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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