SoBeer Year 2021: April with Attic Brew Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://atticbrewco.com

 

SoBeer Year 2021: March with Full Circle Brew Co.

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

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

Thirsty work project managing at The Shed

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

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

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

A Pint with Me, Myself and I

As an introvert I am pretty comfortable with my own company. Of course there is no better way to enjoy drinking beer than with friends, which is something I crave for at moment, but in more normal circumstances I have no issue with taking myself off to the pub and using that time to catch up with some blogging or social media.

I remember an occasion last year when I decided to nip to my local micro pub by myself. I had already been there an hour before a regular stopped to ask me if I was on my own and where my partner was. I explained that he would be joining me later but that I had decided to come down early for a couple of beers by myself. The regular was very surprised and commended me on having the confidence to come out on my own. Coming from someone who I would consider to be an independent and confident woman I was taken aback that she said she would never have thought about drinking in the pub on her own when she was younger. To be honest it had never occurred to me that it would be unusual for a young woman to go to the pub by herself, particularly as I have been doing it for some time now.

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A little while ago I was involved in a Twitter thread where a fellow beer writer had asked a question about how people felt visiting a pub or bar on their own. The responses were varied and mostly from a male perspective. I joined the thread explaining that it doesn’t bother me and that I am quite happy to be on my own. I received a reply from the beer writer who hadn’t really thought about it from a female perspective, perhaps assuming that it isn’t something women tend to do. I also received replies from other women who shared their stories of harassment or feelings of uncomfortableness when they have been on their own in a pub or bar environment. These comments saddened me, especially as I have not experienced problems like these whilst I’ve been by myself. We have just had International Women’s Day on 8th March, a day to celebrate the great achievements of women as well as continue to raise awareness, but we still read stories of women who feel unable to do very basic things on their own. In this day and age, if men are able to go out to a pub or bar on their own then why would it be different for women?

The answer is sadly to do with the safety of women, an issue that has recently been highlighted after the tragic news of Sarah Everard. At some point in every woman’s life we have probably felt vulnerable when we have been in situations on our own. I am fortunate that I live in a small town, in an area where crime is relatively low but this doesn’t make me any more complacent. Although I am confident to go to a bar, taproom or pub on my own I have realised that I consider my own safety without really thinking about it. Mentally I have already prepared a risk assessment before I leave home, almost as if it is instinctive. I only go to places that I am familiar with, I know the surrounding area and I know the best ways to get there, whether that be on foot or by taxi. Many of the pubs and taprooms I visit I am familiar with the staff so I know if I had any trouble I could seek help. The beer community, micro pubs and tap rooms are very inclusive and strive to create a safe and fun environment for everyone which is something to be proud of. I have never had feelings of being uncomfortable or unwelcome in any of the bars or taprooms I have visited and I have always felt secure as well as relaxed to be by myself, which is something that I think should be commended.

Whilst I am very much looking forward to being able to meet in pubs again with my friends and family, as I have really missed having that social interaction, a part of me is also ready to go back out to the bars and taprooms on my own again. I hope that the recent boost of awareness following the Sarah Everard case will encourage people to continue to look out for one another so that everyone can make it home safely.

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.

https://leighonseabrewery.co.uk

An Ode to Indy Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the ‘new’ normal

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

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

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

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

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

What will the beer industry look like post-lockdown?

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about the Bass

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

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

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

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

Brewing Nostalgia

Nothing is better than a beer on a late, warm afternoon which is exactly how I ended up at the Mawson Arms next to Fullers Griffin Brewery. As I sat down with my half of Sticky Wicket I couldn’t help but find myself people watching around the room. What struck me was that I noticed almost half the people at the bar wore the Fullers Brewery logo. I then noticed that more people entering the pub were also bearing the brewery’s emblem, and it got me thinking…

When did we stop enjoying the simpler things in life? Most of us spend long hours at desks, in front of computers, and when we ‘clock off’ we’re rushing home to cook dinner or to pick up the kids from school to name a few examples. These Fullers employees were finishing their shifts and coming in to their local to socialise together over a pint of beer they have helped to brew before heading off home. I felt like I really had stepped back in time to when this was the norm. It has inspired me to stop worrying about all the things I need to do when I get home. I don’t need to rush off the gym everyday after work. I should call some friends and meet them in the pub garden or local bar for a catch up. I might even get home before it gets dark!