Basically Adnam’s is Southwold, or should that be Southwold is Adnam’s. Whatever, the quintessential Suffolk seaside town is dominated by two things, the other one is the impressive, still operational, lighthouse. Wherever you look you’re not far from something Adnam’s, be it the brewery itself, the pubs, brewery retail outlets, or the two classic hotels.
I did try to blag a tour of the brewery, but they were fully booked up when I visited, so I’m piecing together bits put together from areas with public access. That’s quite a lot of the brewery actually as it consists of lots of individual buildings, mainly situated around East Green, one of the many greens and open spaces that are a pleasant feature of the town. In fact it’s so pleasant, the brewery workers sit on one of those benches around a tree in the centre of the green eating their breakfast when it’s a nice day.
You can pick out the main brewing plant easy enough, but if you poke around there’s all sorts of little workshops and offices, even a Whisky Dunnage as they now brew their own spirits. The best bit has to be Church Street, virtually the entire Eastern side of the street is a facade and you can look through the windows of the quaint cottages at the brewery plant.
What about their ale then? I’ll answer that by looking to the Good Beer Guide (GBG2017). Adnams have eight pubs in Southwold, if you count the nearby village of Walberswick, and the bar to The Crown hotel. Now three of them are managed houses and the other five tenanted, but there’s only two of them in the Good Beer Guide and they’re tenanted houses, The Lord Nelson and The Anchor at Walberswick. [Since I wrote this, with the subsequent publication of GBG2018, The Anchor has dropped out and only The Lord Nelson remains].
Now if I were Adnam’s, totally stitching up Southwold up since 1872, I would want ALL of my pubs to be in the Good Beer Guide. And, I would be asking myself – why can one of our tenanted houses get the accolade but our managed houses over which we have more control can’t?
I’ve thought this one round and round and I don’t get it. Although the beer quality in the various houses was variable, it was generally good, and everything Adnam’s seem to be doing is well done. They even got two beers to the GBBF 2017 finals. Maybe it’s a failing of the Good Beer Guide selection? I did think there was definitely one other, at least, that should be in; if it went on beer quality, quality of premises and general experience. The only thing I can pick is the The Nelson seems to have the full range of Adnam’s draught ales on, and the others do not.
I’ll tell you a little bit about the beers. There’s a core range of five cask ales; Lighthouse, Southwold Bitter, Ghost Ship, Broadside, and Mosaic, some seasonal ones like Regatta and Spindrift in the summer and Old Ale and Tally Ho in the winter, plus a whole host of keg and bottled beers. If I had to choose my favourite beer, it’s got to be the single hopped Mosaic. Followed by the Bitter.
In some ways Adnam’s are like Sam Smiths; traditional, own branded spirits, brewing in a small town which they are pursuing towards total domination. That’s about as far as it goes though. They seem quite progressive and have diversified with a nice retail outlet that sells their beers and a small range of other brands, plus a very good wine selection, kitchenware, deli items, even a café restaurant and nice courtyard. There’s even a benevolent civic presence in the town.
They’ve also gone into Corporate Craft with their ‘Jack Brand’, products. I’m not convinced. They’re a long established traditional brewer with some fine products. I don’t think there is any need for them to jump on the bandwagon and personally by doing so, I think they devalue what they had already. Why not just make good beer, Adnam’s beer, and if it’s in a modern progressive style then that’s fine. People will recognise it as such, if it’s good enough.
So what about Southwold itself? Wonderful little place, highly recommended for traditional seaside fun and entertainment. It’s populated by … actually I don’t think many folk live there permanently, most of the houses look to be second homes and holiday lets with ETB rosettes and letting agent stickers in the windows.
When I first visited, a good few years ago, gents salmon pink trousers, and Labrador dogs, were like pubic hairs. This season it seems the Dachshund has replaced the Labrador as the dog of choice, I’ve never seen as many Sausage dogs. Likewise old Saab convertibles, perhaps they all go to Suffolk before they die?
I think, over the space of a week, I tried every pub in the town? With the exception of The Blyth, which didn’t look like a pub, more an hotel, that wasn’t enticing me in. I didn’t go to Reydon, too far and no promise, but I did walk to pretty Walberswick. An almost nightly visit was made to a couple of the establishments.
One pub I definitely didn’t try was The Kings Head. I’d been there before, a good while ago, but it had closed down, some time ago by the looks of it. Shame because, as I recall, it was the only pool table, dart board, sport on TV place they had in the town. Perhaps Southwold’s British Legion or The Con club now provide these more basic of facilities?
I’m going to post about the individual pubs separately, if only to compile a list of pubs that people can specifically, and easily, search for in future. Generally, the beer quality was excellent, the pubs were well run and well kept. But! In late August it gets very busy and the majority of them are food led, they would be fools not to be.
My lasting thoughts were, I’d like to go back out of season. Maybe October, November, and see what it’s like then. I know the locals in Dorset come out of retirement when the holiday makers go home. There’s quite a few pubs in Southwold that would rise up to another level in the absence of the hungry hordes.