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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.


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.


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.(

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.


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.


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.


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…

Elgoods Royal Wedding Beer

Elgoods are brewing a beer in celebration of the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in April 2011. The beer will be bottled and will also be available on cask throughout April.

Head Brewer Alan Pateman told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire that they are using a malted barley grown on the Sandringham royal estate, the Queen’s country retreat, and the new but traditional style Sovereign variety of hops. The beer will also be flavoured with honey.

Elgoods Windsor Knot

For the royal wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981, Elgoods made a celebration beer to mark the occasion. A photograph of the label can be seen at the Royal Wedding Beer Bottle Photograph Gallery


Related post: Elgoods Black Dog