Greene King are once again privileged to occupy pride of place in this mighty and notorious organ. This time for a very different reason than last time.
At long, long last the message has reached them, and it is my great pleasure to announce the reintroduction of real ale in no less than three Greene King tied houses.
The Queen's Head at Balsham has had handpumps installed recently and has available Abbot, IPA and XX Dark Mild. Don and Sally Graves have been in the pub for a couple of years now and have put considerable effort into making the place clean and comfortable. It is a "one-bar" pub with a separate room for darts. Snacks are served and there are adequate parking facilities.
The handpumps are splendid (as is the beer) - plenty of brass and porcelain. They are manufactured by Angram of Harrowgate, a firm I haven't heard of before. They are unusual in that the cylinder moves against the piston, instead of the other way round - this necessitates slackness in the pipeline beneath the engine.
Further North, the Royal Standard in Ely is to have electric pumps fitted to the existing "fizz-pumps". The electricity supply has been fixed and, at the time of writing, all that needs to be done is to deliver the actual electric pumps. By the time you read this, the pumps should be in full flow.
Many people will remember Frank and Julie King - they used to be the tenants of the Queen's Head at Fowlmere until about two years ago. In those days, such was Frank's dedication to real ale that he used to descend into the depths of his cellar armed with a large jug from which he would fill the ever-ready pint pots. Now, of course, the Queen's Head has handpumps which saves the landlords legs!
The real ale is therefore sure to be of excellent quality and, given that Greene King are about to begin redecorate the Royal Standard, it promises to be well worth a visit.
The third pub is the Robin Hood and Little John at Cherry Hinton. Work has just started on refurbishment and when this is completed full sets of handpumps will be installed. It is not yet certain when this will be, but it will certainly be this side of Christmas.
Greene King's attitude has certainly changed in recent months. At their AGM in August, Simon Redman told me that, in the course of time, most of their pubs will revert to real ale. "Not as quickly as CAMRA would wish, but it will happen." One thing Greene King will not do is to insist upon real ale when the landlord doesn't want it. This is fair comment. But any landlord who wants real ale only has to ask and he will get it. It is best to put the request in writing to the relevant Director, since some of the area managers are still somewhat "reluctant", but this is real progress.
I have been among the first to criticise Greene King in past years. Now I say well done Greene King, keep it up, but a little bit faster please - you have a lot of catching up to do!