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By Fergus Fitzgerald, also posted in News on 20/12/17
I’m a largely positive person, I try and see the good where I can and whilst I don’t mind a moan I prefer solutions to problems.
But this year has been pretty trying. Politically, the world has stuck its head in a bucket and started shouting at itself and it would seem like no one is listening anymore. The future may have always been unwritten but at the moment it looks like we’ve decided to take whatever rough sketches we had of that future and use them to help light the mob’s torches. However, it's probably worth bearing in mind that the world has often been a terrible place but there are always some bright lights that help guide the way. I have been told that people who express gratitude more often are happier and healthier for it, so here are some of the beer related things I’ve been thankful for this year:
Beer: It turns out that beer isn’t really for taking pictures of, and it isn’t compulsory to attribute a numerical score to every experience. What beer is really good at is bringing people together. Sharing a beer or two is such a great way to throw off any hierarchy and just talk, later on some of it will be nonsense, but that way gold lies. So thanks for the beers I’ve shared with the great brewers that have come to Southwold to brew with us this year: Wayne Wambles, Mitch Steele, Rich Adamson and finally, the dynamic duo, the princes of brightly coloured pants - The Yeastie Boys - Stu Mckinlay and Sam Possenniskie. Also, thanks for the beers shared at the 3/9 project with Eddie and friends at Harbour Brewery. I’ve enjoyed a beer with them all, and they certainly fit into the intersection of the good people and brewers Venn diagram.
Brewery folk: There is an overused phrase in beer circles that beer people are good people. This is largely true but mostly because most people are good people. You can choose to believe otherwise, but I think in the main that they are. What beer people have though that sets them apart is a willingness to share hops and advice, mostly its the hops, when a fellow brewer needs it. Beer people also have easy access to lots of great beer which also helps.
The rise of keg. Part 1: If you are the lucky owner of a pair of eyes or even a medium set of ears you will probably be aware that keg beer has become a lot more interesting these last few years. The choice on the bar has exploded but more importantly there are some fantastic tasting beers now in keg. The old stereotypes of keg are being blown away and it really lets some styles of beer shine. It is also really great news for pubs and bars that don’t sell a lot of beer which leads me to...
The rise of keg. Part 2: What this means is that bars and pubs that want interesting beer with flavour aren’t restricted to looking just to cask for that. Now, I love cask beer and it will always be fundamental to what we do, but the interest in beer styles and having more choice has led to some pubs putting too many cask beers on when they don’t have the throughput. This means that often a cask beer could be on for a week when it really should have sold through in 3 days. Having more great keg, bottle or canned beers available means pubs can expand their range whilst still maintaining the quality of the beers in cask.
Bolts: Specifically bolts that keep robots in one place and stop them running amuck in Southwold. We put a robot in earlier this year to stack the full kegs when we’ve filled them, but that was before Elon Musk told us about the dangers. Luckily, we had bolted our robot to the floor so you won’t see it having a fish and chip supper at the Harbour quite yet. Not sure what the future of robotics holds but we should probably build in some virtual floor bolts.
Peter Simpson's happy mug: No offense to other Maltsters but Peter Simpson was my favourite of all the Maltsters. He passed away quite suddenly earlier this year so I will forever miss the annual sparing over pricing for malted barley, however, I will still be cheered by the memory of Peter's visits.
My work mates: It's been a hell of a busy year, we were brewing at maximum capacity for much of the year whilst installing the new equipment in the midst of all that. I can’t say there weren’t any complaints, but remarkably few, and so many people went above and beyond to make sure it all came together. Lots of people deserve a mention but special mentions go to Dan, Dave and Dawn for the huge effort they have put in this year.
Gin barrels: Last year 'gin barrels' were anathema to me following a night of harassment by some brewers begging for use of my non-existent gin barrels. My cries of “gin isn’t aged in barrels” fell on hop-cone filled ears. However John, our Head Distiller, may have changed my mind.
Porter: No, not the beer, which is also good, but Robert Porter. Robert retires at the end of the year having worked at Adnams for the past two decades. He worked primarily as trade quality brewer, going out to pubs and training staff on looking after cask beer, helping them issues, handling complaints and compliments with equal aplomb. He also stepped into the breech when called upon - he was the Assistant Brewer at one point and also deputised as Quality Manager on a number of occasions. Robert took me on a tour of Adnams when I came for an interview, I seem to remember one of the first things he said to me was people who join Adnams never leave. Robert showed me the ropes when I first started, and in truth for a long while after that. Robert knows more about the intricacies of cask beer in a cellar than I ever will. He is unflappable and has an easy charm that has made everyone who knows him relax in his company. He is off to enjoy long walks with intermittent beers and hopefully a little writing about the history of brewing in Southwold.
Both Barrels: It was with a huge personal relief that the Broadside barrel project we’d started in 2010 actually resulted in such a great beer. Those barrels were refilled and are maturing away again, hopefully for a spring bottling, but that will be decided when they are ready. However, the experience has certainly emboldened us to expand the barrel program further which we will start to do next year.
Southwold: If you visited the town in the last 2 years there will have been times where we were making a mess/noise/nuisance of ourselves as we lowered, cajoled and squeezed various bits of brewing and distilling equipment over, under or through various other bits during the project work. It's mostly all there now. Thank you to the residents and visitors to Southwold who took it, mostly, in their stride.
The Swan Tap Room: If you’ve not been to the newly reopened Swan Tap Room Bar, right at the back of the brewery, then you need to, as it has been transformed. The old bar at the Swan was never the most welcoming or exciting of places to enjoy a beer away from whatever trials that day had brought, but the new bar is a fantastic place to go and celebrate our minor victories as we battled our way through the commissioning of the new equipment, brewing the first batch of beer in the new tanks, the first centrifuge run, the first kegging. Still have lots of love for the other bars and pubs in town but its been really nice to go and see the beer we brew a short barrel roll away served and treated so well.
It’s a few weeks yet but I’m pretty sure that’s where I’ll head before we all go our separate ways for Christmas.