About the festival

The Cambridge Beer Festival was first held in 1974 and is the branch’s largest and main beer festival. During its long run, the festival has had several homes but since 2001 has been held on Jesus Green in late May. It is the United Kingdom’s longest running CAMRA beer festival and currently is one of the largest beer festivals in the UK.

The festival features a wide range of local and national beers of all styles, as well as cider, perry, mead, wine, and bottled and draft beers from around the world. The cheese counter showcases a wide range of fine cheeses, together with locally produced bread, pork pies, scotch eggs and other savoury items.

Over the years, the Cambridge Beer Festival has become an international event, with visitors from across Europe, China, Canada, the US and Mexico.

How it all began

Partly based off an original article by Bob Flood.

The Cambridge Beer Festival was born in November 1973, at a meeting of the recently founded Cambridge & District branch of CAMRA. The Cambridge Festival (an annual event that’s now long gone) had featured a disappointing attempt at a beer festival in that year, and it was suggested that the branch could do a far better job. This was generally considered to be a good plan, even though nobody really knew what might be involved – there had been no CAMRA beer festivals before.

David Short, the landlord of the Queen’s Head, Newton, agreed to hold the license. He (or his son Robert) remained the licensee until 2011, when the change in licensing law meant it was no longer sensible. As well as a license, the festival also needed beer: this was duly ordered, consisting of beers that could be found within about 40 miles or so of Cambridge. The Corn Exchange was booked, despite fears that it was rather too large.

As soon as the festival opened, it was clear that CAMRA beer festivals were going to be popular. Friends and relatives who’d come as customers found themselves behind the bar, and half the beer went on the first day. An urgent re-supply followed – it was found that six firkins would fit in the back of an Austin Maxi.

The festival grew gradually over the next years, and remained in the Corn Exchange until 1982. In that year the Corn Exchange was due to be closed for refurbishment, so the beer festival had to be held in April. There was no festival in 1983, because the Corn Exchange was still closed. By 1984, the Corn Exchange had still to re-open, so an alternative home was sought. This took the form of the Guildhall, which also housed the 1985 festival.

In 1986 there were two festivals. The “official” festival took place on Midsummer Common – the first under canvas. As well as that event, there was also another beer festival – the “Cambridge Festival of Ales & Cakes” took place in early January at Coleridge Community College. In 1987 the Corn Exchange had finally re-opened, and the beer festival moved back. Soon the festival had outgrown that site, and 1991 was the last time the Cambridge Beer Festival was held indoors. 1992 saw the festival under canvas again, on Cambridge City Football Club’s ground, just off Milton Road. The festival prospered on that site, growing unconstrained by walls. Even that was outgrown, and 2001 saw the 28th Cambridge Beer Festival on Jesus Green.

In 2020 and 2021 the festival was cancelled due to the covid-19 pandemic. However the festival ran a series of online talks and webinars about beer, cider, pubs, and brewing. Similarly, there was no festival in 2022. The festival resumed on Jesus Green in May 2023, and in May 2024 celebrated 50 years of festivals.

The passing of time has also seen the passing of people, and many of those volunteers who made the festival what it is today are no longer with us. There are, unfortunately, too many to name individually, but hopefully they’d like what we see before us today.