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!

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Oakham pubs and Rutland ales

Last weekend we paid a visit to Rutland. It’s a beautiful county, like an undiscovered Cotswolds with pretty limestone buildings, ancient country pubs, and in the centre of it all, Rutland Water. We stayed in Oakham, a few miles from the water’s edge. This market town is home to several good pubs, giving us a good excuse to sample some Rutland ales.

In the Grainstore

In the Grainstore

Our first stop was the Grainstore Brewery, next to the station. This is a brew pub, and their Grainstore ale is distributed all over Rutland which is evident in many pubs in the area and is great to see. It’s a traditional pub with a light wood and brick interior decorated with hops intertwined with twinkly lights. The pub was pretty busy on this Saturday afternoon as the rubgy was on the big screens, and there was a good atmosphere helped along by a very friendly landlord.

Beers at the Grainstore

Beers at the Grainstore

We tried the Grainstore’s own Cooking ale, 3.6% (another word for session ale) and the Phipps NBC Red Star at 3.8%. The Cooking was golden, light, quite sharp and malty, but Red Star was a winner, a darker red beer but very tasty and easy to drink. We bought some of their bottled beer to take home, the Rutland Panther (a mild) and Phipps NBC IPA. We will definitely be back.

Later in the evening we went to the Wheatsheaf opposite the illuminated All Saints church, and sat by the beautiful log fire in the cosy lounge drinking Everards Beacon at 3.8% (light, slightly hoppy but that’s about it) and Holden’s Black Country Special (5.1%), which tasted even stronger than it is; it was quite meady and malty and smelt like a spirit. The beers were smoother than I normally like, I think they were served with sparklers. It’s a shame as I believe this can change the taste of a good beer. However, this was a nice and friendly local’s pub and we could imagine this being a much frequented establishment if we lived in Oakham.

The lovely fire in The Wheatsheaf

The lovely fire in The Wheatsheaf

The Wheatsheaf

The Wheatsheaf

We wandered over to the Odd House, but were not inspired by the choice of beers and it didnt feel very cosy with kids running around (although we are told that the food there is very nice) so we then headed to the Merry Monk. This pub was heaving with a young crowd; it was obviously the place to be on a Saturday night. On tap there was the wonderful Oakham JHB (nice to see an Oakham ale in Oakham!) and the other guest beer was Swing Low. The Merry Monk also has a large open fire and a gourmet burger menu.

We finished up in the lounge of our hotel, the Whipper In, and tried some Grainstore Triple B which was the only ale on tap, and again very smooth, but not a bad brew, I did prefer the Cooking however.

The Railway Inn, Ketton

The Railway Inn, Ketton

On the way home the following afternoon we stopped off at the Railway Inn, Ketton, a beautiful little village pub ‘probably not changed for a hundred years’ we were told by the landlady. Two old men sat by the open fire drinking their ale whilst putting the world to rights. I drank Phipps NBC IPA, 4.2%, which, I understand, has replaced the regular GK IPA at the bar. I discovered that Phipps NBC as a company has been revived; they  were bought by Watney Mann in 1960 and the last Phipps NBC brew was in 1968. The brewery was eventually demolished in 1974 to make way for the Carlsberg brewery in Northampton. The new owners have now pieced together the old recipes and have started again to brew Phipps NBC IPA, the flagship brew. They are on a mission to establish this beer as a regular in the region’s pubs and then introduce more historical Phipps NBC beers.  Best of luck to them, the IPA and Red Star were certainly my beers of the trip.

There are so many lovely old village pubs in Rutland, too many to visit in one trip – luckily we are only a short drive down the road so can visit this lovely county as often as we like!

Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 11:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Decent Real Ale pubs in Cambridge

I’m really lucky to live near some really good pubs that serve great beer in Cambridge. Most of the pubs in the city centre are unfortunately Greene King pubs, which although housed in lovely buildings and in great locations (you can’t beat the setting of The Granta,  The Eagle and The Anchor, a Cambridge institution) the Greene King beer is just mediocre (although they do sometimes serve some interesting guest ales). There are some exceptions though: The Mill, next to the Anchor and by the river, serves  real ale such as Deuchars and London Pride, which you can take out in a plastic cup (you pay a 20p deposit) and sit by the mill pond on the grass watching the punters go by whilst supping on your beer.

The Maypole in the city centre is a great little real ale pub, tucked away in an alleyway  on Park Street, curving around to Portugal Place, which is a pretty narrow street just off Bridge Street. It serves several well kept locally brewed ales as well as tasty Italian food, and has a large outdoor patio area where there is an outdoor serving hatch too to save your poor legs so you don’t have to go all the way indoors to get served.  On my last visit I had some wonderful Buntingford Chinook, 4%, one of their single hop beers – I couldn’t get enough of it, my sort of beer!

Other pubs worth visiting in the city centre are The Mitre on Bridge Street, The Pickerel on Magdalene Street (reputedly the oldest pub in the city), and The Castle Inn on Castle Hill (an Adnams pub, not to be confused with The Castle on Regent’s Street).

Rround the Kite area there are some great little pubs tucked away that serve decent beer. Take the Elm Tree. This pub is in a perfect location, in the little villagey-feeling area known as the Kite, just round the corner from the Grafton Centre. The Elm Tree has outside seating and a tiny secret courtyard. The owners have been running this pub since May last year, and they have done a great job in creating real ale heaven, with this Banks & Taylor pub serving no less than 10 ales on tap which change constantly.

Morris men outside the Elm Tree

Morris men outside the Elm Tree

On recent trips to the Elm Tree I have had Sharpe’s Doom Bar, Milton Sparta and Pegasus, Eagle IPA, Banks Dragon Slayer  ( a lovely golden ale, 4.5%, which they have on regularly) and Crouch Vale Golden Duck (one of my favourites). They have had two lots of morris men dance outside the pub in the recent summer months which proved popular in this little neighbourhood and much beer was consumed – and it wasn’t just by the morris men!  (check out my Favourite Beer Gardens post).

Another pub with decent beer in the Kite area is The Free Press, 30 seconds from the Elm Tree. It’s a Greene King pub so it has mostly GK ales on tap, but it always gets good guest ales in and they keep them really well, and there are plenty of ‘craft’ beers from this country or overseas in the well-stocked fridge. They serve their beers in oversized glasses too so you get a good measure. Some of the guests I have enjoyed there include Holden’s Golden Glow and Ossett’s Big Red. It’s a cosy pub with a nice back garden, a proper snug, and it is always busy.  It was the original non-smoking pub in the city. The food is good, the service is great, the atmosphere is fantastic (no games machines or mobile phones), and in the winter they light a log fire. They also have morris men dancing outside in the summer. You can’t ask for more than that!

Off Mill Road there are many good pubs that stand out – a couple being The Cambridge Blue and The Kingston Arms, within a stone’s throw of each other. I really like the Blue on Gwydir St  (as you may have guessed if you have read any of my other posts)  – I love the old pub memorabilia dotted around the interior of the pub, and I also like it’s large garden that backs onto the cemetary where they put up a marquee for their beer festivals (the last one was at the end of June, when they served the wonderfully hoppy and moorish Gwydir St Bitter, brewed by Milton for the  Gwydir Street Party which was going on at the same time). They have just refurbished their garden – (see My Favourite Beer Gardens post). The next Gywdir Street Party takes place on 26th June 2010 and also coincides with another Cambridge Blue Beer Fest!

The Cambridge Blue, during the Gwydir Street Party

The Cambridge Blue, during the Gwydir Street Party

The regular house bitter, Dew Drop ale, is fantastic, and on my last visit they were serving Oakham’s JHB (a lovely and refreshing ale, and a quaffable 3.8%), Handliner at 4% (Cornish Coastal brewery), and Palmer’s Dorset Gold (4.5%) to name a few. The Handliner was russet coloured, not the colour I usually go for,  but it  actually tasted like a light golden bitter and was so lovely I went back for more; the  Dorset Gold, although pleasant, didnt taste as golden as the Handliner –  if that makes any sense!

The Kingston is just round the corner, on Kingston Street. This pub has so many good ales on tap I never know what to do for – some of the regulars are the lovely JHB, the award-winning Brewers Gold (Crouch Vale, always a favourite, 4%), Timothy Taylors Landlord, and Summer Lighting by Hop Back (great but too strong most of the time for me at 5%). They even have some Recession Busting guest ales which change every week. There is free internet access there (with a couple of free computers for those who don’t have laptops), and they hold Sunday and Thursday BBQs in their little secluded garden out back, equipped with sofas and pretty fairy lights.

The Kingston Arms

The Kingston Arms, tucked away on Kingston Street

When we were last there they held their first monthly beer festival – the casks were located in a little ‘grotto’ in the main bar behind plastic doors to keep the temperature just right – interesting to negotiate with hands full of beer! The Fenny Popper (Concrete Cow, 4%) had to be my favourite beer there, being light and with sherbet hops flavours. I was pleased to see Natterjack from Frog Island brewery, Northampton, there, as that’s where I’m from – good ale too. The Kingston beer festivals are held in the garden during the summer months. Good on them – it’s great to see a pub putting on beer festivals like this every month at what must be considerable hard work for all involved. Go Kingston!

Another real ale pub still in the Mill Road area but a stroll over the bridge into Romsey Town is The Empress. This pub is hidden away on Thoday Street; you wouldn’t really know it was there unless you went looking for it. It just won an award for CAMRA’s Cambridge Pub of the Year, and on our last visit, during the Spring Bank Holiday week, it held a beer festival. I tried some very nice and hoppy Oldershaw Caskade beer amongst others. One thing that makes this pub stand out is that it is the home of 3 pigs, Barney, Chester and Romsey, who live in the garden.

The pigs at the Empress The Empress

There are also rabbits in the garden, and there are pub cats. Kids love it. I love it. I spent all my time there talking to the pigs and looking under the tables at the lovely ginger rabbit running around. Anyway, animals aside, this is a great pub with a large garden, good beer and it was a really fantastic beer festival. More about this pub on My Favourite Beer Gardens post.

More good pubs in the Mill Road area are The Salisbury Arms on Tenison Rd, The Live and Let Live on Mawson Road, and The Geldart on Ainsworth Street.

If you are in the Hills Road area, visit The Emperor on Hills Road (see separate post, and also the Flying Pig on Hills Road, near the station.

* For a more updated post than this one, including some new pubs, check out @pintsandpubs fantastic Cambridge Pub Guide with a helpful map so you know where to find them. *

The Maypole, with some Buntingford Chinook

The Maypole, with some Buntingford Chinook

Cambridge Octoberfest 2008

Fun was had by all at this year’s Cambridge Octoberfest, held at the University Social Club at Mill Lane on 31st October and 1st November. It’s only the second Octoberfest to take place in Cambridge, and was an event I was looking forward to after enjoying last year’s festival. Entry was free for CAMRA members, and £2.50 for non-members.

This year there were several local breweries represented, such as the Milton brewery, which had the wonderfully hoppy Pegasus ale on offer (4.1%) as well as some beers that were way too strong for me – one being Marcus Aurelius at 7.2%. There were also ales from Cambridge Moonshine (Thunder Moon was particularly tasty at 4.1%) and Son of Sid brewery, whose Sweet Chestnut was quite smoky and moreish (4.5%). Oakham’s Three Witches was the seasonal offer, being the day after Hallowe’en, and it had quite a bite to it, somehow becoming tastier after I had finished drinking it – the hoppiness lingered on the taste buds and became even stronger as time went on, don’t ask me how – magic… !

My favourite beer of the day though had to be Old Cannon’s Best Bitter (3.8%) – this was labelled a session beer, and it most certainly is – I could have just drunk this beer all festival and have been happy! The flavour was quite distinct and I had to get more just to try and work out why I liked it so much ;). The Old Cannon brewery and pub in Bury St Edmunds is well worth visiting, by the way – they brew their own beer on the premises and their sparkling silver brewing vessels are on show in the bar. They have several of their own ales on tap, and also have some Adnams beers available too.

Festival beer glass

Festival beer glass - with some Old Cannon bitter inside!

The Cambridge Octoberfest is more subdued than the Cambridge Beer Festival (which takes place each May on Jesus Green), being a whole lot smaller (The Social Club isn’t a massive venue) – but it’s cosy and welcoming, even though it feels a bit like a school hall. A few Hallowe’en decs would have been nice to see (but maybe not everyone would agree; I just like Hallowe’en..!). I get the feeling that the serious ale drinkers and connoisseurs come to this smaller festival, whereas the large one is popular with everyone whether they enjoy beer or not.

The 13th Cambridge WInter Ale Festival 2009 takes place in the same venue between 22nd and 24th January – another date for the diary; looking forward to it already!

Ale List


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