ALE Summer 2004 No. 314 : Next section

[Campaign for Real Ale logo © CAMRA]

Hit List Revisited

Back in the old days when pubs not selling real ale outnumbered those which did, ALE had a regular feature titled "The Hit List". This itemised the ten pubs in the Branch area which we'd most like to see convert to cask beer. We revisited it every six months or so, by which time a few had done the right thing and could be replaced by other candidates.

So should we reinstate the list? Well the simple answer is that we can't - because there are now fewer than ten non-real-ale pubs in the Branch area. At this juncture we need to consider what we mean by pub for these purposes. If we mean 'premises with a full on-licence where anyone can pop in just for a drink', then we'd need to include the rash of cafe-bars that have infected the city centre in recent years. However, it's unlikely that any of these establishments would regard themselves as pubs, and we certainly wouldn't, so they can safely be discounted (not least because the chances of any of them ever selling real ale are less than zero).

Our latest local pub guide, published two years ago, lists 18 pubs in the 'No Cask Here' section. Five of these are now in the area of our neighbours the Ely branch. Of these, the Cherry Tree, Soham is now real, the Bushel and Strike, Soham, has closed, and the position at the other three is presently unknown to us.

That leaves 13 in our area. Three have since converted to real ale, the prime example being the Carlton Arms, Cambridge, which has gone rapidly from keg nightmare to Branch Pub of the Year! Although previously unreported in ALE, the Osbourne Arms on Hills Road has had a single handpump for some time, dispensing changing guest beers. The Rat and Parrot on Thompson's Lane is now the Waterside and offers a couple of guest beers.

The New Inn at Castle Camps has closed for good, whilst the Five Bells on Newmarket Road has had wooden curtains for some time and shows no sign of reopening.

That leaves just eight non-real-ale pubs, all in Cambridge (so far as we're aware, no pub listed in the guide as real have chucked the good stuff out). they include the Graduate, which in its previous incarnation as the Fresher & Firkin even brewed its own beer for a while. It is also sad to see the Royal Standard, once a Good Beer Guide regular, on the list.

For the record the others are the British Queen, the Blackamoor's Head, the Cow (formerly Red Cow), the Devonshire Arms, the Duke of Argyle and the Jubilee. All have sold real ale at some time in the last ten years, so who knows?

So, is this all a cause for unalloyed joy? Well no, for two main reasons. First, quantity is good but quality is better. There are still to many pubs where the lack of genuine interest in and commitment to real ale is reflected in the indifference of their offerings. Given that the worst advert for real ale is crap real ale, it would actually be better if these pubs just didn't bother. Having said that, I've been drinking in these parts for some 25 years now, and I reckon that, overall, quality is better now than it's ever been.

Second, choice: given the large number of Greene King pubs in our area (113), is it really necessary for 179 of our 310 pubs to have Greene King IPA on their counters? Licensees would no doubt say that it's the most popular beer round here and, on form, it's a good ale, but pub company tenants and free house owners have many other (and better) beers to choose from. Generally, there's a disappointing tendency to play safe - local real ale drinkers are actually more adventurous than they're given credit for.

We'll return to this topic in a couple of years.

Paul Ainsworth

ALE Summer 2004 No. 314 : Next section
Cambridge & District CAMRA