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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Pub/Bar of the Year: The Shed

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

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

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

Honourable Mention: Cheshire Brewhouse Rockall DDH Oatmeal Pale

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

Best UK Mini Keg Beer: Lost and Grounded Keller Pils

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

Honourable Mention: Five Points Best

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

Best Food & Beer Destination: The Kitchen

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

Best Beer Festival: Shed Oktoberfest

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

Honourable Mention: Bristol Craft Beer Festival

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

Best New Brewery Discovery: Neptune Brewery

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

Honourable Mentions: St Mars of the Desert and Utopian Brewing

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

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

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

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

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

Memorable Beery Moment: Nat’s Virtual Beer School

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

Honourable Mention: Hosting Craft Beer Hour

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

Brewery of the Year: Unity Brewing Co.

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

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

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

The History and Home brew of Pumpkin Ale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

***

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!

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.