ALE August-September 2010 No. 346 : Next section

[Campaign for Real Ale logo © CAMRA]

Not Taken for Granted - Part 2

This is the second in our articles about local pubs which don't hit our headlines because they just carry on being consistently excellent. The Castle Inn on Castle Hill Cambridge is a classic case in point. It has been in the Good Beer Guide for donkey's years and has an enviable reputation for its beer, food and atmosphere.
Indeed, when I met up recently with long-serving licensee John Halsey and his son Mat they were proud of the fact that little changes here. When John took over 15 years ago he quickly hit on a winning formula and sees no reason to change it - and his customers would probably riot if he did.

John's early career was as a musician, playing in the bands Timebox and Patto, though it was mostly session work which paid the bills (he played on Lou Reed's Transformer album for instance). However, he's probably best remembered for playing Barry Wom in the spoof-Beatles documentary, The Rutles (who still occasionally tour with Neil Innes and John from the original "band"). John has been a publican for 25 years now, the first 10 at pubs in Suffolk (and where Mat gained his first experience of bar work at a very tender age).

The Castle is an Adnams tied house - by some way their most westerly outlet - and sells the full range of the brewery's own beers i.e. Bitter, Broadside, Explorer, the new Lighthouse and the various specials. John and Mat are full of praise for Fergus Fitzgerald who took over as head brewer fairly recently and has since produced many really interesting ales such as the monthly "international" beers which appeared last winter. Also on the bar are three ales from the Purity Brewery from Warwickshire - Pure Gold, Mad Goose and Pure UBU - with whom Adnams have a trade deal. These are terrific beers. The legendary Tim Taylor Landlord completes the current line-up. Adnams have reduced their "guest list" in recent times but are apparently intending to expand it again and John and Mat look forward to being able to ring the changes a bit more.

Real ale accounts for about 75% of the beer sold in the pub which is even more impressive given that the other offerings are far from bog standard, including three imported German beers, Licher Weizen, Kostritzer (a dark lager) and Bitburger.

On the food side, the emphasis is on quality and value, with the extensive standard menu supplemented by around 12 daily specials. The burgers, especially the Castle Burger, are legendary.

The pub itself is a very attractive old building, on two floors, with lots of different drinking spaces, including a delightful snug. The building sits at the foot of the hill on which the long-gone Cambridge Castle once stood and the beer garden/patio between building and hill is a lovely quiet sun-trap.

Although the pub inevitably attracts a lot of tourists, students and workers from nearby Shire Hall, it also has a large band of loyal regulars, not always the case in city pubs. Going back to the start of the article, John is sure that this is because you know what you're going to get here - and it's all good.