SoBeer Year 2021: February with Ampersand Brew Co.

Situated within the rolling countryside of South Norfolk and the beautiful Waveney Valley, at the end of one of the county’s many winding country lanes is Camphill Farm which has been the home of Ampersand Brew Co. since 2017. The family owned farm is run by Adrian and Andy, who are 2nd and 3rd generations with a passion for brewing and championing local ingredients. The brewery itself is very focused on using the local terrior as well as preferring to use seasonal produce in brewing to help make their beers more unique.

Ampersand made the decision that they would stay away from more traditional styles of beer and instead wanted to focus on promoting ‘craft beer’ in their local area by producing more modern styles. This was evident as I was scrolling through the web shop, feeling spoilt for choice, that the styles were very current as well as some modern takes on more traditional recipes, such as the Coffee & Milk Mild.

Whilst doing my research I found that the Ampersand website was very informative. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a brewery website that has gone into such detail about their brewing process as well as their ingredients lists. I really enjoyed reading about their use of reverse osmosis to overcome the problems they face with their local water chemistry. As I am currently studying for my Certified Cicerone I found this particularly useful to help me understand the differences in the water chemistry around the UK as well as touching upon techniques used by brewers to rectify this in their brewing.

I can’t think of a better way to start discovering a brewery then by trying their flagship beer and Ampersand’s Bidon Session Ale is definitely a crowd pleaser. ‘Bidon’ comes from a cycling term for a water bottle and at 3.9% it is very easy drinking so you can see how it came to get it’s name! Tropical, citrus grapefruit is balanced by the the added malted and golden naked oats giving this beer a beautiful soft mouthfeel that kept me going back for another sip. You really can see why this beer is a firm favourite!

I was very intrigued to try something from Ampersand’s Dessert Sour range of beers so I had to order their Black Forest Gateaux. As many of you might know I am a huge fan of sour beer but I haven’t really had many that have included lactose and cocoa nibs. From the first sip my palate was hit with familiar sour cherry which was followed up by creamy chocolate, rounding off the finish of this beer. I am always amazed when a brewery reproduces a classic dessert in the form of a beer and this was no exception. Ampersand are looking to increasing this range for 2021 so I will be keeping an eye out to see which other classic desserts are portrayed in beer.

The beer that really stood out to me from this month’s box might surprise many of you reading this. It isn’t a lip puckering sour, a juicy IPA or a rich and heavy stout but in fact Ampersand’s table beer µIPA. I pulled this out of the fridge on a Friday night as I really fancied having a beer but had to work the next morning. As I cracked open the can I was hit with an amazing fruity aroma that made me wonder whether I had picked the right beer from the fridge. When I went for my first sip I was blown away by the juicy, tropical flavours, this really was a small beer with big flavour! I will always hold a candle for The Kernel’s Table Beer but Ampersand’s µIPA is definitely up there with some of my favourite small beers.

During 2020 Ampersand did look at opening their first ever pub, The Cap, but unfortunately with the coronavirus pandemic that took hold last year it has remained closed until restrictions can be lifted. With the news this week that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we have been given our ‘road map’ to reopen the country, hopefully this will allow The Cap to have the grand opening as Ampersand intended and we will all be able to go back to one of the UK’s greatest institutions – The Pub!

SoBeer Year 2021: January with Leigh-on-Sea Brewery

2020 was the year that the country closed down and whilst we were unable to nip down our local for a pint or two of our favourite beers there was a huge surge of breweries opening up web shops, allowing smaller independents to reach more consumers from all parts of the UK. Where once you might only have been able to drink these beers if you travelled to the brewery tap room you could now enjoy them in the comfort of your own home. Whilst I miss being able to visit new towns and cities to discover their brewery taps, bars and pubs, it has never been easier to get access to great beer online whilst supporting small independents.

I wanted to extend my commitment to supporting the beer industry into 2021 so I decided that for each month of the year I would highlight an independent brewery and buy a box of their beer to enjoy at home. I asked my Twitter followers for their ideas of independent or local breweries that I should try and I was inundated with great suggestions! For January I decided to choose a brewery that I have heard a lot about from listening to The Beer O’Clock Show, Leigh-on-Sea Brewery.

Based in Essex, Leigh-on-Sea Brewery was founded in 2017 by Ian Rydings and Mark Springham. The idea of starting up their own brewery came to the two friends whilst they were out on a pub crawl (remember those?!) in 2016. They identified that the town was missing it’s own brewery and they wanted celebrate the history of Leigh-on-Sea through their beer, drawing inspiration from the local landmarks. After Ian and Mark completed a course on running a microbrewery, gained some investors (as well as received a grant from the EU!) and purchased a brew kit, they were ready to begin brewing, starting with their flagship beer Legra.

Legra is the first beer that Leigh-on-Sea Brewery brewed and is their best seller having already won multiple awards. It is easy to see why as at just 3.8% this single hopped pale ale is deliciously light and citrusy but also packs quite a bitter finish for a lower ABV beer. It only seemed fitting that the brewery’s most popular beer be named after Leigh-on-Sea by giving a nod to it’s earliest mention in the 1086 Doomsday Book when the town was know as ‘Legra’. As I became absorbed in the beer’s story I noticed on the back of the can, as with many of Leigh-on-Sea’s beers, there was a food pairing suggestion: “Refreshing and delicious on it’s own, it is also fantastic with a pint of prawns on the Old Leigh seafront.” Unfortunately I don’t live near a sea front and due to the current travel restrictions I had to be creative with a packet of prawn cocktail crisps whilst sitting in The Shed! Although it was not quite the same effect it was still a very enjoyable pairing.

After being blown away by the bitter kick of Legra I was intrigued to find out what it’s bigger brother, Legra X would taste like. This had all the qualities of a great West Coast IPA, citrusy grapefruit flavours beautifully balanced by the sweet character of the malt. I was really surprised by how (dangerously) easy this IPA was to drink with it’s juicy resinous mouthfeel that kept me going back for sip after sip.

One thing I noticed as I was placing my order for my beer box was that Leigh-on-Sea were not afraid of turning their hand to different beer styles. They have a wide range to suit most palates from traditional ales to more hop forward beers and Belgian styles. Leigh-on-Sea have been able to achieve this impressive portfolio thanks to owning a small 150L pilot kit that runs alongside their 10BBL plant, allowing them to produce experimental beers or one off brews. The Brhubarb Saison was originally only intended to be a small batch special edition beer but due to its popularity it was added to the Leigh-on-Sea’s core range. This beer champions Essex’s great produce and the fresh, locally sourced rhubarb juice brings a really nice sweetness to balance up the spicy, peppery flavours of the Belgian yeast.

Over the last month I have really enjoyed discovering more about Leigh-on-Sea’s ales but there has been one beer that has really stood out to me, the SS9 Strong Stout. Named after Leigh-on-Sea’s postcode, this indulgent Imperial Stout is rich as well as chocolatey with notes of dark roasted coffee and a lovely alcohol warmth on the finish. As I drank my SS9 I began to daydream of cosying up by a crackling fire whilst looking out a window, watching the sea spray from waves crashing on the shore. One thing is for sure that these beers have certainly given me the feeling of wanderlust.

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.


Summer of 2018 – The Year of the Lager

The Summer of 2018 will be remembered for many things. We cheered on the England football team in this year’s World Cup truly believing that it was “coming home”. We also had the Royal Wedding and to top it all off we had one of the hottest summers on record in the UK. But helping to celebrate all that there was one particular beer style that was on everybody’s lips, lager! I, like a lot of others this summer, have craved the light, clean and crisp taste of a cold pint of lager. In the Cask Report 2018, lager accounted for 65% of on-trade sales in the UK making it the most popular beer style in the country. This is mostly thanks to the macrobreweries but they have also given the style a bad reputation amongst beer lovers. Like many other people, macro lager was the very first style of beer I tried but back then I didn’t drink it to savour it. As I started trying different beer styles I admit that I did get put off from lager, finding it was a bit bland and overly carbonated. However this year I have discovered that more breweries are producing their own versions of lager to a much higher standard. One brewery who have led the resurgence of quality lager are Bristol based brewers Lost & Grounded, who since starting in 2016, have produced one of the most talked about lagers this year with their Keller Pils. When I tried this lager it completely changed the way that I perceived the style and has become a go to beer for me on numerous visits to their brewery as well as at home with their cans becoming a fridge staple. When I saw that BeerBods were doing The Lager Box 2018, championing some of the UKs best interpretations of the style, I knew I had to snap one up.
Inside the BeerBods Lager Box there was a selection of 15 lager styles from a range of British breweries, some well known and others who were new to me. A few of my highlights I enjoyed included Vocation’s Yakima Pilsner and Stroud Brewery’s Light Organic Lager (LOL) both of which were really light, crisp and refreshing which is just want you want from this style of beer. One of the beers that surprised me was Summer from ShinDigger which was packed full of fruity watermelon flavour. This was really refreshing and very sessionable, perfect for lazy summer days or BBQs! There were also some great crowd pleasers in the box, most notably Magic Rock’s Dancing Bear, Thornbridge’s Lukas, Tiny Rebel’s Boho and the infamous Lost & Grounded Keller Pils, all of which would be my ‘go to’ lagers. Whilst working my way through the box I did find that one or two of the beers reminded me of macrobrewery versions however I felt that this has been a great display of British lager and can’t wait to try other brewery’s versions of this underrated style. 
To finish off my summer of lager I took a trip to Berlin with my partner to drink the beer style close to its original source. Lager was first produced by the Germans in Bavaria in the early 19th century and the name is derived from ‘lagern’ (meaning to store). It didn’t take long walking around Berlin to find classic German lager. As well as going to bars and beer halls around the city you can also buy lager at street food stalls, which is where I found myself trying Berlin’s famous sausage dish – Currywurst. Whilst in Berlin I went into a couple of traditional beer halls (Hofbrӓu and Augustiner) who were serving a range of lagers as well as Märzen, a style traditionally brewed for Oktoberfest which can be read more about here. It was hard not to order a litre stein of lager especially when the weather was unexpectedly sunny with temperatures of 25℃ in October! There is no style of beer that you would think about ordering in litre measures except for lager. I thought that the larger measures would mean you wouldn’t have to order more beer too frequently, particularly in a busy beer hall! However I found that it is interesting to taste how the flavour changes as it warms up, much like how we serve lager in tall glasses in the UK and other parts of Europe.  
Lager is very accessible style of beer which is noticeable when you go out with a group of friends as the experience of drinking it can be shared. Quite often I find when I go out for a beer as a group we will all order something different and we treat the beers like Pokémon, trying to taste them all. But if we see L&G Keller Pils is on the menu we all order pints and drink it together. In my view this year has seen the revival of lager with more breweries tackling the style and making it their own. Lager has come a long way from the macro styles I used to drink as a teenager and it has definitely changed my perception of this beer. Now that autumn is upon us and the nights draw in we will look to darker beer styles for comfort, but we will always remember the summer of 2018 as the year of the lager!

Ein Prosit to Oktoberfest!

This year my partner and I decided to book a trip to Berlin for our annual holiday. “Is it a good idea for us to be booking a trip to Germany in October?” I asked as we were booking the flights. I, like probably a lot of other people, believed that Oktoberfest is celebrated in October to coincide with the end of the harvest. It wasn’t until I did some research into Oktoberfest that I discovered the true history of the Bavarian festival. I purchased a box from Beer Hawk of official Oktoberfest beers brewed by Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrӓu, Lӧwenbrӓu, Paulaner and Spӓten (unfortunately I was unable to get hold of a bottle from Augustiner), to get a taste of this traditional German festival. I also bought a range of ‘Crafty Oktoberfest’ style beers by breweries from the rest of the world: Erdinger, Tempest Brewing Co., Goose Island, Thornbridge and Blue Point, to try their interpretations.
The first Oktoberfest event took place in Munich on the 12th October 1810 to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to a fairground on the fields at the city’s gates for the festivities and a parade was held in honour of the marriage. The fields were later called ‘Theresienwiese’ which translates as ‘Theresa’s Meadow’ after the Princess. Today, the locals shorten Oktoberfest to ‘Wiesen’ after the original fairground fields. The wedding celebrations went down so well that it was decided Munich would continue to hold an annual festival and in 1811 a horse racing event began. Over the next few years more activities were added to the festival including carnival booths, swings, bowling alleys as well as other attractions. 
Over the years there have been historic events which have affected the running of Oktoberfest. An outbreak of cholera and war, in particular World Wars 1 and 2, lead to the festival being cancelled. Despite this Oktoberfest has only missed out on 24 events since it began in 1810. At the end of the 19th Century Oktoberfest was re-organised and beer halls (bierkellers) with live music were introduced to the festival. The first Bratwursts were sold in 1881 and in 1892 beer was first served in glass steins/mugs (bierkrugs). 
Oktoberfest as we know it today began in 1950 and is held from Mid-September until the first weekend in October. The festival is opened in the same traditional way in Munich starting with a 12 gun salute before the first keg of Oktoberfest beer is tapped by the Mayor at 12:00pm who shouts ‘O’zapft is!’ (It’s tapped!). The first litre of beer is gifted to the Minister-President of the state of Bavaria and then the festival begins! 
Each year Munich’s ‘Big Six’ breweries; Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbrӓu, Lӧwenbrӓu, Paulaner and Spӓten, are the only ones permitted to produce a special Oktoberfest lager for the occasion. To be an Oktoberfest beer it must have been brewed within Munich’s city walls and must conform to Reinheitsgebot. Reinheitsgebot, which is sometimes referred as the ‘German Beer Purity Law’ in English, is a regulation limiting the number of ingredients used in the production of German beer. Large quantities of beer is usually consumed at Oktoberfest, as you can imagine, and in 2013 it was reported that 7.7 million litres was served!
After all this research I couldn’t wait to start trying the Oktoberfest beers so I started off with the traditional styles followed by the ‘crafty’ box. As expected the traditional Oktoberfest beers have similar flavours due to the purity law but there were one or two differences that helped make them stand out. Out of all the traditional beers I tried my favourites were from Hacker-Pschorr and Paulener. The Hacker-Pschorr Oktberfest Marzen was really sweet with toffee and nutty flavours. The Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier was not as sweet but was really crisp and more lager-like in flavour. It reminded me of a Keller Pils and was very drinkable. I found that the ‘crafty’ Oktoberfest beers were more hoppy in flavour. This was especially apparent with Tempest’s A Touch of Prost where the hops gave a real citrusy flavour. However my favourite of the ‘crafty’ Oktoberfest beers was Thornbridge’s Feallen as I felt it was the truest to the traditional style with it’s sweeter, caramel flavours. 
Today we associate Oktoberfest with Lederhosen, Oompa music, German beer and fun! Last year Adidas produced a range of trainers designed to be beer/vomit repellent, poking fun at the boozy side of the festival and this year Munich football club released a 1860 Oktoberfest themed football kit especially for the event. Since the first Oktoberfest the festival has become a big tourist attraction in Germany but it is also widely celebrated around the world. In this country supermarkets such as Waitrose and mail order websites like Beer Hawk are selling more German beers, giving us more access to these styles. Perfect for if you want to celebrate Oktoberfest yourself without getting on a plane! So Ein Prosit (a toast) to Oktoberfest!

Collaboration Beer Projects

After five years the Rainbow Project is ending and going out with a bang with their limited boxes of barrel aged beers. Having followed the project for the last three years, I was a little gutted that it was over so soon. The project was first set up by Siren to promote collaboration and creativity of the beers brewed. It’s been really great to see how breweries have thought outside the box with their colour themes to produce some really innovative beers, the most famous being Yellow Belly and Key Lime Tau. The best outcome from the Rainbow Project has to be the new friendships created from the collaborations. Perhaps this is why the project has met a natural conclusion. More breweries than ever are collaborating together to produce special editions as well as beers for events and festivals. Previously I’ve had to plan weekends to go and try the Rainbow Project beers as it seemed like a huge event but this year it seemed more readily available at venues and with mail order cases. There also doesn’t seem to be as much hype this year then it has done in previous years. I’ve always been very excited to hear about the releases as well as who’d paired with who but I didn’t really feel the buzz this year. I’ve seen people comment that they felt this last box was a little too heavy on sour beers. This didn’t bother me as I enjoy sour styles and saisons are good for barrel ageing. However the project could have been more diverse with beer styles and it would have been nice to see an impy stout or two. Despite this I still really enjoyed spending an afternoon with my Rainbow Project box with my highlights being the Rosa Rouge by Wild Beer & Side Project as well as Saison Green by Partizan & New Belgium.
This year I have also tried a few of other limited edition beer boxes, the Northern Powerhouse 2018, Fullers and Friends and the North Sea Bridges. The Northern Powerhouse series, the brain child of Wylam Brewery, was created as a celebration of the North of England. The box championed the region’s independent brewers with the can designs reflecting the landmarks of the towns and cities the beers were produced in. There was a huge buzz when these beers were released and the full boxes were limited to only 6,600 cases so you had to be quick to get your hands on one. Fullers and Friends, on the other hand, were much more available as they were produced on a larger scale at the Griffin Brewery. What made these beers different was seeing one of Britain’s oldest breweries team up with six that are up and coming. The result was a mixture of traditional and modern brewing techniques creating six unique and very drinkable beers. 
This year was the launch of the North Sea Bridges Project which was born from the historic trade relations of Scotland and Scandinavia. Dubbed as the next Rainbow Project, this collaboration saw six Scottish and Scandi breweries randomly paired together to learn from each other, forge friendships and produce fun beers. This year the brewing has been done in Scotland and next year will be Scandinavia’s turn to host. I really enjoyed drinking my way through this box and if I had to choose a favourite then I’d go for the Cowberry Heart. It was fruity with a tart finish from the Lingonberries but all the beers from the project tasted amazing so its hard to just pick one!
Although the end of the Rainbow Project is sad I am glad that there are other special limited edition ranges being created. Each of these boxes are a bit like a music album. They are bodies of work where the singles compliment each other to tell a story. These boxes have brought breweries together to from near and far corners of the world as well as help encourage growth of knowledge amongst the brewers. I feel that these collaborative projects are a great platform for lesser known breweries stand out as well as fuelling peoples urges to travel to try new beers. The Rainbow Project was one of the first annual beer events I got excited about and I’m glad it wont be my last.

**UPDATE** 29/09/2018

Yesterday Siren announced that the Rainbow Project isn’t ending. In their latest blog they explain that although they will not be continuing to host the project they have decided to pass the torch onto Left Handed Giant. LHG will be continuing the Rainbow Project with other young breweries (3 years old or less) with a view to create a platform for a new generation. This is really exciting news as I have really enjoyed following the Rainbow Project over the years. I first tried the Rainbow Project at Small Bar Bristol and have continued to follow it since by attending other launch parties as well as buying boxes to drink at home. I look forward to seeing the new Class of 2019!

Northern Powerhouse Brew Series 2018

The Northern Powerhouse Brew Series 2018 saw eight independent breweries from the North of England collaborate to produce eight limited edition beers. Lead by Wylam Brewery, this was in aid of celebrating the Great Exhibition of the North which is an event championing art, design and innovation from the north of the country. The beers were limited to 6,600 cases so I felt quite honoured to be able to get hold of a box. The cans have been designed to represent each brewery using symbols and famous landmarks from the cities/towns they are based in. I couldn’t wait to crack open the beers so here are my thoughts on the box.
001 Imperial Stout – Wylam X Buxton
This is a big beer and not just because it has a ABV of 10.5%. This smells and tastes like a black forest gateaux with dark fruits and chocolate flavours. The mouthfeel is thinner than I was expecting particularly as this feels like an after dinner beer. It does, however, have some creaminess but not quite like the range of ice cream style beers that Buxton have been releasing recently. I have enjoyed drinking this beer but I am glad I have not stuck strictly to the numerical order of the cans with this one!
002 Strong Brown Ale – Wylam X Cloudwater 
I don’t normally go for this style of beer so this a new one on me. The appearance of this ale is quite dark for this style but I was pleasantly surprised by how sweet it tasted. I could taste quite a lot of malty sweetness with lots of caramel and chocolate flavours. There is also some coffee notes coming through which offsets the sweetness and reminds me of a Tiramisu. I was really impressed with how smooth and well balanced these flavours were. I think this is a good example of a traditional style of beer and is one I would definitely have again.
003 Mixed Fermentation Farmhouse – Wylam X Black Lodge Brewing 
For me this is an attractive beer. Beautifully hazy and looks like a mango fruit juice. The taste is very drinkable with flavours of mango, apricot and peach but it is too easy to forget the 7.5% ABV. However I could happily drink another can as this was gone in just a few mouthfuls! I also really enjoyed the earthy straw-like notes typical of this style as it still reminded me I was drinking a beer. Definitely one of my favourites from the range – just wish I could have another!
004 Pale Wheat Ale – Wylam X Thornbridge 
This is a delicate wheat ale flavoured with floral jasmine notes which are boosted by the clove-like characteristics typical of this style of beer. I got a little bit of the orange peel but this wasn’t the most dominant flavour. It’s more like the gentle ‘twisting’ of the orange peel to release the perfume much like you see in cocktail making. If your a fan of rose or elderflower drinks then I think you would enjoy this beer. 
005 Forest Fruit Kettle Sour – Wylam X Magic Rock 
You can tell by the colour in the pour that this will be a lip puckering sour beer and it does not disappoint. This beer is packed with berry flavours, mostly blackberry and raspberry for me. I love a sour beer so I am trying not to be biased but this has got to be one of my favourites from the box!
006 DDH Pale Ale – Wylam X Hawkshead Brewery
This DDH pale ale does exactly what it says on the can! This beer looks just like a fruit juice and my first taste is bursting with tropical mango flavour. Then you get the punchy hoppiness you’d expect from a double dry hopped beer that finishes with more sweet mango. The flavour and appearance of this beer seem more like the characteristics you’d associate with an IPA than a Pale Ale. I really enjoyed this beer but it is far too easy to drink!

007 India Pale Ale – Wylam X Northern Monk 
Although there is some grapefruit flavour there wasn’t much bitterness to this IPA as I was expecting. In my opinion this tasted a bit soapy and reminded me of some of the earlier IPAs I tried when I first started drinking beer. This beer unfortunately wasn’t one of my favourites. 
008 DIPA – Wylam X Box Social 
This beer has quite a harsh flavour that reminds me of neat spirits and left a burning aftertaste. The appearance made me think this beer would be juicy but I was surprised how much bitterness there was. This beer wasn’t for me but I expect it suits some other peoples palates.
Overall I think this box definitely champions beer from the North and exhibits a great mixture of modern and traditional styles. It is really hard to pick a favourite as all eight beers are so different and there has been some styles that I wouldn’t normally choose for myself. I do think though that this series is a perfect example of how diverse beers can be within the UK and that it is a great way to celebrate The North. I can’t wait to see if there will be a Northern Powerhouse Brew Series 2019 next year!

7 Colours of the Rainbow Project 2017

Rainbow Project 2017 photo bombed by a rainbow!
It’s that time of year again for the Rainbow Project launch! Now in it’s fifth year, this event brings together breweries from other countries and the UK to create beers inspired by the seven colours of the Rainbow. The project started in 2013 but it was 2014 that was the most memorable. This was the year that the partnership of Omnipollo and Buxton were born with their Yellow Belly which still is produced today. This has lead them to go on to collaborate on the growing range of ice cream ales! Last year the UK were teamed up with seven New Zealand breweries however these didn’t quite live up to the hype as the previous years had. Although the descriptions sounded amazing the tastes fell a little flat. That being said one did stand out to me – Black & Blue by Wild Beer and 8 Wired. This has some great spice from the peppercorns used in the brew and real lip puckering sourness. I do love a Rainbow a Project so of course I had to get a case and this year the project headed back to the US for some inspiration. I noticed from the descriptions that a few of the beers had a Mexican theme running through them. With that in mind my boyfriend cooked up some fiery soft tacos to accompany this Rainbow Project. 

Blue – Santo Del Frio by Siren and Sante Adairius
Sours are usually predominate styles within the Rainbow Project so it makes a change to see an American lager. Brewed using cryogenically frozen hops this beer has a crisp taste as well as light finish. The breweries put a lot of thought into the ingredients to give it a Mexican finish by adding blue corn tortillas and blue agave (barrel aged in tequila barrels) to the brew. I didn’t really get much of the tequila but the overall finish of the beer was good. A very easy drinking lager perfect with spicy tacos! 

Red – Amancecer Mexicano by Magic Rock and Casita Cerveceria

This has some complex flavours running through it. The first flavours that you get are spice from the chilli and cinnamon followed up with some citrus notes. These flavours are all balanced with the sweetness of hibiscus which I suspect have also given this beer it’s colour. This sour was a great way to finish our Mexican meal but one can was enough. 

Green- Mojito by Hawkshead and Modern Times
Quite a murky looking beer from the pour and the most dominant flavour is mint. On the back of the throat I got a familiar rum warmth. I quite like this beer as I do enjoy a mojito and I think it stays true to the flavours of this popular cocktail. My boyfriend in the other hand didn’t feel it was for him, “a bit too much like toothpaste” he commented! 
Yellow – Rex Apiary by Beavertown and Jester King
This beer is a bit more savoury in flavour from the rosemary, it reminds me of Walkers Roast Chicken crisps! For me though I feel this herb has overpowered the other notes listed in the beer description, honey and Texas dried lemons. I do like that Jester King have had their own culture shipped in from the US so that this beer truly had a piece added to it from both sides of the pond. 

Orange – West Fork by Partizan and New Belgium
I don’t think there is anything groundbreaking about this beer but it is highly drinkable. I really like the background of the beer from my Rainbow Project leaflet. It tells a four year old story of wild fires destroying a beautiful area of Colorado where spruce tips grew. Despite the spruces not yet being ready for this brew the story is inspired by the Phoenix, rising from the ashes and being reborn. This is a really nice saison, pure and simple. 

Indigo – Indigo by Wild Beer and Side ProjectThis beer pours a pretty purple colour and smells like it is full of berry flavours. Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to its promise and the taste is a little weak. The mild sourness is not something I would expect from Wild Beer so it is a little disappointing. Particularly as I am such a huge fan of their beers and the Black & Blue from last years Rainbow Project was my highlight. Hopefully they can bring it back next year! 

Violet – Burial Vault by Burning Sky and 3 Floyds
This wasn’t a beer for me, I felt the flavours of the bourbon and the burgundy seemed to overpower my palate. My boyfriend however really enjoyed this white stout. He liked the balance of the burgundy and bourbon against the sweetness of the lactose. Not sure how this is linked to the colour violet but it is definitely the beer you want to finish the Rainbow Project on! 

All in all I’ve really enjoyed this years Rainbow Project. I think the Red and Green will have to be my favourites as they have interested me the most. Even though there was one or two from the collection that weren’t to my tastes the Rainbow Project is all about being creative and having fun. It’s also a good way of building relations with international breweries which can only be a positive thing in this growing beery world. 

Missed the Beavertown Bus? – Beavertown Extravaganza 2017

So it’s the day after the end of Beavertown’s Extravaganza 2017 weekend and what a great festival it was. So many breweries spread out throughout the Printworks London which proved to be a great space for this type of event. 4,000 people were said to be attending the Extravaganza and to be honest it didn’t feel like that many as it wasn’t overcrowded. I went along on the first day on Friday and as I was getting closer to the Printworks I could feel myself getting excited. On arrival we were all given a short snifter style glass for the 100ml pours in this ‘all you can drink’ festival. I’d already looked at the beer list before arriving and I thought I had planned out where I was going to get my samples but as we filtered into the halls I was overwhelmed by the amount to choose from – it was like being a kid in a sweet shop. I saw lots of people had come prepared with their beer lists printed out. I even saw one guy had made a spreadsheet with colour codes for which room the breweries were set up in! I found it impossible to stick to a plan as breweries were rotating their beers on two taps each. You just had to get to the front of the queue and decide when you were there. 

My first beer had to be Rubus Maximus, a collab with Wild Beer and Beavertown which has been reprised from 2014 when it was special limited edition batch. I loved this beer when it first came out and was lucky enough to have one of the last growlers from Wild Beer so naturally I wanted to start my Extravaganza day with this. It was just as I remembered, fruity raspberries with a sour kick. It was a good job I went here first as within 25mins of the festival opening the Rubus was all gone! 

Some of the main events that got people talking at the Extravaganza were the Rainbow Project 2017 and Buxton/Omnipollo ice cream beers. As I have already sampled Buxton and Omnipollo’s ice cream beers I decided to give them a miss but from what I heard they were doing soft serve again! I had been looking out for the Rainbow Project beers during the Extravaganza as it looked like they would be served at their respective breweries however in the centre of the festival popped up a stand that was serving all 7. I only managed to try two of the colours, Red – Amanecer Mexicano by Magic Rock & Casita Cervecería and Green – Mojito by Hawkshead Brewery & Modern Times, but I have just ordered a Rainbow case to try at home so look out for that post! There was, however, another green beer doing the rounds at the festival. Troll So Hard brewed by J. Wakefield, a sour lemon and lime Berliner Weisse that certainly looked like it should have been in the Rainbow Project. I didn’t get an opportunity to try this but from what I saw of it walking around the festival is that it was indeed an eerily green colour – hope nobody Hulked out after drinking it! 

I had even more trouble trying to pick what to eat as Kerb had supplied some really great street food stalls with so many different cuisines on display. After doing a few circuits of the food stalls I decided on a steak and chips with béarnaise sauce which hit the spot after a few beers. I also found an Indian street food stall that were selling onion bhajji bowls. These were amazing giant bhajjis served with a drizzle of mango chutney – I could see why the queues from here were so long! 

I saw on Twitter that some people had a few gripes about the Extravaganza, mostly about the queuing and that a few breweries sold out during the festival. To be honest the queuing at the beginning was a bit long but as everyone got into different rhythms the lines got shorter. Also because we were only having 100ml pours people were getting served quickly and you didn’t mind waiting if it was a beer on your list! As for the breweries selling out you could see why as a lot of the big names had the longest queues, Other Half, Wild Beer, Buxton, Omnipollo and Cloudwater to name a few, so it was inevitable that they might be the first to close up. I didn’t feel like this caused me any problems though, there were still plenty of breweries still serving up their beers and it was a good way of trying breweries who I had not heard of yet. 

Overall the Beavertown Extravaganza was well organised with a great display of beers from breweries all over the world. I had such a great time and tried quite a few beers, some I loved and others that weren’t perhaps to my taste, but that is what it’s all about. I can’t wait to go again and hope to see you guys again next year! 

Southampton Beer Festival 2017 – Highlights!

Drinking beer in football stadiums doesn’t happen that much these days with rules abut taking it into the stands but CAMRA proved that they can be good venues for a beer festival. My trips to Southampton usually involve me being dragged to the football by my partner (who is a Saints fanatic) so it makes a change to go to St. Mary’s for something I would enjoy too! The festival was held in the stadium’s concourse with ample seating and space to move about – so no overcrowding! The thick brick walls and open stairs up to the main ground helped keep the room temperature cool and the beers in good condition. I had already marked a few beers I wanted to try on the train journey over so I was eager to get started, here are a few of my festival highlights.

Wild Weather’s Sublime 3.8% sounded like a good place to start with its lower ABV. This blonde ale had a very clean and light mouthfeel balanced out with a hint of lime. This didn’t last me long but was a good way to ease myself into the festival. The next beer needed to be something a little bolder…

‘When in Rome’ as they say so my next beer needed to be more local. I was eager to try Dancing Man and Eight Arch’s collaborative beer – The Lime and The Coconut. This was very tropical and had a strong coconut flavour – which I don’t normally go for considering I don’t enjoy coconut! I wouldn’t say that this beer is particularly sour but there was more of a lime hit than my first beer. If it wasn’t for the fact I was at a festival I would have continued drinking this all afternoon!

I decided to try a beer that was named after the Southampton FC legend Matt Le Tissier, particularly as I was at their home ground. On Le Tiss by Brewhouse & Kitchen unfortunately did not live up to the expectation of it’s name. I was disappointed by the flavour as it wasn’t to my taste and in my opinion I felt that it lacked any real mouthfeel. I felt like this beer was a little gimmicky but looking at other reviews from the event I could see there was a mixed bag of people who liked it and those who didn’t. A marmite amongst beers I think.

My last highlight of the festival was Jakehead IPA from Wylam. After having a few ales already I was finding my palate was starting to feel numb. I needed something with a burst of flavour and the Jakehead was it. A hoppy IPA with some citrus and grapefruit notes – this beer was the perfect end to a great festival. 

All in all a great turn out to a fantastic venue. The space was used effectively and the beers were well conditioned which is crucial for a good traditional ale. Definitely one I recommend and would be more than happy to go again in the future!