Category Archives: Beer Festivals

Cambridge Winter Ale Festival 16

The 16th Cambridge Winter Ale Festival 19-21 January 2012

16th Cambridge Winter Ale Fest

From around 100 real ales, there are two previous winners of the Beer of the Festival – Hopshackle Historic Porter and Milton Marcus Aurelius – and there are beers from the five Cambridgeshire breweries, all brewing within 10 miles of the festival:

Blackbar – Cambridgeshire’s newest brewery, established in 2011, got it’s first beer out just in time for the fest. Based in Harston, about 5 miles south of Cambridge.
Cambridge Moonshine – three times winner of the Cambridge Beer Festival. Established in 2004 and now based about 5 miles SE of Cambridge.
Fellows – established in 2009 in Cottenham, about 7 miles north of Cambridge
Lord Conrads – established in 2007 and now based in Dry Drayton, about 6 miles west of Cambridge.
Milton – as mentioned, Beer of the Fest winner in 2007 with Marcus Aurelius which makes another appearance this year, and winner in 2002 and 2001 with Caligula and Colossus. Founded in 1999 and the closest brewery to the Winter Ale fest, based 4 miles NE of Cambridge.

16th Cambridge Winter Ale Fest

This year there are three draught foreign beers for the first time at the Winter Ale Fest – De Molen Geboren & Getogen was put on Friday evening, and will be followed by two beers from the fantastic Rogue brewery based about 5,000 miles from Cambridge – Chatoe OREgasmic 7.0% American pale ale and Dad’s Little Helper 6.8% Black IPA.

There are also several real ciders, including the aptly named:
Filthy Tramp Juice

The fest is held at the University Social Club, Mill Lane, next to the Mill Pond.

Mill Pond, Cambridge

Previous winners of the beer of the festival


Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival

The Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival is the revival of a custom that may date back prior to 1859. In 1882 it was recorded that on the day following Plough Monday

The custom on Straw Bear Tuesday was for one of the confraternity of the Plough to dress up with straw one of their number as a bear and call him the Straw Bear. He was then taken round the village to entertain by his frantic and clumsy gestures the good folk who had on the previous day subscribed to the rustics’ spread of beer, tobacco and beef at which the bear presided. (Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore, Enid Porter)

Straw Bear

The custom died out soon after 1909 but was revived in 1980. The day begins with a procession of Morris and Molly dancers following the bear to the Market Place. After this, dancing and folk music breaks out across most of the 10 or so pubs throughout the day while a smaller procession keeps up with the bear.

Straw Bear Beer

3 Special beers are brewed for the occasion:
Elgoods Straw Beer – a pleasant enough 4% bitter with a taste of honey, Oakham Straw Bear – a crisp, hoppy 4.4% pale ale and, best of all I think, Tydd Steam Beartown – a 4.5% best bitter that’s a slightly richer, maltier beer with a bit of warming orange that offers some protection from the fenland frost.

The Letter B

Letter 'B'

There are several good pubs in Whittlesey, most of which have a beer festival on the day. Among them is the Letter B, the 2012 Peterborough CAMRA Pub of the Year, a fantastic boozer with the best range of beers including Digfield Mad Monk, a premium bitter that was a welcome winter warmer, and a special from Oakham to mark the best pub award.

Hero of Aliwal

Hero of Aliwal

Just down the road is the Hero of Aliwal, a free house that perhaps had the least exiting beer festival (3 of the casks were Greene King) but did have the new Oakham Preacher, a bit sweeter than their usual beers but otherwise a nice typical hoppy Oakham.


Boat, Whittlesey

Across the Briggate River/Kings Dyke is the Boat Inn, a pub since at least 1839, its believed part of the building may be 11th century, the exposed brickwork at the back certainly looks much older. At the rear is a patio beer garden and an area for Petanque. The straw Bear appeared and danced there for a while,


Then we followed the procession to the Falcon, an early 18th century inn which also had a beer fest outside at the back.

Falcon, Whittlesey

George Hotel

The procession ends at the Market Square outside the George Hotel, late 18th century, superbly renovated and reopened in 2010 as a Wetherspoons pub. It was sad to see such a prominent building boarded up in previous years so is good to have it open again these past couple of years. As well as the Elgoods and Oakham festival beers, Grainstore Cooking and Batemans XXXB were on.

George Hotel, Whittlesey

Hubs Place

Also on Market Square is Hubs Place, a bar with a beer festival in the courtyard at the back with beers from Elgoods, Everards, Oakham and Woodfordes.

Hubs Place, Whittlesey

Black Bull

Further along the Market Street stands the Black Bull, a 17th century inn with low beamed ceilings, a pub always packed during the Straw Bear fest, and north of that is the late 18th century New Crown, a thatched pub that’s a gathering place for the music and dancing. Elgoods Straw Beer was on at both.

Black Bull, whittlesey

Bricklayers Arms

We ended up at the Bricklayers Arms drinking a Tydd Steam Cunning Linctus when Old Glory, the most menacing and solemn of the Molly troupes, barged into the pub and roughly caroused around. There’s something about Old Glory that seems to capture the essence of Straw Bear Festival, harking back to a time when agricultural workers used dancing as a means to get money during the lean, hard winter months, and whose dancing I imagine would have been rougher than the ribbons and hankies of the morris dancers seen nowadays.

The Bricklayers Arms, Whittlesey

Map from Straw Bear website:

Straw Bear map

There is a Straw Bear pub built in 1975 and named by residents a few years before the revival. I’ve yet to visit that, the Ram Inn or the Railway Inn…

Railway, Whittlesey

Kingston Arms 21st Beer Fest

To coincide with the annual Mill Road Winter Fair in December, the Kingston Arms held their 21st beer festival of the last 30 months! Impressive stuff, and as always a nice choice of extra beers to compliment the 10 hand pumps at the bar. The list included beers from Buntingford and Blue Monkey, both previous Best of the Fest winning breweries.

Kingston Beer Fest December 2011

Unlike the beer, I was not on top form, winter sniffles and all, but I did pop in for a pint, and what a pint! Buntingford ‘Donner and Blitzen’ is a new beer, one of their four beers of Christmas.

Donner & Blitzen then is a black beer full of hops – in fact, it is Polar Star but with dark malts in the recipe. Call it a Black IPA if you must, but if you get a slap from a mildly festive pixie as a result, it serves you right.

Well, I’ll stick with calling this a hoppy black ale then and will only add that it was absolutely delicious and in great condition, the balance of hops with dark malts was spot on, and at 4.4.% it’s a very quaffable beer. Cheers!

Buntingford Donner and Blitzen

Bury Beerhouse

The Beerhouse, Bury St Edmunds held their first Winter Beer Fest this weekend so, after visiting the town’s Christmas Market, we headed over for some beer.

Red Fox Ruby Red Mild

Formerly the Ipswich Arms, this ‘semi-circular, brick-built Victorian building’ near the station has been a pub since 1857 according to Suffolk CAMRA. In 2010 it was refurbished and reopened as the Beerhouse.

Bury Beerhouse

The festival had around 50 ales on in the marquee and about 7 at the bar. These included some of their own beer, brewed onsite at the Brewshed. I started with the much anticipated Red Fox Ruby Red Mild 6.9% (pictured). I really enjoyed it, it had low carbonation and was smooth, rich and ruddy. Remarkably for a beer of that strength, it didn’t taste boozy and was very drinkable. The Beerhouse were right to suggest this could have been the best beer of the fest.

Brewshed Rioja PorterHowever, they were either being modest or had yet to taste their own latest brew, an oak aged Rioja Porter 4.7%. This was the outstanding beer of the ones I tried. The beer has been ‘matured in a 225 litre Rioja oak cask’ which gave it a delicate hint of vanilla and strawberry, but not too much as to overpower the rich roasted notes of the porter. There were also bottles of this available from the bar so I bought one for later consumption…

I tried another porter, the Grain Brewery Porter in Wood but prefered their original version of this porter. Sticking with dark beers I tried the Red Fox Sloe Stout, and though I couldn’t really taste much sloe, it had a nice ginger spiced taste. I also had a taster of the St Judes Negro Mortis, a strong ale of 14% that would be a good pairing with Christmas pudding but too fierce for an afternoon session! Finally I tried on cask one of my favourite bottled beers, St Peters Ruby Red. A really juicy red ale with cascade hops prominent. Condition wasn’t quite as good as from the bottle but nevertheless an enjoyable beer.

A great choice of beers, a good mix of people and friendly bar staff. We even got a free festival glass on showing our train ticket; it’s only 40 minutes from Cambridge by train so this is a pub I’ll hope to visit again soon…

Bury Beerhouse Winter beer fest list

Cambridge Octoberfest

This was only the 5th Cambridge CAMRA Octoberfest apparently, but it already feels like a fixture in Cambridge’s beer calendar and it was getting packed early on the opening night.

Cambridge October Fest 2011

There was draft beer from the Big Six Munich breweries. I started with the Augustiner Oktoberfestbier 6.1%, quite sweet tasting with an oily texture, and although I prefer real ales it was the most refreshing beer I had on the opening evening, nicely chilled making the ales that followed seem a bit on the warm side. Nevertheless, the session strength Buntingford Engine was the most quaffable of the ales, a 3.9% ‘Copper coloured malty beer, slightly sweet, low on hops… used a tweaked mash process to brew it’ according to the brewer. I tried Hopshackle Resination, a highlight of previous beer fests, but again it seemed a bit warm and not quite as satisfying as I remember. Son of Sid Back to Black is a decent 5.3% porter though, from the brewers of the cracking Muckcart Mild, based about 15 miles west of Cambridge.

5th Cambridge October Beer Fest

By this point the place was heaving – maybe the Octoberfest is already outgrowing this venue? It would be nice to have more seating and more room to move, but then again it’s near the centre of town and hot food is available at the downstairs bar (importantly, chips).

Cambridge October Beer Fest

Saturday afternoon was a more relaxed affair, less crowded and I enjoyed the beers more, particularly the Hopshackle Smoked Porter and the Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel 7.1%, one of the best German Beers I’ve tried.

Green Man, Grantchester Beer Festival

The Green Man, Grantchester is holding it’s second beer festival this weekend with a superb beer selection covering a wide range of strengths and styles. Pictured below, a couple of IPAs – Rebellion IPA 3.7%, more of a copper coloured bitter than an IPA, and the fantastic Summer Wine Diablo IPA 6% which delivers bags of hops with a bitter finish – and a fruity mild from the Leeds Brewery, Midnight Bell 4.8%. I returned for some of the Buntingford oatmeal stout and also really enjoyed the fine Teleporter from Summer Wine.

Green Man Beer Fest, Grantchester

Over 50 festival beers and with a beer garden leading to the meadows, perfect for this unexpected heatwave.

Green Man, Grantchester beer list

On Sunday the astonishingly good Have You Heard played Pat Metheny inspired jazz in the marquee.

Have You Heard

Old Riverview Inn, Earith Beer Festival

…and the closed pubs of Earith

UPDATE: The Riverview and Crown closed for a short period on 18th Feb 2012 (Notice to customers) but apparently the Riverview reopened on 24th Feb under new ownership.

The Old Riverview Inn, Earith is a 19th century coaching inn on the High Street with a beer garden on the banks of the river Great Ouse. Earith is about 12 miles north of Cambridge by road, just over 20 miles by river.

Riverview Hotel, Earith

The Riverview held a beer festival from 23rd to 25th September. We visited at noon on the Sunday (too early for the conker championship held later that day) and all 15 beers were on. We only tried a few halves but wished we could have stayed for more (should have brought a tent), the Wychwood Bountiful and Ilkley Stout Mary particularly good. It’s a very welcoming place and there’s a lot to recommend this pub – great beer from the cask, a riverside view (we even saw a seal pop it’s head up) and friendly staff.

Earith Conker Championship
Earith Beer Fest
Earith Beer Fest

The Crown:
There is one other pub in Earith, the Crown, sister pub to the Riverview Inn and just a few footsteps along the High Street or a few boat lengths upstream; there is a toy duck race on the stretch of river between the 2 pubs held on the last Sunday in July.

Crown, Earith

Closed pubs:
Several other pubs used to exist in Earith including the George and Dragon, a 17th century inn. Part of the building, which may date to the 1620s, still exists as George House, a listed building with original wooden panneling inside, now a private dwelling.

George and Dragon, Earith George and Dragon, Earith (2011)

The other part of the George and Dragon (also known as the George Inn) was demolished in the 1960s to widen the road at the corner of Colne Road; the village sign now marks the spot.

George and Dragon, Earith George and Dragon, Earith

Next door stands the Old Brewhouse from the late 1700s.

Old Brewhouse, Earith

Other closed Earith pubs include:

  • Anchor – near River and Colne Road (and chapel pond?)
  • Angel – High St, east end. Existed from at least mid 18th to early 19th century
  • Boat – west of the Angel on the High St, a thatched pub that appears to have burnt down in 1955
  • Black Bull – demolished 1934
  • Cock – existed in early 1800s
  • Dog and Gun – West End, High St, still existed in 1916
  • Game keeper Inn – existed in 19th century
  • George and Dragon – 77a High St (see above)
  • Hardwick Arms – Hermitage Lock. Demolished, formerly stood on the opposite side of the lock to the lock keeper’s cottage
  • Red Lion – High St, near to George and Dragon (on opposite side, near New Lode?), outbuildings included Blacksmith’s shop
  • Wheatsheaf – shown on back lane of Chapel Lane (now Chapel Rd) on 1888 map
  • Windmill – possibly Chapel Road area near where a windmill once stood.
  • There was also another brewery and malthouse near Kingfisher Lodge and what is now West End Marina. They were disused by the beginning of the 20th century and no longer exist.

    Peterborough Beer Festival 2011

    34th Peterborough Beer Festival

    This was my first visit to the Peterborough Beer Fest and it was prompted by seeing the beer list beforehand. There are ‘over 350’ real ales available, but one in particular stood out for me – Tintagel Brewery Harbour Special. I first tried this in the King Arthur’s Arms in Tintagel earlier this year and was bowled over by it. So much, that even though I’ve saved a bottle of it, I was willing to do a near 4 hour round trip on Wednesday evening to try it again on draught! It didn’t disappoint, one of the finest strong bitters I’ve had the pleasure of trying. The Castle Gold was in lovely condition too, so the evening got off to a great start…

    Tintagel Harbour SpecialTintagel Harbour Special

    I really enjoyed the festival, a great atmosphere and friendly volunteer bar staff, even the weather was fine. The beer was superb, probably the best selection I’ve ever seen. I thought the Digfield Ales Mad Monk and Fools Knook, and the Hopshackle Texas IPA were also excellent beers. Of course, I had to go back for more Tintagel before I left though.

    Peterborough Beer Festival 2011

    I don’t know if the site could be better arranged to make the outdoor seating all in one large space, rather than spread out around the sides, but I think they did well to keep the music and funfair out of the way at the back. All in all a great way to spend an evening casting long, late summer shadows.

    Peterborough Beer Festival 2011

    The train home should have been simple enough. Except I slept until the train pulled away from my stop and I found myself on the quiet station of Audley End at night waiting for a train back. Then I lost my ticket. I suspect the beers may have had some part to play in these events.

    Kingston Arms 17th Beer Fest

    After the bustle of the Great British Beer Festival, it was nice to enjoy a more relaxing one in the garden of the Kingston Arms, albeit only for 3 swift halves. There are usually at least 5 festival beers on at their regular festivals and around 10 others always on at the bar. This time the golden Skinners Cornish Knocker straight from the cask was as good a beer as you could choose on a sunny summer afternoon and indeed it was voted best of the fest. Here it is below with Phipps IPA from the Grainstore Brewery (Rutland) and West Coast Brewing California (from Conwy Brewery, Wales). I was sure I’d remember which was which but…

    Kingston Arms 17th Beer Fest

    Kingston Arms Beer Fest Dates

    Great British Beer Festival 2011

    This was my first experience of the Great British Beer Festival.

    GBBF 2011The experience started several days in advance as I began by perusing the programme so I could narrow down the choice of over 700 beers. This was the easy bit. Finding the beers inside the venue would seem to be the challenge. The bars are arranged, not according to brewery name, but by county of origin. So if I want a pint of, for example, Arkell’s 3B, I won’t be able to use the alphabet as my guide. I’ll need to know it’s brewed in Wiltshire. So beers brewed in Wiltshire will be served at the bar named Fleming, because that’s where beers brewed in the counties beginning with W will be found. Got that? So if you want to drink a beer that happens to be brewed in Warwickshire, you’ll find it at..? No, not Fleming. Pay attention. It’ll be found at the Lister bar, where beers brewed in counties T-W are served. And so on…

    Once at the venue, it turns out not to matter much; the bars are scattered about, never more than a few strides away, and with many beers already gone, planning was unecessary. But we’re here to drink good beer and there’s plenty of it…

    Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale AleMy most wanted beer was Deschutes Mirror Pond at the USA bar. I had this and other of their beers in Portland last year and its appearance in the programme was primarily why I bought a ticket to the festival this year. I arrived at 12:30 on Thursday and the cask had run dry but there, in the fridge, was the last bottle of Mirror Pond. It’s now in my fridge. I’m saving it for a special occasion. Like the next rapture or something.

    For me, the USA bar had the most exiting beers. The Fort George Cavatica Stout was like Robert Frost’s woods – lovely, dark and deep. It was also Popeye strong; just lifting the glass was like arm wrestling. This is the beer I want on Christmas day, instead of Christmas pudding. The Sierra Nevada Torpedo detonates on contact with taste buds; a dry hopped citrus explosion in a pine forest.

    Talking of all things tree, Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde was judged to be the Champion Beer of Britain. There was a long queue for the beer, so the award clearly influences people’s choice. I’m glad to see a mild take the award, especially in the face of competition from ever increasing numbers of pale, hoppy beers. It was a refreshing drink that bought a bit of sanity back to the taste buds, but it lacked that frisson of the USA beers.


    You'll need to move fast to catch the USA beers

    I tasted and supped several other beers and took home some bottles of Deschutes Cascade and Left Hand Sawtooth, an ESB style ale there should be more of in England. Next year, I’d like to see:

    • MORE SEATING! – I spoke to a group of pensioners who were taking it in turns to rest their legs with the one seat they could find!
    • No music – I love watching live music with a beer in my hand, but I’m here primarily to drink and have conversations. This wasn’t improved by the dull, echoey thuds coming from the arse end of the stage. If you insist on music, may as well turn the stage to face everyone otherwise most of the venue just gets a muffled din.
    • Greater quantity of USA beers – People travel a long way, at considerable cost, to attend the festival. It sucks when by Thursday the most exiting beers have already run dry.
    • Alphabetical order – Look, I tried to play along. I know Grainstore Brewery is in the county of Rutland. I went to the bar for counties beginning with R. But you’d already thought of that. And stuck it with the letter L. For Leicestershire and Rutland. You got me there.

    I’m going to end on a less exacting note and praise the organisers and volunteers who manage to somehow get 700 different beers to several thousand customers and still have time to impart helpful advice and suggestions. Overall, its a great festival and I look forward to next year…