Where The Wild Hops Are

In the backyards of at least one terraced street in Cambridge, wild hops grow. The mature bines outside the back door of our nineteenth-century cottage look well-established, and I like to think they’re remnants from the city’s brewing industry that once centred around this area; less than a hundred metres away the Fitzroy Brewery, rented out to customers for brewing under the supervision of the owner, was one of many that survived into the last century, and at the other end of the street stood a maltings and, to this day, two pubs.

Hop bines

At the beginning of March, the first shoots appear and we trail them along the trellis, towards a well positioned buddleia, which they reach by May before launching vigorously up through the branches, winding over 15 feet to the top, spreading out to cover the canopy within a month.

Hops

In September the heaving bunches of hop cones, luminous light-green in the early morning, late summer sun, were almost ready for picking. As we were admiring them and wondering what to do with them, we noticed Adnams brewery had made a call for wild hops

“We are making a plea to members of the public to let us know if they have hops growing in their garden which they are willing to donate, or if they know where wild hops are located… the new beer – which is set to be an amber pale ale – requires hops that are freshly-picked.”

On closer inspection many of the hops were still a bit young, so we left most of them to continue ripening, but nevertheless filled a few bags of hops for the cause. The Suffolk brewery is a two hour drive away, but Cambridge is home to Adnams’ westernmost pub, the Castle Inn, so we arranged to drop the hops off there, to be collected by dray when it next made a delivery.

A week later the hops looked just ripe for picking, and we spent a day pulling them down (our arms shredded by the bines, as if they were protected by an invisible clowder of angry cats) and sorting them so only the finest were selected for brewing – the rest we hung throughout the house, the aroma drifting about, with us lifting our noses to inhale it like Bisto Kids.

Ah! Hops

The next dray to the Castle Inn would have been too late for the hops to reach the brewery in time for the proposed brewing date, so instead we were directed to another Adnams pub just over the Suffolk border in Great Wratting, about twenty miles east of Cambridge, where the hops were enthusiastically received by the landlord of the Red Lion.

Red Lion, Great Wratting

The beer was brewed on September 18th and began appearing in pubs last week. As luck would have it, we had booked a night in Southwold just as Wild Hop was being served in the town’s pubs, so we were able to spend an enjoyable evening in the Lord Nelson drinking a few pints of it.

Wild Hop

It was probably wishful thinking, but we were sure we could taste our hops in the beer – the familiar aroma, and earthy hop flavours with hedgerow berries in the aftertaste – even though we only contributed a fraction of the hops (a hat tip to @recentlydrunk who foraged the Cambridgeshire hedgerows and sent bags of hops to Adnams). It seemed remarkable that Adnams had managed to tame so many varieties of wild hops and make a beer that was the “true taste of East Anglia” that they were aiming for.

Thanks to Adnams for making good use of hops that would otherwise have never reached their true potential, to Belinda for co-ordinating our deliveries, and to Louise who endured the wrath of the hop bines to help harvest them. The bottled beer should be in the Adnams shops in November, and in a nice touch of serendipity, rumour has it that an Adnams Cellar will be opening in Cambridge’s Grafton Centre very soon.

Sea Palling Pubs

Sea Palling is a small village on the east coast of Norfolk. We were sad to find that the Old Hall Inn had closed since our last visit earlier this year, although we enjoyed good food and drink in Reefs Bar, the one remaining pub in the village.

Old Hall Inn

Old Hall Inn

The building is described as both “originally three separate dwellings, dating from the 16th century” and “dating back to the middle of the 17th century… formerly a farmhouse”. It only became a pub relatively recently, in the late 1960s, although the wood beamed interior still gave it the feel of an old drinking haunt, and it apparently had the requisite ghosts – the “figure of a woman in grey clothing”, “the sweet, sickly smell of strong tobacco”, and a resident poltergeist.

Old Hall

It closed in March this year and in May the large eight bedroom establishment was sold at auction for a mere £160,000 and is currently being converted back into a residential dwelling – the low price probably reflects the scale of work needed, with replacing the roof already in progress.

There is still a pub in Sea Palling, Reefs Bar, next to the slipway, the dunes standing in the way of sea views, but very close to the encroaching North Sea.

Reefs Bar

Reefs

Reefs is a 1950s built pub that sits just this side of the dunes as you approach the beach. It’s been busy each time we’ve visted, and the Wolf Ale, presumably the regular real ale, has always been in top nick. On this occasion we also had a decent vegetarian lasagne and chips to accompany it, before taking our beers to the outdoor benches to soak up the sea air.

There have been at least three pubs in this area of the village. Faden’s Map of 1797 shows the Ship, a pub situated very close to the shore – it’s possible it was claimed by the sand and sea, much like the former Church of St Mary’s at nearby Eccles-on-Sea.

ReefsThe Lifeboat Inn, situated further inland down beach road, was recorded by at least 1858 but was destroyed by the 1953 floods. It was rebuilt as a single storey building where it stands today, then a Lacons pub named the lifeboat Tavern, becoming ‘Reefs’ in 2004 when the current landlord took over – it is named after the reefs that have been placed just offshore as part of the coast defenses. According to Norfolk Pubs, it gained a full licence when the license was removed from the nearby Cock Inn in 1959.

Cock Inn

The Cock Inn was a large building that stood further inland on the corner of Beach Road and The Street from at least 1794 (Norfolk Pubs). It closed in the late 1950s and was demolished. The last publican there may have been Walter George Austrin, a boat builder who in 1963 is recorded as “formerly at the Old Cock Inn”, he also operated a Tea Stall on the beach at Sea Palling.

You can still get beer and hot drinks in Sea Palling, though the tides seem perilously close to calling time.

Sources:
Green, Andrew – Ghosts of today (1980)
Pearse, Bowen – The Ghost-Hunter’s Casebook: The Investigations of Andrew Green Revisited (2011)
Norfolk Pubs
Reefs Bar
www.seapalling.com

Peterborough Beer Festival 2014

PBF_37Peterborough Beer Festival kicked off again this week, so we prepared by perusing the list of around 400 beers, aiming to narrow them down to a few beers we particularly wanted to try. Continue reading

Ales in the Dales

Beers along the Tour de France Stage 1 route.

Black Swan

We recently took a last minute break and ended up staying for a week in a cottage in Aysgarth in the Yorkshire Dales. Unbeknown to us, the cottage overlooked the roads that will be part of the Tour de France route as it passes from Leeds to Harrogate on Saturday 5th July. So we noted the best pubs and beers we came across along or nearby the route, which was well decorated with yellow bikes and bunting in anticipation of the event.

Beer Bike

Of all the pubs we visited, one in particular left a lasting impression:

Victoria Arms, Worton, Wensleydale

We passed the Victoria Arms several times before we eventually stopped for a beer. It looked like it might be an unspoilt pub – an old Magnet Ales sign hangs outside – but we had no idea we were walking into “something of a legend” where time seems to have stood still for decades. Ralph Daykin, who died in September 2013, ran the pub for 57 years and it is now in the hands of his son Neil who has been there all his life. “Dog’s had me trainers” he said as he picked one of the pair up from the middle of his living room where Hendrix the spaniel had dropped it, at the corner of which is the bar. A newspaper and some letters lay open on one of the tables, clothes were strewn across the settle, the carpet probably hadn’t seen a hoover since before the age of Dysons.

Victoria Arms

Theakstons Best and Black Sheep Bitter were on draught, “What’s your favourite?” Louise asked. He considered it for a few seconds as he looked at the pumps. “Theakstons s’alright” he said unenthusiastically as he began pouring. The walls are covered in all manner of curios, including the rear end of a stuffed fox. The larger adjoining room has a pool table and more curios, including a jukebox and eighties game machine, neither of which looked like they were in use. In the front room, he warmed to us slightly as we talked to him about the Tour de France. “It won’t make much difference to me unless people camp nearby” he reasoned. His elderly mother nevertheless suggested he should get some crisps in.

Victoria Arms WortonMore than any other pub I’ve visited, this one left me with the feeling that I’d had a glimse into the past, when a farmer might serve beer from his front room for extra income – Bulmer’s Directory of 1890 records a “victualler and farmer” here and at the George & Dragon, Aysgarth. A photo on the wall shows Ralph Daykin, also a farmer, sitting on a chair looking caringly at a lamb stretched out thawing in front of the open fire.

Here’s a round up of the other pubs and beers we particularly enjoyed.

Wensleydale

Leyburn

Campbells is a good place to stock up on bottled beer on the way in and out of the Yorkshire Dales (11 miles from leaving the A1 at Catterick), with a range of beers from Yorkshire Breweries.

Masham

Home to the Black Sheep Brewery and Theakstons. Both have visitor centres where we picked up bottles we hadn’t tried before – Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout, and Theakstons Distiller’s Cask, presumably aged in whisky casks, although the label only says it has been “warmly acquainted with Speyside Whisky”.

Theakston

East Witton

Cover Bridge Inn – situated on its own on the banks of the River Ure, with the date 1674 above the entrance to the gents, we were pleasantly surprised by the beer range – as well as the ubiquitous Theakston’s Best and Old Peculiar, there was By The Horns Stiff Upper Lip, Thornbridge Jaipur and Ilkley Mary Jane, enjoyed in the beer garden alongside the river.

West Witton

Fox & Hounds:

Tour de YorkshireFreehouse with a good range of well kept guest beers, best when visited the Yorkshire Dales Tour de Yorkshire, a Citra hopped beer brewed specially for the event.

Aysgarth

Aysgarth Falls Hotel – Enjoyed good beer and food here and returned for more later in the week. The Salamander Mudpuppy was excellent, best of the beers we tried there, and their beers are on often.

George and Dragon – Had a great meal here, the ‘George and Dragon’ ale brewed for them by Yorkshire Dales Brewing Co the best of the beers.

Thoralby

The George:

George

A stone-built inn dating from 1732, it’s actually in Bishopdale, but just a couple of miles from Aysgarth. One of the best pubs we visited, great atmosphere, friendly welcome, good food and beer, including Yorkshire Dales Howgate and Northallerton Gun Dog Bitter.

Carperby

Wheatsheaf:

Wheatsheaf

Prior to the TdF, it seems the most celebrated event in this village near Aysgarth was James Herriot taking his honeymoon at the Wheatsheaf in 1941. Had a refreshing pint of Black Sheep Velo, a special TdF beer apparently brewed with coriander and orange, although the latter ingredient was barely detectable.

Askrigg

Home to the Yorkshire Dales Brewing Co, one of the best discoveries we made during our trip, a local brewery producing consistently good beers wherever we came across them. The brewery is located in a barn just behind the main street.

Kings Arms:

Kings Arms

Doubled as the Drovers Arms for the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, walls covered in photos from the filming, stone-flagged floors and high ceilings, another pub serving a house beer brewed by Yorkshire Dales Brewery.

White Rose:

White Rose

We came here just to try the Yorkshire Dales Askrigg Ale and ended up staying for a decent meal.

There is a third pub in Askrigg, the Crown Inn, which we didn’t have time to visit but was recommended by the head brewer of Yorkshire Dales brewery as another place serving his beers.

Hawdraw

George & Dragon – We initially passed through this pub just to gain access to the Hawdraw Force waterfall, the highest single drop waterfall in England, but were so impressed by the cosy, traditional interior of the pub that we returned for an evening meal. The meal was accompanied by a couple of locals playing acoustic guitar and the crackling of a log fire. The friendliness of the landlord made up for the less-than-warm welcome from his wife.

Swaledale

Muker

Farmers Arms:

Farmers Arms

Lovely pub in Upper Swaledale, very friendly, great views from the tables at the front and a cracking pint of Yorkshire Dales Brewery’s Butter Tubs (named after the fiercely steep, windy road that cyclists will have to tackle on the Tour). They’re holding a King of the Mountains festival during the TdF weekend. The holiday apartment they also own, directly opposite the pub, was noted for a future visit.

Tan Hill

Tan Hill Inn:

Tan HillOn the edge of Swaledale, well known as the highest pub in Great Britain at 1,732ft above sea level. After taking in the view over a pint of Black Sheep bitter, we picked up some bottles of it’s own Tan Hill Inn Ewe Juice, a beer brewed for it by the Dent Brewery.

Dentdale

Further afield, and not on the TdF route, but well worth a visit for two cracking pubs.

Sun Inn:

Sun Inn

Faced with a choice of two unfamiliar beers, a local at the bar suggested we try the Kirkby Lonsdale Tiffin Gold – “everybody in here’s been drinking it all day” he said. It proved to be one of the best beers we tried during the trip and we wished we didn’t have to drive to our next destination so we could have sessioned on it too.

George & Dragon:

The Dent Brewery Tap, with a range of their own cask beers, and on keg Samuel Smiths Extra stout, Organic Lager, Taddy Lager and Sovereign Bitter.

Dent Tap

Tour de France beers:

Ilkley Marie JauneWe came across several special TdF beers on cask from local breweries including Wensleydale Top Cogg, Northallerton Peloton Pale, Yorkshire Dales Tour de Dales and KOM Festivale (available at the Farmers Arms KOM festival), and Richmond Sacre Bleu, as well as bottles of Ilkley Marie Jaune, a variation on their Mary Jane, brewed with French hops and yeast, picking up the last bottle of it on the shelf from the Wine Shop in Grassington.

Links:
North West Yorkshire CAMRA guide

Cambridge Pubs showing the World Cup

Well it’s nearly that time, when we can share hopes and inevitable disappointments, watching England’s World Cup matches in a pub. I watched some of the 2002 World Cup in what was my local at the time, the Hat & Feathers on Barton Road in Cambridge, when such was the time difference between here and South Korea and Japan, some matches were shown in pubs as early as seven o’clock in the morning – so begins a good day! When Beckham scored the penalty against Argentina, the pub erupted in celebration. Three matches later we were beaten in the quarter finals by this year’s hosts Brazil.

The Hat & Feathers has since closed and been converted to flats, so here’s a current list of good pubs that have confirmed they’re showing the World Cup:

Alma CB2 1HW
Blue Moon CB1 2LF
Cambridge Brew House CB1 1LH
Carpenters Arms CB4 3DZ
Champion of the Thames CB1 1LN
Dobblers CB1 2QF
Great Northern CB1 2JB
Kingston Arms (England games only) CB1 2NU
Mill CB2 1RX
Six Bells CB1 2HS

Continue reading

A Night At The White Horse Inn

On Thursday evening the Museum of Cambridge, located in a 16th century building that was the White Horse Inn for around 300 years until it closed in 1934, opened its doors as a pub again for one night, serving beer from the premises for the first time in eighty years. The event, a collaboration between Cambridge CAMRA and the Museum of Cambridge as part of Community Pubs Month and Museums at Night, featured guided tours of the museum, including the original bar and snug, a walking tour of the area’s past and present pubs, along with folk musicians and the Cambridge Morris Men helping to recreate the atmosphere from its days as the White Horse Inn. Although there were incidences of gambling and rabies recorded here in the late 1800s, we decided against reintroducing them.

White Horse Inn
Having spent the past few months deep in research, along with co-researcher Steve Linley, we each gave guided tours that highlighted the history of over thirty pubs and a handful of breweries that have existed in an area of about half a square mile – of those, only four pubs remain open.

There were also two beers, from local breweries BlackBar and Moonshine, served from the cask at the event. The ‘Museum Old Ale’ from BlackBar was inspired by a Porter recipe from the Cambridge University archives that came from a “handwritten recipe used by the landlord of the Chequers Inn, Wilburton (1850-65)”, presumably John Fitch, landlord from the mid to late 1800s. I use the term ‘inspired’ because it would have been tricky to recreate a recipe that included “half a bushel of patent malt. Boil your patent in the copper for 36 hours”. Museum Old Ale 4.8%, using one third brown malt, two thirds pale malt, lightly hopped with Fuggles and Boadicea, has an enticing bready malt aroma and caramel flavours. It will be available again at Cambridge Beer Festival this week. Moonshine provided a beer inspired by an Old British Beer recipe from the Durden Park Beer Circle. The beer, an Imperial Stout called ‘Transforming Tomorrow’, was brewed back in 2008 and has spent the last six years ageing in an oak pin that previously contained sherry. It has developed into a strong, vinous brew, with some sherry sweeteness, rich plummy fruits, and oaky vanilla flavours.

Beers like those sell out quickly, and a dash was made to a nearby pub for more supplies – it ended up being acquired from one of the few remaining pubs on our guided tour, the Pickerel, one of the oldest pubs in Cambridge.

Pickerel

We have a display at the Cambridge Beer Festival this week that highlights some of the research about each of the pubs that have existed in the Castle End area of Cambridge, including a wonderful illustration by Jon Harris. We’d be delighted to hear from anybody who has memories of any of the fomer pubs – the Bentinck Arms, Wheatsheaf, Merton Arms and Cow & Calf have all closed within the last fifty years.

The Chestnut Tree, West Wratting

Chestnut Tree

The Chestnut Tree is a freehouse situated about twelve miles south-east of Cambridge in the village of West Wratting. It was recently awarded Pub of the Year 2014 by Cambridge & District branch of the Campaign for Real Ale and is also on this month’s Ale Trail (pdf). More than anything, it was the draw of the large beer garden that prompted us to visit again on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Chestnut Tree garden

Rachel and Peter Casuton bought the Chestnut Tree in 2012 and have spent the last two years transforming the pub, winning Most Improved Rural Pub 2013 along the way. A freehouse, when we visited there were beers from Brandon Brewery, Saffron Brewery, and Greene King IPA and Abbot.

There’s been a pub here since at least 1861 when John Norden worked here as a blacksmith during the day, and a beer retailer in the evenings. After he died in 1881, an auction of the premises described it as:

The well known “Chestnut” public-house, containing 9 rooms and cellar. Blacksmith’s shop, barn and other outbuildings, with a well planted garden. The purchaser to pay for the 2 forges, bellows and slack-troughs, as fixed, and for the house fixtures and coppers. (Trent Valley Heritage Gazette)

The original thatched building burned down and was rebuilt later in the 1800s, retaining a blacksmiths shop and outbuildings until at least 1918.

In 1632 three alehouses were licensed in West Wratting (A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, 1978). A hundred years ago, there were at least five beer retailers in West Wratting:

1904 Kelly’s Directory of Cambridgeshire

Chestnut Tree Albert Pepper
Crown Inn Ann Bradnam
Five Bells James Saunderson
Lamb Henry MacFall
Waggon & Horses John William Radford

Only the Chestnut Tree has survived. Here are some details of the closed pubs.

Lamb:

Lamb Inn

The Lamb existed from at least 1876 when it was occupied by James Twinn. The landlord from c.1896 to 1906 was Henry MacFall, inn keeper and mail cart contractor. His son Arthur Ernest Macfall, a bombardier for the Royal Artillery, died in the First World War and is recorded on the war memorial inside the church of St. Andrews (Roll of Honour). In 1906 the original thatched building met the same fate as the original Chestnut Tree and completely burned down when a paraffin lamp was knocked over in one of the bedrooms. It was rebuilt but eventually closed around 1978 when landlord Percy Boreham was declared bankrupt – by 1980 he was described as ‘retired publican’ at the Lamb. His name is still above the door.

Lamb signs

During the Second World War RAF Wratting Common, a bomber command airfiled, was built on the nearby common and “the three pubs in the village quickly sold out of beer with all the extra customers available. There were rumours that spies were operating from The Lamb – they supposedly had a radio transmitter – one night they disappeared and nothing was heard of them.” (Western Colville Local History – About West Wratting)

Crown Inn:
The Crown Inn stood on the High Street, opposite the end of The Causeway that leads to the church. It existed from at least 1788 but was closed and demolished sometime after 1960, when it was still shown on an Ordnance Survey map, and before 1981 when it had been replaced by modern housing. Ann Bradnam was publican there from at least 1891 to 1916.

Five Bells:
The Five Bells (the western tower of St. Andrew’s contains five bells) was mentioned in 1850 as part of a sale of land “adjoining road to Cambridge on west, including Five Bells beer house, stable brew-house etc”. It was still trading in 1906.

Waggon & Horses:
Existed from at least 1857 when Peter Tilbrook is listed at the beerhouse, to 1921 when it is recorded in a sale catalogue from Hudson’s Cambridge and Pampisford Breweries Ltd.