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!

Champion Beer Tasting – Peterborough Beer Festival 2012

I was lucky enough to be invited along to the blind tasting and judging session of Champion Beers for the 35th Peterborough Beer Festival yesterday. Considering that this beer festival has over 350 beers available it was anyone’s guess which beers would make it through to the short list for us lot to try. On Tuesday evening, when the festival opened, visitors were asked to rate which beers they liked the best, and their votes, along with recommendations from the cellar team, determined the beers that would make it to our tasting session.

At 11 am Steve Williams, the Pubs Officer, took us all through to the tasting room. There were about 20 of us tasters who’d made it to the festival on the Embankment at this early hour to drink beer. There were CAMRA members, beer festival staff, brewery folk, journalists, and knowedgeable judges. Upon entering the room I immediately spotted the jugs of beers on the top table, beers of all different colours and varieties. We spread ourselves out over 4 tables; I was sat with Karl Simpson (from Peterborough CAMRA), Mel who knows his ales and has worked with several CAMRA branches, and Mike and Maxine from the British Brewing Playing Card Society who have judged at the PBF for the past 3 years.

We were each handed a sheet of paper; ours had Milds written at the top followed by numbers 1 through to 5, and next to each there was a column for Notes and Score. Table 1 and 2 had the milds sheet; Tables 3 and 4 had bitters. I was slightly envious; I wanted the bitters! We wouldn’t be tasting all categories, but would be splitting them between tables.

Steve Saldana, the Membership Secretary and Texan who brewed the lovely Lonestar TPA last year with Hopshackle (read about it on my post about last year’s PBF), gave an introductory speech about what to look for in a beer – appearance, aroma, flavour – that we should swallow and not spit, that we should mark out of 10. He then told us to have fun. Well, OK Steve, if you insist…! Let the tasting commence!

We were handed a jug of deep brown liquid, this was mild no. 1. Milds are not my favourite beer style, but I figured that starting off with the weaker beers was the best way to do it – we had 22 to get through altogether. I held the glass up to the light to see the colour, swished it around to release the aromas, took a few deep sniffs, then took a swig. This one was pleasant enough, what I’d expect from a mild really; quite a pleasant nutty flavour, lots of caramel, and roast malt flavours. We all got scoring, talking amongst ourselves about what we had identified in that beer, and our jug was removed by Steve W. and replaced with the next one.

Mild no. 2 was a shock. Milds are generally weak and easy drinking; this one blew my head off. It was boozy, syrupy, full bodied, with treacle flavours mixed with chocolate – it warmed me up as it went down.  All of us around the table thought it was a strong ‘un. I was interested to find out what it was. Would we find out later?

Unwanted dregs of beer from our glasses went into the bucket next to me (it was next to me as my fellow judges kept pouring me far too much beer to taste (‘I’ll end up a heap on the floor!’)  and I ended up pouring it away). My plan was to take it easy – we had a lot to get through, and I was planning on attending the evening session later on. Oh, how sensible.

After 4 milds we had a short break, had a few nibbles on cheese and crackers and a few slugs of water, then moved onto the Strong Bitters. This was a bit more like it! The first beer was golden, and had a massive hop aroma, with resinous hop flavours mixed with peach and passion fruit. Absolutely lovely. ‘I MUST find out what this beer is later!’ I declared. The second was beautiful, as was the third, and fourth (particularly so), fifth and sixth. It was hard to just drink a small amount of these lovely fruity strong golden beers, but I managed with sheer will and determination. I rated beer no. 1 and 4 as the best of that round, but it was close – they were all fantastic.

The next session was Speciality beers. We had 6 to try – and it was quite obvious from just looking at some of them what sort of beers they were – a ginger beer, a dark berry beer, a wheat beer. One rum porter was particularly potent. The dark berry beer (blackberries, we established immediately upon smelling and tasting) and the last beer, a dark smooth beer with lots of chocolate flavours, were my favourites.

The last round was Stouts and Porters –  I was hoping we’d get this category. I enjoyed 4 out of the 6 tasted, with the other two just too ‘figgy’ tasting for me, but Mel and Maxine loved them. The first one we all agreed was a Black IPA, loads of aroma hops but roasted malt flavours – an interesting beer.

Then at 2pm the judging was over – except from choosing the overall Champion Beer of the festival. One person per table was nominated to do the final judging – we nominated Maxine. She moved to another table with the nominees from the other tables, and the rest of us piled into the staff bar for more beer and lunch. Karl also took me on a quick tour of the venue, which has reverted back to its original horseshoe layout, with two parallel marquees lined with bars and pub games interlinked by a music tent for the live acts. Outside there were food stalls and fairground rides, and a pleasant outdoor seating area with chairs and tables on the grass.

Around 3pm we saw that a notice had mysteriously appeared on the wall of the staff bar – nobody saw how or when – and everyone rushed over to take a look; the Champion Beer list had arrived! The overall winner was…. Salopian Blackwater Rat Race. In second place was Fyne Ales Rune, and in third place, Adnams Tally Ho! I was desperate to know which beers I had tried – were any of mine the champion beers?

Champion Beers 2012

Champion Beers 2012

Steve Williams appeared and we nabbed him to see if he knew which beers were the ones we had tasted; the anticipation was getting too much, we needed to know. He nodded. Phew. He got out his notes (apologising for the roughness of them, covered in scribbles, but just about legible) and we pored over them to see if any of ours were winners. None of the champion beers had come from our categories – the first two were bitters, and the third a barley wine. However, I was pleased to see that one of my favourite strong bitters was winner in that category – Flowerpots IPA, and it just so happened to be the Champion Beer of 2011. The one equally as good was Dark Star Revelation, a great beer but not a winner unfortunately. I spotted that the Black IPA we enjoyed was Otley Oxymoron, a lovely beer – although it didn’t win anything. The really strong mild we tasted won the Milds – Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild. And the winner of the Speciality beer was Brass Castle Bad Kitty – the chocolate one that I loved – with the blackberry beer in second place, being Mauldons Blackberry Porter.

So that was that, the beer had been tasted and judged, and the champions announced. And a lot of fun it was too. All there was left to do was attend the evening session.

Me and @pintsandpubs (who’d been drinking there all afternoon) stayed for a couple of hours, sitting in the sun, then the rain, and then the sun again; we ate donuts, and  tried more beers – this time I knew what I was getting! Oakham Carioca, was good, the festival special with peach and grassy notes with an unusual underlying flavour, which I later discovered was due to the gurana berries. (The Oakham bar is decked out in exotic colours, Rio carnival-esque, and looks very pretty). I tried the champion beer, Salopian Blackwater Rat Race, very light with floral hop flavours. Bristol Beer Factory West Coast Red was a pleasant amber beer with hoppy aroma and fruity flavours.  I finished off with a Magic Rock Curious,  with beautiful mango and passion fruit hops and zesty flavours – this was possibly the nicest of the evening; very easy drinking. Whereas @pintsandpubs finished off with a Parish Baz’s Bonce Blower, a syrupy black liquorice beer at 12%. Not so easy drinking, I discovered.

This morning I was interviewed on BBC Peterborough Breakfast Show about the tasting session yesterday and beer in general. I hid the fact that I had a slight hangover quite well, I think. Luckily it was a telephone interview, so they couldn’t see how I looked….

The Peterborough Champion Beer Tasting was great fun and I’m pleased to have been invited to take part. Happy drinking everyone, and thanks to Peterborough CAMRA for putting on yet another fantastic beer festival!

Peterborough Beer Festival 2011

I don’t know why I’d never got round to going to the Peterborough Beer Festival before. I religiously attend the Cambridge Beer Festival, and I managed to make it down to Earl’s Court in London to the Great British Beer Festival earlier this month. But for some reason I’d never made the effort to take the 50 minute train journey to Peterborough. On Wednesday it was time to put that right.

Lonestar TPA

Lonestar TPA

The Peterborough Beer Festival, with over 350 real ales plus cider, wine, and bottled world beers, is the second largest CAMRA beer festival in the country. When I saw the beer list a week before the festival I was excited by the selection, with some breweries present whose ales I really wanted to try. Already I could see that this festival was going to be more exciting than the Great British Beer Festival (US cask beers aside). But at the same time I knew there was no way I could try all the beers I wanted to try in just one session; if they served third pint measures like at the GBBF I might be in with a chance. Come on all CAMRA beer fests, serve third pint measures; I can’t drink much but I want to try lots of different beers!

After a pleasant train journey from Cambridge in a wonderfully sparkly train (why can’t the trains to London be as nice as these?) and a 15 minute walk from the station we arrived at the Embankment, the site of the festival. It was 5.15 and the sun was shining, but the gates were closed. We joined the growing queue and waited in anticipation. The gates opened at 5.30 on the dot, so we all filtered slowly through, with CAMRA members paying £4 and non-members paying £8, which includes the £3 glass hire fee.

Table footieThe festival is located in large interlinking marquees. The floor is grass as opposed to the plastic flooring that is layed out at the Cambridge festival. The breweries were listed alphabetically through the various marquees in an L shape, which should have been straightforward – shouldn’t it?  Not for me – I still managed to get lost and ended up walking backwards and forwards several times trying to find T. Hmm. I blame the beer. They also have a live music marquee (which I am not particularly keen on at a beer fest, preferring my drinking and chat not to be drowned out by live music, despite the fact I do generally love to watch a good band) and a cider bar, wine bar, fairground rides, food stalls and shops, and pub games such as table football and Northamptonshire skittles (my personal favourite, as a girl who hails from that county).  There is a small grassy area outside around the food stalls where we sat, but I missed the open expanse of grass of the Cambridge Beer Festival – that’s what makes it so special in my opinion. There is plenty of grass on the Embankment – I am sure a large grassy space could be created for drinkers to sit and chat. Then it would be perfect.

Brewery bars

Brewery bars

So, onto the important bit – the beer. The Lonestar TPA (Texas Pale Ale) 5.8%, was first up; it had been recommended to me as it was a festival special but also because it has a great story. It was a collaboration between Hopshackle brewery and Steve Saldana, the festival cellarman and a Texan; the beer was brewed according to an ancient Texan recipe. Check out the full story (page 9), it’s fascinating 😉 The result is a beer loaded with hops, but not overly so; it’s wonderfully balanced and has the most gorgeous floral aroma. Very nice indeed. It didn’t disappoint (thanks for the recommendation Karl!)

Next up was Magic Rock High Wire, 5.5%.  I had been wanting to try their beers for a while but hadn’t managed to get hold of any. Here was my chance. Wow. Overwhelming tropical flavours and smells, mango, passion fruit, citrus. Incredibly rich. I could’ve sworn there were Nelson Sauvin hops in there, but when I asked them they said no, just loads of ‘C’ hops!

Tintagel Brewery is a relatively new and fantastic little brewery; the beer is brewed in an old milking shed on a farm just outside Tintagel, Cornwall. The Castle Gold was fantastic; bright yellow, floral, honey notes and very sweet. This went down a treat and was a pleasure to drink. Tintagel Harbour Special was a favourite after having drunk this in Tintagel this summer, with its caramel malty notes with citrus and dry hopped flavours.

I then went for Summer Wine 7 C’s of Rye, a beer containing 7 types of hop beginning with C (Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, etc). At this point the guys at the bar tried to warn me off the stronger beers, asking if I knew that my beer of choice was 7% and should I maybe try something weaker so as not to end up in a heap on the floor by the end of the evening? I explained that this was a brewery whose beers I had to try, that everything was fine and I knew what I was doing (didn’t I?). So they sighed and poured me a half. (The bar staff were so very nice and helpful at this festival, the nicest I have come across to be honest, nothing was too much trouble and they all were so enthusiastic about beer and wanted to share their enthusiasm).  Well the beer certainly tasted its strength. It was similar in a way to the High Wire (as in lots of tropical hop flavours) but it was deeper, creamier, much heavier and resinous. But I could have done with a 3rd pint to be honest, a half was too much for me as it was so rich.

Tydd Steam Stargazer was a beer that I wanted at the CBF but it had run out. It was a delicious golden ale; so easy to drink (after the 7 Cs’!) and full of wonderful American hop flavours.

I tried several other beers and had tasters of others, so here are some in brief – Oakham Dream Catcher, 6.9%: deeply hoppy and resinous, fruity, red, very nice. Oakham Green Devil, 6%: very tropical (there’s that word again) – lots of grapefruit, peach, similar to a very strong Thornbridge Kipling. Leeds Samba, 3.7%: quite pleasant, hoppy, light and refreshing. Mallinsons Peter-Beer, 4.6%: full of flavour, golden and hoppy with a lovely aftertaste. Le Brewery Mysterieuse Lady from Normandy, France, 4%: a wheat beer with an unusual aroma but very delicate with elderflower and grassy notes. Brodie’s Hackney Red IPA, 6.1%: deep ruby colour with prominent US dry hopped flavours.

It was time to leave to catch the train home. A pleasant walk back to the station through pretty Cathedral Square with its colourful shooting fountains and Butter Cross made for a nice end to the evening.

The festival was fantastic – it runs until Saturday 27th August. Next year I will try to go to more than one session to take advantage of all that is on offer!

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