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Aspiring beer writer, reviewer and blogger. Passionate about good beer, educating and inspiring others.

Pieces of work by Martyn:

  • Alcohol, Anorexia and Me

    Alcohol, Anorexia and Me!

    How My Eating Disorder Helped Me Find A Passion For Craft Beer!


    As I approach my 30th Birthday I felt the time was right to look back and see how my approach to alcohol has changed. I’ve had a strange relationship with alcohol, one which has gone from love to hate and back again! Some questions stand out; why do I enjoy alcohol again and what effect has alcohol had on my mental health issues and recovery?


    My first introduction to alcohol was when I was about 7 or 8; my parents were not big drinkers, my Dad occasionally enjoyed a can of Guinness or Boddingtons whereas Mum would drink a small Martini or Southern Comfort.


    During my early teens I could tell the difference between a Stella and a Guinness and that wine was either red, white or rose but that was it. I was 16 before I plucked up the courage to buy a crate of alcohol.  In those days drinking wasn’t focused on quality, it was about buying the cheapest cider or lager you could, normally Strongbow or Fosters. Craft beer didn’t exist in Devon, Brewdog has only just begun brewing and companies like Camden and Magic Rock didn’t exist!


    A year later, I went on my first ‘lads’ holiday, the first holiday without parents and the first where alcohol was free and plentiful.  As a result in 4 days I drunk anything and everything. I didn’t particularly enjoy anything, and I certainly didn’t enjoy feeling sick and ridiculously hungover.  There is a lot of pressure to do what you think is ‘socially normal’ and when you’re 17, on a ‘lads holiday and away from your parents that sadly is that the more you drink the better time you have.


    I don’t know exactly when the link between the amount of alcohol consumed and the amount of fun you had manifested itself; but it was defiantly towards the end of my teens. I had been a  unconfident and over weight teenager, I would drink a few pints after the rugby or neck a Jagerbomb or three on a Saturday night, this made me feel invincible.  By drinking the same as everyone around me suddenly I fitted in.


    Around this time that I decided I needed to lose some weight. Eat less, exercise more, and lose weight, simple.  Well so I thought!


    At 19 I moved to Cardiff; university presented another challenge; although I was a much more confidence and outgoing individual, I had left all my friends and home comforts in Devon. I had to start a fresh.  This led to one thing, drinking for the sake of drinking.


    I discovered the best way to get yourself into a party was to knock on the door, hold up a bottle and smile. As awful as it sounds it worked and I was in. This exercise was repeated for several weeks, great at the time but looking back, the damage I must have been doing to myself was immense, the things we do to fit in!


    Living away from my family and friends was difficult. I was enjoying the course; the independence and spending time with my small group of friends, however, I was extremely lonely.  I had a problem; I was depressed, however I just ignored it, hoping would go away.   My drinking became so awful that I began to add cider to lager, blackcurrant to Guinness and Red bull to Port.


    At this point craft beer was about to explode into the public domain.  Camden had just formed and Brewdog opened their first bar in sunny Aberdeen.  Pub chains such as Wetherspoons were seeing their customers’ demanding quality and variety not just quantity and rock bottom prices.  The focus was beginning to shift.


    I however, was still stuck in the downward spiral that became anorexia. From the outside I was just another 20 year old. Inside I was depressed and lonely.


    Luckily; over the period of 6 months my life changed, I graduated and secured my first proper job.  This gave me with a massive sense of pride, for the first time in years I felt I had succeeded at something.  I moved to Devon, closer to my family and met Holly; who would become my rock, my best friend and eventually my wife.


    One morning not long after I had moved to Exeter. I remember feeling hopeless, the world was dark and I realised that I could either wake up feeling like this every day or I could do something about it. I got up, booked an appointment at the Doctors and took the first, biggest and hardest step towards recovery.


    Over the next two years, with the support of Holly, my parents and a few close friends I gradually became better. I started to enjoy exercise, exercising for pleasure rather than punishment. I learnt to treat food as fuel for my body and I finally began to enjoy life again.


    One side effect however was my relationship with Alcohol.


    During the darkest times alcohol had been a release, a way of forgetting the pain of loneliness and the pain of trying to fit in.  I didn’t care what I was drinking or the quality of it, the focus was on the perception of having a good time.


    During the first couple of years of recovery I struggled to enjoy any form of alcohol, I use to see drinking as a social requirement rather than a pleasurable activity. I no longer enjoyed alcohol.  Any social situation that I felt was going to involve alcohol became a major anxiety trigger. So much so I briefly considered becoming tee total.


    Then on one night out I tried something called a Transatlantic Pale Ale! I had no idea what this was. The beer in question was Speak Easy by Powderkeg, a small microbrewery just outside Exeter, craft beer at its finest.  I still remember my first sip, amazing. The flavours and aromas hit me straight away.  It was light, crisp, and fruity.  Craft beer had just entered my world with a bang and proof, if it was needed that public’s desire for better beer was having an effect.



    As my recovery progressed, I found enjoyment and excitement in researching and drinking craft beer. I was finally able to do this without the pressure to drink until my liver ached or drink just to fit in.  I also discovered Hops and Crafts, a wonderful craft beer bottle shop in Exeter. I spent the tail end of 2018 experiencing the best that craft beer had to offer. Breweries like Left Handed Giant, North Brew and Verdant changed my outlook forever.  LHGs Woodland Creatures and Dot Matrix were some of the best beer I had ever tasted.


    Drinking became about trying new and exciting brews. Actually tasting and comparing the flavours. I started to understand the process that was involved in getting an idea from a brewers head to a glass.


    The dramatic growth of the craft beer scene in the UK has been driven by a passion for quality ingredients and exciting flavours.  A large proportion of the drinking public in the UK are now drinking less, for a variety of reasons. As a result they want to drink better ales and lagers, and are not afraid to pay slightly more for this. Put simply, craft beer is about drinking less, but drinking better.


    On reflection, do I feel that I can enjoy alcohol again? Yes, however I have a new found respect and love for it. I no longer drink because I feel pressured to. I drink because I enjoy it and because I appreciate the art and chemistry that has gone into it.


    Did alcohol contribute to my mental health issues? Yes, alcohol became a coping mechanism, it became something which gave me protection and confidence.  Life is journey, we all have to take the path that seem right at the time.  I just feel blessed that noticed the path I was on and managed to reroute.


    Ironically craft beer actually helped my recovery. Mental health conditions, especially anorexia are crippling and life limiting.  Recovery is different for everyone; some people require hospitalisation, and others find a passion in art or religion.   Before I discovered craft beer I feared alcohol and social situations associated with it. Now I embrace the chance enjoy craft beer and try the latest releases. I have also found I enjoy educating others, In this sense you say that craft beer is my religion, always learning and spreading the message.


    I plan to continue on my journey of recovery and discovery. I recently begun an Instagram profile, @beer2eternity, where I share my craft beer experiences. As well as bringing the first craft beer festival to Exeter in collaboration with Topsham brewery and Exeter Round Table.


    The devils in the detail….




    Instagram @beer2eternity

  • Sun, Sea, Sand and Craft Beer! How has the Beer landscape changed on the Algarve?

    Over the past 5 years my wife and I have enjoyed 4 brilliant holidays to Carvoeiro, a small resort 40 minutes east of Faro on Portugal’s Algarve.
    We first visited in October 2014 and immediately fell in love with the place. We found that Carvoeiro had everything we wanted from a relaxing holiday destination. But could I get a good Beer?
    Carvoeiro has developed from a small traditional Portuguese fishing village and is now a small but bustling holiday resort with a great selection of bars, restaurants, shops and hotels. It’s still small enough that it’s retained its traditional charm whilst still moving with the times, providing everything you would expect from a modern vibrant town.
    Moving with the times has meant that even Carvoeiro has not escaped the ‘craft beer revolution’. When we first visited I was only just discovering craft beer myself, back in the UK the craft beer scene was still very much a work in progress. In Carvoeiro craft beer was non-existent. Going for a drink involved four choices, wine, beer, cider or cocktails. If you chose beer your choices were relatively restricted. The only beers available in nearly all establishments were ‘Superbock’ a 5.2% ABV pale lager from the Carlsberg group, ‘Sagres’ a 5% ABV pale lager ultimately owned by Heineken and of cause Guinness!
    On our next visit the following year not much has changed. The only subtle difference was that ‘Superbock Stout’ had started to appear in a few select bars and restaurants, but on the whole its availability was very limited. In most venues I would be met with blank stares when I requested in at the bar, on more than one occasion when asking for a Superbock Stout I was proudly presented with a pint of Superbock lager!
    ‘Superbock Stout’ is a 5% ABV dark stout produced by Superbock who are part of the Carlsberg group. I was impressed by the smooth creamy mouthfeel which coupled with a milk chocolate, sweet vanilla and roasted coffee flavour resulting in an extremely drinkable and enjoyable stout. It wasn’t as heavy as Guinness and as it was sold in 330ml rather than pints, it was also much more sessionable; just what I wanted for a long afternoon in the sun!
     In 2017 we returned again, on the face of it nothing had changed. Superbock and Sagres were still the most popular and available beers while Guinness was still the go to dark beer. Superbock Stout was now available in a wider range of venues, most important of all being my hotel bar!
    But once you scratched the surface subtle and important changes were beginning to appear. Firstly in many of the restaurants were now offering other European Lagers on draught, San Miguel, Stella Artois and Heineken were all available depending on the venue. Not exactly ‘craft beer’ but at least there were now more options.
    On a slightly more exciting note, when I was in the town’s main bottle shop selecting a bottle of Port to take home for my parents I noticed 3 different brightly coloured 330ml bottles. On closer inspection I realised I was looking at 3 bottles from a Lisbon based brewery Cerveja Musa. I found to my delight an Oat Stout, an IPA and a Red Session IPA, all with a music, theme. ‘Twist and Stout, ‘Born in the IPA’ and ‘Red Zeppelin’…..see what they did there! Unfortunately all were sat on a warm shelf in direct sunlight, also being my last day of the holiday I decided to give them a miss. There will be a next time I thought!
    Sadly I had to wait 2 years for the next time but when it came I certainly was not disappointed.
    By this time it was May 2019. The craft beer scene in the UK was well established, Magic Rock had just found their way onto Tesco’s shelves and breweries like Cloudwater, Deya and Verdant were producing top quality beer that were giving the Americans a run for their money.
    When we arrived in Carvoeiro I was pleased to discover things has also improved there too. At my first opportunity I walked down the very same bottle shop that I had spotted the Cerveja Musa 2 years previous. As I walked in I immediately spotted a large fridge full of all types of alcohol, wine, port, cava and most importantly 1 shelf dedicated to Cerveja Musas’ four beers and four other craft beers from another Portuguese craft brewer +351.
    An Oat Stout, Black IPA, 2 different IPAs, Red Session IPA, Pale Ale and a Vienna Lager, truly spoiled for choice. The fact that they were now refrigerated also showed that retailers were taking more care over the beer they were selling, ensuring quality form brewery to glass!
    Things had also improved in the hotel, the bar which on the previous occasion had Superbock lager on draught and Superbock Stout in bottles now had a 6 pump keg system with Superbocks’ ‘1927’ craft beer series available. This included a Munich Dunkel, Bengal IPA and Weiss Bier as well as Superbock Stout on draught.
    Over the next couple of days I made it my goal to try all of the Cerveja Musa and +351 330ml bottles. My first choice was Cerveja Musas’ ‘Red Zeppelin’, a red session IPA. I paid for it and made my way down the beach before cracking it open. It was delightful, dried fruits and malty caramel on the nose which complemented a refreshing toffee, fig, raisin and subtle citrus taste
    Later that day we visited one of our favourite bars, located in the cliffs with stunning views over the Atlantic Ocean, to my surprise I spotted some more Cerveja Musa in the fridge there……result!
    This time a thought I’d try the Oat Stout, again it was fantastic. Full of flavour, an espresso coffee and milk chocolate aroma with similar taste, it was certainly as good as stouts from the likes of Bristol Beer Factory and Left Handed Giant.


    The +351 beers were equally as impressive with the Black IPA being a particular highlight. It’s hoppy, smokey, roasted coffee and cacao flavour proved to be very refreshing.
    The icing on the cakes was the discovery of Dos Santos, a small craft brewery located on a golf resort just outside the town. They appeared to be relevantly new, focused on light fruity beers following the principles of the Reinheitsgebot. During the first few days of the holiday I had noticed a few bars had their beers on keg but despite checking most shops in the village I couldn’t find any of their bottles for sale. Therefore on the third day of the holiday we decided to take a trip up to the brewery and taproom so we could sample then for ourselves.
    After a short taxi ride we arrived at the Dos Santos brewery and taproom in a beautiful location overlooking a vineyard and the hills behind. The brewery had a lovely modern feel, including a bright shiny stainless steel brewing kit, a fully mechanised bottling line and a light vibrant taproom and terrace area which made the most of the views. We were greeted by the friendly staff who sat us down on a large table in the window so we could really enjoy the views.
    We ordered our first beers, they offered a core range which include a Pilsner, Lager, Pale and Amber Ale. They also offered a seasonale beer, which on this occasion was a Watermelon pale.
    I opted for the Amber, whilst my wife chose the Watermelon Pale.
    The Amber arrived and was extremely fresh and chilled with just the right level of carbonation. It had beautifully fresh citrus and dried fruits aroma with a crisp orange, sweet toffee and fig taste.
    After enjoying the Amber I swiftly moved on to try the pale ale and the pilsner, both were equally as crisp and refreshing with lovely malt driven flavours.
    The taproom had a simple menu which offered an interesting selection of fresh tapas. My wife and I went for a sharing plate, including local olives, breads, meat and cheeses which complemented the beers excellently. As I sat there sipping the pilsner looking out over the vineyards it suddenly dawned on me how far the Portuguese craft beer scene had developed over the relatively short time I had been visiting. Fresh local beer and fresh local food, this was a far cry from our first visit when the beer never complemented the food, and was nothing more than mass produced and flavourless! Craft beer had defiantly arrived!
    In my view an important part of taking a holiday is relaxing and enjoying the finer things in life, sadly the first time I visited Carvoeiro everything was excellent apart from the beer. Now however even on this small part of The Algarve a public demand and an industry passion has resulted in change. Now quality and choice are now in charge. If this is the story in just one small part of Portugal in sure the cases is very similar right along the Atlantic. The future looks promising!
  • Lager, The Reformed Character?

    Lager, the Reformed Character? 
    For many years Lager has had a negative stereotype in the UK and has often been misunderstood and overlooked by many a seasoned ale drinker. During the 1980’s and 90’s Lager was something more associated with football violence and rowdy brits abroad than something you would pair with a spicy curry or a beautiful fish dish. The term ‘Lager Lout’ certainly didn’t do anything to boost this image. It could be argued that poor publicity and a lack of education was responsible for this, fortunately the tide appears to have turned.
    What is Lager?
    Lager is often wrongly labelled as a style of beer, in fact lager is not a style, but a whole subsection. Lagers can be pale, amber or even dark, ranging the light coloured Pilsner right up to the stout like Schwarzbieri.
    The term ‘lager’ comes from the German, Lagern ‘to store’ii, and ‘lagering’ aka ‘maturation’ essentially means to store in cold temperatures, generally around 1 or 2C. Unlike ales which are top fermented in warm conditions, lagers are bottom fermented at cooler temperatures. Due to this Lagers require a slightly different strain of yeast although ale and lager yeasts are both closely related.
    Historically lagers originate from Northern Europe, in the areas of Germany, Czech Republic and Austriaiii, some of the most popular styles of Lager such as Pilsner, Helles and Vienna find their origins in this region. The city of Pilsen in Czech Republic is the location of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, the birth place of the first pale lager, hence the name Pilsner.
    The UK’s relationship with Lager
    Some argue the UK’s love of Lager was borne from the increase in package holidays to continental Europe during the early 1970’s. Brits were returning having drunk lager on their holidays and began to demand something different to the traditional British cask ale. Also the crisp, citrus flavour of the Pilsner lager was seen as slightly more suited to the female palateiv. Suddenly there was another option at the bar, the Brits loved it, the love affair continued and in 1989 lager outsold real ale for the first time.
    However like most things, with popularity came controversy. Lager was relatively cheap and easy to drink; this made lagers and more correctly the Pilsner, the drink of choice for those that wanted to drink a lot in a relatively short space of time. This earned lager nicknames such as ‘Wife Beater’v due to links between excessive drinking and domestic violence. During this time lager also often had a higher ABV than some of the more traditional British cask ales which didn’t help this stereotype.
    Brands like Carlsberg, Stella Artois and Heineken became household names, with popularity also came mass production. To keep up with demand and the fierce competition for space on the supermarket shelves and bars, brewers had to resort to increased mechanisation and shorter maturation periods.
    This had two key effects, a price war and a perceived reduction in quality and flavour. Both of these could be subjects for articles in their own right. Suffice to say lager became cheaper and consumption increased!
    In addition the distinction between the various lager styles became blurred. The term ‘lager’ became a common place term when referring to a Pilsner, and as a result other styles of lager such as the Munich Helles, Vienna lager and classic Bock struggled to compete.


    The Revolution Begins…


    The ‘craft beer revolution’ was driven by a number of breweries in the USA and a small, but ever increasing number of new breweries in the UK. West Coast and New England IPAs were appearing in pubs and specialist bottle shops across the country. Initially lager did not play a large part in this, perhaps in part due to the image of lager created by the media and the perception by some that lager was a second class drink.
    As the popularity of craft ales increased however, some of the new craft breweries as well as some of the more established American brewers started introducing lagers to the market. In 2010 Camden Brewery was established, and shortly after this they started to produce Camden Hells their signature lager which actually combines two different styles the Helles and the Pilsner. This was followed in 2012 when Samuel Adams struck an agreement with Kent based Shepard Neame to start brewing their flagship Boston Lager. Samuel Adams is a Vienna Lager, darker in colour than most in the UK were use too.
    The fact that some of the first ‘craft lagers’ to hit the pubs and bottle shops of the UK were not Pilsners may have been the catalyst for change. Ordering a lager in Wetherspoons didn’t automatically mean ‘pilsner’. Those who would have traditionally reached for a malty, citrusy and frankly flavourless macro lager were being presented with the option of deeper more flavoursome beer.
    This situation improved further when in 2016 Brooklyn Lager from New York began distributing their Lager in Europe.


    Personally I first discovered craft beer around 2014, however the thought of drinking a lager just brought back memories of my teens, memories of drinking cheap, fizzy macro lager. This was until a friend returned from a trip to Dublin and informed me that Guinness had started to brew a lager. Initially I was sceptical, but he said ‘try it’ and that’s exactly what I did! The lager in question was ‘Hop House 13’, a 5% ABV dry hopped lager brewed using Galaxy, Topaz and Mosaic hops. I remember trying it for the first time. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised, I hadn’t realised that a lager could taste that flavoursome. Caramel, bready and slightly floral, maybe there was more to lager than I had released.

    Like me, many others were being educated and converted to this new breed of lagers. Guinness and Camden were soon joined in this lager revival by the likes of Brewdog with ‘Kingpin’, Meantime with ‘London Lager’ and Beavertown with ‘Beavo’.
    As the popularity of these new lagers increased so did the availability; they were now available in the supermarket aisles alongside the more established macro brands. These new lagers were also helping rebuild the image of lager, top chefs, beer writers and other columnists were now talking about lager in a different light.
    Many craft brewers in the UK have experimented with lagers in some form, lots even have a lager as part of their core range.
    In early 2019 I was introduced to two breweries who solely produce fresh British lagers. Cotswold Brew Co from Gloucestershire and Utopian Brewing from Devon both focus on using the best British malts to produce Germany and Czech inspired lagers. Cotswold have started experimenting with long maturated Helles and Pilsners’ in an attempt to deliver even more flavour from their brews, whilst Utopian have focused their brewing around sustainability and using 100% British Ingredients.
    When I tried both the Cotswold and the Utopian I can honestly say how impressed I was by the depth of flavour they delivered. Proof that when you use quality ingredients and have a skilled and passionate brewer lager is much more than just a fizzy alternative to a cask ale.
    Whilst it is still possible to go to your local supermarket and buy 18 cans of Stella for £15.00 it is also true that the UK consumer now has much more choice; not only in the quality of lager they buy but also the style. Pilsners, Helles, and Vienna lagers all sit side by side on bars and supermarket shelves across the country.

    Education is the key, if the public become aware of the exciting flavours and super fresh lager alternatives available, maybe, just maybe they’ll think twice the next time they order their regular pint!
  • Try or Dry? A Question for 2020

    Try or Dry

    As we leave Christmas behind and head into 2020 many beer drinkers will face that annual decision….try or dry?

    Dry January is the annual campaign to give up alcohol for the month of January, some will sight health reasons, some trying to rebalance the Christmas binge. Others will take on the challenge to save a little money.

    On the other hand, Tryanuary seeks to promote independent breweries, bottle shops and beers. It encourages drinkers to try something new, something they wouldn’t normally drink.

    The arguments for both are compelling; in theory the idea of detoxing your body after what may have been a slightly indulgent December is a good one. I’m aware there is conflicting medical studies as to the benefits of spending a month tee total.

    I’m no Doctor and I am certainly not going to claim to be. However, that said I guess that allowing no alcohol to enter your body must have some positives. My question though; does stopping alcohol consumption for one month just to ‘get back on it’ come February 1st have any benefits? I’ll let you ponder that one.

    First founded in 2013 by Alcohol Concern, Dry January use to mean soft drinks, good old H2O or some frankly terrible non alcoholic beer. I remember for example the first time I tried Cobra Alcohol Free, it certainly didn’t taste like beer!

    Thankfully in 2020, Dry January participants have a great and ever increasing selection of good quality and flavourful alcohol free options. Breweries such as Adnams, Brewdog and Thornbridge all offer alcohol free beers in addition to their core ranges. In addition to these are a number of breweries like Big Drop and Nirvana who focus on producing purely alcohol free and low ABV beer.

    I first had Big Drop’s Milk Stout about 12 months ago. I remember halfway through the bottle I had to remind myself I was drinking alcohol free beer. Apart from a slightly thin body the taste and aroma was exactly what I would expect for a regular milk stout.

    Big Drop pride themselves on brewing recipes that produce low ABV beer rather than brewing conventional strength beer, then removing the alcohol via industrial processes which is how many alcohol free beers were originally produced. The last 12 months has seen their availability increased with main major supermarkets and high street health food shops stocking their products. This is evidence, if needed, that the quality of alcohol free beer is improving. Dry January no longer means missing out.

    Tryanuary on the other hand is a more recent concept being founded in 2015 with the mission of championing local beer.

    The idea is simple, encourage drinkers to support independent breweries, bars and bottle shops throughout January. Traditionally January was a challenging month for the brewing and beer industry. Partially due to people trying to save money post Christmas, but also as many people set new years resolutions, aiming to reduce their alcohol intake to improve their health. It can also be argued that although it’s intent is honourable Dry January only made things harder.

    During Tryanuary events are held up and down the country, tap takeovers, meet the brewers, bottle shares and tasting evenings. Each with the intention of promoting local and independent beer.

    As an aspiring beer writer and reviewer you might think I would be dead against Dry January….well you’d be wrong. Also you might think Dry January and Tryanuary are not compatible; well, I believe you’re also wrong.

    If you’re taking part in Dry January this year I wish you well and set you a second challenge, which I shall call ‘Try and Dry’. Rather than opting to stay in, go out, visit your local bar, pub, or bottle shop. Try their alcohol free options, and if they haven’t any, ask them why!

    Personally, Dry January isn’t for me, I shall start 2020 in the same way I have finished 2019. Enjoying great beer, both regular and alcohol free and doing all this as part of a healthy balanced lifestyle. I live by a simple mantra; ‘Drink Less, But Drink Better’.

    Try or Dry? I can’t answer that, what I can say is, drink local, support the independent.