Sacre Brew Guided Beer Tasting – 11th February 2017


On a snowy February afternoon my husband Dave and I set off to Sacre Brew in Wolverhampton to be part of a small group of people lucky enough to have a guided tasting of 8 beers by brewster/owner Gwen Sanchirico.

Each participant was given a tasting wheel and notes on the sort of words you can use to describe beer – I have to say ‘catty’ is one of my favourites!
The tasting consisted of eight beers – Man on the Oss, Sloe Loris, Tangle, Dracunculus, Defeating Synths, Love for 2 Oranges, Blood Lust of Ocipio and Buffalo Beer 2016. The tastings were accompanied by examples of malts and other ingredients used to help understand where the flavours and colours of the beers come from.


We started off our journey with Man on the Oss. Gwen told us that when she set up her brewery she wanted to brew beers that were exotic but accessible and this was her first one as Sacre Brew. It’s a saison brewed with 25% rye and the batch we drank (SA1024) was 4.4% down from the original 5.2%. The beer is a wonderful orangey colour, thanks in part to the Munich malt used, with a peppery, orangey flavour to match. As with all of Gwen’s beers the label is as good as the contents, this one drawn by the lead singer of Alice Donut Tomas Antona. This has additional significance for Gwen as it’s through this band she met her husband Mark and came to move to Wolverhampton!
The second beer of the afternoon was Sloe Loris – a sloe gin inspired beer (yes it’s pink!) that I was lucky enough to be involved in brewing the first time round. The orignal beer was brewed for last year’s Birmingham Beer Bash (an event sadly lacking from the calendar this year). It’s “sour but not sour” as it does not use the wild yeasts that usually give that flavour. In this case it comes from the sloe juice added in fermentation. The gin flavours are given by the 1.5KG of juniper berries, angelica root, coriander seeds and lemon peel. The label in this case was drawn by my friend Greg McLeod, one half of The Brothers McLeod.
A dark beer next, Tangle, originally a Belgian stout but this batch (BST002) is only Belgian ‘inspired’ as it was brewed with abbey yeast. A slight metallic odour but with a light, malty, dark fruit flavour. Lovely label artwork by local artist Sarah Stokes.
Another beer that we were involved with was next – Dracunculus (meaning little dragon). This was first brewed by Dave as a present for a ‘big’ birthday two and half years ago. The recipe has evolved over time as Gwen has had different hops and yeasts available. This again had the orangey, golden colour from the Munich malt. A bready, banana and melon flavour from the abbey yeast.


The next beer was brewed with Donncha Burke of Ar Suil. Donncha is a home brewer who Gwen met at Clink and he asked if he could come and brew with her. Gwen tells of a number of discarded recipes before they settled on this final one. It has a fruity, dry flavour with spicy notes. I have to say that I liked it better when I had it on keg at 6/8 Kafe a few weeks back. The label in this case reminded us all of Predator as well as Japanese Manga – it’s drawn by Peter Tinkler who has contributed a number of pieces to Gwen for labels.


Moving up the abvs now, at 8.5% Love for 2 Oranges is a tripel and part of the Hailstone series of beers. The first hailstone beer was named as such because a hailstone fell into the brew! No hailstones in this one but tons of flavour. A sharp citrus aroma with a bready, Belgian flavour. Against tradition this tripel is spiced and we were shown the star anise and grains of paradise that went into the brew.

Our penultimate beer was Blood Lust of Ocipio a 9.1% double IPA. The name comes from a stream of consciousness poem that Gwen wrote which eventually became song lyrics. The beer is heavily dry hopped with Vic Secret (Gwen won 20KG of these hops). It’s a very light beer given its strength with the hops adding a fruity, resinous flavour.

Our final beer was the first beer we ever had from Sacre Brew – Buffalo Beer. The 2016 incarnation which was brewed back in November is aging very well. The flavour is in part from the jaggery Gwen uses to sweeten it. Jaggery is a cane sugar used mainly in Africa and Asia which adds a spicy note to the beer along with the fenugreek, long peppers, grains of paradise and cumin which we got to see and smell during the tasting too.

As always this session served to show how diverse Gwen’s beers are and she has certainly succeeded in making beer that is both exotic but accessible. The West Midlands brewing scene will be all the poorer when she returns to New York later this year. But who knows maybe Sacre Brew NYC will rise from the ashes?

Note: We’ll be having a final interview with Gwen before she leaves to talk about how her experience has been as an American brewster in Wolverhampton and her plans for the future.

The Anchor, Digbeth – Reimagining an Icon

Just before Christmas we got the opportunity to visit The Anchor in Digbeth to meet the new owner Jules and the cellar man Jason (The Beer Wizard) and learn a little more about what they have in store for this famous old Brummie boozer.

TAKING ON A LEGEND

An Inn has been on the present site since approximately 1803, with the current building standing since 1901.  The heritage building passed into the hands of the Keane Family in 1973, with Gerry Keane taking over from his father in 1983.  Under his stewardship he bought the Freehold in the 1990’s and it would eventually be named Birmingham CAMRA Pub of the Year four times.

After raising one family and beginning to raise another Gerry made the decision to sell up in early 2016.  He wasn’t content with handing it over to anybody, instead choosing to sell to somebody who would respect the old building and maintain its independence.

Jules has been in drink and hospitality business most of his working life beginning at TGI Fridays on the Hagley Road, 22 years ago, before taking his interest in cocktails and spirits to Bank, Ronnie Scotts and Red Bar among others. During this time the main focus of his drinking in terms of beer was mainly lager and Newcastle Brown Ale but when he became part of the Bitter ‘n’ Twisted chain and took over as manager of the Victoria he found a bit of a taste for real ale in the shape of Wye Valley.

He then moved on to the Botanist for a while, did a bit of freelance work, but the yern to have his own place was gnawing away at him, so when he heard Gerry was selling, his interest was piqued and he saw his next challenge, the chance to run a proper boozer.

“He liked what I wanted to do with it, and was glad it was me, not a big company or brewery”

To begin with quite a bit of work was needed in the cellar along with general cleaning, tidying, a lick of paint here and there but his ethos was not to change the fundamentals of the pub.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel; it just needed a lick of paint and a bit of love”

The Anchor had been known for the quality of its beers, re-establishing this reputation was a key part of their future plans.  Who better to work magic on the cellar than The Beer Wizard himself Jason Green.

Having started in the trade as a glass collector he has had an extensive and varied career in the beer industry beginning at Beefeater steakhouses before getting cellar training with M&B which took him up and down the country where he developed an enjoyment of looking after beer, learning many of the tricks of the trade, and developing a few tricks of his own (remember he is a wizard). He has worked in both the independent and corporate world leading him to The Victoria, where he first met Jules, and was part of the team that helped The Vic become a great beer venue for a while as they we were able to bring in some great beers from across the country.

RE-IMAGINING THE LEGEND

The team took over The Anchor in August 2016 and immediately began their work.

“Walked in on the 8th August and immediately headed down to the Cellar and start cleaning…from 12 hand pulls at the time we condemned 5”

The team built a relationship with Marston’s who helped replace much of the equipment.  The main bar area remains largely the same, with many of the period features still in place.  The focus of the back room is a bit more youth oriented, hosting DJ’s, musicians and comedians and a small room is available for community groups and organisations free of charge.  Future plans include opening up the kitchen to serve food, and improving the rear of the building to create a beer garden.

The bar now hosts 6 cask and 3 interesting Keg, including Marston’s, Wye Valley and a rotation of local beers including Fixed Wheel, and beers from further afield such as Brodie’s.  If the beers sell well, there is space for up to 4 more cask beers and 3 more Keg.  Beers in the fridge include Beavertown, Magic Rock and Moor Beer Company to name a few.  The Team at The Anchor are focused on bringing the best to their customers; this included beers, but also includes a carefully chosen selection of whiskey, gin & wine along with other quality spirits.  Jules also works his magic on a unique selection of cocktails and Boilermakers (Whiskey and Beer Mixes named after staff members).

The team at The Anchor are determined to make a success of the venture with a focus on quality products and great service, something Jules has a track record of delivering.

“We want to make sure we have something for everyone.  We want to do it well.”

We leave the final words to Jules and Jason, with their mission for the Future of The Anchor.

“We are going for the ‘Cheers’ feel…We want to be people’s favourite boozer”

6/8 Kafe Basement Bar Opening Night – 2nd Dec 2016

Back at the start of December I popped along to the official opening night of the basement bar at 6/8 Kafe. A few weeks before I’d been to their successful craft beer festival, featuring a number of local brewers, and I was interested to see what the new bar would be like without the draw of this event.

The opening consisted of 3 taps – two from Sacre Brew (Love for 2 Oranges and Crème de Stout) and one from Twisted Barrel (In Amber Clad) Gwen had been instrumental, with others, in getting the bar up and running including a last minute dash to a plumbing supply shop for a bush reducer (yeah I don’t know what it is either!). But it all came together and as I wandered in the beer was flowing and Gwen was serving behind the bar.

I have to say the beers I had on the night In Amber Clad and Love for 2 Oranges were tasting extremely fresh and clean and the small crowd in the bar seemed to be really enjoying them too. It really is great to walk into a bar and see only local beers on the taps – we need more of this in Birmingham.

Whilst I was there Dav (the owner) and Gwen recorded a pod cast which you can find here – Dav is keen to increasehis beer knowledge (more on that later) and Gwen was happy to take him through a tasting and record it for posterity.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk to Dav about the background and future for 6/8 and he was happy to oblige – in fact I ended up recording 25 minutes with him! Since you don’t want to hear all our babble I’ve distilled this into the conversations below.

I started out by asking about how Dav and 6/8 had decided to make the move from being a coffee bar to a craft beer bar as well. He told me that he’d started the business about 6 years ago, at that time he was working abroad a lot in Germany (we reminisced about bierkellers in Munich!) and Belgium and frequenting the bars and coffee shops in those locations. When he came home he couldn’t get a new job so he created his own job based on these experiences. He said his experiences of drinking in the UK was of excess so he went for a coffee shop. The coffee shop was a success and they even got in to the Barista Championship semi-final twice. The decision was taken to open another store however this turned out to be a drain on resources and coupled with the building work at the main shop covering the front of the store in scaffolding – this hit them hard. The shops on either side closed and being shrouded in scaffolding meant people thought they too had closed.

At this time he said they had a couple of staff interested in craft beer and inspired by the businesses in London who are both coffee and beer destinations they decided to branch out.  He told me that until recently he hadn’t realised how great beer could be! But he wanted to create something great and given the opening of various big chain coffee shops he realised they needed to expand. He wants to keep the focus on the coffee but to expand the beer side.

I moved on and asked him about the beer festival – was it successful? He said it brought people in and on the Friday, Burning Soul showed him how the bar was trending on Twitter for Birmingham! He says the beer festival not only made for a great ‘opening’ for the bar but it made people aware of the coffee shop again as they had lost some interest over the last year (due to the building work).

We talked about the huge beer scene in Manchester where it seems there is a craft beer bar every 100 yards yet here in Birmingham it still feels like we’re struggling (it’s getting better with Tilt, Brewdog, Cherry Red’s and the upturn in the Jewellery Quarter). I asked him what was challenging about starting and promoting a business (their location is not so visible but Bull Street tram stop has to help!). He said that his understanding of Manchester is that it has the Northern Quarter – in the past (not sure now!) rent was cheaper, it’s an artistic area, it has the same scene with coffee bars there too. So basically people went there as it’s cheaper which has now led it to become such an oasis for both beer and coffee lovers. But in Birmingham the rents in the centre are higher but in the slightly outlying areas like the locations of Tilt and 6/8 the rents are a little lower. This is where business will pop up.

We went back to talking about the beer festival and how it focussed on local brewers – I asked if this would be something he‘d like to stick to – locally sourced beer? He replied that the success of the festival was down to that very point – not only because of the beer but because of the help and advice the brewers gave him on setting up the festival and the bar in general. He’d like to keep a local focus and will look to get more advice from people including both brewers and guys like us on the blog. We are going to keep asking people to help with sourcing beers he wants to do great interesting, fun stuff and if he can get that locally that is great but he will also consider customer feedback as the bar moves forward.

We finished up talking about the future. He told me the bar will be closed for most of January to allow for more staff training (they’ve had some changes recently) as well as looking for interesting events to hold in the bar. We talked about the possibility of combining beer with music, art and film all of which are of interest to him- he wants to make the bar a real destination for coffee, beer and the arts and for that I think he should be applauded.
Birmingham needs more of these small independent places where, as Dav said, “we can interact with interesting people on interesting topics”. He knows it’s going to take time and hard work but he certainly seemed to filled with the enthusiasm to get stuff done!

MBBC Road Trip – Derby

Our first port of call was a very short walk from the railway station to The Brunswick, home to thep1010151 brewery of the same name, and CAMRA pub of the year. It’s a decent size, a few rooms with nooks and crannies, and a good size bar with 14 hand pulls dispensing beers from the on site brewery and guest ales. Deb & I both had Brunswick beers which were really nice, nothing outrageous, no reinvention of the wheel but good clear beers in great condition.
Next, we took a short walk along the River Derwent to the Furnace Inn, home to Shiny brewery, sort of. Having a quick chat with the guy behind the bar I discovered that Pedro bought the pub first and then set up the brewery, but now the bulk of the brewing is done at new premises in Long Eaton. However the original brewery still exists doing small batch brews including both the Tomahawk American Brown and Crystal Mess ipa. After a swift half of cask each we tried both of these on keg and p1010178they were very nice, both a bit unusual, good hoppy nose on the Mess, and a bit of subtle sweetness about both beers. The pub itself is again very unassuming in the middle of a residential area, but judging by all the pump clips if you live nearby you’ll be ok for a decent beer or two. Also, kudos for the excellent pork pies that they serve.

For our 3rd visit we popped along to Friars Gate and the fairly recently opened Suds and Soda. I had met Tom Ainsley at the Beer Bash when he worked with me as one of the volunteers and remembered him saying he was hoping to open a bottle bar and tap room in Derby, so was quite pleased a couple of months later to see that it had opened. He and his business partner Josh Mellor both had experience of working in bars and were both postmen when they simultaneously came up with the idea of opening a shop to sell bottles and cans but also having a small amount of taps to keep customers there awhile. Although there is a really good cask ale scene in Derby they wanted to show the other side so to speak of what was on offer from modern brewers. Interestingly Josh wasn’t really into beer that much and was just a lager drinker but has gradually found a taste for keg beers, especially pale ales, although he is partial to the odd bottle of strong stout. Tom said the first beer he remembered making a distinct impression on him was Hopback Summer Lightning but then he moved to Canada for a while and discovered new tastes. By the time he got back to England he was able to discover the delights of Kernel and Beavertown which was the beginning of his journey to where he is now. I asked where the name came from, and he said was a fan of the movie The Shawshank Redemption and the quote – “I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds.“ (As an aside I only recently found out that the slang word suds for beer comes from Sudwerk being the German for brewhouse). Plus the band Deus have a song called “Suds and Soda” so it kind of fell into place. They p1010189are pretty pleased by the way things are going so far and although they have had a few people in to check out “the new trendy bar” who they may not see again they have started to build up a few regulars in their first month or so. On the day we visited they had beers from Neon Raptor on because they’d had a Meet the Brewer the night before, and they were pretty decent. We also tried a couple from the shelves, a Key Lime Pie Gose by Westbrook Brewing Co. for me and Jakehead IPA by Wylam for Deb which she really enjoyed.
To finish this little mini tour of Derby we headed back down Sadler’s Gate to Hop Gate, a bar which after only being open 7 weeks won a local bar of the year award… It is owned by Chris Farman, a CAMRA committee member but obviously one of the newer breed since the bar sells both cask and keg, and it is his second venture, the other being the Barrel Drop in Nottingham. It’s quite a quirky little space but we made ourselves at home with some cheese and biscuits from a nearby deli and settled down to finish the evening off in style. Whilst ordering I had a quick chat with the guys behind the bar who told me they try to support local breweries but after the first few months Beavertown and Cloudwater are the ones that have been selling well. And although the bar p1010192embraces both cask and keg it was the latter we went for with Deb having the tasty and juicy American Psycho by Mad Hatter to begin with. She followed this up with Gondoila by Beavertown, an 11% imperial chocolate and raspberry stout which she thought was quite complex with definite fruity overtones. As for me I went for The Big Top by Magic Rock Brewing, an imperial red ale which I described on Untappd as lush, and followed it up with Brewed With Friends #1 by Brouwerij Kees…even lusher. I guess by then even my normal poor powers of description had deserted me, but this latter was a 12.55 Belgian Quad brewed in collaboration with Magic Rock so i guess I can be forgiven.
All in all we had a great day, and I got the impression there are more places to explore, but should you be in Derby for shopping, culture, or football (Up The Rams!) we can highly recommend these 4 venues for your drinking pleasure…

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The End of an Era?

A few people have asked us if we are going to do a blog about the recent events at the Craven Arms, but since we don’t have any facts we feel this would be inappropriate. Like most of you reading this we are very disappointed that Chris and Sharon have left, and we do feel it is a step backwards for whatever the “beer scene” is in Birmingham. Mostly we are going to miss the incredible range of well kept cask ales on the bar and realise it may be some time before we see some of the breweries they featured on cask in Birmingham again. And we will miss the Meet the Brewer events that they had occasionally been putting on on a Monday night, which neatly leads me into this…

Although Elusive Brewing is a fairly new concern having only started in April of this year, its head honcho Andy Parker (aka the nicest man in brewing) has been in the game a bit longer, and at the Craven Arms on Halloween night he told us his story and introduced us to some of his fine selection of beers.
Andy began home brewing in 2012, and having done a bit of it myself I was pretty impressed that after only 2 years he won UK home brewer of the year in 2014. (As an aside, after 2 years I would be happy just to be making something drinkable). The winning beer was an American Red, which later became Level Up, one of the core range of Elusive beers, and it lead to him brewing the rather excellent (imho) Lord Nelson with Weird Beard. Later, via another homebrew competition that Siren and Omnipollo ran jointly, he ended up doing a collaboration with the former even though he only came 2nd. Ryan Witter, then head brewer at Siren, asked him to help brew a beer preferably using some of the large amount of Vienna Malt they had, and so they came up with Dinner for One, the first in a series of light, sessionable beers using the same grist but altering the hop profile. Eventually though, after a lot of effort, some of which was alluded to in this post about Cotteridge’s birthday – https://aburtoniansadventuresinbeer.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/cotteridge-wines-21st/ , he found premises, and started to brew. He has a 5 barrel brewery and just got his 3rd FV in, and at the time of the event he was on Gyle 26 and offers beers in cask, keg and bottles mixing it up between his 2 core beers, Starship Fleet and Level Up, and some special brews. The core beers do change though depending on hop availability, the former is on Wave 4 and the latter Level 3, and he was keen to point out that he likes a balanced beer rather than a hop bomb. As for the specials, well 2 very special ones were on the bar for p1010124the event. Carve’n Yams had been brewed especially for the occasion and had a thematic note for halloween being “a smooth, sweet pumpkin porter with lashings of Hasbean coffee ( El Salvador Finca Argentina Estate Washed Bourbon) and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg” to quote the description on Untappd. It was very smooth and easy drinking. The other special was the only cask of the beer that Andy had brewed with Affinity brewery in Tottenham and the Brewdog bar in Clerkenwell for this years Collabfest 2016, Brimful of Masha, a coffee and maple American red ale. By now, from some of the names, you might be able to tell that Andy is of an age when 8 bit computer games were all the rage, and also that he likes a pun or allusion in the name. All his core beers have a pixel design derived from the old BBC micro font and vintage computer style graphics. Going forward he wants to keep finding new flavours from the hops he is able to get hold of, a problem many other brewers have been having. He is only able to brew one of his beers, Shadow of the Beast, a great easy drinking black ipa with light roastiness and fruitiness, when he can get the hops. However, he did finish his talk by saying that as a small brewer he still enjoys walking into a pub and seeing his beers on the bar. So this night must’ve been as enjoyable for him as it was for us customers partaking of all these fine beers…

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A week later, on Nov 7th, it was the turn of Lost and Grounded to pay Birmingham and the Craven Arms a visit, a fairly new brewery that has recently opened up in Bristol. This one was a little different because all 6 beers were on keg. Alex Troncoso was on hand with his partner Annie and members of the brewing team to give us a little history of himself, the brewery and the beers. His background is in chemical engineering and his introduction to brewing came in 1993 when he started to dabble in home brewing. After that came a bit of travelling about including a move back to Australia where he got a job for a few years with Little Creatures brewery. Eventually they ended up in England, and although he was still working in brewing there was a certain monotony to the job. He said a turning point came when they visited Bristol and found people in pubs laughing and having fun and so the decision was made to start a new brewery in the city. He had mainly been brewing pale ales in his previous jobs so he decided on a new beginning, and since he had a bit of a fascination with Belgian and German styles that has become their focus. Even before the brewery had opened there was a lot of focus on them on social media, and I did wonder if they were aware of this, but Alex and Annie said during this period they were so focused on what they were doing that it was basically work, sleep and fret if they had made a huge mistake. Fortunately they need not have worried since they seem to have hit the ground running and their first few beers have found favour with drinkers around the country.. The 6 beers on tap ranged from thep1010199 “simple but satisfying” Keller Pils to the bigger and more complex Apophenia, a Belgian style Tripel. My 2 favourites of the night were the Saison d’Avon which takes it’s name from the river across from the brewery and was a really nice clean, fruity example of a saison, and the aforementioned Apophenia which hid its 8.8% strength well behind the Belgian yeast and general fruitiness. Alex was an engaging speaker, I did like when he said, using a certain amount of self deprecation,that they worked as if they were the only brewery around, and his attitude to the word craft was that it was a state of mind and referred to people that gave a shit from start to finish. I certainly think their philosophy behind the brews and use of local artists from the Drawn in Bristol website for the branding of the beers is commendable. They have taken what they have learned from travelling and studying in the past to start a new adventure. This became the focus for the second half of the evening as it became meet the customer and a few of us shared our experiences of drinking, where we began, and what our epiphany beer was. For Alex it was Rochefort 8 that changed his view, for me Thornbridge Jaipur, which you can read about here –https://aburtoniansadventuresinbeer.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/the-background-one/
There was another shout out for Jaipur, plus mentions of Dead Pony, Boddingtons, Brooklyn Lager, Yellow Belly, and Stones Ruination IPA, so a fairly varied selection and some interesting tales from customers pasts.

So to conclude, two good nights of beery chat, thanks to Tim Rowe for helping to organise these and events in the past. And yes, the Craven Arms under the direction of Chris and Sharon will be missed but we at the blog will continue to celebrate and promote what we can of Birmingham’s “beer scene” and work in partnership with people across the Midlands to support future events…

#SuperSundayDrinking Lambic Special @ Clink

Surely the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon is at Clink with Roberto Ross drinking 10 Lambic beers?  Well that is what Dave and I were lucky enough to do, along with Jeff, Jo, Andrew and Donna, on the 6th of November.

Upon arrival Roberto told us he was worried there wasn’t enough beer (?!) so he’d brought along 3 additional beers.  To add to this we brought a bottle from our visit to Three Floyds to share with our new friends.  So that bumped the total to 14 – it was going to be a good afternoon!  It wasn’t all liquid as we’d all brought along a selection of nibbles to help soak up some of the alcohol too!  So we were ready to go…

Now I’m not planning to write you a blog on all the beers (you can see the full list in the picture) but I am going to take the liberty of picking out some of the stand out beers for me from the tasting.

imageLet’s start with the “add on” beers – there were 2 stand outs here the first being Brassiere Du Pont Avec les Bons Voeux.  This was an exciting opening as Roberto did not know what year’s vintage it was – it had expiry date of 06/2006 so it was cracking on in age!  The answer lay on the cork – 2001!  So a 15 year old beer, would it be vinegar or nectar?  I have to say that, thankfully, it was more the latter than the former.  Upon pouring it still showed a good level of carbonation and a sweet sherry like aroma.  That aroma carried over in the flavours with a slight cane sugar hit but smooth notes balanced by the light bubbles.  A real treat!  The next stand out from this set of beers was the Three Floyds Chevalier Bertram de Guesclin which we brought back from our visit to the brewery tap room last month (what a place that was!).  This is a sour blueberry ale aged in wine barrels.  Small bubble carbonation helped to deliver a fruity beer with a good level of sharp sourness.  I’m glad we’ve another bottle stored away!

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Having made a good start here we were onto the ‘main event’.  I had 4 top beers from this list, which is not to say that the others were not good – they all were (as we expect from Roberto) but these ones took the biscuit (and cheese, olives, crisps etc!).  An interesting “set” of beers for the first one – 3 Founteinen Golden Doesjel 2015.  Roberto told us that doesjel means lazy and refers to the yeasts in these brews – sometimes the just don’t wake up and there is little or no fermentation.  To test out this we had 7 bottles!  The idea here was to blend these bottles together and see what we got.  The first bottle to be opened had good carbonation but after that they were certainly “lazy” with a range of little to absolutely no fizz at all.  Mixing them together (in 2 rounds) worked well and allowed us to see how the flavour changed with the carbonation levels.  To me the less carbonated ones had a less woody flavour which was more pleasant even if they were flat.

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My next choice is Tilquin/Rulles Stout Rullquin 2015.  This is a blend of 7/8 Rulles Brune (Stout de Gaume) and 1/8 of a blend of year old lambics.  It’s matured in oak barrels and refermented in the bottle for 6 months.  The barrels certainly add to this flavour – an almost red wine note to it.  I also got a hint of chocolate from this very light and drinkable beer.  Also an interesting change to the other more traditional lambic beers we had during the afternoon.

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My third favourite of the day was the Oud Beersel Bzart Kriekenlambiek Millesime 2012. This is a 13 month old lambic made with Haspengouwse cherries (try saying that 10 beers in!).  The beer is then aged in 130 year old barrels for 6 months and finished with champagne yeast.  As you can imagine it was a complex tasting beer!  I was certainly getting a really good champagne soaked cherry flavour coupled with some dark chocolate notes too.  It all added up to a very smooth dark beer.

My final choice of the day was 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze (Cuvee Armand & Gaston).  This is a blend of lambics from 2013, 2014 and 2015 and limited to only 10,500 bottles.  It is also the first beer to be made on their new kit without the use of imported wort.  It had much more body than the standard Oude Gueze (of which I am very fond) with a malty richness and more depth of flavour which I guess comes from the blending.  We can only hope that all the beer from the new kit is this good!

Thanks to Roberto for sourcing all these beers, many from his recent trip to the opening of the new 3 Fonteinen taproom – I have to say I remember seeing pictures of this trip on social media, I was sitting at my desk at 9am whilst Roberto was on his first lambic at 10am local time – I’m wondering if I’m in the wrong job!  Also thanks to Jeff, Jo, Andrew and Donna for the great company and impromptu picnic.  Finally thanks to Clink for hosting – a pleasure as always chaps!

Here’s to the next event – cheers!

 

 

 

MBBC Social and brewery crawl on Dec 3rd

We were very pleased over the last few days (Nov 10th – 12th) to see 6/8 cafe have a resounding success with their little mini beer festival which we had given them a bit of advice on, the main part being get local brewers involved. So it was great to see so many people come out to meet and support Chris and Rich from Burning Soul, Carl and Ritchie from Twisted Barrel, Scott from Fixed Wheel, and Gwen from Sacre Brew. This celebration of local breweries was one of the raison d’etre for starting the blog and it is with this in mind that we have organised our first social event.
drinkSo, if you enjoy drinking good beer at the source and chatting with like minded people join us on the afternoon of Dec 3rd. We will meet by Snow Hill around 11.45 and take a short walk to visit Burning Soul where Rich and Chris will open up a bit earlier for us. If you have read any of our blog posts about the Birth of the Brewery you will be aware of the hard work and passion these guys have put into this endeavour, and if you haven’t yet visited you are in for a treat. Staying in the Jewellery Quarter we’ll walk over to the Rock and Roll brewhouse to have a few cask beers, maybe marvel at the great memorabilia on the walls, and fight over who gets to sit in Nick’s Cave. From there we’ll hop on the train to Stourbridge to visit Green Duck brewery to sample what Alex Hill has been up to. And last, but by no means least, we’ll be finishing off at Fixed Wheel where Scott will have his usual fine selection of cask and keg. And if by this point we are ready for food the excellent Balti Towers is a few minutes away.
So you can either join us for the whole “crawl” or just jump in where and when you can. The plan is we should be able to spend over an hour at each venue so hopefully it won’t be too rushed, you can try a couple of beers, and you have a look around and chat to the brewers. See you there!

The Facebook Event can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1793465124250853/

Tilt Turns 1 – Swedish Takeover Weekend

p1010137      Although it was the end of October and there were a lot of Halloween themed events on, we’ve never been big fans (except of the original John Carpenter movie), so on Saturday 29th, after getting a suitably flavoursome lining on our stomach courtesy of OPM, we arrived at a very busy Tilt bar just before 6 pm to celebrate their 1st birthday. For the event they were having a Swedish tap takeover featuring Omnipollo and Dugges, the night we went it was just the former on the 8 taps. Omnipollo is an award winning brewery that was founded in 2011 by Henok Fentie and Karl Grandin, and although based in Stockholm they brew at different breweries across the globe to craft their beers. I’d been a fan of the brewery since tasting the collaboration with Buxton, Yellow Belly, a peanut butter biscuit stout with no biscuits, butter or nuts, which I’d described on my Untappd check-in as sweet, nutty, nicely alcoholic. Since then I’d had a few others and really enjoyed the big, bold flavours they produced. So whilst Deb chatted with friends I ordered the first 2 reasonably low abv beers. Deb had Cassius, a 6 % Citra pale ale which Omnipollo say isp1010140 their finest pale ale, she found it very fruity and quite easy drinking, and I went for Onda, a really good 100% Mosaic pale ale. By the second round, Zodiak for Deb and Leon for me, my wife had decided that Omnipollo was her new favourite brewery. Zodiak is described as the house ipa, although I’m not sure if so called gypsy brewers can have such a thing, and Deb said “another gorgeous hoppy beer with just right amount of bitterness”. Leon is a Belgian pale ale, a style I have a lot of time for, and this one is described by Henok as “assertively hopped and fermented dry using champagne yeast. The yeast and the hops in combination with a simple malt bill provides the beer with a quality of being rich in taste yet refreshing.” And I’m not going to argue with that. 20161029_182820At this point the birthday cake provided by Bake in Kings Heath was brought out, a blueberry cheesecake cake to go with Anagram, a 12% blueberry cheesecake stout…wow, what a beer, sweet, fruity, and boozy. We wondered if anything could match this, but fortunately our last 2 beers managed to do ok. Hypnopompa is another big 11% imperial stout, this one brewed with marshmallows and vanilla beans giving it a rich, creamy taste, and Polimango is a 9.5% imperial ipa and again was superbly hoppy and fruity, unsurprisingly tasting a bit of mango 🙂
During the evening we had a chat with Kirk who seems happy with the way the first year has gone, and I know they have some exciting plans for their second year, so kudos to him and Rich for taking the plunge to open the bar, and many thanks to the staff, past and present, for great service on the many occasions I’ve visited…

The Marston’s Re-brand & Nano Kit Launch: Our Thoughts

A few weeks ago we received the offer to attend the launch for a new Nano Kit at Marston’s Brewery in Burton. It’s the first time we have been invited to this type of event, and as Dave is a proud Burtonian, it was interesting to explore Burton’s brewing history, and Dave’s own personal history. (Disclosure: We went, drank free beer and ate fantastic pork pies).  In this blog, both Dave, and I are going to take you through our thoughts of the evening, and the re-brand of Marston’s.photo-01-11-2016-21-53-32

Bob’s Thoughts:

We thought we would write a few few words about the event and it would be no big thing….then I looked at Twitter in the morning and saw the response to the new brand launch.  As Boak & Bailey have highlighted, it was met with nearly universal dislike from all corners of the beer world.photo-01-11-2016-19-47-17

I’m going to get this out of the way now, I’m not a fan of the new artwork on Marston’s range of beers, this is just a gut reaction.  A sense of dread began to grow that the event would be about who the fella on the new Pedigree bottle was, why they chose the name Pearl Jet, and that it would have nothing to do with the exciting things we had already heard about the nano kit. 

I still don’t particularly like the artwork, however, I came away genuinely excited about the direction Marston’s are going and plans they have for the beer they produce. One of the lines we heard was ‘this is not just a brand change, but a change of attitude’. This could quite easily be a trite, empty statement, but the evidence we saw suggests that Marston’s are at least trying to change the way they do things.  Where I expected a mundane discussion on colour schemes I found people passionate about what they could add to Burton (not just consume), and where I expected a slideshow, I was met with passionate brewers, and people who really cared about the beer they were producing.photo-01-11-2016-19-47-22

As a beer fan, the most exciting element of the event was the beer the brewers have been producing on the nano kit, including a lovely stout full of dark fruits and roasty notes named Dark Current (full disclosure:may have had a few pints of this one).   As part of the re-brand Marston’s have overhauled their Visitor Centre Bar (D14) and installed a nano brew kit. Speaking to the head brewer Patrick, he spoke excitedly about getting back to basics when brewing on the kit and how excited the other brewers are to try interesting and exciting recipes (saison, sour, and chai were just some of the words thrown around).

Many of the conversations we had with the brewers were similar to the conversations we have had with microbrewery owners, a seriousness about the ingredients and reverence to the brewing process.  

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I’ve had many conversations with beer fans saying this is the way we want the big brewers to behave, make these changes and put good beer first.  But is it even possible? I was left with a feeling of damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Marston’s seem to be trying to do things the right way, exploring new recipes, trying to make a difference to its community, and making changes to it core range to benefit the beer (bottle conditioning).  The question, I’m left with, is whether the share holders will allow this freedom,  and the wider beer community are willing to give the beers ago, to enable them to make these changes, and ‘go with it’, or if, because it’s a big brewery, and is well known for its traditional beers, it can ever successfully take a different direction, with smaller batch brews, that appeal to a different type of consumer.  Is it even possible for a brewery like Marstons to  genuinely make these changes, and if so, will beer drinkers let them? 

I’m still not a big fan of Pedigree and was not overly won over by Pearl Jet, but IF (and it’s a big IF) they produce more beers like Dark Current, their new Red IPA – Slow Mo, and continue to be serious about making a difference to the people of Burton,  I’m gonna cut them a little slack about some naff artwork.

Dave’s Thoughts:

“The old home town looks the same…”, well not really, Burton on Trent has changed a lot since I left there longer ago than I care to think about, so it was nice to go back on the 1st November. The reason for this was that our blogging colleague Lucy Kemp was doing PR for Marston’s brewery and invited us over to check out the new nano brewery that they had installed in the Visitors Centre.photo-01-11-2016-20-32-15

As well as the nano brewery launch what we didn’t know when we accepted the invite was that it also coincided with the re-branding of Marston’s which is a sure fire way to stir up the beer cognoscenti hornets nest. Suffice to say the twitterati had been out in force all day and the impression I got was that most people thought it was the work of the devil. From my own point of view I get why they feel the need to do it, they are a business after all, but it will have little impact on me personally since I don’t buy a lot of Marston’s beer. We had a talk from the people behind it and they all seemed passionate about the brand, and also about Burton, Lee Williams, the marketing manager,  said that it was “the spiritual home of brewing” and they wanted to bring a focus back onto the town and its brewing history. Well as a man of a certain age who felt like he’d had a dagger in the heart when they put the Coors symbol on the Bass tower, I concur with that sentiment. So, as a new experience it was interesting to hear things from a marketing perspective, but we were really there for the beer.

On arrival rather than trying the 2 beers from the nano kit I went for half of Pedigree, a beer I used to love in my formative years…but somewhere over the intervening years something has changed, not sure if it’s the beer or my taste, or a mixture of both. We will come back to that later. Next we tried the Slow Mo, a reasonably hoppy red ale that had been brewed on the small kit. At this point we had a brief chat with Patrick, the head brewer who was quite enthusiastic about the hands on experience of the nano kit which is only a 2.5 barrel kit as opposed to the huge scale of the regular, computerised brewing he does. And I think the fact that a lot of the new young brewers will be able to come up with ideas and get their hands dirty has a certain appeal.p1010150

After the above PR talk we had a bit of food, cheese, pork pie and scotch egg from a local vendor that went very well with the beer. Patrick also lead a little mini tasting of 2 beers, one from the big brewery and one from the nano kit. First up was Old Empire pale ale which used lightly kilned malt to produce a very clear golden coloured ale. It is a traditional IPA of the sort that was regularly sent to India back in the 19th century, and uses Goldings and Cascade hops to produce a flavour that begins sweet but then edges towards a light bitterness. The second beer was Dark Current, an imperial 7.5% stout brewed on the nano kit. This used chocolate & black malt with malted wheat and an addition of coffee beans in the kettle to give a big bold flavour. Everybody was pretty impressed by this beer, and I don’t know if this is damning with faint praise but I don’t think you’d guess this was a Marston’s beer, and judging from some of the ideas we were told about I think that might be true of some of the forthcoming brews.

After the tasting we had the pleasure of having Gen showing us the Burton Union System. This is a woman that is both passionate and knowledgeable about beer and the history of Marstons and brewing in Burton and listening to her made us both proud to be Burtonians. Although no brewing had been done that day it was still great to climb the stairs to see where the yeast (which has been used for many years) is collected. And I am in awe of the guys who clean out the wooden barrels. I’m just not sure why, if this is the way Pedigree has always been brewed it tastes so different…but as I said before maybe it’s me.

So all in all we had a very pleasant evening, I do like the Visitor Centre and hope it succeeds in attracting drinkers in to sample the new brews from the DE14 nano brewery and, although not a big drinker of Marston’s ales, I do wish them continued success in the future.

Conclusion:

Over coming months, we look forward to re-visiting Marston’s, and trying more of their small batch brews. Currently these beers are being served at Marston’s Visitor Centre, with the aim of being served in other venues in and around Burton.  If you get the opportunity to try any of the beers brewed on their nano kit, we strongly recommend you give them a go!  We’d welcome conversations with you about what you think, both of the re-brand, and their new beers.