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

A bit of an Oakham ales week

It’s been a bit of an Oakham ales week this week. Which is never a bad thing.

My drinking of Oakham ales mainly took place in The Cambridge Blue, with the Live and Let Live thrown in for good measure.

I started off with a Red Neck at the wonderful Cambridge Blue early Sunday afternoon, after the Christmas lights switch-on ceremony at the Grafton – I needed a beer after the Santa Show. (No, really, it was actually quite sweet especially if you have kids. Even though I don’t). The Red Neck was an amber beer full of wonderful sherbet flavours (I swear there are Cascade hops in there) and was quite a strong 5.2%. This was my sort of beer – but the conditioning wasn’t quite as its best, it was rather flat, so that was the only thing letting it down.

The next Oakham ale was in the Live and Let Live. This pub is tucked away on Mawson Road and I don’t visit as often as I perhaps should – it’s a traditional pub with loads of characters, lots of wood furniture and old décor – it’s a hidden gem. I had a Scarlet Macaw which was incredibly peachy and hoppy, really effervescent with a lovely big cream foamy head, and served at a great temperature. Perfect. It went down a treat. Such a refreshing beer. Nice pump clip, too.

Baby Belma

I finished off my Oakham week back in the Blue. I heard there was a new brew available, Baby Belma, brewed with the brand new Baby Belma hop in the Yakima valley in the US, and it was exclusive to Oakham. Cool. So me and @pintsandpubs were the first people to have a pint (him) and a half (me) of the stuff. It was copper coloured, really hoppy, and the flavour changed after a few seconds to that of slightly rotten fruit. That sounds bad – it really wasn’t. If you have tasted the durian in Southeast Asia, the large, spiky fruit that is banned from many places due to its pungent smell, you will know what I mean – the flesh smells rotten, but actually tastes, well, surprisingly good. The finish was really well rounded, with hops and warming malts. Lovely. I went back for more a couple of days later. Get it while you can.

Published in: on November 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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!

Strawberry Fair 2011 and Oakham Ales

Strawberry Fair Parade

Strawberry Fair Parade

Saturday June 4th was Strawberry Fair day in Cambridge, a summer event that I always look forward to. This one day festival, with its live music, entertainment, wacky stalls and hippie vibe, returned after a year off, having had to cancel last year due to licensing and policing issues – and it has changed quite a bit. There are still the old favourites present like the Parade, the Wigwam stage, the Acoustic Tent and the chilled out Green Area, but there is now a Village Green and bandstand where events are staged, a Mad Hatter Cafe where you can get tea and cake, a makeshift pub (the King’s Head), and a fenced off Kids area. Strawberry Fair ParadeIn fact, the whole festival is now all fenced off, with security on the gates. Due to the fencing, it’s now a lot smaller; the festival once sprawled across Midsummer Common until, well, as far as you could be bothered to walk. The food stalls were noticeably limited, with just a handful of oriental stalls (my favourite Chinese food stall wasn’t there) and Jamaican barbeque stands. There is no longer any camping permitted, which meant no campervans parked alongside the river and tents surrounding the area for days. This created quite a different festival to what it was previously.

The Green Area

The Green Area

Anyway, this is a beer blog, so onto the beer. As usual, Oakham brewery stocked the majority of beer for the festival, and I was pleased to see that Oakham ales were available in both the King’s Head and the Acoustic Tent, the latter having the bigger selection. Prices were higher than normal, but it didn’t matter too much; I was prepared to pay for decent beer, and besides, everything’s expensive at a festival anyway.


On offer in the King’s Head was Oakham White Dwarf (4.3%) and Marston’s EPA, 3.6%, so naturally I chose the Oakham beer, a very pleasant White Dwarf full of beautiful hoppy and fruity flavours which went down well on this sunny day. In the Acoustic Tent was the main Portland bar from the Portland Arms pub (which also hosts some great live bands), and on offer from Oakham Ales was JHB (3.8%), Citra (4.2%), Inferno (4%), White Dwarf (4.3%) and Bishop’s Farewell (4.6%). There was also Gulping Fellows (4.2%) from Fellows Brewery, just up the road in Cottenham, and CB1 from Cambridge Moonshine (4.2%).  I had a very pleasant light and easy to drink JHB, followed by refreshing golden Citra, bursting with grapefruit flavours due to the plentiful Citra hops. All beers are served in plastics (which are inevitably left laying around on the grass for all to stand on once used) and the beers are generally pre-poured and sitting in allotted spaces to speed up the serving process at the bar. I haven’t noticed this affecting the quality of the beer, however, as demand is pretty high; as soon as one beer is being served the next beer is being poured.

So my Strawberry Fair was spent listening to live music, eating lots of expensive but tasty festival food and drinking good beer in the sun (we were very lucky with the weather). It’s a shame the Strawberry Fair only lasts for one day as I could have easily returned today for more Oakham ales and festival atmosphere. I’m looking forward to the next Strawberry Fair already, but luckily I don’t have to wait that long for my next Oakham beer – now where did I put that bottle of Citra….?

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!

JD Wetherspoon Real Ale and Cider Festival 2011

As I have tried several beers at the JD Wetherspoon Spring Real Ale and Cider festival I thought I probably should write a post about them – it would be a shame if my notes about the beers I’ve tried should get lost amongst a blurry beery haze…

JDW Taster Tray

JDW Taster Tray

The festival started on 23rd March and runs until 10th April and there are about 50 beers to try (they put a selection of about 10 festival ales on at any one time). The great thing about this festival is that if you get a taster tray you can buy 3 third of a pint glasses for the price of one festival pint, around £2.20, so you can try lots of different beer, yay. The bar person also writes the number of your beers (from the taste guide) on the tray mat so you don’t get confused as to which beers you’re drinking! I’ve tried 14 beers so far in The Regal, Cambridge (no cider as yet though..). Here are the beers:

Triple FFF Ramble Tamble, 4.6% – An amazing beer. Lovely and sweet with a subtle sherbet hoppy flavour. Beautiful. One of my favourites. Had a couple of these.

Wychwood Elderwych, 3.8% –  Hmmm, a bit too elderflowery. And I actually do like elderflower. Quite refreshing. But nothing compared to their lovely Wychcraft ale.

Otter Hoppy Otter, 3.9% – This one got better the further down the glass I got. Didn’t really taste or smell of anything initially, but became smoother and sweeter in a subtle kind of way. I like Otter beers generally.

Ballast Point Calico Amber, 5.2% – Oh what a beer. So American, dry hopped flavour and aroma, full of Cascade and Centennial hops and more. So good I had to buy some more.

Shepherd Neame East Anglia Pale Ale, 5% – This was a very pleasant golden ale, full of vanilla flavours, creamy and a nice frothy head. Would drink again.

Roosters Angry Yank, 5% – I didn’t really take to this initially, but the Cascade hops became more pronounced the more I drank and it actually became quite moorish.

Oakham Taipan, 4.9% – What joy. Of course Oakham didn’t let me down. My beer of the fest so far. Citrussy, fruity, Cascadey, light and breezy – my kind of beer. Oakham are great.

Butcombe Mendip Spring, 3.8% – Poured with no head.  It was OK, tastes of the south west and other Butcombe ales (which is always nice) but couldn’t taste the Mount Hood hops disappointingly.

Everards Early Doors, 4.5% – Disappointing. No aroma, no flavour, watery, no sign whatsoever of the Cascade hops. Shame.

Titanic Tug Light, 4% – Pleasant golden mild, lots of rich hoppy flavours. Very nice beer from this great Staffs brewery.

Holden’s April Shower, 4.3% – Lovely, light, hoppy and easy drinking. Even my sister who doesn’t drink real ale liked this one and ‘could actually drink this again’. Praise indeed. A beer from another great brewery.

Acorn Challenger IPA, 5% – An ESB but quite dull and not full of the expected flavour for its strength.

Feral the Runt, 4.7% – An Australian beer. Eggy aroma and didn’t taste much better, quite unpleasant. The worst beer of the fest for me, I couldn’t actually finish it.

Caledonian Doc Kennedy’s Lipsmacker Lemon Ale, 4.3% – Quite sharp and acidic with some honey and lemon. Quite pleasant though.

So that’s it so far – will add more beers onto this if I visit a Wetherspoon’s pub during the remaining few days of the fest!

Oakham Straw Bear beer

Straw Bear

I went to the Straw Bear festival in Whittlesey on Saturday, mentioned in a previous post of mine in January 2009.  I just wanted to mention an amazing beer that I discovered there, one to rival Elgood’s Straw Beer at 4% which I enjoyed last time I attended the festival.

The Parade

The beer is Oakham Straw Bear, 4.4%. I discovered this in the Bricklayers Arms on Station Road, Whittlesey, whilst waiting for the parade to begin just before 10.30 am. I don’t know what time the pubs opened there that day, but I was very impressed and pleased to be drinking at that hour along with lots of other fellow revellers!

Happy with my Oakham Straw Bear beer

Outside the Bricklayers, looking happy with my Oakham Straw Bear

The beer is another wonderful Oakham cracker – pale, light, hoppy, incredible grapefruity – it was like lots of my favourite Oakham ales rolled into one.  I am sure there must be Citra hops in there (anyone?!) , so if you are a hop monster it’s a beer you should look out for.  However, I don’t know where you will find it as it’s probably only brewed once a year, hmm… next January then, same time,  same place?

Whittlesey seemed to have loads of real ales everywhere this year – some pubs were holding mini beer festivals: The Bricklayers, where I found the Straw Bear ale, and out the back there were more beer barrels including the wonderfully citrussy Tydd Steam Barn Ale as well as other interesting ales; the Falcon on London Road was holding a mini festival in its courtyard; Hubs Place restaurant on Market Place had lots of ales on gravity in its courtyard with some delicious sounding beers (including my wonderful Oakham Citra).  And these are just the festivals I saw.

New Crown Inn

We had a wander into the newly re-opened George Hotel on Market Place.  It was great to see this old coaching inn no longer boarded up, and instead converted into a Wetherspoons pub. The pub was filled with morris dancers and musicians so it was hard to get to the bar to see what beers they had on, but Wetherspoons do generally have a large selection of real ales on tap. The New Crown inn is also one of my favourites in Whittlesey, a cute thatched pub, with the added bonus of molly dancing outside (the fantastic Pig Dyke Molly).  I had some of the Elgoods Straw Beer, 4%, and it was lovely – light, easy to drink, hoppy, flavoursome. But between Oakham Straw Bear and Elgoods Straw Beer,  I have to say that it was the Oakham beer (or bear?!) that won me over this year.  Wonderful beer. Now, how can we convince Oakham to brew this ale all year round…?!

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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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.

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…

Cambridge Beer Festival 2010

So, the 37th Cambridge Beer Festival is well under way. The weather hasn’t been too bad for it either – you need to enjoy a bit of sun whilst drinking your beer on the grass on Jesus Green, and so far it has been very pleasant. Apart from the night when it rained, but that’s when the marquee comes into use.

Sad Horse beer glass

Sad Horse Beer Glass

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems busier than ever at the festival this year. I left early the other night and there were so many people pouring into the festival that I could hardly squeeze through the hoards to return my beer glass (my favourite sad horse glass). Then I could hardly get out. It was so busy last night that they asked for more volunteers, so Adam offered to help out for an hour behind the bar. It was crazy and hectic – the volunteers all work so hard. I was happy to  continue drinking myself! 😉

Adam at work

Adam at work

So,  the beer. I am pleased to say that most beers I have tried have been great so far. Here are a few of them:

Woodforde’s Game On, 4% – This beer was as expected, an easy drinking brew from this excellent brewery. Hoppy, light, not too strong and citrussy. Not as sweet as the Sundew.

BrewDog’s Punk IPA, 6.2% – OK, this is one of my most favourite beers ever,  but it’s a bit weaker in the bottle and on draft this is waaaaay too strong for me, y0u can taste the strength. But then the hops come through and kick you in the mouth and jump straight through your head.  That’s the only way I can describe it. There aren’t many beers you can say that about! It’s delicious, and very popular.

Buntingford’s Western Champion, 4.2% – A golden, hoppy ale – very tasty, another successful brew from the wonderful Buntingford Brewery.

Hambleton GFA, 4.8% – A gluten free ale that I chose on account of the fact that it is brewed with Cascade and Liberty hops. A disappointment; I couldn’t really taste the hops, and it was flat and I prefer a bit of fizz. It did taste better the longer it sat though.

Enjoying the beer

Enjoying the beer

Nobby’s Guilsborough Gold, 4% – A beer from near my hometown, Northampton. Lovely aftertaste, lots of hop flavour, went down easily.

Allendale’s Curlew’s Return, 4.2% – I didn’t like this one. I had this at a previous festival which I had forgotten about,  and I didn’t really like it then either. It was flat, I couldn’t taste the Cascade hops, and it was just missing something. I poured it away.

Spitting Feathers’ Thirstquencher, 3.9% – I started one of the sessions with this one, and it was a great drink to start with, not strong, full of flavour, bitter and citrussy teeming with hops, it was beautiful. A hint of straw.

Ossett’s Maypole, 4.2% – This one was Adam’s, but I snaffled some. It was refreshing and easy to drink, but compared to my Thirstquencher, it didn’t have a lot of flavour, but it was very pleasant.

Thornbridge’s Jaipur IPA, 5.9% – Wow. That’s all I can say. I remember Oz Clarke saying how wonderful this beer was when he was touring the country with James May tasting beer, so I wanted to try it on draft ever since. It’s delicious. Yes, it’s strong, and you can tell that when you drink it, but I loved it, it reminded me of an Oakham ale, full of hops, honey and citrus. Adam said it reminded him of a Rogue ale. Lovely. And it’s already gone, don’t know if it will come back on…

Beer fest 2010

Beer fest 2010

Tydd Steam’s Roadhouse Bitter, 4.3% – Very nice, one of my favourite drinkable beers so far of the festival, not too strong, heavily hopped, citrussy, really really lovely.

Tydd Steam’s Barn Ale, 3.9% – Even weaker than the Roadhouse, but not that you can tell. Again, Tydd Steam come up trumps, they are a really great brewery, I love their beers. This one is just as nice as the Roadhouse, full of hops…can’t decide which one I like best.

Vale Pale Ale, 4.2% – A golden ale, pleasant and hoppy.

West Berkshire’s Dr Hexter’s Healer, 5% – I was waiting for this one to come on as it has 3 different hops and meant to have an orange and marmalade finish. It just tasted astringent and strong to me. I could taste some hops, but I was disappointed. Maybe it’s just me; it did win bronze at the GBBF last year. I should give it another go really.

White Horse Bitter, 3.7% – A very nice bitter, goes down very easily. A slight eggy smell, but you can’t taste it when you drink, it’s very citrussy and hoppy.

Beer and chips. Lovely.

Beer and chips. Lovely.

Humpty Dumpty’s Little Sharpie, 3.8% – Golden, lots of hop flavour and very crisp and sharp, tasted stronger than it’s 3.8 ABV.

Surrey Hills Gilt Complex, 4.6% – The tasting notes mention the huge hop aroma, and they weren’t wrong! A tasty beer full of hops.

Ufford’s Rupert’s War Dog, 4.2% – A beer that wasn’t on the tasting notes, but has been tweeted about a lot because of it’s massive grapefruit burst. I tasted slight grapefruit and citrus and it was a pleasant and easy to drink beer, and slightly peppery, but that was about it.

Thornbridge Kipling, 5.2% – Now this was a beer full of grapefruit! This was an amazing beer, like Jaipur IPA’s little brother. I compared a Jaipur IPA against this one, and the Jaipur had more flavour and hops; this was a weaker, softer, smoother version, but if you can’t get the Jaipur then this is the next best thing – lovely beer.

Elgood’s Feelgood Fresh, 3.7% – I fancied an easy drinking weak beer to start off a session, but this one was just flat and boring. It might have been OK if it had had a bit of fizz, but its peppery flavour and aroma wasn’t particularly appealing to me. I poured this one away. It’s a shame as I do like their Golden Newt and Straw Beer.

Rogue Brewery’s Dry Hopped St Rogue Red, 5.2% – I was pleased to see this bottled USA beer on the Foreign Beer stand, being one of my favourites (see my USA beer article). This ruby red beer is bursting with hops and flavour, this one is not one to be missed.

And last but by no means least:

Red Squirrel’s White Mountain APA, 5.4% – Wow. Hop heaven. This beer is full of Cascade and Goldings hops, and you sure can taste them! Red Squirrel have been spot on with this American style IPA, and it is incredibly moorish – I went back for lots more, this was the most consumed beer of the festival for me and I voted it my number 1. Wonderful, wonderful beer. Already missing it – where can I find it round here?!?

Beer fest in the sun

Beer fest in the sun

And indoors when the rain came

And indoors when the rain came

So there ends the Cambridge Beer Festival 2010. Another great festival. Looking forward to the Octoberfest in the University Social Club on 15th – 16th October 2010, see you there!

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