Tag Archives: Southwold

When a plan comes together: Camden Town and Adnams collaborate

In the distant future, as robots pour space pints of synthahol in bars run by a be-hatted Whoopi Goldberg (is the top line too early for a Star Trek reference?), people will look back on the beer boom of 2013/14 and wonder why everyone got so het up about cask vs keg. Why couldn’t we just get along? Camden Town brewery (hip hopsters based in North London) and Adnams Brewery (established alesters from Southwold) have had enough of the fight. They’ve collaborated over a new ale – called South Town – and decided to throw it a party at Camden HQ.

That’s on ICIP’s doorstep, so on a balmy Saturday afternoon we meandered through the North London sun (no, really!) to visit Adnams in their new, temporary home. And hadn’t Adnams made themselves at home. We were greeted by the sight of Camden’s long beer garden, sandwiched between gritty industrial plots, dotted with Adnams’ deckchairs; something of a change of scene for them, used as they are to sunset behind a lighthouse rather than sunset behind a graffitied Amy Winehouse tribute.

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South Town (would you believe it’s taken me this long to realise the beer is a mash-up of the locations of the two breweries) was served at a dedicated cask bar, accessible only if you shelled out £12 for a six-stamp card (a half was one stamp, a pint two, so at three pints for £12 a bargain in this part of town) (also fun because stamp cards, like loyalty cards, make me inexplicably competitive and OCD along the lines of: WE’VE GOT TWO AND A HALF STAMPS LEFT IF WE ADD UP THESE TWO CARDS YOU CAN’T LEAVE NOW I DON’T CARE IF YOU CAN’T SEE).

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South Town pours a long, amber pint. It’s approachable and drinkable, and at 4.9% the perfect pint to go with the hours of rugby with which the party happened to coincide. A first glug gave way to SO MUCH much hops (Topaz, Summer, Ella and Galaxy), which resolved in the kind of mellow sweetness you expect from an ale. This was achieved by using four different malts – Pale Ale, Light Crystal, Crystal Rye and Golden Naked Oats. I could drink pints of South Town (I did drink pints of South Town!) and not get bored (I didn’t get bored!) which is more than can be said for many ales.

“Camden are cool in a very cool way and we’re cool in a cask ale way” – Adnams’ Fergus Fitzgerald

South Town was brewed at Adnams’ brewery in Southwold. They picked up the cheque and agreed a retail price with Camden, who buy up and sell stock as they see fit. Beer nerds that we are, we wanted to know more of the story behind the brew: why did Camden, who don’t do cask, want to brew with Adnams, who exude old english ale from their idyllic seaside brewery? We tracked down head brewers Alex “Camden” Troncoso and Fergus “Adnams” Fitzgerald to find out more about what brought these two together.

“We’re both cool in different ways,” Fergus explained. “Camden are cool in a very cool way and we’re cool in a cask ale way. So it was a good way to get together.”

Ideas and recipes flew back and forwards across the interwebs. An idea for a stout and a porter eventually evolved into a hoppy ale.

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Alex Troncoso

“We used a huge amount of hops,” Alex agreed. “More than two times the amount Camden’s pale ale is hopped.” Of course, this made the brew expensive – those hops don’t come cheap.

We were delighted to hear (I MEAN OF COURSE WE COULD TELL JUST BY TASTE) that South Town was brewed with Adnams’ famous yeast. “Part of the collaboration is that we both add something to it, so most of what we add is the yeast,” Fergus tells us. “With our own yeast we’re relatively confident what it’s going to do. Then you can use it as a base and paint a new picture on top.”

“It’s like making 20,000 litres of soup and hoping it will taste OK!” – Camden’s Alex Troncoso

Fergus Fitzgerald

Fergus Fitzgerald

Using a familiar yeast, Fergus added, can be a helpful constant in a nerve-wracking project. “You’re changing so many other things – you want something that you possibly could rely on. If you do enough one-offs, eventually something will go wrong and you’ll end up dumping it. You can’t do that many experiments and not expect to have a failure. You have to accept that’s going to happen.”

“Because South Town was brewed at Adnams, most of the stress was there,” Alex says. “This end … we’ve been in this situation before. It’s like making 20,000 litres of soup and hoping it will taste OK!”

Well, ICIP is happy to relate that this batch of soup definitely turned out ok. Were Fergus and Alex happy?

“Stoked,” says Alex. “It tastes like I’d hoped,” Fergus agreed. “This was more stressful for Alex because I could test it! It’s got elements of Camden and Adnams.”

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Channelling Paxo, ICIP lands the difficult final question: What’s your favourite beer from the other’s brewery?

“My trip to Southwold changed my opinion,” Alex admits. “My favourite used to be Ghost Ship – now it’s Adnams’ Oyster Stout!”

“Camden Hells Lager,” says Fergus, without missing a beat. “It’s the one I’ve drunk most, but you learn with brewing there are a couple of difficult things to brew: low alcohol beer and good lager. It’s really difficult to brew, technically. You’ve got nowhere to hide – you haven’t got enough flavours to hide the little inconsistencies. You’ve got to get everything right.”

South Town gets a lot right, so we were excited when Alex and Fergus left the proverbial brewery door open for another collaboration brew. Come winter, I’m holding out for a Camden Wold stout.

You can buy a mini keg of South Town from Adnams or try it at any of the pubs listed here, or at Nicholsons Spring Ale festival.

Want more? Check out our posts on the Camden brewery tour and our day out brewing with Adnams.

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The lighthouse family: ICIP learns to brew with Adnams

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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!”

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Adnams runs brewery tours most weekends for £12 a go. Check availability on their website here. They book up quickly so plan in advance!

– ED