Tryanuary – the Southampton edition

Southampton hasn’t always been a great town for beer but thank goodness this little town’s fortunes are changing. With the rise and rise of the micropub, the best beer emporium on the South Coast and a beautiful brewpub housed in a medieval warehouse, there’s never been a better time to get out there for a drink or two. So Southamptonites, this Tryanuary there’s plenty to be cheerful about.

Bitter Virtue

Continental corner

Continental corner at Bitter Virtue

Having just celebrated it’s 18th birthday, this hoppy haven should need no introduction for the beer-loving population of Southampton. If you haven’t been there, save your excuses, I don’t want to hear them. Next time you’re thirsty, get down there and let the expert team of Chris, Anne and Claire guide you on an adventure across the world of IPAs, ESBs, porters, geuzes, saisons, stouts, you name it… This is a place run out of genuine love of beer by people who really know their stuff and are always happy to share their recommendations. They stock the best selection of real ales from local and national breweries alongside traditional continental styles as well as experimental craft brews. Highlights include Siren, Buxton, Magic Rock, Cloudwater, Tilquin, De Molen, De Struise, Rogue and To Ol, with takeaway cask from a revolving selection including Dark Star and Bowmans. Check their website for the latest arrivals and make sure you check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

The Butchers Hook

The board of beer at The Butcher's Hook

The board of beer at The Butcher’s Hook

Until March 2014, the majority of my beer consumption here in Southampton was at home thanks to Bitter Virtue. That all changed with the arrival of the city’s first micro-pub run by local beer enthusiasts Anthony Nicholls and Daniel Richardson in a former butcher’s shop in Bitterne. The much anticipated opening night weekend saw queues out the door and beer selling out faster than they could restock and it hasn’t calmed down that much since. Luckily, the locals of Bitterne are a friendly bunch and there’s normally room for everyone to squeeze in at the communal tables. With room for only three keg and four cask beers, the guys can be relied upon to choose their selection well so there’s generally a good range of styles but check out their great range of bottles too.  You can see what’s new on their ever-changing menu here.

 

The Dancing Man

The Dancing Man Brewery

The Dancing Man Brewery

Way back in 2012 the guys at the Platform Tavern said ‘you know what – we want to start making beer that we want to sell’ so that’s what they did. The Dancing Man brewery began in one of their disused kitchens and quickly developed a superb reputation for some delicious brews. Only a year later, a proposal was submitted to turn a  nearby grade two listed medieval wool house into a new brew pub and last year it became a reality. It would be worth a visit just to see how exquisitely they have restored the building which has previously had such diverse uses as a prison, transport company offices and maritime museum. Walking in it’s impossible not to be impressed by the grand wooden staircase or warmed by the inviting fairy lights and candles. Apparently the food is wonderful (which I’ve sadly yet to experience) but the beer selection alone merits a visit. Standout house-beers include Last Waltz, a roasty, fruity black IPA (5.3%ABV) and bitter citrus-hopped IPA Big Casino (5%) (which is the first of their brews to be canned) but watch out for some great guests from the likes of Siren and Vibrant Forest. Be sure to pop in on a Friday if you can to see what concoction they’re putting through the Randal!

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Tryanuary – the Leeds edition

January has always been a month for reflections on the year gone by and resolutions for the year ahead. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to give up alcohol for the month. For some, this is a challenging way to raise money for charities or just be a little healthier but for many independent breweries, bottle shops and pubs it can be a pretty long month. In fact, after the buzz of the party season, January can get pretty dull and the grey days can seem never-ending for most of us.

To encourage us to support independent businesses and brighten up our days, the wonderful chaps behind Hop on the Bike came up with an alternative to Dryanuary. Welcome to Tryanuary, a month of discovery and exploration rather than deprivation. The idea is simple; try something new and share the experience using the #tryanury hashtag on social media.

This isn’t about drinking more.
It’s about trying something different.
Tasting something new.
Experiencing something interesting.

If you need some inspiration, over the rest of January I’ll be sharing some of my favorite independent beery hangouts with you, starting with the glorious city of Leeds where I made a few new discoveries of my own over Christmas.

Northern Monk – The Refectory  

Housed in an impressive Grade II listed mill, the Northern Monk Refectory

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The impressive old mill

offers up to 20 beers on tap at any time alongside a beautifully curated selection of bottles from the best local and international breweries.

 

Northern Monk prides itself on a progressive approach to ingredients. Whilst they can serve you a perfectly well-executed pale ale or IPA for example, my advice is to try something a bit different. One of the stand-outs on the bar during our visit was the Parsnip and Black Pepper Dunkelweiss

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Proper kipper and egg

(6% ABV) which had a sweet, earthy flavor. The Smokey Plums (6% ABV) was also impressive with rich Christmas aromas and a gentle Russian Caravan smokiness.

With stacks of books and board games as well as ping-pong tables, it’s easy to loose an afternoon here. Food is provided by the excellent Grub & Grog who source all of their ingredients locally and use organic ingredients where possible. We dropped in for one of their legendary breakfasts; my perfectly runny poached egg and smoked kipper on delicious rustic bread was so incredible, we almost ended up going back the next day!

 

Bundobust

What do you get when the award-winning Indian restaurant, Prashad and

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Feel free to get carried away!

the home-from-home Bradford micropub The Sparrow Bier Cafe decide to go into business together in the most up-and-coming area of Leeds? Well I guess the only sensible outcome is Bundobust, a leading craft-beer destination serving up mindblowingly addictive Indian snacks. The extensive vegetarian food menu features small portions of heaven which I recommend must be ordered by the dozen and shared with your most valued companions. There’s a few standards like the massala dosa and dhal with rice but my advice is to be adventurous and order something slightly unusual. The perfectly spiced and battered okra fries will leave you wondering why anyone wastes time on stupid potato chips and the idli sambhar, is just so ridiculously delicious you’ll be licking the pot clean. Oh I almost forgot to mention the beer. With guest kegs from the likes of Mikkeller and Magic Rock and a well-curated selection of bottles it’s unlikely you’ll have trouble finding something to wash down all that delicious food.

 

Tall Boys Beer Market

Tucked away in the Thornton Arcade, just meters away from the madness

fern

Learn your ferns

of the high street, you’ll find this unique oasis of beer, coffee and artisan bread and cakes. Four taps serve an ever-rotating selection of craft beers which you can enjoy in the relaxed lounge upstairs or whilst you browse the incredible bottle selection, or you can even fill a growler to take home. We discovered this place on our last morning in Leeds but there were so many bottles we wanted that we just hadn’t seen before that it warranted a risky last-minute shopping spree at precisely 11am (when off-licence sales start) before the wild dash to our booked train. Luckily, they open a lot earlier (08:00) so we were able to chill out with coffee and cake (supplied by our friends at Grub & Grog) upstairs and enjoy the seasonal space collaboration with The Plant Room featuring calming ferns and local art and furnishings.

 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all! It’s at this point that many of us will be looking forward to the year ahead, making plans and promising that this year we’ll resolve to become new and improved versions of ourselves. The fact that I am actually writing this on January 2nd might tell you that I’m not really that committed to New Years Resolutions but following the Christmas excess it’s a good time to return to healthier food and exercise.

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Easing back into spinning classes

Obviously, the magazines are full of helpful advice on how you can kick-start your healthy new 2016 and the key to happiness seems to be (as it is every year) slim down and tone up. Yawn-fest. From experience, the weight-loss resolutions come around year after year but almost always fail. Creme Eggs hit the shops before the last of the tinsel is taken down so there’s not much chance for any of us. Of course, success in weight loss carries no guarantee that you’ll be happy if you achieve it (especially if it involves eating less chocolate), or even keep it off for that matter.

Instead of resolutions, I prefer achievable goals that involve doing something fun, and not just on January 1st but whenever I realize something’s going on that I want to be part of. For example, my main goal is a sunrise to sunset cycle ride on the longest day of the year. I know I have to do a lot of training but actually, cycling is so much fun it won’t feel like training anyway. As a Les Mills Body Pump aficionado, I also want to be able to squat 40kg for the entire 5-6 minute set by this time next year (OK it doesn’t sound like much until you consider it’s up to 100 reps in time to music). Any weight-loss or improvements to general well-being are purely coincidental and I get to do something I love so it’s a win-win.

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A beery reward after kicking The Tumble‘s ass at Velothon Wales.

If you want to join me in ditching those stupid resolutions, my wish for you is that you can find something you enjoy, whether it’s running, lifting, cycling, hiking, whatever, and set a goal that will make you happy when you achieve it. Maybe you’ll run a marathon, maybe you’ll enter a ballroom dancing competition, maybe you’ll walk the Great Wall of China! Whatever it is, the adventure is getting there and the sense of achievement when you make it is a far greater reward than a smaller dress-size (although this might end up as a side-effect). It doesn’t have to be January 1st either – if there’s something that will make you happy, get out there and do it!