Saison Season Pt 2: The Herbalist

When we announced our plans to taste a bunch of UK-brewed saisons, several people told us we had to try The Herbalist, a collaboration between Magic Rock and Adnams, and so Adnams sent us some (10 litres!) in mini-casks.

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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Sai­son Sea­son Pt 2: The Herbal­ist”

Welcome to Adnamsland


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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Wel­come to Adnam­s­land”

The Early Days of ‘Craft Keg’

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:

Spindrift keg font.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%.

Guest Post: Stono’s Favourite Suffolk Pubs

The Nutshell, Bury St Edmunds, by David (Brokentaco) on Flickr, under Creative Commons.
The Nut­shell, Bury St Edmunds, by David (Bro­ken­ta­co) on Flickr, under Cre­ative Com­mons.

To help fill a gap in our collection of local pub guides, reader Clive Stonebridge (@stonojr) has given us a list of his favourite Suffolk drinking holes.

* * *

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.

Failing at the Beer Mile

The Anchor Tap, Tower Bridge.

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.