SoBeer Year 2021: November with Toast Ale

When you order a pint have you ever wondered about the impact that beer has had on the environment?

We have already been made aware of the water wastage that occurs in brewing which recently breweries have worked towards reducing. Over the last few decades the water ratio of 7 litres to 1 litre of beer has been cut down to 4:1 litres thanks to technological advances in brewing. Spent grain is another ingredient that produces high levels of wastage, making up about 85% of a beer’s by-product. Many breweries recycle their spent grains for animal feed, compost/fertiliser, or even baked into bread. We should also perhaps consider the mileage that some ingredients have to travel, with many hops being shipped in from America, New Zealand as well as parts of Europe. With this in mind, some craft breweries have decided to build their business models on the idea of using locally sourced British ingredients or from foraging within a certain mile radius of the brewery.

CO2 emissions that naturally occur during the fermentation of beer also has an impact on the environment as well as gases that emit from energy use during the brewing process. However a study by the British Beer & Pub Association showed that between 2008 and 2018 CO2 emissions have reduced by 42% in the UK which equates to 202,952 tonnes of gas. Similarly to brewing, food production creates huge amounts of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. Shockingly, 1/3 of food is wasted and in the UK bread is the most commonly thrown away food item accounting for 900,000 tonnes each year. Toast Ales want to change this and have set out on a mission to produce great beers that will help change the world by sparking conversation and reducing food waste, starting off with that surplus bread.

Toast Ale was founded in 2016 with a vision to help reduce food waste by brewing with surplus bread and changing the world “one slice at a time”. To date of writing this blog so far Toast Ale have up cycled 2,488,076 slices of bread waste as a proportion of the grain bill in their beers. By using bread that would otherwise have been thrown away they have also managed to help save on CO2 emissions and water used in food production. Toast Ale is run by a small team of beer enthusiasts, not stakeholders, so profits go to environmental charities helping to action change. As I’ve already mentioned food waste is one of the leading contributors to climate change as well as damage to the environment, so Toast decided to invest in a project that would bring these issues into the forefront of people’s consciousness. To coincide with the COP26 conference this year Toast Ale created the Companion Series, a range of 26 beers in collaboration with 25 breweries, to get the message out there for the need to act now. The project aims to spark conversations with consumers, highlight the issue of food waste as well as show the industry how they can make a small change to their processes.

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So what is in the box?

First of all there are 26 vegan friendly beers brewed with 25 different breweries, all of which have surplus bread added into the mash. I really liked that there is a wide range of different collaborators for this project. It is incredible to see big name breweries sharing a stage with regional microbreweries to help send out a message to world leaders as well as to the rest of the beer industry.

There is a good mix of traditional ales as well as craft beer styles which is perfect for any beer enthusiast. I have seen suggestions that this box would work great as a beer advent calendar which I agree with as each day you could try a different beer style. I also really enjoyed that some of the breweries really showed off the beers that they do best, whilst others brewed something a little different. In particular I was pleasantly surprised by the fresh green chilli notes from Guinness’ Porter that left my tongue tingling on the finish. This box is a little pricier then some beer advent calendars (£89.95 direct from Toast Ale) but £26 gets donated to Rainforest Trust UK and Soil Heroes to help protect wildlife and support regeneration of agricultural soil respectively. A guilt free gift if you like!

As well as the beers, you also get a limited edition glass which is branded by all the collaborators that took part in the project. You also get a selection of snacks and treats from other social enterprises, such as Divine Chocolate, The Cheeky Panda and Teapigs, to name a few.

What were my highlights from the COP Companion Series?

Meantime Tick Tock Bock – Deliciously malty and toasty rich with some sweet caramel notes. The hop bitterness and clean lager yeast profile cuts through the richness of this Bock making this dangerously drinkable. I also really enjoyed the slight alcohol warmth and dry finish of this beer. Originally the Doppelbock was brewed as a nutritional drink and known as ‘liquid bread’. I like that with the use of surplus bread added into the mash on this style has taken it’s moniker quite literally!

Utopian Tmavé on Toast – This is Utopian brewing one of the things they do best – a dark lager. With it’s dark, sweet malt notes and a slightly well done toasty/nutty flavour, this felt like a lighter version of Utopian’s incredible Černé Speciální. At 3.9% it is very sessionable and perfect for supping by a roaring fire, or and electric one in my case when I took this beer on holiday with me to Devon!

Stroud Brewery Buen Vivir – I am already familiar with Stroud Brewery as they are based fairly locally to me in Gloucestershire. This is a great example of a classic Hefeweizen with all the yummy foam banana and spicy clove flavours typical of this style. The Buen Vivir pours a beautiful golden, straw-like colour with a light fluffy head. The full-bodied, creamy mouthfeel of this beer coats the tongue and the sparkling bubbles of carbonation prickle on the palate to finish. This beer was so good I wished I had another in the fridge and I could imagine drinking quite a few of these on a hot, sunny afternoon.

These are just a few of my highlights from this box but I have genuinely enjoyed all the beers in this series. There is a great range of different styles, flavours and the consistency has been on point.

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The effects of climate change are evidently around us and I certainly feel that by purchasing this collaboration series that I have become more aware of it, especially since our recent holiday to Devon and Cornwall. Whilst my partner Josh and I were lucky to get some good weather on holiday I was very aware that to be sat outside enjoying a pub lunch in the sun with our coats off in mid November wasn’t quite right. It was also a shock to the system that on the following Monday morning I had an icy walk into work!

I’d like to think that as a result of this project brewers can see how easily they can make a small change to their brewing process for the greater good, without compromising on the flavour they want to achieve from their beers. I have certainly learned quite a lot about climate change and the COP Companion Series has helped made me more aware about the environmental impact my love of beer has on our planet.

Toast Ale Impact Report 2020:

Toast Ale:

SoBeer Year 2021: October with Big Drop Brewing Co.

I had fully intended to do Sober for October this year. Not to particularly get sponsorship, or to challenge myself to turn away from alcohol for a month, but mainly for my own health reasons. I felt it might be a good opportunity to cut down on the booze before the festive season as well as maybe loose a few pounds and save a few pennies! I had the idea to feature Big Drop Brewing this month, as they are one of the leading names in low alcohol beer in the UK currently. I had hoped to share with you my experience of a dry October, but it didn’t go quite to plan. I quickly realised my social calendar was filling up with brewery events, tap room open days and birthdays so I couldn’t fully commit to being completely teetotal. That being said I still wanted to talk about alcohol free beer and Big Drop’s impressive portfolio of different styles.  

‘But why bother having an alcohol free beer? You could just have a soft drink?’  

I have been asked this question a few times be we could equally ask ourselves why we have mocktails or alcohol free gin? For me AF beers are great for inclusivity, they help prevent that feeling of being singled out. I also like how they can help slow the pace of a session down and that they are relatively guilt free.

For founders Rob Fink and James Kindred, it was their impending fatherhood that led them to start up Big Drop Brew in 2016. Both of them wanted to cut back on the beers for their new lifestyle but as keen craft beer drinkers they found that the offering at the time was limited. After further research they realised there was a gap in the market for low ABV beers with big flavour. They teamed up with Johnny Clayton, formally of Wild Beer Co. and famed for his experimental brewing, who took up the challenge of producing naturally 0.5%ABV beers that didn’t compromise on flavour. With different combinations of barley, rye, wheat, oats and hops, Big Drop have been able to produce low alcohol versions of many beer styles including Stouts, IPAs, Lager and Sours to name a few. They also have brewed many special edition beers as well as collaborated with other leading full-strength ABV brewers. With a cabinet full of international awards it is no wonder that they have become one of the most recognised breweries in AF beer.

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I may have favoured Big Drop’s darker beers from my order to reflect the time of the year but that doesn’t mean to say that I haven’t enjoyed the vast range of styles on offer. I could imagine that the pales, lagers and IPAs would be the perfect thirst quenchers on a hot summer’s day. In particular the Paradiso Citra IPA had a delicious tropical, citrus fruit flavour and the hop bitterness on the finish makes you want to go back for more. The lemon notes made this a very refreshing and quaffable beer, without the feeling of guilt if you fancied having a few more.

I think my favourite from the range has to be the Off Piste Hazelnut Porter. Rich dark chocolate and a heap load of hazelnut flavours made this taste just like Nutella spread. As the beer warms more of the chocolate flavours come through giving it a feeling of indulgence. A great after dinner beer that could act like a dessert without being too filling! Similarly I also really enjoyed the Woodcutter Brown Ale with it’s nutty, sweet malt base and a hint of coffee notes. It felt like I should be sat in front of a warm, crackling fire after a chilly autumnal walk.

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Theres nothing better then on an autumnal walk then kicking the leaves and feeling them crunch under your feet. This was the inspiration for Big Drop’s latest seasonal release, a coffee infused Amber Ale called Leafkicker*. Brewed in collaboration with Square Mile Coffee Roasters, who focus on speciality coffee beans, this beer aims to encapsulate the flavours and colours of Autumn. From the first taste coffee is the star flavour of this beer backed up by the rich caramel-sweet malt. The addition of Citra hops really brings some freshness in the finish which is also tantalisingly bitter, leaving you eager for another sip.

I can’t mention Big Drop without highlighting their World Collab Series. The project started in October 2019 with the help of Melissa Cole and the goal was to produce innovative beers with other full strength alcohol breweries at just 0.5% ABV. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get hold of all the beers from their latest 2nd series ‘The Nordics’ but the ones I did have were definitely something different from Big Drop’s core range. As stand outs the Arctic Beach Coconut Stout in collaboration with Icelandic brewery Einstöck and Fländerlätt Elderflower IPA with Hop Notch from Sweden have flavours that do exactly what they say on the (tin)can! I’ll be interested to see who they collaborate with next year.

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Whether you want to cut down on the booze for health reasons or to cut it out completely I think alcohol free beers are a great option without compromising on flavour. With Big Drop’s huge range of different styles they make great fridge fillers for when you want a beer without the alcohol. Although I didn’t fully commit to Sober October this year I enjoyed taking a slower pace this month and discovering alternatives to some of my favourite beer styles.

*Disclosure – I was sent out free samples of Leafkicker from Big Drop after hearing about my feature for this month.

SoBeer Year 2021: September with Thirst Class Ales

Autumn is officially here and is definitely my favourite time of the year! As I have been doing this project over the last nine months I have noticed there has been some seasonal choices when choosing my beers. Particularly when ordering my beers from September’s featured brewery, Thirst Class Ales. As well as the brewery’s very popular Pale Ale styles I have enjoyed trying out one or two of their darker beers such as the American Brown Ale and the Porter during this month.

I had the opportunity to ask Thirst Class Ales’ founder, Richard, about the incredible beer range, the future for the brewery and if he is a secret philatelist?!

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Thirst Class Ale was established in 2014 by Richard Conway who, like many budding brewers, was fuelled by a passion of home brewing. Richard had always enjoyed beer since discovering it in Sheffield whilst at University during the 90’s, and still thinks that this is one of the best beer scenes in the country today. Although he had dabbled at home brewing whilst at University, it wasn’t until after graduation when Richard moved back home to Stockport, that he began to flex his brewing skills. After successfully winning many national home brew competitions, Richard had an opportunity to brew a commercial beer with Jay Krause, formally of Stockport’s Quantum Brewing and now Cloudwater, and this passion quickly turned into a viable career path.

Initially Richard began brewing commercially on a part time basis on the weekends, whilst still maintaining his day job. He had found a small unit in Stockport and built his first brewery from scratch. The beers were so popular that Richard decided to move into brewing full time and so Thirst Class Ales was born. But what is the story behind the name? The answer is a happy accident that came from a couple’s love for a good pun name. Richard explained to me that when he and his girlfriend Jane had been throwing suggestions into the hat, one which stood out was “First Class” that quickly evolved into “Thirst Class”. It was Jane that also noticed that “Thirst Class Ale” sounded very much like “First Class Mail” and so the logo design became a postage stamp. Whilst Richard doesn’t want to refer to the postal service too much when naming Thirst Class’ beers he says, “the only concession to that being our core Black IPA which is called ‘Penny Black IPA’ and has Penny Black stamps on the label”.

Interestingly Thirst Class do not have a set range of core beers and Richard describes it as a “loose range” which includes the Penny Black BIPA. The team at Thirst Class are passionate about experimenting with different beers, something which has stuck with Richard since he first started home brewing, and have so far brewed over 100 different styles. The original small batch 300 litre brew kit is still used in the brewery for piloting new ideas. Richard explains that they found if they regularly brewed a core range of beers that this takes up most of their time which the team would prefer to be using to create and innovate new styles. However there are a few beers that are brewed on a regular basis including Elephant Hawk IPA, Green Bullet Pale, Stocky Oatmeal Stout and Thirst Class’ best seller Mosaic Pale. Other names you may see more frequently available are Farmhouse In Your Soul, American Brown, Kiss My Ace, Any Porter In A Storm and Hopfordian IPA. “There’s actually quite a lot now I think about it!” Richard exclaims.

Although Thirst Class Ales have proved they can turn their hand to anything I was interested to know if Richard felt inspired by particular styles to brew. He explains he is a big fan of wheat beers, both Belgian Witbiers and German Weissebiers and goes on to say that “I think beers where the yeast characteristics dominate really interest me as it’s often an overlooked ingredient.” Richard has also been getting stuck into more sours, both drinking and brewing them though he says, “I still can’t stomach too many in one sitting but I generally like to try at least one each time I go to a beer festival”.

2020 was a tough year for everyone but at Thirst Class Ales the team identified that the market was changing and that there was a need for them to start producing small pack beers for consumers to drink at home. In April Thirst Class beers were being canned and a nationwide as well as local delivery service was implemented to bring beer to people’s homes. Their webshop boasts a huge catalogue of Thirst Class ales and now features an amazing number of guest beers which has also helped to create new working relationships with other breweries. As well as this Thirst Class has been involved with a few collaboration brews over the last few years with names including Elusive, Torrside and Burton Road Brewery. “We do love collaborations,” enthuses Richard, “we find they’re always a good opportunity to learn more about brewing and I’ve never done one and not come away with something new to try.”

The future for Thirst Class involves exciting plans to produce some new specialty beers with the help of more fermenters which Richard is hoping to install at the brewery over the next few months. During lockdown a new barrel aging project was started so hopefully some special aged beers will be making an appearance in the webshop very soon! Richard would also to open a Thirst Class tap room in Stockport and says, “people have been asking us about it for years and now feels like it might be the right time to go for it!”

SoBeer Year 2021: August with Gravity Well Brewing

Railway arches have become quite synonymous with breweries and tap rooms over the last 10 years or so. They seem like the perfect venue, they are spacious, with high ceilings to accommodate brewing equipment. They quite often have some outside space and the are close to train stations or other modes of public transport. I often find myself looking at empty railway arches and begin to start building my dream brewery and tap room in my head. I’ve already imagined the design of the layout, complete with a mezzanine floor for seating, all in a split of a second. This will probably forever remain a fantasy project for me but for many others, like this month’s featured brewery Gravity Well Brewing, it becomes a reality. 

Ben Duck, founder for Gravity Well Brewing, started out by home brewing for a hobby whilst working as a lawyer for an investment bank and at first never had the intention of setting up his own commercial brewery. After spending a year practicing and perfecting his recipes in his London flat he looked at moving into a commercial premises to begin working on a larger scale. He too had seen the popularity and potential of railway arches for start up breweries and found the perfect one in Leyton, East London. Here Gravity Well was born, focusing on hazy New England styles and IPAs with big hop flavours. The modest but delicious core range consists of Cosmic Dust 3.8% Session IPA, Termination Shock 5.3 Pale Ale and Galaxies Apart 6% New England IPA but the brewery also enjoy experimenting with different styles. Recently, with the help of their reverse osmosis filter to purify their water source, they have played around with styles such as sours, goses and stouts. 

I absolutely love NEIPAs so I was looking forward to my delivery from Gravity Well Brewing who also share my adoration of this style. I was also excited to try their range of sour beers, another style that I am particularly fond of. Here are some of my highlights from my box this month:

Planetary Alignment Fruited Gose 4.6% 

As soon as I was pouring this beer into my glass I was hit with the smell of tropical fruits and the vivid yellow colour was reminiscent of juice. The scents on the nose were echoed by the flavours of mango and passionfruit that burst in my mouth. The juice-like mouthfeel that coated my tongue was followed by the prickle of carbonation and tart sourness, balancing out the fruity sweetness. I was worried that with such strong fruit flavours that the subtlety of the added salt for this style would be lost but I was pleasantly surprised to find that touch of salinity on the finish. This was both a very mouthwatering beer as well as a great thirst quencher. I think I may have to crown it as one of my favourites from the range.

Cosmic Dust Session IPA 3.8%

I can’t write about Gravity Well without mentioning one of their core beers. Don’t be fooled by this beer’s modest ABV as it is delightfully flavourful and had a much thicker mouthfeel then I was expecting. The bold piney, hoppy flavours followed up with tropical papaya fruit makes this the perfect session beer. In the blink of an eye I had finished my can of Cosmic Dust which goes to show what an easy drinker this it was. Definitely a great beer to always keep to hand in the fridge.

Pale Blue Dot Imperial Stout 11.5%

This is Gravity Well’s first stout and it was absolutely delicious! Really fruity on the nose which was mirrored in the taste as blueberry is the dominant flavour. The cacao flavours follow giving this beer both a rich chocolate finish as well as some complimenting fruity notes that I often detect when I am eating very dark chocolate. I find that sometimes blueberries are quite tart but with the fruitiness of the cacao this is smoothed out before you get the boozy warmth that you associate with Impy Stouts. This is a lovely beer to finish with at the end of an evening.

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Not content with having just one archway, Ben went on to open his brewery tap room a couple of arches down from the brewery, right next to Leyton Midland Road overground station. The location was perfect, close to the brewery and potential customers could see the taproom from the platform of the station, great for catching those thirsty commuters!

Although I might not ever have an opportunity to have my own place to run a bar, I hope to make the trip to Gravity Well’s tap room to drink more of their beers fresh as well as take a few ideas for my own dream railway arch.

SoBeer Year 2021: July with Amity Brew Co.

Opening up a new business during a world wide pandemic may seem daunting, if not a little crazy, but that is exactly what Russ Clarke did at the end of last year when he opened up Amity Brew Co.’s Brewpub in Farsley, Leeds. Although the timing wasn’t quite in Russ’ favour, he is no stranger to the beer industry having already worked for the likes of Brewdog, Beer Hawk and North Brewing Co. Inspired by America’s model of a brewpub, Russ wanted to be able to create small batch beers that are brewed and then sold on the same site, straight into the glasses of the local community. Not only has Amity already had the backing from the beer drinkers in and around Leeds but there is also a huge community on social media who have been following the brewpub’s progress during the pandemic until it’s official opening in December 2020. 

Amity’s Brewpub is situated within a newly redeveloped historic Weaver’s Yard called Sunnybank Mills at the Festoon Rooms and boasts a beautiful sun terrace to the side of the taproom. If you have already seen Amity’s beers then you may recognise some of the names as many of the brewery’s styles are named after famous landmarks in Farsley, including the Festoon Helles Style Lager and Sunnybank American Pale (after the Sunnybank Mills). Amity focuses it’s attention on brewing modern versions of classic beer styles but isn’t afraid to experiment either and already has a pretty impressive portfolio of collaboration partners too including Thornbridge as well as Northern Monk.

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For this month’s SoBeer Year I ordered the “Gimme Everything You Have” mixed pack and for me every style was a winner. Some of my highlights included:

Nonsense Imperial Marshmallow Stout 8%

This is Amity’s first Impy Stout and has been made to be completely vegan friendly. I am normally a bit weary of marshmallow beers as they can be overly ‘rosey’ flavoured but for this beer Amity had teamed up with The Marshmallowist and used real marshmallows during the boil alongside seven specialty malts. The result was a very decadent imperial stout with a silky mouthfeel that coated the tongue like a blanket of deliciousness. The roasted coffee and sweet marshmallow flavours in this style were well balanced with some rich chocolate notes to finish. I drank my Nonsense from chilled which I really enjoyed as it brought out more of the rich darker malt flavours and then as it began to warm up more of the floral and sweeter notes came through in the aroma and flavour.

Waterpistol Juicy Pale Ale 4.6%

Don’t be fooled by the smaller 330ml can size of the Waterpistol as this 4.6% beer packs so much flavour it should have been called Supersoaker! During one of the hottest days this July I cracked open one of these to quench my thirst and I was blown away by how juicy and refreshing this beer was. Tropical fruits and zingy citrus notes kept this beer light but flavourful. Before I knew I had drained the can and was disappointed I didn’t have another. With it’s smaller size and sessionable ABV, Waterpistol is definitely a great BBQ beer and is the perfect fridge staple this summer.

Elastic Robot DHH Orange IPA 6.5%

This had to be one of my favourite beers from the box. Sometimes an orange flavoured beer can leave me feeling a little underwhelmed but this really does taste as it says on the can. Big juicy orange flavours with notes of pithy, bitter marmalade to finish. This beer felt more sessionable then the 6.5% ABV suggests and was very refreshing during our latest heatwave. Whist sitting in the late afternoon sun with friends, within a few sips this beer had gone. I can certainly picture myself sat out at Amity’s sun terrace drinking quite a few of these whilst watching the sunset. I’ll be adding this to my beer bucket list!

As with a lot of the breweries I have supported within this project, Amity have strived to champion good beer as well as put themselves at the heart of a community. Not only have they achieved a huge following on social media but they have created a buzz in their own local community in Farsley. Amity also have an incredibly well established range of beers. The limited editions and special ales are just as deliciously consistent as their core range which I think is testament to the skills and knowledge of a very expert team. Considering Amity’s tender age it feels as though they are an old friend and I look forward to seeing more of them in bottleshops and at beer festivals in the future.

SoBeer Year 2021: June with McColl’s Brewery and First & Last Brewery

I can’t believe it has already been 6 months of my SoBeer Project supporting independent breweries so to celebrate for June I have chosen not one, but two breweries, McColl’s Brewery and First & Last Brewery who recently brought out a collaborative beer box. Highlighting the best of their beers the box included their collaboration Light Nights, a Spruce Grisette, McColl’s Sugar and Spice Witbier as well as All Things Nice Triple Spiced Stout and Let’s Eat Pie’s … Pepper Bitter. First & Last’s beers included Plum Fruited Belgian Ale, Gorseflower Foraged Pale Ale and their Damson Porter. 

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McColl’s based in County Durham favours the Arts and Sciences, with husband and wife team Gemma and Danny McColl each bringing their own expertise to the brand. As well as being the creative lead for McColl’s, Gemma was also the one that sparked Danny’s passion for brewing by buying him his first home-brew kit. McColl’s beers are heavily influenced by Belgian styles with Petite Belgian Blond Ale making it into their core range of 4 beers, as well as inspiring other seasonal special editions. 

Just an hour and a half down the road from McColl’s is First & Last Brewery based in Northumberland. First & Last focus on seasonal produce as well as sustainability by sourcing materials and foraging for ingredients within a 20km radius of the brewery. Both breweries champion the North East of England, with the common theme of the drinkability of their beers.

This is evident with their collaborative beer Light Nights Spruce Grisette, the front man to their collaboration box. This Belgian style was designed to be enjoyed during the longer evenings and at a very sessionable 3.5% this beer does just that. The delicious citrus hop flavours are met with the bitter piney flavours of Northumberland foraged spruce tips giving this beer a slight resinous quality that makes you want to have another taste. As the sun begins to go down, casting a golden glow on the ground, I begin to regret offering to share my second can of Light Nights with my other half.

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I first was introduced to First & Last after taking part in Full Circle Brewing’s Kindred Collective online event in April this year. There I was able to hear from Red talking about her beer and the environmentally friendly processes the brewery takes in such a passionate way that I knew I wanted to discover more. Living fairly locally to another brewery who focuses on foraging for natural ingredients (Wild Beer Co.) I was keen to try more beers from First & Last. What I really love is that their beers are seasonal, so if a crop of fruit or particular ingredient is effected by certain weather conditions then this will impact the amount of beer that can be produced for that year. It gives this brewery a real artisan flavour, something which comes across in their beer styles. By far the stand out for me was the Damson Porter. This richly, smooth and chocolatey porter base was beautifully balanced with the fruity damsons which brought a plum-like, stone fruit quality to this beer. The fruit element added a touch of lightness to this style which made this beer very quaffable indeed.

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I can’t talk abut Mccoll’s Brewery without mentioning their amazing effort to raise money and awareness for men’s mental health during the pandemic. Alongside Men’s Pie Club based in Newcastle they created the Let’s Eat Pies and Talk About Men’s Mental Health, a Black and White Pepper Bitter which has recently reached it’s target of raising £2500 to help keep men talking! This sessionable and traditional bitter at 3.6% is the perfect pairing for a homemade pie or for drinking with friends at the pub. A massive congratulations to McColl’s for reaching their goal and their ongoing commitment to support such a worthy cause.

McColl’s blog on Let’s Eat Pies: 

The Micropub: My New Local

“A micropub is a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks” – The Micropub Association. 

The modern micropub is many things to many people whether that be a focal meeting place or a great destination for beer. For me a micropub is more than the definition quoted above. My beer journey is heavily influenced by micropubs, both locally and further afield, and was one of the first places I was shown really how diverse beer can be. I have been to micropubs that are more cask beer driven, using gravity pours, as well as those that have offered more keg options. Places that have openly offered their WiFi code and others that have encouraged people to be more convivial rather then spend time on their phones. Micropubs that have an amazing food menu, using local producers or pop up kitchens as well as those that just have hand cooked crips or pork scratchings behind the bar. I feel that to define a micropub is quite difficult and is explored more in a new documentary, Micropubs – The New Local, that highlights Kent’s micropub revolution since Martyn Hillier officially opened the first, The Butcher’s Arms, in 2005.

Photo credit: Pixelform Studios

Many of the topics raised in the documentary I found I resonated with, particularly because a micropub opened in my hometown two years ago in a central location. There are a lot of misconceptions and negative connotations of pubs facilitating rowdy behaviour or the lager lout culture reminiscent of the 80’s and 90’s. As an introverted person I have only found the micropub scene to be an inviting one from both the owners and customers. One aspect of a micropub that I like is that feeling of community, a theme that is constant throughout the documentary.

When you watch this film is hard not to be swept up in the passion, enthusiasm and romantic notion of the micropub. The various owners featured are very open about their experiences, both good and bad, from finally being given their licence to opening their doors on their first night. I remember being involved in our local micropub’s licence application and writing a letter of recommendation to the council explaining the positive benefits and influence it would have on the town. To a lot of people the pub is not just an ale house but it is also the central point of the community.

This generation is seeing historic pubs shutting their doors permanently, something that is touched upon in the documentary. With on average 39 establishments closing a week, beautiful historic buildings are also being torn down or redeveloped in to housing. Our high streets are also changing as many shops are closing down due to an increase in internet shopping. Retail units stand empty up and down the country, and particularly in more rural areas. This is true of my hometown which is in a rural county and has many idle retail units along the high street. In the documentary we follow Richard Reeve who had cycled around the UK visiting micropubs whilst raising money for Alzheimer’s Disease charities before deciding he was going to open his own micropub. After seeing one of these historic pubs, The Green Dragon, close down in his local community he puts his mind to opening up The Little Green Dragon micropub in an abandoned shop unit. Watching as Richard and his family prepared to open The Little Green Dragon reminded me of the excitement of the opening of my home town’s first micropub, The Hiding Place.

For me, the benefit of being an independent micropub means that you can also help support local producers, and as Jaega Wise mentions in the film, this is not just restricted to beer, but to the whole of the artisan sector. One of the micropubs featured in the documentary, The Dodo, show how important it is to work with local producers as they regularly stock beers from their local brewery, Weird Beard, and owner Lucy even got stuck into a collaboration brew day. Similarly, The Hiding Place owners Malcolm and Karen also run their own microbrewery within my home town called Stealth Brew Co., just a stone’s throw from the micropub. Their beers as well as other local and guest breweries often feature on rotation in the micropub. They also support our local gin distillery Scout & Sage, based in the neighbouring village, with many of their gins listed on the spirits menu. As a nation I think that we are really proud of the provenance of our produce and feel more connected to the local area or community by buying from small batch producers.

Micropubs – The New Local really highlights the enthusiasm, grit and determination of micropub owners as they follow their dreams from starting up to running a successful business, despite any bumps in the road. Although micropubs mean different things to different people we can all agree that the one thing that they have in common is that sense of community as well as a love and passion for the beer industry. This documentary is very emotive, thought provoking and is so beautifully filmed that by the end you will want to go out and start up your own micropub.

Micropubs – The New Local

A film by Syd Heather, Daniel Eycott and James Coyne

A Pixelform Studios Production

Stream here:

Twitter: @micropubfilm

Disclaimer: I was given a free preview of the film before it’s release date. Featured photo credit: Micropubs – The New Local

Top photo credit: Pixelform Studios

SoBeer Year 2021: May with Black Lodge Brewing

“Not more football…” I eyeroll at my partner Josh as he suggests we visit Liverpool for my birthday, with a view that we can go and watch his beloved Southampton FC playing Away whilst we are there. He is very convincing as he tells me his plans for the trip, the sights we will see as well as the brewery taps and bars we could visit whilst we are there. Very often I am dragged to a Saints game when we have a city break in the UK but it doesn’t seem any great hardship if it means we can also discover the local beer scene. At the beginning of this season Josh was excited to see that Southampton had a fixture away at Liverpool around my birthday weekend and after last year’s totally locked down birthday I was hopeful we would be able to get away this year. Unfortunately government restrictions meant I would have to celebrate another lockdown birthday but I decided to bring a little bit of Liverpool to me with my featured brewery for this month: Black Lodge Brewing. 

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Black Lodge Brewing, established in 2015, are a small batch brewery who are focused on being creative and experimenting with different beer styles, flavours and brewing techniques. The brewery and tap room are situated within Liverpool’s fast growing neighbourhood, The Baltic Triangle, which is the perfect location for such a progressive and ‘blue sky thinking’ brewery. Surrounded by trendy bars, restaurants and independent markets, this area of the city is often compared to London’s Shoreditch or Manchester’s Northern Quarter – definitely on my list of places to visit when we finally get to go to Liverpool! 

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As I was placing my order through Black Lodge’s webstore I really liked that you had the option to create your own box of beers or you could opt for one of the 5 pre-packed boxes. I decided that for this month I would let someone else pick the beers for me and so I ordered the Brewer’s Choice Box for May. As it was my birthday during the month it felt like I had treated myself to a surprise present as I opened up my delivery with anticipation. I was not disappointed as I had received a great range of different styles and flavours, from IPAs and Pale Ales to Sours, there was something there to suit every mood. One of my highlights from my box was No Particular Place To Go, a Sloe and Blackberry Berliner Weisse. This beer looked like a pink sunset in the glass and the lightly sparkling carbonation prickled on the tongue before the sour flavours started to kick in. Tangy blackberries and sloes backed up with soft lactic sourness made this a very drinkable sour beer. 

Drinkability is a recurring theme with Black Lodge’s beers as all of the styles I had tried were very easy to drink. They felt like the kinds of beers that would be great fridge staples or that you could drink whilst with friends and just enjoy the moment. The Exotic Garden Pale Ale was another great example of an easy drinking beer and one that I wish I had more of to keep in the fridge. This pale ale was brewed with the addition of mango and green tea and it tasted exactly as I would have expected. First I was hit with the smell of sweet mango which was backed up by tropical fruit flavours. The slightly dry finish from the tea helped to balance the juiciness which made me want to go back for another taste. Although this beer wasn’t in my Brewer’s Choice box I am glad I added it to my basket at the last minute as it was very quaffable indeed.

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Collaboration is also at the heart of Black Lodge Brewing with the brewery and tap being co-founded by a group of people with a wealth of beer knowledge and expertise including Paul Seiffert (formally of Liverpool Craft Beer Co.) as well as Rob Tufnell (from The Clove Hitch and 23 Club). This co-operative approach extends to their beers too, in particular with their collaboration of Combine Our Grinds with Sarah Lovelock from Lovelock’s Coffee Shop. This version of their original Black IPA, Combine Our Minds, was brewed for International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day and uses a coffee blend from Lovelock’s, which is also just a short walk away from the brewery. I had been looking forward to trying this beer as it was highly recommended, even though I am not a coffee lover myself. The smell of this beer was very inviting, and evoked memories of a micro pub/coffee shop I used to visit in Bath, which sadly is no longer there. The rich flavours of the roasted dark malts and Lovelock’s coffee blend are the stars of the show followed by a juicy, dark blackcurrant undertone. The hop bitterness adds balance so this beer so it doesn’t feel overly heavy. The dry, roasted finish lingers on the palate and the coffee flavours last long after the final gulp. Even as someone that doesn’t drink coffee (tea for me!) I enjoy the flavours that it imparts in this beer style. I almost wish I had the original Combine our Minds to drink alongside for comparison.

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The next time Josh mentions a city break with a football away game thrown in I won’t be sighing or rolling my eyes at him again. I am particularly looking forward to arranging our trip to Liverpool in the not so distant future to explore the northern beer scene some more. I think that a visit to The Baltic Triangle and a stop off at Black Lodge Brewing will definitely be high up on the itinerary! 

SoBeer Year 2021: April with Attic Brew Co.

I’m always fascinated to learn how breweries got their names. It could be based on the founder’s personal experiences or the values that they want their brewery to stand for. There could be a historic story behind the name or it could simply be down to the brewery’s geographical location. Attic Brew Co.’s name is very simply and naturally named after where it all started, a home-brew kit in the attic of a university student’s shared house.

Sam was tired of drinking the same old macro lagers that were readily available whilst he was at university in Cardiff and decided he could make better tasting beer himself. With the help of his friend Oli they did a bit of home brewing together and it was here that Attic Brew Co.’s journey began.

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After graduating from university in 2013 Sam and Oli went their separate ways. Oli moved to London to pursue his career in advertising whilst Sam went home to Birmingham where he began building his first small scale pilot kit, but he had big ideas to open up his own commercial brewery and in 2018 that dream became a reality. After securing an industrial unit in Stirchley, Birmingham, picking up a commercial brew kit and Oli making the move from London, Attic Brew Co. was born with it’s mission to create “new world beers that embody old school pub culture”. For Sam and Oli community has been at the heart of everything they do and they have been blown away by the huge positive response from local beer drinkers who were ready to try Attic’s modern takes on traditional styles.

When ordering my box for this month I found that the beer styles Attic produce are very accessible and easy to drink. I ordered a few of their different pale ales, including their flagship Intuition, and I really felt that they had a ‘house’ flavour that gives them that unmistakeable taste of an Attic Brew Co. beer. Bursting with fruity flavours from tropical papaya or pineapple to stone fruits such as peaches and nectarines. These pale ales are juicy and, as I began writing this blog in the garden feeling very thirsty, I could imagine myself drinking quite a few of these at Attic’s taproom in the glorious sunshine!

After just 2 months of Attic Brew Co. being operational the tap room was opened up in November 2018 and the year that followed saw continual changes as a new brew kit was installed taking them up to a 10BBL plant in 2019. Attic also embarked on some new barrel aging projects which I was very interested to try so I had also included the Ol’ Russ Barrel Aged Vienna Lager and the Super Deluxe No.1 Sparkling Barley Wine in with my order. I was very intrigued about what would happen if you barrel aged a Vienna lager and how this process would effect the crisp, clean characteristics of this style. I was pleasantly surprised by the woody aroma and flavours imparted by the American oak barrel used for aging as well as some sour tang from natural microorganisms being transferred out of the material. This made the style taste more complex whilst still feeling very crisp on the finish, which kept me going back for more. The barrel aging process for the Super Deluxe No.1 Sparkling Barley Wine did exactly as I would expect. More dark fruit character with a touch of vanilla sweetness from the barrel whilst the char of the American oak added a hint smokiness – overall this was deliciously boozy!

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London may have the Bermondsey Beer Mile but Birmingham has it’s own Stirchley Beer Mile showcasing some of the best from Brum, including the Attic Brew Co. tap room. If you get a chance to visit Attic’s tap room you can still see their original brew kit on display behind the bar, as a tribute and reminder of how far the brewery has come since it began in 2018. This is a very forward progressing brewery that isn’t afraid to look back and appreciate where they started from, which I feel is also reflected in the types of beers they brew from modern American Pale Ales to traditional styles such as the Dark Mild. Just writing about this beer made me go to the fridge for a can of this refreshingly nutty, malty ale. The exciting beer scene in the Midlands is rapidly developing and Attic Brew Co. have certainly put their name on the map. This is definitely one beery destination on my list of places I have to visit as soon as we can.


SoBeer Year 2021: March with Full Circle Brew Co.

Theres nothing more satisfying then the sound of a cask dispense. The gurgle and the soft drawing sound of the beer being pulled from the cask. The light clink as the swan neck faucet touches the glass followed by the gentle spray as malty, hoppy liquid fills from the bottom. The bubbles of carbonation cascading down the side of the glass as the frothy head of foam begins to settle out on top. Theres many things that I miss about not being able to go to the pub at the moment but this is one experience that is difficult to replicate at home. Fortunately The Shed being upgraded with a working hand pull over the summer has meant that we have been able to connect bag in boxes and mini casks/kegs to get that ‘almost cask’ experience at home. When I was placing my order from this month’s featured brewery, Full Circle Brew Co., I just had to add in a mini keg of Pure Phase DDH Pale Ale to enjoy drinking in The Shed.

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The current home of Full Circle Brew Co. is located in the metropolitan city of Newcastle. The brewery first started up in March 2019, sharing a space at Lanchester Wines Co. before moving to it’s newest residence at Hoults Yard shortly after in July’19. Since then the brewery’s expansion has been rapid, a reflection of the growing craft beer scene in the North East of England. New brewing equipment was installed in October 2019, turning their 1HL starter kit to a 30HL brew kit complete with six 30HL and three 60HL fermentation tanks. The tap room was also opened in the same year in November, only to be forced to close again due to current restrictions. It seems that brewery owner and founder, Ben Clearly, was fated to end up in the beer industry as he already had experience in the alcoholic drinks sector with his successful wine and beer merchants shop, the Pip Stop. His grandparents worked within the beer trade as well as pub industries and his parents also dealt in wine so it felt as if the family business had come full circle, which is how the brewery got its name. With a solid range of core beers as well as seasonal and special release beers, I am looking forward to seeing more of Full Circle behind the bar as soon as the pubs can reopen.

Thirsty work project managing at The Shed

When I was placing my order for my Full Circle box I found that there was a great range of beers to choose from. In particular I really liked that there were quite a few of my favourite styles that had been brewed with sessionable ABVs. Juicy session NEIPAs, hoppy IPAs and roasty, chocolatey Stouts brewed below 5% that are perfect fridge fillers for a Saturday afternoon watching football in The Shed or for a cheeky mid week beer. Full Circle boast that their flagship beer Looper is their “pride and joy” and it is easy to see why. Bursting with orange and stone fruit flavours whilst the thicker body makes it feel like I am drinking a fruit juice. There is a touch of booziness about it that reminds me of drinking a Bucks Fizz. The pleasant bitterness on the finish makes me want to go back for more, until suddenly I realise my glass is empty. Fortunately I had Looper’s bigger sibling, Dooper, waiting in the fridge and if the original is anything to go by then I was in for a treat with this Double IPA. Dooper was brewed to celebrate Full Circle’s 100th beer brewed as well as to celebrate their 1st Birthday. What better way to commemorate these occasions then to take their flagship beer and turn it up to 11! More tropical flavours come forward in the Dooper including juicy mango as well as some citrusy grapefruit adding to the bitter finish. This beer feels very much like a fruit juice, much like Looper, and is dangerously drinkable at 8.2%. Both these beers were very enjoyable and great to compare against one another.

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Now back to the mini keg of Pure Phase. This has to be one of my favourite beers we have had on draught in The Shed. The first pint was beautifully hazy and straw like in appearance with a tight head of foam giving away it’s juicy intentions. As I went for my first mouthful I noted that this beer had a really soft body from the addition of oats and the juiciness was backed up with flavours of peaches and citrus fruits. The first pint quickly disappeared so I was on to my second, third, forth, before realising we’d drained the keg.

I felt very lucky to be involved with Full Circle’s virtual International Women’s Day brew in collaboration with Pink Boots this year. Alongside an amazing team we came up with a beer, in one of my favourite styles – a NEIPA, that we felt encompasses the message of IWD. All being well this will be launched during April which gives me a great excuse to add some more Full Circle beers to my order. Perhaps even another mini keg.