On the map: Ipswich

This month, Colin Drury heads east, to discover a true beer gem in deepest Suffolk


Over the last year or so, Millie Squirrel – bar manager at the Three Wise Monkeys in Ipswich – has noticed an interesting phenomenon.

“We always write where our beers are from on our boards,” she says of the venue’s 16 keg taps. “What we’re seeing these days is it almost feels like people will try something based on that – where it’s from – just as much as because of what it is.”

The result? “We get local beers on tap and they are just massively popular,” she says. “Our customers will see something is from Suffolk and it’s almost a given they want to try it.”

If small towns across the UK are leading the current craft beer renaissance, this East Anglia port is very much one such hot spot. Breweries including Briarbank and Burnt Mill, as well as pubs like the Arcade Street Tavern and The Fat Cat, and bottle shops such as Hopsters, have all helped create a thriving scene in one of England’s oldest towns.

PHOTO: Burnt Mill Brewery

Experimentation here is rife, too. The place is home to one of the UK’s fastest-growing no-alcohol craft beer breweries (Big Drop), and one of the country’s first ever craft lager producers (Calvors, founded in 2008).

“We’re relatively isolated [geographically] when you compare us to a lot of towns,” says Dan Hydes, bar manager at the Briarbank Brewery. “So I think there’s a feeling that, if you want something here, you have to do it yourself, which can lead to a lot of good stuff.”

It was exactly this philosophy, indeed, that inspired Briarbank’s own creation back in 2013.

Sat in a historic building just off the town’s redeveloped waterfront, it has a two-barrel brewery on the ground floor and a tap room – 16 keg lines and four hand pulls – upstairs. It’s small(ish), says Hydes – it holds a maximum 70 people – but perfectly formed.

“There can definitely still be a ‘Carling atmosphere’ on a night out in Ipswich,” he explains. “We’ve always been about offering something more progressive so to see that being successful is just very rewarding.”

It almost feels like people will try something based on that ñ where itís from ñ just as much as because of what it is.

In a bid to support the local scene, it hosts an annual homebrew competition. Entrants send in three bottles of their stuff and the winner gets to make it on site. “We want to inspire others,” says Hydes. “The amount of local talent we see is amazing. There are cracker beers every year.”

‘Cracker beers’ is something Sophie De Ronde knows about.

She’s head brewer at Burnt Mill, a 30 hecto-litre outfit based in an old farm building in the nearby village of Badley. Five years after it was founded – and four years after the Ratebeer website name it the UK’s best new brewery – it now sends its beers right across the world. Japan and Norway are especially big buyers, owner Charles O’Reilly reckons.

What’s De Ronde’s secret? “I don’t know, really” the 39-year-old muses. “Passion, a desire to keep improving. I suppose all brewers want to make their next drink their best.”

Ipswich Waterfront © LakeKnowledge (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Right now, she’s enjoying creating a range of single hopped West Coast IPAs. Get The Onyx (made with Simcoe), Get The Gold (Strata) and Get The Jade (Nelson) have all further enhanced Burnt Mill’s reputation – and gone down a storm here in Ipswich.

“There are a lot of ways to get feedback,” says O’Reilly, 36. “But having somewhere like The Arcade Street Tavern or Hopsters is invaluable because you can just pop in and get a real sense for what people like.”

Hopsters bottle shop itself was also opened in 2017.

Founder Ed Barnes had been to Norwich, bought some Cloudwater and, that evening, as he supped it, had something close to an epiphany. “It was so mind-blowing that I literally decided there and then, I wanted to open a shop selling it,” the 48-year-old says.

It was so mind-blowing that I literally decided there and then, I wanted to open a shop selling it.

A similar venture had failed a year or so earlier in the town. “I learnt from that,” he says. “I knew I had to be armed to the teeth with good beer and variety. I had to be an emporium.”

Today, the place is just that. Based in a Grade II listed building in the town centre, it offers 300 different cans and bottles with two keg lines coming soon. East Anglia booze is especially prioritised with Little Earth Project and Artefact breweries both getting a good showing. Impressively, Barnes – who had previously run an online community radio – has now opened Hopsters in Chelmsford, Felixstowe and Leigh-on-Sea. “There’s a real thirst for good beer everywhere,” he says. “We’re just tapping into that.”

Which perhaps brings us nicely back to the Three Wise Monkeys. As Millie Squirrel pours an Ampersand (based in nearby Diss), she considers this growing thirst. “It’s exciting,” she says. “It means there’s always something new coming, and, mostly, it’s something brilliant.”

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