ALE Easter 1996 No. 283

Firkin Comes To Town

The old Tivoli Cinema building on Mitchams Corner, Cambridge, has had a chequered history in recent years. Following a spell as an electrictical warehouse, it was occupied by two short-lived nightclubs, The Exchange and Levels. In early Dcccmber last year, it re-opened in its latest guise as The Fresher and Firkin. All the signs are that this will be a long-lasting operation.

The Firkin chain was founded in the early eighties by legendary entrepreneur, David Bruce. He built up a small estate of pubs, mostly in London, based on the themes of pub-brewed beers, no-nonsense surroundings and awful puns. In due course, the chain was sold to Allied Breweries who have since expanded the estate to about 80 pubs, with another 220 planned in the next two years!

Size is not everything, but this is a big one!

The Fresher and Firkin impresses firstly with its sheer size. It is far and away the biggest pub in Cambridge. The ground floor is enormous, stretching all the way from the Chesterton Road entrance (complete with revolving door) to french windows overlooking the Cam. Upstairs is a smaller, but still sizeable, second room complete with its own bar. The decor is in the customary Firkin mould with bare floorboards, assorted furniture, quality fittings and humorous prints and signs. The end result is informal, relaxed and undeniably popular, attacting a clientele including business people and students.

Five new beers for Cambridge

Like most Firkins, this one has its own brewery, which can be viewed from the first floor. The brewster is Kath Long, who has a diploma in brewing and distilling from Heriot Watt University, and whose first brewery this is. Kath brews five regular ales, two bitters, Fresher (4.3%) and Punt (3.5%), Swot Pale Ale (5%), Principal Stout (4.5%) and Dogbolter (5.6%), a strong dark ale. The last is available in all Firkin pubs so Kath has to follow the recipe closely, but she has plenty of freedom as regards the other ales. All-malt mashing is employed - no added sugars. Hops used are Fuggles, Progress and Bramley Cross. Kath intends to brew special ales as and when the opportunity arises. The first, O'Kay Yar, 6.5%, is brewed with honey and cinnamon to sup in March.

One problem for CAMRA is that the beer is kept in cellar tanks under a blanket of nitrogen. To qualify as real ale in CAMRA's terms, beer must not be kept under artificially applied gas. You can only imagine how much better the beer could taste if this practice was not used.

Open all Firkin Hours

As well as its home-brews, the pub also sells Weston Traditional cider and perry, the latter a rare and welcome sight indeed. Regular beer festivals will also be held featuring between 15 and 30 beers, mostly from micro-breweries.

The pub is open all permitted hours, with breakfast available from 10a.m. Food is served until 8p.m., the standard menu being supplemented by daily specials. Thursday night is curry night and regular food theme nights are also held - Mexican, Chinese etc. Student Fodder Specials every Wednesday for 1.50.

Manager Phil Meak is very pleased with the levels of trade so far and also the fact that the pub has been entirely trouble-free, which he puts down to the good mix of clientele and the laid-back atmosphere.

Strangely enough there has been a brewery on this site before. The Spring Brewery closed in 1896. This supplied pubs as far afield as Grantchester and Waterbeach and is thought to have had its own quay on the Cam. At that time there were at least 16 breweries in Cambridge but all these had closed by 1972. With the opening of The Ancient Druids brew-pub in 1984 and now The Fresher and Firkin we're moving in the right direction again.

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