Crewe has a population of around 80,000, Southend on sea 180,000 more than twice as many. Crewe has a brewery and tap room, a place that specialises in Belgian beer, a bottle shop with over 3000 different beers and a variety of craft beer bars including a new one that has just opened in December.
But Crewe isnt an anomaly. Colchester has many craft beer places and Queen St Brewhouse with one of the finest selections of Belgian beers I have ever seen. Chelmsford has the Alehouse, the newly opened Moulsham tap, the hop beer shop, and a population 60,000 less than Southend on Sea.
I in no way want to be negative to the businesses we do have in Southend but it certainly seems slow to embrace the revolution. There is Mawsons, a micropub in Southchurch and the first one of the new wave really. I had a few off my list here so it has been mentioned before.
There is The West Road Tap. Which is more craft than Mawsons which are more Real Ale and Belgian. West Road is a small renovated toilets, there is usually 4 keg and 4 cask options available, which are always varied and often exciting.
Then there is the Crafty Half, which is the towns bottle shop. They sell a nice selection of beers including one from my list I had never tried before called Fraoch Heather Ale from Williams Brothers in Scotland.
Though this beer does contain some First Gold Hops which wouldn’t have been available at the time, they are only used for preservation. The taste is pure 2000BC. This beer, based on how beer was made that far ago, has the traditional flavourings of bog myrtle, ginger and of course lots of heather.
It’s not as challenging as you may think and is really rather enjoyable. Floral notes with a pepper flavour, it’s quite sweet but with a dry finish.
But that’s it for Southend really, there’s the occasional good one in the Alex and it’s a good pub but it’s not a beer destination by any means.
Hopefully I can add something to the beer scene with the opening of my bar in the not too distant future, and sometimes scenes can emerge with a single spark. So fingers crossed. We’ll soon find out.
Crewe is geographically between Manchester and Liverpool, but in terms of size and feel I think it’s between Rayleigh and Southend. It’s bigger than Rayleigh for sure but it’s not sprawling like Southend, more confined to a town centre like the former. As we were visiting Michelle’s parents we decided to go on a little pub crawl with Charlie and Karen.
We only went to a couple of places but both had great choices for such a small town. The first is called The Borough Arms. Not much to look at from the outside but an Erdinger pub sign hanging outside was a welcome sight. 9 real ale taps and plenty of kegs with lots of bottles too. I spotted one I needed too, and it was an Erdinger! Maybe the sign outside was a sign if you know what I mean.
Erdinger Weissbrau is a large family owned brewery just north of Munich. They sell more wheat than any other German producer and they date back to 1886. Erdinger Pinkatus is a departure for them though. Its a 7.3% weizenbock that was first brewed in 1968 when Werner Brombach was revitalising the brewery after realising Bavarian wheat beers were not in demand as much and fearing the trend would continue.
The beer itself is a lovely full bodied beer with a dark red colour and is lovely and smooth.
After finishing up we made our way round to a bar called Hops. Hops is a Belgian Style Cafe Bar just off Crewe high street. Its got a great range of continental bottles and kegs and also some lovely cask ale from across England that has earned it numerous awards from CAMRA amongst others.
I started with a bottle of Chouffe N’Ice and at 10% ABV its certainly a strong start. The Achouffe brewery from the little Belgian village of Achouffe is very recognisable due to its “chouffes” which means gnomes. The N’Ice beer is a seasonal winter beer from 1998 which has survived to become a regular. It’s a similar colour to the Pinkatus and has a lot going on for it in terms of both aroma and flavour. There is fruits, nuts, herbs, sugar, honey all coming through. A very enjoyable drink, especially in the winter as it’s a real warmer.
I followed that up with a bottle of Kriek De Ranke, more for a challenge to my fellow drinkers than anything else really and it didn’t disappoint!
Kriek which means “cherry” in Flemish is a cherry lambic. These beers are always difficult for people who have never tried them before though something like a Timmermans is still much more accessible than some gueuze. I always presumed they were old beers and of course traditionally they do go right back, but this example Kriek De Ranke, was first brewed in 2000. Its sharp, tart with lots of farmhouse notes. Its a good beer but expect to be drinking it alone if you are trying it with people who are used to the mainstream.
To bring it back to the old school my next beer was Mann’s Brown Ale which have been continuously brewed since 1902 and is now produced by Marston’s. This beer was first brewed in 1902 and at just 2.8% it’s certainly a lot lighter than most of the beers I had been drinking that night. Charlie told me it used to often be used as mixer with other beers such as mild. It was certainly not unpleasant but I felt it was lost amongst the other big hitters of the evening.
And finally they had a bottle of Anchor Brewery’s Our Special Ale from 2016. This is their winter warmer they have been releasing every year since 1975 which makes the one I tried the 42nd annual release. It changes its recipe very year but is always made with seasonal spices with a malty backbone.
Anchor Brewery who hail from San Francisco were originally founded in 1874 and seem to have quality running through them as a company. This beer was no different and I really admire its a different beer each year and they change the label ever so slight by featuring a different species of tree on the label.
So there we are, that was a small section of Crewe, and as I mentioned at the beginning really opening my eyes to what is possible in a small town with beer choices.
Southend is sadly lacking in the amount of variety but hopefully I can go someway to changing that. Watch this space….