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

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18 responses to “The Grain Store, Cambridge

  1. When I first read about it I was sort of excited for another venue with good beers but then I learned it was run by Greene King so wasn’t convinced anymore. Seems to be OK, at least on the beer front (although I’d rather give my money to a local indie than GK).
    How do the prices compare to Pint Shop and the Blue Moon?
    Did you try the food?

    • Hi, as the Pilsner was free last night, I didn’t take note of the prices. I only ate one of the small portions of Macoroni Cheese that were being handed out so can’t really comment on the food offerings either – that’s something I’m sure you’ll do 😉

  2. looks interesting, although I do wonder how much freedom the management team will have. My guess is that it will fall into a semi-craft category with only the biggest ‘craft’ breweries being available….

  3. Interesting – I plan to pop in at some point in the next few days. Your timeline for the Regal doesn’t seem quite right – from memory that opened in 98 or 99.

    • Hi Bert, you’re right, my notes say the Regal opened in 2000, I’ve edited the post accordingly. Be interested to know what you think of the Grain Store when you’ve visited.

  4. A rather depressingly predictable line-up. The kind of stuff you’re pleasantly surprised to find in a bog standard pub, but not anything you’d particularly go out of your way to find. There are maybe 2-3 beers I would want to try there, so its worth a visit. Whether I go a second time would depend on the prices…

    Are they still going to show sports? Or does drinking nice beer mean we’re not allowed to watch sport? Can’t have too many good things at once, can we.

  5. Nice to see BrewDog Cambridge finally open. 🙂

    That seems to be the upside here, and the AB InBev Urquell tank-gimmick beer is actually rather decent stuff. So that is a welcome addition to beer in Cambridge.

    BUT! Putting GK keg dishwater next to BrewDog does not stop it from being accountant-driven dishwater. They need to step it up several notches. But like all the kraftified regionals they just don’t seem to have it in them. They’re a publicly traded company, and can’t ever really be “craft” as a result I suspect, i.e. their only guiding principles are profit and shareholder value.

    Also I see they seem to be continuing with the craftbeer=kegbeer nonsense. That alone is enough to have me despise their wretched shallow marketroid souls. I have to run around after their idiot sales reps re-educating publicans who’ve been told what’s what by their daft sales pitches. It is infuriating.

    Now, that said, I hope this McKraft “concept” works out… because it is a net positive for Cambridge beer. And despite my recognition of their deceit on the ‘craft beer’ front I’ll certainly pop in for a beer a couple of times a year.

    • OK, popped in briefly on Friday night. Nice looking place, very on-trend. Staff were good too, seemed well briefed on the beers.

      The Pilsner Urquell wasn’t in top form. Previous encounters at the White Horse (Parson’s Green) have shown it to be a very moreish, crisp, clean flavoured Pilsner beer with good body and mouthfeel. Delivering a bit more on body and hops than the normal PU. But that at the Grain Store was far less clean than previous – too much diac for me, and enough DMS to make it seem butter-popcorn in liquid form. Bad luck perhaps. It was drinkable anyway and several of us enjoyed a pint well enough.

      The Goose Island IPA was tasting old and malty. Not at a happy beer.

      The Double Hop Monster has improved, IMO, fresher and cleaner. But still a mere shadow of an equivalent good UK IPA making its name a joke. At least it didn’t taste _bad_. Then again a couple of other folk seemed to dislike something about it.

      The Vagabond gluten-free one from BrewDog tasted very… BrewDog. Interesting how identifiable that was actually. It was pleasant, if rather grassy in hop character. I’d be happy with a pint of it.

      The above being a combination of my own tasting of these beers plus a panel of beery folks including a couple of brewers. (We sort-of blind-tasted the 3 beers above.)

      Another plus is the 3-x-third “tasting pallet”. Would love to see these in more pubs. And £5 for three thirds of the keg selection seems decent enough to me. I hope we see other crafty Cambridge venues following suit. (I’m told by one the main difficulty is their till system not handling it. Hah.)

      • pintsandpubs

        I think this goes to show how subjective taste is and how sensitivity to certain flavours like Diacetyl/DMS varies. Since you mention your tasting panel included brewers, I also drank the Urquell with a local brewer at the pre-opening and we both found the butter/corn notes were at perfectly acceptable levels, there by design. I’ve been back 3 times over the past 4 days and had Urqell with several other people, all of whom really enjoyed it. The Goose Island IPA tasted fine to me, however I thought the Vagabond was metallic and undrinkable. I avoided the Hop Monster and will happily take your word for it that it’s improved since I last tried it! I’m told that will probably be the first of the keg beers to be replaced, but disappointingly it was suggested that the rest of the line up will generally stay the same. There was one change to the cask line up yesterday, one from Wolf on but I didn’t note which one or what it had replaced.

      • Sure, I agree taste is entirely subjective when it comes to deciding what you enjoy.

        There _are_ some objective elements to flavour analysis of course. And in beers like PU it generally seems to be considered acceptable for certain levels of both diac and DMS to be present.

        The important element of my comment is I’m comparing to previous experience with the same beer, not speaking of this as a standalone assessment of the beer. It exhibited significantly higher amounts of both diac & DMS than I’ve ever encountered in PU before – including tank PU which I have had on a few occasions before and remember well because I always note its relatively “clean” flavour. (I.e. low levels of both diac and DMS.)

        This indicates some fluctuatuon/inconsistency on the part of PU. Not a fault of Greene King or the Grain Store.

        I am not of course saying that the beer as served on the day at the Grain Store is _bad_ nor that folk should not enjoy it. That is subjective, as you say.

        The same goes for the Goose Island – a beer I have had before and whilst never really thought outstanding (I’ve only ever had it in the UK mind you) it has previously been “brighter” in flavour. That served at the Grain Store does taste distinctly elderly. But, as with the PU situation, that doesn’t mean folk won’t or shouldn’t enjoy it.

  6. The Pub is split in Two levels with Sports showing upstairs. The beer offering was very good and the tank Pilsner Urquell direct form Czech Republic was a novel change. The food, I can honestly say was excellent from the Mac Cheese topped with crispy onions to the 14 hour smoked Brisket Burger, not to mention the Pork Belly bites. A real winner for me.

  7. Sorry, I meant, SAB Miller Urquell 🙂 They all look the same to me. [Of course a beer should be judged independently of ownership, on technical grounds anyway… but a beer’s ownership and the global ethics of those who profit from it are a part of its story.]

  8. I went in there yesterday, though it was pretty good. Decent decor, good atmosphere.

    The Pilsner was great and the Brewdog stuff was pretty good value. Food was ~ok, and the waiting staff were clearly new.

  9. I wasn’t mad on the India Pale Weizen, but I could happily have drank the Brixton Porter all night, and at £4.20, it really wasn’t bad value.

  10. Pingback: What if... BrewDog & Greene King?

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