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….?

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Oakham Citra in a bottle

Well, Oakham Ales have gone and done it now. One of my favourite breweries has only gone and bottled one of my favourite cask beers, Citra (you may have heard me mention this beer once or twice) . That’s me done for.

Oakham Citra

Oakham Citra

No, really, if you haven’t tried Citra then I recommend you get your hands on some bottles. It’s straw coloured, pours with a frothy white head, and the grapefruit aroma knocks your socks off. Then the first sip blows your head off. The beer fills your mouth with powerful citrussy hops and sweet fruit flavours with an underlying bitterness. It’s truly magical, just like it’s cask version, and impossible to stop drinking once you have started. It’s lovely. The beer label is also beautiful, a magical ivy-covered green hop man – the label would jump out at me and shout ‘buy me!’ even if I wasn’t intending to.

I found my bottled Citra in the Cambridge Wine Merchants on Kings Parade; however, I know Bacchanalia on Mill Road, Cambridge, stocks them too – this fantastic store would have been my first port of call if I hadn’t spotted them first when I was in the city centre.

Thanks Oakham, yet again you inspire me to write about your beers!

Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 6:58 pm  Comments (3)  
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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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Top Beers of 2010

I thought I would make a note of my Top 10 beers of 2010 so I don’t forget my favourites. But picking out just 10 beers proved a bit too difficult, so I ended up with a long list which I managed to edit down to 15; I just couldn’t get it any lower. So here they are, my Top 15 beers of 2010 (not particularly in order of preference, that’s just too difficult to do):

Oakham Citra, 4.2% – Pale and grapefruity, bursting with Citra hops, very light and drinkable
Oakham Tranquility , 6.5% – Strong, highly hopped,  citrussy and very powerful
Bungtingford Imperial Pale Ale, 6.2% – Absolutely delicious. Full of American hops. I need say no more
Buntingford Chinook, 4% – Golden ale with American hops, grapefruity and very moorish
Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, 5% – Full of Cascade hops, an easy-to-drink, sweet beer
Rogue Dry Hopped St Rogue Red , 5.2% – Red ale and bursting with hops and a piney taste sensation
Stone Levitation, 4.4% – Similar taste to the Rogue with the piney hop flavour, but not as strong. Loaded with a variety of American hops
Odell St Lupulin EPA, 6.5%- Delicately dry hopped and gentle, a pleasure to drink. Lovely beer label too.
BrewDog Punk IPA, 6% – A beer that smacks you in the face. Lots of NZ and USA hops, fruity, floral, zesty – an assault on the senses. Love it.
BrewDog Trashy Blonde, 4.1% – A weaker, not so face-smackingly blatant as Punk IPA, but light and delicious and bursting with hop flavour. Punk’s little sister. That’s how I see it, anyway.
Red Squirel White Mountain APA, 5.4%  – I loved this beer at the Cambridge Beer Festival 2010, it was my beer of the fest. Full of Golding and Cascade hop flavour and aroma. Lovely.
St Austell Proper Job, 4.5% – Golden and light, full of American hops, citrussy and thirst quenching. Very easy to drink.
Thornbridge Halcyon, 7.7% – Imperial IPA, so strong, how could I have drank it as quickly as I did?! Green hopped, fruity, utterly delicious. Intensely powerful.
Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, 5.9% – Smooth but bursting with citrussy hoppy bitterness. Easy to drink fast.
Thornbridge Kipling, 5.2% – Jaipur’s little sister. Intense grapefruit aroma and flavour, sweet, fruity and hoppy. My second favourite ale at the CBF.

So that’s it for my 2010 beers. I’ll be surprised if some of these amazing ales don’t make it onto my 2011 list in 364 days time.  But there’s plenty of time for lots of new brews to come my way, and I look forward to them finding me! Oh, and it’s the Cambridge Winter Ale Festival on 20-22nd January in the USC on Mill Lane. See you there, and Happy New Year!

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!!

Oakham Inferno

Just been to the Maypole in Cambridge and was delighted to see Oakham Inferno on tap. What can I say, I just love Oakham beers.  Oakham has to be one of my favourite breweries, if not my actual favourite. I can tell as soon as I smell the beer if it’s an Oakham ale, mainly by their “sherbet” hops aroma – zingy, heady… you just can’t top it in my opinion. Inferno is 4.0%, incredibly pale and citrussy, the lemon jumps out at you, and the colour of the ale is almost luminous. This award winning beer is the sort of beer you can drink like pop. And I pretty much did.

Oakham Inferno

Oakham Inferno

Other Oakham beers that I love, and have no doubt mentioned on previous posts, are JHB,  the beautiful, easy drinking, hoppy, golden session ale at 3.8%, and Bishop’s Farewell at 4.6% which is even more intensly hoppy and stronger, although still knockbackable (that’s the only word I can use to describe it, and in fact how I would describe all the Oakham ales that I like).  I tried Mompesson’s Gold the other day in the Regal, which is very ‘Oakham’ but just on the verge of being too strong for me at 5% but very nice all the same, I just can’t drink as much of it. Oakham Citra at 4.2% is another wonderful straw coloured beer. The grapefruit flavour and Citra hops burst out of the glass; there is no doubting that this is an Oakham beer.

The Maypole is, by the way,  a lovely little real ale pub, tucked away on Portugal Place, a little alleyway off the main drag of ancient Bridge Street, where there are several pubs and restaurants.  Also on tap there was Canary Pale Ale from Green Jack Brewery, a pleasant hoppy ale but not heady like the Inferno. There was also Sparta from Milton, a lovely beer, as well as beers from the good old St Austell Brewery, Tribute and Tinners. The Maypole also serves tasty Italian food, if you are feeling hungry!

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