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.

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!