Originally Posted on May 25, 2016
Are you curious to know about the people behind the beers you buy? Or perhaps you want to know what inspires brewers to brew and beer bloggers to blog? Our “Q&A” posts are a light hearted way of getting to know people working in, and connected to, the beer and alcohol industry.
Today’s post features Adnams who are located in the beautiful seaside town of Southwold.
Adnams started in 1872, when brothers, Ernest and George Adnams bought the Sole bay brewery in Southwold. The Sole bay brewery itself goes back much further, to about 1659, when it was built to replace a brewery that burnt down in a fire that destroyed much of Southwold. If you visit Southwold you’ll see lots of small greens dotted throughout the town, these were created after the fire to act as fire breaks to prevent a reoccurrence of the disaster.
Who are you/what do you do? I’m Fergus Fitzgerald, Head brewer at Adnams.
How did you get into this line of work? I studied Biotechnology in Ireland (where I was taught by Evin O’Riordain’s Dad) which led me to a temporary lab job at Fullers brewery in London. That started my interest in brewing and its where I realised that a world of beer existed outside of mass produced lager and stout. From there I took a temporary job in Murphys in Cork before heading back to Fullers for 7 years, studying through the IBD (institute of brewing and distilling) and working my way into the Brewhouse. I then moved to Adnams in 2004 as assistant brewer, I finished my Master Brewer exams and became Head brewer in 2008.
What is the hardest thing to master when learning to brew? I think the thing you need to know to start is that there is no right way, you make your own way. Just listen and try things out, there are some basic rules that are there for a reason but even those need testing from time to time depending on what trying to achieve. Some of the best beers come through mistakes or compromises but the ability to understand what you did and to repeat it is what makes a brewery.
Have you always been a brewer or did you do different jobs before this? I grew up on a Dairy farm so most of my early work experience involves shovelling or milking. I spent a short time working in the laboratory at a Dairy, the smell of cheese that had been stored at 40oC for two weeks and then liquidised was one of the reasons I decided to get into brewing!!
Where do you see, or hope to see, the brewery in 5 years’ time? We’re just about to put some new tanks in and we’ve expanded the distillery this year so I think as long as we keep trying new things and making sure quality is at the top of our list then Adnams will be in a good place. My aim is to make sure I leave Adnams in a better place than when I joined, to ensure there’s a thriving brewery, and now distillery, for whoever follows after.
Are there any other breweries which have influenced you? Loads. It’s a never ending circle of influence and that openness between breweries to sharing information is one of the best things about brewing.
Out of all the beers you brew, which is your favourite? Why is that? My stock answer is I don’t have a favourite and I love them all equally. That’s obviously untrue but I do enjoy and appreciate them all. My preference is towards hoppy beers like Mosaic, Ease Up and Ghost Ship but I also love things like the Smoked beer or the Sorachi Saison we do for M&S and a pint of Southwold Bitter with its tea-like dryness is something I always relish.
What do you think makes a great beer? Lots of things. It depends on the style but balance comes pretty high on the list. It doesn’t mean the beer is dull, just that the flavours work with each other. Things like your preconceptions of the beer have a big part to play but I find the thing that elevates a beer from good to great is the people you drink it with.
Bottled or canned beer? If done correctly then both, if not then neither. It’s harder to control oxygen levels in canned beer but it can be done.
What would you say is the best part of your job? The people I work with, the ability to create something that people love, the freedom to try new things. Just the ability to enjoy what I do, not everyone has that.
What was your first drink and where were you when you had it? A hot summer’s day in Ireland sitting by a stack of hay bales, with one of my brothers eating our sandwiches and drinking the remnants of a few bottles of Guinness. We were helping out on the farm while the drivers brought in the hay, my Dad brought them out some bottles to have with lunch which they passed onto us when they had drunk their fill.
What drink can you no longer face having had one too many? Not sure, probably Crème de Menthe, there’s a Billy Connelly story about the pope drinking the stuff which I think is a pretty accurate description!
What is your favourite style of beer? I love the variety of beer so I struggle to pick a favourite. Hoppy pale ales and sour beers tend to be in my fridge most often of late. Most recently it’s our Mosaic pale ale and Hawkshead/Crooked Stave’s key lime Tau.
If you have to pick, which would be your top three beers in the whole world? The beauty of the beer world is you never have to pick.
What is the silliest thing you’ve done whilst drunk? That sort of stuff is best kept for catching up and reminiscing with old friends.
You are stuck on a desert island, what three things are you taking with you? My wife and son, although that would mean that I dragged them along to a desert Island too, which they wouldn’t be happy about, so also a pair of headphones.
Thanks to Fergus and Adnams for taking the time to chat with us.
You can browse and buy beers from Adnams here.