One thing I love about going to the Suffolk coast – along with the abundant birdlife, the opportunities for swimming in the sea and the chance to temporarily escape from London in the old-world charm of Southwold – is the chance to sample Adnams beer.
Although occasionally available as a guest beer at certain pubs in London, Adnams comes into its own in its home town of Southwold where the range available in any given pub is fantastic. From the dark, full-flavoured Gunhill to the golden, citrus-tasting Spindrift to the strong Broadside ale (not recommended as a session beer!), every Adnams beer is a winner as far as I am concerned.
Adnams, which somehow managed to escape being taken over by the various brewing conglomerates of the 1960s and 70s, was still using a horse-and-dray to delivery beer to pubs in Southwold less than a decade ago but has in recent years modernised in a big way. Nowadays, they have a state-of-the-art distribution centre a couple of miles inland, and in Southwold itself they have an excellent shop which sells fancy cooking equipment and fine wines in addition to many bottles of their beer. Now that is my kind of shop, and it’s a must-visit every time we go to Southwold.
For the past couple of years, it has been branching out and distilling spirits as well – which is not something most breweries would contemplate doing (they completed work on the Copper House Distillery, located next to the brewery in the heart of Southwold, in 2010). As a result, you can now get Adnams gin and vodka, as well as liqueurs like limoncello. Adnams has already started to pick up awards for its spirits, which shows that they’re taking it seriously and are being taken seriously. There’s a whisky too, although as the rules for whisky production state that it has to be matured in wood for at least three years, it’s not available to buy yet. Give it time, though. Good things do come to those who wait, right?
This merger of brewing and distilling has perhaps reached its apogee, though, with a new drink called Spirit of Broadside. What they’ve done is taken Broadside, distilled it and matured the result in oak casks for a year. People seem to be doing a lot more with beer these days – just look at the increasing number of microbreweries and the rise of the beer cocktail – but I haven’t come across anyone distilling it before (unless of course we want to define the fermented grain mash that gets distilled to make whisky as beer, and as far as I’m aware that is not the done thing). There isn’t even a proper name the resulting product – the three-year rule aside, it can’t be called whisky as there were hops involved in the making of the beer, although Adnams helpfully describes it as eau de vie de biere. Naturally, I couldn’t resist this.
The result is a warm, spicy-but-smooth drink, not really like any whisky, or indeed any liqueur, that I’ve tasted. The best way I can describe it is the result of someone combining a very good beer with a fine whisky, albeit in a much classier way than the whisky chaser.
Spirit of Broadside was introduced into the growing Adnams range last year, and if you are a beer-lover and can get hold of a bottle, it’s worth a try.
Broadside, which gets its name from the simultaneous (or near-simultaneous) firing of all of the canons on one side of an old ship-of-the-line, was first brewed in 1972 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Sole Bay, and Spirit of Broadside in turn commemorates the 40th anniversary of what has become one of their most popular beers.
The Battle of Sole Bay (sometimes written as Solebay) was fought just off the coast of Southwold in 1672. It was part of the Anglo-Dutch Wars – that now-largely-forgotten series of conflicts in the mid-to-late seventeenth century over control of the seas and trade routes. The battle itself was an indecisive affair. The Dutch fleet surprised a joint Anglo-French fleet at anchor in Sole Bay but was unable to press home its advantage when the wind changed. Today the battle is perhaps best known for the fact that one of the English admirals, the Earl of Sandwich, was killed. He was not the inventor of the sandwich – that was a later earl who was also an admiral – but he was the patron and benefactor of one Samuel Pepys; when Pepys refers to ‘my Lord’ in his diary, he’s referring to him.
The battle is commemorated in Southwold in lots of ways – it’s depicted on the town sign, there’s a plaque commemorating the house where the navy’s commander-in-chief (the Duke of York, later James II) stayed, and there are cannons facing out to sea on the town’s various greens. Plus, of course, the name of the battle is the name of the brewery.
It all, apparently, comes back to the beer.