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.


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.