Every time you think this place can't get better for the real
ale drinker, another multi-handpumped free house opens up. The
choice is astonishing and quality is generally high. The city also
boasts what many would agree is the best real ale pub in the
country - the Fat Cat, twice CAMRA's national pub of the year.
For a relatively small town, Stamford offers an impressive
range of pubs, many of which have four or more cask beers. The
Green Man on Scotgate remains the doyen but a wander through
the delightful streets of this unspoilt Georgian town will bring you to
many a fine hostelry. The recently opened Tobie Norris in St Paul's
Street is now officially my favourite pub in the world. Like Norwich,
Stamford is easily reached from Cambridge by train so makes a
great day out.
Somewhere else where history and real ale blend beautifully
together. From the rail station the starting place has to be the
legendary Maltings with its ever-changing selection of both local
and exotic ales. York also has three pubs on CAMRA's National
Inventory of historic or architecturally important pub interiors, all of
which also sell great cask beer. One of them, the Bluebell, is right in
the city centre and epitomises the cliche, a little gem.
This buzzing city has so much going for it these days.
On the real ale front, the four local regional brewers (Hydes, Holts,
Robinsons and Lees) continue to supply good value, high quality
ales and there are plenty of free houses as well. The "northern
quarter" still has the best concentration of outlets and though some
go (recently the Beer House), others come on board (the excellent
Crown and Kettle). The number of bars, as against pubs, selling
interesting real ales is notable.
Another revitalised city and one which can claim to have
the best selection of gorgeous historic interiors, including the
Philharmonic, our finest high-Victorian pub, even better for a recent
deep clean. Of the many first-class real ale pubs I particularly
recommend the NI-listed Lion and, down at the waterfront, the
Baltic Fleet, which also brews its own ales.
Arriving here by train, you get off to a great start with the
Brunswick and Alexandra just a hop, skip and a jump from the
station; the former has its own brewery too. There's an amazingly
good Wetherspoons, the Babington Arms, which specialises in local
ales plus other corking freehouses like the Flowerpot, the Smithfield
and the N.I. - listed Dolphin.
Although I prefer Glasgow as a city, Edinburgh
undeniably has the edge when it comes to real ale - the city centre
is awash with the stuff, albeit at a price (Cambridge pub-goers will
feel at home). You can also drink it in hugely attractive
surroundings, from N.I. pubs like the Cafe Royal and Bennet's Bar,
convincing "Victorian" fakes like the Guildford and more recently
designed bars such as the Bow and Cumberland.
The place to go here is the "valley of beer", down by the
Don, and hopefully recovered from the summer floods. The Fat Cat
and the Kelham Island Tavern really do the business. A stroll up the
banks towards Hilsborough brings further rewards from the Cask
and Cutler and the Hilsborough Hotel. Some promising newcomers
in the centre as well e.g. the Devonshire Cat.
Near neighbour Bristol also argues a good case but I reckon
Bath edges it as so many good pubs are concentrated in the city
centre, itself a lovely place to be. It also helps that two of the best
drinking pubs, the Green Tree and the Star, are also on the
National Inventory so you can drink top-notch beer in classic
- Lewes This charming Sussex town is home to Harveys brewery, whose wonderful beers can be found in many of the local pubs. Famously these once again include the Greene King-owned Lewes Arms, where the customers campaigned successfully for the return of their favourite brew, as chronicled in recent ALEs. Down near the brewery, the Gardener's Arms is an excellent free house.
So, what about Cambridge, you ask. Well, a look through the city's entries in the Good Beer Guide (new edition out now, folks) shows that we're blessed with some seriously good pubs. In fact, in my 27 years of drinking here, I haven't known choice and quality to be better. However this article is more aimed at pointing ALE readers, who will know the city well, to places they may not have tried so you'll have to guess at its place in my pantheon. And if you feel I've ignored somewhere that deserves recognition, please let me know.