We made a running dash for it over the road and entered the exhibition centre to the voices of stewards shouting repeatedly and urgently to the eager (and sogging wet) crowd ‘Don’t slip on the wet floor!’

I was initially overwhelmed by the size of the place. After grabbing a couple of £3 souvenir pint glass and beer programmes (free for CAMRA members) we had a look around. I found it to be a very confusing layout; breweries were ordered by groups of counties rather than alphabetically, which surprised me. I don’t always know the name of the towns that some of my favourite breweries are from, let alone the county. The bars were all given names and letter, such as P4 Gray, which confusingly had beers from counties H-L (not G, as you might vaguely hope/expect). So really, you would have no idea where to go without your brochure, and would have to aimlessly wander around hoping you would come across a brewery you were looking for – the names are listed on the backdrop behind each bar. But they could make this so much easier by listing the breweries alphabetically like the Cambridge beer festival does, as opposed to regional location – it would therefore be obvious where to go  if you wanted an Adnams beer or a Youngs. In my opinion.

So, rather than trying to figure everything out immediately upon arrival whilst still clutching an empty beer glass, wander we did. Luckily, we soon came across what we were looking for, the Bières Sans Frontières bar, or more precisely, the USA cask beer bar (or W2 Blackwell, if you want to get all technical). This was the reason I was here. I had composed a list comprising of no less than 24 US beers I wanted to try. OK, I knew that I wouldn’t get through 24 strong US beers in one day, but I knew several were bound to be gone already, so I had to give myself a few options, just in case…

Bières Sans Frontières

Bières Sans Frontières

When we got to the bar there were quite a few US beers on, but many had indeed gone already – including, unfortunately, most of the beers on my ginormous list. I was most disappointed to see that Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale was one of them, which was due to be my first beer of the day. Grrr. This beer was going to evoke happy memories of Portland, Oregon, where we drank it in the Deschutes bar (see my US beer trip post). That was the plan anyway. However, the barman informed me that the beer was so amazingly fantastic that he had been recommending it to all his customers the previous few days, and now it was gone. Dammmit. Luckily, Adam managed to find the last remaining bottle of it on the adjacent bottled beer bar, so he grabbed that along with some bottles of Cascade Ale and Green Lakes Organic Ale by the same brewer, both wonderful beers. The great thing about Deschutes is that they don’t overdo their hopping like some US breweries; everything is nicely balanced and just right. However, I do love a massive hop kick too. Any day of the week.

So out of my 24 US beers, I managed to try a grand total of 4. Pah. Here they are:

Country Boy IPA

Country Boy IPA

Everybody’s Brewing, Country Boy IPA (6.2%)  – This wonderful beer from Washington state didn’t taste its strength although you could tell it wasn’t a 4%er. A golden ale with a fantastic hop aroma and citrus flavour. Contains lots of NW hops such as Chinook and Cascade but wasn’t overdone. This incredibly drinkable beer was one of my favourites of the fest and a very pleasant start.

Il Vicino, Wet Mountain IPA (7.2%) – I love the name of this beer – this conjures up for me the Cascade mountain range in Oregon with soaking wet hop fields from the incessant rain and lots of wonderful grassy smells. I had to try this beer from this New Mexico brewery, and it didn’t disappoint. Full of resin from the bundles of Pacific hops such as Cascade and Centennial this beer provided the much loved hop kick. Dark amber and very sweet with dry hop flavours, and tasted its strength. I was drinking 3rd pint measures (which is great about this festival) and glad I was – I couldn’t have survived on larger measures drinking beer this strong. Great beer.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (7.2%) – Oh dear, not another 7.2%er. Again, this tasted its strength, if not stronger, and again very resinous. Not as sweet as the Wet Mountain, but a drinkable beer from this great Californian brewery who were the sponsors of the BSF bar. Their Pale Ale is also superb and ubiquitous in California.

Widmer Bros Okto Festival Ale (5.3%) – This beer hailing from Portland, Oregon, was OK, not bad, but not really to my taste, more malty than hoppy. This amber beer wasn’t very effervescent but it was smooth and drinkable, I just wanted to move onto the next beer though really.

  

So that was it for my US beers. Onto the UK beers.

To be honest, I wasn’t there for the UK beers, which sounds terrible as this is the British beer fest after all. But I had only drawn up a short UK list; breweries that I wanted to see weren’t there like Kernel and BrewDog, and other breweries that I like only had one beer which I didn’t want, e.g. Redemption only had a porter, Crouch Vale only had Brewer’s Gold, which is a great beer but I drink it all the time and wanted something different, and so on.

Here are some of the UK beers I tried:

Mallinsons Stadium Bitter (3.8) – I really love Mallinsons Simcoe, at almost the same ABV, but this beer was not as good – it was slightly hoppy and pale, but a bit astringent and I found it a bit dull. Or maybe the US beers had mashed my tastebuds by this point.

Moor Northern Star (4.1%) – This wasn’t on my beer list originally but I saw that someone had mentioned it on the GBBF Twitter feed so had to try it. It wasn’t bad, very pale with a slight egg aroma which put me off a bit, but pleasantly hoppy if also slightly astringent; I just would have liked to see more US hops in there. It’s an award winning beer, so must give this another go another time.

Thwaites Triple C (4.2%) – I wanted this beer as it is brewed with US Cascade hops. But I really couldn’t taste my favourite hop. It was pleasantly drinkable but uninspiring. Sorry, Thwaites, I do like what you do (I love your Wainwright ale ). I again blame the US beers for messing with my tastebuds. I will try this another day too.

Arbor Yakima Valley American IPA (7%) – Onto a strong American style ale by a UK brewery as I was obviously not getting on so well with weaker UK beers at this point. I had to wait for this beer to come on, but it was very nice, fruity and literally bursting with hops as they had thrown so many in. It actually tasted stronger than US beers of the same ABV – I would have liked to have done a taste comparison with this and, say, the Torpedo, but by this point I was starting to suffer so that wouldn’t have been such a good idea…

 

The queue for Oscar Wilde mild

The queue for Oscar Wilde mild

Adam queued in a very long line for some of the newly awarded Champion Beer of Britain: Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde,  a nutty mild beer. This beer was pleasant and easy drinking – maybe that’s part of its charm – but I don’t understand why this beer won the award with so many other amazing beers out there.  Anyway, the queue for that beer  just kept getting longer and longer.

So there we have it. I’d like to have returned for another session, but quite honestly, after the long slow journey home, the painful head the next day, and the fact the US beers had virtually gone,  it unfortunately wasn’t going to happen. It was good fun though, I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was obvious how much organisation and planning had gone into the whole thing. I came away with a couple of good books from the CAMRA bookshop. I enjoyed chatting to various people along the way who joined our table, like Garth and Bob from Devon who were on the darker beers and travelling back to Devon the same evening, a group of older gentlemen from the Kent beer club who were on the Worthingtons and had never heard of a decent US beer, and the guys from Hornchurch drinking Sharps Doom Bar (great beer) whose journey down the District Line almost took as long as ours from Cambridge.

Next year the GBBF will be in the venue of Olympia as Earl’s Court will be used in the Olymics and then possibly demolished. I’m looking forward to it already (more US cask beers please CAMRA!). There are many beer festivals to enjoy in the meantime though, including the Peterborough Beer Festival on 23-27 August. And it’s only a couple of months until the Cambridge Octoberfest 2011 on October 14th-15th…

The 38th Cambridge Beer Festival, 2011

The 38th Cambridge Beer Festival is now over, having run from 23rd – 28th May.  It was a great festival,  but unfortunately I was ill for a lot of it so couldn’t enjoy it as much as usual and couldn’t make it to all the sessions. Also, we didn’t get the weather we were promised, being chilly, grey and rainy for several sessions. I did see a bit of  sun when I was there, but typically the sunnier sessions generally happened to coincide with when I was too ill to go down. Drat.

Buntingford Bravo

Buntingford Bravo

Anyway, all that aside, it was good fun and well organised, with over 200 beers to choose from (plus ciders, perries, mead, wine, cheese, curry, chips, lots of giant hunks of bread, etc) and this year’s theme was the 70th anniversary of Sir Frank Whittle’s jet engine – the noise of the engine by the entrance could be heard firing up every now and again. It was also the 60th anniversary of Cambridge’s city status, so all this was reflected on the souvenir beer glasses.

I won’t talk about every beer I tried, so here are a select few:

Kernel and Redemption No. 2, 6% – A wonderful collaboration between these 2 innovative London brewers.  Full of USA hop flavours, resinous, intense. A very popular ale by all accounts and it didn’t take long to sell out. (Their No. 1 collaboration is a Strong Dark Mild, by the way, which wasn’t at the fest).

Redemption Hopspur, 4.5% – Lovely, like a weaker version of the No 2 but easier to knock back – a hop explosion with a dry hop flavour; reminds me of the wonderful Dry Hopped St Rogue Red by Rogue brewery from the US (check out my USA beers post).

Potbelly Crazy Daze, Tintagel Harbour Special and Redemption Hopspur

Potbelly Crazy Daze, Tintagel Harbour Special and Redemption Hopspur

Redemption Urban Dusk, 4.6% – I am loving this brewery. This is different to their other beers, no blast of American hops, but darker, vanilla/caramel and very smooth. Nice.

Time for more beer

Time for more beer

Tydd Steam Golden Kiwi, 4.1% – A lovely golden ale full of NZ hops, sharp but fruity. Great brewery.

Oakham Scarlet Macaw, 4.4% – Peachy. Quite literally. A new one from one of my favourite breweries, and it didn’t disappoint. Light, fruity, not full-on hoppy like many of their other beers but delicious.

Busy beer fest

Busy beer fest

Buntingford Bravo, 4% – I actually started the festival with this one – Buntingford is a fantastic brewery – and this pale beer was lovely, as expected. Bursting with sherbetty Bravo hops from the US, citrussy and very moorish.

Buntingford Charter Flight, 3.9% – I preferred the Bravo, but this was pleasant and light, creamy, malty with vanilla flavours.

Blue Monkey Ape Ale, 5.4% – An unusual taste, quite grassy, but very nice – dry and full of American hops.

Hopshackle Resination

Hopshackle Resination

Hopshackle Resination, 7% – One of the best beers on, this was actually my beer of the fest. Strong, resinous (funny, that, given its name), hoppy, spicy, intense. Wonderful, had to keep drinking it, and with that ABV it pretty much finished me off.

Other beers I enjoyed that are worth a mention are Humpty Dumpty Nord Atlantic, St Austell Endeavour, Mighty Oak Captain Bob, Milton Proteus, and Northcote Jiggle Juice. And a few I didn’t get on with were Great Orme Celtica (just a bit too lagery for me) and Milk Street Mermaid (too smoky, I poured it away).

All in all, it was a great fest, despite the illness and the rain. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have been on next week instead, when I will (hopefully) be feeling much better, and when it’s supposed to be really hot and sunny, so they say. But then again, they are always saying that, aren’t they…

By the way, Cambridge Octoberfest is on 14th and 15th October 2011 – see you there.

Everybody out!

Everybody out!

Cambridge Octoberfest 2010

My Octoberfest did not involve me drinking any German beers.  Let’s get that straight from the start.  Do I feel bad about that? Maybe, a little. But to be perfectly honest I don’t enjoy drinking lager style beers, so however tasty some may find German Octoberfest beers,  I just prefer ale. So read on if you want to hear about a few incredibly tasty English ales present at the Cambridge Octoberfest, but if you are looking for a review on Schlenkerla Marzen or Augustinian beers, then you have come to the wrong place. Sorry.

Onto the Octoberfest, held at the University Social Club on Mill Lane. The event held on 15th and 16th October was not as big as the Winter Ale fest, held in the same venue; it’s small and intimate, and there were about 30 beers available which is pretty good, I think.

Octoberfest beers

First up was Buntingford’s Polar Star, a lovely light and very hoppy golden beer at 4.4%. This beer was a wonderful way to start the afternoon, with its sherbet hop aroma, thanks to the lovely USA hops used, making it very very drinkable.  Next I tried Milton’s Prometheus, but although this was very nice, grapefruity and strong at 6%, I decided to go for another Buntingford, the Imperial Pale Ale. I can’t remember if I have raved about this beer before, but if not, why not?  It’s amazing, incredible, hoppy, and strong, at 6.2%.  I actually had this beer at the Cambridge Blue’s Octoberfest the previous week, and this was the beer of the fest for me.

The next beer was Hop Fest (4.6%) by Hop Back. I was disappointed by this beer, particulary as I am a fan of their Summer Lightning.  It was eggy, astringent, and not quite the ‘hop fest’ that I was hoping for. I don’t actually remember tasting  many hops at all. The aroma put me off immediately, and the guys on the table next to us also bought some and they felt the same way about it. What a shame.

Then I had some lovely Tydd Steam Barn Ale at only 3.9%. Ooh a wonderful beer to finish off with – similar to the Polar Star; light, hoppy, citrussy, and very moorish.

Whilst I am talking about Octoberfest beers, I must add that on a trip to the wonderful Elm Tree, I had some Dark Star Oktoberfest, 5.2%, which was incredible, loaded with hops. Fantastic.  I will also be popping by at the end of the month for Hallowe’en, they do a great job decorating the pub with pumpkins and witches and bats everywhere. I think there will be scary stories too from the Travelling Talesman too on Hallowe’en itself. And most certainly there will be a good few Hallowe’en-themed beers on tap too.

The Cambridge Winter Ale fest is on 20th-22th January 2011 at the same venue. See you there – I’ll be the one drinking the hoppiest beer in the building.

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