Saturday, 21 March 2009

Don't stop the press!

A mid-week session is a fine balancing act. On the one hand, five days of uninterrupted slog can kill off any residual traces of humanity. On the other, oblivion on a Wednesday would make Thursday unbearable.

Claire, Michael and I have hit on a decent balance during our Wednesday or Thursday beer hunt. It started off being always on a Wednesday, or as we called it 'Blendsday'. We'd fire ourselves off into different pubs experimentally trying out different half-and-half combos (the best thus far is probably the 'Bishop's Stortford' - half Fuller's London Pride, half Milton Sackcloth - christened by St Radegund barkeep Ollie).

But novelty has given way to Michael's no-pratting-around demeanour, making Claire and myself big fans of a very decent Greene King boozer. Some will scoff. The brewery's ubiquity in our part of the world certainly breeds contempt. Additionally, there is a school of thought that there is no such thing as a decent Greene King pub - because there is no such thing as a decent
GK beer.

The Free Press
, Cambridge (pictured left), proves both propositions false. It's a warm place with a varied crowd all huddled over pints and halves. The lease clearly gives them the opportunity to raid the GK 'real guest' list - the earthy Tom Wood's Bomber County bitter and Bath Ales' easy-drinking Gem are good examples.

But the real triumph is Greene King XX Mild. It has a gently sour base delivered through a thick, gluggable body. At just 3% ABV, it is sessionable in the extreme - and session drinking is social drinking, end of.

It's a good match for meat dishes, which are in plentiful supply at the Press. The pub offers probably the most reliably enjoyable food in Cambridge. The landlord is keen to secure meat from local suppliers, making perhaps rather vanilla-sounding dishes such as liver & bacon and sausages & mash works of true joy. The sausages we chose earlier this week were pork & black pudding and were robustly juicy. As you can see, Claire and Michael (pictured) very happily scoffed the lot.

I'll go along with those who bad-mouth GK IPA - it's never an ideal drop, delivering the characteristic GK sourness without any balance. With the turnaround GK often expects, the beer is seldom well conditioned. But the Free Press makes a point of storing its beers long enough for them to develop - the Abbot, for example, is a reliable (if unexciting) pint. Even so, the real star is that mild. In this pub it's a beast of a beer.


CarlS said...

Always a fan of the Free Press, and not just because I saw McGrath at his drunken finest in there once. Agree on the food too.

jesusjohn said...

McGrath indeed. Met him at a funeral once. Nice fellow. Likes his beer.

Bailey said...

I've been wondering recently whether it's time to give Greene King IPA one last go -- to find a pub near the brewery, which keeps it well, with a good reputation, and try one last pint to confirm whether it really is as boring as I've found it in the past.

I'm very interested in their mild, though. Bad mild = brown water. Good mild = a long evening of hangover-free drinking.

jesusjohn said...

Honestly - the mild is good. Very good. Well worth a trip up to Cambridge for - esp. if you're trying the Press's food, too.

Michael G Dale said...

Another quality blend that can be enjoyed at home is the half n half of Manns Brown and Bishops Finger. Obviously the mixed beer is known as a "Brown Finger", the other combinations don't capture the earthy depth and sweet finish

Leigh said...

Bath Ales Gem - a great beer, and one that I would have no problem drinking in a midweek, post office pint or three. good call

jesusjohn said...

Hi Leigh - you're spot on re. Gem. Just looked up your blog - like it.

Barm said...

I would like to try the XX Mild, but even though Greene King have acquired Belhaven's extensive estate of Scottish pubs, they don't seem keen on pushing it up here, which is a pity because I'm fed up of going to pubs that once served a decent selection of beer only to find bloody Abbot or St Edmunds again.

jesusjohn said...

Barm - they don't seem keen to push it here in the Fens either - their own backyard. Landlords have to make a grab for it. And even then it seems to be offered to the GK tenants already with a looser lease (i.e. real guests).