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Tuesday 28 April 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.82

There were some nice houses in Hemingford Abbot.

This one is the Manor House, right opposite the church. The original house was built in the 1500's and than a wing added on each side, one in the 16th century and one in the 17th. It is worth £2.6 million, or was before all this business.

This is the old Boot and Slipper pub with the barn next door. Obviously now a private residence but still reveals its past.You can see that each of the roofs has a cat finial on it.

After having a a bite to eat we wandered into Hemingford Grey to compare the two neighbouring villages. There weren't the number of big houses in Grey as there was in Abbot, but then the later is really a suburb, a pub but no other shop etc that we could see.

As we walked down the river bank it was very busy and we later learned that is was practice time for the Hemingford Regatta that had been going since 1901. These boats are owned by the regatta committee and the people of the two villages come together for all sorts of races in them, children, youths adults, mixed, canoes and skiffs. They are only available for five weeks prior to the event so practice nights are very busy.

We found a pub in the Hemingford Grey so we called in. It seemed to cater largely for the food trade, but we found a cosy corner and settled in. It had a nice atmosphere and the food looked good, and not over the top.

They only had three beers on and I chose one from the Brewster Brewery. The logo above may reveal why the brewery is so named. A brewster is actually the female form of a brewer. Just like the female of a baker is a Baxter? The brewery was started by Sara Barton who had obtained brewing qualifications before working in the industry. In 1996 she decided to set up her own brewery in the Vale of Belvoir. Their first brew was in 1998 and they have earned several awards over the years. In 2006 they moved to Grantham and have a 20bbl plant. They turn out traditional beers as well as a range of innovative brews under a different name, Adventure Beer Company. I was pleased to see that recently Alice Batham has joined Brewsters as she is a scion of the Batham's Brewer, which just happens to brew my favourite pint of all time, I am hoping for big things.

At 3.6% Hophead is a session ale with a nice colour and head. It has American and UK hops and the floral notes make a pleasant aroma. A good mouthful and finishes with a dry grapefruit. Well worth at least a couple of pints I would say.

Friday 24 April 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.81

We remained in Huntingdon and walked over the bridge to explore Godmanchester. It was founded as a town by the Romans in 1212. There are some remains but the town has some lovely more 'modern' buildings to see.

This was one of my favourites on Post Street. Island Hall was built in the 1700's. It was so named as the 2 acre ground run down to the river and are connected to an island by a Chinese bridge, hence the name. I loved the colour contrasts of the red brick and stone plus the beautiful weather vane and railings.

We found a space on the moorings at Hemmingford Grey that was between the villages of  Hemmingford Abbot and Hemmingford Grey.

We walked back to the lock at Houghton to visit the NT mill there. On the way the affluent suburb of Hemmingford Abbot was well worth a gander at. The houses were great to look at and the thatched roofs all seemed to have these figures or finials on. Thatchers originally put placed them on to scare off evil spirits but now they are off all sorts, including hats and cats etc. 

Houghton Mill was built in the 17th century and extended in the 19th. It became redundant in 1930 and the National Trust took it one. It was leased to the YHA as a hostel, and as it was a wooden building it was the only hostel that was No Smoking! Not long ago it was taken back, and opened to the public. It is well worth the £6 entrance fee.

We walked into the centre of Houghton which has many picture book homes around the Green (that has no green, but a buttercross, and one of them is the Three Horseshoes. The building dates from 1622 and looks to have been a long house that has been altered. There are several rooms to choose from and had two or three hand pulls on the bar. The name Three Horseshoes may come from the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Farriers that has them on it, or maybe the Earl of Derby's family quest, the Ferrers, that also has them.

I tried a pint from the Colchester Brewery. The original brewery opened as Christopher Cope and Sons when they started a brewery in the town that became the Eagle . They were bought out in 1887 by the Norfolk and Suffolk Brewery of Ipswich. They promptly closed the old brewery and moved to the Eagle and changed the name to Colchester Brewery. Ind Coope got their hands on it in 1925 and closed it down. It wasn't until 2011 that the names was resurrected when three friends from the brewery business decided to set up a place of their own. They desperately wanted to set up in the cntre of the town. Unfortunately the old brewery was still standing, but had been converted to 10 homes, with more in the yard. They settled to a a place on the outskirts at Wake Colne Business park. This is just to the north of the Chappel Viaduct and hence the name of the brewery is the Viaduct Brewery. They wanted to brew using traditional methods so, despite it being more expensive, they have used the 'double drop; brewing method. This is when the wort is started fermenting in one vessel and then is 'dropped' to another vessel to finish off. This means that the much of the lees and sediment is left behind in the first tank which means a clearer beer. The moving from one to the other also adds aeration to the wort that gets better fermentation of the yeast and a better culture to collect for the next brew. It can also add flavours to certain brews too. 

It was a beautiful day and it turns out that a pint of Metropolis was perfect. At 3.9% it is a session beer that meant I would be feeling good for the walk back to the boat. It is a golden hoppy ale and had a nice white head. There was the floral nose of the Cascade hops and enough depth to be satisfying despite being a 3.9% beer. All in all a very satisfying pint.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.80.

We had the best part of another day in Bedford, seeing the sights, before heading back down river.

From one of the locks the Airship Hangers at Cardington can be seen in the distance. The first, the nearest, was built in 1915 and airships were built for the Royal Navy by Short Brothers. In 1919 the business was Nationalised. When the R100 and R101 were planned they needed a larger hangers so No.2 was brought from RNAS Pulham bit by bit and erected here. With the crash of the R100 work halted until just before WWII when it became a barrage balloon factory and training school. After the War it was again mothballed but now is a film studio with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Starwars films being some that have been made there.

We had a really quiet mooring that night. This was an old lock island from the 17th Century that was made redundant by later modifications. Rough, with just enough water for us it made for an ideal EA mooring.

 The next day we continued on just stopping briefly at St. Neots to top up with water and dash into town for some milk. We stopped at another rough mooring, this time a GOBA mooring by Paxton Pits Nature Reserve. Once again it made a nice quiet stop and a pleasant walk around the reserve before setting off again the next day.

The next night we were going to explore Huntingdon and Godmanchester. There is a mooring just by the bridge to the right and as there was room we pulled in there. The mill opposite was built in the mid 1800's as an oil cake factory. In WWI it was a warehouse for military closing and then a hosiery factory from 1924 until 1972 when it closed. It is flats now.

We called in to the Falcon on Market Hill in Huntingdon. This pub has a lot of history. The first mention I could find was in 1773 but it had been a recruiting base for Oliver Cromwell's Army. He was from Huntingdon. It was also a coaching house. J. Pomfrett was offering a reward of 2 Guineas for the return of a sliver tankard that had been stolen. It had the initials J M P on it so obviously his. It seems that this family were to figure heavily in the history of the pub as in 1815 a John Pomfrett Was it the same man?) opened a brewery at the pub. This went on to be the Jenkings and Jones Brewery from 1849 to 1919. Once again an avert in 1850 has a Stephen Pomfrett retaking over the pub that the advert states has been in his family for many years in the past. The pub was a little run down and the old layout had been altered a fair bit. It was busy and there was a great selection of hand pull beers on offer.

I tried a beer from the Great Oakley Brewery that is in Northamptonshire. It was founded in 2005 in the village of the name, by a skilled homebrewer and a businessman with a stable to convert. Tis was done and in short order the beers brewed were getting noticed. There was a need for more space by 2012 and a move was made to Ark Farm at Tiffield nearby. A 5 barrel plant was installed and all before stocks ran out from the previous output. The process was better integrated and there was a better bottling plant. They really started winning awards, local and national and had amassed 40 for twenty beers and more than fifty prizes to date.

I tried their Abbey Stout at 5%. The brewery's beers are named after local places it seems, but not sure which abbey this named after. It was hand pulled and had a very pleasing tan coloured head that slid down the glass as you drank. The beer had a nice black colour. The roast barley gives a nice smokey aroma when the glass is picked up, but the taste is a little sweet with coffee and fruit, When you put the glass down again you have a dry bitterness left in the mouth that just makes you pick it up again for another swig. I liked this beer, and will look out for the brewery to try other of their brews.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.79

We left St. Neots and had another glorious day travelling up the Great Ouse.

 The river varies in width as you travel up stream and seems to never very close to habitation. It was as though we were travelling up the Amazon, without the humidity! We hardly saw a soul, or boat as we moved along.

That is until a new navigational danger appeared just before a lock. A pair of swimmers were enjoying themselves and were exploring this part of the river for the first time. They were no problem and kept well clear of us.

As we got closer to Bedford the river narrowed and the trees grew in too. There were plenty of bends to wonder if you were going to meet something coming round the corner, but we didn't, and in truth there was usually enough room for two.

The locks are modern and appear deep, but they have to cope with fluctuating river levels. There is a mixture of gates and guillotines on the locks too.

Just before Bedford is a large marina, and beyond that is a very low footbridge. This prevents the glass fibre cruisers from getting up to Bedford so the narrowboats have it all to themselves. Well almost, as you can see there are several rowing clubs too. There are some visitor moorings on the otherside, with a water point but we liked the idea of being off the footpath and in the sun. It is a big park by the mooring so very pleasant indeed. To access the town it is just across the footbridge.

We did go for a wander about the town and came across the Brewhouse and Kitchen (BHK) in High Street. I had seen these in other places but had never visited before. The BHK is a chain of pubs that were started by two mates in 2011. The idea is that the experience is the thing. Each of the pubs, and there are 22 of them around the country now, has a minibrewery within the pub, for all to see, hear and smell, and each can brew their own recipes along with a core. They also sell other breweries products. They sell food at reasonable prices and run courses such as a brewery visit, help brew a beer, beer tasting and food matching, and now gin tasting too. The Bedford pub has an industrial feel to it with areas sort of separated of from each other. Certainly more baseball than flat cap land. This pub interestingly was converted from a bank to a pub by Weatherspoons but BHK took it over in 2016.

The first BHK was in Portsmouth in 2016 and the chain has grown very quickly since then. I think they are up to 22 in all now. I'm not sure if some of them are franchised concerns. They now also seem to be going along the providing hotel accommodation at the same site where they can. Wetherspoon's have done the same. The concept is a little gimmicky for me, but the food looked good value and there was a good range of beers.

In the pubs literature they say that Intrepid is an American style pale at at 4.2%.  It was from the hand pull so had a nice white head. It had a nice floral aroma and a nice clear golden yellow colour. It tasted lovely too, sweet and fruity but with enough bitterness finish to make it interestingly complex. It was a great drink on a warm day. The name apparently comes about due to a local man Apsley Cheery-Garrard who was an exploring hero. (With a name like that he probably had to travel far away to escape bullying!) He was famously part of the Scott expedition to Antarctica on the Terra Nova 1910 - 1913. There were plenty of others beers to try so I may well explore when I see another one.

Sunday 12 April 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.78.

Easter Weekend and the sun is out, for now. I swear I haven't had a beer since this started. I'm torturing myself with these posts, but we are all in it together.

After St. Ives the Great Ouse becomes very pretty and you pass through several villages as you progress up stream, As  we passed through Hemingford Grey we made a mental note to stop on our way downstream. Our idea was to make a quick dash to the head of navigation, scoping the place out as we went, and then knowing what time we had to linger stopping off at noted sites.

After Huntindon therre was Godmanchester and some very nice gardens and houses that kept Helen interested as we sailed by.

Brompton Mill is a posh restaurant that has things like a foraging course where you cook with what you find. I lovely spot though.

When we got to St. Neots we could either moor on the park side, or this floating pontoon by the theatre. As you can see we chose the pontoon, that has water on it too. And handier for the town. I had visions of the town being picturesque and with plenty to see. We were only out for a while but were a little disappointed. We were not that impressed by the pubs even but eventually made a choice

As you can see the Weeping Ash is a Wetherspoon's establishment. The building is an old Post Office that was built in 1913. Before that the land was the garden of a Mr. Medland who was a banker, and important man in the town, according to the pub website. When I look I find a William Medland as a local surveyor and auctioneer! His house was opposite and after his death in 1870's, followed by his Cwife's passing, the house was sold to the local Conservative party to be their club. The post office was built on part of the garden was on part of the garden that had been sold off to a Mr. Redman. The garden had been well known for its shrubs and trees, especially the weeping ash tree, hence the name. The Post Office had the telephone exchange upstairs until 1962 when the STD exchange came in. The Post Office moved out in 2006 to relocate to the High Street and Wetherspoon took on the property soon after.

The pub had their usual standard beers on, that don't excite me very much, and an extremely small number of other beers. I chose a beer from the Exmoor Brewery in the end. Exmoor is not a 'Jonny come lately' brewery as they were  actually set up in 1979. The original name was the Golden Hill Brewery but this had changed to Exmoor the following year. They were actually set up in part of the old Hancock's brewery that started in 1807 but closed in 1859. The tower brewery and chimney are still land marks of the Somerset town of Wiveliscombe and where the beer is still brewed. It didn't take very long for them to make a mark as their Exmoor Ale became the Champion CAMRA beer and set them on the road to success. By 2015 they had to expand, and new premises were required. Mind you they only moved about 100 yds down the road. The move doubled their capacity and they are still going strong.

I had a pint of their strong bitter Stag, 5.2%. This beer was first brewed for bottling as it was created to celebrate the centenary of Somerset County Cricket Club in 1991. The days of Ian Botham and Viv Richards and Brian Close had passed but there was still much to celebrate. The beer went down so well it was decided to put it in cask and it has become one of their stable beers. There was a good head on the beer and the aroma was of hops, three different English hops are used. But the taste is definitely of biscuity malts. There is no doubting that it is a proper bitter,but well round and a very nice drink too.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.77.

We found St. Ives to be a lovely place, and it was really noticeable that there were very few cars in the middle of the town, which gave it an accessible and calmer feeling. We continued our exploration.

The Waits is a nice little mooring hidden away a little but handy for the town. On the right is the Norris Museum that is well worth an hour of your time at least, if for nothing else than the mummified cat and rat! On the other side is the Actual Waits. This is an island that was used as a commercial osier bed up until the 1930's I think. The willow were planted in neat rows, with fruit trees between as a by crop. The willow kept an industry going in the town making baskets etc. The island is now a reserve and has the Sea Scouts HQ too.

You maybe able to see that this memorial is dedicated to the Diamond Jubliee of Queen Victoria. The whole thing is a shame though. The monument was given to the time by a Mr. Odam of nearby Fenstanton as he had seen and liked one the same in Sandown on the Isle of White several years after the actual Jubilee! He had a replica made. The one in Sandown has since gone!! It wasn't until 1902 that it was finally erected, fully five years after the event. On it is recorded that it was it was presented to St. Ives on 26th June 1902 the day of the coronation of Edward VII. Yet again this was not rue as the coronation was actually put off until 30th as the future King was ill!!,

This view of the Town Bridge can not of changed much in many years. The bridge was built in 1425 and the chantry chapel, on the right, a year later. It was dedicated to St. Leger and also acted as a toll house. Over the years it has been used as an inn, a private residence and when used as accommodation it had two floors added. In the 1850's and 60's it became the notorious pub, 'Little Hell'. Later again is was used a a doctors. By the 1930's it was found to be in quite poor condition so the extra two floors were removed and it was restored to act as a chapel. It is occasionally used for services still, and is unusual as it has a crypt too. The bridge was partly demolished in 1645 when the southern most arches were blown up and a draw bridge erected to assist in defending the town. It was held by Cromwell's men. The drawbridge remained until 1716 when the arches were restored but you can see the different style of them to the original Gothic ones.

Speaking of Oliver Cromwell, his statue is in the Market Place. He was actually born in Huntingdon
  but when a plan to raise a monument to him is his birth place fell apart in 1899 St. Ives seized the opportunity. There was still much enmity to the Commonwealth for along time after in ended in the 1650's. The people of the town chose F.W. Pomeroy to be the sculptor and it is in broze, Portland stone and Scottish Granite. It was well reviewed at the Royal Academy of Arts in London before being erected in 1901. It is the only statue to the statesman in the country that was raised by public subscription.
Close by on the Market Hill is the Swan and Angel a Wetherspoon's and our next destination. The pub opened in 2017 and is actually named after two other pubs that were situated just next door but one called, yes you've guessed it the Swan and the Angel. In the 18th and 19th Century St.Ives animal market was second in size only to the Smithfield in London, You can imagine the number of drovers, farmers etc that would want a drink, and this was catered for by the 64 pubs that were in the town. The pub was busy, aren't they always, and had a fair selection of real ales on.

I chose one from the Westerham Brewery that I had never heard of before. Westerham is a town near Sevenoaks in Kent. A brewery was started there in 1841 called the Black Eagle Brewery by a Robert Day. He already had a brewery in Bermondsey, London, that brewed porters that the soft London water was good for. Here in Westerham the water was from the Greensand level and was great for pale bitter beers. By 1862 Ben Bushell joined and really moved the business ahead, so much so that by 1881 a branch line from the railway was brought in to move the large quantity of beer that was going to London.  The expanded by taking over other local brewers in Sevenoaks, Oxted, Canterbury and the other brewery in Westerham the Swan. They became known as Bushell, Watkins and Smith. The brewery came intoits own in WWII as it was close to Biggin Hill Air Base and so was popular with the lads of the Battle of Britain and afterwards. After D Day in June 1944 they wanted to do their bit for the lads fighting in Normandy so offered to give beer to the troops. This was not a priority cargo, but ingenuity meant that a local firm that was making  auxiliary fuel tanks for Spitfires filled them up with beer to take over to the lads. Bitter on one side and mild on the other! In fact other breweries devised a method of suspending a beer barrel beneath each wing of a Spitfire to get their beer to the soldiers. In 1948 the brewery was taken over by Taylor Walker and Co., and in 1959 they became part of the Ind Coope conglomerate. The Black Eagle brewery became just a distribution centre until 1964 when then Allied Brewers closed it down completely. That is until 2004 when the beer was resurrected by Robert Wicks. They now brew from the National Trust's Grange farm and have their own bore hole to access the greensands water below. They use Kentish hops and actually reactivated the original yeast from the old brewery that had been freeze dried and placed in the National Yeast collection by the head brewer when Taylor Walker, and then Ind Coppe had taken over. They now have the sole rights to the yeast. Yes, who knew you needed rights to a yeast.

I tried a pint of British Bulldog, 4.1%. It is a traditional British bitter, hence the name with a great mix of the two malts and four Kentish hops. The biscuity malt and the fruit hops make this a beer you could drink all day. I will definitely look out for more beers from this brewery.

Friday 3 April 2020

Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.76.

From Ely we swept down the wide channel of the Ouse, until we arrived at Pope's Corner, where the River Cam joins, and it becomes much narrower, and parts very canal like, and the name becomes the Old West River.

After the Lazy Otter pub the river then come to be more like a canal with the banks lined as it runs through the river plain that is in turn enclosed by flood banks.

We arrived at Hermitage Lock whilst they were on their dinner hour, which gave us time for ours. Here the lock is manned and you actually pen up into the river again, and this time it is the tidal section that is the end of the river section that flows past Denver Sluice. I couldn't get my head round if it was tidal why didn't matter when you arrived as when the tide was out there would be no water. Apparently the levels are such that when the tide goes out the flow of the river is sufficient to maintain navigation, usually!

There are only a few miles of tidal waters, with no discernible flow, before penning up into the 'normal ' river, which then starts to resemble rivers we had frequented previously, the Avon and parts of the Thames.

We kept going, ticking locks off, until we approached St. Ives. It looks very appealing from the river with the Town Bridge built in 1425 with its chantry church, one of only three still in existence. The others are at Rotherham and Wakefield. I think there are moorings at Town Quay, but it looked very high to get on and off the boat so we  continued under the bridge.

There was a little side channel to an area called the Waits that suited us better. St. Ives was a very big inland port in its date. It had the largest animal market outside of London at one time and traders came from far and wide, many on boats. It must have been busy as it had 68 pubs at that time.

Just off from the Town Quay, down Wellington Street, is the Oliver Cromwell. This area was where all the bargee and watermen lived when St. Ives was the big inland port. It became a pub in the 1840's but I suspect that it still served an other customer base as the owner was still a ship's chandler. The pub sign is very ornate, the best I've seen as far as the wrought iron work goes I think. Inside there is a bar area with plenty of wood and in the back room is a dining area. The well that served the establishment can in the side bar. The pub is called after the Commonwealth Leader of the 1600's who lived in the town and whose troops blew up the Town Bridge in the Civil War. Folk were friendly enough and it had a good atmosphere. Shortly after our visit I see the owners sold to Well and Co.

Oakham Ales actually started in Peterbrough before moving to the eponymous Oakham. They also have the largest brewery tap in Europe that was built in an old Labour Exchange. (Form more information see Beers, Boats and Boozers, No.75.).

JHB, 3.8%, or Jeffrey Hudson Bitter is named after Sir Jeffrey Hudson who was a courtier, adventurer and duelist at the court of Charles I. He was known as Lord Minimus as he was only 3'6" tall! They chose the name because despite his modest size and strength it is more than made up for with its character!
The beer was first brewed in September 1993 when the brewery was first started, but the recipe has been changed as public tastes have changed. When first brewed it had 0.6 lbs of hops per barrel, which was an awful lot of hops at the time. Nowadays there are 1.5lbs in each barrel!! The hops used are Mount Hood from the USA and Challenger from thee UK.
The pint poured a nice mellow brown with a decent head on it, however I think it was past its best as it wasn't the hops that came to my tongue, but the biscuity malts. They use Maris Otter and a Wheat malt in the cask but Maris and Clear Choice in the bottles. I have tried JHB before and it isn't one of my favourite beers but it was Supreme Champion beer in 2001.

Reading and writing about beer is interesting when we are in this period of the pubs been shut. I hope it isn't upsetting anybody. It will be a new period when we get back to 'normal', what ever that will be. Pubs were closing at a great rate of knots prior to COVID 19, and breweries were still coming on stream as more tried their hand. The economic problems of no income for the both of them mus inevitably mean closure for many. Maybe a certain rationalisation of breweries would have been required as they can't all make enough money to sustain a business, unless it is a sideline like the old days. I hope we don't ever get back to the days of Watney's Red Barrel and Worthington E etc. Fingers crossed.