Raising a glass to Suffolk's finest

Ruth French celebrates a fine tradition of beer, cider and wine-making in Suffolk

Ruth French celebrates a fine tradition of beer, cider and wine-making in Suffolk

Alcohol has had a bad press in recent years which is a bit of a shame. Think of a celebration; a wedding, birthday or simply a companionable evening in the local pub… all enhanced by a favourite tipple which, in moderation, can enhance life, break down social barriers and help us feel relaxed. In this region, we have some of the world’s finest brewed beers and ciders, great wine merchants and a growing number of award-winning vineyards too. Let’s take a look at their history, their place in the market and which foods best accompany them.

WineWhere would be without wine? Wars have been fought over it and ransoms have been settled with it. I’ll make my apologies here to wine connoisseurs for not going deeply into classification types. It’s an enormous topic tied up as much in jargon and snobbery as law and tradition. Firstly then, there is the appellation of the wine, or its place of origin (think of the general terms, a Bordeaux or a Rioja). Next is the wine’s vinification; maybe it’s sparkling, dessert, fortified, table, cooking or perhaps even a vintage (a subject classification of its own). More relevant to the average consumer though is the wine’s variety. For instance, Sauvignon Blanc is a white-skinned grape variety with an appellation belonging to the region of Bordeaux. Mead is a type of wine made from fermented honey and water and is currently enjoying a revival. It is said to hold aphrodisiac qualities and is in fact where the word ‘honeymoon’ originates. Newly-weds drank it for a week after marriage to ensure fertility!   In recent years, this country has once again started to produce some small-yield, quality wines from its own vineyards. One such producer is Shawsgate Vineyard of Framlingham. Try their Venus Red, a medium-bodied 2004 wine with great bouquets of blackcurrant, vanilla and cinnamon. It’s versatile and good value for a small yield at �11.99 a bottle. For a white, choose Pandora, a young, medium-dry wine with a tropical bouquet and spritzy acidity that’s perfect with fresh mackerel or lobster.For a vast array of world wines, you can’t do better than to pay one of Adnams’ Cellar and Kitchen Stores a visit. Situated throughout East Anglia (and London) to include Southwold, Woodbridge and Hadleigh you’ll find a wine to suit any palate, pocket and occasion. My hot tip choices from Adnams are 2009 Shiraz/Cabernet, Canoe Tree, a soft, rich and spicy red at �6.29 that’s perfect with all mushroom dishes, steak and venison. Or L’Empreinte de Saint Mont Blanc, Plaimont, a fantastic dry white featuring grapefruit, honey and herbs at �12.99. Try it with white fish and samphire or chicken and orange salad followed by chocolate mousse. Rose wines are becoming more elegant and you won’t do better than a Spanish Rosado ‘Monte Arlas’ Navarra, chosen by Adnams for its unusual sophistication. Deep in colour and complexity, it’s perfect for a summer garden buffet of fish paella followed by strawberries and cream. And finally, no resume would be complete without mentioning the fascinating world of Champagne and/or sparkling wines. Champagne itself is enshrined by a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and was adopted as a status symbol by French kings. If you’re lucky enough to have it on your shopping list then choose Veuve Fourny Cru Blanc de Blanc. At �26.50 a bottle it’s good value for its class. Find it at Wines Of Interest in Ipswich and do it justice with party canap�s of smoked salmon or perhaps with oysters or sushi.

BeerTraditional British life without a pint? It’s unthinkable! Woven as it is into the fabric of society. At its most basic level, beer is an alcoholic beverage of fermented grain flavoured with hops that has been brewed in its original form since 4,300 BC by the Babylonians. Classifications are many but generally beer is either a lager (American or Continental beer brewed at lower temperatures and in kegs) or it’s an ale or stout (often in casks where unpasteurised ales undergo the secondary fermentation process as in traditional, ‘real ales’).Suffolk’s world-famous Adnams of Southwold, holds a special place in history. Founded in 1872 by George and Ernest Adnams, who purchased the Sole Bay Brewery, the award-winning company produces many beers and ciders including the UK’s first carbon-neutral beer, East Green introduced in 2008. The crown in Adnams’ jewel is its Southwold Bitter. A traditional copper-coloured brew made from finest East-Anglian malted barley with late-added hops to give a ‘herby’ taste. Try their Broadside Beer, a deep, ruby red with strong, well-formed flavours reminiscent of fruitcake. Bury St Edmunds brewery Greene King combines its 200-year old traditional skills with modern thinking to produce its Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale, a unique blend of two ales matured for a period of two years resulting in a dark, fruity and particularly strong beer. Try the Hen’s Tooth ale, described as ‘real ale in a bottle’ or Greene King XX Mild if you prefer a finer, mild brew. Bungay’s St Peter’s Brewery is a relative newcomer specialising in traditional and speciality beers. Its modern brewery, built in 1996, relies on quality water from its own bore hole to produce ales and the more unusual Honey Porter Beer. This adding of honey and even fruit goes back hundreds of years and the thoroughly modern St Peter’s exports its products all over the world. The brewing of beer is clearly an art form worthy of admiration and respect so it makes perfect sense to eat good food with it.  Beer is perfect with English cheeses and onion or Suffolk ham and always seems to demand hunks of crusty bread too and that’s why a ‘ploughman’s lunch simply can’t be beaten…….unless you make your own fish and chips. Make a simple beer batter with a light, pale ale and use goujon-sized fillets of haddock and home-made chips. If stout is your tipple, you may be interested to know that its original term in this country was ‘Porter’ because London river and road porters drank it in the 16th century. Brewed from dark roasted barley, it produces a richer, literally stouter beer, a variant of which is more famous nowadays across the shores in Ireland in the form of Guinness Stout. Steaks and roasts of red meat are worthy companions especially when teamed with an eye- wateringly strong home-made horseradish sauce.

Cider  Cider is fermented apple juice with typically 2-8% alcohol content and apple cultivars known as ‘Cider Apples.’ The campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) has laid down its definition as well as for that of beers. Real cider and perry (pear cider) must be fermented from unpasteurised, fresh apple juice, not concentrates. Many cheap, commercial bottled ‘ciders’ are a travesty of the real thing and come highly sweetened and carbonated. As a result, they bear little resemblance to real cider. In 2009, Adnams obtained exclusive distribution rights to sell such an English cider from a dedicated producer in Worcestershire. Hogan’s Cider is made using 100% unpasteurised, apple juice and is now distributed by Adnams as far a field as the USA.Suffolk’s own Aspall Cyder, spelt with a ‘y’ to differentiate it from West Country Cider, is brewed in Debenham at Aspall Farm and was started here by the Chevallier family from Jersey in 1728.Their Premier Cru Cyder (dry) has a glorious, champagne-like colour that works amazingly well with curry whilst their Perronelle’s Blush features a deep, intense colour and more pronounced flavour that will add grace to a pork casserole or sticky pork chops with spinach mash. There’s nothing infra-dig here, cider is now elegant once again. Try Draught Cyder with cheese dishes or with a simple lunch of ripe camembert, warmed through and served with crusty bread and fried egg, Normandy-style. It’s sold on tap and in bottles, is perfect as an aperitif and has been likened to a Sauvignon Blanc.


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Old Growler (5.0%abv) Nethergate

A dark ruby red porter-style beer, OId Growler is smooth and warming in character on the palate but with more than a touch of hoppiness in the finish.

Albert Ale (4.4%abv) Earl Soham Brewery

Just a shade darker than a conventional bitter, Albert Ale delicately balances a restrained hop character with a hint of sweetness.

Best Bitter (3.8%abv) Old Cannon

A good crisp bitter. Perhaps more of a session beer than a "best" bitter, given its strength, but that’s so much the better if you fancy more than one.

Waxie’s Dargle (4.3%) Brandon Brewery

A deep copper-coloured beer which makes a big impression all round, with a depth of malt character balanced by robust hoppiness

Black Adder (5.3%abv) Mauldons

A bitter stout, with the edge of the dark malts balanced by a combination of fruity and nutty character on the palate and complemented by a long-lasting finish.

Duncan Brodie




Adnams plc, (nationwide brewed products, Adnams Kitchen & Wine Cellar Stores East Anglia and London, Adnams Group Hotels) Sole Bay Brewery, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6JWTel: 01502 727200 www.adnams.co.uk

Greene King PLC, Westgate Brewery, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP33 1QT  Tel: 01284 763222 www.greeneking.co.ukSt Peter’s Brewery Co, St Peter’s Hall, St Peter’s South Elmham, Bungay, Suffolk NR35 1NQ  Tel: 01986 782322 www.st.petersbrewery.co.uk 

Shawsgate Vineyard, Badingham Road, Framlingham, Suffolk IP13 9HZTel: 01728 724060 www.shawsgate.co.uk

Wines of Interest, 46 Burlington Road, Ipswich, Suffolk IP1 2HSTel: 01473 215752 www.winesofinterest.co.uk

Aspall Cyder, Aspall Hall, Debenham, Suffolk IP14 6PDTel: 01728 860510 www.aspall.co.uk 


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