TOO MANY HANDPUMPS – THE CAMBRIDGE EXCEPTIONS

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One of the themes of my blog (along with “Avoid Maidenhead“) is that the explosion of choice is rarely beneficial to quality.  One of the best pints I’ve had in recent weeks was in a tourist-driven Spoons that had a minimal, but quality, cask range.

The argument for heading for pubs with many pumps seems to be that anyone who cares about cask would have at least half a dozen on, to which CAMRA members cask drinkers will gravitate, leaving the local bar with Doom Bar and GK IPA (provided on sufferance) to serve soup to Carling drinkers.

And reading CAMRA magazines it’s hard not to be persuaded that more is better, with Pub News focusing on quantity and rarity, with quality barely mentioned. Which made the local Pub of the Year award for Stockport’s Boar’s Head in 2016 so welcome.

Early micropubs had a formulaic 3 beers at £3, ensuring quick turnover.  Increasingly the newer ones seem to have half a dozen beers and half a dozen flavoured ciders, which is quite a challenge to flog within 3 days when you only open 4 till 10 five days a week and seat a dozen boozers.

But I’m happy to be proved wrong, and Cambridge has a couple of classic pubs that can support an ambitious range.

While stuck in Cambridge waiting for GBG18 to be launched, we confirmed the peerless quality of the Cambridge Blue, about which I can never say enough.

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The Blue had it’s usual bewildering choice on.  So bewildering that a couple of foreign language students ended up drinking the German lager having been offered tasters of three ales. You’ll know my views on tasters.

Giving the Evil Keg a rest, Mrs RM rated the 3 Blind Mice Juice Rocket highly, before polishing off most of my Dark Star Pale (NBSS 4.5). Even the Wherry was pretty good.

A new menu was being tested, and as is obligatory here’s what the risotto, linguini and burger look like.  Simple, fresh, and with quality ingredients, they were the pub food of the year by some distance.

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Look Mum,  Plates !

You’ve seen the Bass breweriana, so here’s some Butterkist popcorn. And a Bass mirror.

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Still the exemplar pub, one of my Top 5 (but what are the other 4).

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A few days later we somehow ended up in the Maypole, another of my Cambridge bankers for quality, and a pub transformed since its days as a solid Pubmaster local.

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Seemingly full of rich students seeing who could drink the strongest beer (don’t knock it, you were young once), it’s not a cheap night out, but only in Sam Smiths will you get quality for £2 a pint.

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The nice man did me a pint of the Kees West Coast IPA. I hid in the bar and drank it so Mrs RM couldn’t steal it and say it tasted like Brew Dog.

She’d seen the Three Blind Mice (them again) though.  Dick and Dave will appreciate the pump clip.

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The cask was nearly as cool as the keg, clearly selling well enough, and washed down the inevitable salt and pepper squid.

Two great nights in Cambridge.  It can be done. 

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44 thoughts on “TOO MANY HANDPUMPS – THE CAMBRIDGE EXCEPTIONS

  1. Agree, two of the best Cambridge pubs, and exceptions to the rule when it comes to number of ales on.

    One Cambridge pub reopened recently after a refurb, and there were grumbles about it only having three cask ales, but hopes a fourth might be added soon. When I went, just about everyone in there was drinking Guinness. Still, hopefully a fourth ale nobody drinks will get added soon, eh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Three is plenty. I’ve never drunk three different beers in the same pub in one night !

      We mistake commitment to “choice ” for commitment to “quality” at our peril. The landlady who told me her rural CAMRA branch told her she needed a 3rd beer (that wasn’t selling) to get in the GBG isn’t alone in having a negative view of us as a campaign for quality cask.

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      1. Ever since the early days, CAMRA has had a fascination with “beer exhibition” type pubs. A look back through some of those early GBG’s will confirm this.

        As you rightly point out, we mistake commitment to “choice ” for commitment to “quality” at our peril; although having said that, there’s a possibility I will be visiting the Windmill at Sevenoaks Weald on Sunday, where there’s normally six cask ales on tap. (They do tend to turn them over quickly, though).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I guess there’s the rub. Many folk (not you) are happy to have the Windmill, the Halfway House, the Spoons round Tonbridge (for example) with lots of good beer, and aren’t too fussed about the locals with their Sheps, Courage and Doom Bar. They’d never go in them with their karaoke and lager, so why would they ? You’re unusual in getting out and about visiting ordinary pubs 😉

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      1. But your wife drinks very strong beers and craft keg crap that my wife would not touch with a barge pole.

        I have done a short post about craft crap and tried to do a link to Tandelman’s blog,but as usual i am useless at anything like that so it did not work.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I notice that some of the pumps have two clips on. Is this some form of coming soon predictathon when they realise a beer is going soon? Surely they don’t mix the two.

    The plates have deep rims, almost making them dishes. For pasta and rice that is acceptable and indeed encouraged. For burgers that is most certainly wrong.

    The £6.00 price sign came close to finishing me off. Please provide health warnings for us tight fisted northern bastards in future. The £1.00 popcorn was bad enough for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are there really two ? Thought I’d drunk too much.

      Actually, the one at the top is a beer on gravity in the cellar.

      There’s a north/south currency exchange rate of about 1:2. Think of it like that and you’ll be fine.

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  3. I fully agree with you Martin.

    However, I have serious concerns with the use of ‘our local CAMRA says!’ As you know, I am a fully paid up active CAMRA member who is on the committee of my local branch. I have never gone into a pub and told them who I am or what my involvement is, in fact when asked I always tell them I am a writer, ask if I may take photos and give them a card for beerleeds.co.uk. Having said that, there are some licensees and managers who know that I am involved with CAMRA, most of these because I know them personally as members of my own social network, and some because I do the press & publicity role for my branch.

    (this is going to be lengthy, never mind)

    Invariably, I find when someone says ‘our local CAMRA says’ they mean a single individual has been in mouthing off, pontificating and generally spouting shite. No single member, unless mandated, has any right or authority to represent CAMRA or the position of a branch, region or national body. Indeed I do not speak for LeedsCAMRA, unless this is as part of a considered, group decision as part of a diverse and inclusive group of our branch and I then have the mandate to speak on their behalf.

    You may have read my recent article about ‘a conversation on women in beer’ as part of LeedsBeerWeek. A criticism of CAMRA was the offhand, inappropriate way that some members speak to, and treat female staff in bars. Specific areas were mentioned, but I do not believe that the individual incidents were representative of local branches, just of individuals who go into pubs and tell all and sundry that they are CAMRA members and then say something or behave inappropriately. The result being that many people believe that individual represents CAMRA in it’s entirety, they do not. The conversation I was involved in suggested seniority of age was closely connected to incidents of sexist behaviour by punters!

    CAMRA members need to stop prevaricating and purporting (directly or indirectly) to represent CAMRA branches, or as a whole, which indeed is the perception of many observers.

    As you know, there is no requirement to have ‘a number’ of cask ales on to get in GBG, one very good one in an excellent boozer will suffice. Having said that, looking at some GBG entries ‘kids in sweet shops’ is probably an apt description?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel exactly the same as you Richard, as even though I’m no longer on my local branch committee, I’m still actively involved with the branch. I certainly wouldn’t dream of going into a pub purporting to speak on behalf of CAMRA, and neither would I expect, let alone demand, special treatment.

      Like you, I never mention I’m a member; especially as I find just talking to licensees as an ordinary member of the public, is far more beneficial when it comes to learning more about a particular pub.

      Fortunately most of my fellow branch members feel and act the same way, but regrettably you are always going to get the odd loose cannon.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I feel uncomfortable with the concept of going in pubs to encourage pubs to offer CAMRA discounts and then promote them in CAMRA magazines, implying members should support pubs that offer better treatment to CAMRA members.

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    2. Although Martin has been told by the licensee of one specific pub that the local CAMRA said that if they didn’t have at least three beers on they wouldn’t get into the Guide.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh I’m sure that’s right, but if you read the magazines you’ll certainly see the mission to encourage more pumps and more obscure range, clearly Leeds and Stockport are exemplars.

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  4. I have have already said never been a Camra member and never will be,but as an outsider i do get the impression that some Camra members interfere with what some publicans put on the bar,i think this is wrong,if i ran a pub with my wife and some Camra bod came in telling me what to do i would tell him to piss off.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Craft beer is too expensive and too fizzy.
    My post about it has had quite a few comments most calling me an idiot a pleb and have know knowledge of the English Language,i was hoping to have some more positive comments and it did piss me off a bit but i will reply to all of the twats who have posted comments on it.

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    1. Ignore them. They’re wrong.
      Pub Curmudgeon tweeted the link to your post and most people agree with you. Including my sister who lived in Falmouth for a year and took me in HAND a lot. She says it’s gone downhill.

      I don’t think it’s all too fizzy though, and whether it’s expensive probably depends whether you’d spend a tenner on cheap wine, which seems a waste to me when you know it’s come over from France in vast plastic containers.

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      1. Martin is right. Everybody is different, everybody has the right to like what they like, be it cask ale, craft, keg, blackcurrant squash, leprechaun urine or something completely different. Nobody is an idiot nor a pleb for their tastes unless they happen to be a Grimsby Town, York City, Lincoln City, L**ds United, Doncaster Rovers, Mansfield Town, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Hartlepool United, Wrexham, Cardiff City, Swansea City or Luton Town fan.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, have to admit it was me, but I wasn’t to know that a lot of obnoxious people would then pile in 😦

        Don’t let it put you off, Alan – sadly the world has always been full of tossers.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I believe this Alan. The post is one of your most interesting yet. You have an idea and you follow it through. Quite interesting actually. Would like to see more of it. Much more developed than your earlier posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I was very surprised at how much abuse i got,i was only saying what me and my wife thought about those two drinks and thought it deserved a post on its own.
    Not sure where all of of the nasty comments came from as i read blogs and have never seen comments like that before on any other beer blogs.
    It was nice to look at my blog today after getting home from work and getting clean and see that people i know through beer blogs have rallied round and gave their comments on it.

    Yes i was wrong Martin about all craft crap tasting fizzy,i was in a bit if a tizz yesterday,we did really enjoy a drink of Hop House 13 lager,but that is probably not a proper craft beer ! or is it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. People have certainly rallied around you, Alan. Hope you’re not put off giving your opinion. I’ve never heard of those people who comment.

      They could have just said “Try Cloudwater or Beavertown if you see them, you might like those”.
      And you might.

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      1. I have always said what i think since my late teens,Martin,
        so i dont think i am going to stop giving it now,i know i upset some people as they do not like what i say.
        I would love to know who the craft twats were who gave me so much abuse,so surprised that i got that many comments for such a short post.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to ask about the photo of the Maypole taken from the outside,parts of it look black and white and other colour and it looks like you can get served from outside the pub.
    I know we have been in the Maypole probably when it was a Tolly Cobbold tied house,but not checked properly yet,anyway we were more pleased to do a Tolly Cobbold tied house than any multi beer free house.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, Alan, Maypole was a Tolly pub for years (then Punch) until the Italian owners bought it and started putting on lots of beers they liked.

      The black and white part is a photo of the pub they’ve put on the outside wall. Looks quite striking to me. And yes, it’s a big outdoor area and you can order food from the hatch that used to be the off sales.

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  8. @ pubcurmudgeon
    “Yes i have to admit it was me”
    Thanks for doing what you did,i have now idea how to do Twitter or the like,and the bonus is i have had a lot of interest in my blog and i now know who likes me and what i say sometimes,i know we often disagree on your blog but never give each other abuse.
    So if you see anything you think is worth highlighting out there on my blog i do not mind if you put it on twitter.
    Many thanks for your support Peter.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. They are back and giving more abuse to Dave,Me and other bloggers who do not like murky craft keg beers.
    quote from a reply on my blog “Was refraining from commenting when I saw this initially, as it was just one of so many disastrously written blogs from a sole, terribly misinformed, misguided voice. However, now there are so many ignorant opinions flooding in from anti craft beer elements.

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    1. Alan, pretty amazing the firestorm you whipped up. Like I said on your post though it really comes down to a very typical craft thing. Taking beer way too seriously. You didn’t like the beer. You really didn’t say anything wrong. You don’t really owe anyone tasting notes. Only wine reviews have to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

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