Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Save the ales!

Generally, the best parts of any trip are the ones you don't, and can't, plan--those moments of pure serendipity, where you stumble across a great street performance, take a wrong turn and find a terrific restaurant, or find an incredible work of art while you were passing through on your way to see something else. (Of course, the corollary is true, as well--that the worst parts of any trip tend to be the ones you don't and can't plan--but that's another blog.)

We spent a week in Cambridge on our recent trip to England, and as it happened, our visit coincided with the town's annual Beer Festival. Sponsored by the local branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the festival featured over 200 different locally-brewed beers, ciders, and perries (pear cider) from across the UK.

Everywhere we went in England this time, pubs, restaurants, and grocery stores boasted about their items being "locally sourced," but this interest in all things local doesn't extend to concern about the "Local." According to this article, five British pubs go out of business every day. Pub culture and beer culture have been so integral to British culture for so long, and part of CAMRA's mission is to remind people of that connection.

Far be it from us to contribute to cultural degradation. Off to the festival we went!

Here's how it works: You pay your admission fee, buy a pint glass (unless you've brought your own--lots of people did), and belly up to the "bar"--the bar being a wooden counter extending along three of four sides of a basketball-court sized tent. There, you order a pint or a half pint of your choice--the barrels are all labeled with the ale's name and alcohol content. Here are the ones we tried:
  • Cranberry Wheat from Iceni Brewery in Norfolk
  • Hotel Porter from the Maldon Brewing Company in Essex
  • 1837 India Pale Ale from Pitfield Brewery in Essex
  • Grapefruit Beer from St. Peters Brewery in Suffolk
  • Old Barn cider from Monmouthshire
  • Hundred Extra-Dry Mead
The most remarkable of the beers I had was the grapefruit beer: when you lifted the glass, it smelled exactly like you were about to drink a glass of grapefruit juice, but the beer itself only had the slightest citrusy taste. Very strange sensory experience! Tom reports that the Old Barn cider was, well, quite Barn-y.

What I love about British beer: it's not sickeningly sweet like a lot of craft beers here. It's not over-carbonated. A pint is a real pint.

Plus, it was a beautiful late-spring evening in a beautiful city, there was good food, a nice crowd, and we were on vacation. Cheers!


Historiann said...

Cheers to both of you! Famille Historiann was out dining on the back porch tonight (which has some really cool new tile now) and thinking about all of our friends whom we used to entertain out there. Ahh, memories! It looks like you had a nice evening at the beer fesival.

Miss you both--glad you had a good trip.

Christy said...

What nice photos. Such a look of true calm on each of your faces -- the litmus test of a fine vacation.

Rosemary said...

The "look of true calm" is probably more a product of the beer than anything else, but hey: whatever gets you there, I say!

Ann, no lovely indoor/outdoor carpet anymore?! :^)