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Cambridge Winter Ale Festival 18

Cambridge Winter Ale Festival starts today at 5pm. Here’s a quick look at some of the beers that will be available over the next few days…

Local beers

Several Cambridgeshire breweries are represented with Bexar County (Peterborough), Mile Tree (Wisbech) and Red (Great Staughton) all returning after making their debuts last year.

Bexar County returns with an even bigger San Jacinto along with another two new beers – Kaas brewed with peppercorn and Belgian yeast, and a Big Black Rum Raisin that sounds like it would make a good ice cream float. Mile Tree brings back Adventurer along with a couple more new brews and Red has Staughton Bitter again and a limited edition seasonal ‘Winter’s Solstice’.

From other locals breweries, there are six from Blackbar including another release from last year’s Marzen, Fellows turns up the volume with 7%+ Double Stout and IPA, Milton have a special, Minerva’s Owl, brewed with help from Professor Mary Beard, Moonshine has a beer for just about every occasion, including a strong Vintage Matured Limitless Abundance (the last cask of this and Ison!) which made an appearance last year and which is even bigger and better this year, along with beers from Son of Sid and Tydd Steam.

There are debuts here for Cambridge Brew House, the nearest brewery to the festival, and from further afield, Animal Brewing Co of Buckinghamshire have a couple of “one off limited edition beers” made by little creatures that sneak into XT Brewery at night, apparently!

Award winning beers

There are some beers which have previously picked up awards at the Champion Beers of Britain:

  • Elland 1872 Porter – Current Supreme Champion Beer of Britain!
  • Kelham Island Pale Rider – Supreme CBOB 2004
  • Mauldon Black Adder – Supreme CBOB 1991
  • RCH P. G. Steam – Gold in the Bitter category at CBOB 2010
  • Triple FFF Moon Dance – Bronze overall at CBOB 2006

Bartrams Cherry Stout was overall winner of Cambridge Beer Festival 2000

Milton Marcus Aurelius – They used to collect votes for beer of the fest at the Cambridge Winter Ale fest too, this beer was the winner in 2007, and I think is the only previous winning beer to return this year.

And many, many more – over 100 real ales, cider and of course the beers on the overseas bar.

CWAF

Glastonbury Pubs

Glastonbury has a number of pubs including the 15th century George & Pilgrim. None have a wide range of beers, but most serve a few local ales.

Glastonbury Pub Map © OpenStreetMap contributors

Riflemans Arms

Riflemans Arms

The Riflemans Arms sits just outside the centre of Glastonbury near the foot of the Tor, on the main road that skirts the south edge of the town. The building, listed as a cottage dating from probably C17/early C18, doesn’t look much from the outside, sooty from the traffic that rumbles past the pub. But stepping inside, onto the stone and tile floor, the beamed walls and ceiling dimly lit with candles and fairy lights, a few locals engaged in banter at the bar casting shadows from the fire, was an unexpected delight when first visited a few years ago.

Riflemans, Glastonbury

On that occasion, a fellow walked in with several conkers laced and ready to go, and I found myself in an impromptu conker championship with some locals. Several games later, owing more to the luck of the draw than skill on my part, I left the pub with my winning conker.

Riflemans Arms interior

Serving local beers – Cheddar Ales Potholer and Butcombe Bitter – with a decent jukebox and seating outside at the back with views across the somerset levels. “Everybody’s rushing around going bloody nowhere”, I heard an old fellow say at the bar. The Riflemans is a haven from all that.

Riflemans Arms views

(Update August 2014 – Temporary managers are currently at the Rifleman’s while Enterprise Inns looks for new tennants. It closed for a few months in 2013 which resulted in local musicians having to find a new place to play. As the pub currently has an uncertain future, it has apparently proved difficult to entice them back. The pub has had a nice lick of paint recently too)

From here it’s a 5 minute walk to the top of the High Street, heading to the town centre.

Beckets Inn

Beckets Inn, Glastonbury

A building dating from c.1700, Beckets Inn was previously the town’s Doctor’s Surgery for 250 years and only became a pub about 40 years ago. John told us he’s been the landlord for the past 22 years and prior to that was a publican in many SE London pubs. His wife was born opposite the pub – they met when she visited the pub early in John’s tenancy – and remembers visiting the building when it was a surgery. The pub is fairly large, built with thick walls and crossed with wooden beams, with two bars and several rooms, one with an open fire. A Wadworth pub, beers on were Henry’s IPA, Corvus Stout, Flowers Best on keg and the seasonal Farmer’s Glory.

Beckets Inn, Glastonbury

Buster is a pub dog that likes beer. He followed us out to the beer garden, jumped onto the table and sat pretending not to watch us. When the pint glass was raised from the table, he quickly licked the spilt beer where it had been. Then he retired to the pub for a lie down.

“We’ll pop in when we visit again in a year or two” we said as we left.

“I’ll still be here” replied John.

George and Pilgrim

Founded in the 1300s according to a leaflet in the pub, although the present building dates from 1475, it’s said to have ‘subterranean passages communicating with the Abbey’ (Bygone Somerset, Walters, 1897)

It may have been built ‘to give lodging to those of lesser standing’ (Inn Signs, Delderfield 1972) although a building as grand as this was surely more likely ‘designed not for the indigent pilgrim but for those wealthy enough to pay well for their food and accomodation… contributing to the abbey coffers’ (The English Inn, Burke 1981). Both sources repeat the claim that Henry VIII is said to have stayed in a bedroom here to overlook the ransacking and burning of the abbey in 1539 at the time of the dissolution.

George and Pilgrims Inn

George and PilgrimsA wonderfully preserved medieval building, stone built with mullioned windows, an interior of worn stone passages, thick wooden beams and carvings. The former Abbot’s kitchen and parlour now serve as the saloon bar.

Beers on were Glastonbury Ales Lady of the Lake, Butcombe Bitter and Otter Bitter, of which we had a decent pint along with a decent meal.

Who’d A Thought It Inn

Who'd AThought It

Formerly the Lamb Hotel, the Who’d A Thought It has a nice bar in the oldest part of the pub, with plenty of ornaments around the room, and serves a range of Palmers beers. We’ve had good food on previous visits but this time visited just for a drink – with no seating left in the old bar, and the more recent extension aimed at diners, we left but will endeavour to get there earlier next time.

King Arthur

King Arthur

“King Arthur’s Ale – who brews that?”

“It’s a trade secret”

“Is it your own beer?”

“It’s brewed for us”

“Who brews it then? Is it Glastonbury Ales?”

“No, it’s a trade secret”

Puzzlingly evasive. That particular beer tasted past its best so I didn’t finish it, but the Glastonbury Mystery Tor was good. A nice enough place with a few rooms and a beer garden at the back.

Other pubs

We’ve walked past the Mitre several times without going in – one for the next visit:

Mitre

Hawthorns, opposite Who’d A Thought It, is a hotel with a bar rather than a pub but does serve Glastonbury Ales, and we haven’t yet had a drink at the Crown Inn, King William, Wagon & Horses on Wells Road or Ye Queen’s Head on the High Street:

Queen's Head

(Update: August 2014 – Ye Queen’s Head closed in 2013 and is now a shop. The interior has been extensively altered and is sadly unrecognisable as a former pub)

The Market House was almost unrecognisable. It used to be a pub that was a bit rough round the edges, but a refurbishment has stripped the interior and turned it into a bright restaurant, replacing the old wooden bar with a small white one lit by a green striplight. Not a place I’d go just for a beer and there are several other places to eat in Glastonbury – Gigi’s Italian restaurant a few doors down is one of the best.

Market House

The Globe Inn had closed since we last passed this way:

Globe Inn

(Update: August 2014 – The former Globe Inn is still boarded up and unoccupied)

West Country Ales

West Country Ales

No beery trip to this area would be complete without a visit to West Country Ales in Cheddar, about 14 miles north of Glastonbury.

A great selection of local beers and we brought a few back, ensuring we’ll be reminiscing about Somerset for a while yet – at least to Christmas Day when the bottle of Old Freddy Walker comes out.

(Note: The West Country Ales shop closed in 2013)

West Country Beer

Chequers, Little Gransden

“There’s a lot of lycra about today,” said landlord and brewer Bob, as a cyclist passed the pub on the first dry, hot and sunny day in a long time.

Although less than 15 miles from Cambridge, the bus journey from Little Gransden to Cambridge takes an age (well, an hour) to wind its way through many villages. A couple of years ago, on a bus to Cambridge he commented it would have been quicker cycling and was challenged to prove it. He did, narrowly winning the race, possibly motivated by the promise of drinks at the Cambridge Blue. He even brewed ‘Beat the Bus’ bitter to mark the occasion.

Chequers, Little Gransden

A fitting tale on the day Bradley Wiggins became the first British winner of the Tour de France! The high lycra count around here was more likely due to the sunshine and the London to Cambridge Bike Ride.

Chequers

The Chequers has been family run for well over half a century and for almost five years the ‘Son of Sid’ brewery, visible from the lounge, has provided beers for the pub. “This was a local working man’s pub but it’s more welcoming now” said a welcoming local working man.

Son of Sid

The pub dates back over 200 years to the 18th century. In the mid-nineteenth century there were four pubs in Little Gransden, but by 1967 only the Chequers survived, albeit rebuilt just over 100 yrs ago.(www.british-history.ac.uk)

Chequers, Little Gransden

Son of Sid BrewerySitting in pleasantly hilly countryside just off the Old North Road near Caxton, close to Waresley and Gransden Woods, the pub and village seem calm and unspoilt.

It’s within cycling distance of Cambridge, reached by a route following cycle paths and country lanes.

It only takes an hour and it beats the bus.

Chequers, home to Son of Sid brewery

The Cricketers, First and Last

The First and Last, Cambridge

Update: Sept 2011 – Since I wrote the article below, the pub has been renamed the First and Last and reopened in the first week of September after a few weeks of refurbishment. The interior has had a good makeover, the pool table has been removed so there’s more seating and the place feels lighter and more spacious, particularly the lower level. Not sure of the whereabouts of the Cricketers pub sign but the sign detailing the history is on the wall of the main bar. Exmoor Gold and Tiger Bitter on at both bars when visited.

The Cricketers

The Cricketers stands on the corner of Melbourne Place and Prospect Row, opposite the Elm Tree pub, a point where several other streets meet – Eden Street, Orchard Court and Elm Street converge just a few footsteps north of the Cricketers. Part of the old maltings warehouse adjoins the beer garden to the east where several more streets converge – Warkworth Street, Mud Lane and a narrow passageway joining them to Melbourne Place.

The Cricketers

According to a signboard inside, the pub dates from 1838 and was originally called the First and Last. Just 2 years later it was renamed the Cricketers, and has kept that name for over 170 years. However, the pub might soon revert to it’s original but short-lived name, the First and Last.

Cricketers

Alterations are planned – the public bar currently features a pool table as its centrepiece but this might soon be removed. The lounge is on two levels and the lower part may also soon be altered.

A Greene King pub, it has so far benefited from a change of hands. It feels welcoming again, which hasn’t been the case for years, and the beer is better, Woodfordes Wherry when visited. It has really needed some new furniture in the lounge, but clearly a lot of care is now being taken in the pub. I’m not even interested in cricket but I hope care is taken with the pubs history and its connection to the game; close to the once famous cricket ground on Parker’s Piece, former landlords have included “members of the famous Haywards cricketing family – 3 of whom played for England”. It’s unclear what will happen to the cricket memorabilia or the exterior and pub sign during the refurbishment.

The Cricketers pub sign
The Cricketers, Cambridge

Cambridge Blue pub signs

The Cambridge Blue was originally the Dew Drop Inn, one of four pubs on Gwydir Street, perhaps as early as 1869 when Gwydir Street was first developed (see History of Cambridge Blue). Many people living on the street worked on the nearby railway; in 1878 a railway servant and a carpenter lived either side of the pub. A photo of the pub (on display near the entrance) taken at the Queens Jubilee in 1977 shows it as The Dewdrop with brown Tolly Cobbold signboards. The current house beer, a nice light session bitter 3.9% brewed by Nethergate, is called Dewdrop after the pub’s former name.

Dewdrop

It was the Dew Drop Inn for over 100 years and was only renamed as the Cambridge Blue relatively recently, in the mid 1980s, when a former Cambridge University rower became landlord; Cambridge Blue is the colour of Cambridge University sports teams. The sign showed a Welsh Dragon and American Eagle, the nationalities of the landlords at that time. In 2007 they left, and with them went the brief link to university colours.

The pub is now in the hands of Jethro and Terri. As of March 2011 a new pub sign hangs outside with a firkin attached. The brown is not the same colour as on the Tolly Cobbold signs, but does reflect its origins as a town pub, long before it was blue. It closed for a month or so of rebuilding and refurbishment earlier this year and has since been named Cambridge & District CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year 2011.

Ikea Beer

Well, not quite, but these 2 Swedish canned beers were available at Ikea (Milton Keynes) on a recent visit. They are both brewed by Spendrups and mercifully, they don’t require self-assembly.

Spendrups

The Norrlands Guld can features the coat of arms of Angermanland – very apt after 5 hours in Ikea. It is remarkably similar to the coat of arms of the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames.

Angermanland (L), Kingston upon Thames (R)

I think the 5% Spendrups Export has the edge over the 5.3% Norrlands Guld, although to suggest they have varying degrees of edginess is overstating it. They’re both fairly watery, unremarkable pale yellow lagers, just a bit grassy and with a faint bitterness. If I had to describe them in one word… I’d probably say nothing and just shrug my shoulders.

Top 5 beers of 2010

A quick look back at my favourite beers of 2010, dominated by pale, American hopped brews.

  • 5. Deschutes Bachelor ESB 5% – 2010 saw my first visit to Portland, Oregon and first taste of Deschutes beers. The fantastic Mirror Pond and Twilight ales had the delicious cascade hop taste I spent the rest of the year chasing, but something about the balance of hops with caramel malt kept me returning for more of the English style ESB
  • 4. Hopshackle Resination 7% – A resinous (of course) and powerfully hoppy American style IPA whose strength curtailed my visit to the excellent Cambridge Octoberfest
  • 3. Buntingford Imperial Pale Ale 6.2% – Another powerful, American hopped IPA, an outstanding beer that featured at the Cambridge Octoberfest and Cambridge Blue Octoberfest. This brewery doesn’t half produce some cracking beers!
  • 2. Mighty Hop Festival Special Bitter 3.9% – My new favourite brewery! A beer that punches way above it’s session strength, with a moreish tang of New Zealand Pacific Gem hops.
  • 1. Red Squirrel White Mountain APA 5,4% – Best beer tried at the best event of 2010, the Cambridge Beer Festival. Another American Style IPA (beer style discovery of 2010 for me, influenced by that trip to Portland) loaded with Cascade hops but so sweet and smooth it was tempting to knock this back like a session beer! That said, I savoured every mouthful

Red Squirrel - White Mountain IPA

Here’s to the beers i’ve yet to discover in 2011…