The Kingston and The Cambridge Blue

I have just returned from two of my favourite pubs in Cambridge, the Kingston Arms and the Cambridge Blue. And they are only about 30 seconds apart (if you run, like I did, as it was raining, as it always seems to be this August..)

Kingston Beer Fest

Kingston Beer Fest

The Kingston was hosting its 10th mini summer Monthly Beer Festival. They started these beer festivals last summer, starting indoors with loads of beers – far too many really for a weekend beer fest, and taking up a lot of valuable indoor seating space – and they subsequently moved the festival outside into the cute and secluded beer garden under a marquee, using their own cooling system, and reduced the number of beers on offer to a manageable
amount. These summer mini festivals have been popular ever since, allowing the visitor to vote for the beer of the fest, the brewery of which receives a nice certificate and write-up on the website. Nice.

There were 5 festival beers on offer this month. That’s not many for a beer festival, you say. That’s because it’s  a mini festival, I reply. And if you look at all the beers available at the bar at any one time – about 5 regular ales as well as the 5 or so ever-changing ‘recession beers’ at an even lower price, your biggest problem is trying to decice which beers you won’t try this time round. Plus, you get a discount if are a CAMRA member. So you are always on a winner, I think.

Festival ales

Festival ales

Here is the festival beer list. The first beer I went for was BrewDog‘s Alpha Dog, 4.5%. I may as well say now that this was the beer of the festival for me. I love BrewDog. Their Punk IPA is one of my favourite beers, and whilst Alpha Dog was more chestnut coloured and not as strong, in a blow-your-head-off kind of way, it was also dominated by hops with a honeyish tinge, and was definitely moorish. I was almost sad when I drained the last drops from my glass, but I felt I had to move onto something new.

Alpha Dogs and Harvest Pale Ale

Alpha Dog and Harvest Pale Ale

The next beer I tried wasn’t a festival ale; Castle Rock’s Harvest Pale Ale. 3.8%, was on tap at the bar, voted Champion Beer of Britain 2010 at the Great British Beer Festival, and it was beautiful. If I didn’t know any better I would have sworn this was an Oakham ale, the sherbet hop aroma and flavour produced from using American hops, a sweet and light beer. But it wasn’t a festival ale so I couldn’t vote for it. Shame.

Rooster’s GCB (Good Cheer Beer) was next up at 3.9%, another light pale ale. I have tried this before at The Regal and loved its flavour with its NZ and US hops. But unfortunately on this occasion it was not as tasty, it was slightly tart and bitter and none of the gorgeous hoppy flavours came out. I swiftly got myself an Elgood’s Pageant Ale, 4.3%. This beer actually got better as it went along, becoming more hoppy and less malty, less vanillary, and generally more flavoursome. In the meantime, Adam tried some of Cliff Quay’s Black Jack Porter, 4.2%. It’s described in their own tasting notes as ‘A Marmite beer, you will either love it or hate it’. I love marmite, but I hated this. It’s horrible aniseed taste dominated the next few sips of my own beer. Adam said it reminded him of dandelion and burdock. I never liked that either, but if you did then I am sure you will love this beer.

Some of the beers at the bar at the Kingston

Some of the beers at the bar at the Kingston

After giving the highest number of points on the voting slip to Alpha Dog, we ran round the corner in the rain to the Cambridge Blue to see what beers were on. It was pretty busy with people getting their Sunday lunch (the pub serves good and reasonably priced food, and their Sunday roast is delicious) but managed to find a seat indoors. Their beer garden is lovely, one of the loveliest in town, so it was a pity we couldn’t sit outside – damn this British ‘summer’! Here is the beer list at the Blue:

At this point I couldn’t really drink an awful lot more, but I spotted Thornbridge‘ s Lumford on tap, 3.9%, and being a Thornbridge fan (I love their Kipling and Jaipur) I naturally had to try some of it. It tasted and smelt very dry hopped, was quite dark in colour, and although initially thought it was delicious and reminded me of Stone Levitation, an American ale which I adore, I soon went off the odd astringent aftertaste. This is branded as a New World Beer, with Ahtanum, Nelson Sauvin and Pacific Gem hops, and I really should have liked it, but it was just too odd for me. Shame; I liked the grapefruit flavour but it was just not enough to counteract the bitter ‘oddness’. I can’t be more specific as I don’t know what it was that I didn’t like; I’m sure it wasn’t the hops as I love overly-hopped beers and have never tried a beer that I felt was ‘too hoppy’ . However, Adam had a lovely Lupus Lupus ale from Wolf brewery, 5%, and this was golden and subtely hoppy, which was just right for me at that point in time so I had a fair bit of that.

Lupus Lupus and Lumford Ale

Lupus Lupus and Lumford Ale

So that’s my day in a couple of my favourite Cambridge pubs. Luckily this is a Bank Holiday weekend, so there will probably be more of the same tomorrow. Let’s hope the sun shines for it…

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Straw Bear Festival

Last weekend was the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey, near Peterborough. The festival lasts for 3 days, and this was the 30th anniversary of this unique Fenland custom. Over the weekend there is a whole host of events such as live music, dancing, and storytelling, but the main day of the festival is the Saturday, kicking off with a morning parade through the streets. The parade includes several teams of Morris and Molly dancers, musicians, Clog dancers, Mummers, Sword dancers,  Appalacian dancers, and last but not least, the Straw Bear. The Bear is a man dressed from head to toe in straw, and during the festival he is guided around the streets of Whittlesey by his minder, who takes him from pub to pub during the day to watch the dancing and to drink beer!

The Straw Bear

The Straw Bear with his minder

Straw Bear on the move

Straw Bear on the move

The festival generally falls on the weekend before Plough Monday, and is revived from the custom of a young boy being paraded around the town on the Tuesday after Plough Monday decked in straw to entertain the locals and collect money, gifts and beer.

It was freezing on the Saturday; the cold was biting during the parade and everyone was jumping up and down to keep their circulation going.  The dancers were, I am sure, the warmest people there, excluding the Bear of course.  We decided to look for a pub to warm up in, and we found a pleasant, traditional pub called the New Crown Inn, where we had some of the festival ale brewed by Elgoods, Straw Beer – and very nice it was too at 4%.  Lovely, light and hoppy – just right for a drink at 11 am! The bar staff were very friendly and helpful. Also on tap was Black Sheep, another favourite of mine. Another popular pub was the Black Bull on the High Street, but it was far too crowded to get in to see what beers they had on offer – even the Bear couldn’t get through the door!

On the Sunday, the final day of the festival, the Bear is burned. I understand that it’s all about renewal and making way for next year’s bear from the new harvest, but there is something quite sad about a bear enjoying his beer one day, and then being destroyed the next. However, I think quite a few of us have felt like that before…

straw-beer

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