Halloween pubs and beer

Beer in the Blue

Halloween beers in the Cambridge Blue

There were plenty of scary beers and scary-looking people out last night around Cambridge on our mini Halloween pub crawl. It was good to see that so many pubs had embraced the fright night theme, with bar staff dressed up in their most terrifying costumes, and beers having suitably gruesome names and pump clips.

First stop was the Cambridge Blue, which was fantastically decorated for Halloween as usual. The marquee was decked out for a children’s Halloween party, and there were lots of costumed kids filtering through the pub, broomsticks and all, as we enjoyed our beers. Köstritzer Six out of the 14 cask beers were Halloween themed, with ales such as Brains Open Casket, Hales Brewing Black Heart, Wolf Brewery Werewolf, and Hop & Soul Pumpkin on draught. I went for a Cameron’s Thirst Blood, a tasty ruby ale with caramel and dark fruit flavours. Hales Black Heart was really nice, a black IPA which thankfully wasn’t too hoppy (I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this style) and with the flavour and aroma of roasted coffee beans. I also went for a Köstrizer on keg, I really like this smooth and chocolatey German black lager.

Next stop was the Blue Moon, the sister pub to the Blue. Again, this was decorated for the season, with a party (adults this time) taking place later that evening. We got a Tiny Rebel Cwtch (that’s not a typo; it’s Welsh for hug) and a Castle Rock Most Haunted, and ended up sitting in the middle of a literary group doing an open mic, where one guy was reading excerpts from Dracula – very apt. The Most Haunted was a pumpkin porter, dark with lots of clove flavours, but not too overwhelming. The Cwtch was as good as all the other Tiny Rebel beers I’ve tried – an amber beer bursting with tropical hops, and served freezing cold from the keg. Lovely.

Elm Tree bar staffThe Elm Tree was the next pub en route, and this pub is always well decorated for Halloween, with witches hats attached to the ceiling alongside giant spiders, and pumpkin lights and tinsel everywhere – these decs are put up a good week or two before the day itself. The bar staff were well dressed for the occasion too. We went for Belgian beer, despite the 10 hand pumps – the smooth caramel flavours of St Bernardus Pater 6 goes well with this time of year.

Free Press pumpkinLast up was the Free Press, which had a wonderful big pumpkin on the bar with lovely pop out eyes and big wide mouth with a pipe hanging out, and a mop head for hair – fantastic. We had some bottles of Rogue Dead Guy, a great beer from one of my favourite US breweries – lots of spicy caramel flavours and hop fruitiness. It’s quite a strong one at 6.6%, so after a couple of those it was time to call it a night.

It was great to see so many pubs making the effort for Halloween, one of my favourite times of year. I guess we’ll be drinking plenty of fright night themed beers over the next week in the pubs – but then it won’t be long until the festive beers start appearing! Happy Halloween/Samhain!

Cambridge CAMRA Pub of the Year Awards 2013

We were invited along to the Cambridge and District CAMRA Pub of the Year Awards which took place last night at the Hopbine. As well as the award for pub of the year there were 10 other awards going, including community pub of the year, locale pub, and most improved pub.

Audience

By 8pm the Hopbine was heaving with familiar faces including Jethro and Terri from the Cambridge Blue, Jess and Steve from the Elm Tree, and Lawrence from the Champion of the Thames (and now the Clarendon as well). There were also several local brewers present such as Joe from BlackBar, Mark from Moonshine, Jon from Lord Conrads, and Richard from Milton.

I drank Moonshine’s Cambridge Pale Ale pretty much most of the evening, a lovely easy drinking bitter with caramel and floral hop flavours. We were asked to take a seat in the back room of the pub where there was a large award display board for the event – a nice backdrop for the winners photos.

The compere made light hearted jokes as he read out pub descriptions before each award was presented, to try to make us guess which pub he was describing (he quite liked the word ‘breweriana’, which came up a couple of times in the descriptions. Guess which pubs he was referring to..!)

Will SmithWill Smith from CAMRA presented the awards and posed for official photos with the winners and their framed certificates; he even received the occasional kiss.

The winner of Pub of the Year went to the Flying Pig. You know, that wonderful pub that’s under threat of being demolished (which I wrote about in a previous post). Congratulations Justine and Matt. Hopefully this award will open people’s eyes as to how valuable a lovely pub like this is to the community.

The Flying Pig

Here’s a list of all the winners – well done everyone, especially to some of my local favourite pubs, you know who you are 😉

Pub of the year 2013:  The Flying Pig

Locale Pub of the year(Rural) 2013:  The Crown Inn, Linton

Locale pub of the year 2013 (city):  The Cambridge Blue

Community Pub of the year  2013 (Rural):  The Plough and Fleece Horningsea

Community Pub of the Year 2013 (City):  The Elm Tree

Dark Ale/ Mild Pub of the Year 2013:  The Maypole

Most improved pub of the year 2013( City):  The Mill

Most improved pub of the year 2013( Rural):  The Chestnut Tree, West Wratting

Cider pub of the year:  The St Radegund

Real Ale Champion 2013:  Richard Naisby, Milton Brewery

CAMRA Lifetime Achievement award:  Lawrence Dixon, of The Champion of the Thames and Clarendon Arms.

Lawrence Plough and Fleece Jethro and Terri, Cambridge Blue Jess and Steve, Elm Tree

There’s one rural pub on the list that I haven’t made it out to yet, so I will make sure I rectify that as soon as possible. And if you haven’t visited these pubs in a while, make sure you do – they all need our support!

Town and Country Show and Covent Garden Street Party, Cambridge

Food stalls and ferret racetrack

I just had a very enjoyable day in Cambridge. First of all we strolled down to the Town and Country Show on Parker’s Piece, an Oakleigh Fairs event. This festival has craft and food tasting marquees, a beer tent with live music, food stalls, animal demonstrations, ferret racing, steam engines, kids rides, mediaeval village, battle re-enactments, and more – it’s a nice friendly festival in the centre of Cambridge. And it was sunny. Result. Naturally we headed to the beer tent. The ales on offer were Oakham JHB (3.8%),  Dark Star Hophead, (3.8%)  Woodforde’s Wherry (3.8%) and Titanic White Star (4.8%) – a good selection of very nice beers. I went for the Titanic, Adam had the Dark Star.

Beer Tent

Beer Tent

Both were good but the Titanic came out on top with its hops, smooth tones and mellow fruity character. The Hophead was a bit more bitter, but very hoppy and drinkable all the same – just not as lovely as the Titanic.

We then had a wander along Mill Road en route to Bacchanalia (a fantastic beer shop where we go for our bottled beers, they have a wonderful selection and very friendly staff – the wonderful Brewsters Pale Ale was one of the beers we came away with ) and came across the Covent Garden Street Party taking place on a closed off Covent Garden, where the tiny Six Bells pub is situated.

Covent Garden Street Party

Covent Garden Street Party

Covent Garden Party Ale

Covent Garden Party Ale

It’s a traditional old pub and in a nice spot, tucked away on a side street off busy Mill Road, and hosts pub quizzes and open mic nights. It’s just a real shame this is a Greene King pub (in my personal opinion). The beers are just regular GK offerings; there were no interesting guests on ( and am I not counting Ale Fresco even though GK would want me to, another of their uninspiring ‘guests’). Anyway, the pub was bustling inside and out, and the street was decorated nicely with lots of bunting, stalls, a stage area for musicians and poets, and dancing, all to raise money for local charities. I was very pleased to come across a stall at the end of the road near the drama centre selling Covent Garden Party Ale from the barrel (and cider from a barrel too).

Covent Garden Party Ale is a brew from Cambridge Moonshine – not a rebranded beer, but one specially brewed for the street party. How nice. Lovely and golden, light and hoppy with malt flavours coming through, easy to drink. Nice job, Moonshine, one of your nicest beers I have tried.

We then headed to one of our favourite pubs, the Cambridge Blue. Lots and lots of beers on tap, as always. We took advantage of the nice weather and sat in the large beer garden; I drank Oakham Bishops Farewell, similar to JHB but stronger, with a more rounded flavour but bursting with citrus hops – not to the extent of their Citra though. They also had the lovely Oakham Inferno on at the bar. Adam had some tasty Tydd Steam Roadhouse, a bitter with beautiful hoppy flavours. Then we left by climbing over the wall into the cemetery (yes, they left a gap in their trellis especially so you can do this – nice way to enter and leave the premises I think!).

Cambridge Blue beer garden from the cemetary

Cambridge Blue beer garden from the cemetary

I reckon we’ll probably head back to the beer tent at the Town and Country Show tomorrow; it’s on for two days after all, so it would be rude not to. More Titanic is in order. Let’s just hope the sun is shining still by then…

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…

My Favourite Beer Gardens

My Favourite Beer Gardens

I was reading an article in the Observer recently about great beer gardens. This gave me the inspiration to create a list of my particular favourites, so after a bit of thought and some serious photography (you can’t talk about beer gardens without a few photos to show how good they are, can you?)  I came up with my own version. This is an ongoing project and is by no means the finished article – there are always new pubs and gardens to discover – so I will keep adding to it as I find more. Watch this space!

Cornwall

The Sloop Inn, St Ives

The Sloop Inn, St Ives

This cobbled beer terrace at the front of the wonderful old 14th century Sloop Inn overlooking St Ives harbour is a fantastic spot to sip on a pint of Doom Bar whilst watching the sunset over the sea as the boats come in at the end of the day. It’s also a great location to people watch, as the lively harbour front is a popular place for a stroll with its many bars and restaurants.

The harbour, back to the Sloop

St Ives harbour, the view from the Sloop

The Engine Inn, Cripplesease, (nr St Ives)

The beer garden at the rear of the typically Cornish stone built pub (which serves excellent pizzas and had well kept Betty Stogs on tap when I was last there) looks out across the Penwith moors, making you feel like you are miles from civilisation – there are some great walks around here and dozens of ancient sites and tin mines littering the area. I love it. The Engine Inn is well worth a drive out to if you are staying down the road in St Ives or Penzance.

The Napoleon Inn (“The Nap”), Boscastle

You can see the sea from the garden of this ancient pub, which was used as a recruiting office for the Napoleonic wars. This is reputedly Boscastle’s oldest pub. The Nap, as it is fondly known,  is located at the top of the town up a very steep hill, but it’s worth the climb; beer is served straight from the cask (lots of St Austell ales available) and the food is great.

The Golden Lion, Port Isaac

Port Isaac harbour, the Golden Lion to the left

The Golden Lion doesn’t really have a beer garden, it’s pretty much just a large balcony, but it’s the views that make it so great – it’s a beautiful sight, looking out over the harbour of Port Isaac with its little fishing boats bobbing up and down.

Wiltshire

The Red Lion, Avebury

The Red Lion, Avebury

The Red Lion, Avebury

A pub in the middle of a stone circle – you don’t come across those very often! The terrace of The Red Lion is a great place to sit with a beer and admire the gigantic stones of Avebury, one of the largest stone circles of Western Europe, which surrounds the village. The Red Lion is a 400 year old thatched pub which is said to be haunted by a girl who was thrown down the well, which is inside the dining area of the pub and now covered with glass. It’s a GK pub which means all the usual beers are on offer – I had a nondescript IPA on my last visit – but the location more than makes up for that.

The Barge Inn, Honeystreet

I love The Barge Inn – it’s the centre of the crop circle phenomena, with photos of crop circles all over the walls in one of the bars (quite a few appear in the area). You can sit outside the pub right on the edge of the Kennet and Avon canal and watch the barges go by whilst admiring the white horse of Alton Barnes on the hillside ahead. Wonderful on a summer’s day. It also has a large campsite and holds various music events throughout the year.

Cambridgeshire

The Bridge, Waterbeach

The Bridge, Waterbeach

I have mentioned The Bridge before in a previous post, but it has to join the list of wonderful pub gardens. The pub is right next to the River Cam and has a pretty outside patio area for dining and a lovely garden for sitting with your beer watching the action on the river. The interior is dark wood with beams a-plenty, so my kind of place. Good guest ales too.

The Green Man, Grantchester

The Green Man is in the village of Grantchester, only 2 miles from Cambridge. Grantchester is a lovely village and is famous for its beautiful meadows that the meandering River Cam winds through, Rupert Brooke the poet, and the romantic Orchard Tea Gardens.

The Green Man

The Green Man

The Green Man is one of 4 pubs in the village, and is a typically pretty village pub which was closed for a while, quite worryingly, but now has new owners who have recently refurbished it, very nicely in fact. It still maintains its dark wood interior and has kept its soul, unlike the Rupert Brooke down the road (although that does also have a couple of nice beers on tap still, despite now being more of a restaurant than a pub). The Green Man generally has a few real ales on tap; it had Skull Candy by Brew Dog (3.7%) on my last visit which was a pleasant surprise.. There are a few tables out the front and a grassy long and narrow back garden, but I prefer to sit out the front where you can watch the world go by; it’s a lovely place to sit, but if it’s a sunny day you have to get there early to get a seat as everyone has the same idea!

The Blue Ball, Grantchester

Again, this pub in Grantchester has a front and back seating area, and although the back garden is cute (it even has a cricket-style pavilion to sit in if you want some shade, with cricket memorabilia dotted around) I prefer to sit out front. There are only a few tables out the front, but that’s where the regulars gather. And the view across the road onto the meadows is very pretty too; there are quite often cows grazing. The pub is dark, old, tiny, with a piano in the corner, and has a good atmosphere. It serves Adnams ales and guest beers. This is a proper drinking pub, it’s the locals’ pub in the village, and that’s why I love it.

Outside the Blue Ball, Grantchester

The Old Riverview Inn, Earith

Driving through Earith before I have always wanted to stop off here at the Old Riverview Inn. So the other day we made an effort to do just that. It was quite a windy day, but sitting on a bench by the river with a beer watching the boats and barges go by was lovely. The other pub down the road, The Crown, is owned by the same people, and it also has a riverside beer garden. They picked their properties well! The pub has rooms, but you can even pitch a tent there in the garden!

The Riverside beer garden, Earith

The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge

I have mentioned the Blue in a previous post, but the garden is one of the biggest and bestest in town, and sitting with a pint of Dew Drop (their house beer) in the sun in the garden makes for a pleasant afternoon. The beers are great, and they also hold beer festivals and set up a big marquee in the garden as an extra bar for the occasion.

Cambridge Blue beer garden, as seen from the cemetery

They have just actually revamped their garden, and have concreted much of the main seating area where there was some grass before, but they have laid some astro turf at the far end with some benches, plants and trellis, and it looks great. There are even some steps up to the space over the wall to the cemetery that everyone uses as a short cut to the beer garden, and they left a space in the trellis especially for it! (See my Decent Real Ale Pubs in Cambridge for more about the Blue).

The Eagle, Cambridge

The Eagle is a Cambridge legend, being the pub where the discovery of the structure of DNA was first announced, and having a bar where Second World War RAF officers burnt their signatures into the ceiling with their lighters  (still preserved). The patio area is heated and lively although it can get crowded – get there early to bag a seat!

The Kingston Arms, Cambridge

The Kingston Arms beer garden

The Kingston Arms beer garden

The Kingston Arms is just round the corner from the Blue, located on Kingston Street, off Mill Rd. The beers are numerous and fantastic (JHB, Summer Lightning and Landlord on tap as regulars, and about 5 or 6 other taps) plus they hold monthly beer festivals with even more ales to sample. The garden is out the back of the pub and is secluded, so much so that it’s hard to imagine you are in the city – and not only that, it has sofas under a large canopy, and fairy lights all around, not to mention the pretty plants and trellis. Lovely. You can also get free wifi access there.

The Empress, Cambridge

The Empress, over the bridge on Mill Road, has just won an award for the Cambridge Pub of the Year 2010. It has a patio beer garden, and when I was last there it was holding a beer festival in the garden. I like this pub and garden; it’s welcoming to kids with some toys for them to play with, but the main draw are the 3 pub pigs, housed in a little pen, as well as rabbits running around under your feet – it’s like having a beer in a little zoo. Good on ’em! It’s a really private garden too, so you can forget you are in the middle of the city. Nice beer too! (See my Decent Real Ale Pubs in Cambridge for more about the Empress).

The Emperor, Cambridge

The Emperor on Hills Road, Cambridge, has an unusual beer garden – it’s filled with sand. That’s right; it’s a beach. In the middle of the city.The tables are painted bright colours and there are also deck chairs, buckets and spades, seagulls and parasols. The pub holds many events, some of the most recent being a beer festival and beach volleyball! This is the sister pub to the Empress, and also serves about 4 real ales, regulars being St Austell Tribute, Oakham JHB and Sharps Doom Bar. Check out my Emperor post to read more about this pub and its garden.

The beach beer garden, The Emperor

The beach beer garden, The Emperor

The Anchor, Cambridge

The Anchor, from the River Cam

The Anchor is an institution. Fronting the river in one of the prettiest parts of the city, the Anchor is in an ideal location and popular with the students. It’s a GK pub, but then again, most pubs in the city centre are. Grab a beer and sit on the outdoor terrace to watch tourists falling off their punts into the mill pond and listen to the punt touts on the bridge trying to come up with inventive ways to hook in more trade. An idyllic location – but unfortunately Cambridge University wants to redevelop the whole of this area which may involve a change of use of the pub (probably into an upmarket restaurant), so if you haven’t been there already, go now in case it disappears.

The Granta, Cambridge

The Granta

Round the corner from the Anchor, The Granta is another pub with a riverside setting but it’s set higher up from the river than the Anchor and is tucked away round the corner from the main tourist area and overlooking another mill pond which is just as pretty. Another GK pub, but decent enough Abbot Ale.

The Fort St George, Cambridge

This pub used to have much more character before Greene King refurbished it recently and ripped some of the character out. But the garden terrace of the Fort St George is beautiful, being right next to the Cam and with plenty of seating so you can watch the rowers go by, or turn the other way for a view over Midsummer Common and the cows! A lovely location.

The Fort St George, Cambridge

The Fort St George, Cambridge

The Elm Tree, Cambridge

The Elm Tree outside drinking area is tucked down the alley, behind all the drinkers!

I can only say good things about the Elm Tree. It has about 10 ever-changing hand pumps, lovely landlords, morris dancing outside in the summer, and it has a real village atmosphere even though it’s in the middle of the city. The outside seating to the side of the pub makes for a tranquil spot to have a fine ale (Banks & Taylors Dragon Slayer is a good one that is regularly on tap).

The Royal Oak, Barrington

The Royl Oak in pretty Barrington is a beautiful old thatched pub dating back to the 13th century. Barrington has one of the largest village greens in the country – you have to see it to believe it.  The pub serves good food and beer (there are usually Potton or Adnams ales on tap) and the garden at the front faces the green (where they hold cricket matches). It’s a fantastic place to relax if you want to get away from city life for a while.

Northamptonshire

The Boat, Stoke Bruerne

The Boat, Stoke Bruerne

A lot of my pubs seem to be riverside ones – and this is no exception. Watching the barges go by from outside The Boat in the little village of Stoke Bruerne is a lovely sight. It’s an old free house with several bars, one with Northamptonshire skittles which is always great fun to play. I had some great beer from the local Frog Island brewery when I was last there.

Some of the beers!

Some of the beers!

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