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Over the past 4-5 years I've gone from lager drinker and occasional real ale drinker, to real ale and occasional lager drinker. This is perfectly natural. As you age, your taste buds start to wear out, with the area at the front of your tongue going first. This is the area that senses sweet, with sour and bitter at the back and side going last - so as you get older you start to go off the sweet tasting stuff you liked when you were younger, and prefer stronger flavors. So my palette, whilst not that old, appreciates the deeper, richer more bitter flavors real ale has to offer.
Also, I live in Norfolk - a great place for real ale. Real ale has been booming over the past few years with more and more people drinking it - but in Norfolk its part of the life style. Norwich, a city once boasting more real ale pubs than any other city is a haven for real ale lovers. With many brewers dotted around Norfolk using local ingredients with hundreds of pubs in the city pumping out the stuff. Real ale flows here.
So, you can imagine with the disappointment as real ale fan, and proud Norfolkian (note, thats not a real word) feels when one of the best real ale breweries in the world, let alone country - are in the rival county, Suffolk. More specifically, Southwold - a very nice East Anglian coastal town home of the great Adnams brewery.
---------A BIT ABOUT ADNAMS-------
Adnams is a rare beast - a biggish organisation with small business charm. The brewery as we know it, looks and style wise has been slowly become a big player in the real ale market for the last 20 years - but the Adnams name and brewery have been fermenting beer for almost 150 years. I make this distinction, because the Adnams we know now is a real brewery of distinction. It has the core, real ale values it seem to be established with and those shared by many small real ale brewers, but its a big operation. When organisations grow is often said they can lose their core value and the sense of understanding it has for their customers as a small business. Adnams is a big brewery, with over 85,000 barrels flying out a year - but still staying 'real', literally as it was awarded CAMRA (campaign for real ale) brewery of the year. One of the founding priciples of CAMRA was to fight against the big brewers making mass market, watered down beer. They wanted to promote 'real' beer and help the small breweries and pubs still doing the good, old fashioned thing. So, for a big brewery like Adnams to be recognised by CAMRA is an impressive feat. Adnams beer is available in many pubs in the UK, most in East Anglia - and bottles in supermarkets, as well as through online wholesalers and their website. So, if your a real ale fan and understand how to drink responsibly - tasting the delights of Adnams is a readily available experience.
Right, to the beer in question.
Picking an Adnams beer to review was no easy choice. They do a great range of beers that are all very good - but I've picked my favorite among favorites, Broadside.
Now, Broadside bottled, as the one I'm reviewing, weighs in at a hefty 6.3% ABV and the bottle is 500ml (just under a pint, and a heavyweight) However, if you get this on tap its only 4.7%ABV - almost 2% difference. Thats a lot to take into account, drinking it bottled to an infrequent drinker and you'll notice it considerably - whereas on tap its a more lighter affair. Taste wise, there is no real difference in flavor but I will say I prefer it on tap, as I always prefer tap to bottled due to the freshness and assuming the pubs cellar is well managed, its a perfect temperature. (if in doubt, check the pub is 'cask marque'. This means it has passed CAMRAs real ale test) For anyone wondering about the difference in ABV its not unusual in the real ale world, quite common infact. When beer is stored in a barrel and pumped through lines into a nice thirsty gullet, usually via a pint glass - its treated differently than when its stored in a bottle that lasts for much longer and is not as much of a 'live' product. So, to offset these different conditions the ABV is usually higher in bottles and the difference in taste is reduced.
The first thing you will notice when opening and pouring its looks like a very full bodied beer - its a satisfying dark, deep red in the light - it looks like it should be a beer classed as a 'strong' beer. Being slightly carbonated it pours with a big head, that's really thick and creamy and will last usually right until the last mouthful. This, for me, is really welcome in a real ale as I like it to taste fresh and creamy until the last drop.
On smell, its a very warming traditional beer smell. Right away in invokes a the feel nice, warm, local typical English pub and that hefty body is still there, now in both sight and smell. Once you start drinking it though, the hefty boozy body edge goes somewhat and is replaced with the really strong fruit tastes. That's the biggest selling point for me with this beer, as I like a nice fruity beer - it gives it a complex enough taste to make it an interesting drink but its drinkable and refreshing. If I'm to be totally honest, the sign of a good beer that I will drink again and again is one I can take big glugs of on the first pint and enjoy a lot slower on the second. This beer really does that, and surprisingly so - at 6.3% you would expect this to be a bit too weighty to be refreshing but it is. You don't really get too much of the strong alcohol taste you would expect, until the end of the bottle, when you'll notice it. Whats great about this beer taste wise is how balanced it is, its just as stong and beer-y as it is refreshing and fruit.
The fruit keeps coming as you drink and its a little bit of a wintery spice taste - I've really enjoyed a few bottles of this after work on some of those brutally cold winter nights we've just braved. Not only does it have a warming ABV, but generally a nice warm taste.
When you first sip this, your struck with how well it might go with food. Hearty beers like this always do that for me - right away I want to either cook with it or enjoy it with some really warming foods, but usually both. I've cooked with this a few times - using it as the ale in a beef and ale pie and it works perfectly. If accompanies beef and root veg really well and you'll really taste it after cooking - some ales I've cooked with have had their taste cooked away by the time the pie is ready, so something strong such as this is a must. It the fruitiness though that really makes it work with food, giving meats a much richer taste.
Its also a good beer to enjoy with strong food - such as strong cheeses and red meats. Or snacks. Like crisps. Or pork scratchings. Or pork pies. Or scotch eggs. Or nuts. I like snacks.
--------WHERE TO BUY------
As I mentioned, Adnams beer is quite widely available - and increasingly so. If your lucky enough, you'll stumble across one of the Adnams 'Cellar and Kitchen' outlets. There are only a few around Suffolk and Norfolk, I'm a bit gutted the one in Norwich was only temporary and wen't after a few months. Its now another high priced pointless clothing outlet. If your not that lucky, a stroll down the beer aisle in you're nearest supermarket will do the trick. If you're feeling a little flush and lazy - try the Adnams website. They don't sell individual bottles, but do some great gift sets that can be delivered to your door nicely packaged. Supermarkets always seem to have offers on for bottled beers - such as 3 for £5, but the stronger beers such as this seem to be exempt from most offers, I only occasionally see it included. Never the less, a bottle of this will be about £2-£2.50, quite a lot for a beer considering how cheap lager is these days - but its worth it. On the Adnams site its £18.99 for a case of 12 which works out cheaper and you can be happy in the knowledge all funds wen't to this well deserved brewer.
As a final word, take drinking seriously. I've ranted and raved about how good this is but I know the dangers of taking even my heightened enthusiasm for this drink too far. No only will it make you feel terrible the next day, it will make you do silly things and its very harmful long term. Men, 3-4 units a day, women 2-3. This contains 3.2 units. So, men and women no more that one of these a day. You've been told.
On a less serious note, some drinking tips. Drink it cool but not ice cold, about 12c. You can do this in the fridge, but then take it out for 10 minutes at room temp to take the chilly edge off. Better still, if you have a lean-too, pantry or area of you're house not heated but not too cold - keep it in there. I think its best drank from a straight glass as this tends to keep the head tight and full. Finally, don't worry about handling the glass too much - the heat from your hands will warm the beer and you'll notice a welcome development in taste, as you do with many real ales.