The Year that was and the New Year ahead, Part 2

For many, this year has been strange but I have seen that it has allowed people to re-evaluate their work/home life balance to consider learning new skills or hobbies. For me being furloughed allowed me time to revisit some skills such as baking as well as sewing and during the second lockdown I found myself refreshing my beer knowledge by taking part in Virtual Beer School. As I look towards 2021 I’ve been thinking about where I would like to be next year and how this can be achieved.

First of all I look to my blog, which unfortunately has been a little neglected this year. With two lockdowns the pubs have been closed and many events have been cancelled so I have struggled for ideas to write about – kudos to those who have been producing regular content this year! This has made me think that I need to branch out for more topics to blog about. I’ve always enjoyed reading about the history of beer and breweries which did prompt me to start some research in the summer. I am hoping to work on this piece so that I can get it published soon as well as look into some other projects in the new year.

I have never really been the one to talk about beer politics and I feel no need to write negative posts, particularly during a time we should be showing our support for our local and independent breweries or bottle shops. As we move into 2021 I want to continue to champion this sector as well as support and be a voice for women in beer. I’ve sometimes found it hard to be confident with my opinions which I think is why I have shied away from certain subjects. Next year I’d like to take the time to read more blog posts and beer books as well as listen to more podcasts. Hopefully this will broaden my knowledge as well as give me more confidence in my writing.

As I have already mentioned I spent some of this year taking part in Virtual Beer School and although I didn’t originally plan to take the Certified Beer Server exam after by completing the course I was prompted to take my Beer Sommelier studies more seriously. The 12 week course helped me to refresh my existing knowledge on beer styles and has given me more of an idea of what to expect when I am ready to take the final exam. In the new year I would like to start brainstorming ideas for my portfolio and perhaps even start writing it as well as regularly challenge myself to some blind beer tastings. I doubt I will be ready to take the final exam in 2021 but I can certainly set aside some time to get a little bit closer to my goal.

I would love to hear from you if you have made some New Beer Resolutions or some goals that you would like to work towards in the new year. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year and fingers crossed for a more positive 2021!

For The Year that was and the New Year ahead, Part 1 Golden Pints Awards click here.

The Year that was and the New Year ahead, Part 1 Golden Pints Awards

This year has been a weird one and I have found it quite difficult to think about my Golden Pints Awards of 2020. When I look back at the categories I awarded in 2019 I found that almost half of them weren’t relevant this year. Despite this I still wanted to reflect on my last year of beer even if some of these are a little tongue in cheek!

Best Pub/Bar of the Year: The Shed

It goes without saying that this year I give this award to the one bar I have spent the most time in, The Shed. I’ve been very fortunate to have access to a garden Pub Shed and it has been the venue for lockdown birthdays, weekends watching football on TV and where I have taken online Zoom events. During lockdown we used the time to help make some improvements and over the course of a few months The Shed has had installation of a new fridge, bar top with coloured downlighting and a working hand pump which has helped give us the draught cask dispense experience whilst the pubs have been closed.

Best UK Bag in Box Beer: Stealth Brew Co. Hibernation American Pale Ale

With the addition of a newly installed hand pull for The Shed we have been able to connect it to bag in boxes which has helped ease the longing for a decent pint of cask ale. I have to award my Golden Pint for this category to Stealth Brew Co.’s Hibernation. It’s been quite difficult to pick just one beer from Stealth’s range as we were placing orders for delivery most weeks but this was the first new beer to be brewed during lockdown and one that The Shed had featured on tap many times over the last 9 months.

Honourable Mention: Cheshire Brewhouse Rockall DDH Oatmeal Pale

We’ve ordered a few different bag in box beers from Cheshire Brewhouse more recently but this one is definitely my favourite we’ve had on tap. I’m looking forward to discovering more Cheshire Brewhouse beers in the new year.

Best UK Mini Keg Beer: Lost and Grounded Keller Pils

During lockdown the mini keg really came into its own and because of the restrictions this year I haven’t been able to try much keg beer. I decided I would change this Golden Pints Award to celebrate my favourite Mini Keg which is being awarding to Lost and Grounded’s Keller Pils. With my local micropub shut during the summer I did miss being able to pop down to my local for a delicious cold and crisp Keller Pils so I was very excited when I saw Lost and Grounded had decided to put it into mini kegs to enjoy at home. Thankfully the weather was so glorious in the summer and I found myself lounging in a deck chair most days with a book in one hand and a pint of Keller Pils in the other.

Honourable Mention: Five Points Best

It was a very close call between the Keller Pils and Best so this is a worthy runner up. When your missing a good pint of Five Points Best, but the pubs are shut, the mini keg really does hit the spot!

Best Food & Beer Destination: The Kitchen

This year has seen me get more involved in kitchen, helping my partner Josh with preparing evening meals as well as rekindling my love of baking. We have cooked and paired many of our meals with beer which has really helped me with my beer sommelier studies. One of my favourite bakes was a vegan Guinness and chocolate cake that I made for Craft Beer Hour’s 4th Birthday. I have also been learning about sourdough bread and even managed to create a starter from scratch. I’d like to use this knowledge to experiment with beer bread in the near future!

Best Beer Festival: Shed Oktoberfest

Josh and I had hoped to go to Germany for our annual holiday this year and finally visit Munich’s Oktoberfest. For obvious reasons unfortunately we were unable to travel and the event was cancelled anyway. So as not to miss out Josh and I decided we would have our own Oktoberfest in The Shed for just the two of us. We ordered a box of German Festbier, donned our Oktoberfest lederhosen t-shirts and hats as well as decorated The Shed. We had German food including currywurst, pretzels and bratwurst with sauerkraut which reminded us of our Berlin trip a few years ago. We spent the day drinking lager and dancing to traditional oompah music until the early hours. Although it wasn’t quite the Oktoberfest we had planned we still had a great day and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Honourable Mention: Bristol Craft Beer Festival

We weren’t sure if this would be able to take place this year after being postponed during the first lockdown but in September Bristol Craft Beer Festival opened its doors on a COVID-secure festival. Although it was different to previous Bristol CBFs it was very well organised and I felt completely safe to enjoy the beers and the festival. It was just what I needed after missing out on so many cancelled festivals during the year.

Best New Brewery Discovery: Neptune Brewery

This is my new category to highlight a brewery that I discovered for the first time this year during lockdown. Despite not being able to travel to make new beer discoveries it is now easier to have beer come to me particularly as independent breweries and bottle shops have set up home delivery services to overcome the lockdown restrictions. I am giving this award to Neptune Brewery as the beers I have tried so far from their range have been really enjoyable. Unfortunately we had to cancel our plans to visit Liverpool this year but Neptune’s tap room is on my growing list of places to go to as soon as we are able to.

Honourable Mentions: St Mars of the Desert and Utopian Brewing

The beers I’ve tried so far from both these breweries have been amazing. It’s really great to see Utopian championing British lager and recently I have enjoyed drinking St Mars of the Desert’s take on Abbey Ales as a tribute to traditional Belgian beer styles. I’m looking forward to discovering more about these two breweries in the New Year.

Best Virtual Beer Event – Lost and Grounded 4th Birthday Party

This year it has become the norm for breweries to hold events online and I have attended quite a few over the last 9 months but my favourite has to be Lost and Grounded’s 4th Birthday Party. After a tutored tasting from founders Alex and Annie we all had a great time chatting and appreciating great beer whilst listening to a live set streamed from The Green Man, Bristol. My highlight was dancing and singing along with everyone to the DJ set which was also streamed on Zoom. Although it was a very different way to celebrate this milestone for Lost and Grounded I think we all had a great time and very much enjoyed the event. Hopefully for their 5th Birthday we’ll be able to raise a glass together in the brewery tap room!

Honourable Mentions: Turning Point New Frontiers collaboration launch and Saturday Tasting Videos with Unity’s Jimmy and Liz.

Turning Point’s New Frontiers launch gets an honourable mention as it was the first event I took part in online in April. Little did I know that this would map out how other beery events would take place over the next 9 months. I also wanted to give a shout out to Unity’s Live Instagram Tasting videos with Jimmy and Liz which I enjoyed tuning in to each Saturday night during the summer.

Memorable Beery Moment: Nat’s Virtual Beer School

Another new category for the year and I wanted to reflect on my best accomplishment of the year. During the summer Natalya Watson held Lockdown Virtual Beer School where she and guest speakers discussed a different topic each week including vegan beers and pairing beer with food. Nat then went on to create Virtual Beer School to prepare students to take the Certified Cicerone Beer Servers qualification. When I originally enrolled in the course I didn’t intend to take the CBS exam but I wanted to help refresh my styles knowledge for my own Beer Sommelier studies. After the 12 week course and with the support of fellow students I took the plunge to take the exam. I was elated to find out I’d passed and that I can now say I am a Certified Beer Server. The experience has helped boost my confidence as well as encourage me to continue with my own studies. This year I learned new skills and improved on existing ones but the thing I am most proud of this year is gaining a beer qualification and being one step closer to my Beer Sommelier goal.

Honourable Mention: Hosting Craft Beer Hour

Another great honour for me this year was being asked to host Craft Beer Hour for the Shed & Garden Pubs week. I really enjoyed seeing everyone’s pictures of their home bars as well as sharing some photos and stories from The Shed. As I have regularly participated in Craft Beer Hour most weeks it was a very exciting opportunity to be a host.

Brewery of the Year: Unity Brewing Co.

This year there has been one brewery that has really stood out for me, Unity. I have placed quite a few online orders over the last 9 months and the fridge has always had a few Unity cans stacked in it. Their beers are consistently great and there are so many different styles to choose from. I’ve enjoyed drinking some old favourites from the core range as well as new and special releases over the year, including their 4th birthday collaboration project beers. Although I’ve not been able to visit the tap room as much as I’d like this year due to restrictions I’ve still been able to drink amazing Unity beer at home. I am also looking forward to watching Unity’s new side project, May Provisions, grow as they explore traditional beer styles.

That concludes my round up of 2020. Hopefully next year will see some normality return and we can all play our part in rebuilding our great beer community!

For The Year that was and the New Year ahead, Part 2 click here.

The History and Home brew of Pumpkin Ale

Love it or hate it, pumpkin ale is the “Marmite” of the beer world. I really enjoy a pumpkin beer, the light spices evoke memories of crisp autumnal walks through the fallen leaves and cosying up to an open fire in the evenings. I remember that the first pumpkin beer I tried was Brewdog’s Pumpkin King and I fell in love with the style. Since then, each October, I am on the hunt for a pumpkin beer but they are quite rare. It’s not a style that many British breweries adopt, though I did manage to get my hand on Elusive’s Carve n’ Yams Pumpkin Coffee Porter at Independent Spirit this year which was delicious! I was also very excited to find Flying Dog’s The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale whilst placing an order with Beer Hop so of course that went into my basket. In the UK pumpkin is not an ingredient that is widely used in our cooking and each year on the 1st November I see people on social media trying to find creative ways to recycle their Halloween carving pumpkins. Unlike the United States where pumpkin really is King and is the birthplace of the original pumpkin ale.

The history of the pumpkin ale goes back to 17th and 18th centuries in New England when colonists had limited access to wheat or barley, particularly as they moved into the winter months. Pumpkins grew like weeds here and with large patches popping up everywhere these gourds became a staple ingredient to the colonial diet. Even today in America there are still many dishes that champion this ingredient such as pumpkin pie, bread as well as beer. The European colonists yearned for the traditional ales of home but as grains were scarce and reserved for making bread or feeding livestock it was discovered that pumpkin would be perfect for making beer. Rather than used for its flavour pumpkin is a great source of starch which can be converted in fermentable sugars. Adjuncts would then be added such as corn, molasses, spruce or any other ingredients that could foraged nearby. As more English, Czech and German migrants sailed over to the United States and agriculture developed they opted to use grains they were more familiar to working with the pumpkin ale slowly started to disappear from historic brewing recipes.

Pumpkin ale did make a comeback during the American Craft Beer Movement in the 1980s and it was Bill Owens of Buffalo Bill’s Brewery who, after finding an intriguing recipe in amongst texts written by George Washington, decided to revive the style. As pumpkin is very mild in flavour, Bill and his team redesigned pumpkin ale by first seeking inspiration from the flavours of pumpkin pie and then by adding hops as well as spices to create a beer that is now considered synonymous with the harvest.

Since the American Craft Beer Movement pumpkin beer has been recognised by the BCJP as an, ‘Autumn Seasonal Beer’ and is a great style for brewers to be creative with. Something I wanted to do when I began brewing my own pumpkin ale …

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I came across a home brew recipe for pumpkin ale in Two Thirsty Gardeners’ book, Brew It Yourself. I, like Bill Owens, have always been intrigued to try brewing my own pumpkin beer, particularly as they are a relatively rare style for breweries in the UK. After much persuasion I managed to convince my partner Josh to help me brew a pumpkin ale on a small batch scale with bits of kit cobbled together that I now call the Pilot Brewery. There was no better day to start brewing this style then on Halloween itself! I already had a carving pumpkin that I had painted on rather than carved out which was promptly chopped up and popped in the oven to roast whilst we prepared the spices. Josh came up with the idea to add oak wood chips in with the roasted pumpkin at the boil as well as in with the spice mix which we also soaked in spice rum. We hoped that the result of this would give the pumpkin beer a wooden rum “barrel aged” depth of flavour.

After patiently waiting 2 weeks for the pumpkin ale to be bottle conditioned it was ready to try! With a celebratory pop I released the swing top followed by what liked a spooky autumnal mist that rose out of the bottle. As I poured the pumpkin beer it was a deliciously rich chestnut colour and was slightly translucent in appearance. I went to take my first sip and straight away I picked up the familiar smell of ginger biscuits on the nose. As I went to taste the beer the flavour of ginger nut biscuits was instant on the palate but there was also something sweet and fruity in the background which reminded Josh of one of his favourite deserts, Banoffee Pie. The banana-like flavour really complimented the spices which are balanced by the sweet toffee notes from the malt. The comforting alcohol warmth from the rum really does evoke memories of being sat next to a crackling open fire. As I was reaching the bottom of my glass my mind began to wonder, what would this beer taste like if it was warmed up like a mulled cider or wine?

One afternoon, after putting up the Christmas Tree and decorations, Josh presented me a glass of my pumpkin beer warmed through with a slice of orange and an extra splash of rum. This really gave the beer a festive twist and I realised that even though pumpkin ale is a celebration of the harvest and autumn it is also the perfect winter warmer – even without heating up!

Overall I am really pleased with the result and proud of my first attempt at brewing a pumpkin ale. It is definitely a great way to recycle an old Halloween decoration. Despite Josh not being a fan of pumpkin beers he found that he actually quite enjoyed this one. As it has gone down so well hopefully I can convince Josh into helping me brew a pumpkin ale again next Autumn!

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

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!

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!

Home Brew and Wedding Bells

I’ve dabbled in home brewing with my partner Josh over the last few years. We started with just a couple of buckets, a basic syphon tube and the kitchen hob. Since then we have upgraded to a three tier system in the garage complete with burners which has increased our capacity and sped up brewing time.

This year we had the honour of one of our closest friends, Matt, asking if we would help create a beer to celebrate his wedding at the end of August. The idea was to be a fun project for the three Best Men, the Groom and myself to be a part of and as a contribution to the Big Day. Matt decided that he would like a tropical ‘Bucks Fizz’ style IPA that used champagne yeast, in keeping with the celebratory theme. He also wanted the beer to be fruity so it could be enjoyed by his family and our friends so chose mango, blood orange and passion fruit as his ‘juice’ element of the classic Bucks Fizz. Josh modified a recipe that incorporated all of this and on Good Friday we decided that we should do a test batch to make sure that it would work. So far we felt that the day went very successfully, and we congratulated our efforts by cooking some burgers using the burner for the boil. What could possibly go wrong?!

Unfortunately problems arose as we came to the bottling our beer. Due to the amount of pulpy fruit mixture was far too thick and resembled a very boozy smoothie, with a much higher ABV then we expected. Despite our best efforts we realised that we could not bring this to the wedding.

We took to the drawing board again but it was already July and we were a bit concerned that we wouldn’t be able to make a beer in time for the wedding. We still wanted a fruity beer so we decided to recreate Partizan’s Raspberry and Lemon Saison, taken from CAMRA’s Essential Home Brewing, as we felt it would be a light, easy drinking beer for the day and it should be fruity enough to appeal to a lot of people. Once again the brew day went successfully and when it came to bottling we kept our fingers crossed that we had produced something good enough to share at Matt’s wedding.

With 2 weeks until the wedding Josh, myself, Matt and Becca (the bride) thought to open up one or two bottles of the home brew just to check it was ok. We had no more time to try again so this was going to be the decider as to whether or not we had anything to bring to the wedding reception. The Saison poured out a gorgeous hazy raspberry pink colour and tasted much better than we expected. I was a bit worried that the beer would be too sweet but it had a great ‘farm yard’ quality to it, typical of a Saison, and some freshness from the lemon. With the ABV coming in at 5% this home brew was more what we had in mind when we first set out to creating a celebratory beer for our friends’ nuptials. And so Cheeky Brunch was born. Named after Josh’s Dad and his loathing of the use of the words ‘cheeky’ and ‘brunch’.

The big day arrived and Cheeky Brunch went down so well with everyone who tried it. It was really great to see so many enjoying a beer that we had made in a garage and nice to hear such positive feedback, especially from people within the wedding party who had been asking about the progress of the brew in the weeks running up to the big day.

The first home brew didn’t go to waste. We still managed to bottle it (after quite a bit of sieving) and have called it Chunky Bastard as it still has the consistency of a smoothie! If anything the experience has taught us to stick to a recipe but we certainly had fun during the process.

Summer Sun and Sneezing

Summer is coming! We’ve already had a sneak peak of whats to come with some sunny bank holidays and as the days get longer we can look forward to more outdoor activities as well as warm lazy afternoons. Whilst I look forward to bright, sunny days at barbecues or sat in beer gardens there is one thing that I could do without … hay fever.

Hay fever symptoms started effecting me in my early adulthood and I have had to find ways of managing them. Recently, however, I have noticed a pattern of itchy eyes and sneezing after I’ve been drinking beer both at home or when I’ve been out socialising. I decided to do some research and I was surprised to find out that beer contains histamines. In the human body, histamines are a defence mechanism produced by the immune system which help to get rid of allergens by whatever means possible, for example: sneezing. Histamine is also produced by yeast and natural bacteria during the fermentation process so can be found in many dark fermented alcohols like wine as well as beer. Through the research I also discovered that the presence of sulphites, found in hops (and grapes), can cause allergy symptoms which effect many people who already have a sensitivity to preservatives.

It’s not all bad news though for hay fever sufferers as there are some alcohols that have lower levels of histamines and a study conducted by Asthma UK found that drinking lighter spirits, such as gin or vodka, can minimise allergy symptoms. Great news for breweries that have their own range of gins! I wrote a post last year about breweries producing gins based on some of their favourite beer recipes, which can be found here. Since writing this blog post Tiny Rebel released their trio of beer inspired spirits with Dutty, Cwtch and Clwb Tropicana being given the gin treatment.

Although there is not much written on this subject, I found the research very interesting and I felt that it explained a few things about my experience with hay fever symptoms. Talking to my friends, I discovered that they have also noticed they perhaps felt a bit more sniffly after a few beers during the summer months but they had no idea that there may have been a reason for that. Despite this it hasn’t made me change my drinking habits. I enjoy a gin every now and then, as well as rum or an occasional cider but it doesn’t change the fact that, in my opinion, there is nothing better then a refreshingly chilled beer on a hot summer’s day.