The pint I waited twenty years for

Often, in the world of pubs, anticipation is better than reality. I definitely spend more time thinking about pubs than actually going to them. When I finally get there, reality usually doesn’t measure up to my ideal. How could it?

Sometimes I take a notion for something specific, like a pint of cask stout, which is not something you come across very often, and I traipse around several pubs in a futile effort to find it. Or I get to the pub and find there is no beer on that takes my fancy, or the pub is unpleasantly full of shouting men, or the music is just that touch too loud (or bad).

There are pub experiences, though, that are just perfect, and exactly as you hoped they would be. Like the couple of hours I spent in the Free Press, Cambridge, in November – nineteen years late.

My only previous time in Cambridge was similar to this one, just passing through. We were on our way from Glasgow to the continent – it was going to be my mum’s first time on the Eurostar – and had arranged to see my cousin who was living in Cambridge. I had prepared by photocopying the relevant pages from the Good Beer Guide.

As always happens, plans changed at the last minute, or a train was late or something, and we never got to the Cambridge pubs.

Time passed, and nineteen years later I found myself once again changing trains in Cambridge. I still had my notes from last time, too.

Finally I was standing in front of the Free Press. Expecting to be disappointed, I took a deep breath and opened the door.

I was not disappointed.

I was the only customer (well, it was two in the afternoon on a Wednesday) and the pub had that quiet serenity that you only really get in a church, or in a pub in the daytime. My favourite time to visit pubs.

Greene King XX Mild is that brewery’s finest cask beer. There was never any question of drinking anything else here. Toffee aroma with caramel and chocolate on the palate; smooth, creamy mouthfeel, a very slight lactic tinge giving it a little character. Sweet, toasty finish. The smoke is probably from the wood fire I am sitting next to, not the beer (£3.70, 4.5/5).

The barman, a hip young chap of the wearing-a-flat-cap-indoors school, listened patiently to my anecdote about having waited almost twenty years to visit, as he poured my second pint. Shortly after I sat down again another barman entered and immediately started polishing the handpumps with Brasso. Commendable attention to detail, I find.

Several of these old type cases hang on the walls. This one was evidently used for small capitals.


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