The Cambridge Brew House

Herbs everywhere, I wonder how long that'll last...

I posted some Cambridge Pub News the other week and I’m pleased to say that one of the pubs mentioned has now opened.

The Cambridge Brew House is located on King St and has undergone a massive refit, which has included the installation of a micro brewery on the site. I’m not going to go into any details about the history of the place, as Adam over at Pints and Pubs has already produced a fantastic blog on the subject.

I managed to visit at lunchtime on their opening day last week and enjoyed a few halves of the beer on offer (they had two of their own on, Adnams Broadside, Black Bar Standing Talking Bitter, Lord Conrad’s Pheasants Rise and Nethergate Growler Bitter). I wandered around and took a few photos, which you can see below. I’m not the biggest fan of going to the pub on my own, even though I seem to do it quite a lot and since it was a flying visit, I think I’ll reserve judgement on the place until I’ve been in the evening with some friends. Having said that, there are a few things that I think they could improve on, but given that this was their opening day, this might sound a bit on the harsh side.

Of the six hand pumps mounted on the bar, three of them were dispensing bitter, two dispensing premium bitter / best bitter / ESB (call it what you like) and just the one pump dispensing anything remotely pale and hoppy, which from my personal perspective, doesn’t bode well. I’d liked to have seen a larger selection of beer styles on offer and while they are obviously keeping it local, which is all well and good, if the local produce on offer is all a bit samey and average, then maybe you need to look a bit further afield. Instead of a couple of those bitters, I’d rather have seen one or two beers from a few of the UK’s more progressive and new wave breweries (Thornbridge, DarkStar, MagicRock, Summer Wine to name but a few).

Of their in house brews (currently being brewed in Henley until their brew house is up and running next week) the King’s Parade was nice and balanced, but tending to the maltier side of things and in my view inferior to the Black Bar Standing Talking; mainly as the later had more bitterness. The Misty River was similarly nicely balanced, but this time slightly to the bitter side of things with a pleasant bitter tickle lingering in to after taste, it also had that smoothness you get from a bit of wheat in the grist and I would happily have another. While both were good solid beers, neither of them would get a beer geeks juice salivating though, but then I don’t think either are aimed at the beer geek, so will probably do very well for the kind of clientèle that the place seems designed to attract.

They do have plans for other beers though, with a US Pale ale already having been brewed. So hopefully with the micro brewery on site, we can only hope that there will be a range of more esoteric and interesting brews to go along with the core range.

I must admit to not paying too much attention to what was was available on keg, as there was nothing that instantly stood out as being different for the norm. I think they could easily give over a couple of keg lines to something interesting from the Bacchanalia or Beautiful Beers like some De Molen, Rogue or anything kegged from the afore mentioned progressive UK brewers; it appears to be working for Benson Blakes in Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge is crying out for somewhere to do some decent craft keg properly. It was a similar story with the bottles, I stopped looking when I saw they were stocking the triumph of marketing over taste, that is Innis & Gunn.

I can’t comment on the food, as I didn’t eat any while I was there, but it sounds positive from blogs like The Moving Foodie and what folks have been saying on twitter.

I’ve not really enjoyed trying to write this bolg, as I feel I’ve been ridiculously over critical for somewhere that had only been open for only for 30 minutes when I walked through the door. I wasn’t expecting a Cask Pub & Kitchen, or Craft Beer Co type place, even though Cambridge desperately needs one. It’s just frustrating walking into a new place and being uninspired by the beer choices on offer, especially when there are plenty of pubs opening around the country with impressive cask, keg and bottle ranges on the bar. I also realise that I’m probably not the target market for this place, there’s too much herbage on the tables for my liking for a start, but I just feel like it could have been so much more beer wise.

I’ll be going back though, I can’t say how often as I’m not the biggest pub visitor, but it certainly another option along with The Mitre and The Maypole, for a quick half on the way back to the office after a lunch break in town. I’m also looking forward seeing brewing return to the City for the first time in a few years and will definitely be paying a visit to try the new US Pale Ale when it hits the bar in a few weeks time.

The guys behind the venture obviously know what they are doing, as they’ve built a pub company before and then sold it to Greene King. This begs the question, are they in this because they love beer, or are they only in it for the money, what ever the answer to that question is, The Cambridge Brew House is certainly a welcome addition to the Cambridge pub scene and I look forward to seeing how it’s evolves over the next few months.

13 Replies to “The Cambridge Brew House”

  1. I enjoyed my visit on Friday evening, when it was packed out. We were planning on eating, but rather frustratingly all the tables were prebooked and having sat down we were asked to move (very politely to be fair).

    I too was uninspired by the beer selection. I had the blackbar and it wasn’t bad at all as you say, but the rest of choice was disappointing, too many bitters, too little mild. If you want to stay local, then get some St Peter’s or Oakham on.

    As for the kegs, they hadn’t even taken that first tentative step towards craft beer bar status by replacing the Guinness with a decent stout. They have Freedom lager, perhaps Freedom stout? I would like to see something like a Punk IPA or a Jaipur, maybe a Budvar dark lager on keg. Something I can’t get elsewhere in Cambridge.

    Wasn’t particularly cheap either, with a single GnT and a pint of ale costing north of £8. Glad to see they’re showing the rugby upstairs though!

    I’ll be back, but I won’t be rushing back quite as quickly as I had hoped I would be.

    1. Yeah, keg & bottle line-up a total let-down. I’m guess I went in with too high a set of expectations I. I think I had the likes of Cask Pub & Kitchen in mind… 🙁 I expected Black Isle instead of Guinness at least, as that’s what the Mill has (still do, don’t they?). Cask also very uninspiring – and £3.50 for a 3.6% bitter? That’s too much, even for Cambridge – isn’t it? After dinner we had a couple of much better beers down the road at the Radegund.

      I came away from the place with an impression of “gastropub cynically trying to extract favour on the back of the ascension of the local/micro beer scene” – extracting the piss^Wcash from the cashed-up Cambridge crowd. Cynical of *me* I guess. I know businesses need to make money so don’t begrudge necessary price rises… but they also need to be competitive to do so and I don’t see how they’re competitive at the moment – £10 for a beef burger? You’ve really got to give something *extra* to justify that price, at least explain the expense/provenance of your beef or something like that to back it up. (We could have added “crispy bacon” for £1.25 – joy – £11.25 for a beef+bacon burger. At least tell me something along the lines that the bacon came from free range pigs reared on a diet of spent malt. Justify it.) As it stands there is much better quality+value beer+food elsewhere (the recently re-opened Alexandra Arms for example), and better beer at better value in at least 8 other Cambridge pubs.

      However – early days yet. The food was good, if overpriced. The service was excellent & cheerful, which is sadly a rarity in British pubs and restaurants. I will hang on to some hope and try again if I hear anything more positive about the place down the line. There’s certainly plenty of headroom for improvement.

      1. I think the “gastropub cynically trying to extract favour on the back of the ascension of the local/micro beer scene” impression has some validity, due to fact that they sold their previous chain of pub and “aim to repeat this success” with their new chain. It’ll be interesting to see if the beer selection, menu and the prices charged change after a few months or so.

    2. The Guinness thing is especially confusing, as they’ve replaced it with Black Isle Porter in The Mill; can’t get my head round why they haven’t continued with that here.

  2. The Kings Parade was off by the time I got there, and that was only second evening! Would have liked to try it. Still, I know the issues involved in having real ale ready.

    As you point out, the keg choices were not inspiring. The bottle range was slightly better, but a few Belgian beers or more exciting US offerings would have been welcome. It’s much easier to have variety in bottle than on draught.

    I did eat there, but the food situation seemed a little confused. They had reserved tables which never got used, while people came in repeatedly looking to eat. So soon after opening they possibly shouldn’t have allowed reservations. Reservations were written in chalk on table, so from a distance you couldn’t see it, unlike he more usual stand-up sign, which resulting in people repeatedly walking up to reserved tables and then realising they weren’t free.

    Food was table-service. It didn’t work well with our group, which came in at least 3-4 waves over the course of an evening with people ordering at different times, which is how we would normally eat in a pub. Maybe this is something people can get used to, but it feels like they can’t decide whether they are a restaurant or a pub. Geldart probably closest comparison in Cambridge, and that has ordering at the bar.

    Given that it was table-service, they then failed to bring the food out together for people who ordered together. I think they were confused by my choice of several tapas instead of a main, but this is explicitly an option on their menu!

    Wasn’t at all clear if you could get food on the non-restaurant side. Nobody seemed to, but maybe it was possible. The english tapas menu would seem ideal for this.

    However the food was good. Maybe a little pricey, but hardly out of keeping with the more food-focused pubs. I like the english tapas idea as well as the execution.

    I don’t like music in pubs generally, but in any case the room was too loud to hear it, except for a pervasive base-beat which was irritating.

    The toilets had ‘amusing’ sexist jokes on the back of the doors, which was crass, and probably the most false note in what otherwise seemed to be aiming up-market.

    I am being overly critical. I’m willing to give it another try in a couple of months. I am glad that they’re doing something different for Cambridge, even if it’s not my kind of thing.

    1. Sounds like they have lots of work to do, hopefully it’s just teething issues and will improve over the next few weeks as the staff get used to it all. I have to agree with the whole reserved table thing though, seems daft to be loosing potential covers…

    2. Oh gawd, the lewd & lame blokey crap on the walls in the men’s toilets. Target audience: cashed up Cambridge student crowd? All a bit frat-boy. I think “not my kind of thing” applies here too.

  3. but from what youve described, basically a real ale gastropub, it sounds like the Cambridge Brew House is just an extension of the Capital Pubs/Firkins/Slug & Lettuce types of style theyve (David Bruce especially) have developed over the last x many decades, as that is pretty much exactly from the beer,food,decor & prices to how I remember their Capital pubs in London and ditto similar from any of their Firkins/Slugs & Letti

    whether sticking to that formula is going to work as well now, even in the time since they sold Capital pubs to GK the beer scene has changed remarkably quickly, or whether it needs a slight tweek, I dont know if I did id be running those pubs instead, but its certainly a formula that has been very successful for them in the past.

    I dont think its as cynical attempt to cash in as it seems,its just a continuation of the kind & style of pubs theyve run before for many years and been successful with,so not sure Id bank on things to change that much to be honest.

  4. I’d rather see a more interesting cask beer selection than load of ‘craft keg’ if I’m honest. Keg is all well and good, but it’s always HUGELY over-priced.

    Places like Benson Blakes in Bury St Edmunds and The Tap House in Norwich are great, but I’m not that keen on paying £3 for a half of beer that usually far too cold and only starts to taste great when you’re nearing the end. Hence, I usually pop into these places and have a quick half before leaving and going somewhere like the Fat Cat or The Beer House where you get a great choice, but the beer is almost half the price.

    I find it strange that when pubs are struggling, it’s strange that beer geek types are moaning about the lack of keg options.

  5. Why on Earth can’t everything in a pub be good? Why have interesting cask and boring mega-corp keg?

    Cambridge lacks two things as compared to London, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Edinburgh, and others:

    1. Variety in the realm of “progressive” cask beer – too many dull brown bitters *yawn*
    2. Any good British keg beer options AFAIK – well, there’s Black Isle Porter at the Mill

    Admittedly Cambridge is a mere dot compared to the places listed above. Maybe there isn’t a big enough market for such a bar here? I really think there must be though – Cambridge is a very diverse & international town and fairly affluent to top it off. (I may very well be completely wrong – only an attempt to run a good “craft” type bar here is going to prove that one way or the other.)

    What has the struggling state of pubs got to do with it? Surely if supplying more variety and interest would help a pub attract more clientèle then that would be a good thing for the overall Cambridge pub scene? I don’t give a crap how much a pub is struggling if the expectation is that I go there and drink dull bathwater just to keep it alive! It is already dead to me.

    I want interest, variety, and flavour. I’m very happy to pay £3 per half for it too… Until pubs in Cambridge start ticking those boxes more often I’ll stick to ticking them at home and the pubs wont get my £££ – thus adding another very small nail to their collective coffin.

  6. The Fountain sells Black Isle Porter on keg too, and very good it is as well. Would like to see more pubs go down this route. There is no reason why decent British keg beer HAS to be overpriced. Good cask + bad keg = 50% of a good pub.

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