Now in it’s 38th year, the Cambridge Beer Festival, the UK’s longest running CAMRA beer fest, is in the 11th year at it’s current home on Jesus Green. From a choice of more than 200 real ales, over 80,000 pints are expected to be served.
In light of these impressive numbers, it seems fitting to start with a beer which may have made more appearances than any other, Batemans Dark Mild. By 1997 it was recorded as being ‘the only beer to have been available at all of the summer festivals‘ since 1974, and it has certainly appeared several times since, winning best Mild at least 4 times (and 3 times winner at the Great British Beer Festival). A decent mild with a buttery and lightly roasted flavour (roasted butter?), brewed less than 90 miles north of Cambridge.
Milton Brewery is the closest brewery to the festival, just over 2 miles away, and several of their fantastic ales are available, most notably Proteus, a 6.2% pale ale which may be one of their most recent brews, and Pegasus, the first beer they brewed when the brewery was founded in 1999.
Next a beer brewed 6 miles west of Cambridge in Dry Drayton, Lord Conrad’s Hedgerow hop. This is made with wild hops from nearby Swavesey. Local wild hops would once have been commonly used, so it’s an interesting step back in time to taste this, even if it’s not ‘hoppy’ in the way of say the ‘intense hop explosion’ of Kernel/Redemption No. 2, a new beer from a collaboration of two London Brewers.
One thing that puzzles me is why the brewery bars seem to get less trade. Often the bars serving Potbellly, Bartrams, Woodfordes and Elgoods have few punters while the rest of the bars are busy. Are drinkers suspicious of their more commercial looking prescence? They shouldn’t be; there are some cracking beers to be had from these breweries – in particular Potbelly Brewery Beijing Black and Crazy Daze (pictured) brewed 40 miles NW of Cambridge and Bartrams Egalitarian Stout, brewed 30 miles east – and the people serving know their own beers.
Paler, hoppier tasting beers seem to be most prevalent. The beer festival programme has a key for the beer types available. Of the 200+ beers only 1 is categorised as a Best Bitter, Winter’s Revenge from Norwich (confusingly Harveys Sussex Best Bitter is categorised as a Bitter not a Best Bitter) and only 2 as Strong Bitters (Premium Bitters were in the Bitter category). But that’s splitting hairs when the programme notes and the beer selection are so good overall.
Thornbridge Kipling, voted beer of the festival last year, is not here this year, but their Jaipur and Lord Marples are, and for me the latter beer is the better.
Attila the Hen 4.5% The beer is very pale, brewed using Pale Ale malt only. The hops used are English Fuggles, Progress and Goldings, and an American hop, Willamette. Brewed in memory of Brenda Law, a stalwart volunteer at this festival.
So here are the beers that made my top 6 this year:
1. Potbelly Beijing Black / Crazy Days – Two very different beers I just can’t choose between
2. Hopshackle Resination – An absolutely superb IPA. Pure class
3. Blue Monkey Ape Ale – A pale ale that doesn’t overdo the American hops
4. Northcote Jiggle Juice – Another fine IPA, deceptively drinkable for 5.8%
5. Hopshackle Historic Porter – A rich, mouthwatering porter
6. Peerless Red Rocks – Bloody lovely ruby ale
Cambridge Beer Festival previous winners