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Category Archives: Cambridge Beer Festival
On Thursday evening the Museum of Cambridge, located in a 16th century building that was the White Horse Inn for around 300 years until it closed in 1934, opened its doors as a pub again for one night, serving beer from the premises for the first time in eighty years. The event, a collaboration between Cambridge CAMRA and the Museum of Cambridge as part of Community Pubs Month and Museums at Night, featured guided tours of the museum, including the original bar and snug, a walking tour of the area’s past and present pubs, along with folk musicians and the Cambridge Morris Men helping to recreate the atmosphere from its days as the White Horse Inn. Although there were incidences of gambling and rabies recorded here in the late 1800s, we decided against reintroducing them.
Having spent the past few months deep in research, along with co-researcher Steve Linley, we each gave guided tours that highlighted the history of over thirty pubs and a handful of breweries that have existed in an area of about half a square mile – of those, only four pubs remain open.
There were also two beers, from local breweries BlackBar and Moonshine, served from the cask at the event. The ‘Museum Old Ale’ from BlackBar was inspired by a Porter recipe from the Cambridge University archives that came from a “handwritten recipe used by the landlord of the Chequers Inn, Wilburton (1850-65)”, presumably John Fitch, landlord from the mid to late 1800s. I use the term ‘inspired’ because it would have been tricky to recreate a recipe that included “half a bushel of patent malt. Boil your patent in the copper for 36 hours”. Museum Old Ale 4.8%, using one third brown malt, two thirds pale malt, lightly hopped with Fuggles and Boadicea, has an enticing bready malt aroma and caramel flavours. It will be available again at Cambridge Beer Festival this week. Moonshine provided a beer inspired by an Old British Beer recipe from the Durden Park Beer Circle. The beer, an Imperial Stout called ‘Transforming Tomorrow’, was brewed back in 2008 and has spent the last six years ageing in an oak pin that previously contained sherry. It has developed into a strong, vinous brew, with some sherry sweeteness, rich plummy fruits, and oaky vanilla flavours.
Beers like those sell out quickly, and a dash was made to a nearby pub for more supplies – it ended up being acquired from one of the few remaining pubs on our guided tour, the Pickerel, one of the oldest pubs in Cambridge.
We have a display at the Cambridge Beer Festival this week that highlights some of the research about each of the pubs that have existed in the Castle End area of Cambridge, including a wonderful illustration by Jon Harris. We’d be delighted to hear from anybody who has memories of any of the fomer pubs – the Bentinck Arms, Wheatsheaf, Merton Arms and Cow & Calf have all closed within the last fifty years.
Today, during the 40th Cambridge Beer Festival, I served a man who told me he was at the very first one, back in 1974 when it was held at the Corn Exchange.
What was it like back then, I asked.
“It was the start of something bloody brilliant”
“They ran out of beer and my mate had to drive a truck to Young’s brewery in London to bring some back. He can’t drive a truck anymore. He couldnt drive one then”
He talked about some pubs in the area at that time.
“Pubs didn’t have the pipe cleaning equipment they have now. They had a little sponge they’d shove in the pipe and then force it through with cold water. Sometimes, not reading the instructions, they’d put pipe cleaning fluid in the pipes and leave it overnight – it was supposed to be washed out after an hour”
“There wasn’t much choice of beers. It was keg Double Diamond or Watney, or some terrible local homebrewed ales. If you walked into a pub that had Greene King beers, you thought you’d reached the promised land”
Cellarmanship was apparently lacking at a local football club bar.
“Keg beer was indestructible back then. At the end of the football season, they knew how to look after the grass, but the beer was just left there until the next season started. They had lovely grass…”
The infamous Watneys Red Barrel was referred to.
“Well, Watneys Red Barrel was weak. You could drown in it and never get drunk.”
“The winter of 1963 was a harsh one, but although the water in the taps was still running, the landlord’s barrel of Watneys froze and all that came out was a bit of alcohol because there weren’t much of that”
As he walked off, pint in hand, he turned and said “I’ll be coming back here to the next forty Cambridge Beer Festivals”. I’ll drink to that.
Cambridge Beer Festival is this week celebrating its 40th year. Way back in August 1974 when everybody else was Kung Fu Fighting, Cambridge CAMRA was serving up beers from breweries such as Hoskins, Rayments, Ridleys and Tolly, while local pubs the Ancient Druids, Bun Shop and Cambridge Arms featured in the Good Beer Guide. None of those breweries and pubs have survived, but the beer festival still has plenty of life left in it, as evidenced by last year’s record breaker, when over forty-one thousand visitors enjoyed the sun-baked sessions. Beers have arrived here this year from as far away as the American West Coast, and as nearby as Cambridge’s own Brewhouse, less than half a mile away on King Street. And if the thought of over 200 different beers, over 60 ciders and perries, plus meads and wine doesn’t whet the appetite, there’s always the cheese counter.
Cambridge Beer Festival runs weekdays from 12pm-3pm and 5pm-10:30pm, and Saturday 12pm-10:30pm
Volunteers are always much appreciated (and rewarded with beer tokens, free food and a T-shirt!), particularly for this Thursday evening.
The 39th Cambridge Beer Festival was the biggest yet with over forty-one thousand visitors. It was probably the hottest and sunniest too, an absolute smasher.
Brentwood BBC2 was voted Beer of the Festival, especially impressive for a beer of only 2.5% ABV, packing an orangey citrus punch well above its weight. It proved to be the perfect drink for long days in the sun and at only £2.20 a pint, nice they passed on to the customer the savings from lower rates of beer duty.
Liverpool Organic Kitty Wilkinson took second place, a sweet stout with plenty of chocolatey goodness and a pleasingly subtle use of vanilla.
The beers I most enjoyed were:
Blackbar Märzen – A preview of the beer brewed for the Octoberfest later this year and already tasting wonderful – full bodied and golden with a caramel sweetness, an intriguing beer from a brewery that only began this year.
Ole Slewfoot Citraville IPA – Earlier in the week this beer hadn’t particularly stood out, but come Saturday and from another cask, it really came into its own – a mouthful of fresh grapefruit and lemon flavours that slipped down easily – couldn’t serve this beer quick enough to thirsty drinkers.
Stringers Hop Priest – Enjoyed at the Ely Beer Fest earlier this year, it took a few days to come on but was worth the wait – a powerfully hoppy brew, hazy and resinous, that drew me back to the bar several times.
I tried Stringers Mutiny, a rich double stout, and for a moment it was December in front of a log fire, snow outside – but it was 30 degrees in the marquee so I think I’ll have to come back to it in the winter to really appreciate it. I was happier with something hoppier – golden, hoppy beers like Dancing Duck Abduction and Whim Flower Power were well suited to the sunny weather.
By the weekend there was a fresh supply of beer from Great Oakley, Humpty Dumpty, Nethergate, Old Cannon, White Horse and more from Milton whose Karolides was the sweetest thing this side of the mead bar, a wonderful beer.
And then there was the cheese…
Days before the festival opened, I’d helped out with the setting up…
The message on this cask really brought a smile to my face:
Cambridge Beer Festival is here and the city swells with beer. And cheese.
There are over 200 British beers and many more from around the world. Noteworthy brews include:
– 5 beers from Cambridge’s newest brewery, Blackbar, including a taster of the Märzen brewed for the Octoberfest later this year. The beer arrived on a punt from Grantchester.
– First appearance at the Cambridge Beer Festival for several other breweries, including:
Art Brew, BrewShed, Colchester, Hop Monster, Jo C’s, Magic Rock, Ole Slewfoot, Stringers, Summerwine, Two Towers, Wilson Potter and XT.
– As this is the 39th Cambridge Beer Festival, and the theme is the novel ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ and three films based on it, there are some festival specials – Buntingford Black Stone, Castor Ales John Buchan Bitter, Hereward Hannay, Milton Karolides, Son of Sid Codebreaker and Bartrams have brewed a 3.9% ABV beer called Steps.
– A previous ‘Beer of the Festival’ makes another appearance – Moonshine Red Watch, a winner in 2005.
– The Foreign Beer bar will have three draught beers from the USA – two from Oregon’s Rogue brewery and one from Flying Dog based in Maryland. Earlier this month, Maryland held its first Cambridge Beer Festival, also serving Flying Dog.
– Jubilee beers from Backyard Brewhouse, Bartrams, Batemans, Bullmastiff – ooh, the alliteration – Lord Conrad’s and Shalford. Elgoods have renamed Pageant Ale ‘Royal Pageant’ and there’s a Diamond Jubilee cider from Tutts Clump. The Bullmastiff Jubilee apparently celebrates the brewery’s 25 years of brewing (or ‘175 doggy years’)
– Olympic beers – Elgoods Cockerless Four and Potbelly A Limp Pig Gold.
– The festival is this year supporting Wallace Cancer Care – Moonshine has brewed Wonderful Wallace, proceeds go to the charity.
– Castor Roman Gold was the first beer to sell out at the recent Bury St Edmunds beer festival.
– Like Beer? Like Cheese? There’s beery cheese: Cheddar with Ale, Cheddar with Porter, Hereford Hop, a ‘mellow sweet cheese covered with hops’ and Y-Fenni, a ‘mature cheddar cheese blended with whole-grain mustard and Welsh brown ale’.
– The strongest of the British beers was going to be 12% ABV Baz’s Bonce Blower by Parish Brewery from Melton Mowbray, which would have been fitting because Barrie Parish brewed what was once the world’s strongest beer, 23% ABV Baz’s Super Brew. However, at the time of writing it hadn’t arrived so it’s Stringers Mutiny, a 9.3% stout which the programme describes as ‘…drinkable. But sip it.’
– At the other end of the scale are two beers under 3% ABV, both from Essex: Felstar 2%, a dark ale and Brentwood BBC2, a 2.5% pale ale.
– The Mead includes 22% ABV Sussex Boar Hunter Mead Liqueur ‘infused with warming spices’.
– The Moonshine Dictator from this cask must be a beast of a beer:
Tuesday-Friday 12—3pm / 5—10:30pm
At the time of writing, no beers had arrived from Fat Cat or Parish. Black Sheep Bitter replaces Black Sheep Ale. Beartown Bruins Ruin replaces Brown Bear.
Previous Beer of the Festival winners
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
The 15th Cambridge Winter Ale Festival
Before I even made it to the bar, I’d highlighted four beers to try first. Three of them weighed in at 7%, so I started with something a bit weaker… a Thornbridge Raven at a mere 6.6%. I had high expectations, as Thornbridge brew some cracking beers, but this black IPA didn’t quite do it for me. It could be the Nelson Sauvin hop punch that just felt out of place, like someone had poured Brewdog’s 5am Saint into a perfectly good chocolate malt beer and ruined it.
So, quickly back to the bar for a Buntingford Imperial Baltic Stout. It’s a good, solid stout with just a hint of blackcurrant in the finish, a very pleasant drink that reset my tastebuds after the sourness of the Raven. It’s worth mentioning that Buntingford Twitchell was on at the regular bar downstairs. I’m hoping Buntingford’s Imperial Pale Ale is on when I next visit…
I followed this with Bartrams Comrade Santa Bartrams HoHoHo Egalitarian Anti Imperialist Soviet Stout. According to the bar staff, this is exactly the same as the usual Comrade Bill, just renamed for Christmas. In any case it’s a great stout with a nice peppery taste sprinkled over the roasted malts, really far too drinkable for a 7% beer – to quote from Richard Boston’s Beer and Skittles:
“…beer is a long drink, and you don’t want something that will put you to sleep after two pints. It should take at least four.”
Last of the evening was Hopshackle Resination, one of my favourites from last year’s winter fest. I’m repeating myself when I say it is of course ‘resinous’ and powerfully but tastefully hopped. A really fine ale and one of my top 5 beers of 2010.
heavily hopped with Bramling Cross, Amarillo, Liberty & Centennial hops, this is a beer for hop fans
I expected that to be the beer of the festival, but I was so surprised and impressed by the 3.7% Castor Roman Gold that it has to be my beer of the fest. There were stronger, much stonger beers – the 10% Elvedon Arctic Ale, although I only had a taster, I can easily imagine as a rich ‘special occasion’ beer, that occasion being anytime from November through March – but the Castor Roman Gold was a Jack Russell of a beer, the kind that snarls at stronger beers and wins your attention. Despite the array of beers available, I returned from the bar with this three times. On my 4th visit, the barrell ran out one glass before mine! I only wish I’d tried the other Castor beers.
Here’s a list of previous Winter Ale festival winners
And here’s this years beer list:
The 37th Cambridge Beer Festival
This is what it’s all about. Great beer, a relaxed atmosphere and a cheese counter. The first afternoon session of the Cambridge Beer Festival had it all. Yes, even blue skies and blazing summer sun.
This is the 10th year it’s been held on the grass of Jesus Green. The area is surrounded by trees, although there’s not much shade from the sun. Did I mention the sun?
So, to the beer. Red Squirrel White Mountain American IPA 5.4% was pick of festival for me (It was voted beer of the festival at Letchworth Beer Festival 2009). A golden coloured ale bursting with the flavour of Cascade hops and with a bitter finish. I kept returning for this despite the choice of other beers, and over the week it became a firm favourite.
Hopshackle Double Momentum 7% was another fantastic hoppy brew. I’ve recently developed a taste for slightly stronger beers than I’ve tended to drink previously, inspired by a recent trip to Oregon, drinking wonderful beer from the Deschutes and Rogue breweries.
Nothing however could prepare me for the Harviestoun Old Engine Oil which finally became available on Friday afternoon. At just under 10% it’s an extra strong version of this thick black brew, and definitely one to sip at (I grabbed a pint of their Bitter and Twisted to quaff alongside it). I can’t begin to describe the complex flavours, but on a sunny summer afternoon it managed to give me flashbacks to a winter’s evening sat snug by a woodfire as the snow fell outside. Or did I just pass out?
Predictably, Brewdog Punk IPA was also fantastic. Having tried the bottled version I had high expectations and found it was even better, and slightly stronger.
Orkney Red MacGregor was the best beer on the busy Thursday evening. So busy that over the loudspeaker it was announced that 600+ CAMRA members were in attendance and they needed some volunteers behind the bar. 10 minutes later they announced that the response had been overwhelming – 1 person volunteered! So I offered my assistance and was suddenly in at the deep end, pouring pints for hunderds of thirsty customers.
I learnt that when it’s busy, it’s much harder to know who’s next in line than i’d appreciated. There are a bunch of unfamiliar faces in front of you. You serve someone and there’s another bunch in front of you. Some people are kind enough to point you to the next person in line, which I always try to do myself – whoever’s waited longest deserves to be served next. But then you turn around and can’t even remember who kindly gave up there chance. So there kindness goes unrewarded. I need a photographic memory but don’t have much of a short-term memory at all.
Where was I? Oh yes…
You may have noticed some cows grazing on nearby Midsummer Common. Jesus Green was part of the common until it was separated by Victoria Avenue 120 years ago. The cows on the common are Red Poll, a breed derived from the original cattle of Norfolk and Suffolk. The Nethergate brewery in Suffolk brews a Red Poll beer in celebration of them.
Here is a PDF of the provisional beer list with tasting notes. Some beers didn’t make it – what happened to the Fat Cat brewery?
36th Cambridge Beer Festival 2009
According to the Cambridge Camra Branch Newsletter (ale 340),
the 2009 Cambridge Beer Festival Beers of the Festival are:
The beer I enjoyed most at this 36th Cambridge Beer Festival was a zesty Woodfordes Wherry.
I’m surprised at the winner of the best name, even considering the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University, better names included Drunk by Degree, Summathat, Spooky Moon, Lost in the Woods, Mad Monk, Yogi Beer, Whapweasel, Mutts Nuts, Wruff Night and Old Stoatwobbler.
I didn’t get around to trying any foreign beers, but will look out for a ‘well blended Gueuze such as Cantillion or Drie Fonteinen’ , described in the festival programme as ‘probably one of the most complex, beautiful drinks in the world’.
Below is Stonehenge Ales Sign Of Spring, a seasonal beer from Wiltshire.
It doesn’t taste as green as it looks but this premium bitter raised a smile.
The above information is not necessarily correct!
More information can be found at Cambridge and District CAMRA
Here is a review of the 2010 Cambridge Beer Festival