Category Archives: Cambridgeshire

Cambridgeshire Breweries – BrewBoard

BrewBoard

Twenty years ago, the South Cambridgeshire Village of Harston had four pubs – the Old English Gentleman, Pemberton Arms, Three Horseshoes, and Queen’s Head. Only the latter remains open, and even that is now primarily a Thai restaurant, typical of the decline of Cambridgeshire village pubs, despite the increasing local populations. In contrast the 1997 Good Beer Guide lists just one independent brewery in Cambridgeshire, Elgoods, but twenty years on another twenty are listed alongside it. So far as I know, two of those have since closed – TinShed in Kimbolton ceased brewing earlier this year, and BlackBar at the end of last year – but another is soon to launch.

BrewBoard Ripchord

On the site of the former BlackBar Brewery in Harston, an 18 barrel plant has been gearing up for its official launch next month, with small batches of their brews appearing at a series of tap nights over the past few months. I’ve only tried two of the beers that will form their core range, ‘Ripchord’ session pale and ‘Lakota’ American pale, but they are already assured and impressive in a way they have no right to be, considering the first brew on the new kit only happened at the end of June.

BrewBoard

But then, there is a prologue to all this. Almost two years ago, a beer festival at the Plough in Shepreth, hosted by owner Nick Davis, had amongst the beers a handful from an unfamiliar brewery with distinctive branding, Dragon Forge. After a particularly satisfying saison, I enquired about the brewery, and it turned out to be one of Nick’s friends, at that time operating out of the Old Forge in Audley End. I heard nothing more about Dragon Forge, but fast forward two years and the brewer has reappeared as BrewBoard’s head brewer alongside business partner Nick, with some of the beers originating from those Dragon Forge recipes, albeit much tweaked and refined.

BrewBoard

The dragons, verdigris and burnished copper brand assets of Dragon Forge, striking though they were, have been replaced by designs more befitting of a modern craft brewery. Ollie, another of the brewery partners and the graphic designer, has produced the kind of designs that would make BrewBoard’s beers instantly recognisable in a row of taps, if they weren’t more likely to appear in the kind of bars where keg beers are listed on a chalkboard.

BrewBoard

Still, seeing them in the fridge of Haslingfield’s Country Kitchen deli for the first time, I had to fight the urge to turn all the cans round until the designs were aligned and clearly visible. Again, while some breweries seem to struggle to translate a beer to cans, the first run of Lakota and Ripchord were instantly crushable, perfect companions.

BrewBoard

BrewBoard seems keen to make the beer just part of an experience, hence the regular tap nights, where their own beers are served alongside equally impressive guests, accompanied by pop-up food vans and a variety of beats from the elevated DJ booth. The crowd of people of all ages this attracts might suggest Harston regrets not hanging on to its village pubs. Yet this is something different, and while I doubt the more elderly residents of Harston would point to the liquid drum & bass, American Pales, or miso hummus as the main draws, nevertheless something about the overall experience draws them to an industrial unit on the outskirts of the village. In truth, it was mainly for the beer that I cycled the 40 minutes from the centre of Cambridge last Friday evening.

BrewBoard

Very soon the wood stove will be another of the main attractions

The official launch night of the brewery is scheduled for 29th September, by which time the next of the core brews, a ‘modern stout’ tantalisingly out of reach in the FV at the most recent tap night, will no doubt be available as the perfect pairing for the wood stove.

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10 Years Ago Today – Before The Smoking Ban

I took this short video clip on June 30th 2007, in the pub I lived a few doors down from, the Chequers in the South Cambridgeshire village of Orwell. It shows one of the locals and the publican at the time, smoking inside the pub on the last day before the smoking ban in England came into force, making it illegal to smoke in all enclosed work places.

The Chequers, licensed since 1815 and the last of several pubs in the village, survived the smoking ban. In 2012 the pub was put up for sale by Punch Taverns for £500k, an asking price suited to its current status as a highly-rated gastro pub, and is now in new hands. I moved back into Cambridge shortly after this video was taken, and haven’t yet been back to the village, but have often wondered what effect the ban had on Pete, the elderly local in the video; whether he continued drinking there, standing outside when he wanted a smoke, or if he started drinking from home where he could choose whether to smoke indoors. Perhaps he even gave up smoking, though that seems least likely, and in any case I doubt much thought was given to the effect on people like Pete, as the primary aim of the legislation was angled as protecting employees from second-hand smoke. In that regard, it seems inevitable beer gardens will be next in line for a ban, so if the likes of Pete did continue drinking in pubs, no doubt their enjoyment of a cigarette outside will soon be curtailed. So, while I appreciate ten years of not smelling of smoke after a visit to the pub, I doubt it’s something Pete would celebrate.

Update:

Audit Ale in the Red Lion, Histon – Pub of the Year and a once-a-year beer

Red Lion

Photo from 2013

The Red Lion in Histon is a fitting place for Lacons brewery to hold a talk and tutored tasting of their Audit ale, led by beer writer Roger Protz. This 1830s beer house was acquired by Lacons in the 1890s, becoming an inn with “well-aired beds” according to the painted signs on the building’s exterior. After a time as a Whitbread house from the 1960s to the 80s, it was eventually purchased as a free house by current landlord Mark Donachy in 1994, and is now a regular in the Good Beer Guide, edited by the venerable Roger Protz. The guide describes the bars “adorned with breweriana and historic photos”, with nine handpumps of which three have Lacons beers for the occasion, and it’s these ingredients which helped it win branch Pub of the Year 2017.

Red Lion

Roger gave a brief history of Audit ale, one that has its origins as a strong ale specially brewed in October for the annual Audit Feast in January or February, following the inspection of the accounts at Oxbridge colleges, where the Fellows handed it around in a large silver drinking cup. According to the short history of Audit ale, from at least the sixteenth century onwards some colleges brewed their own audit ale, but it was mostly produced by commercial breweries, including Dale’s of Cambridge.

Dales Audit Ale

By the 1920s Lacons won the contract to supply audit ale to the Cambridge colleges, and it’s this recipe that Lacons sought to recreate. Head Brewer Wil Wood talked about the challenges of recreating historic recipes, sourcing authentic ingredients such as Bramling Cross and Cluster hops, and trying to arrive at a beer of the right strength, colour and flavour – they even raided the brewery museum and cracked open a bottle of the ale from the 1960s just to check, and noted how the ale had darkened over the years of cellaring.

Roger Protz and Wil Wood

Roger discovers how quickly Audit Ale goes to the head

We were all generously given a tasting, with Roger talking through the berry fruit flavours the Bramling Cross hops impart, and the sweet, butterscotch of the Maris Otter barley – there were plenty of comments around the room about the beer going down far too easy and belying its strength.

Lacons Old Nogg

But it was a beer not sampled on the evening that stole the show. Wil talked with excitement about Old Nogg, another from the heritage range, an old ale he first brewed last year and which from the first tasting became current favourite of his beers. A warming ale, hopped with Sorachi Ace and aged over three months, this is another beer Wil believes will improve from cellaring, so I’m looking forward to trying the bottle he kindly gave me, and which he agreed would be a good one to bring out on Christmas Day, if I have the willpower to leave it that long…

Roger Protz and Wil Wood

Wil learns what Roger meant when he said he’d give him a hand behind the bar

Sources:
Compton-Davey, J., A Short History of Audit Ale, Brewery History Society
Histon and Impington Village Society (2013), The History of the Pubs of Hinton and Impington

Pubs in Milton

Milton, a village sliced away from Cambridge by the A14, is home to four pubs (one currently closed), and has had at least two breweries; most recently Milton Brewery, who had to move to bigger premises in nearby Waterbeach when they needed to expand their trophy cabinet. The pubs are all close together, about a 300 metre walk to visit all of them, so last night we had a pint or more in each of the open ones* and lamented the closed Waggon and Horses.

White Horse

White Horse

The local CAMRA branch’s Community Pub of the Year in 2016, and in this year’s Good Beer Guide, where in 1985 it was described as a “fine old village pub, interesting lounge fireplace”, then serving Tolly Mild, Bitter, Original and Strong. A pub since at least the 1760s apparently, owned by the “old established and extensive brewery of Messrs Steward, Cotton and Co” from Cambridge in the early 1800s. There’s a large garden, I think used to be a bowling green, with a children’s play area including the aforenamed white horse.

White Horse

The pub was bustling, plenty of people and chatter in both bars, a womens darts match in progress in the public bar, and beer good enough to merit the GBG entry – the Ghost Ship and Nobby’s Plum Porter in fine form, and when I asked to try a half of the Theakston Hogshead I was poured a pint anyway – no half measures here! Apart from the guest beers, there was also a terrific guest pub dog who knew his way around the place and wowed us by jumping up at the back door and letting himself out to drop a stone at the feet of the smokers so they’d throw it for him to retrieve. I was more stunned than wowed when I went to the gents and in burst guest pub dog, just happy to be hanging out with the lads – I half expected he’d cock a leg up and join us!

White Horse

Guest pub dog in a rare moment of calm

Lion and Lamb

Lion and Lamb

Another lovely old pub doing lively trade, plenty of locals at the bar and early starters for the Ladies Gin Night. Open by 1841, a 17th-century house, where the Turnpike Keeper’s cottage was located according to the local history society, with low beamed ceilings and inglenook hearth. We sat in the snug-like area and enjoyed the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale we were surprised to see on keg, alongside Fuller’s Frontier Lager, with cask Pride, Adnams Lighthouse and Gales Seafarer.

Lion and Lamb

The quiet lounge, everyone preferring the busy public bar

No pub dog in the gents here but the BRIGHTEST, CLEANEST TOILETS EVER – I’d have taken a photo if that wouldn’t have seemed weird in the company of strangers. Tidy beer garden too.

Lion and Lamb

Jolly Brewers

Jolly Brewers

Just off the High Street and Fen Lane, a late seventeenth century timber-framed inn, which had a brewery from at least the 1830s, William Essex the brewer and publican, his son Thomas taking over in the 1870s and continuing to c.1925. In the 1991 GBG for its Tolly Bitter and Original, now a freehouse, I had a pint of Milton Minerva (when in Milton…); also on Church End Vicar’s Ruin, TT Boltmaker, Elgoods Cambridge Bitter, and Greene King IPA served ‘North or South’ – I haven’t seen that dispense in years, I didn’t know it was still a thing.

Greene King IPA

There was even a bottle of gluten-free GK IPA available for celiacs, tickers and masochists. Noticeably quieter in here than the other pubs, but a handful of locals at the bar, a few people eating in the lounge, with a pleasant interior including old photos of Milton on the wall, some exposed timber frames, two brick hearths and a snug like area in the lounge.

Jolly Brewers

Closed for a couple of years but reopened in 2012 by a consortium of locals, I’d seen the Jolly Brewers was on the market again recently so asked if it was still for sale. “Erm, no… not anymore” I was told, in a “nothing to see here, move along” kind of way. Well, I’m pleased to hear it’s not about to close again, and note there is a 5th Birthday Bash on 9th June.

Waggon and Horses

Waggon and Horses

A ‘brewer’s tudor’ pub, built in the early 1930s, replacing an older pub of the same name which burnt down. It appeared in the GBG as far back as the 70s, and in 1990 was described as having an “incredible ever-changing selection of guest beers” (which I imagine might not seem so incredible in the ‘craft’ age) alongside Nethergate Bitter. Elgoods owned since 1999 when it was taken on by Nick and Mandy Winnington, formerly of the Cambridge Blue, picking up branch PotY in 2007, and fondly remembered for the display of the eccentric landlord’s hat collection, and a great beer garden which appears to have gone to seed. In 2014 it was turned into an Italian restaurant called Osteria that still served cask Elgoods Cambridge Bitter. After a particularly bland vegetarian pasta dish there, I nevertheless asked if I could return for a drink, and was told in no uncertain terms drinkers weren’t welcome. That venture didn’t last and it’s currently closed and seeking tenants – hopefully it will return to being a decent pub, if the village can still sustain four of them.

The local history society says that Queen Anne Lodge on Fen Road, across the road from the Jolly Brewers, was once a pub called the Greyhound.

Former Greyhound

There’s plenty of pargeting on the building, including an attractive likeness of the good Queen herself.

Former Greyhound

There was apparently another inn, the Three Tuns, established by 1765, closed after 1910, but I couldn’t locate it (but as you’ll see from the comments, it turns out it was No. 42 High St, which is currently the offices for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices).

Former Three Tuns, Milton

Former Three Tuns

Still, that’s enough pubs for one night. Definitely worth a trip from Cambridge to the Milton Pubs, even if the bus service is lousy and it required a taxi home, though when I consider how my night was spent** that was probably for the best.

* For a more candid account of the same pubs in February this year, read Milton – Paradise via West Berkshire
** Inevitable literary Milton reference

Dates for the diary:
May 25th – 29th: Lion and Lamb 6th Annual Beer Festival
June 9th: Jolly Brewers 5th Birthday Bash
July 5th – 9th: White Horse Beer Festival