From 23rd September to 3rd October, we celebrate Cask Ale Week, an annual industry-rallying campaign that raises a glass to cask beer and supports pubs as the place to enjoy it. After nearly 150 years of crafting for cask, today’s brewing team has a rich and diverse history to draw on. However, with great history, comes great responsibility, and a largely unseen team effort to make every pint meet your expectations.

Southwold Bitter and Broadside are two of our best-loved cask beers and have earned their enviable longevity thanks to their devotees, the care given in well-kept pub cellars and the efforts of the brewing team to maintain their quality and consistency over the years. We are lucky enough to have some amazing pubs in inspiring locations serving top-quality cask beer. It inspires advocacy, makes memories, and settles Southwold Bitter and Broadside in people’s hearts and keeps them coming back to the bar.

All joking aside, the best way to check the quality and consistency of our cask beer is to taste it. Raw materials differ from batch to batch; our yeast will react to minute variations in ingredients or temperature, and ultimately, we hand it over to pubs to finish the job. At the brewer’s daily tastings and in cellars and bars across the country, those with a love of cask are doing their best to maintain control. Southwold Bitter and Broadside are well known, so with all those variables in play, it requires a fan’s familiarity and a passion for quality to keep them pouring perfectly.

Broadside celebrates its 50th birthday next year, but its cask version arrived a short time after the original batch was brewed. Launched as a 6.3% bottled beer in 1972 for the tercentenary of the Battle of Sole Bay, Broadside’s full flavours were an instant hit. There were clamours for a cask version, but it was felt that something more sessionable would be better suited to consumption by the pint. So, the brewing team were tasked with formulating a new recipe that delivered Broadside’s bombardment of flavour at a lower strength. The bottled beer remains the strong original (as it says on the label), but the 4.7% beer in cask shares its ruby red colour and rich fruitcake taste.

Both beers have the same malts and British First Gold hops, but in differing proportions. Black and chocolate malt is used to darken the beer; and pale ale malt provides its malty flavour, as well as fermentable sugars. The mashing regime is set so that both beers also retain a lot of un-fermentable sugar, which gives Broadside its sweetness and full mouthfeel. The cask version just uses less, making it lighter, with a thirst-quenching finish for drinking by the pint. The fermentation temperatures are slightly different too, but when Adnams house yeast gets to work, it charges both brews with characters of Christmas.

Southwold Bitter’s packaged and cask beers are also separate brews. The bottled version started life as Suffolk Strong Bitter (SSB) and was a similar recipe as Extra, a 4.5% cask beer and a stronger version of Southwold Bitter. SSB outlived Extra, and although it still bore the Suffolk Strong name, its branding evolved to look like Southwold Bitter. SSB’s strength was eventually lowered to 4.1% abv, to bring it more in line with the 3.7% cask beer that shared its branding, and at the same time, the name on the bottles and cans changed to avoid confusion. The slight difference in abv remains for fans of the format, so it didn’t stray too far from the original.

Like Broadside, Southwold Bitter for bottles and cans is brewed at a higher original gravity (level of sugars for fermentation), due to its higher abv and is fermented at a slightly higher temperature. This means that the yeast esters are more prominent in bottle than in the cask. They both use the historic English hop Fuggles, but where the real flavour difference comes in, is when we dry hop Fuggles directly in cask. This is just not replicable in other formats and makes the Southwold Bitter cask experience unique. The time in cask allows the development of flavour and tannins and really dries out the pallet, giving cask Southwold Bitter its crisp freshness and long hoppy linger.

When asked how Adnams has managed to keep the continuity of these brands through the years, Head Brewer Dan Gooderham says it comes down to ingredient selection. “With Southwold Bitter, for example, it is the careful selection of Fuggles hops that makes all the difference, said Dan.

“The Fuggles hop is the backbone of both versions of this beer. There was experimentation with a small trial to see if the dry hop in cask could be moved into the fermentation vessel in hope this would make it easier for landlords to handle the cask. However, the trials proved how critical this process is, so this tradition remains. The other enduring element is our in-house yeast culture which we’ve been using since the 1940s. It is what makes a beer uniquely Adnams and breathes life, as well as flavour into our cask ales.”

Find out more about Cask Ale Week here.