We’re not sure it really fits this project – it’s a one-off seasonal, so there’s not much point in us recommending it (more on this general issue in a future post); and it’s a draught rather than bottled beer. But of course we were keen to try it and, as it happens, it did prompt some relevant thoughts.
We’d been wanting to go to Southwold for almost a decade but, when we lived in London, could never quite find the occasion – it was inconvenient for a weekend jaunt, but too close for a full-on holiday. There’s a perverse logic in the fact that we finally made the trip to Suffolk, England’s most easterly county, only after coming to live within ten miles of Land’s End in the far west.
We were prompted to act, first, by my family history: having learned that many of my ancestors in the 19th century spent their lives in and around a handful of towns and villages in the county, I felt a powerful urge to retrace their steps.
In October 2007, in an article in the Financial Times (13/10, p5), journalist Andrew Jefford considered an exciting new development in British beer: ‘craft keg’.
OK, so he didn’t use that exact phrase, but he did say this:
Anyone who has ever sat and sipped the day away in a craft brewery in the US will have tasted the answer [to poorly kept ale]. Breweries such as Sierra Nevada… produce great ale in keg rather than cask-conditioned format… Keg ales have a tatty reputation in Britain. Why? They have usually been the work of big brewers who have produced timid, bland recipes using cheap ingredients.. The visionary Alastair Hook of the Meantime Brewing Company in London’s Greenwich is the only serious British small brewer to specialise in beers of this sort…
Jefford’s article wasn’t about Meantime, however, but a new beer from the rather conservative and revered Adnams’ of Southwold in Suffolk.
Adnams’ Spindrift hit the market when this blog was about six months old (we don’t recall ever tasting it) and when BrewDog, in operation for less than a year, was still producing ‘real ale’ and bottled beer.
It was trumpeted as a clean-tasting ale for those who preferred lager, with 28 bitterness units, First Gold and Boadicea hops, and pale and wheat malts. It was unpasteurised but sterile-filtered, with 1.8 volumes of CO2 – more than most cask ales, but less than most lagers. Its ABV was 5%, and it sold at £3.50 a pint. (About £4.20 in today’s money.)
Mr Jefford concluded as follows:
I think it could be one of the most significant British beer launches of the new millennium… So bring on the Spindrift. And bring on more competitors, too.
Spindrift did not, in the end, have a huge impact. It almost certainly suffered because, in Jefford’s words, ‘its heretical keg nature means that Spindrift is off the radar for cask-ale fundamentalists’, while the nascent ‘crafterati’ probably found it too timid – more Fuller’s Discovery than Anchor Liberty.
In around 2010 Adnams’ yanked Spindrift from their keg lines and reinvented as a bottled beer in distinctive blue glass, but there are now plenty of ‘posh keg’ beers from all kinds of British breweries, including Adnams’ themselves.
UPDATE: Spindrift is apparently still available on keg but now at 4%.
I like traditional English session ales and Adnams’ Bitter. I’m a big fan of coffee stouts such as Dark Star Espresso, and not-overly-hopped beers with ‘new world hops’, e.g. Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold. I’m from Suffolk and live locally, and have been a CAMRA member for 10 years. I’m also an occasional home-brewer and frustrated blogger/writer.
1. The Fat Cat, Ipswich
An Ipswich institution for nearly 20 years and three-time local CAMRA branch pub of the year, the Fat Cat was the town’s first new freehouse pub. Providing a traditional homely pub setting that has no television, fruit machines or music to disturb the hum of pub chatter, it is based about a 20 min walk from the town centre.
It serves a wide selection of continually changing cask ales (15+ on average) from its well stocked tap room, often including beers from its Norwich-based sister brewery, also called Fat Cat. There is also a good selection of European lagers, ‘real’ ciders, an assortment of Belgian beers in bottles, and a variety of wines.
Food comes in the shape of lunchtime rolls, or the shot-put sized home made scotch eggs (absolutely worth trying). From Sunday to Thursday, plates & cutlery and cutlery are also procided to patrons who want to bring food from local takeaways – a very popular choice all year round in the evenings.
During the summer, the well-kept beer garden provides additional seating space and occasional bank holiday weekend barbecues.
2. Dove Street Inn, Ipswich
A multi-award-winning cask ale pub for ten years, the Dove was most recently named Great British Pub Awards Cask Ale Pub of the Year 2013. It serves a wide range of ever-changing cask ales including some from its own range brewed in the micro-brewery opposite, along with a selection of draught foreign beers, ‘real’ cider and wine.
There are regular beer festivals featuring 60+ beers in the beer tent, which is modelled on a German beer garden or cellar and provides a pleasant outdoor seating area in summer.
Landlady Karen’s home cooking and occasional weekend barbecues provide great food, with vegetarian options, and weary visitors can even book into the adjoining bed and breakfast which sits above the homebrew shop. The pub also runs its own loyalty card scheme.
3. Lord Nelson, Southwold
Adnams is synonymous with Southwold and Suffolk, and the Lord Nelson is where the locals go to drink. A three bar pub near the seafront, it serves the best pint of Adnams’ you’ll find anywhere in the county, and also does the best fish and chips too, with the fish in Broadside batter. During the winter, a roaring open fire keeps the worst of the North Sea coast’s wind and bleakness at bay while in the summer, the hidden beer garden expands the capacity of this very popular pub.
4. The Beerhouse, Bury St Edmunds
While Adnams is synonymous with Southwould, Bury St Edmunds is home to Suffolk’s other major brewer, Greene King, but The Beerhouse is one of the few pubs in the town where you’ll be unlikely ever to find their beer. Eight hand pumps provide a varied selection of cask ales alongside four ciders. Among the beer selection are often beers from the pub’s own brewery, the Brewshed. There are simple pub snacks and the pub has a nice outdoor seating arrangement which softens what is essentially a former car park, and where spring and winter beer festivals are held.
5. Butt & Oyster, Pin Mill
Featured in frequent visitor Arthur Ransome’s book We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, the Butt & Oyster is a Grade II listed building and features in CAMRA’s national inventory of historic pub interiors, retaining many of its original features from the 17th to 19th centuries.
The pub is situated on the edge of the western shore of the Orwell and, at high water, the river laps round the base of the building, and it is said yachtsmen could once be served aboard their boats by leaning in through the pub windows. These days, the windows merely provide picturesque, panoramic views across the Orwell Estuary, which attract many artists and visitors.
Primarily supplied by Adnams, beer is sold from four casks on show behind the bar, and the menu, as befits its location, is built largely around the local seafood. It gets incredibly busy and popular in the summer months so booking a table is essential.
6. The Triangle Tavern, Lowestoft
Billed as the most easterly real ale pub in the whole of the UK, and situated on Triangle Market near the town centre, the Tavern is the spiritual home to the Green Jack Brewing Co. It offers a minimum of six Green Jack ales every day with as many as four further guest ales and two real ciders at any one time across two bars, front and back.
The front bar has a more relaxed traditional look and feel with an open fire, and is where occasional live music is played on Friday nights. The back bar is more modern with games machines, pool table, and jukebox, and is where the world-renowned annual professional world thumb wrestling championship is hosted. Beer festivals are held throughout the year.
7. The Cherry Tree, Woodbridge
The building dates from the 17th century, though the tree itself no longer remains. With its traditional oak beams and sloping ceilings, the pub has a character that’s hard to fake in a town with plenty of history to shout about. The pub offers a selection of eight well-kept cask ales, the majority from Adnams, though several guest ales are usually on offer. Traditional food made with locally-sourced ingredients and a warm, family-friendly atmosphere makes this a popular local destination, with regular quiz nights and an annual beer festival. Accommodation is also provided in a converted outdoor barn.
8. The Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds
Listed by Guinness World Records as the smallest pub in Britain, it is Nutshell by name and nature. Though it might sound a tight fit, this one bar pub, at 15ft x 7ft, has enough room to seat ten people and half as many again standing quite comfortably, though the record is claimed to be 102. The ceiling is covered in currency from around the world highlighting its status as a tourist attraction. Among many other novelties is a mummified cat found by builders carrying out renovations. This being a Greene King pub, the two cask ale hand pumps serve only their beer, usually IPA and Abbott Ale, but it is kept well, making this one of the best places to sample it in its home county.
We headed for London’s Tower Bridge fully intending to tackle the now famous Bermondsey Beer Mile but got distracted by pubs on the way.
Boak had previously visited the Draft House on Tower Bridge Road on her own a few weeks ago and, despite lacklustre cask ale, appreciated an atmosphere where she didn’t feel uncomfortable or get bothered by circling creeps. This time, visiting together, we winced at the prices (anything interesting seemed to start at a fiver a pint) and scratched our heads at the selection – why have both Stiegl and Budvar lagers on offer? To cater to both Austrian and Czech tourists? The house lager at a tempting £3.95 a pint caught our eye and we asked who brews it: ‘Shepherd Neame. It’s Oranjeboom.’ At that, as they say, ‘we made our excuses and left’.
But then we noticed, a few doors up, an enticing sight – an Adnams’ pub. Because we don’t drive, Southwold might as well be on Mars, and we certainly don’t see much of their beer in Cornwall, so we couldn’t resist. The Bridge House Bar is clearly designed for tourists, though we stop short of calling it a ‘trap’. It has a pleasingly nautical atmosphere only enhanced by the aroma of lemon squeezed over hot fried fish. The range of beer was temptingly comprehensive and we got our ticking hats on. A pint of Jack Brand Mosaic Pale Ale (cask) cost the wrong side of £4 and, though it tasted fine, was rather lifeless. Ghost Ship, however, was on stunning form – a poster boy for both cask ale and the ‘pale and hoppy’ style in particular. Quite comfortable, we considered making a session of it, but tasters of Dry Hopped Lager and Fat Sprat did their job, i.e. prevented us wasting the best part of a tenner. Ticking hats came off and on we went.
Eager for a round that wouldn’t sting too much, we decided to visit the Anchor Tap, a Sam Smith’s pub in the shadow of the former Courage brewery at Horselydown. Stepping inside was like entering a cathedral – dust motes on the air, beams of light, and plenty of polished wood. In the end, though, we just didn’t fancy Old Brewery Bitter and so, taking bottled India Ale (£5.50) and Pure Brewed Lager (£4+ a pint), ended up with another expensive round. The former was excellent, once an initial flavour of 2p coins had passed, though PBL seemed distinctly bog-standard. We didn’t care – we were in love with the pub which seemed right out of Mass Observation, with piano, status symbol pot plants in the saloon, and a lounge that seemed too good for the likes of us. That and the discovery of Imperial Stout (£5.75 a bottle) served in branded snifter glasses convinced us to stay a little longer.
Finally, feeling distinctly rosy-cheeked, and with the sense that the issues of the day had yet to be quite fully explored, we left the gloom of the Anchor for the bright whitewash of the nearby Dean Swift. The stand-out beer here was Redwell Indian Pale Ale (keg, 6% ABV), which we found juicy, fresh-tasting and clean. The cask ale was in good condition (though our notes and memories fail us on the specifics), and the expensive scotch egg that accompanied it was so good (well-seasoned, slightly runny) that it almost seemed worth the money. Bar staff who smiled and made conversation rather than offering teenage shrugs and grunts were the icing on the cake.
The Beer Mile will have to wait until another time, when we’ll try to approach it from an angle which takes us past fewer invitingly ajar pub doors.