SoBeer Guide to Southampton

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

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

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

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

Dancing Man Brewery Brewpub

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

Caskaway Tasting Rooms

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

Belgium & Blues

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

Brewdog

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

Unity Tap Room

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

The Bookshop Alehouse

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

The Butcher’s Hook

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

Overdraft

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

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

Golden Pints 2019

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

Lets have a look at my Golden Pints Awards 2019 …

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

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

Best UK Keg Beer – Keller Pils, Lost and Grounded

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honourable Mentions:
The Pembury Tavern – London

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

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

Best Brewery Tap Room- Unity brewing Co. Tap

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

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

Best Food and Beer Destination – Bundobust

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

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

Best Beery Adventure – Prague

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

Best Beer Festival – Vessel Beer Festival, Plymouth

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

Best UK Brewery

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

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

Hoppy New Year Everyone!

My Year in Beer 2019

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

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

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

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

Hoppy New Year!

Vessel Beer Festival 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

IMBCity 2019

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

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

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

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

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.

Small Beers – Big Flavours

“Why don’t more places sell low ABV beers like this?” I asked as I took my first sip of Marble Brewery’s Petite Small IPA.

Fireplace at Marble Arch

After arriving in Manchester a day earlier than expected for the Cloudwater Friends & Family & Beer festival my partner and I used this a good opportunity to try some bars and pubs we had not been to before in the city. We decided to make the trip to Marble Arch, which is somewhere we had always wanted to visit, so we braved the weather and it did not disappoint. The interior of the Grade II listed building is breathtaking with a beautifully tiled floor that leads you towards the bar. The cosy fireplace in the middle of the room was very welcoming and after the walk in the rain I made myself comfortable in a vintage armchair whilst my partner went to the bar. During the course of the day we had both had quite a few beers so I really felt like I needed to slow down a little. It was then I spotted the Petite Small IPA and at 2.8% a pint of this was perfect for what I wanted. As I took my first sip I was surprised that this small beer packs a big punch. With such a low ABV I expected the mouthfeel to be a little thin but I was blown away by how hoppy and juicy my pint tasted. “Why don’t more places sell low ABV beers like this?” I asked my partner. It was then he pointed out to me that my Petite IPA was actually 20p more per pint then his Marble Pint.

Marble’s Petite IPA

My partner, who works in the industry, explained to me that the reason why we don’t see more beers like the Petite IPA could be attributed to the average consumers’ perceived value. When given the choice of a 3.9% beer or a 2.8% priced at 20p more per pint then the average consumer is likely to choose the higher ABV as they may feel this is better value for money. To be honest this isn’t something I have thought about before and it made sense, why would I spend more for beer that has lower alcohol content? My answer was at that particular moment I wanted to slow down after my afternoon of drinking and have something light and refreshing. I was then pleasantly surprised to discover that my pint tasted amazing for a small beer. I then began to think that to achieve a great tasting beer like this with a lower ABV then perhaps more hops have been added into the brew. With traditional recipes hops were added to help preserve beer however in modern brewing techniques they have taken more of a leading role to make up for lack of body as well as produce really interesting flavours. Many of the newer hops can be difficult to get hold of and are often more expensive.

Hops are not the only thing that can be added to a brew to help enhance the flavour and body of a beer. Adjuncts such as fruits or spices can add big flavour but these can also be expensive ingredients. Breweries are also using adjuncts to improve the mouthfeel of a beer and can do this quite cheaply by using grains such as oats or wheat. In January I decided to try a few low alcohol beers, not for any particular reason other then to see what they would be like and I bought the Dry January box from BeerBods. As I was making my way through the box I was amazed at how the beers had a really good mouthfeel and tasted great considering they were only 0.5% ABV. I noticed that these breweries were using more hops or adjuncts to make up for the lack of body and flavour commonly associated with low alcohol beers much like Marble’s Petite IPA.

Mosaic floor at Marble Arch

I would really like to see more small beers like Marble’s Petite IPA in bars and pubs as there is a market for it but I feel that at the moment these are underrated. There is a bit of a stigma attached to people who choose a lower ABV option which is something I have been confronted with before. I believe that to change the perceptions of the average consumer more eduction on low alcohol beers is needed. I think that bar staff should play a large role in this by encouraging people to try samples and discuss that big flavour doesn’t also have to mean a high ABV.

Under the Spotlight: Devitera

 
This Tryanuary I thought it would be a good opportunity to visit a local microbrewery that I had not been to before. Devitera is based in the small village of Rowde in Wiltshire surrounded by picturesque countryside and sloping fields of barley. Nearby is the county’s famous Caen Hill locks, a stretch of canal with 29 locks to navigate through, linking Rowde to the market town of Devizes. Devizes has a long history of brewing that goes back to the 18th Century and most notably beer giant Wadworth established their brewery in 1875. Now in Wiltshire we are finding a new breed of brewers who are emerging with more modern techniques and exciting ideas. Glen is the man behind Devitera, who’s name originates from the latin words ‘ad divisas’ (boundaries) and “terra’ (land). Devitera has been created with the idea of making ’beer beyond boundaries’ and using Glen’s unique approach to brewing.
 
Chemical formula of Rowde water
As I made my way over to Rowde, with my Sat Nav route taking me down small and windy country roads, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my arrival. I turned into a small access road just off Rowde’s high street and drove into darkness as the street light faded away behind me. The end of the road opened up to a large space and I recognised the Devitera logo on an A board outside the brewery. There I was greeted by Glen who invited me inside to see him prepping for next day’s bottling. “Not many people get to see this” Glen said to me as I watched him thoughtfully set up his bottling equipment. I look around whilst Glen finishes up and we chat about my beer journey before he begins to tell me all about Devitera. 
Following redundancy from his job in IT, Glen decided he would work for himself and set up a brewery. Although Devitera has been 2 years in the making it had a bumpy start. Problems with the premises, legal issues and losing a brewing partner were all a set back. During this time Glen began to write about his experiences in his blog which he had found to be quite cathartic throughout his beer journey. Despite all the problems Devitera has now been brewing beer for the last year commercially and making a name for itself in Wiltshire.
 
Glen hasn’t had any formal training except for taking a standard course in brewing as well as one in business management so he is mostly self taught. Glen started out using pre-packaged home-brew kits in buckets and then worked up to creating his own recipes using his Grain Father which is still used today as a pilot kit for new ideas.He has also been a fan of drinking beer and when I asked him what sort of styles got in him interested in brewing he replied, “everything!”.
 
What struck me about this brewery is that everything has been designed specifically with the beer’s journey in mind. The brewing equipment used to be old dairy vessels which have been modified for the purpose of making beer. Glen has a very engineering mind and is very good at problem solving to help make the brewhouse work for him. This was particularly true when he explained to me that the length of his labelling table was exactly 24 bottles – perfect for a full case of beer! Many of the work surfaces, display materials and cask racks have been made from reclaimed wood and repurposed in an inventive way. 
 
Most of the ingredients for Devitera’s beers are sourced as locally as they can be. The malt is picked up just down the road at Warminster Maltings (one of Britain’s oldest maltings) and Glen has also been known to forage for local hops. I was able to try a sample of Devitera’s English Pale Ale whilst I was at the brewery which to me had some grassy notes and a pleasant dry finish. I had come across Devitera’s beers before and have previously tried their American Pale Ale as well as the Power Fail English Pale Ale, both of which I enjoyed. I was also given a sneak peek at one of Glen’s latest projects working with different types of yeast. He recently acquired some Sicilian wild yeast from a local bakery and did a test brew to see how it would react. When we tasted it we agreed it had a pithy citrus flavour and I am quite excited to see what Glen decides to brew once he’s finished with this experiment. 
 
So what does the future hold for Devitera? Glen explained to me that eventually he would like to be able to open up a tap room within the current brewhouse and sell his version of Weissebier, which is one of his dream brews. It is obvious that Glen is very passionate about what he does and it shows in his attention to detail from the cleanliness of the tanks to the way the bottles are packaged. He sees his product from start to finish making this a true artisan beer. I hope to see more of Devitera in the future and will keep an eye out for their beers not just this Tryanuary, but all year around.
Devitera Website: https://devitera.co.uk

Golden Pints Awards 2018

It’s coming up to the end of another year so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on some of the best beery experiences I’ve had this year and write up my own Golden Pints winners for 2018. For my list of categories I looked at a few other blogs and podcasts and chose the best based on my year of beer. Without further ado here are my Winners and Honourable Mentions for Golden Pints Awards this year!

Best UK Cask Beer
This year I have tried to drink more cask ales as part of my New Beers Resolutions 2017 by going to more festivals and trying out more traditional beer styles. For this category I have awarded my winner as Covert from Stealth Brew Co as this has been the cask beer that I have enjoyed the most this year. Stealth Brew Co is my local brewery and Covert has been my cask ale of choice over the summer at the brewery’s open weekends as it is packed wth refreshing Citra hops making it very drinkable.  

Honourable mention goes to Arbor’s Shangri-La which was a very close second. Another cask ale that if I saw was on the menu I would order a pint or two! 

Best UK Keg Beer
There was no question who this was going to get awarded to. It has been one of the most talked about beers this year and my first choice keg beer, Keller Pils from Lost & Grounded. This has been my go to beer of the year and I think it has changed some people’s opinions, including mine, on lager beer styles. 

Honourable mention to Burning Sky’s Coolship Release No. 1 which was brewed for Burning Sky’s 5th Birthday. I was fortunate to try this at Small Bar Bristol who were one of the venues involved holding an event on the the release of this beer. I really enjoyed the tartness and it reminded me of some of the saisons I had tried in Belgium last year. 

Best Collaboration
This was a tricky award to pick as there’s been so many great brewery collaborations this year so I decided to choose a collaborative project as my winner. I’ve chosen the North Sea Bridges, a project with Scottish and Scandinavian breweries collaborating to reflect on the historic trading links between the two nations. I really enjoyed working my way through this box and I can’t wait to see what the project comes up with next year when the Scandinavians host Scotland. 

Honourable mentions go to some of the other collaborative projects I’ve had this year, Wylam’s Northern Powerhouse series and the Rainbow Project 2018. I also wanted to give a shout out to Buxton and Omnipollo who’s range of Ice Cream beers have always been exciting, especially with the soft serve option. We might be saying goodbye to Yellow Belly but hopefully we can still see some great collab beers from these guys next year. 

Best UK Brewery 
My winner for this award is Mills Brewing who I discovered this year. Based in Gloucester, Jonny and Gen are using wild fermentation and blending to create some amazing lambic beers. I really like the Belgian influence of their beers and I particularly enjoyed drinking Running Beer this year. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Mills Brewing. 

Best Pub/Bar of the Year
Caskaway gets my first prize for this category as it is one of my favourite places to visit when I am in Southampton. Ian, Alex and the team are great hosts who always make you feel welcome and there is always great beers on the menu. I don’t get to go to Caskaway as much as I’d like so I always make sure I visit when I’m down by the South Coast.  

Honourable mentions go to The Convivial Rabbit in Dorchester who’s cask ales are kept in really good condition and to The Vaults in Devizes which I credit as one of the places that got me started on my beer journey. 
Best Brewery Tap Room
I visited my winner for this award on a trip to Leeds and Huddersfield just before Christmas. Magic Rock is one of my all time favourite tap rooms and I have enjoyed many a beer in there. The tap room itself is a great sized space and there is always a good range of beers on keg as well as cask. I really like that you can see through a window to some of the brewing equipment which keeps the tap room connected to the brewery. I’ve also enjoyed some really great street food here from guest food vendors who pitch up outside. The only problem is that Huddersfield is quite far from where I live so whenever we’re heading up North I always make sure to pop into the Magic Rock tap room. 

Honourable mentions go to Moor and Lost & Grounded as I have spent a lot of time this year in these tap rooms. I’ve spent a few afternoons at Lost & Grounded for their Summer Brewhouse Sessions and Winter Blowout as well as an exclusive tasting during Beer o’clock show’s #CrimboCrawl2018. Moor isn’t too far from Bristol Temple Meads train station so it’s always a great way to start or finish a day out in the city. 

Best Food and Beer Destination
This award has to go to Bundobust. I’ve had the pleasure of going to both the Manchester and Leeds restaurants and both times the food and beer menus have been incredible. I really like that some of the local breweries produce beers in collaboration with Bundobust so that they compliment the food, my particular favourite being their Bombay Dazzler Indian Witbier produced with Northern Monk. I also really enjoy that the food is a bit like Indian Tapas and I quite often order 4 or 5 things off the menu to share with my boyfriend, including the infamous Vada Pav. Keeping everything crossed that a Bundobust might open a restaurant further down south so I can get a regular fix.

Honourable mention goes to Wings Diner at Small Bar Bristol who produce some of the best fried chicken I have ever had and the Korean dip is insane. A must if your feeling peckish on King Street! 

Best Bottle Shop
My Golden Pints winner for the Best Bottle Shop of the year goes to Independent Spirit of Bath. This bottle shop always has a great range of beers and is where I stocked up on rarer beers this year. The guys in there are very friendly and knowledgeable about beer as well as spirits, including whiskey and rum. Independent Spirit also hold tasting events and this year I attended their beer ‘off’ flavours workshop to brush up on my knowledge. Overall the service I get in the Independent Spirit is above and beyond compared with other places which makes them my winner this year. 

Simon Johnson award for Best Twitterer 
I’m giving this award to Tom @CraftBeerHour for his weekly #CraftBeerHour segment. Tom organises for guests and followers to get involved every Tuesday to drink and talk about beer. He also organises competitions with help from breweries to boost interaction and up until recently has also been the face of the Tryanuary campaign. He is enthusiastic and engaging with his followers which is why he deserves to be recognised for this award. 

Honourable mention goes to Doreen @ourdoreen for her #LetsBeerPositive initiative. In a year where there has been quite a bit of negativity within the beer industry Doreen’s weekly beery questions help us to see and share our positive experiences with others. 

Best Beery Adventure
My highlight of the year has been travelling to Berlin and drinking so much German beer. I’ve been to some great bars and tap rooms within the city thanks to recommendations from my followers and my favourite memory will be sitting out in warm autumnal sunshine at Stone Berlin. Thank you everyone that got involved and offered me suggestions for places to visit for great beer! 

Honourable mentions to East Bristol Brewery Trail and to Beer o’clock Show’s Bristol Crimbo Crawl. 

Best Beer Festival
My final award for Best Beer Festival goes to Indy Man Beer Con. I’ve been going to IMBC for the last 4 years and it is always the highlight of my events calendar. It is one of the largest festivals of the year with a huge collection of independent breweries and is held at the Victoria Baths in Manchester. When you enter IMBC it is a bit like feeling like a kid in a sweet shop and I never know where to start. This year I really enjoyed the Buxton X Omnipollo Ice Cream soft serve and had the opportunity to try a range of beers over two sessions. The food choice was also amazing at the food court outside and as always the annual cutting of Wild Beer’s Westcombe Cheese was frenzied. There really is something for everyone at this festival which is why it has to be my winner for the Best Beer Festival. 

Honourable mentions go to St Austell’s Celtic Beer Festival and Frome Craft Beer Festival. It was the first time for me this year to attend these two festivals and they were very different in their own way. In the summer at the Frome Craft Beer Festival there was a battle between Brewed Boy and Palmer Street Bottle, two bars in the town, to see who could bring the best beers to the festival. I had a great day at this event as I got to try some amazing beers. Hopefully Brewed Boy and Palmer Street Bottle will run it again next year. 

In November I was invited to attend the Celtic Beer Festival as my boyfriend works for St Austell and I was blown away by the scale of the event. I really enjoyed drinking the St Austell small batch beers produced especially for the festival and one of my highlights of the day was watching the Commitments perform live at the end of the evening. 

So that concludes my summery of this year’s Golden Pint Awards. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring to the beer industry. Although some things will be ending hopefully there will be some new and exciting beginnings. 

Hoppy New Year Everyone!