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Monthly Archives: November 2011

The St Radegund, Cambridge

Saint Radegund was a sixth-century Frankish princess, daughter of King Bertachar of Thuringia. She was married to King Clothair I, along with five other women. Eventually, she got hacked off with him and ran away to found a nunnery. Who better, then, to name a pub after? Whatever the logic, that’s what happened, and the St Radegund on King Street in Cambridge, turned out to be a very interesting pub, and not only for its name.

The St Radegund, Cambridge

It is the smallest pub in Cambridge, and occupies a roughly triangular plot on the corner of King Street and Jesus Street. Unknown to most visitors, a holy well lies beneath its floor. I visited the St Radegund on a warm late afternoon in late June. On that particular day, the outside of the pub looked quite scruffy, with plenty peeling paint on both the walls and doors. Inside the appeal is much more obvious. To call this place ‘snug’ would be an understatement. There are some benches and a long narrow table, but the atmosphere is just right. The pub claims to have a capacity of 50 persons, and that would make it quite packed. There is one toilet. I don’t mean one room with toilets in it, I mean one toilet.

I sat myself down on a bench at the long thin table as Lady A went off to do some shopping. At the other end of the bench was a small group of four or five mature students from the university. We fell in to chatting. They were post doctoral students, but were also all CAMRA members and this was one of their regular drinking venues.

On the bar were six handpumps. Two were from local brewer Milton, and Fullers, St Peters, Buntingford and Wolf were also represented.

I started with a Buntingford Apollo, a 4% golden ale that the landlord was puzzling over as I ordered my drinks. ‘Can’t quite get this,’ he said, ‘it’s supposed to be hoppy, but…’ He passed the glass over and I took a sniff and a gulp. The smell was sweetly caramel, as was the initial taste. It was certainly pleasant, but I understood the landlord’s puzzlement. It wasn’t hoppy. I went back to my bench and drank more of the beer. As I got to about two-thirds of the way down the glass, I realized that the flavour had changed. It was now distinctly hoppy. I looked up across the pub at the landlord, who was smiling at me, raising a thumb.

My next two were from local brewer Milton. I took a half of each. Minotaur was the first one I sampled, a 3.3% mild, very dark red or brownish in colour. This beer has a nicely balanced malt and hop flavour. I found slight but rewarding notes of treacle and coffee. Nicely rounded flavour for such a low alcohol beer. The other Milton beer was Proteus, a 6.2% strong bitter. This is a real mouthful! There is a very strong and yet very smooth hop flavour. Sneaking in under the predominant taste there is a pleasant hint of sweetness. All round excellent flavour. I think this is what some of those breweries that produce the mouth-puckering hop bombs are probably aiming at. Have a taste of this, lads – balance is what it’s all about.

I enjoyed those two. Time for another pair, Lady A was obviously enjoying herself, so I thought it my duty to do the same. I got two more halves from the cheerful landlord. First for this round was St Peter’s Ruby Red Ale, which I noted was a popular choice amongst my PhD CAMRA friends. This is a luscious ruby-red ale with an ABV of 4.2%. The initial taste is sweet fruit, followed by a spicy hoppiness that develops into a slightly bitter treacly finish. Good. The Wolf Golden Jackal, which was pretty ubiquitous in pubs all over eastern England during my trip, is a fairly simple beer – lightish, very hoppy and really quite bitter.

The St Radegund may be Cambridge’s smallest pub, and one of the smallest I have ever been in, but it manages to pack a huge amount of what is good about a pub into its diminutive dimensions. There was a knowledgable and affable landlord, friendly customers, willing to spare a word or two with the visitor and above all, plenty of good ale, well-kept. A ‘must’ for any visit to this great university town.

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Posted by on 25 November, 2011 in Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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Monty’s Brewery and the Sportsman

A recent foray across the border into mid Wales brought us to Newtown in Montgomeryshire. Newtown is a small town nestled along the valley of the River Severn. It is home to several historic pubs, three of which have made their way into the 2012 Good Beer Guide. In the spirit of high adventure that pervades all our outings, we decided to head for the nearest one to the parking spot we found for the car.

As luck would have it, this turned out to be the Sportsman in Severn Street. Clearly under external renovation, the pub was covered with scaffolding as we arrived, but the wonderful old wooden hunter and his horse were still to be seen.

The Sportsman, Newtown, under refurbishment

Inside, the pub has clearly been refurbished quite recently. The main bar is warm and snug, with comfortable chairs and an excellent brick-built inglenook fireplace. The Sportsman is the first, and currently only pub owned by Monty’s brewery, which we had unknowingly driven past on our way here from Montgomery. Monty’s is one of the small but growing number of breweries run by a lady brewer (a brewster, technically).

On the bar were five pumps, all dispensing beers from Monty’s brewery. As I had not sampled any beer from this brewery before, I settled down to work my way through the bar.

The barman was friendly and cheerful and insisted on me having a taster of each beer before I bought it. This is rare, and may not be possible at all times, especially when the pub is busy, but there was time now, and the barman dutifully produced a taster of each beer for me to try.

First up was Monty’s Match, a 3.4% bitter, bright yellow in colour. This is a light, easily drinkable bitter, smooth in the mouth and with a slight biscuit flavour. At this comfortable ABV, this would make an excellent session beer.

Monty’s Manjana is another bitter, much darker in colour and with a higher ABV of 3.9 has a more complex flavour. Initially the palate is hit with a husky maltiness with upfront flavours of dry earth. There is a pleasant underlying sweetness and a hint of burnt toffee. I like to burp my beers (gently; I don’t belch like a chav) because the burp sometimes provides additional flavour. The Manjana burp provides caramel. This is a very moreish beer, and if I had the choice, I would choose this over the less demanding Match as a session beer.

Monty’s Midnight is a 4% stout. A black beer with a rich brown head. The mouthfeel is very smooth, as it should be. The taste is smoky and malty with a slight hoppy bitterness towards the finish. Lovely.

Manjana and Midnight

Monty’s Sunshine (there had to be one, didn’t there?) is a 4.2% golden ale. It is sweet, predominantly, with a husky hoppiness always present in the taste. Another smooth beer which is very drinkable.

The last beer on the bar was Monty’s Mischief, a mid-yellow coloured strong bitter with an ABV of 5.0%. Again the feel in the mouth is very smooth. This beer is really sweet and fruity, with a nice touch of malt and hops on the swallow.

I found all Monty’s beers to be exceptionally drinkable. The brewery has only been in existence since 2009, and already has a fine catalogue of beers to its name. Their website has information about eleven beers. Although I have tasted only five, three of these were award winners at SIBA 2011. Mischief won bronze in the strong bitters category, Sunshine won silver in the best bitters category, and Midnight won silver in the overall champion beer category. There are other award winners amongst the beers I have not yet tasted. You can be sure I’ll be on the lookout for them, and will report back when I find them!

The Sportsman proved a very pleasant spot to stop for an early evening drink. The pub is comfortable and well-appointed. The chap behind the bar, as previously mentioned, was very helpful and informative. The locals chatted freely and comfortably with us. It’s a happy place. I want to go back.

Monty’s website – http://www.montysbrewery.co.uk/

Sportsman website – http://www.sportsmannewtown.co.uk/

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Posted by on 18 November, 2011 in Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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The Hobgoblin, Reading

It’s probably best not to enquire how Lady A and I ended up in Reading a few days ago. Certainly no answer will be forthcoming from this quarter. Suffice it to say that we did. Now Reading does not have a particularly good reputation as an after-dark venue. There’s fighting and muggings and hooliganism – perhaps not that different from any other similar sized town, but somehow Reading has gained a certain notoriety.

Determined to make the best of it, I turned to my trusty Good Beer Guide. There are six entries for Reading which, notwithstanding the above, I see as a very good sign. One entry caught my eye in particular. That was the Hobgoblin on Broad Street, right in the middle of the town. According to the GBG, the ‘Goblin’ is ‘…renowned for its wide variety of ales, almost always from smaller breweries… there is usually something new to try every time you go in.’

I’d walk right through the muggings and hooliganism and rioting to get to a pub like that, so I chose to ignore the dire warnings about the town’s night life, and we bravely walked up the main street to the pub. It’s fairly obvious when you get there, large numbers of people are bustling about outside on the pedestrianised street. Mostly smokers, but also some people just sitting on the benches outside enjoying the rather mild weather.

We walked it. The first thing that struck me was the huge number of pump clips stuck to the walls, ceilings, window recesses, in fact, everywhere you looked. The impression is that not a square inch of wall or ceiling is without a pump clip. Many pubs put their pump clips on the wall or along the bar or sometimes in a nice little frame, but the Hobgoblin has taken this to the extreme, and I loved it. There’s something about sitting down with a good pint and peering at the clips on the wall, trying to work out which of the represented beers you have had, and mentally noting those you wish to seek out.

The second thing I noticed was the barman, heavily tattooed and wearing a vest. The bar room is quite small, with a couple of tables but room to stand, if that’s your fancy. Walking further back into the building, you find about half a dozen little nooks, each with its own doorway, containing a table and seating for two, three or four. All these little areas are, of course, completely covered with pump clips. These intimate spaces are a delight. I dumped my belongings and headed back to the illustrated barman. I asked him if he could recommend a good dark ale. I think I instantly made a friend, he was clearly knowledgeable about the beers and was glad to share his knowledge. He recommended two. I took a half of each.

The first was Plain Inndulgence. Plain is a new brewery to me, having started production in Wiltshire in 2008. The beer is a ruby porter, dark red and has an ABV of 5.1%. It has a lovely smooth mouthfeel, the taste being malty and strongly coffee flavoured without being bitter. The midtaste produces very slight spirituous overtones. I began to see why this pub has such a good reputation. This beer was superb and in perfect form.

The second of the barman’s recommendations was Art Brew Tempest Stout. This is again a dark red beer, a little lighter in colour than you normally expect from a stout. It presents a nice brown head. The taste again doesn’t seem quite what you would expect from a stout. It looks and tastes like a mild. Sweet and fruity and very drinkable. The taste dies very quickly after the swallow leaving very little appreciable aftertaste.

By now, I felt confident that I was in a pub that knew how to look after its beers, so I decided to do the whole bar. Four more beers awaited me, and I next went for two beers from the West Berkshire brewery – LocAle here.

First up was Humeller, a 4.3% bitter. Malt and hops on the nose follows through into the taste. There’s also a nuttiness here, and distinct sweet notes. It’s good, and it grows on you the more you have.

West Berkshire’s next offering was Mr Chubb’s Lunchtime Bitter. At 3.7% and with a dark reddy brown colour, this one again looked more like a mild to me. The taste is sweet and smooth. Coffee notes are quite distinct after the swallow. It also has tiny chocolate chips sneaking in to delight the palate. I pronounce this beer to be jolly good.

Moving along the bar, I noticed a beer from one of my favourite brewers, Dark Star of Brighton. On offer here was Dark Star Partridge Best. Judging from the name and the ABV (4.0%) I guess it’s a best bitter. The smell is unusual – it smells like tea. It doesn’t taste like tea, malt dominates with a husky nuttiness on the side. There’s also some veggy-earthiness in there with a touch of caramel at the end. Very full-flavoured and good.

The evening was finished off with Downton Quadhop, a 3.9% brew that I suppose you would call a golden ale. Surprise, surprise! It’s hoppy! It’s not one of those hop-bombs that are currently so fashionable amongst some brewers at the moment, though. It’s far more restrained and genteel. You can appreciate the full flavour of hops without having them smashed into your face with a sledgehammer. Quadhop is a case in point. Excellent hop flavour, quietly spoken. The hoppy bitterness stays for the full duration of the taste, plus a hint or two of spiciness.

I had a wonderful evening at the Hobgoblin. The bar staff were polite and knowledgeable and the beer was superb. The atmosphere in the pub was relaxed and convivial. It was clear that many of the regulars were beer connoisseurs, as there was a lot of swapping of tasting notes going on. A great pub.

We walked back to the car through streets that were disappointingly lacking in rioting and murder. No burning cars, no gangs of knived-up youths. Maybe you can’t believe everything people tell you after all.

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Posted by on 11 November, 2011 in Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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Bishop’s Castle – a Tale of Two Breweries (Part 2)

As promised last week, I’m now taking us up the hill in Bishop’s Castle from the Six Bells pub and brewery to the Three Tuns pub and brewery. I called the Three Tuns brewery ‘legendary’ in the last blog, and so it is. During the 1970s, when beer drinkers were faced with a torrent of foul keg beer infecting every corner of the country,  only four pubs remained that brewed their own beer. The Three Tuns was one of these, and dedicated beer-drinkers would make a pilgrimage to Bishop’s Castle and camp out to have the opportunity of drinking some proper real ale.

The Three Tuns Brewery

The brewery was first licensed in 1642. The current building is largely a tower brewery erected in the 1880s, but the owners say that as part of the building does indeed date back to the seventeenth century, then it is valid to claim that the Three Tuns Brewery is the oldest working brewery in Britain.

The Three Tuns Inn

Next door is the impressive Three Tuns Inn. It’s a large, old building with a small front bar and a larger bar at the back. There are several distinct areas including a new large conservatory for eating in. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.

The small front bar

So what of the beers? During my (three) visits to the pub, there were four Three Tuns beers on offer. As is my wont, I’ll go through them in increasing ABV.

First, then, we have Three Tuns 1642, an orange/amber coloured bitter that starts the ball rolling at a comfortable 3.8%. The overall impression is of maltiness. The mouthfeel is fairly smooth. There are hints of cream in the midtaste, with some husky nuttiness. The flavour develops a hoppy bitterness at the end and finishes with a long lasting bitter aftertaste.

Next is Three Tuns XXX, made from a recipe that’s well over a hundred years old. It’s a light orange colour and the ABV is 4.3%. Very interesting taste, this one. It’s smooth and sweetish but the taste has a jagged edge to it. I’m not sure what causes the jag, but it had citrus and floral notes. Hops can be tasted throughout and again there is a tiny hint of cream. This is a very bright tasting beer, a great flavour experience.

Moving over to the dark side now (where I like to be), we move on to Three Tuns Stout. 4.4% ABV and virtually black. It presents a fine, brown head. It is very smooth and has a dark roasted malt taste. Strong black coffee is in there with a slight but welcome chocolate undertaste. A strong trail of bitterness runs through from start to finish. The beer is remarkably full-bodied and luscious. Quite superb. This beer was the ‘beer of the trip’ for my visit to Shropshire and the Welsh borders.

Three Tuns Stout – more, please!

The last offering on the bar was the 5.0% IPA Three Tuns Cleric’s Cure. A mid-orange in colour with a fine head, the beer presents well in the glass. It is very smooth, with a slightly thickish mouthfeel. This is one of those ‘warming’ beers – you can feel the warming effect from the first sip. There’s a sweet orange flavour with hoppy bitterness surrounding it towards the end. Also discernible at the end is a touch of citrus pithiness. Quite complex and quite delicious.

Although that’s all the beers that were on offer on the bar, I did manage to get hold of a couple of bottles of Three Tuns Old Scrooge, a well-known dark red 6.5% barley wine. This beer is dark, thick and smooth. I found it quite spicy, with hints of ginger. The label says ‘fiery’, and that’s about right, it’s certainly warming. The finish has a pleasing dry edge to it.

Three Tuns Old Scrooge

So then, if you’re planning a trip to Bishop’s Castle, which pub are you to visit? I should at this point reveal that there is a third Good Beer Guide pub in Bishop’s Castle – the Crown and Anchor Vaults (known locally simply as the ‘Vaults’), on the hill in between the Six Bells and the Three Tuns. I didn’t visit it because on the occasions we went past it, it seemed very noisy – it’s a noted venue for live music, so we shouldn’t really be surprised at that, I just like a bit of peace with my pint, that’s all.

The answer, of course, is to visit all three. Chatting with locals, I found a pretty even split between the Six Bells and the Three Tuns as favourite. I expect my results would have been three-way if I’d visited the Vaults. Certainly the Bells and the Tuns are different types of pub, each providing its own experience. For myself, I preferred the Three Tuns, but if I lived locally, I would be glad of the choice, and would probably split my time 70:30 or so in the Tuns’ favour.

Bishop’s Castle is in the middle of some of the finest walking country in the land. If you’re looking for a truly rural break with beautiful views, interesting places to visit and the promise of a good selection of fine ales for the evenings, then you couldn’t do much better than a trip to Bishop’s Castle.

One of Bishop’s Castle’s many attractions

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Posted by on 4 November, 2011 in Bottled Beer, Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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