When it’s a beautiful summer’s day and you’re surrounded by over 300 different types of ale, beer and cider it’s hard not to get excited. Earlier this year we had the pleasure of visiting the 45th Cambridge Beer Festival; an incredible 6 day event right in the heart of Cambridge. Now we may be boozers, but, we’re ethical boozers and we wanted to find out exactly what was on offer. We went to explore everything available to vegans and what steps they were taking to make the Cambridge Beer Festival more environmentally friendly. And, we wanted to drink lots and lots of beer. Find out what we discovered in our vegan adventures at the Cambridge Beer Festival 2018.
What is the Cambridge Beer Festival?
The Cambridge Beer Festival isn’t just any beer festival, it’s the second largest in the UK with over 50,000 visitors each year. The festival is organised by CAMRA and it’s actually their longest running event having started in 1974. Since 2001 the 6 day session has been held on Jesus Green, a beautifully leafy location right by the river in central Cambridge. Each year it grows in size and popularity so it’s definitely the place to be if you appreciate good beer and want to experience a slice of Cambridge culture.
With over 300 ales, beers and ciders from all of the best breweries around the UK you really are spoilt for choice. There’s a great variety of international beer if you fancy something a bit more exotic and a growing variety of food options. All of this alcoholic activity takes place in a huge marquee and spills outside onto the beautiful Jesus Green grass.
The 50,000 punters that visit the event will mingle and sway in the main hall or sit down on the grass and bask in the sunshine (weather permitting). The Cambridge Beer Festival definitely stays true to it’s routes and you get a real variety of punters varying from intellectual and eccentric university professors, to happy families to us tree hugging, ale chugging hippies. You’re also likely to meet seasoned Cambridge ale drinkers who have been to every event to date. All in all it’s a quintessentially Cambridge event and a great place to see local culture at it’s finest.
Our Vegan Adventures at the Cambridge Beer Festival 2018
However traditional the Cambridge Beer Festival is we wanted to find out if the festival was progressing in ethical ways. Years ago when we found out a lot of alcohols contain animal products we were shocked. This changed a lot of our nighttime antics and made a trip to the pub a less relaxing occasion. With such a famous event on our doorsteps we wanted to see what was in store for vegan visitors and if sustainability was an consideration.
As this is a 6 day event we actually went down twice because we bloody love it! The first visit was on a Thursday evening which was super busy and our second visit was on Saturday afternoon and into the night. The Thursday was filled with seasoned Cambridge Beer Festival goers who had finished a long day at work and were ready for a pint or five. The weather wasn’t as great so the marquee was filled to the brim with lively conversations and friendly faces. Imagine the atmosphere of your favourite pub, on Christmas Eve, after the bar has just called drinks on the house, plus a ridiculous selection of drinks. The whole event had a lovely feel to it with a real Cambridge Charm.
On Saturday we were lucky to have glorious weather so all of the punters were lazing on the grass with a pint in hand. There’s no music at the Cambridge Beer Festival and we thought this was nice. It encouraged you to make conversation or take in your surroundings. It also isn’t trying to be anything it’s not, the Cambridge Beer Festival is all about good beer and the people that appreciate it.
Looking for more activities in Cambridge? Have you tried punting?
Another aspect which adds a really welcoming feel is that it’s all run by volunteers. Over 400 beer enthusiasts keep the festival going and all seem to have friendly faces behind the bar (definitely helped by the free drinks they get). To us this makes a big difference instead of a team of agency employees who don’t want to be there and 18st stone bruisers on the front door. All the bartenders can help you choose the best pint for you because they’ve probably tried them all and everyone is happy for a cheerful conversation. Altogether it makes the Cambridge Beer Festival a really friendly event, the perfect place to wash down some beautiful vegan beer!
Now we can get down to the serious business…
Where to start, no matter your taste there really is an incredible selection of beers on offer. Actually, there are so many beers (over 300) it’s hard to know where to start. To make things nice and easy for you the festival program shows all the beers on offer from each brewery. It also shows the percentage, what type of beer it is (bitter, lager, IPA, stout etc), whether it’s gluten free and most importantly IF IT WAS VEGAN! Power to the vegan boozers!
The program really was awesome news for vegan drinkers. Bumbling around a busy room asking 300 different bar people if they have anything vegan doesn’t sound great, so this made everything super easy. We were mighty impressed to find over 30 vegan beers and a whole deal more ciders available. We did the obvious thing and vowed not to leave until we’d tried them all… This didn’t happen, especially as a lot of the pints are between 5/8%, but we definitely gave it a good crack.
Between our 2 person vegan team Sarah likes ciders and lighter, fruitier beers and I love anything
alcoholic dark and strong. So, we tried an incredible variety of pints, from light to dark, hoppy to malty, fruity, sweet, dry, strong and weak. Every drink was unique and honestly really really tasty so we left with very big smiles on our faces.
My overall favourite was the Nebula Stout from the Blackened Sun Brewery in Milton Keynes, a 6.8% ‘rich, dark stout with molasses and toffee malt flavours and fruity yeast character’. It was an incredibly rich pint and very moreish. Sarah really liked Simon’s Cox, from Simons Cider Company in Cambridge which actually won best cider of the festival.
A special mention also has to go out to Bexar County Brewery who had 6 beers on offer ALL of which were vegan. This place was seriously popular and you could see why. They had an awesome 8.3% peppermint porter called That’s Mintal but it was there Death of Tomorrow which won the show. This speciality beer is ‘brewed with kombucha, flavoured with lime, ginger, and jaggery goor for loads of residual sugar’, a really crazy taste. Did I mention that all of their drinks were vegan!?!?
I should also sat they have quite an extensive wine list but who drinks wine at a beer festival? They’ve also got some very popular mead on tap but as honey is one of the key ingredients we didn’t try any.
So let’s get things straight, this isn’t a food festival, but the number of options is fast growing with some delicious vegan choices. Inside of the marquee you have the famous Cambridge Beer Festival Cheese counter which sells a variety of deli items. Whilst at Veggie Vagabonds we think vegan is best, the cheese counter has over 50 cheeses with many veggie options clearly labelled. You can also buy a selection of olive, nuts, crisps and other deli items.
Outside the marquee had a number of Cambridge based food traders offering a wide variety of food. We’re not going to lie, the vegan selection wasn’t great, but the food it did have was amazing. There was a curry stall which had an awesome dhal and vegetable curry served with rice and poppadoms.
If you’re vegan and have been to UK music festivals then you’ve probably eaten falafel at ‘the falafel stall with the big yellowy sign with blue writing’, know the one I mean? We are definitely falafel connoisseurs and we thought it was delicious! It came with guac, roasted red peppers, some beautiful salads and really was a joy to eat. Later on we were sitting on the grass outside the stall and they gave us a whole spread of free food! A lovely finish to a lovely day and was definitely needed after a whole day of beer drinking!
Tips and Practicalities
At the end of May every year
Monday 17.00 – 22.30 £4
Tuesday 12.00 – 15.00 £Free, 17.00 – 22.30 £4
Wednesday 12.00 – 15.00 £Free, 17.00 – 22.30 £4
Thursday 12.00 – 1500 £Free, 17.00 – 22.30 £5
Friday 12.00 – 15.00 £Free, 17.00 – 22.30 £5
Saturday 12.00 – 22.30 £3
Apart from Saturday the festival closes from 15.00 – 17.00 and the bar is CASH ONLY so visit an ATM before. Most seasoned Cambridge Beer Festival goers will go during the week as many of the beers will be finished by Saturday. It’s still definitely worth going down on the weekend but if you want the complete selection then go earlier in the week.
There is disabled access for the event and dogs/children are welcome.
For more information check out the Cambridge Beer Festival website.