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!!

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…

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!

The Regal, Cambridge

The Regal in Cambridge city centre is a surprising one. It’s part of the J.D.Wetherspoon chain, and a pub that you tend to avoid at the weekends – there are bouncers on the door and lots of rowdy behaviour! However, during the day this pub is really pleasant – and most importantly, the ales are great and the cheapest in town at about £2.16 a pint!

The Regal used to be the old Regal cinema, built in 1937, which closed and reopened as an ABC cinema, an MGM, an Arts Cinema, and eventually, the Arts Picturehouse. A fact that I love about the place is that in 1963 The Beatles played on its stage twice! Nowadays, there still is a cinema upstairs, but in the 1990s the downstairs area (originally the stalls in the cinema) was converted into one of the largest pubs in the UK. It really is massive, spread over a couple of floors including terrace areas on both floors, and is nicely decorated in an art-deco style. There are 2 bars, one on each floor, and each floor sometimes has different ales on tap, so check them both out. There are 12 real ale pumps at the downstairs bar (two sets of 6) and 6 upstairs – the regular ales such as Theakstons Best Bitter and Old Peculiar are on all sets.

The Regal interior

The Regal, upstairs

On my last visit I sampled Cotleigh Blue Jay (4.2%) from Somerset, very hoppy and moreish. Caskade from Oldershaw Brewery in Grantham (also 4.2%) was thirst-quenching and a beautiful golden colour (I also had this later in my old favourite, the Cambridge Blue). I also tried Three Sisters from Atlas Brewery in Scotland (4.2%) which is ruby red and fruity, not the sort of ale I usually go for but pleasant nonetheless. We just missed out on Thwaites Wainwright Ale (4.1%) – but managed to find it later in the Mitre on Bridge Street which now serves several real ales; it had a lovely light and refreshing flavour, although served slightly warmer than I like. But I was very excited to find Betty Stogs from Skinners in Cornwall (4%) on tap in The Regal the day after I came back from my holiday in Cornwall – but the day after it had all gone; it’s just too popular!

The Regal, downstairs

The Regal, downstairs

Published in: on September 13, 2008 at 12:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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