An Ode to Indy Man

No one could of predicted what was going to happen in 2020, that we would have to write off so many events and plans for the year. Holidays cancelled and, for me particularly, birthday celebrations shelved, with a promise that we will celebrate the big 3 0 as soon as we are able to. These things I’ve learned to accept but it was the day when I got a gut wrenching message from my partner Josh to tell me that Indy Man Beer Con was cancelled this year. Anger and sadness washed over me at the thought that the event I most look forward to, the highlight of my year, was to be cancelled so I rushed to Twitter to check for myself. I tapped into the search bar and there it was, confirmation that Indy Man would not be going ahead in 2020. Although I was devastated, as many people were, I knew in my heart that it was the right decision for everyone’s safety. I couldn’t imagine how you would be able to remain socially distanced at Indy Man’s resident venue, The Victoria Baths, with its narrow corridors and rooms packed out with beer enthusiasts.

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I first went to Indy Man Beer Con in 2015 near the beginning of my beer journey. My partner Josh convinced me to go with a promise that I could go on the Coronation Street Studio Tour. As we arrived at The Victoria Baths for our session I could already see the queue forming a snake around the front and further down the road. As we joined onto the back I remember thinking it was going to take ages to get inside. I had read before hand some hints and tips about attending the festival, including making a plan of the beers you wanted to try and which rooms they would be in. Of course once I did get inside all plans went out the window. Indy Man was a festival quite unlike any other I had been to so far on my beer journey of discovery. As I made my way through the various rooms I was blown away by the number of breweries there and my eyes were opened to different styles of beers, many of which I had never heard of. It was here at my first Indy Man that I discovered Mad Hatter Brewery and their Tzatziki Sour which made me completely rethink what beer “should” taste like. It felt like a door was opened into Wonderland and there was no stopping me, all against the back drop of the stunning interior of The Victoria Baths. From the glossy green tiles in the foyer to the original changing cubicles at the poolside and the beautiful stained glass windows in the Turkish Baths I could feel the history of the building. Every year it still takes my breath away and it will again when hopefully Indy Man can return next year.

There are many traditions of Indy Man Beer Con, a tick list of ‘things you must do’ whilst at the festival, but here are a few of my favourites.

#1: The Famous Fish Mosaic. You have to take a photo with the fish mosaic which is on the wall in the foyer. No one knows why people take a photo here, some say it brings good luck, but whatever the reason it seems to be one of the mascots for Indy Man.

#2: Make sure your ready for the cheese. For as long as I can remember Wild Beer Co. have brought a wheel (or two!) of the famous Westcombe Cheddar made at the farm next door to the brewery. At each session there is a ceremonial cutting of the cheese whilst a huge crowd of people look on hungrily. Then comes the call and it is a free for all of people scrambling over each other, hands reaching out to grab as much cheese as they can. I quite often got sent into the brawl by Josh as I always managed to come away with some of the biggest pieces.

#3: Take a picture in the changing cubicle. The original cubicles that are lined along the pools in two of the rooms are perfect for having a quiet sit down to regroup and rethink where your headed to next. I love that these are still a feature that The Victoria Baths upkeep, a reminder of the building’s history.

#4: Have a soft serve beer. Even though it is October and the weather might be cold and wet you must have a soft serve beer, usually served by Omnipollo or Buxton. For me, there is nothing more fun and whimsical about a boozy soft serve float on top of a crazy ice cream flavoured beer.

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It’s not just the actual festival that I’m missing this year but also the annual trip to Manchester to visit some of my favourite bars and restaurants. Over the years we have explored the beer scene in the city and have discovered so many new places, many of which are now our ‘go to’ beer destinations whenever we’re in Manchester. I love exploring the Northern Quarter of Manchester as you are never too far away from great beer, hopping from one bar to another within a few minutes. I will miss visiting the Marble Arch, unwinding by the open fire with a decent pint of cask beer, perfect after drinking everything weird and wonderful at Indy Man.

As well as the great beers, Manchester also has amazing food! It was at GRUB that I discovered Parm Star’s Parmo and last year I found Dishoom’s Bacon Naan Rolls, just the hang over cure I needed after a session at Indy Man. I also can’t visit Manchester without visiting Bundobust for lunch. The small plates on the menu means that Josh and I always order too much food and I have to order a Vada Pav!

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We had hoped we could take a holiday up North in the later half of the year, paying Manchester a visit whilst we were there, so that we could look in on some of our favourite beer destinations in the city, but it is looking unlikely we can go now. The cancellation of the festival, which would been this weekend, will probably have an effect on these independent breweries, bars and pubs who usually welcome beer enthusiasts from all over the country and acts as a reminder to support these businesses during this time.

I have some really great memories of Indy Man Beer Con and even though we cant make more this year, I am looking forward to next year when hopefully the festival will be back. I will eat at some of my favourite restaurants, visit as many tap rooms, bars and pubs as I can, search out the soft serve beer, and take a photo next to the fish mosaic for good luck!

Back to the ‘new’ normal

It’s something that has been talked about for a few weeks, group chats and one to one zoom meetings. I’ve ironed my clothes which now are hung up ready for the morning and my lunch is in the fridge ready to go. Today I have been preparing to go back to work after 12 weeks of being furloughed. I have mixed emotions but whilst I am anxious, as my job involves dealing with the general public in the healthcare sector, I am very much looking forward to getting back to some sense of routine and getting used to the ‘new normal’.

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There will be things I will miss when I go back to work as I have used the time in lockdown to learn new things and pursue creative interests. I have brushed up on my sewing skills by making face masks as well as spending more time learning to cook with my partner Josh in the kitchen. I have baked a cake, made pasta for the first time and experimented making different types of breads: brioche, focaccia and sourdough. I have also spent more time outdoors, going cycling and sitting out in the garden as we have been lucky with the weather.

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Lazy sunny afternoons that drifted into long warm evenings meant plenty of time to sit in the garden with a book in one hand a beer in the other. I have enjoyed drinking Schöfferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen in the early afternoons as well as lagers from Cloudwater, Donzoko and Utopian. There has also been nothing better then a cold and crisp glass of Lost and Grounded’s Keller Pils after a long dog walk or a hot bike ride. I will miss opening up that first thirst quenching beer of the early afternoon, not really being aware of what time it was as well as tracking our weekly delivery of bag in box beer from Stealth Brew Co. and then waiting for it to chill long enough before we eagerly pour the first pint. We have taken advantage of breweries and bottle shops expanding into direct online sales with regular deliveries being left on the doorstep by smiling couriers. It has been really important to us from the start to make sure to support the beer industry during this time by continuing to buy beer to drink at home. For my lockdown birthday I received 30 beers for 30 years, and whilst it would normally take me a while to get through this much beer at home I have certainly made a bigger dent in the box as the pubs have been closed.

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We have fond memories of the late nights where we have been singing along to music or catching up with friends online which has gone on until the early hours of the morning. I have enjoyed taking part in more beer events online, as I have not had to worry about it being a weeknight. Zoom events that have over ran because we were all enjoying talking and sharing a beer together. I have used this time away from work to expand my beer knowledge and have taken part in a few online webinars with some great hosts. I’ve been working on some of my skills to complete my beer sommelier accreditation as well as practice some blind tasting. I have also joined some online groups where we can discuss and virtually meet to socialise and talk about beer! It has been really fun to be able to regularly take part in #CraftBeerHour each week on Twitter too. My highlight was being asked to host #CraftBeerHour on 2nd June where I had so much fun engaging with people talking about beer as well as Shed and Garden Pubs.

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As I get back to my ‘new normal’ I still can’t help but wonder what will happen when pubs and taprooms are able to fully open post-lockdown. As I write this we still have not had any confirmation that pubs will definitely be reopening on the 4th July as well as the restrictions that will be put in place. In the meantime we will continue to show our support by ordering beers online for delivery even though I’ll now have to wait until I’m back from work or at weekends. The proposed social distancing measures and current rate of infection are likely to be keeping me away from pubs for the time being but going back to work, to me, feels like we are one step closer to returning back to the normal where we can safely raise a glass with friends once again.

What will the beer industry look like post-lockdown?

On 20th March 2020 the call was made by the UK government to close the doors on pubs and other businesses in the hospitality sector with a strong message given to the general public to ‘Stay at Home’ as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread through the country. For an industry that relies on people visiting their establishments in high volumes this has been a huge blow and many have had to respond or adapt to this new way of life, but what will the future of these businesses look like? I, like many others, have questions about what pubs, bars and tap rooms might be like once the lockdown restrictions are lifted. I don’t know how to answer these questions but here are some of my thoughts based on things I’ve read or heard.

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What will the beer industry look like post-lockdown? This is quite a loaded question and I think it is the umbrella in which all my other questions fall under. As mentioned above many businesses have had to respond to the change in peoples’ buying habits and with people being told to ‘Stay at Home’, SIBA found that independent brewery beer sales dropped down 82% in their April 2020 survey. To adapt many businesses in the beer industry were quick to expand their existing online web shops while others began work to start up their own, with SIBA also reporting an increase of 55% in online beer sales during the lockdown. With many breweries now being able to directly sell to their customers through their new online shops how will this change the way we buy our beer in the future? How will this affect independent retailers? I have already seen that some independent bottle shops have turned to opening web shops themselves so perhaps this will be positive for them and widen their customer base. Will breweries continue to keep open their web shops now they directly reach their market? I imagine they would now that their web shops are set up which perhaps could offer more job opportunities in the future? I read that Thornbridge had advertised for a new role as an E-Commerce Manager due to their growth in online sales and on the advert they were predicting that people will probably continue to buy their beer in this way post-pandemic. Although I wonder if as soon as pubs are given the green light to open will people continue to stay in with their beer deliveries or will the pubs be busier than ever as people are board of being stuck at home?

The reality is that as soon as pubs can open it will not be back to the normal we remember, well not for a while at least, but how will the pub environment look? At the time of writing this blog post the phased lifting of restrictions for England suggests pubs can begin reopening from the 4th July, with social distancing measures, and whilst many pubs and bars are making preparations there are also those who think this is too soon. One suggestion to help maintain social distancing in a pub setting is that table service could be implemented, something which some micro pubs do already if they don’t have a bar and larger pub chains could use a phone app, something Wetherspoons have had in place before lockdown. Whilst these measures might allow us to access the services and products of the pub we wouldn’t be getting the full experience. The pub has always been a very communal place and we are very used to sharing our space with other people. I don’t think twice about sharing a larger table with strangers or pub regulars but how will we feel about this when we can go back? Will we became wary and afraid of other people in the pub environment? How would we feel about being separated or talking to each other from behind a screen? Personally this wouldn’t feel like an enjoyable experience and it changes the essence of what a pub should be. This is a view shared by Malcolm and the team at my local brewery Stealth Brew Co. who don’t feel like they could open their micro pubs yet with so many restrictions and safety measures in place. To them the safety of their staff and customers is the most important thing so will continue just doing home deliveries for the moment, but in the meantime they have created a ‘virtual pub’ on Facebook where we can keep up to date with the regulars. Could this be a future of how local pubs and bars keep in contact with their customers? CAMRA have also set up a virtual pub space called The Red (On)Lion to help combat the issue of social isolation during lockdown. The platform allows people to ‘book’ a table for a closed group video call or you can join the public bar. CAMRA also hope to be able to use The Red (On)Lion pub to hold virtual quizzes as well as beer talks and tasting events.

During lockdown I have been getting involved in a few virtual beer tastings including Turning Point’s newly released New Frontiers range, Lost and Grounded’s Ultimate Lager Tasting and Instagram Live Tasting Sessions with Jimmy and Liz from Unity. These have been a great way for me to learn about new beers whilst drinking along with the brewers as well as having the opportunity to ask questions or just generally get involved in the chat. With breweries reaching out to their customers more using digital technology does this make a tasting event more accessible or does it limit people who may not be as tech savvy? Will it only appeal to people within the beer ‘bubble’ or will it help people discover beer, perhaps for the first time? I wonder if there will be a future for tasting events online once we come out of lockdown? Perhaps it would be a useful tool for new beer launches or special release beers, e.g. Sirens Caribbean Chocolate Cake Series or The Rainbow Project, where a tap takeover can have an online session run along side it for those who do not have access to somewhere holding an event?

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What will the beer industry look like post-lockdown? I don’t think anybody fully knows the answer to this question and we probably won’t know until restrictions are lifted. Social distancing is, hopefully only in the short term, our ‘new’ normal which can pose problems for a sector where a wide range of people mix together for a shared passion, beer. The role that digital technology has played during this lockdown has been so important across all industries and has allowed breweries to connect to their customers directly with online events as well as beer updates. It has been vitally important to all of us who have stayed at home, helping to ease social isolation by allowing us to see and interact with friends and family online. We can probably agree that the future will be different but together with the support from consumers and the beer industry’s response to new safety measures, hopefully soon we can return to our ‘old’ normal.

Newbie Foodie

As I begin uploading another picture of my evening dinner I jokingly said to my partner Josh that I should change my Instagram Bio to something like ‘Beer Blogger and Foodie’ and as I scanned through my posting history I realised that this might not be a bad idea. During this lockdown, as we’ve been told to ‘Stay at Home’, I have found that I have been getting more involved in cooking our meals, sharing it on my social media, and often pairing it with a beer. I’ve noticed that I am beginning to enjoy learning how to prepare more food but this hasn’t always been the case.

Growing up I was never particularly interested in food. I used to be an incredibly fussy eater and really only ate foods that felt ‘safe’ to me. I very rarely ate a vegetable and I stayed away from spicy foods. I was also not very interested in cooking, and hated doing Food Tech at school as I was quite a nervous cook. I struggled with trying new foods, a habit that came back as I began my beer journey and I found it hard to go out of my comfort zone (I wrote about this in an earlier post you can read here). As I was going through my teenage years certain experiences encouraged me to eat more foods but I didn’t find pleasure in what I was eating. I hit a turning point when I met my partner Josh who is a very keen foodie and an amazing home cook. With his help and patience I started learning how to cook and gained some confidence in the kitchen. He also helped open my eyes to good food and I started to enjoy it.

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I’ve always been more of a fan of baking rather than cooking and my earliest memories in the kitchen have been spending time with my mum baking cakes and sweet treats. I enjoy the precision of baking, the direct instructions, something my partner Josh doesn’t understand. As a great home cook he is used to his own creative flair and adapting recipes with a pinch of this and a splash of that, things that are unnatural to me with baking. Perhaps thats what makes us such a great team in the kitchen. During the lockdown its become a sort of tradition that we make homemade pizzas at the weekends so I am very much in charge of the pizza dough bases whilst I leave Josh to sort out the sauce and toppings.

White Sourdough Starter

We hit a bit of a snag with our weekly pizza nights as national food shortages have meant that my local supermarkets have run out of yeast and theres been no luck at any of the smaller convenience shops. I then began looking into the idea of sourdough starters and after coming across a step-by-step guide in the Good Food Magazine this month I decided to give it a go. For my first try I practiced on using some wholemeal flour that we found in the back of the cupboard, so as not to use up all the strong white bread flour, something else that had become a rare commodity around here. By day three and realising the wholemeal flour was 10 years old I was worried it wouldn’t work so decided to start again, this time with the white bread flour seeing as our last trip to the shop had proved successful. This starter looked much more active from day two and I found myself watching it every day, checking to see how much it had grown. As soon as I felt it was ready I decided to test the starter out before ‘hibernating’ it in the fridge alongside the spare wholemeal starter. Next was a two day process of feeding and folding before finally being able to bake my first ever sourdough loaf. I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome especially as it was such a labour of love making it. Not bad considering it was a project that I was sure wouldn’t work and it has certainly boosted my confidence in baking.

First Sourdough loaf

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During this lockdown period I’ve noticed I have been thinking more about what beers would work well with the food we have been cooking, using some knowledge I’ve picked up from my beer sommelier training courses. I’ve found that as I have been moving along my beer journey my confidence with trying new foods and beers has grown since I started going to more beer festivals. With the range of food now being served at beer festivals I am now just as excited to look which food vendors will be there as well as looking over the list of breweries and beers being poured. I am also enjoying the range of food you can now find in brewery tap rooms. The days of the dodgy burger vans or hotdog stands have been replaced with a wave of new and exciting street food. When I go to a tap room I’m always interested to see which street food stall is there as its a great opportunity to try something new.

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In November, last year, I was sitting in the Unity tap room whilst my partner Josh and his parents were getting ready to head off the Southampton FC game. As they are season ticket holders I wasn’t going with them but instead decided I would continue to have a few drinks at Unity and then move on somewhere in the city centre, where I could meet them after. “Are you going to have some lunch? You could always eat here?” Josh said to me as he was leaving, in the knowledge that he will be having a Piglet’s Pantry pie at the football ground. As I looked at the menu on the table I saw that Roots Vegan Street Food were serving up food in the tap room that day. As an avid carnivore I’ve struggled generally with all vegetarian or vegan menus but after having visited Bundobus in Manchester and Leeds in the last few years, I’ve become more open to veggie meals so I thought I would give this a try. The vegan Mac & Cheese served with Nachos caught my eye, which I know isn’t adventurously vegan but I should mention at this stage that I never used to be a big cheese lover either, and as more people sat around me with their food orders I was feeling hungry. The Mac & Cheese was so creamy, I wouldn’t have been able to tell that the cheese was vegan, and was sprinkled with spring onions for freshness on top. I enjoyed it so much that I considered ordering another portion but it was time for me to head back into the city centre.

Roots Vegan Street Food Mac n’ Cheese with Nachos

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As I have been adding more food posts to my Instagram page I found that to my surprise last month that my version of a Hot Shot Parmo had been entered into Parm Star’s #ratemyparmo competition, inspired by peoples efforts to try to recreate their signature Parmo at home.

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Parm Star’s Parmo at Grub

I had first tried Parm Stars OG Parmo at Grub after I’d overindulged in the previous nights session at Indy man Beer Con in 2017. When we arrived at Grub the weather was a bit overcast and was threatening to rain so I found us some seats under an awning whilst Josh went to the bar. That morning I was feeling particularly hungover and turned a shade of green once Josh had placed a beer in front of me. I was struggling, that was until I went to collect our Parmo order. As I tucked in I felt my nausea dissipate and a bit more colour came back to my cheeks. The breaded chicken of the Parmo was so crispy underneath the unctuous cheesy blanket that covered it. The fries dipped in the creamy garlic mayo was like heaven to me and the coleslaw helped cut through the richness. This was healing food and I was ready for another session at Indy Man. Since then Parmos have been my go to for serious comfort food, something I really craved one night this year in January.

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“What would you like for dinner today?” Josh asks me on a cold and miserable day in January. I already knew the answer as there was only one thing I was really craving that day, a chicken Parmo. Unfortunately living in the South West means we don’t exactly have easy access to the real thing so Josh and I had no choice but to recreate one in our own style. This was my first Hot Shot Parmo, with an extra dash of The Rib Man Holy Fuck Sauce and paired with Donzoko’s Big Foam, but little did I know it would be entered into a competition.

Homemade Hot Shot Parmo

Parm Star’s #ratemyparmo turned out to be a big hit and every time I opened up Instagram my feed was flooded with other peoples homemade Parmos, and it made me so hungry that I had to make another Parmo that week! It was really great to be acknowledged by Parm Star themselves for our homemade effort and despite being beaten in the quarter finals I felt really proud as I didn’t think I would ever get recognition for food I’ve cooked.

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“Do you want to get a picture of this before I serve it? Josh asks me as he patiently waits for me to find the right camera angle and take several snaps of our food on the stove. My stomach is rumbling and I am feeling a great sense of pride that I helped make that meal, whether its recreating a chicken Parmo or our Friday Ploughman’s lunch served with my home made Sourdough bread. Although I have found lockdown difficult and feeling a bit redundant by being stuck at home, I’ve really enjoyed having more time to gain some confidence in the kitchen as well as spending it with Josh who is definitely a patient teacher!

On reflection of these experiences I can probably officially change my Instagram Bio but I think I’ll just go with ‘Beer Blogger and Newbie Foodie’ … for now anyway!

Instagram: sobeer_blogger

It’s all about the Bass

Draught Bass is not very easy to come by these days, particularly outside of the areas of Staffordshire and Derbyshire, so it is a great find when you enter a pub to see that famous red triangle. Fortunately for me there are at least three pubs near where I live that serve Bass on draught, one of which is actually in my home town. A reason for its rarity can be put down to the significant reduction in production of the ale from 800,000 barrels per annum in the 70’s to just 30,000-35,000 since 2005 when AB-InBev contracted the brewing of Bass to Marston’s. In it’s prime Bass Brewery was one of the largest breweries in the UK as well as in the world and its most famous beer, Bass Pale Ale, was once the highest selling beers in the UK with much of it exported around the British Empire. Founded in 1777 by William Bass, Bass Brewery was built in Burton-upon-Trent which became one of the most prestigious places to brew in Britain with over 30 breweries producing beer there. What made Burton special was the quality of the water, high in minerals and sulphur, it gave beers brewed with it a distinctive flavour as well as smell, or ‘Burton snatch’ as it is often described.

I first discovered Draught Bass in the city of Bath, just a short bus or train ride away from my home town, which is also famous for it’s water but for different reasons. Bath is best known as being a spa town since the Georgian era and this inspired the 16th Century architecture that can be seen throughout the city. Nestled within The Paragon, surrounded by the light, sandy coloured Bath stone Georgian houses, is The Star Inn. First licensed in 1760 The Star Inn, now owned by Bath brewery Abbey Ales, still retains many of its original features including the wooden benches and bar fixtures. CAMRA has described The Star Inn as having ‘a rare and unspoiled pub interior of outstanding historic interest’ and also made it onto their Inventory of Heritage Pubs. You certainly can feel the history when you step into The Star, the multi-room layout with its dark oak panelled walls and open fires is cosy and inviting. As I enter the door to the right of me is the Small Bar which has always been used by the pub’s regulars. Here there is a single bench which has been dubbed ‘Death Row’ and you can still pick up a complimentary pinch of snuff from tins on the ledge above, just as regulars have done since the 16th Century. As I follow the layout of the pub I get to the main bar area which is sectioned off into two spaces partitioned by a pair of original benches and a few sets of tables either side. At the bar as I gaze over the pump clips on the hand pulls I see the renowned red triangle logo of Bass which holds the title of the UK’s first registered trademark in 1876. As I order a couple of pints of Bass something happens that I haven’t seen before, my beer is served from a jug, something The Star Inn is still famous for. The Star doesn’t have a restaurant but they do serve typical pub grub including crisps, nuts, etc. and whilst at the bar I noticed that they also serve traditional, freshly made bread rolls with various fillings such as cheese & onion or ham & cheese.

As I sit down with my pint of Bass the first thing that hits me is a slight sulphurous smell, the Burton Snatch. In appearance the beer is a chestnut colour with very little carbonation and not much head. On first my first sip I noted how Bass tasted quite sweet as well as nutty. The mouthfeel was thinner than I was expecting so I very quickly had to take another sip to savour the flavour some more. On my next few sips the beer tasted more malty and reminded me of a slice of lightly browned toast. At 4.4% ABV this beer is perfectly sessionable to drink over the course of an afternoon and why wouldn’t you want to while away the time with a few pints of Bass next to a roaring fire? As I sit with my pint I look around at the old photo’s of Bath I find myself absorbed in the history of The Star Inn as well as in the beer I’m drinking.

Despite draught Bass being less popular now then it once was it still has a following. Many people around the country are joining together on the 11th April to shout about how much they love Bass during it’s national day of recognition. I should be sitting in The Star today for the 243rd anniversary of the brewery being established but the Coronavirus restrictions have meant I am sitting with a bottle of Bass in the garden. Although we will be unable to visit the pub on this glorious Saturday we can still raise a glass today and look forward to the postponed date for National Bass Day on Saturday 25th July when pubs will hopefully be reopened so we can properly appreciate a good pint of Bass.

SoBeer Guide to Southampton

For many years I have frequently visited the city of Southampton, dragged by my other half on match day to watch his beloved team play football. He has been a Saints fan ever since he was little and when we first became a couple I thought I should take an interest in one of his hobbies … so I chose to share beer drinking with him! The opening of Caskaway on Oxford Street meant we had a new place for our pre-match beers and it was from here that I decided I wanted to find out more about the beer scene in Southampton.

I first did some research online and found a blog post by Tom Hallett called The Ultimate Guide to Southampton’s Craft Beer Bars and Real Ale Pubs which gave a very comprehensive list of beer destinations in and around the city. This blog post gave me a great start in discovering some places and areas of Southampton I would never have thought to have visited before, particularly those outside of the city centre. I began to create a picture of Southampton’s beer scene and decided to share some of my favourite bars and pubs in my own guide.

This blog post has been roughly two years in the making and within that time new places have opened and there have been some that have closed. The unfortunate side effect of drinking a lot of beer has also caused a delay in writing up this guide so if you follow this route I advise you do it over a couple of days to make the most of each stop. On one occasion when I had decided to do a beer crawl around Southampton I planned to start at Unity’s tap room in it’s old location just outside the city centre in Portswood. I thought I would have one or two beers here and then move one to see what else Portswood had to offer before heading back into the centre. From what I remember of that trip is that I rather enjoyed Unity’s Amalgamation Houblon Tripel and then the rest of the day is a little hazy …

Two years on and after a few more visits here is my SoBeer Guide to Southampton which I am hoping will inspire you to pay the city a visit.

Dancing Man Brewery Brewpub

Down near Southampton’s Docks and nestled within parts of the original town walls is the Dancing Man Brewery. The brewpub is situated in a historic Wool House and you can see a lot of the building’s character when you go inside. The double doors open to reveal pockets of seating areas and a large spiral staircase taking you to the second mezzanine floor. The decor is very eclectic with a mixture of historic photos and quirky antiques which add to the charm of the place. As you walk around the staircase and through to the back of the pub the large bar becomes visible and you get the first glimpse of the brewery’s seven brewing vessels. The DMB brewpub sell their own beers, both cask and keg, but also have a few guest ales and one off brews. Dancing Man are also very proud that their beers are unfined and champion this with their choice of guest ales with beers from Moor, Siren as well as Tapstone. Back outside at the front of the pub are some picnic style benches where I have spent a few sunny afternoons watching the ferries arrive into port with a chilled beer in my hand.

Caskaway Tasting Rooms

The Caskaway Tasting Rooms, established in 2016, was where I first started looking into the local beer scene in Southampton and has also been the place for pre-match drinks when we’ve been down to watch Saints play. The micro pub offers a wide range of keg and gravity pour cask beers, cider, as well as spirits which are served to you at your table as there is no formal bar. The beer list available usually showcases a variety of local breweries as well as some sought after new releases. Inside, Caskaway’s interior gives a nod to Southampton’s nautical heritage as the walls are decked with maps, compasses and model boats. When you look up ship sails drape from the ceiling filled with fairy lights which give you the feeling that your gazing into the stars.

Belgium & Blues

Belgium & Blues is made up of two parts. On the ground level is a Gin Bar and Brasserie serving classic Belgian food as well as smoked meats from Bark & Brisket. Downstairs is the Cellar Bar which has ambient lighting that gives you the feeling that you are in a traditional Belgian bar and there is plenty of booth seating making it feel very cosy. Belgium & Blues pride themselves on having one of the widest ranges of bottled Belgian beers in the country, something I can vouch for as on a recent visit I was able to try a 1.5 year old aged bottle of Orval. On the bar there are 20 taps of both cask and keg beers pouring Belgian style beers as well as championing local breweries. Belgium & Blues is also a great venue for music events and there are regular sets from bands during the weekends.

Brewdog

The Brewdog in Southampton is tucked away a little near Upper Bannister Street where there doesn’t seem to be much footfall compared to other locations for the brand. On stepping inside I am faced with the familiar template of a Brewdog bar which has been coined from the idea of what a ‘craft beer’ micro pub should look like with their trademark exposed brickwork, distressed wood furniture and brushed metal finishes. On looking at the beer list located above the bar I see some familiar beers, including one of my favourite Brewdog beers Elvis Juice, as well as some great guest ales. The staff at Brewdog are always friendly and offer great customer service, particularly if you need assistance in choosing what beer to order. Here there is a good mix of customers from your regular beer drinkers to people starting out on their beer journey.

Unity Tap Room

Unity Brewery have recently expanded and relocated from their small unit in Portswood to their current location which is conveniently nearby the St Mary’s Football Stadium. From the outside the brewery and tap room is a standard white coloured industrial unit but when you step inside you are greeted with the soft pastel colour palette that has become synonymous with the Unity brand, which you can learn more about from the Matt Curtis’ great interview with founder Jimmy Hatherley in a podcast for the Pellicle here. Upon entering as you look straight ahead you see the brewery which takes centre stage within the space. To the right is the tap room area which is a wide space with plenty of seating, a football table and a games console for if your feeling competitive. The bar has certainly been upgraded during the move from it’s original four taps to it’s current line up of 12 taps pouring their own beers as well as guest ales and cider. To the side of the bar there is a large fridge filled with freshly canned Unity beers as well as a great selection from other breweries which can be drank in or taken away. Out the back is an enclosed yard where street food stands run pop ups every Saturday. As I mentioned before the tap room is fairly close to St Mary’s Stadium which means I have a great excuse to pop in on match day, enjoy a few beers and eat some amazing street food!

The Bookshop Alehouse

As you look at the bright orange frontage of The Bookshop Alehouse you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just that, a book shop but as you look closer you see that it is actually a very interesting micro pub. As you enter the alehouse you’ll notice that some of the the old book cases remain in homage to the building’s previous purpose and there is a comforting scent of old books in the air. Personally I really enjoy the smell of old books and I think it adds to the character of the alehouse. The bar is at the back of the pub serving both cask and keg across their eight taps of local beers from big names such as Unity and Vibrant Forest as well as others from around the UK. The decor inside The Bookshop Alehouse is very eclectic and I think it reflects some of our British eccentricity. There is a mixture of beer memorabilia as well as retro signage hanging on the walls and in the corner near the bar there is row of Chinese lucky fortune cats that look like they are doing a Mexican wave. Each time I have been here I have noticed how friendly the staff are as well as the regulars and the pub does give the impression that it is an important communal hub for the area.

The Butcher’s Hook

The walk from The Bookshop Alehouse to our next destination is one of my favourites, in particular the Cobden Bridge crossing between two of the city’s suburbs St Denys and Bitterne Park which reveals a stunning view over the River Itchen. As you leave the bridge and walk up towards the small monument you will begin to see Southampton’s Original Micro Pub come into view. Here is another great example of a repurposed building as The Butcher’s Hook is a fully converted Victorian butcher’s shop. Inside the walls are still covered with the original tiles in off white and green, typical of the era, while at the window there is a hand painted scene depicting cows and sheep in a field. It’s not until you look up that the real character of the building shines through as you see the original meat hooks and you can really imagine how it would have looked as a working butcher’s shop. There is no bar in The Butcher’s Hook so people generally place their orders at the stillage which pours up to four gravity pour cask beers and there are six keg lines just to the side. Being Southampton’s Original Micro Pub means that The Butcher’s Hook is usually busy but it does have a really great atmosphere once your inside and the communal style seating is aimed at encouraging people to talk to one another, hopefully on the great beer they are enjoying!

Overdraft

My last stop is just a short drive out of the city centre to Shirley, and trust me it is worth grabbing an Uber out to this one. Overdraft is situated on the main high street of Shirley and is the last in a row of retail units. Inside it has your typical ‘craft beer bar’ vibe with benches, bar stools made from old casks and exposed brickwork on the walls. Here there is a good sized bar serving gravity pour cask ales from the visible stillage as well as range of keg beers and cider. At the back of the micro pub there are some vinyl decks as Overdraft regularly hold DJ sets and events in the evenings. The food is also incredible as there is a mouthwatering menu of Mexican street food including soft shell tacos and sharing platters. On a recent trip here, feeling a little worse for wear, I stopped on my way back home with the intention to have one quick beer for the purpose of this blog. After reading the street food menu and having a couple beers I was persuaded into staying longer and it certainly made my hangover a little more bearable!

As I mentioned earlier this is not a definitive list and there are a number of other great places to discover so I hope to keep this list updated as I visit new venues. The South Coast doesn’t often get mentioned when people talk about beery destinations but the scene in Southampton is really vibrant and I really hope that it will continue to flourish so that we can get the South on the beer map!

Golden Pints 2019

As we come to the end of the year, and the end of the decade, it’s time again to pick my favourite beery highlights of 2019. Some categories this year had very obvious choices but I have to admit that there are one or two winners who have been given the accolade for the 2nd consecutive time.

Lets have a look at my Golden Pints Awards 2019 …

Best UK Cask Beer – Double Crosser, Stealth Brew Co.

This has been the cask beer I have kept going back to this year. Since the opening of my new local The Hiding Place micro pub, home of Stealth Brew Co., I have ordered many pints of their Double Crosser as it is so sessionable. I also like that they have created a series off the back of this beer by pairing different aroma hops together.

Best UK Keg Beer – Keller Pils, Lost and Grounded

Keller Pils, do I need to say any more?! This has won the Best UK Keg Beer award for the 2nd time running purely because this was pretty much the only beer I drank this summer. It was placed on permanent tap at my local and after many a hot walk into town it was the only thing that would quench my thirst.

Honourable mention: Corbel – Eight Arch Brewing This is another beer that when I see it at the bar I have to order it, I even made a made a beeline for Corbel at The Great British Beer Festival this year. I also recently enjoyed a trip to Wimborne to visit the Eight Arch Brewery taproom where I drank all the Corbel! Hopefully Eight Arch beers will become a bit more available in the future so I can enjoy them more frequently.

Best Collaboration Beer – Mega Lager, Lost and Grounded, Donzoko Brewing & Braybrooke Beer Co.

When three UK great powerhouses of lager team together they produced what is now known as the Mega Lager Festbier. I tried this beer in September during Lost and Grounded’s Oktoberfest which was the perfect backdrop to show off this amazing lager. This traditional German style festbier really did take me back to my trip to Berlin in 2018 and really got me thinking about planning to go back to Germany very soon!

Best Pub/Bar of the Year – The Hiding Place, Melksham

I have to give this award to my new local as I’ve visited at least on a weekly basis since it opened in March earlier this year. As mentioned above they have given a permanent position to Keller Pils as well as a great range of cask and keg beers available at the bar. The owners Malcolm and Karen as well as the rest of the staff are all very knowledgable, friendly and are more than happy to help if your stuck on what to order. There is always a great atmosphere as there is a growing community of regulars (including myself) to the pub with inclusivity at the focal point and everyone looking out for one another. I look forward to continuing to visit The Hiding Place next year and for many years after.

Honourable Mentions:
The Pembury Tavern – London

Great range of Five Points beers and amazing pizzas. I did not want to leave the Pembury when I visited for the first time earlier this year. I hope to go back again soon!

The Marble Arch – Manchester
Whenever I visit Manchester now I have to make sure I have time to pop in on The Marble Arch. Much like The Pembury Tavern, there is always a great selection of Marble beers and the atmosphere is so warm and friendly.

Best Brewery Tap Room- Unity brewing Co. Tap

I’ve visited the Unity Brewery and Tap room both when it was in its old location around the Portswood area of Southampton to its current residency just a short walk from Saint Mary’s Stadium, the perfect position for when my partner goes to watch the football. With a great range of Unity beers as well as guest ales to choose from it is very easy to lose track of time. Staff are welcoming and the atmosphere has a real buzz about it, particularly on match days. I look forward to spending more time here next year whilst my partner spends the afternoon with his second love, Southampton FC.

Honourable mention: Beer Nouveau
On our last visit to Manchester for IMBC19 my aim was to check out some local breweries, bars and taps that I had not been to before for the IMBCity Fringe. Beer Nouveau was on the list of places to try and owner Steve was such an amazing host. Whilst in-between pints of his own brews we heard stories of how he got the brewery off the ground and we got chatting to a few of the regulars. We had such a great time that what started out as popping in for 1 or 2 pints turned into an afternoon session. If you are in Manchester then Beer Nouveau is defiantly worth a visit.

Best Food and Beer Destination – Bundobust

Bundobust is still my favourite restaurant that also does great beer. The food is always consistent and the flavours are incredible. I try to order a few new things from the menu when we go but I always end up ordering my favourite dishes, including the infamous Vada Pav. I also like that Bundobust have collaborated with local breweries to produce beer that compliment the flavours in the food. I am still waiting for Bundobust to open up somewhere more south of the UK so that I can visit a little more often.

Honourable Mention: The Pembury Tavern, London
As I’ve mentioned before above that The Pembury Tavern does incredible pizzas, which in my opinion, is the perfect pairing for Five Points beers!

Best Beery Adventure – Prague

My beery adventure highlight of the year has to be when my partner and I went to Prague in September which definitely felt like a beer pilgrimage. I had asked Twitter again for suggestions of places we should visit and I was given some great ideas for places to drink the best beers in the city. I particularly enjoyed going to U Fleků so much so we visited a few times whilst we were there. To top off our trip we also decided to travel to Pilsen to take the tour of the Pilsner Urquell brewery where we were rewarded with a cold, crisp glass of their unfiltered and unpasteurised Pils lager. Definitely the place to visit for all you lager fans.

Best Beer Festival – Vessel Beer Festival, Plymouth

I’ve chosen to give this award to the Vessel Beer Festival because it reminded me of why I really enjoy drinking beer and how great the beer community is (you can read my blog post on this here). It was only the festival’s 2nd year running but I was blown away by the friendly and buzzy atmosphere I experienced whilst I was there. I also really liked that the bigger names in beer shared a stage with some younger breweries, helping to champion local brewing in the South West. I hope to go back to the Vessel Beer Festival again in the future.

Best UK Brewery

To finish off my Golden Pints Awards there can only be one winner for my final category and you may have already guessed who it is. Lost and Grounded are my winners for Best UK Brewery for their great tasting and consistently good beers. Throughout this summer you would rarely see me without a Keller Pils in my hand whether that be in my local or at home in the garden. I also had great fun at their Oktoberfest event learning more about the history of lager and experiencing how the flavours have changed with a tasting session hosted by Mark Dredge. This year I have discovered that hippos really can fly!

There we have it, my round up of highlights for 2019. I hope that the next decade brings more beery adventures and experiences.

Hoppy New Year Everyone!

My Year in Beer 2019

The Big Day is has been and gone, all the presents have been opened and the cheese has all been eaten. As we make our way through the last of the Christmas left overs and with the new year looming it is a time to reflect on the last 12 months. Last week I had my annual notification from Untappd to view my ‘Year in Beer 2019’ which is always interesting to look back on to remember some great beery highlights over the past year. After some reminiscing I scrolled down the page to find I could look back at 2018’s statistics as well so thought I would do a comparison. To my surprise the number of unique beers I’d checked in for this year was 272, a number that was down from 2018 when I’d registered 401. I then began to wonder why my check in count had changed and on reflection I think that there had been a shift in my drinking habits over the last year.

Whilst before I would be on the hunt for new and unusual flavoured beers to check in, I’ve found that this year I have really been enjoying consistent flavoured beer. Since the opening of a micro pub in my home town (The Hiding Place) I’ve spent chilled out afternoons and fun evenings with friends drinking pint after pint of great tasting beers. Whether it be well conditioned cask ale from our local brewery Stealth or a crisp, cold pint of Lost and Grounded Keller Pils on a hot summer’s day, I’ve found I keep going back to the bar to order a repeat of my last order.

A few months ago I read Mark Johnson’s blog post about his feelings on reaching the end of the ‘beer journey’ and how he “just wants to drink Jarl”. At the time I felt saddened by the thought of my own journey ending one day and I began to worry that I may have already peaked when reviewing my ‘Year in Beer’ stats for 2019. I managed to quash these fears as I realised that I still get excited about trying new styles as well as discovering beer culture in other countries. I’ve attended quite a few festivals this year which is a great place to taste new and unusual beers as well as tried a couple of the collaborative project cases. I’ve come to realise that I don’t have to keep drinking new beers all the time and that, I too, can be content with easy drinking and consistently great tasting beers.

It is with this reflection that I’ve recognised I have turned down a new path in my beer journey. The one where I can sit back, relax and enjoy drinking the same beer, pint after pint, as well as still feel the excitement and hype around new beer trends. Cheers to the next part of the adventure.

Hoppy New Year!

Vessel Beer Festival 2019

The city of Plymouth, on the south coast of Devon, has long been famous for it’s naval heritage. It was from here that the first pilgrims left England for the New World in America and it was also where the Spanish Armada were defeated in 1588. Unfortunately due to it’s naval importance Plymouth was targeted by the German Military in World War 2, destroying much of the city and its landmarks including parts of the Guild Hall. As the city was rebuilt the Guild Hall was renovated to what can be seen today with design influences from Medieval and Art Deco architecture. For the last two years the Guild Hall has played host to the Vessel Beer Festival organised by the same people behind Plymouth’s Vessel Beer Shop.

The Vessel Beer Shop, run by Sam and Katie Congdon, first opened it’s doors in December 2016 and is celebrating it’s 3rd Birthday today. The couple, originally from the South West, have travelled around the UK as well as further afield discovering more about beer styles from around the world. Their journeys brought them back to Plymouth where they opened Vessel Beer Shop to share their passion for beer as well as support local independent producers. The Vessel Beer Festival reflects these values with local breweries sharing a stage with some bigger names in beer. I really wanted to make sure I tried some of the local beers whilst at the festival so I made my way over to the Roam stand to try their Nomad pale ale. Roam brews it’s beers just down the road in Plymouth and first launched its beers in January 2018 with the support of Vessel, a great example of the friendly beer community in the South West. The Nomad pale ale was light and hazy in appearance and packed with juicy citrus flavours. There was also a hint of pine making this a very easy drinking beer. I think Roam are definitely a brewery to watch out for and hopefully I will get to see their beers again soon!

I couldn’t go to Vessel Beer Festival and not head over to Siren to see which of their Caribbean Chocolate Cake beers were pouring at the the session. With the CCC launch on the 28th November I was excited to see that Vessel would be one of handful of venues in the South West pouring the beers and I was crossing my fingers for one particular flavour from the range to be at the festival. I was in luck as the Caribbean White Chocolate Cake was on and it tasted exactly as I imagined, sweet, creamy and perfect if your a white chocolate fan like me!

Whist I was at the Vessel Beer Festival I enjoyed looking around the room at the range of different people who were attending the event and I was reminded how much I love beer. There was a good mixture of people who were all at different stages of their beer journey from experienced drinkers to “beer geeks” as well as newbies. Having been to some big beer festivals this year it was really nice to see a different side to the industry, the one that first got me involved in drinking beer. I hope that the Vessel Beer Festival has and continues to enthuse a new generation of beer drinkers who will begin a journey that I am still very much on.

Happy 3rd Birthday to Vessel Bottle Shop, hopefully I will be back in Plymouth soon.

Cheers!

IMBCity 2019

It’s been a week since Indy Man Beer Con opened it’s doors this year I am reminded why it has been my 5th visit to one of the UK’s largest beer festivals. To start with the venue is stunning. From the iconic green tiles to the stained glass windows (not to mention that infamous fish mosaic!) you get a real feel of the history of the building and I still can never get over being stood drinking beer in an empty swimming pool! Set within the beautiful backdrop of the baths is a huge range of amazing breweries from around the UK and Internationally showcasing some incredible beers. I’ve given up trying to plan what beers I’d like to try beforehand as when I get there the list always goes out the window!

But its not just Indy Man Beer Con that draws me to Manchester for a long weekend, I also like to take 1 or 2 days to explore the rest of the local beer scene. Living in the South West of the country means I don’t often see beers from the North so when I’m in Manchester for IMBC I make a point of visiting as many places as I can squeeze in during my trip. It’s really important to me to visit the area around a beer festival to show support for the local bars/pubs and brewery taps. I generally have to travel a fair distance to get to beer festivals or events around the country so its nice to be able to make a trip of it and stay a few nights so that I can find out what else is happening in the local area. With many popular venues around Manchester hosting fringe events its a good excuse to go out there and discover somewhere new as well as pop in on some old haunts. This year I had a few old favourites on my list to visit, first of which was the Port Street Beer House which we visited a couple times as they held a few different tap take overs during the fringe. To break up the volume of keg beer that was drank during the festival it was worth the trip to the infamous Marble Arch where you know you can get a great tasting and well kept cask beer. No trip up North is complete without having lunch at Bundobust where we always get excited and order too much food, including the iconic Vada Pav. But when the menu is so authentic and the food tastes amazing its hard not to.

I also really enjoyed discovering a few new places in Manchester this time around such as Beer Nouveau where we received a really warm welcome from Steve and drank a few pints with a some of the regulars. Just round the corner from our hotel was The Crown and Kettle which had such a buzzy atmosphere and boasted a great range of keg as well as cask beers that you can see why this pub is a real hit with the locals. If you need a good breakfast to cure that IMBC hangover then I can I highly recommend going to Dishoom for the double bacon naan! I definitely think that there has been a few more places added to my favourites list for future visits to Manchester.

As we raise a beer and say goodbye to another year of Indy Man I look back and reflect on what a great time I had at the festival. I also think about the amazing time I had at the local fringe events, the people I’ve met and the great beers I’ve drank. Until next year Manchester!