As May roles around once again and the shy sun makes a welcome appearance, how better to spend your days than at the 35th Cambridge CAMRA Beer Festival?
So for those of you who haven’t had a chance to make it down, or if your time there is limited, here’s a few tips you ought to know about.
Being the second largest beer festival outside of London with a staggering 170+ Real ales, 150 Ciders and over 60 Foreign beers, English wines and Mead - not to mention a famous cheese stand and other nibbles - you wouldn’t be blamed for feeling a little overwhelmed; but here’s a rough guide to a few crackers and ‘must-tries’ to at least help get your bearings.
Firstly, the main beer hall is arranged in a compass style with a North, South, East and West Bar and of course the mighty Cambridge Bar with fantastic Breweries such as: Cambridge Moonshine, Milton Brewery, Tydd Steam, Elgoods, Son Of Sid, City of Cambridge, Kilderkin and Devils Dyke to name but a few.
Of course all the meads, wines and ciders are together and most definitely worth looking into if that’s your poison; but I want to focus on the main attraction - and that of course is the Ale!
If you’re looking for tasty light summer treats then seek out: Milton Brewery’s Dionysus, a fairly dry, golden/straw coloured bitter packing lots of fruity hops with citrus and grapefruit notes; a good session Ale at 3.6% abv or their Sparta, another hoppy, crisp and pale bitter at 4.3%.
There are of course also classics of the golden and hoppy variety like, City of Cambridge’s Hobsons Choice 4.1% Oakham J.H.B. 3.8% (a particularly hoppy bitter) from Peterborough; Crouch Vale Amarillo 5% or Brewers Gold 4% (an award winning beer – aromatic - full of citrus fruit notes) from Essex and Hop Back Summer Lightning 5%.
If you like them gold but a bit stronger, then Ufford’s fuller bodied and juicy Nirvana should do the trick at 5.8% and a hot tip would be Milton Brewery’s brand new Festival Special, Worts and All, a luscious golden affair weighing in at 6.5%
For those more into traditional copper coloured bitters or best bitters think about: Elgoods Greyhound 5.2% a well balanced, ruby/brown strong bitter, with rich malts, raisins, lots of fruit and some roasted biscuity notes. Another great Milton brew to try, is the award winning Pegasus 4.1% copper toned bitter with an initial hop burst followed closely by a fruity malt finish.
Also worth trying are City of Cambridge’s Boat House Bitter 3.7% and the well-known Woodforde’s Wherry 3.8%
Now, last but not least, are my favourite Ales, the darker ales. For the days when the English weather is living up to it’s reputation, or if you’re like me and enjoy ending with a Porter or Stout, then desert comes in the form of Cambridge Moonshine’s tasty Chocolate Orange Stout 6.5% smooth and creamy, with playful orange aromatics and flavour, finishing slightly bitter - not pithy at all. A must is the wonderful Kilderkin Double 6% (silver medallist at last years Beer Festival) a rich, dark full-flavoured Ale brewed in the style of Belgian beer hence the name “Double” after the Belgian Abbey Beer “Dubbel”. Also noteworthy are Milton’s Oat Stout, Nero 5% very dark, fuller bodied, smooth and roasty – a nice sweet bitter balance; Son of Sid brewery’s Back to Black 4.1%, and Parkers Porter from City of Cambridge 5%.
Obviously this is a very brief cross-section of a few great, mostly local Ales. That’s not to say you won’t find a plethora of your own, as they’re all amazing anyway. It’s a start if nothing else - but after all finding a few quality brews yourself is half the fun! Now lets just pray the good weather holds out.
The 35th Cambridge CAMRA Beer Festival 2008 runs from Monday 19th May until Saturday 24th May. For more information visit the website at: http://www.cambridgebeerfestival.com/summer
Article by Krystian Hughes, Image of Beer by Jessica Mercer, image of beer bubbles by Atilla1000 courtesy of Creative Commons licence Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic licence