Cambridge Winter Ale Fest 2010

The 14th Cambridge Winter Ale Festival took place between 21st-23rd January at the University Social Club on Mill Lane. It was pretty popular – the beer ran out around 10pm last night! It’s great to see that it was so successful.

We popped down for a few beers yesterday during the day when it’s a bit less busy – the other night it was one in, one out. The venue had 3 bars open – the main upstairs bar, and the downstairs front and back bars (the back bar was where the cider barrels were located, and the heady waft of strong cider was all you could smell when you ventured downstairs!)

Ok, so let’s start with my beer of the fest, which was Harwich Town’s Misleading Lights, at 4.0%. It’s not exactly a winter beer, as in dark, mysterious, and fruity – it’s an amber, hoppy summery ale, with a citrus sherbet taste, and if you have read my blog before, you’ll know that’s exactly the sort of beer I am always searching for! Adam had some of the Buntingford Highwayman Porter, 4.7%, which he quite enjoyed as it was smooth, quite  smokey, and easy to drink. For a porter, which I don’t normally go for, I didn’t find it too bad, but I am a big fan of Buntingford brewery and all their beers are pretty good.

Misleading Lights

Misleading Lights

I decided I would try one of the Northumberland ales, a brewery that I hadn ‘t come across before. It was a toss up between Fog on the Tyne at 4.1% and Hoof Hearted at 3.8% . I couldn’t decide between the two, but when the man at the bar next to me ordered Fog on the Tyne and I watched a beautiful straw-colured, shimmering ale being poured from the barrel to his glass it pretty much made up my mind for me. It was a good choice, delicious, and the more I drank, the hoppier it became. It was another summery ale (yes, I know it’s meant to be the Winter Ale Fest..) and it even tasted of hay and meadows. Oh I can’t wait until I can sit outside in a beer garden, roll on summer….!

I suppose I should try to get back to the Winter beers. Hop and Spicy from the Hopshackle Brewery at 4.5% seemed a good choice. Wrong. We found it particulaly unpleasant. The taste of cloves, cinnamon and spices was overwhelming, and the hop taste was non-existant. Adam had a chat with an old man who had that same beer earlier in the day, and he said it had taken another two or three beers afterwards to get rid of the taste! If there was a section on the feedback form for the worst beer of the festival, that would’ve been it!

A decent beer was the Spectrum brewery’s Solstice Candle, at 5%, which was golden and hoppy but did taste quite strong as well. Wolf’s Santa Paws, 4.5%, was OK but full of berries, I couldn’t drink much of it myself so I was quite glad that it was Adam’s beer and not mine! It was a shame that Elgood’s Straw Beer had run out, I had some at last year’s Straw Bear festival and it was fantastic. But that’s what happens on the last day of the festival; the beers you wanted to try have usually all gone so you have to get  in early to avoid disappointment.

Some other great breweries present at the fest included Old Cannon, Milton, and the fantastic Woodforde’s.

I am sure my Misleading Lights is not ‘wintery’ enough to win the award for best beer of the fest, but good luck to them. I find my tastes dont change from season to season when it comes to beer, I love the golden hoppy ales whatever time of the year! Here’s to summer when there will be more of them available..!

A few more beer festivals coming up are the Rag Week Beer Festival on 5th and 6th March 2010 at the University Social Club, the Cambridge Blue Winter Ale festival between 24th and 27th Feb 2010 (at the Blue!), and of course, the one we are all looking foward to as it means sitting on the grass in the sun with a beer; the 37th Cambridge Beer Festival between 24th-29th May 2010 on Jesus Green. See you there!

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Straw Bear Festival

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

The Straw Bear

The Straw Bear with his minder

Straw Bear on the move

Straw Bear on the move

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

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

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

straw-beer

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