Cambridge Beer Festival 2015

The 42nd Cambridge Beer Festival begins on Monday 18th May and runs through to Saturday 23rd.

Cambridge Beer Festival

Drinks

An estimated 200 beers from around 100 British breweries will be available, including 8 breweries from the branch area making up 16 Cambridgeshire breweries – Blackbar, Bexar County, Calverley’s, Cambridge Brewing Company, Crafty Beers, Elgoods, Fellows Brewery, Lord Conrad’s, Mile Tree, Milton, Moonshine, Oakham, Son of Sid, Three Blind Mice, Tydd Steam, and Xtreme Ales.

There’ll also be around 50 more beers from overseas, over 60 ciders and perrys including some from 11 Cambridgeshire cider makers, along with 10 meads, and a selection of English wines.

Locales to Lossie ales

The beers brewed nearest to the festival come from Cambridge Brewing Co. less than 600 metres away. The British beers that have travelled the furthest come from Windswept in Lossiemouth, Scotland – just over 400 miles as the crow flies, over another 100 miles by road.

Specials

As this is the 42nd Cambridge Beer Festival, a few beers are named after the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (42 was the answer to “The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”) – the author Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge, and was a student of St John’s College from 1971 to 1974.

  • Bartrams – Perfectly Normal Beer
  • Humpty Dumpty – Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster
  • Milton – Cor Aurum (an “infinitely improbable ale”)
  • Xtreme Ales – Vogon Poetry

Moonshine’s latest beer ‘5th Moon’ is made using barley grown on the farm in Fulbourn where they’re based. The barley is a new variety called Irina, and it’s apparently the first time a beer has been brewed using it anywhere in the U.K. Moonshine have won beer of the festival on three occasions and always prove popular – on one evening last year, 9 gallons of Moonshine’s ‘Heavenly Matter’ sold in under 11 minutes.

Milton have a special version of their Marcus Aurelius imperial stout, enhanced with port from the Quinta de la Rosa vineyard.

Breweries new to Cambridge Beer Festival

Over twenty breweries make their first appearance at Cambridge Beer Festival this year – Alechemy, Alecraft, Anspach & Hobday, Brampton, Cwrw Iâl, Gyle 59, Hammerton, Hardknott, Hop Stuff, KCB, Loch Ness, Moncada, Nene Valley, Pig & Porter, Privateer, Raw, 3 Brewers, Tiny Rebel, Verulam, Weird Beard, Windswept, and Xtreme Ales.

Previous Winners

Two previous ‘Beer of the Festival’ winners return this year – Brentwood BBC 2, winner in 2012, and Moonshine Red Watch Blueberry, winner in 2005. There are also a couple of beers that have won the award at the Cambridge Winter Ale Festival – Elmtree Nightlight Mild (2009) and Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild (2008)

Vegan-Friendly beers

There’ll be a good choice of unfined, vegan-friendly beers, including:

  • Bartrams – Black Forest Porter & Soviet Stout
  • Bexar County – Cacahuete, El Último Adiós and Hop Damn
  • Cambridge Brewing Company – Chocolate & Banana Stout
  • Crafty Beers – Sauvignon Blonde and Wilbraham
  • Gyle 59 – Toujours Saison
  • Moncada – Notting Hill Ruby Rye and Summer
  • Moonshine – Black Hole Stout
  • Moor – Return of the Empire and Traditional Mild
  • Weird Beard – K*ntish Town Beard
  • Windswept – APA, Tornado and Weizen

Gluten Free beers

  • Hopback – Crop Circle
  • Poppyland – Freshes Creek and Harvest
  • St Peters – G Free
  • Stringers – The North (Will Rise Again)
  • Wold Top – Against the Grain

Turn up the heat

If you like your beer hot, there are a couple of beers brewed using chilli peppers – Binghams entry level Hot Dog Chilli Stout carries a “warming afterglow” of chilli, while further up the Scoville Scale Bexar County’s Hop Damn is “brewed using the Holy trinity of Mexican dried chillies and dry chillied with habaneros”, and is “not for the faint of heart”! If that’s your thing, In the Food Hall the Merry Berry Truffles & Chocolates stall has bags of the lethal Scorpion Death Chilli Chocolate. If you still have taste buds to torture, in-between beer festival sessions, head over to the Maypole, a freehouse just 5 minutes away, holding a beer festival which includes Hand Drawn Monkey’s Siamango Chilli beer, a mango, lime and chilli IPA.

Turn down the volume

The three beers with the lowest ABV manage to be low in alcohol without being short of flavour – Weird Beard Dark Hopfler and Brentwood BBC 2 both at 2.5% ABV, and Three Blind Mice Table Liquor 2.8%.

And if that hasn’t convinced you to visit, there’s always the cheese stall

Hereford Hop

(See page 55 of the Beer Festival programme for some excellent suggestions for cheese and beer pairing)

Amendments to the programme

Potton Lion has been replaced by Village Bike.
Bartrams Chocolate Cherry Porter is named Black Forest Porter

The following beers will not be available:

  • Fellows – Gulping Fellow
  • Green Jack – Red Herring

15 years ago

The Foreign Beer Bar served it’s first draught beer – Leeuw Valkenburgs Wit – while Milton Brewery made it’s first appearance with beers including Pegasus, here again this year.

10 years ago

Moonshine Brewery made it’s second appearance, going on to win overall Beer of the Festival for the second consecutive year! 2005 saw the first appearance from Moor brewery, joint winner in 2013 with Old Freddy Walker, another two beers from them this year.

5 years ago

Brew dog’s Punk IPA was being served straight from the cask and weighed in at 6.2% ABV – it’s now 5.6% and is no longer available on cask – while Thornbridge Kipling and Jaipur were voted 1st & 3rd best beers overall.

Full British Beer List
Opening times

Queen Edith, Cambridge

The Queen Edith, the first new build pub in Cambridge in over 30 years, opened on Wulfstan Way on 24th April.

Queen Edith

This is the third pub in the city run by Milton Brewery, following their reopening of the Devonshire Arms in 2010, and the Haymakers in 2013. We visited on the opening weekend and there were five Milton beers on handpump, alongside three or four guests including B&T Edwin Taylor’s Extra Stout and Star Brewing Meteor. As with the other Milton pubs in the city, the excellent Moravka lager, brewed in the Peak District, is on keg. Likewise, the interior furnishings will be familiar to anybody who has set foot in their other pubs, especially in the snug bar with its dark wood, high-backed seats. The lounge is a larger, lighter room and features the main bar. We enjoyed a couple of pints of Milton’s Justinian in the snug and a good vegetarian nut loaf Sunday roast.

Queen Edith

The Queen Edith is built on what was the car park of the previous pub of that name that opened in December 1961, around the time the nearby Addenbrookes Hospital began admitting patients on its new site. Originally a Lacon house, the first licensees were Mr & Mrs Coop.

It closed 50 years later in December 2011; the last to run the pub was Paul St John-Campbell, who was there for over two years before he was made redundant. In any case, the previous year owners Punch Taverns had applied to have the pub demolished and replaced by 8 houses, arguing the pub was unviable. These plans were rejected but the pub was sold, and in the hands of developers Danescroft new plans were approved that allowed the pub to be demolished last year and the new pub built, alongside a block of 12 flats. It’s a nice building, the first new build pub in the city since the Ancient Druids in 1984 (closed in 1996 and now a Chinese restaurant) with a large catchment area and few other pubs nearby. Tantalisingly, Milton brewery said they see this as a potential template for the development of other redundant pub sites.

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 might soon open in Cambridge.

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