Month: November 2015

Something in the air tonight : Can Birmingham be the next must visit Craft Beer Destination?

213451891_88bcc3fbf9_zThere is something in the air, murmurs, whispers…it’s spoken with hushed but hopeful tones. It has nothing to do with Phil Collins, or a big hairy gorilla playing a drum kit (although I have been mistaken for a Gorilla at times). It has everything to do with beer.  The Birmingham Craft Beer scene is growing and it is rather exciting.

Over the last few years nearly all my holidays and day trips with my beautiful wife have been focused on beer related activities. With the increased interest in craft beer, and as people begin to seek out better beer and places that sell them, beer has become a valid tourist attraction.  Examples of this include the Bermondsey Beer Mile in London and the Piccadilly Beer Mile in Manchester.   Our own beer destination of choice has become Leeds, with its fantastic array of bars including North Bar, Friends of Ham and Tapped Leeds. Each time we have visited Leeds my wife and I have asked ourselves the same question: ‘Why isn’t Birmingham this good?’

There is no doubt that Birmingham has some fantastic beer venues and events, chiefly among them Birmingham Beer Bash, a very highly regarded independent beer festival. The Craven Arms is also a mecca for the Birmingham beer lover serving a fantastic selection on both cask and keg. Other places in the city centre which are also good for ‘craft’ beer include Cherry Reds, Brewdog Birmingham and Purecraft Bar and Kitchen. Alongside this, there are also a number of other venues which offer a great selection of beer available in bottles, cask and keg and these include The Victoria, Post Office Vaults, and The Wellington. This is without the great bottle shops Stirchley Wines and Spirits and Cotteridge Wines which are just a short trip out of the city centre.

Since many of these opened a couple of years ago, the progress here in Birmingham has seemed slow and as a result, it has been hard to convince people in the Midlands and beyond that Birmingham is in fact, an OK place for a few decent beers.  That said, this beer drinker feels the pace is increasing, in fact kicking in to overdrive and there are some very exciting new developments.

In recent weeks we have seen the grand opening of Tilt (a place combining Craft Beer, rtisan Coffee and Pinball – 4880998780_f82a956d6d_za great combo indeed!) and had an announcement of a new food venue opening in December, which will offer a permanent home for the Original Patty Men.  This venue will not only serve amazing burgers (including a personal favourite of mine – Big Verns Krispy Ring), but will also serve some fantastic beers as they plan to open in partnership with nationally renowned Siren Craft Brew.  Just a short walk  out of the city centre Two Towers have also announced the opening of their Tap Room ‘The Gunmaker Arms’ in the Jewellery Quarter which is due to open on 1st December. In addition to this, there have also been a number of tweets suggesting there may be a New Street Tap on the horizon, but we will watch that space for more news…

As if to prove my point that the Birmingham beer scene is indeed  growing, whilst writing and editing this blog, Birmingham Beer Bash has announced it will be returning next year and will also be introducing Birmingham’s very  first Beer Week.

Over coming months, we as a collective hope to explore and blog about many of these venues and events in much more depth. But for now, I will leave you with one thing I’ve already learnt through exploring all of these new developments…

I am rubbish at pinball.

Disclaimers – There are a number of fantastic venues across Birmingham, and surrounding areas that I have not mentioned in this post for the point of brevity. I hope to cover some of those venues in a future post.

Kernel MTB

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Here’s Evin…

Wednesday 2nd November was a special day for the discerning Birmingham beer drinker with Cotteridge Wine holding a meet the brewer and tasting event with Evin O’Riordain from Kernel. This was a bit different to recent events in that we all went through 6 beers together along with a bit of history of the brewery. Kernel is now 6 years old having begun under the Bermondsey arches back in 2009, and they brew 3 types of beer, pale & hoppy, dark & roast, and sour. The beers all have what Evin calls a similar arc and they like to keep the essence the same whether the beers are 3% or 9%. They mostly stick to Maris Otter predominantly for the malt base, and are big fans of single hop or 2 hop beers, but bigger blends do crop up. Twelve people work at the brewery, they all brew but also all muck in and do anything else that needs doing. The impetus to begin the brewery came from a trip to the USA. At the time Evin was selling cheese at Neal’s Yard in London and was aware of the provenance of the goods, ie what farm the milk came from etc rather than it just being part of some industrialised process.  When he was introduced to beers in the States where he could see a similar back story he used his evident appreciation for full flavours and quality ingredients to set up the brewery.

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We began with Table Beer, this one having been hopped with Mosaic and Simcoe, they do have a tendency to change with different brews. It has a nice sharpness of taste and doesn’t really compete with a heavy malt base. Evin said he found it interesting that the aroma of the fresh hop was different to the smell in the brewed beer, and that from year to year the character of the hops did change. He also said he thought it took at least 3 years for hop plants to reach their optimum.

Next up was a 5.2 % pale ale with Citra and Equinox, the latter being a reasonably new experimental hop. Evin described it as being quite mellow with a woody, piney character, and I thought it had a nice balance between the 2 hops. And everyone at the tasting seemed to agree that it was a winner.

Beer number 3 was Biere de Saison which had a small addition of London Sour, was kegged in Aug 2014 and then aged in Burgundy barrels to give Lambic flavours. It had a clean neutral base, had been minimally hopped with Hallertau, and.I thought it was gorgeous, really dry with a zingy lemon and lime taste.

Now it was time to push up the abv with the 6.8% IPA SCANS, the latter being the hops (Simcoe, Citra, Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin)…yes sometimes they do use multiple hops and in this case it worked really well.  One friend described it as having a big jammy nose and being super juicy.

The penultimate beer was a bit divisive, being a Damson Sour, a Berliner Weisse that poured red with a pink head. They had used whole fruit since they thought it added a new bit more dimension and they could control the sourness. I didn’t find it too sour, just a little tart, but a few members of the group found it not to their taste.

Finally we went dark with a dry stout, at only 4.4% someone suggested it could be a classed as the “table beer of dark beers”. Obviously dark beers such as stouts and porters have a strong tradition in London and the brewery have used historic recipes. This one used lots of Mosaic hops since that would’ve been the case when beer was exported to India, and the trick with this one was to get the balance right between the malt and the hops. It did taste like a very malty, chocolaty stout

We found out as well that the iconic brown labels came about because when he did homebrew he used strips of cardboard so they carried on with this simple idea to just give the relevant information and nothing else.

Kernel has become a byword for quality and freshness, beers with a depth of flavour and character, and I think it’s fair to say after this wonderful afternoon in the company of Evin and appreciative beer drinkers that we can look forward to many more great beers from this brewery..although we’re not holding our breath for the Sorachi Ace IPA 🙂

Here’s some happy drinkers at the tasting…

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You Don’t Need A Weird Beard To Work Here…But It Helps

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Our story begins in 2011 when 2 award winning home brewers, Gregg Irwin and Bryan Spooner, met at the Euston Tap for a launch event for Brewdog IPA is Dead. They bonded over a mutual love of the Sorachi Ace hop, which I have to admit is a personal favourite. So just over 4 years ago they decided to start a brewery, and after a fairly long gestation period they began brewing in 2013. They began with a 10 barrel kit and 2 fermenters which increased to 6 after 8 months and by the beginning of this year they were 5 times bigger than 2 and half years ago. I think it’s fair to say their beer got popular pretty fast.

20151102_201707_resizedSo once again on Mon 2nd November it was a gentle stroll up Upper Gough St to the Craven to listen to Gregg talk whilst drinking some fine Weird Beard beers. There was a fine selection of 8 cask and 6 keg, including the latest version of Little Things That Kill and No More Bright Ideas, a hoppy brown ale which tasted much better than I remember Newcastle Brown tasting in my dim and distant youth.  And although I had had many of these it was great to see both 5 O’clock Shadow, one of their core range and quite rare on cask, and Mariana Trench, their flagship ale and best seller, on hand pull. As is usual in this fine pub the beer quality was superb, and both were a pleasure to drink. It was interesting to hear that they ferment all the beer completely before deciding whether it is going in cask or keg with the former just having a bit of sugar and yeast added. The range of keg styles was very good as well and included a Saison, Stout, IPA, and a Pilsner.

20151102_211746_resizedGregg regaled us with a few anecdotes as well inc the story behind the naming of Frog is Fired. This came about when they were asked to do a collaboration for the IndyMan festival which they weren’t too sure about until they discovered it was with the fine Norwegian brewery Lervig. They decided to do a gooseberry ale and one of the assistant brewers mentioned he had some wild gooseberries growing in his garden. So to stop the birds attacking them they decided to use a plastic frog to ward them off. Unfortunately it wasn’t up to the task, the birds ate them and puree was used instead, hence The Frog is Fired. And the beer itself was very nice, lovely, slightly tart pale ale, really got the taste of the Nelson out of it. It was also interesting to hear how sometimes a little screw up can create a new beer such as mixing Holy Hopping Hell being mixed with a batch of Sorachi Face Punch that wasn’t working to create Sorachi Face Plant, an 8.1% imperial IPA bursting with lemon and spice from the hops. For the future there is the possibility of a Brett barrel aged project based on one of Gregg’s last homebrew recipes, and the return of Lord Nelson. I hope this collaboration with Elusive comes to the pass because it was one of my favourite beers of the 2014 Birmingham Beer Bash. It’s great that they don’t want to compromise on quality ingredients and getting the maximum flavour from their beer, so I think we’ll all be enjoying a degree of excellence from this brewery in the years to come.

Why Bother? Midland Beer Blogging Collective

Over coming months there are a number of exciting things on the horizon, all of which we hope you will enjoy reading about on Midlands Beer Blog Collective.

But first, one of the questions I’ve wanted to address since starting this blog. Why do we do this? Why have we created the Midland Beer Blogging Collective (#MBBCUK)?

Our mission, is to promote, celebrate and discuss the Midlands beer scene. We hope to increase the awareness of all the wonderful beers, bars and events available in the Midlands to the great British beer buying/drinking public.  Many of these blogs will initially be about the West Midlands (particularly, Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton), as that is where most of us currently blogging are from, but we hope as it develops the blog can be about the whole of the Midlands, East and West.

We are just a group of beer geeks who love talking about the beers we drink, the places we buy them from and the bars/pubs we drink them in.  Over recent months/years, we have all got to know some fantastic people through drinking beer, and are all keen to share our thoughts and enjoyment of beer with others.  We would like this to be an open forum where people can come and have friendly, open discussions about all the Midlands has to offer, and a place where people can get to chat to other like minded people.

This isn’t just about us blabbing away at you, we also want you to contribute to this project. If you have a passion for Midlands beer and want to blog on a regular basis, or if you have a burning desire to get something off your mind we would like to have you as part of the team.

If you are interested in hearing more or contributing something, please contact us via Twitter or email us at midlandsbeerblog@yahoo.co.uk.

Siren MTB

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As mentioned in a previous blog, Birmingham is blessed with some quality pubs and one such is the Craven Arms in Upper Gough St. Since taking it over a few years back Chris Sherratt, with the help of his wife Sharon and their staff, both old and new, have turned what was a rough and ready back street boozer into one of the destinations of choice for the discerning drinker. And ever since I saw the list for a beer festival they did back in 2013 (I think) and it had Brodies on it I became a convert. I remember actually thinking “Oh my God, Brodies in Birmingham, how great is that?“, and since then they have had many of the country’s best breweries on cask and keg, the latter range having been expanded, thus setting a high bar for others to aspire to. And now they have added another string to their bow with a series of Meet The Brewer events, in which they have been ably abetted by one of their staff ,Tim Rowe. I missed the first one with Cloudwater due to being on holiday, but when they announced Siren as the next one Deb & I were in like Flynn so to speak. We are both big fans of the brewery, and I think one of the eye openers for me was drinking Half Mast QIPA at the inaugural Birmingham Beer Bash…who knew such a low abv beer could be so tasty?. And so, on Monday 26th Oct we strolled up the hill to the pub for an evening of tasty beverages and beery chat.

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Will and Sam from the brewery were both there, and they gave a little introductory talk about their history. It is situated in Berkshire and was formed in 2012 by Darren Anley and an American Ryan Witter-Merithew. Ryan had a history of brewing for some of the best breweries in the world inc Duck Rabbit, Mikkeller, Tool, & Omnipello. The 2 met at the CBC in the States, Darren asked Ryan for advice, and the rest as they say is history. They have a 30 barrel kit and now have 5 core beers in their range, 3 of which were on cask on the bar – Soundwave, Liquid Mistress and Broken Dream, and thanks to good cellarmanship they were all tasting pretty good. The other 2 are Undercurrent, and Calypso which is the latest addition, and they commented that they were pleased to have such a style, a Berliner sour beer, as a core beer. But the 2 special guests so to speak at this tasting were Fortuna’s Gift and Quadrophenia, both of which were making a rare appearance on cask. I will turn to their website (http://www.sirencraftbrew.com/) for descriptions, first the Fortuna’s Gift – “Gordon’s Strong, our Wee Heavy has been aged in Cognac barrels for over a year. This one off release has been infused with orange zest, sage, cranberry and a host of Christmas spices.” And yes it really did taste like Xmas in a glass. More to my taste was the Quadrophenia – “Based out in Ohio, Jackie O’s are famed for their work with Dark Ales. Quadrophenia uses a varied malt base pitching it somewhere between a Strong Porter and a Belgian Quad. Belgian Candi Sugar and High Gravity Trappist Yeast form a delicious deep, rich dark and fruity ale.” I felt we were quite honoured to be able to sample these ales in Birmingham, so once again kudos to the Craven team. And, after a pause for refreshment, the Siren guys had a brief chat about future plans, which include the appointment of a new German brewer, a grapefruit version of their mighty fine Limoncello IPA, the return of Caribbean Chocolate Cake, and the continuation of the Rainbow Project. And even though Ryan has left and returned to the States they are still in regular communication with him to bounce a few ideas around. So I think it’s safe to say the future is looking bright.