It takes something special to get It Comes In Pints out of London.
While Pip grew up with actual countryside animals at the end of her garden, Liz mistrusts anywhere that doesn’t have
3 4G; a source and back-up source of over-priced whole foods; and enough hilariously-named Wifi networks to keep her entertained on a commute.
But some invitations are enough to convince even Liz to venture beyond the north circular. Invitations like the one we got from Adnams’ Belinda Jennings recently. Pay us a visit in Southwold, on the Suffolk coast, she said, have a crack at brewing beer and take one of the brewery’s much-lauded tours.
Faster than you could say: “HOWTHEHELLISTHERETHISMUCHTRAFFICTRYINGTOGETTHROUGHTHEDARTFORDTUNNELATTHISTIMEINTHEMORNING”, ICIP and our intrepid chauffeur and photographer, Mr ICIP, found ourselves in a place with no 4G (no 3G!); fields full of pigs (pigs live in fields?!); and where yawning craters – treeholes from last month’s storm – still pockmark the forests.
It helped that Liz hadn’t known where Southwold was when the journey began.
Appropriately ICIP followed an Adnams lorry into Southwold itself (which was useful given that map apps DON’T WORK IN THE COUNTRYSIDE). We were met by Belinda, who is Quality Manager and a Brewer at Adnams, and who had invited us here to the glorious Suffolk coast to try our hand at some micro-brewing. Somehow intuiting that ICIP are rabid hop-heads (I can’t imagine what gave her that idea), Belinda had suggested we brew a 6.7%-ish IPA, bursting with some of our absolute favourite hops – including show-stoppers Amarillo, Citra and Galaxy. An ICIPA!
By the time we had navigated our way through the wilds of east England, Belinda had run off the wort and got the brew boiling. We headed straight for Adnams’ micro-brew set up; an impressive kit, tucked away beside its much bigger sister, that the brewery (and Belinda) use for the occasional, experimental one-off bottled beers.
Yes, it took a while to wrestle the delicious hop pellets from ICIP, but finally convinced they would be better off in the beer we summoned up our best scattering skills and late-hopped our IPA (eee!). Time, then, to leave them in peace, to flavour the beer, while ICIP took a look at how the experts do it.
Girls on Tour
Brewing on the same site for centuries – Adnams was established in Southwold in 1872, but traces brewing there (by women!) as far back as 1345 – poses some unique challenges; pitting the need for expansion against its duty to the environment, architectural and natural. Bulldozing rows of picturesque houses to make way for a shinier, greener brewery would, we imagine, not have gone down well with visitors to one of England’s most popular coastal spots. Nor would it have been popular with Southwold’s citizens – many of whom can trace their own history alongside that of the company. Southwolders work in the brewery; grew up breathing air heavy with its malt; and drink pints of its beer in one of the town’s many lovely pubs.
Adnams did expand, substantially, in the 1970s; but – as we found out on our tour – it did so with profound respect for its Victorian surroundings. Its ultra-modern kit – installed recently – is all towering, smooth-surfaced, rounded cylinders and mazes of glossy pipes; surfaces so shiny you can see yourself and your beer-blogging buddies in them.
But, from the outside, you’d have no idea there was a brewery in-situ at all. It hides away on Victorian street-level; completely unobtrusive, tucked behind ghost-house fronts that you think are homes until you notice the doors are glued shut. Take a virtual trot down Church Street to see what I mean – see if you can spot the fake houses.
As you walk around Adnams you wonder what the cheery-faced brewers of the 19th century – who peer out at you from the black and white pictures dotted around the site – would make of the flat-screen computers and the temperature gauges and the two bloggers using smartphones to check into their buildings on Facebook. Maybe they’d feel right at home: as Belinda explains, the faded paperwork from the 1900s that Adnams preserves under a glass case in one of the reception rooms is not too dissimilar to the paperwork she fills out now.
Also worth noting is Adnams’ impressive commitment to eco-friendly brewing. The modern kit, installed in 2008, recovers 100 per cent of the heat and steam from each brew, Adnams says, 90 per cent of which is recycled to heat the next. That same year the company produced East Green, the UK’s first Carbon Neutral beer. It has won multiple awards for its sustainable development.
As we tour Adnams’ site, weaving in and out of the brewery’s different buildings, its beers’ evolution unfolds quite literally under our noses. From toast-y malt via hot, soup-y hops – we cross the tiny, picturesque street a final time to be greeted by huge vats of fermenting beer and the unmistakable, overpowering smell of booze. We sneak a cheeky look inside one of the vats, and a waft of carbon dioxide temporarily blinds Mr ICIP.
It’s a good point to head back to ICIP’s own brew; itself hopped to bursting and back and giving off delicious, hot wafts of citrus and spice. (With Belinda’s help) we cool the wort and run it off to ferment, prepped with a vial of Adnams’ famous yeast.
With that, ICIP’s (invaluable and chaotic) part in the process is done. The fermenting dalek (not a technical term) is wheeled outside to chill, and we head to The Lord Nelson pub to do the same. It’s an Adnams pub, and where better to enjoy pints of Gunhill, Broadside and Ghost Ship? There’s something particularly wonderful about the moment on a brewery-tour when everything comes together in one well-kept pint; you’ve followed the beer from tiny grain to noisy-cask room and, now more than ever, a generous glug unwraps a history, a malt, a bit of salty sea-air, fresh water, yeast and hops, that’s suddenly familiar because it’s all around you.
It’s almost time for ICIP to head back to the Smoke, but not before Belinda reminds us that Adnams is more than just a beer brewery. It started distilling gin in 2010, and this month unveiled its own whisky.
If beer isn’t your thing (WHY HAVE YOU READ THIS FAR? ARE YOU RELATED TO ONE OF US??!) you can, at the Southwold site, have a crack at being a distiller for a day. Adnams provides the booze, you pick the botanicals. The gin itself is born in the shadow of the brewery, inside another super-glossy wing. It climbs up the inside of outstretched chrome towers that look a bit like octopus tentacles [ed. put down the Ghost Ship and get over the the nautical references]
After a quick (rewarding) swing through Adnams’ sampling room (like the most wonderful supermarket IN THE WORLD), ICIP bids farewell to Belinda (and our ICIPA) and hits the road.
Ok, we took a quick detour to look at the lighthouse; had a debate about whether we would make successful lighthouse keepers; and played with phone settings we didn’t understand trying to capture the gorgeous seaside panorama.
Throughout the four-hour return journey we regretted not arranging to stay overnight to enjoy a few more pints of Adnams as it was meant to be enjoyed – with a nip of sea air and lit by the flashes from the lighthouse. But for now, at least, we’ve cans of Ghost Ship to enjoy and a tantalising message from Belinda. She says ICIPA is fermenting nicely and “smells soooo good!”
Adnams runs brewery tours most weekends for £12 a go. Check availability on their website here. They book up quickly so plan in advance!