Last Weekend: Enjoying the seaside spirit in Suffolk
Evaporation and condensation, the twin engines of cloud formation, are also the yin and yang of a trip to the English seaside – and last weekend in Southwold was no exception. Suffolk's inch-perfect rendition of a classic resort town stood resolute before a series of weather fronts that alternately bathed the coast in sunlight and drenched it with rain.
Nobody seemed to mind much. Admittedly, the set of bedraggled hippies I saw on South Green looked perplexed – perhaps they'd just realised that the Latitude Festival, held annually at nearby Henham Park, wasn't due to start for another five days. But the rest of us took advantage of the periodic downpours to leave the beach and enjoy Southwold's evocation of a bygone era, from the retro-chic boutiques along the High Street to the kitsch amusements of Southwold Pier. We marvelled at the model ships in the tiny Sailors' Reading Room; we chomped sandwiches at The Blue Lighthouse on East Street; and then we toasted the sun's return with Southwold's locally produced limoncello liqueur.
Yes, I thought that bit was odd. But it really was limoncello. Let me explain. Along with its devotion to a more refined style of seaside life, Southwold is best-known as the seat of Adnams' brewery, since 1872 a mainstay of the town. Adnams is everywhere. It welcomes you to Southwold with a sign at its Reydon distribution centre; its beers are served in its own pubs (The Lord Nelson and the Sole Bay Inn). It can even tuck you up at night at The Swan, the Adnams-operated hotel on the High Street, where I stayed.
Here the dining room is resplendent in crimson and gilt, and the floors of the much-expanded 17th-century building creak with age as you wander from floor to higgledy-piggledy floor. Everything about The Swan, and by extension Adnams, suggests that such longevity is the result of careful husbandry. In essence, it's all about the beer.
But last November the brewer upped the ante – and the alcohol content – with its new Copper House Distillery. The resulting gin and vodka has already won awards at this year's San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Lukasz Juszczak, the Polish-born restaurant manager of The Crown – another of Adnams' local concerns – took five of us on a tour, starting in the brewery, then moving on to the distillery itself, which contains what looks like a saxophone on steroids. Distillation happens in the huge "rectifying column", a long copper tube where liquids boil away as gas, and gas returns as liquid.
Lukasz explained Adnams' policy of "grain to glass" (the basis for the distilled alcohol is the same malted barley, wheat and oats used for the beer). Then he gave us a sniff of the "botanicals" – primarily juniper – used to give gin its flavour. Finally, to the cellar, where oak barrels gently impart flavour for the future production of malt whisky. "We've never done this before," said Lucasz. "But the signs are good."
The trip ended with a tasting session (the limoncello was a delight) at the sleek Cellar and Kitchen Store. Then the heavens opened once more.
Distillation is, of course, about evaporation and condensation: it all made sense.
Next weekend: The Swan (01502 722186; adnams.co.uk) has doubles from £372.36 for two nights, including breakfast. Distillery tours can be booked through the website or on 01502 727255 (£10, over 18s only).
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