Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Beer In Essex: The Victoria Inn, Colchester: The Evolution Of A 'Proper Pub'


Beer In Essex
The Victoria Inn, Colchester: The Evolution Of A 'Proper Pub'

I had arrived in Colchester just in time for lunch and I had a couple of hours to kill before I was expected at The Victoria Inn, so decided to see what else the town had to offer. Andy and Sheena had generously agreed to give me some of their valuable time after the busy lunch session had died down as the would have extra staff to cover so, after having sought advice from local(ish) publican Ed Razzall, I decided to seek out the two newest beer destinations in England's oldest recorded town. 

My first port of call was The Church Street Tavern, which unsurprisingly is in Church Street, a part of Colchester familiar to anyone who has attended either of the two annual CAMRA festivals held in the Arts Centre a few yards further up the road. I was impressed by it's decor of mismatched sofas, tables and easy chairs, although the bar looked rather spartan with its two chrome multi-tap keg founts. They had a fairly decent bottled beer selection however, but I was really after a pint of Essex beer. This is a strictly 'no cask' bar and despite having Adnams and Calvors available I opted for a half of BrewDog's Brixton Porter (just for the sheer hell of it) which I drank in self-concious silence before heading out.

The Three Wise Monkey's on the High Street is a smart, modern craft beer bar with one obvious eye on what's been happening in London, although in truth they're a couple of years behind. This three-floor Tap House and US-style Barbecue Bar, serving up all kinds of slow-cooked, pulled, and smoked meat delights, certainly creates a favourable impression upon entering with it's wall of numbered shiny taps and faintly louche feel, but appearances can be deceptive as I soon found out. 

I had decided, for research purposes and because I was in playful mood, to play the part of the craft beer novice taking ice-cold lager as my starting point, so upon approaching the bar I asked for some guidance in selecting my beer. To be honest there wasn't a lot on the menu to inspire me with much of what was on offer being from that Suffolk brewery of repute, Greene King, so after opining my penchant for pilsner I was steered deftly towards Kona's Long Board. Reasonably satisfied I took my half to a nearby table and settled down to observe my fellow drinkers just as two ladies in their twenties entered and went up to the bar asking for two halves of Stella. On this occasion however the response of the barman was rather different. Rather than introducing them to a beer that might give them something a little bit more taste than they were used to, he instead pointed to the chalked-up list of the wall and walked away saying "What we have is over there". As I downed my frankly lacklustre lager and got up to leave they were ordering a brandy and coke each. Surely an opportunity missed.

Rather dis-satisfied a brisk five minute walk down the North Hill soon found me outside The Victoria Inn, the current East Anglian CAMRA Pub Of The Year, my final destination of the day. 

Opening the door with a modicum of trepidation following my two previous encounters, I stepped inside and instantly felt a wave of relief sweep over me. I gave out a silent whoop of joy as I was delighted to find myself inside a real pub at last. 

The Victoria Inn is in no way pretentious. With its mix of wooden flooring and carpet, tables and chairs arranged for conversation not dining, and just the right amount of bar stalls to pull one up if conversation with one of the knowledgeable staff is what you desire but not so cluttered that getting served is like negotiating an obstacle course. In order approach the central bar and discover what beer is on offer you are drawn around and into the heart of the pub itself, the inner sanctum if you will, and you'll have found yourself having completed a full half circuit of the interior. This means you will probably have made a decision where you'll settle as you order your drink on the way through whether consciously or otherwise, and that's exactly the sort of thing that puts me at ease.

With no sign of either Sheena or Andy, I ordered a half before finding a seat near the bar. I was initially going to plump for Red Fox Brewery's excellent black IPA, Foxymoron (which Google just prompted me to remember I reviewed three years ago) before my eye was drawn to a pump clip bearing the intriguing words 'Test Brew #2'. Asking as to who brewed it, I was informed in an obviously tongue in cheek manner that I wasn't allowed to know, which immediately peaked my curiosity, however my barrage of further questions brought no satisfactory response.

Taking a seat, I pulled out my phone and tweeted where I was and that I was drinking a beer that I wasn't allowed to know about and within seconds heard a voice over my left shoulder enquire, "Beer East Anglia? Justin?" and as if by magic Andy and Sheena had appeared, introduced themselves, shook my hand and sat down opposite me. I immediately started asking about the beer I was drinking, what was it and where did it come from?  Andy replied quite matter of factly, "It's really is no secret, we are just trying to get the perfect Yorkshire style super pale/blonde ale brewed for us locally. We've been working with the Colchester Brewery to achieve this but we're not quite there yet. Nearly but not quite."

With their accents being the biggest clue, it's fairly obvious that Andy and Sheena (the landlord and landlady respectively, a partnership in every sense of the word) are most certainly not from Essex, and as I glanced around the bar their Yorkshire-ness suddenly came into focus. The crisps are from Yorkshire, as are the bottles of Henderson's Relish on the shelves behind the bar (which I had embarrassingly mistaken for Lea and Perrins), but it is the enthusiasm and pride that they speak of the beers of their home county that endears me to them straight away. These beers are obviously favourites and they have built a network of contacts stretching far and wide to enable them to get the very best of what Yorkshire has to offer on the bar for the delectation of their patrons.

They haven't always had it quite so easy however, and they are keen to impress upon me how hard they've work to get this far.

 When they took charge the Victoria Inn late in 2010 it was an unloved closed-up and shabby dive bar with avocado green walls, the kind of place that you would quickly pass by without a second glance, situated halfway between Colchester station and the town. It hadn't been loved by the locals and it's customers, who had mainly travelled there from a little further afield had gradually drifted away following the premature death of the previous landlady's daughter. Although it was in a bit of a state they saw it's potential, and though they weren't particularly looking for a tenancy in the area, they were looking for a pub to call their own but with no ties, particularly as Sheena had just freed herself from a bitter experience with Punch Taverns.

Realising that they really needed to get it up and running for Christmas that year, a crucial period if they wanted word to spread, they set about transforming a rather tired and dated bar into the kind of pub that they would want to drink in just a few short weeks, with the firm belief that if they liked it then others would too. In order to attract a wider clientele they installed a solitary hand pump for cask beer ask on a bar that previously had none, although the very first beer they had on was surprisingly from a Lancashire brewery, Thwaites 4.1% golden ale, Wainwright.

Slowly but surely the pub's reputation grew, helped especially by a local CAMRA member who was out searching for pubs to consider for Good Beer Guide inclusion, noticed that it had re-opened and out of curiosity peered through the window. Seeing the solitary hand pump they ventured inside to find out about the new tenants and began talking about beer, particularly 'real ale'. Soon enough the amount of cask beers increased until they numbered the five available today, one of which is always a dark ale, identifiable by it's black hand pump, and all of which are carefully chosen to bring something different to this part of Essex. These are often beers that you would be hard-pressed to find south of Birmingham, I sampled Tickety Brew's fantastic Coffee Anise Porter that afternoon, and as I mentioned before Andy and Sheena have built up a network of contacts, mainly dealing directly with the brewers themselves, with the beers being bought directly to them by various means, although it's not unheard of for them to do the fetching via the boot of their car.

Despite their success they aren't content to rest on their laurels and are always ready to try new things, but they are also not afraid to drop them if they don't work out. The Victoria Inn used to have a quiz night, for example, which initially attracted a reasonable crowd however after a few months interest had waned and now the quiz night is no more.

Today this three storey, Grade II listed seventeenth century building is exactly what they wanted it to be when they first took it over, a proper pub. They don't serve food, aside from pickled eggs, crisps, nuts and pork scratchings, as they believe a pub is a place for conversation, meeting old friends or a place of refuge if you want a bit of piece and quiet while you have a pint and read the paper. A friendly atmosphere pervades, and even though you may have found a quiet corner it might not be too long before you will find yourself engaged in conversation with one of the regulars or staff, and indeed many friendships have been formed in this pub sometimes by the unlikeliest of characters. There is music playing, but it is very much in the background and in fact I was sitting under a speaker for the two hours of so that I was there talking to Sheena and Andy and it didn't intrude on the conversation at all. Live music is very much a feature too, and on a Sunday evening you will nearly always find a jazz, blues or country band or performer playing in the corner, many of whom are return visitors, not only from the UK but from Europe as well.

Although this was my first visit to The Victoria Inn it already has it's own review on the Beer East Anglia website that I am involved with, which was written by my co-conspirator and someone who certainly knows a good pub when he sees one, Ed. Our alternative beer guide has quite specific criteria for inclusion in case you weren't already aware, which includes a cask ale from a local brewery, knowledgeable staff with a passion for beer and either a 'craft' keg beer or a good selection of bottled beer, although preferably both. You will have already gathered that the cask beer is of the highest quality from the CAMRA accolades it has achieved, but in addition to this there is always a good and interesting keg beer available, as well a selection of bottled beer for the discerning. Burning Sky Brewery's strong pale ale, Aurora was featuring on keg on my visit whilst the bottles included those from Founders and Anchor from the US and Westmalle and Bink from Belgium amongst others, as well as bottles from new and up-and-coming British breweries.

There is plenty here to tempt any drinker who wants something a little different and if beer isn't your thing then you might be persuaded by a glass of real cider or perry, they keep around nine different ones, or perhaps a spirit or two, poured from their small but perfect range of whiskies, gins and vodkas. I was treated to a shot of Anchor brewery's Hophead Hop Vodka, pungent and delicious it's every hop-cases dream, and I am reliably informed that it's addition to a hoppy pale ale instantly turns it into an Imperial version of itself, although I declined the offer of finding out on this occasion. Maybe next time.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the beer festival that features annually as these always have a theme, and normally take place over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend in late May or early June and features around thirty different beers. In addition to this they also had a festival for local home brewers, which was difficult to arrange due to duty considerations, although after seeking legal advice they came up with an excellent solution, and they hope to run another this year. I am told that the quality of beer on sale was quite staggering and I'll certainly be looking out for announcements of both of these.

The festivals take place in the beer garden, which is a prime example of the pub's evolution. When the regulars said that they would like some furniture on the patio area, Andy and Sheena agreed on condition that they drank enough beer to finance it. This they did and it is now a comfortable and pleasant place to sit outside and have a drink. There is even a bar within a bar as the covered building at the rear has a feature wall based on a pub of the 1970s. I first encountered pubs in that decade (I was born in 1970) and many of the fixtures and images took me back to places I had long forgotten.

All too soon it was time for me to leave, and whilst I would have loved to have stayed all evening other commitments dragged me away. I had a truly wonderful time at the Victoria Inn and Andy and Sheena could not have been better hosts. It takes me about an hour by car or an hour and a half with the walk to the train station and the journey time from where I live in Essex, but it's a journey that I will certainly be doing again in the very near future. Even though I have some very good pubs in the local vicinity I would travel a long way for the hospitality, friendliness and beer range of the Victoria Inn, and if you are a local then I envy you. It is a pub that has evolved and prospered through the love and hard work of the landlord, landlady and patrons, and this passion and care seems almost tangible in the very air itself. If you asked me what the best pub was in Essex currently then I would probably answer that this was it.

                                                ___________________________________

The Victoria Inn is at:
10 North Station Road, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1RB
Telephone: 01206 514510
You can email them at: victoria.inn10@gmail.com and their website address is: www.victoriainncolchester.co.uk
They can also be found on twitter at: @victoriainncol and Facebook at: Victoria Inn Colchester
It really is a fantastic pub to visit and I'd recommend that you do so if you get the chance. They do have a jukebox, a forty thousand track Wurlitzer-style one, but no Sky TV, and there is a rather cool genuinely vintage Atari games console standing upright in one corner which might catch your eye as it did mine. As you have read The Victoria Inn is much, much more than your average street corner boozer. I can't wait to go back, so maybe I'll see you in there.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Wee Beastie Collection: Harviestoun Thistly Cross Mash Up


Wee Beastie Collection:
Harviestoun Thistly Cross Mash Up

It's time for another look at what's new from the Harviestoun Wee Beastie Collection and this is one that might raise a few eyebrows. As before, I will be linking up with Mark and Steve from the Beer O'Clock Show who will be releasing another special Wee Beastie Podcast to coincide with this post, with neither of us having any idea of what each of us thought of the beers.

The reason this particular release might cause some to think twice before trying a glass of, what I'm sure you'll agree, are three very intriguing beers is twofold. Firstly, as some of you may be aware, Thistly Cross are an award-winning Scottish cider producer, and collaborations between brewers and cider makers are few and far between. Secondly these are strong beers. At around the 11% abv mark these are not beers to be drunk by the gallon, in fact, as with all of the small batch Wee Beastie Collection I have reviewed to date, these are made to be savoured and their flavours explored.

Just before you dismiss the idea as some sort of bizarre beer/cider blend you should be aware that isn't actually any cider in the beer itself. In order to produce a different kind of beer with its own unique character, Harviestoun have brewed an amped-up version of their popular Bitter And Twisted golden ale, one with the volume very definitely turned up to eleven. This was then aged in Thistly Cross cider barrels, which they had previously used to age their own cider primed with Champagne yeast, for six months. Unintentionally and inadvertently a strain of brettanomyces, a yeast that produces large amounts of acetic acid and causes souring, was present in the barrels. This is the wild yeast that is responsible for the sour and tart, although very different, flavour profiles of the Belgian Lambic, Geuze, Oud Bruin and Flanders Red styles, so rather than discard the beer, Harviestoun in their wisdom have decided to present it to us fortunate drinkers.

Not content with that however, a further two batches are available, one matured with Scottish raspberries and the other conditioned with plums. When it comes to tasting these I will be looking out for the presence of the base beer, any taste of barrel-aged cider, as well as any intriguing flavours that the various yeast strains have contributed. I'm rather looking forward to this.

To get a fair representation of the beer itself, I'm going to be starting with what my bottle says is 'The Original', coming in at a whopping 11% abv. I can't remember if I've ever had a golden ale up around this kind of strength before so I'm already keen to get this baby open. It pours a rather uninteresting hazy orange with no head to speak of, which is unsurprising considering its high alcohol content, but the aroma is making me strangely excited as I bring it to my lips. You can tell straight away that this beer has been barrel aged, that characteristic woody-vanilla twang sits right at the top of the nose, but there is also an intriguing apricot and tangerine citrus aroma lurking just underneath, deep, sweet and juicy, that really makes me want to drink it. It's a little harsh over the tongue, and you can certainly feel the alcohol as it lays down a palate coating oily varnish followed immediately by a slightly warm drying quality that I'm attributing to the brettanomyces despite the fact that it wasn't overly prominent on the nose. There's some white pepper heat in the taste and this carried throughout giving the beer a rather unusual, but not unpleasant, savoury edge. After this has faded a little a rich orange syrup flavour emerges, but before I can decide whether or not I like this contrast, which strangely rather reminds me of strawberries with black pepper in the finish, it dries out almost entirely. What is left is reminiscent of the flavour of an orange fruit jelly sweet, a touch sugary and oily but a little juicy too. This is exactly the kind of beer I wanted from the Wee Beastie Collection as it completely different from the previous two I reviewed, but still remarkably complex, and full of taste rather than homogeneous and uninteresting. It won't suit everyone's palate, and I'm still not really sure if it works or not, but it's a beer I want to experience again just to make sure.

After getting this particular release off to a cracking start, I'm moving on to the raspberry matured version which, so my bottle tells me, is a marginally lower 10.5% abv. This also has an orange hue but with a distinctly redder tinge to it, and produces a white fizzy head as well, although this quickly dissipates. The initial aroma is sweetly scented with raspberries, but oddly it doesn't appear to be natural even though I know it is. There's a veneer of alcohol present too, and this is resting gently on top of the muted fruity aroma that I found in the previous beer. This is punchier and tarter than before with a bitter edge but still with that warming dryness that the alcohol is contributing. This is certainly a sour beer but not mouth puckeringly so, rather it has an oily sticky sweetness to it and just a dash of white pepper before the raspberries come through heroically late to remind you what this beer is all about. The finish falls away quickly but leaves behind a twist of black pepper and the ghost of fresh raspberry in it's wake. This is most definitely not a Belgian 'framboise/frambosen' sour beer, the alcohol is far too apparent as is the woodiness from the barrels it was aged in, this is something quite different, something that I've never experienced before and I rather like it.

The third and last of the three is rather interestingly matured with plums and also checks in at the 10.5% abv mark. Pouring a pleasing deep plum red with a good level of carbonation that settles down to a thin off-white head, this has the distinct aroma of just over-ripe plum juice, tart and juicy with a little nudge of alcohol to remind you that this is a beer not to be trifled with. Big and brash, this paints the tongue with a highly concentrated layer of plum, thick and heavy, before planting a glob of fermented birch sap slap bang in the middle of your palate which has a bitter acidity that is unnervingly jarring. There is a fusel alcohol heat in the mix too, which makes me wonder if one or more of the different yeasts present on the plums, in the barrel, the cider or indeed the beer itself has reacted adversely with the fermentation temperature, or maybe it's the combination of all these different yeast strains themselves, but thankfully this blows of rather quickly. What it leaves behind is more blackcurrant that plum, full, tart and rounded, and it's this juicy sweetness, which I can only compare to barely diluted Ribena, that lasts long into the finish. This is a strange beer indeed, the label and aroma interested me greatly but I'm afraid the actual body was a bit too messy and heavy for me to really appreciate it. I think understand what Harviestoun were trying to achieve with this here, but I just don't think they've got it quite right on this occasion.

For three beers with the same base, these have turned out very differently indeed. If I had to pick just one it would have to be the raspberry matured offering however, if you'd like a second opinion then why not head over to the Beer O'Clock Show website and listen to their podcast, or download it from iTunes and tune in at your leisure. If you'd like the chance to experience these beers for yourselves, talk to the people that make them, or just chat about beer with the guys from the Beer O'Clock Show and myself, then why not buy a ticket to the Wee Beastie Collection event at The Elgin in London on the 19th of March. We hope to see you there.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Beer In Essex: Billericay Brewing: Looking To The Future


Beer In Essex
Billericay Brewing: Looking To The Future

I don't like working on a Saturday, but as I'm contractually obliged to do so I can't really avoid it, but fortunately it's a short day and it's not long before I'm locking the door behind me and wishing my colleagues a good weekend before hoisting my bag over my shoulder and setting off up the high street. Turning left before I get to Waitrose, I follow the road round to Chapel Street and enter the shop-cum-micropub next door to Billericay Brewing and find Trevor clearing the glasses from one of the tables as four satisfied drinkers say their goodbyes. He looks up as I walk towards the counter and smiles, "Hello," he says, "would you like a beer?".

I first met Trevor Jeffrey, the owner and brewer of Billericay Brewing in the December of 2012, although I had been following his progress since the website went live earlier that year. He had just received the first batch of bottles of his inaugural beer, Mayflower Gold, and he invited me into his home to open a few of them as we talked about and tasted it. This had been brewed with the help of the Pitfield/Dominion brewer, Canadian Andy Skene at his brewery near Moreton in Essex, as Trevor was, at this point, a brewer without a brewery. By the time I came to write up my impressions of the beer however he had found some premises and although it would be another year or so before he was actually brewing on site, Billericay Brewing was well and truly in business.

Even though it was called the home of Billericay Brewing from the outset, in truth it was little more than the home of the Essex Beer Shop, with Trevor selling bottled beers from all over the county as well as some from London and Belgium, and there were mutterings that it wasn't really a brewery as there was no equipment and no brewing going on there. This of course all changed when the kit finally arrived and in March 2014 brewing finally got under way.

It would be fair to say that it hasn't been all plain sailing. There were teething problems as you might expect with early bottles having some problems with their seals and the beer being overly yeasty, but Trevor has listened to the feedback and his brewing has improved, so that over the last few months his beers have become fully rounded, clean tasting and full of flavour. As a consequence of this they are selling almost as quickly as he is brewing them, and for the few hours that I was there a steady stream of customers were bottles and sampling the beer directly from the casks that he has on stillage in the micropub and shop he opened next door to the brewery in December last year.

To date he has brewed a total of nine beers:
Mayflower Gold a US-influenced Pale Ale with spicy citrus notes.
A Mild With No Name, full of dark coffee and roast meat juice caramel notes.
Billericay Dickie, a light amber ale brewed with a nod to the Ian Dury and the Blockheads song of the same name, and the first beer exclusively brewed at the Chapel Street brewery.
Billericay Blonde, a golden ale with grapefruit and marmalade flavours that leap out of the glass.
Chapel Street Porter, with hints of chocolate and a little smokiness.
Billericay Zeppelin, originally called Dead Zeppelin, an easy drinking amber ale with a good caramel and biscuity malt character.
Festival Beer, a golden ale brewed for Billericay's Summerfest in 2014.
Rhythm Stick, the second of the 'Ian Dury' series, and the beer I'm drinking as I write this part of the post,
Mild Bill, a mild ale brewed with extra chocolate malt giving it a lovely rounded flavour.

Having done all this when just under a year ago he didn't have a fully working kit is rather impressive, but as Trevor gets up to serve some more thirsty customers I turn over the page of my notebook and write the heading, 'So what's next?' When he returns to the table after a minute or so I put this question to him.
"I thought you might ask me that," he answers, "and I've jotted a few things down. I'll just go and get it."

He has already told me that he has what he will be calling the 'Mayflower 2015' in the fermenter. This is a slightly amped-up version of the Mayflower Gold that will settle out at around the 7-7.5% abv mark, and he hopes to make an annual beer. Brewed with Pilgrim and Willamette, this version will be dry-hopped with Cascade, the first time that he has dry-hopped any beer, and he also plans to use a different hop for this in successive editions, in a similar vein to Duvel's annual Tripel Hop. This should be available around the end of March, and I will be making a special trip to the brewery to see how this comes out.

When Trevor comes back he is brandishing a piece of paper full of ideas and hastily scribbled musings, and considering what I have written about Essex beer recently and how, let's say safe, he current beer range is, there is much in there that lifts my spirits. I won't go into too much detail now but what you might expect to see from his small 4.5 BBL plant but I will give you a sneak peak into what he is planning.

First up is a US-hopped Spring ale, Norsey Gold, which will be almost immediately followed by a dry-hopped ESB, Clever Trevor, nicely dovetailing the 'Ian Dury Series' and the name of the brewer himself. Also in the pipeline is a lighter smoked beer, possibly using malt smoked at the local Hanningfield Smokehouse and locally grown malt and hops, as well as a Black IPA. Modestly prevents me from saying who suggested the latter beer, and who might be brewing it, but hopefully it's one that can be sorted out in the not-too-distant future if Trevor and I can get our heads together. In addition to this you'll be wanting to look out for Christmas Blockhead, around December, a festive barley-wine, but maybe I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here.

The conversation flows and so does the beer, and all too soon it's time for me to leave. For a man who appears to be quite unassuming when you meet him he becomes passionate and alive when he talks about his beer and it's obvious that it's something he cares deeply about. My job is taking me away from Billericay, and I'll miss being able to drop in on Trevor on a whim for a swift half and a chat. I will be back from time to time to see what he is up to, and I'm wish him well. He always welcomes visitors, particularly if they have a love of beer so why not call in and see him if you're passing, or make a special trip if you're not. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

                                                       _____________________

The Billericay Brewing Company can be found at 54 Chapel Street, Billericay, Essex, and the Essex Beer Shop and Micropub next door are open every day except Monday. Opening times vary, and may be extended soon, so you might want to check out the websitetwitter or Facebook for more information. Alternatively you can ring on: 01277 500121 particularly if you want to order some beer or participate in one of the 'Brewer For A Day' experiences on offer. Maybe I'll see you there.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

An Introduction To Beer In Essex


An Introduction To Beer In Essex 

The beer landscape of Essex is a complex one. Pulled in different directions, fiercely proud but sometimes easily led, the history of brewing and drinking in the county is long and often turbulent. Cheek by jowl with London to the South West, at its Northern edge it looks expectantly towards Cambridge to the West and Ipswich to the East, whilst the Eastern coastline has been viewed hungrily by invaders and traders from the Low Countries.

The county town, Chelmsford, granted city status as recently as 2012 and still its only city was once home to more than seven breweries with the largest, Gray and Sons (Chelmsford) Ltd still owning 50 public houses and involved in beer distribution although sadly no longer brewing. Colchester to the East, known by the Romans as Camulodunum, has a claim to being Britain's oldest town as the first known reference to any settlement in the country appears in Pliny the Elder's (someone who has a much sought after beer named after him) Historia Naturalis in 77 AD. The Roman civilisation's love for wine is well known, however there is much evidence that they also brewed beer, and even though there is a possibility that they brewed beer in Essex this is pure speculation.

Essex is a predominantly rural county, with much of the land given over to agriculture, with wheat, barley and turnips being the major crops, and much of the wealth of local parishes was derived from wool trade and weaving. There are records of hop growing in the county as far back as the mid-sixteenth century, and this rose steadily with hops being cultivated in isolated areas although this was not unique to Essex as by 1700 there were twenty-five counties in England and Wales growing them for brewing.

With the coming of the industrial revolution Essex was well placed to provide for the growing population in the capital and the outlying areas, and whilst industry itself did come to the county this was mainly limited to the South, particularly along the Thames. This increased populace also required beer and lots of it, facilitating the establishment of bigger breweries more able to service this need rather than the local brewpubs, or more accurately inns with an attached brewery, and as a consequence the acreage given over to hops expanded too. In fact, there were just under 650 acres of hops being cultivated in the county by the late-eighteenth century, although this was pinnacle of growth as by 1834 there were only 207 acres turned over to them as Kent to the South, with a climate more suitable to production, became established as the main provider for the large breweries in London.

The original boundary of the county was much larger than it is today, with its South Western corner reaching along the Thames right up to the City of London and the county of Middlesex, an area now referred to as East London, including other areas incorporated into Greater London with it's establishment in 1965. This swallowed up the towns of Barking, Dagenham, Ilford, Chingford, Woodford and Romford, and it is the latter of these in which was the largest brewery the county has known was founded, one which would leave a legacy of beer that continues into the present day.

In 1708, the Star Inn and brewery was established in South Street, Romford close to the River Rom by Mr George Cardon. It wasn't until 1799 however, when this moderately successful establishment was purchased by a Mr Edward Ind with a Mr Grosvenor, that it's would really become a place of some significance in the history of brewing, not just that of Essex but the whole country too. Seventeen years into their partnership Mr John Smith took Mr Grosvenor's place, but soon after he left to form his own brewery in west London with a Mr Fuller, taking with him the Star's Head Brewer, a certain Mr Turner.

 The Eastern Counties Railway built its station close to the brewery in 1839, and this was to prove significant in the growth of the Romford brewery, and certainly influenced the decision of Mr C. E. Coope to join the firm in 1845 with its name changing to Inde, Coope and Company, shortly afterwards. The access to the railway network enabled the brewery to expand quickly and the beer was soon distributed throughout throughout the county, with a wagon hoist being built from the brewery's own railway sidings in 1853, although this was soon replaced by an incline, finally culminating in the purchase of a steam locomotive in 1872.

So successful was the brewery that Ind Coope Limited, as it was by this time, had already bought a half built brewery (in 1856) in Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire, adjacent to that of Messrs. Allsopp and Sons Limited, just as it became the centre of brewing in England and arguably the world, due to the properties of the local water.

The late nineteenth century saw the company at the height of it's powers, but by 1910 it had got into financial difficulties, before merging with its close rivals, Samuel Allsop and Sons Ltd, in 1934. The Romford site still continued in production although its emphasis had shifted and a new bottling plant was built on the old cask storage area in 1961, the year it became part of Allied Breweries. The final change of name was in 1980 when a new company was formed, and the Romford Brewery Company was slowly wound down, switching to keg-only production, which included such brands as Skol, Lowenbrau and John Bull Bitter, before it was finally closed in 1992. The site is now part of The Brewery shopping centre, with only the old tasting room and one of the coppers, (as well as the name) left to ever show it was there.

At one point nearly every major town, and even some of the smaller ones, had their own brewery, or indeed a place of brewing of some size or another up until as least the early twentieth century, although it was the bigger breweries that managed to survive the longest before they were bought by larger concerns and closed, or closed of their own accord with the national breweries struggle for dominance in the middle of the twentieth century. Signs of these breweries can still be found if you know where to look, for example The Brewery Tap pub where I live in Brentwood was once the actual brewery tap of Fielder's Brewery before it closed in 1923.


 The other brewery of significance in the history of beer is Essex is that of T.D. Ridley and Sons, which established in 1842 in Hartford End, 8 miles North of Chelmsford, by the descendants of Nicholas Ridley, an outspoken Protestant Bishop and one of the Oxford Martyrs who were burnt at the stake as part of the persecution of Anglicans under Mary I. The brewery had a considerable presence in the county, they were known as 'The Essex Brewer', with beers such as Bishops Ale, Old Bob and latterly, Rumpus, being regular fixtures in pubs throughout Essex and further afield. Originally started of the site of an old watermill, by the 1970s it had an estate of around 65 tied houses, and this inevitably caught the eye of larger breweries, most notably that of Greene King across the county border in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk as they sought to establish a strong foothold up and down the country. In August 2005, it bought the brewery and the site with the full co-operation of the Chairman, another Nicholas Ridley, who gained the position of Executive Chairman of Greene King, and despite initial assurances that it would continue to brew, production soon ceased and the brewery was dismantled. This isn't quite the end of the story however as in 2011, Nelion Ridley, the son of the last Chairman, set up his own brewery, Bishop Nick, just outside nearby Braintree (the Ridley name is still owned by Greene King) and so the legacy continues.

The oldest brewery that is still brewing in the county was, it may surprise you to know, was founded as recently as 1981. Crouch Vale Brewery was set up by two beer enthusiasts, Colin Bocking and Rob Walster, in South Woodham Ferrers, and takes its name from the nearby River Crouch. With a capacity of around 5000 barrels per annum, they rose to national prominence when Brewers Gold, their flagship ale accounting for just over half of their production, won the title of CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain in both 2005 and 2006. They have four regular beers alongside this; Blackwater Mild, Essex Boys Bitter, Yakima Gold and Amarillo, as well as the occasional short runs and seasonals, many of which are hopped with single varieties. Their beers are widely available in Essex and the outlying counties and their bottles are carried in some major supermarkets.

Another winner of CAMRA's Champion Beer Of Britain can also be found in Essex. When Mighty Oak won the accolade in 2011 with Oscar Wilde Mild it was the first time that a Mild Ale had won the competition, and put a strain of the the small brewery, originally formed on an industrial estate in Brentwood before moving to Maldon, with demand far exceeding supply. It is still a popular beer and is a regular guest in many of the county's pubs, and often sells out quickly at local beer festivals.

There are currently 29 breweries in Essex. They are: Billericay Brewing, Bishop Nick, Brentwood, Brightlingsea, Colchester, Crouch Vale, Deverell's, Dominion/Pitfield, Famous Railway Tavern, Felstar, Georges/Hop Monster, Hart Of Stebbing, Harwich Town, Highwood (Can Do Beers), Hope, Indian Summer, Maldon (Farmers), Mersea Island, Mighty Oak, Mr Majolica's, Nethergate, Red Fox, Round Tower, Saffron, Shalford, Sticklegs, Vens, Wibblers, and Witham. All of which are dedicated to the production of cask, or real ale if you prefer, and the counties pubs are very much dominated by this method of dispense, although there are signs that things are beginning to change.

Wibblers Brewery for example have a craft keg lager, Odyssey, brewed with East Anglian malt and Czech hops, and properly lagered for 4 to 6 weeks (and bottled as Essex Blonde), and have recently developed Dengie IPA exclusively to be sold as a keg beer, and these have been picked up by a few outlets locally to much acclaim. They have also bottled two stronger beers, Wobbly Croc a barley wine, and Wobbly Mouse, both at 12% abv and in very limited supply, as well a Dengie Sour, a beer brewed in the Lambic style.

This trend of discovery and experimentation, influenced in part by what is happening in London currently, is starting to spread to some other breweries in Essex, and having taken the time to talk to a couple of the brewers in the county about what they are planning for 2015 and beyond I have quite a degree of optimism and excitement about what will be available in the not too distant future.

All change, however small, is resisted however. The regions CAMRA magazines (of which there are three) are full of splutter and outrage when mentioning the likes of BrewDog, with Tap room describing Meantime's recent Thames Hop IPA brewed with hops grown on the banks of the Thames as 'a fizzy bottled beer'. Andy Skene of the Dominion/Pitfield Brewery has noted that whilst he can sell his unfined beer in London, there is a huge resistance to it from Essex pubs, and in a recent conversation with Trevor Jeffrey from Billericay Brewing he admitted his frustration at pubs not wanting dark beers and only asking for his lighter brews, despite his darker ones selling out quickly at beer festivals. In fact it was the dis-enchantment comments and attitudes such as these, as well as the standard of local beer that was available to me that prompted me to write and publish An Open Letter To Essex Brewers And Breweries back in January of this year, although I now realise this is as much, if not mainly down to the pubs in the county rather than the brewers themselves.

This isn't to say that all pubs in the county are the same, and although it might be a little self-aggrandising, this was the main reason that Ed Razzall and I started Beer East Anglia (which will be expanding soon), enabling us to highlight and celebrate those pubs that are daring to think differently.

Over the next year I plan to champion Essex beer, Essex breweries, Essex brewers, Essex pubs and maybe even Essex drinkers, talking to those involved and reviewing what is happening in the county right now. I am proud to say that I am from Essex, I was born in Barking and currently live in Brentwood, and this is despite the frivolous and ridiculous way the county is portrayed on television and in the national press, although I will admit that much of this is self inflicted. I hope that you will come with me on my journey, or at least look in from time to time, and hopefully you will get a better idea of what beer in Essex is really all about.
                                               _______________________________________

Sources, Bibliography and Further Reading:
The Romance Of Essex Inns: Glyn H Morgan, Essex Brewers: Ian P Peaty, A Pub Crawl Around Essex: Graham Dover, Titbits And Tales Of Essex Inns: Mavis Sipple, History Through Essex Public House Signs: Keith Lovell, Hidden Inns Of East Anglia (2002 and 2005), Alka-Seltzer Guide To The Pubs Of Essex, The CAMRA Regional Inventory For East Anglia, Real Ale in Essex (1977), Real Ale In Essex 79/80, 8th Essex Beer Guide, 9th Essex Beer Guide, CAMRA's Good Beer Guide 2015, plus various Essex brewery websites.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Wee Beastie Is Loose !


Wee Beastie Is Loose !


Those of you who were fortunate enough to attend the recent Craft Beer Rising festival at the Old Truman Brewery in London's Brick Lane may have noticed a bit of a buzz around the Harviestoun Brewery stand as they officially launched their Wee Beastie Collection. They had a range of beers available over the weekend, and on the Thursday afternoon when I was there were the  juicy US-hop stuffed Turnpike IPA, and 'Raspy' Engine, their Old Engine Oil Engineers Reserve steeped in Scottish raspberries were going down a storm. If you got to try either of them then you'll already know what a treat they are, and this is just the beginning.

Harviestoun Brewery began life on a farm in Dollar Glen in the east of Scotland in 1986. Ken Brooker, a former wooden prototype model builder for the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham whose change of position, investigating warranty claims, had forced him to move north of the border. A keen home brewer, Ken had been hosting regular tasting sessions of his beers for a few years, and it was the success of these that prompted him to change career direction completely and start a brewery.

Initially there was only one beer, Harviestoun Real Ale, but as word spread and demand increased so its portfolio grew to include amongst others, the award winning Schiehallion lager which was first brewed in 1994.

Head brewer Stuart Cail joined Harviestoun from Vaux in 1995, and the introduction of beers such as Bitter and Twisted and Old Engine Oil really put the brewery on the map, so much so that the a change of premises was needed and in 2004 Haviestoun moved to its present location.

It was the arrival of the Ola Dubh core range, Old Engine Oil aged for six months in barrels that previously housed Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky for 12, 16, and 18 years respectively, which caused the biggest stir when it was released in 2007. Rich and complex these are beers to be sipped, savoured, explored and enjoyed, and these have been joined with limited editions drawn from 30 and 40 year old barrels, as well as a batch from Highland Park casks from 1991.

The Wee Beastie Collection is Harviestoun's next adventure in beer experimentation, and one you really won't want to miss. Consisting of a series of exciting small batch cask conditioned beer releases issued at irregular intervals, although a small number of bottles may be available, the brewery plans to take your taste buds to new levels of enjoyment.

I have been lucky enough to be asked to write a few words about the beers, and in conjunction with The Beer O'Clock Show who are doing their own exclusive Wee Beastie podcast, I will be sampling some cheeky sneak previews of what's going to be coming our way.

First up is a 9.0% Barley Wine that has been lovingly decanted from the cask for my delectation. Pouring the colour of burnished bronze with a thin but beautifully creamy off-white head with the aroma of a stewed apple and sultana crumble with a helping of double cream leading to some lighter citrus peel notes, this is a very inviting beer. Quite light over the tongue and with a good prickle of carbonation it initially hits you full on with some big bread pudding flavours with lots of cakey maltiness, and raisins and sultanas too. This mellows quite nicely as it warms with some tangerine and melon flavours taking you into a smooth finish with some hints of toffee and candied peel but no notion of its condsiderable alcohol content. This is a deliciously drinkable beer, in fact it's astonishingly good, full of flavour and so intriguingly complex that it led me down a different avenue when I thought I had it pegged. I couldn't have asked for more than that.

The Old Engine Oil Engineers Reserve is normally produced in 9.0% bottles for the US market, but this has been ramped up to 10.5% for its UK Wee Beastie release. This pours such a deep dark brown that you would almost say it was black, topped with a thin beige head and a seriously heady aroma of rich boozy chocolate you realise quite quickly that this is a beer not to be taken taken lightly. There are some background liquorice and dark fruit notes but its the dark alcoholic chocolate that demands all of your attention. Slick and thick, there is the merest fleeting sensation of carbonation but the bitter chocolate and a supporting toasty flavours let out a deep throaty roar as they hit your tongue. This builds and bursts in the mouth leaving a wonderful chocolate coating behind, slightly bitter and with a touch of black cherry and plum, although this is buried quite deeply and tails off rather sharply into a slightly oily finish. This is a big beer, big in alcohol and big in flavour, and even if it is very much all up front I was rather grateful that the finish wasn't quite so complex as it gave me a brief respite from its full on chocolate attack.

I absolutely love both these beers but of course you don't have to take my word for it, so why not head over to the Beer O'Clock Show website using this link to find out what they thought about them too. I should as a matter of course disclose that these beers were sent to me by Harviestoun to review, and I will be highlighting much more from their Wee Beastie Collection as the year progresses. I very much hope that will join me on this journey and get to taste these exceptionally good beers when you find them. I'd love to here your point of view, and I'm sure the brewery would too, although if your having trouble finding them they are hosting an event in London on the 19th March where you may get the opportunity to do so, or possibly one or two surprises. Come along and find out.


Sunday, 8 February 2015

The First Essex Bottle Share


The First Essex Bottle Share


It was cold and my bus was late. Stamping impatiently on the ground I peered up the high street, straining to spot the illuminated number on the bus coming towards me out of the darkness. Thankfully it was the bus I wanted and I got on, paid the driver and found a vacant double seat, placing my bag with its precious and delicately wrapped contents carefully beside me.

The cargo in question was a bottle. Nothing remarkable in that you may think, but this was the first time that this bottle had travelled more than a couple of yards for nearly six years. I was undecided as to whether or not to set my bag on the floor instead, running through the possible scenarios as to the likely outcome if the bus were to brake suddenly I settled on a loose half-cradling grip and let me gaze drift out of the window as I thought about what the evening ahead would bring. I imagined other soles travelling to the venue for the nights meeting full of anticipation, each with their own bottle, braving the wintry weather heading towards an event that none of us had experienced before, for tonight, on a freezing Tuesday in February we were all making our way to the Ale House in Chelmsford for the first Essex Bottle Share.

The traffic was light, unusually so, and I arrived at the bus station in good time and gingerly weaved my way between the throbbing diesel-choked behemoths before making my way into the the pub. Walking past the bar I noted that a large table had been set aside for us and in fact two of my companions for evening, Steve and Martin, were already sat there with pints in front of them and chatting in a faintly conspiratorial way. Shaking each by the hand and setting down my bag on the bench opposite them I went and bought myself a drink before making myself comfortable. It was going to be a long night.

Gradually more people arrived, Tom, Clayton, Ed, Shaun and Rob, and with each arrival another bottle, and sometimes two, was added to the growing collection on the table. The conversation started to flow as did the pre-meeting drinks, with introductions being made, faces being put to to names on twitter and bottles were examined provoking speculation at what they would reveal.

Drinks were hastily finished as we collectively decided to get started on the job in hand. Two trays of eight glasses, half containing water, had seemingly magically appeared on the table matching our number, and from the depths of his bag Clayton produced a sheet for tasting notes for us to write down our thoughts on the beers. None of us knew in advance the number who be seated around the table that night, but with eight chairs, eight glasses and eight spaces on the sheet of tasting notes it seemed almost pre-ordained.

We settled on a rough order of opening with the Jehanne, Thornbridge's 7.4% Biere de Garde that Shaun had brought opening the proceedings. This had a good level of carbonation but was felt to be too sweet by many of us and comparisons were made to Belgian brown ales as well as Belgian dubbels. 

Rinsing our glasses, the next beer was the first of a trio of Stone beers, the Stochasticity Project Master Of Disguise at 9.7% brought by Clayton, proclaiming itself to be an Imperial Golden Stout brewed with cocoa and coffee beans. It was a beer that I had drunk just a few days before, one that Ed stated was a physical impossibility and this was proven to be the case as it tasted more like a coffee IPA than anything else, a slightly oily finish the only real clue as to what the brewers were trying to achieve.

We needed something to excite our palates and Rob came to the rescue with a bottle of Toccalmatto's 6.6% Zona Cesarini, an IPA bursting with apricots, papaya and pineapple with a dry finish, and our glasses were quickly drained ready for the next beer.

Steve had brought along a couple of bottle of the Buxton/Arizona Wilderness collaboration Dragon Tips. This was much anticipated by those assembled, an 8.9% maple, bacon and chipotle stout, and describing itself as dry bacon'd rather than dry hopped. Despite some smokiness in both aroma and taste, and chipotle flavour, but not heat, this was a beer that couldn't really decide what it wanted to be. We couldn't really pick out much of any of each element save a little soy sauce. which made us wonder what they were doing there in the first place. So, slightly disappointed, we moved on to something we all knew to be a very sure bet.Cantillon's Rose De Gambrinus (5.0%) is a simply sublime beer. a raspberry lambic of subtlety and grace. Martin had brought this beer, and it was one that he had been wanting to open for some time. It wasn't greeted with joy and smiles by everybody however, proving too sour and tart for some palates, so while we sipped on this and with three bottles left we took a break and reflected on the beers that we had already tasted.The first of the 'home straight' trio was was Stone's 5.9% Chocolate and Orange Smoked Porter from Tom. Underwhelming and, according to my notes, bitterly disappointing this exhibited none of the qualities you would expect from its name it was possibly the worst beer that I have ever had from Stone, not bad just bland.

Ed had brought along a bottle without a label which caused much discussion when it was first produced but was confirmed as the Imperial version of Tap East's Coffee In The Morning after a brief consultation with the brewer. James Wilson is no longer at Tap East but he had brought it to Ed's pub, The Swan in Stratford St Mary, when he had visited towards the end of last summer and this 8.6% rarity had sat in the cellar waiting for its time to shine. It had a lovely mellow coffee flavour, a good alcohol kick and a nice fruity finish, it was simply delightful.

The last beer of the bottle share was the one I had bought, one I had kept for a special moment and its time had now come. This was Stone's Imperial Russian Stout Limited 2009 Release, at 10.5% the strongest of the evening. It flowed into the glass with the consistency of thick engine oil and the aroma of dark chocolate, raisins and Pedro Ximenez sherry. The taste was like the smoothest chocolate imaginable with hints of raisin and vanilla and an astoundingly long finish. I was relieved that it had aged so well, in fact it had aged outrageously well, and I was pleased to be able to share it in such company.

As the last of the stout was drained from the glasses the bottle share was officially over but we were in no mood to finish the evening. Thankfully the Ale House has an excellent beer range on both cask and keg as well as a good selection of bottles so we carried on drinking, talking and generally putting the world to rights until I glanced at my watch and realised somewhat reluctantly that it was time to go home.

I caught my train and walked back from the station in high spirits. Whether this was the effect of the alcohol or the cold February air I wasn't quite sure, however what I was absolutely sure of was that I would be back next month to do it all over again. The first Essex Bottle Share had been a fantastic evening, a happy band of drinkers united in a love of beer, enjoying each others company, indulging in a shared passion. March can't come soon enough.

                                                          _____________________

If you live in Essex and would like to be part of the next Essex Bottle Share then you would be more than welcome. Our next session is on Tuesday 3rd March for a 7.00pm start at the Ale House in Chelmsford and every first Tuesday of the month thereafter. We have our own website which contains some general information and you can find us on twitter at @SXbottleshare 

The Essex bottle share is owned by its participants and we have no need for hierarchy or snobbishness, just a love of good beer and a willingness to join in and have a good time in the process. If you think that this is something that you'd like to be part of then please don't hesitate to let us know, we would be more than happy to see you next time.

I'd like to thank Steve and Clayton for organising the venue, everyone at the Ale House for being so kind and putting up with us, and thank you again to Clayton for sorting out the tasting note sheets and designing the logo. Great job guys, see you at the next one!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

An Open Letter To Essex Brewers And Breweries


An Open Letter To Essex Brewers and Breweries

Dear Essex brewers and breweries,

I hope that this letter finds you well and in good spirits, looking forward to the challenges of a new year. I am a great admirer of your beer, and please believe me when I say that as I do not wish to appear patronising or arrogant in what I have to say, merely open and honest as someone who cares about what you produce and how hard you work.

There are at last count, some thirty breweries operating within the borders of this fair county of ours, all of which are less than thirty-five years old and many of those less than ten. When the majority of these were founded the world of beer was a very different place indeed, in fact one could say almost a world away from where we are now. Good beer in the county, that which you could actually taste or get excited about was exclusively 'real ale' or cask beer if you prefer, and those of us who wanted to sample well-kept examples would travel some distance by car, train, bus and taxi, often to remote country pubs to drink the best.

In those days of limited choice the style of beer available was also limited of necessity. Breweries had a hard time getting their beer into pubs so all that could be found was a Bitter, a Best Bitter, and occasionally a Strong Ale. Porters or Stouts were exclusively winter beers and from the early-to-mid-nineties Golden Ales started to appear in the summer months and we all went mad for them. A resurgence of Mild prompted by CAMRA's Mild In May campaign completed the picture and so was set, one could say set in stone, the beers that were produced and this has continued for some considerable time since.

"So what?" you may be asking, "This is all ancient history. I know all this and in fact I'm still part of it", and you would be right. You are still part of, but the beer world has changed, it has changed beyond all recognition and I would argue that it has changed wholly for the better.

I can go to my local off licence or supermarket and buy beer from all over the world. Big hoppy IPAs from the USA, Sparkling Ales from Australia, dark Dubbels and Tripels from Belgium, Biere de Garde from France, Dunkels and Helles from Germany, and even White Ale from Japan, the list goes on and on. These beers have opened the eyes and excited the palates of not only drinkers in the UK but brewers too. Many of them have been inspired to set up breweries where they have taken the myriad of styles we now have available to us and made them their own.

In London, right on our doorstep, we have the Kernel brewery producing full-on flavoursome beers inspired initially by modern US Pale Ales and IPAs, Partizan producing a slew of Saisons with constantly changing recipes and ingredients, Beavertown heavily influenced by the US beer scene with its range of hard-hitting hop-driven offerings but also experimenting with sour beers, ageing beer in barrels and collaborating with other breweries, striving to produce something different and pushing the boundaries of what beer is and exploring what beer can be. These are just three of the seventy-eight active breweries in the London area, one that has seen and continues to see growth at an astonishing rate as well as a legion of drinkers young and old willing to spend their money and drink their beer. As a result of this specialist beer bars have sprung up offering a huge range of beer, and many of these breweries have moved premises several times as demand for their beer grows, with drinkers flooding to their brewery taps to sample the latest offerings or drink their favourites at source.

This isn't just London phenomenon either. Cities such as Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol and Newcastle, as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh north of the border, have begun to see this growth as well, with drinkers demanding variety and quality as, thanks in large part to the prevalence of social media, word spreads and reputations are built and grow.

Which brings me to my home county.

Please do not misunderstand me, I do on the whole love the beer that is being produced in Essex. There are a few beers that fill my heart with joy when I see them, beers that I delight in drinking, beers that when drank at their best I believe can rival some of the best traditional beers being produced in the UK right now. I will also try new beers whenever I see them hoping, often folornly it has to be said, that I might catch a glimpse of something new, something different, something that makes me want to sit down at my laptop and tell the rest of the world about.

It is the oldest brewery in Essex that seems to be leading the way with its excellent single hop variety beers and I have at least one black IPA, which is not the insult to history that some would have you believe, as well as some barrel-aged offerings, all of which give me hope, there are even (and I am expecting a sharp intake of breath here) some good keg beers out there. These examples are sadly few and far between it seems, with the majority of beers being produced being miniscule variations of the mild-bitter-golden-porter-stout formula with English Pale Ales and English IPAs, or at least the modern toned-down variants thereof, appearing in their stead.

I have no wish to go against tradition, and you may well argue that if these beers are being drunk then there really isn't a problem, but I don't think that deep down you can honestly believe that. I'm not saying that there isn't a place for these beers, the best of them deserve national acclaim, but it cannot have escaped your notice that the wind has started to blow from a different direction and a new generation of drinkers with disposable income are looking for new flavours and new taste sensations. This isn't a passing fad either, and if you look at what has happened in the world of food then you'll see that there is a demand for quality much more than quantity with a revival in small artisan producers, and if you look at it what could be more qualified as small and artisan than Essex breweries?

So to conclude then, what I want to say to Essex brewers in 2015 is: Think Differently And Think Better. Look around you and embrace the change, become part of the movement and go with the rising tide rather than sticking your head in the sand and hoping that it will all go away.

I would love to see Essex breweries leading the way but I am fully aware that this change won't happen overnight, it will take time so start slowly and get it right. Many of the brewers I know are more than happy to discuss what they are doing and exchange ideas and techniques and are very approachable too, so let's see if we can make this happen.

I shall be starting a series on Essex beers and breweries on this blog in March in conjunction with Beer East Anglia which I am a contributor to, and I would love to report on some exciting new beers or intriguing new projects.

I'm hoping that you can make 2015 the year for fresh beer in Essex, and I know that you can do it. There will of course be challenges ahead, but in the end I am convinced that drinking in Essex will be improved beyond all recognition and much more rewarding to both yourselves and the consumer.

With much respect and the very best of wishes,

Justin Mason

As a post script I will add that should any of you wish to contact me directly about this post or discuss any of the points that I have made further then please feel free to contact me directly, either by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post or by visiting the British Guild of Beer Writers website and using the details under my listing. I look forward to your response.