Since the start of 2007, seven pubs in the Branch area have been newly accredited. Two of them, the Baron of Beef and the Boathouse, both in Cambridge, are well-known to me as I deliver ALE to them - and both certainly keep their beer consistently well. The others are pubs which I haven't visited much in recent years so I thought I'd suss them out to see if their accreditation was merited.
First on the list was the Golden Hind on Milton Road Cambridge. This huge pub was built in the 1930s by the Tolly Cobbold brewery of Ipswich (sadly no more) and was one of their "Tolly Follies" - vast out-of-town pubs more like baronial halls. The interior has now been greatly opened out though vestiges of its opulent past remain - oak panelling in the former "Oak Room", the skylight over the bar, the colonnade and the ornate windows in the conservatory area. Anyway, to the beer. From a choice of Greene King IPA and Boddingtons Bitter, I picked the latter. This famous ale is now rarely seen in these parts, at least in cask form, and has been brewed by Hydes since Boddingtons brewery shut a few years back. My pint was exceptionally good; perfect temperature and surprisingly tasty (it had become quite a bland beer before the transfer to Hydes). One up to Cask Marque then.
The Bridge Clayhythe was the next port of call. Delightfully situated by the river Cam, it reopened in 2004 after significant remodelling following a serious fire. It's a Chef and Brewer operation and when I called just before opening on a Sunday lunchtime the diners formed a lengthy queue. Once inside you're greeted by a "seating host", who was quite happy that I'd only popped in for a drink. The choice this time was Wells Bombardier and Greene King "Hardy and Hansons" Olde Tryp - I had a half of each. Both were in fine fettle albeit a bit warm, but then I was the first person to be served from both pumps. I'm sure subsequent pints would have been colder. A slightly qualified thumbs up then (even the first pint should be perfect!) The place was soon heaving with folk tucking into the £8.39 Sunday lunch but I left them to it as I headed down the road to the Blue Lion Fen Ditton.
Disaster! No real ale whatsoever! The guy behind the bar explained that the pub was "in transition" and the temporary management had been instructed to sell only a limited range of drinks. New licensees were expected shortly. However Cask Marque is awarded to licensees (the previous one in this case) not the pub and the accreditation has, I notice, since been withdrawn.
My next sortie, a few weeks later, took me to the Tree at Stapleford. The landlord here, Ian Wilson, has had several local pubs including the Cricketers Cambridge and the White Horse Barton and has always been known for keeping good ale. The Tree is a Greene King house and offered IPA, Abbot and the seasonal beer, Ruddles Hedgerow. The first and third were tried and both scored a resounding 9 on my beerometer. This is very much a locals pub, tucked away in Bar Lane, and its simple L-shaped bar has a really nice, convivial atmosphere. I also liked the unusual terra-cotta and lemon yellow colour scheme. Again it was Sunday lunchtime and again plenty of folk were eating - food is served all sessions except Sunday evening and Monday lunchtime.
Finally to the pub which, locally, most recently achieved Cask Marque accreditation - the Black Horse, Melbourn. Off the beaten track in Orchard Road, this former Whitbread pub has an especially pretty flint-faced front wall. Inside there's a dining room to the left then a largish bar which is basically U-shaped. It features an attractive curved bar counter and lots of comfy padded chairs and mini-settees. The real ales on my visit were Greene King IPA, Woodforde's Wherry and St Austell Tribute. Once again I was first customer on a Sunday lunchtime so the fact that halves of the last two were both cool and in fine condition was a Wherry high Tribute to the cellarmanship here. The food looked interesting and several customers were taking advantage of the October sunshine to sit in the well-appointed garden.
On the basis of my experiences, then, the Cask Marque sign can indeed be trusted if you're looking for quality real ale. Should you happen upon a pub bearing their plaque where the beer isn't up to scratch, do please let Cask Marque know - they're as keen as we are to ensure that standards in accredited pubs remain high.