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Taste Cumbria Beer Festival, Cockermouth and Pete Brown

September 30, 2012 3 comments

Having explored quite a lot of Cumbrian beers recently, it was good to cap it off with a visit to the Beer Festival at Taste Cumbria.  The CAMRA-run festival at the Jennings Brewery was part of a programme full of exciting food events in Cockermouth.

Because there was so much on, we only got to spend a few hours at the festival, but enjoyed a few of the range of Cumbrian beers and got to talk with some luminaries of the Cumbrian beer scene including Neil Bowness and his other half Sharon, Jeff Pickthall,  Hardknott Alex and Coniston’s Ian Bradley and Helen Bradley.  The beers were a good representation of the Cumbrian beer landscape and included some excellent examples from the progressive fringe, including Hawkshead NZPA, Hardknott Code Black, Coniston Infinity IPAConiston No 9 Barley Wine and Stringers Furness Abbey.

In addition I got to try a couple of beers from breweries that were less familiar to me.  Hesket Newmarket Scafell Blonde was a pleasant light blonde of which it would be easy to sink a few pints after a long summer walk.  Great Gable Yewbarrow from Egremont was a great beer hiding behind an unassuming pumpclip: a 5.5% strong dark mild that was packed with flavour.

We also got to chat with Pete Brown at the festival, and on the Sunday we went to his talk and tutored tasting.  We tried a perry, cider and five beers from the festival, which Pete talked us through in an engaging and informative manner.

He also did a couple of readings from his books, including his new one, Shakespeare’s Local, about the history of The George Inn in Southwark.  It sounded like it should be as fascinating and funny as the rest of his books, an exercise in studying the wood by looking very closely at a single tree. The book is released on 8 November and will be a Radio 4 Book Of The Week in December.  Pete also talked about his new project surveying international ciders and perries for a world cider guide, which sounds like it should be an interesting survey of an drink that isn’t usually considered in a global context.

Sadly, I missed a few of the other beer events, including Jeff Pickthall talking about the more esoteric beers of Cumbria (although Jeff very kindly gave us a bottle of his aged stock of No 9) and Pete and Jeff’s pub quiz on the Saturday night.  But it has been a fantastic weekend and everybody involved, especially including Neil and Sharon, deserve a lot of thanks for the work they put in to showcasing the best of Cumbria’s beers prominently alongside the best of its food.

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Cumbria Way Pubs: Rosthwaite-Keswick; Keswick Pubs; Keswick, Jennings and Cumbrian Legendary Ales

September 23, 2012 5 comments

Some scaling back of our ambitions for the Cumbria Way was required after Kate’s injury. After completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks a few weeks previously, I was determined that walking is something to be done to increase happiness, not to endure misery merely for the sake of achievement. So we decided that we weren’t going to complete the Cumbria Way on this occasion, but we would do one more relatively flat section, to take us to Keswick.  This involved skipping the section between Elterwater and Rosthwaite (much of which we had done before) to avoid the ascent and descent of Stake Pass.

After being dropped off in the village of Rosthwaite, another relatively sunny morning meant that we had a lovely couple of hours walking through farmland, woodland, by caves and over disused slate quarries alongside the River Derwent, before we got to the foot of Derwent Water. From there there was a pleasant lakeside walk for a few miles before the Cumbria Way leaves the lake for a less interesting walk through managed woods and through the village of Portinscale before entering Keswick.

I wasn’t entirely enthused by what I’d read about the pubs in Keswick, but we wanted a pint and some food at the end so we first tried the Dog & Gun, the only Keswick pub in the 2012 Good Beer Guide. It turned out that the pub wasn’t so much dog-friendly as seemingly run entirely for the benefit of dogs, with posters all over the place for doggy treats sold in “a new poo-bag for you to use afterwards”.

The range of beers was fine if not amazing, with Cumbrian Legendary Ales Loweswater Gold and Keswick Landlord’s Choice both pleasant and refreshing enough. The Dog & Gun wasn’t serving food any more so we moved on to try The George Hotel (looked fine, but had stopped serving food and was therefore empty by 3pm) and eventually the Oddfellows.

The Oddfellows only had Jennings on cask, but a Cumberland Ale and Sneck Lifter were both sufficiently satisfying to accompany our cheesy chips. The service was good and the food came quickly, although the pub, covered in horse-racing memorabilia, looked a little tired and had that oddly quiet, sombre atmosphere traditional pubs can have on a weekday afternoon, despite having quite a few customers in.

Our couple of hours in Keswick reminded me that the majority of pubs are merely alright, and that great pubs, like the Black Bull in Coniston or the Britannia Inn in Elterwater, should be appreciated.

Beer Reviews Andy has subsequently suggested the Bank Tavern as another option in Keswick.  If you have any tips for good pubs in or around Keswick for Cumbrian Way walkers, please let me know in the comments. 

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