Salisbury Arms and St. Radegund Reopen

I don’t know, you wait ages for a refurbished pub and then three reopen at once. Following the Grain Store opening at the beginning of March, the St. Radegund and Salisbury Arms also reopened in Cambridge this month.

Salisbury Arms

76 Tenison Road | www.salisburyarmscambridge.co.uk

Salisbury Arms

A Charles Wells pub that appears to have recovered from its recent identity crisis. Once full of memorabilia, including 1970s Cambridge Beer Festival posters, dummies sat at a table on the balcony overlooking the main bar, and sacks of grain and a cyclist suspended from the ceiling, less than a year ago it had a makeover which removed all items of interest, repainted the interior bright white and left it characterless.

Salisbury Arms

However, this succesive refurbishment has redressed some of that, bringing back the Beer Fest posters, more bicycles, even the pub game Ring the Bull, rescued and returned to its rightful place on the wall (don’t try and compete with anybody who works there – they’re well practiced).

Salisbury Arms

The interior layout has been altered, most notably a distressed wood, metal-topped bar on the extended ground floor level, and the addition of a pizza oven on the lower level (ensuring a few more choices for vegetarians, to add to the Ciambotta and Mac & Cheese).

Salisbury Arms

There were 4 real ales and 8 keg lines on the new bar, including Young’s London Stout and the first appearance in the city of Charlie Wells Dry Hopped Lager – although I’d say more hops have been used in decorating the interior of the pub than in brewing that particular beer.

Salisbury Arms

The Salisbury is perhaps best known as having been one of the CAMRA Investments pubs in the 1970s, at the time boasting “possibly the largest selection in the country of bottle-conditioned English and Belgian beers”.

Salisbury advert 1970s

I lived just along the street in the early 90s when it was a bustling pub, packed with students in the evening, with loud music from the jukebox (since removed) and at least eight hand pumps, with beers including the since discontinued Mansfield Riding Mild.

Salisbury Arms Salisbury Arms

Although the interior is much altered from the one I fondly remember, the latest refurb has nevertheless made it a welcoming place again, the main bar large and airy, the small back room still almost like a snug (who knew books didn’t only appear on wallpaper), and it’s back on the map for a Cambridge pub crawl.

St. Radegund

129 King Street

Radegund Free House

Even with a new layout, this is probably still the smallest pub in Cambridge if not the county. The renovation has certainly let in more light, with the raised ceiling uncovering the tops of the windows, although this has involved the removal of the names burned into the ceiling by some of the regulars. Much of the memorabilia has been retained, including pictures of Dame Vera Lynn (the Vera Lynn Appreciation Society was formerly held on Friday evenings), framed articles about the King Street Run, and a photo of the Garrick pub which once stood here on the corner at Four Lamps. A TV screen above the bar was showing the rugby, which everyone else in the bar was watching.

St Radegund

I’m not sure if the relocation of the bar has really gained much floor space or any extra seating, but it has uncovered a fireplace, although it’s not clear if this will actually be used (it was cold enough on the day that a fire would have been welcome).

Radegund

There are 8 pumps installed on the bar, although on the opening day only two were on – Saffron Brewery Royal Blue and Yakima Gold from the ever dependable Crouch Vale, with keg Brooklyn Lager, Budvar and Kozel – although no sign of the Milton Sackcloth which used to be a regular ale brewed exclusively for the Radegund. It’s still a work in progress though.

Tivoli in ruins

Sadly, on the day two Cambridge pubs reopened, another was burning down – the Tivoli, a Wetherspoon on Chesterton Road. It caught fire in the early hours of the morning and burnt for hours despite its riverside location, with water being pumped from the Cam to fight the fire. As I was nearby I had a look, and was told by a fireman that the roof had collapsed and that the fire and water had caused structural damage that has left the building in a perilous state. It will be a shame if Cambridge loses not just another pub, but a fine old building, formerly the Tivoli Cinema (Tivoli blog post).

The Tivoli

The Grain Store, Cambridge

The Grain Store, formerly the Avery, on Regent Street in Cambridge opened on Friday 6th March after a “complete makeover” by Greene King. The “six figure” investment promised an “extensive choice of craft beer and cask ale sourced from local, national and international breweries”, along with a modern interior decor and a revamped kitchen and menu. I went along to the pre-opening night to see what had changed.

Grain Store

I expected the beer line up might be a showcase for Greene King’s “speciality craft keg” range, but of the 10 taps and 6 hand pumps (duplicated on the first-floor bar), only three were their own – Double Hop Monster keg, the rebranded IPA and a house 3.9 on cask. Not quite the promised “extensive choice of craft beer and cask ale sourced from local, national and international breweries” – the only international brewery on the tap list was Goose Island, a brewery they have exclusive keg distribution rights for in England and Wales, while the nearest local brewery was Old Cannon, from Greene King’s hometown Bury St Edmunds thirty miles away – nevertheless a pleasant surprise.

With four of BrewDog’s beers on tap for the opening, Greene King are hoping that brand will give them some credibility as a ‘craft beer’ provider. That six of the ten tap beers were from Scotland suggests they’re tapping into the distribution network they have north of the border, enabled by their Belhaven brewery. I spoke to people from the brewery during the evening who readily admitted it will be a challenge for them to provide a beer list to match venues like the nearby Pint Shop – as a comparison, over two visits to the Pint Shop last week, I had beer from the likes of Evil Twin, Magic Rock, Buxton and To Øl.

Grain Store

Most impressive were the new tanks for Pilsner Urquell, four 500 litre tanks for the unpasteurised beer they believe “guarantees you’re drinking the beer as fresh as possible“, the first pub in this country outside of London to have it delivered this way. It’s probably the bottled beer I drink most often, and my go-to beer in other pubs that have it on draught, so it was good to taste it so fresh and full of flavour, and will probably be the most compelling reason for me to return to the Grain Store.

Grain Store

The six cask ales on were Red Squirrel Winter’s Tail, Cottage Norman’s Conquest Texas Brown Ale, Oldershaw Great Expectations, Old Cannon Gunner’s Daughter, along with Greene King IPA and house beer 3.9. Fridges and shelves are stocked with familiar bottles, and Amstel and Heineken are also on
draught.

Grain Store

It would be easy to be cynical about this makeover, I mean really easy – the bus seats look like they came from the same vehicle the Cambridge Brew House plundered for their refit two years ago.

bus-ted

Yet it was notable though that at no point during the evening was I given the ‘hard sell’, and as with previous conversations I’ve had with folk from Greene King, the modest tone seems in complete contrast to the bravado of their marketing material which hype “monster” hop flavours in thier beers or describe the Grain Store as wanting to be “the place in Cambridge for high quality craft beers and moreish food”. Nor did I sense any delusions about how this venture might be seen. If there’s a percepetion of them riding the coattails of more credible craft brands, then perhaps it’s a case of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. After all, it’s only two years since the Brew House opened, and 16 months since the Pint Shop and Blue Moon. In any case, who owns the trademark on exposed beams, beer boards, 10-keg-&-6-cask, shabby chic, industrial, or any other characteristics a modern bar might have?

I gather this is something of an experiment for Greene King – can they provide a compelling beer offering, build a credible ‘craft’ brand, find a position somewhere between the price points of Wetherspoon and the Pint Shop – there’s a lot of ground between a sub £2 pint of John Smiths and a £12 Double IPA. Will this new approach draw a new crowd, the “affluent young professionals” they seem to be courting, or cannibalise trade from their existing pubs? That is, amongst other things, what they’re aiming to find out.

Grain Store

Twenty years ago, this large building, originally the factory for Avery Scales, stood derilict overlooking Parker’s Piece, a 25-acre common on one side, and on the other side accessible from Regent Street, a main route into the city centre from the Station. I used to walk past it often, wondering how a fine building in a prime location had come to stand empty and unused. Then nearly twenty years ago it was acquired by Whitbread and opened in July 1996 as the Hogshead, boasting a large bar on each of the two floors, each with its own stillage and ten handpumps. It received a blow from Wetherspoon in 2000 with the opening of the Regal, at the time the pub with the largest capacity (1600) in Britain, just 300 metres along the street.

Avery

It came into the hands of Greene King in 2004 after their acquisition of over 400 former Whitbread-managed pubs from Laurel Inns. Renamed the Avery, it served only Greene King ales, which was quite a limited range at the time. However, trade never seemed to pick up, and on my most recent visit last year, the beer selection was as dire as ever, with no real ales and only the usual suspects on keg – Becks, Stella et al – the evening salvaged by bottles of Strong Suffolk from the fridge. It had become an unappealing sports bar, badly in need of some attention, so it’s good to see it get a new lease of life, and I hope it gets the custom it will need to avoid falling empty again.

From my first impressions, I like the Grain Store more than I expected to, it’s a nicely fitted out space with a nice ambience, the service was friendly (sure, it was a launch party, but it seemed like a genuine attempt to engage with customers), and the beer list offers enough temptation for me to pop in again to see what’s on. Worth a visit I’d say.

Grain Store

The Grain Store, 69-71 Regent Street, Cambridge, CB2 1AB

Golden Pints Awards 2014

Golden PintsI enjoy looking back on the best beery moments of the year, and reading what were the highlights for others. That said, it’s tricky picking winners from all the great beers and bars encountered over the course of a year, and it feels a bit skewed towards novelty when my choices include beers I’ve only tried a few times, and a bar I’ve visited only once.

Thanks to Andy Mogg at Beer Reviews for hosting the awards again.

Best UK Cask Beer – Mighty Oak Kings

Citra hopped beers are plentiful, but Kings is outstanding. If I could have chosen one beer as a permanent this whole summer, this would probably have been it.

Mighty Oak Kings

Best UK Keg Beer – Magic Rock/Birra Toccalmatto Custard Pie

I knew when I tasted this back in January that I’d still be thinking about it come December. A wonderful beer, bursting with tropical fruit juiciness.

Custard Pie label
Continue reading

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 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