Month: June 2016

Happy Birthday Cotteridge Wines

We often lament about the Birmingham beer scene compared to London, Leeds or Manchester, hoping for more bars and pubs to sell quality beer, and no doubt there is some more work to be done for  Birmingham to reach its potential, but one area we do lead the way in is our fantastic bottle shops. Birmingham has two of the UK’s best bottle shops, according to RateBeer (and us) in Stirchley Wines & Cotteridge Wines, and both along the same road. With Cotteridge Wines approaching its 21st birthday they want to celebrate with their friends and customers, and they want to celebrate big. We wanted to know more about the two brothers, their 21 year history, and how they became RateBeers No.1 bottle shop in the UK.20160622_170017
But what makes Cotteridge Wines different?

From the outside of the building it seems like any normal off-licence, until you take a closer look and see the names of the breweries they feature. Once you step inside you notice two things, firstly it’s no frills layout, and then you see the beers, the vast lines of bottles organised by brewery, and what an amazing selection to choose from (it can be a little intimidating on first visit).  So it’s kind of hard to imagine now when you walk in and see this to think that there was a time when they were just a regular neighbourhood off-licence selling Carling, Fosters and Lambrini. But 21 years ago that’s how Hari Kandola with his sons Kal and Jaz began on the Pershore Road in Birmingham, and for the vast majority of the stores history that was the status quo.

About 5 years ago Hari retired allowing the brothers to take full control, and they set about putting their own individual stamp on the store. They had begun to do a few more world beers such as Singha and Dab, and slowly added a selection of Belgian and German beers as well as bottle conditioned British beers such as Hobgoblin. This change coincided with the first stirrings of the “craft” beer movement in the UK and with a combination of customers asking and doing their own research they began to stock breweries such as Kernel, Brodies and Buxton.  They also got to know a relatively local lad, called Logan Plant who had set up a brewery in London called Beavertown.

So, with the help of social media they began pushing what they were doing and championing all of these new breweries, both of them sharing the passion and commitment of what these brewers were doing. The first 6 months of this change in approach were slow, but gradually word of mouth began to build and so the customer base began to expand. At the same time, by travelling to the breweries to pick up the beers they began to build a special relationship built on mutual respect and this has borne fruit, so to speak, especially with regards to their 21st birthday celebration in July, but more on that below.

Jaz and Kal’s approach to business, mirrors the shop in their no-nonsense and straightforward ethic. They have focused on building relationships and friendships with brewers, and in some cases not taking no for an answer. They said that one of the main contributors to their success was starting to supply Mikkeller, and this mainly came through the involvement of James Brodie, who pretty much vouched for them and what a great job they were doing.  This led to Mikkel telling his brother Jeppe who runs Evil Twin, quickly followed by To Øl supplying them.  Once these highly respected breweries began selling in the store, more breweries followed at a steady pace, all adding to the vast selection available in store and, as you can see from the beer board on the day we were there, meant they are able to put on some really great beers. 20160622_162452 (2)
The beer board came about during another change in late 2014 with the introduction of the tasting bar and growler filling station. I remember when I bought mine that the guys said they had done considerable research into getting the growlers just right.  Mine has seen a lot of use, both at the shop, and at my local brewery, Green Duck (read about them here).

As well as the bar there is also a small room and an outside area  with chairs and tables so you can enjoy a chat and a few beers when the weather is fine.  This has also meant they have organised tasting sessions and meet the brewer events, which are really enjoyable, including one I attended, hosted by Evin O’Riordan of Kernel Brewery (read about that here).P1000225
Another notch on their bow, so to speak, has been the collaborative beers that they have done such as Bish’s APA with Brodies, named after a customer, one Tom Bishop (thanks to Simon Williams of CAMRGB for providing this info here ), and No. 11 with Beavertown.  For their 20th birthday both Steel City (Maple & Vanilla Porridge Stout) and Siren (Cotteridge Wines Anniversary Blend) produced special beers to celebrate.  Siren especially has been one the breweries that they have built a very strong friendship with. Both Jaz and Kal told us that Ryan Witter, the ex-head brewer, had been a really big help in their development and they still keep in touch with him and his family since his move to Hill Farmstead.

The brothers told us that the last 5 years have been their best, as they have really enjoyed getting to know and chatting about beer with their customers, built friendships and a community.  I have to say both Bob and I were surprised when they said that they reckon about 90% of that customer base comes from outside Birmingham.  I’m not sure if that is a testament to how good the shop is, or whether it says something about Birmingham drinkers, probably a bit of both (perhaps something we will explore in the future). Whatever the reason, their range and customer service helped them win  RateBeer’s award of UK’s best beer bottle shop for 3 years running.

So what can we expect on July 8th and 9th at their 21st birthday… Well, a lot of breweries offered to make some special beers, so they had to make sure they didn’t end up with all the same style, but here are just a few of the beers they told us about:

They will also be selling the 20th Anniversary bottles at £10, plus they have some specialties from Brasserie Fantôme, De Struise Brouwers, To Øl & Mikkeller.  Follow the store on Twitter for more information and new updates.

Oh, and let’s not forget that very soon the online site will be launching.

So let’s raise a glass or two, Pilsner for Kal and something hoppy for Jaz, and wish the guys a very Happy 21st birthday!

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It’s a Wrap – News Round-Up – 24/06/2016

In Case You Missed It

  • Boaks & Bailey have been traveling across the West Midlands visiting some fantastic Birmingham and Black Country Pubs. Check out their posts here – http://boakandbailey.com/
  • A few announcements have been made about the beers to expect at Cotteridge Wines 21st party, we had a chat with Jaz & Kal about it, look for the blog on Monday.

 This Weeks Beer Adventures

  • 25th June – ‘I Choose’ Live – Local Drinks Market – The Bond, Digbeth
  • 28th June – Key Lime Tau Release Date – Cotteridge Wine & The Craven Arms
  • 30th June to 2nd July – Bromsgrove Beer & Cider Festival
  • 1st to 3rd July – The Junction Beer Festival – Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton

What We Have Enjoyed Reading This Week

We saw this tweet from Grandmaster Tash™ @danielvane

“Have we created an untouchable top table of UK brewing? Beyond criticism.. All brand and bluster.. I’m beginning to think we have…”.  Again, we thought, maybe a topic for a blog or discussion if anyone wants to get involved…but someone has beaten us to it, have a look at @coluleed blog https://barrelagedleeds.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/top-of-the-heap/

If you have anything you would like to be included in our weekly round-up drop us a message on Facebook, Twitter, or email us on midlandsbeerblog@yahoo.com

41st Wolverhampton Beer & Cider Festival, a review.

11694162_10209138290244593_7024983997558580560_nI’ll start with a confession, I haven’t been to many beer festivals due to my nocturnal working arrangements and it’s a long time since I’ve actually written anything longer than a short note to be read by anyone else. So if this doesn’t meet the high standards you are used to I apologise.

This year’s beer festival was held at the New Hampton Arts Centre in Dunkley Street, a short walk from the bus and train stations through Wolverhampton’s University Quarter. The arts centre opened in 2000 in the former Grammar School, a 120-year-old building which was refurbished with the help of a National Lottery grant and aims to provide a creative hub were people can engage with the arts. The “beer hall” was quite an intimate room, smaller than the Wulfrun Hall of former years, however extra space was available in the café, which was also serving food, and main hall if need. I’m glad that I made the decision to attend on the Friday afternoon and not one of the evening sessions or on the Saturday when it could have become quite crowded. While it wasn’t too busy when I arrived just after twelve by four o’clock the numbers had increased considerably.

With 68 draught beers, 29 bottled beers and, 16 ciders and perries on offer I decide to keep it LocAle as much as possible and not to over indulge. To break the ice and slake my thirst, the first third was a Cnebba brewed by the dwarves at Fownes, a Baltic porter (barrel aged for six months) which I really enjoyed but would have liked to have just a little more carbonation, whether the lack of carbonation was by design or due to the cask being emptied quicker than the yeast could re-carbonate I don’t know and as there were no dwarves on hand to ask I didn’t find out. My second drink was Sacre Brew’s Man on the Oss, as I wanted to compare this with Kinver Brewery’s festival special, Man Off the ‘Oss. Gwen had been relegated to the end of the bottle bar under a sign for foreign beers! Which is quite ironic as apart from Banks’s I don’t think there is another brewery closer to the venue. Man on the Oss (a rye saison) tantalised with hints of rhubarb, while the Man Off the ‘Oss despite being a nice golden colour totally lacked character and flavour. For two drinks so closely named they could not have been further apart in taste and character.

I hate to say it but most of the pale ales that I tried were disappointing, I could have chosen poorly or it may have been down to the warm weather (low to mid 20s) and high humidity but the pale ales certainly didn’t seem to be up there with the porters. For me the stand out beers were the two porters Fowenes’ Cnebba and Ayr’s Rabbies Porter, and both Wendigo IPA and Man on the Oss from Sacre Brew. Oh, and not forgetting Sadlers’ Peaky Blinder a black IPA. It’s interesting to note that unlike the other ales which were served from casks Sacre Brew’s beers were served from KeyKegs and maybe this helped these beers maintain their quality better than the other pale ales.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try Brough’s  Sledgehammer as it wasn’t available while I was there, and I’d also have preferred to see Marstons showing its revisionist range of beers instead of those it had on show, although CAMRA may not class them as real ales. Notable by their absence were both Twisted Barrel and Fixed Wheel breweries, which was a shame. All in all, in my short time at the festival I got to try a few excellent beers, some good beer and, some not so good beer, talk to some interesting people and enjoy an afternoon where everyone was there for the beer.

Since writing this I have learnt the results for the public vote for best beer in festival which is as follows;sign-599x400

1st Wendigo (Sacre Brew)

2nd US Pale Ale (Mordue)

3rd Man on the Oss (Sacre Brew).

Not only a justified one three for Wolverhampton brewing but also for Sacre Brew.

Birmingham Beer Bash Profiles – Sacre Brew

10565258_540279709442034_7800467266853589680_nIntroduction

As a lead up to this year’s Birmingham Beer Bash and the inaugural Birmingham Beer Week we, of the Collective, thought it would be nice to have a chat with the 3 West Midlands brewers that are going to be at the Beer Bash.

The Life of Gwen

Our second profile is with Gwen Sanchirico of Sacre Brew, in Wolverhampton, who told us her rambling (her words) story of how a woman from over there (USA) ended up brewing over here. As usual we discussed her formative drinking years which, since her parents are Argentinian, involved wine rather than beer, and when she did start drinking the latter at college in New York, the choice apparently wasn’t great.

Did you start off drinking Bud and Miller?

My parents are from Argentina so I was allowed to drink wine growing up, diluted of course. So I really wasn’t interested in beer until I went to college. I hadn’t really tried beer much before then. I came to the UK in 1984, when I was 16, and had beer here.

Refining a Palate

She quickly made the distinction between good beer and crap beer, and as the burgeoning US craft beer scene began to grow, was able to begin drinking a few more unusual beers. She reckons her first epiphany beer, as we like to call them, was a Witbier from a small US brewery that no longer exists, and then Midas Touch from Dogfish Head.

I went to University and did a lot of beer drinking there. Well, I wasn’t a big drinker as most of the beer then was shit and even early I realised I had a refined palate – well, identified good beer from the bad.

 To put things in context I went to University in 1985 and the craft beer/microbrewery revolution had started in the US in the 1970s when President Carter legalised home-brewing; his brother was a big fan of beer. What happened was a lot of people started home brewing and they realised their home-brew was much better than the crap they could get in the stores, so many went into business as micro-brewers, and people responded because there was more variety. The entire beer culture that had accumulated via immigration into the US was wiped out by Prohibition. So by 1979 nobody had a clue, unless you travelled to a place with a big beer culture.

 Was there an ‘Epiphany’ beer?

Nothing really blew my mind away at college, but sometime later – there was beer called W!t. It was a witbier, but not a typical witbier, as it was Americanised, and a little different. It was really easy drinking and had lots of interesting flavours. What really made me crazy, in a good way, was Dogfish Head Midas Touch. I tried that and it’s like a wine or brandy, not really beery, just this amazing combination of flavours and textures. Dogfish Head worked with this molecular archaeologist, who would analyse residues inside pottery at ancient grave sites and archaeological sites. They would test it and they identify what the crud on the pottery was. There was a site in Turkey and they analysed the pottery used to store a liquid back then. They used that and a bit of artistic licence and produced a beer called Midas Touch. It had raisins, honey, grape must, some type of grain, and malted barley. Dogfish Head created a series of beers reconstructed from archaeological sites thousands of years old to show, fun, but to also show beer has been around before agriculture, and in every culture. So it’s an important beverage. Midas Touch really resonated with me. It’s more like a Barley Wine character, but actually some ancient and weird thing.

 Sacre Home Brew

Both beers opened up a world of possibilities and when she started home brewing in the 90s it led to some experimentation i.e. her first beer was a spruce beer.

In 1993 there was an article in the local magazine, while I was living in Manhattan. They interviewed owners of two home brew stores in Manhattan and there were saying ‘you buy a kit for this much, and in brewing you could do this, this, and this’ – the reporter broke down the cost per bottle etc. That really appealed to me. I like cooking and stuff. My boyfriend and I then bought a kit. The kit came with a book called ‘The Joy of Homebrewing’ by Charlie Papazian and he covered different styles. There was a lot of emphasis on British beer, different stuff, at least better than ‘Old Milwaukee.’

 I was very creative as a home-brewer and would make beer with vanilla and beetroot; spruce was my first beer, and I liked to experiment a lot.

75320c455c4c6bb61b5365470c1f4209_320x320Jumping the Pond

After moving around a lot including 6 years in Idaho she ended up back in New York and met her future husband at a gig in Brooklyn. After a couple of years of a long distance relationship it was decided that one of them would need to move and, to some of us, it seems Gwen drew the short straw and ended up in Wolverhampton in 2012.

So what brought you to England in the first place?

I married a man living in Wolverhampton. We met at a concert in Brooklyn. We did the long distance thing, but realised if we wanted the relationship to continue we would need to get married and one of us would need to move. It made more sense for me to move here. Even when being given the choice between New York City and Wolverhampton – the choice was obvious!

Her most recent job in the States had been as a project manager for a software development team but a similar job was hard to come by in the UK, so when Wolverhampton City Council announced a contest to find budding entrepreneurs, she thought she’d have a go. And after complaining about the state of some of the British beer she was drinking, her mother in law suggested she opened a brewery, and so Sacre Brew was born.

When you moved here did you know what you wanted to do? Did you consider brewing?

No, not really. I couldn’t get a job over here. I had the credentials, but people didn’t seem to… understand them. I was aware of a glut of project managers looking for work at the same time. Plus I’m an immigrant, and that’s always a disadvantage, as they assumed I would move back in a year etc.

 After a year I got sick of looking – and it was soul sucking looking for work. I hadn’t brought my kit with me and hadn’t brewed in a few years. There was a contest for entrepreneurs who wanted to start a business. Wolverhampton Council organised it. There was a financial reward for winning it. I filled out the form and was selected.

 They gave us training, including how to do a business plan and how to do financial forecasts etc. There were a series of workshops. There was a lot of mentoring with the financial stuff. I submitted an application as I was not working and my husband said ‘you have to do something.’ He agreed I shouldn’t work at Burger King, so that was cool. I assessed my skills and asked myself ‘what could I do here that would be of value and would like to do?’ 

 

I was at the pub with family and I had a beer and I was bitching about it like I usually did, and my mother-in-law said, ‘Why don’t you open your own brewery, join the competition, and see what you get?”

SacreBrew_Logo_trans500The Name Sacre Brew

She told us that she had played bass guitar for many years, including a project that just had 2 bassists which must’ve been interesting, but the brewery name came from her stage name in an earlier band, Gwen Sacre-Bleu.

I played bass guitar and played in bands and stuff, as often as I could. I started playing guitar when I was 13. In college somebody needed a bassist, so I bought a really cheap bass. My stage name was Gwen Sacre-Bleu, with this horrible band haVeblue. Each band member had ‘blue’ in their name. As my name is Sanchirico it has some of the same letters and sounds. When I was looking to open the brewery, looking to build a website, Twitter, things like that, I still didn’t have a name. It was the last thing I did. One of my friends suggested my old stage name, and another friend said, ‘How about Sacre Brew?’ and I loved it. A lot of people seem to like it, although a lot of people mistakenly call it Scare Brew.

A Home to Brew From

Her first 3 months brewing were on a small 20 litre kit in a local restaurant called the Hungry Bistro where she sold her beer, but after a 6-month search she found a place on an industrial estate in early 2014.

First I linked up with one of the Wolverhampton business competition winners, Richard Brown, who had opened a restaurant called Hungry Bistro, and makes nice affordable food. We had similar standards and philosophies about food and drink. He invited me to brew on his premises with my 20l pilot kit until I found some premises. The relationship was he would get to sell my beer in his restaurant and anything left over I could sell to others. I was glad to get stuff out there and start building a reputation. That was really helpful. It took a few months to find a permanent place. I really needed to make a pest of myself to get it. I moved in March 24th 2014.

With help from some local bottle shops stocking the beers as well, and a bit of crowd funding she was able to upgrade the equipment and her flagship beer, ‘Man on the Oss,’ was launched. This was a sessionable saison, whose name was inspired by hearing the locals of Wolverhampton arranging to meet by the statue of Prince Albert on horseback, but she told us a lot of the names have no meaning, and some of the weirder ones are done to mess with people’s heads i.e. who is Ocipio and where does this blood lust come from?

 

Crowd funding

Gwen’s history of fundraising was instrumental in setting up, as crowd funding played a major part in meeting the financial needs of setting up. This process also helped to build a sense of community around the brewery, something Gwen has been keen to continue to foster.

When I moved to Idaho I didn’t really know many people, so I got involved in the local Green Party. I did lots of issues-based activism, community organising, and campaigning on things that were important to me – mostly environmental and social justice stuff. I worked on 13 different campaigns for various offices from highway division commissioner to state senate, and did some fundraising for those campaigns. So I learned how to ask people for money.

 So when I wanted to set up this brewery, I had nothing, I never made a lot of money working, and what little I did have I blew on flying to UK to see my now-husband. All I really had was my pension, which was only made up of the money my employer contributed, so it wasn’t a lot.

 I realised I needed more money. Through the financial planning I had to do, I worked out what I needed to set up. I had seen Indiegogo campaigns for a number of things, including microbreweries. I researched crowed funding; I looked at what other microbreweries where doing and what incentives they were offering and decided I would give it a try. I had no other recourse. I didn’t really want any investors, because I didn’t really want people telling me what to do, especially when you have quite strong ideas of how you want to do something. 

 I raised more than £6,000 in 30 days and it was a really good experience – it was very humbling and it was incredible that people wanted to contribute. People were generous and people continue to be generous, as the brewery continues to receive donations now.

 It has been really helpful as the brewery had a few problems over time, last year – I needed a new bottler as I was still using a normal one like home-brewers use. I found a very basic but efficient bottler at a very reasonable cost. This time I decided not to go with Indiegogo and raise the money via my own website and social media.  I was able to raise it and that is where I met Alec (@MrTeaBelly) who has become one of my main volunteers in the brewery.

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Alec (@MrTeaBelly) hard at work in the brewery

A Brewer with a Community Focus

It’s clear from talking to Gwen she is a person who cares and believes in action. It is fantastic to see Sacre Brew is a business that is ran along the lines of her values and beliefs.

It strikes me that they’re doing the crowd funding and seeing how you interact with people and fans of the brewery it seems you have created a kind of community feel has that been something you have purposely tried to create.

Yeah, I have a manifesto how I think this business should be run, and community building is a part of it and giving back to it is important to me. I tried to do this in practical ways such as giving away some of my mistake beers to a local art gallery, and I am very generous with many of the customers that come to the brewery. 

 You know beer brings people together and I think a brewery should do it should too because that’s where the beer’s being made.

 I really like art and believe that art should be integrated into everyday life.  It stimulates and creates conversation, and I want people to be stimulated by my beer, including the name, the artwork, and beer itself. Some of the artwork on the bottles is from friends, but also local artists. I’m not able to pay them but I do try to give them lots of exposure, including space on my website, information on the bottle, and exposure via social media.

 I feel that a lot of your values and your attitudes are born out in your beers in the flavours in the style that you make.

I have a friend that does describe Sacre Brew as an extension of me so if you don’t like me, you’re probably not going to like my beers. I also run the brewery with my own values and philosophies.

 What next?

Gwen does not plan to stand still and has big plans for the future.

What is the future for Sacre Brew?

In the short-term I would also like more space in the brewery with more fermenters coming enabling me to increase production. Long term, my original plan was to open a Brew Pub, a space for people to come and drink my beer directly from the source and eat great food; the bar at the brewery is a bit of a trial run for a Brew Pub.  I would like to continue to engage with the community including using more local artists for the bottle labels.  I envisage my beers becoming sought after, exciting recipes that people travel to have therefore bringing people to Wolverhampton.   

Gwen, a woman who speaks her mind and lets her beers speak for themselves, and you can hear them both speak at Birmingham Beer Bash.

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Sacre Brew can be found at Unit 13, Monmore Road, Wolverhampton, WV1 2TZ, www.sacrebrew.com, @sacrebrew & www.facebook.com/sacrebrew. The tap room at the brewery is currently on hiatus but will be open most weekends again in August (see social media or contact Gwen for more info) and if you’d like to find out more, you’ll be able to meet Gwen at Birmingham Beer Bash and try some of her award-winning beers.

Peel & Stone Harborne

      It’s been a long and at times tortuous journey but Peel and Stone is finally set to open in Harborne on Saturday June 18th.  For those that don’t know Peel and Stone is an artisan bakery located underneath the Snow Hill railway line arches at 33 Water St, and co owners Dom Clarke, Carl Finn and Matt Marriot have already branched out into a number of different areas including the Church pub in the Jewellery Quarter.  This time it is the turn P1000224of Harborne where they are opening another bakery and delicatessen. All the baking is to be done almost in the shop window where there are wire racks for the bread to cool off, which should make for a nice window display. They will be serving teas supplied by the Rare Tea Company and filter coffee with their own signature blend provided by Birmingham coffee roasters Quarterhorse which is named after Frenchmen St in New Orleans as a throwback to the Soul Food idea. So far, so good, but more importantly for the beer drinkers of Birmingham it will also have a downstairs bar.

I will say up front that I’ve known and been friends with the manager Michael Gee for quite a while since he worked for me at Nostalgia and Comics, and he’s put together a good team with Matt Wilden as chef & baker, Jon and Elle formerly of Brewdog, and Sally and Tim who have expertise in cocktails and food. Mike explained that it is going to be full table service for both food and drink which is a whole new venture for him, but he and his staff are excited to see how the concept works.

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      All the beers are served on the 10 keg lines and his initial beer list for the opening week will include :-

  • Veltins
  • Purity Saddleback
  • Lagunitas IPA
  • Cloudwater DIPA v3
  • Belgian Beer Project Dark Sister
  • Alphabet Brewing Company Flat White
  • Chorlton Rakau Sour
  • To Ol Kex
  • Track Sonoma
  • Evil Twin Soft DK (Soft Dookie).  

      They will also have a selection of around 30 different bottles and cans, and where possible Mike is hoping to deal directly with the breweries to source his beer.  For the non-beer drinker they have decided to go with one premium bottle of the spirits, except for gin which will have 2, and with the wine there will only be one each of red, white, and rose but these will be constantly changing.  As for the food menu, the idea is quality not quantity with a small number of small plates for sharing, and again the emphasis will be on changing this regularly, and using plenty of local and seasonal produce where possible.  “Half fancy, half not” was his description and the few items he mentioned sounded good, with chef Matt’s ultimate garlic bread sounding like a winner…Once the place has been open awhile and bedded in he has ideas for a few events as well.

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It won’t be long now Mike…cheers

      To begin with the bar will be open Tuesday to Friday from 5 – 11 and Saturday 12 – 11, and with it only having 28 covers they will be taking reservations. Details can be found on their twitter – @ps_harborne, and facebook – Peel and Stone Harborne.

 

What’s Behind the Green Door

      It really doesn’t seem that long ago since we were driving down Rufford Road and saw a sign that said Green Duck Brewery with an arrow pointing to a little green door. My wife Deb and I thought it was pointing to the industrial estate so we drove in and saw a guy standing by some casks, which was a good sign. We were told the weekend opening hours and so P1000162 (2)decided to give it a go. On our first visit we discovered a fairly rough and ready bar separated by a glass partition from the actual brewery, and a small array of handpumps featuring beers with a duck theme to their name. For the princely sum of 10 you could get 4 pints (you got, and still do get, tokens so you don’t have to drink them all at once) and you could keep your glass for the next time you visited. I probably had Duck Blonde or Drunken Duck and remember thinking that the beer was ok but nothing special, but having a brewery within 10 minutes walking distance was a plus point.  

      It had been set up at the end of 2013 by Alan Preece and Paul Williams although the original impetus came from Alan who went to Grafton Brewery to learn about the brewing process, and this is where the first beers were brewed. However, he hadn’t really taken into account the logistics of travelling to Worksop so after a while began to look for something a bit closer to home which is where Paul came in.  The current space was rented in summer 2013 and Alan said he always envisaged it to be a combined brewery and bar. The first brewer was freelance, ex O’Hanlons, using recipes from Alan for Blonde, Sitting, and Drunken Duck but he didn’t want to move to the Midlands which meant days would go by without the beers being checked.  Scott Povey was a customer who had done some home brewing and was keen to go to the next level and Alan thought that although he seemed a bit raw there was definitely potential…and how right he was.  He started in Jul ‘14 and I was lucky enough to give him a hand brewing a stout for the Black Country Beer Festival in Lye not long after that and was very impressed by his commitment to focusing on every aspect of the brewing process.  As a budding home brewer I can honestly say that it was a great learning experience to be able to see how things were done “properly”.  Once Scott got into the swing of things the quality improved, but maybe more importantly there was a major improvement in consistency.  And then came the Heisenberg range 20160428_214332 (2)with Alan wanting to do some beers based around the TV show Breaking Bad and using the iconic hat as the pump clip.  This helped raise the brewery profile and by putting some in keg they were able to have a successful tap takeover in the Brewdog Bar in Birmingham. Admitting to a slight bias here, I have to say I thought the beers were very good, with the Walter White Sorachi IPA being a particular favourite of both Deb and myself. Around this time Alan got a new business partner, Nathan Kiszka who had an extensive naval background and came on board (sorry!) to be in charge of increasing sales for the brewery brand. He has a natural ability to, and confidence in, talking to people due to this previous career which involved a lot of moving around and meeting a new group of people every 2 years. He was always an ale drinker and remembers his first beers being McEwan Export and Courage CSB, the latter of which was brewed specifically for the Navy. His travels meant that he tried and enjoyed lots of different styles of beer and so when he finished his stint and was looking for a new challenge it was quite fortuitous that he met up with Alan whilst their respective boys played football. And so after a few conversations he became part of the company and has helped them grow in the last few months.  But towards the end of 2015 with Scott increasingly needing to look after his own brewery, Fixed Wheel, a change was needed.

In February of this year Alex Hill, formerly the bar manager, took over as head brewer and in March brewed his first beer solo, Duck Under, a brew which has changed over time due to hop availability. This roughly coincided with a rebranding of the brewery and a new range of pump clips. Alex, now still only 24, studied chemistry and maths at Aston University and in his 3rd year worked away at Faccenda as a production planner which he enjoyed… but he decided he wanted to set up his own business instead of working for someone. He had always been an ale rather than lager drinker since his dad drank real ale and his first drinks were usually Wye Valley HPA or Bathams, although his what I call epiphany beers were Oakham Citra and Thornbridge Jaipur. During his final year at Aston he needed to find a job, and being a beer drinker he asked around in pubs to see if they needed staff and ended up working shifts at The Post Office Vaults and the Wellington, the latter being one of Birmingham’s premier real ale pubs with its array of handpulls. This fostered his growing interest in beer and doing 2 or 3 shifts a week gave him time to start home brewing, firstly with simple kits but by brew #5 he was using a 100L trial system. It was probably about this time that I first met Alex as he had been roped in to help out at a Green Duck beer festival, and not long after Philip Guy left to become landlord of the Red Lion in Amblecote he became bar manager. And so time passed, Alex kept brewing another 90 – 100 times making progress in his understanding of different beers and the whole brewing process. With a friend he began to plan for them to open a brewery called Glassjaw and Deb and I were just 2 of many that were able to sample some of their range of home brew which were all of a very high standard. But things didn’t quite pan out and earlier this year Alan made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and so here we are. Alex has been giving the recipes a few tweaks, some of which are because of hop availability, a problem that seems to be affecting a lot of brewers. He says he is quite happy doing cask beer but the brewery is going to be doing more keg in the future, and judging by the Fat Neck IPA that has just been released that is something to look forward to.  Alan also has his input on recipes and ideas, and I’ve heard them batting around a few so I think there is a lot to come from these guys in the coming months

Oh, and why a duck as the Marx Brothers once asked…well, in his “proper” job as a printer Alan had an outline of a duck onscreen for a job he was doing, and, having always been a fan of a shaped pump clip, he thought this would give the brewery a bit of a USP.  And the green?  Well, that was his son, Lewis’s favourite colour.

 

Mini profile ~ Red House Boutique

      I remember many years ago having a slight altercation at a pub quiz over the correct answer to “What is the Hulk’s real name? ” – I said Bruce Banner, the quizmaster said David, and I said you won’t like me when I’m angry…I think we still probably lost. The pub in question was part of the Hogshead in Foster Street, Stourbridge which I seem to recall used to be pretty good but over the years it changed a few times to become a fairly generic town bar. But in mid June it opened up as the Red House Boutique with, according to the Stourbridge News, the message that it is all about the beer.The owner is Paul Jones who owns Liquid Line wholesalers in Tipton along with 14 pubs in the Black Country. With the Red House he is aiming to capture a wide demographic with its range of cask

and keg, a 55 bottle fridge and also 23 different types of gin, along with the usual premium spirits, for when you fancy something different to beer. With 8 cask lines there should be plenty of choice for everyone, 6 are permanent and local including Enville, Wye Valley, Hobsons and Fixed Wheel, and I for one am happy to see the latter on that list.  The guest ales on the VIP night were from Abbeydale and Kelham Island. and it was good to see Scott P1000191Povey of Fixed Wheel and Reuben Crouch from Hobsons having a bit of a chinwag over a pint. The keg line up has a selection of European and American brews and featured Vedett and Poretti as well as a house lager and beers from Meantime, Backyard Brewery in Sweden and Flying Dog from Aspen Colorado. And the bottle list looks pretty impressive with many recognisable names, as you can see from these couple of photos.

      We had a brief chat with Paul and he said the bar won’t be having music playing as he wants people to come for conversation, although we did spy a few TV monitors in the bar area. However it is a really big space with an outdoor area as well, they will be serving what they describe as “pub snacks with a gastro twist”, and I hope it  will become a welcome addition for Stourbridge drinkers of all ages.

 

You Can’t Hurry Love: How I Stopped Being a Craft Snob and Learned to Love Cask

Castle_Rock_Brewery_-_Nottingham_-_England_-_2004-11-04This blog has been treated like a cask, left to condition and mature.  It’s a blog I have mused over and considered, in the hope I would gain more understanding.

It is not my aim to contribute to the arguments between Cask v Keg, or ‘Real Ale’ v ‘Craft’ Beer, but to explore my own journey with cask beer.  I don’t profess to be an expert, merely somebody who feels he has gone on a journey of discovery (cheesy I know) and wishes to share his thoughts.

My first real experience of real ale was at the age of 25 with my eccentric landlord Graham, the man who also introduced me to the delight of Port.  The setting couldn’t be more stereotypical, a traditional pub, with wooden beams and dodgy looking carpet.  As I was preparing to tuck into my roast dinner Graham convinced me that an ale was the only correct accompaniment to the Yorkshire pudding.  It was warm and flat and I was not sure about it at all, but had more depth of flavour than my usual fare and had me intrigued. For a while I was still happy buying 3 for £20 big boxes of Lager from supermarkets, ensuring they were nice and cold before I drank them, but I had at least begun to realise beer could be more than one dimensional and have diverse flavours.

Real Ale did become one of my drinks of choice when attending a pub, but I still found the majority to be warm, flat and and a little boring at times.  But the journey had begun..

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Much of my beer drinking at the time was done at macro-brewery pubs, and mass produced bottles.  Once I was introduced to beer from Keg and the ‘craft’ (my dislike for that word will likely show up in a future blog post) beers available from the new smaller and independent breweries I was obsessed. This beer was bursting with flavour, really interesting and intriguing flavours, it was full of life and I still saw Cask beer as predominantly being warm, flat and boring, so consigned it to the old and stuck in their ways.

The very fact I helped set up this website should tell you I love talking about beer as much as I love drinking it. It was during these discussions my opinion begun to change, I believe one of my best qualities is my ability to adapt and willingness to change my opinion, I find closed minds miss out on the exciting and varied life we have open to us. During discussion with my good friend Cookie, @Redlac_UK, (Barman for many years) and Neil, @NeilHemo5, (now of Tilt), my opinion of Cask beer was challenged as I begun to learn about the real craft and skill that goes in to keeping and serving Cask beer to us punters.  I learned how a cask should be kept and cared for, and the role of the cellarman and/or landlord in ensuring the beer continues to develop until it gets to the pump, and subsequently the glass in my hand. (we explored some of this with Chris when we meet for our Profile of The Craven Arms).

These discussion convinced me to give cask another go, and by this time I was having it at bars, like The Craven Arms & Cherry Reds, that kept the casks well.  I began to try more and more Cask beers, and the epiphany moment came at Birmingham Beer Bash 2015, and the moment my lips touched Thornbridge Jaipur X on cask. Wow Wow Wee Waa!  It was bursting with flavours and had a depth I’d rarely experienced.  It was my beer of the festival.  I had decided I needed to learn more.  The point that convinced me to write this blog came during another night at The Craven Arms on the launch of the first Cloudwater   DIPA.  Having tried both, I found I preferred Cloudwater IPA on Cask to Keg Cloudwater DIPA (a beer people had been raving about).  I wondered why so much of the cask I had was so boring, when this was how cask could be served.caskmarque

I realised keg wasn’t always the best way to serve a beer and Cask is not just for the beardy old fella in the corner…it’s also for the beardy young fella, non beardy young fella and for the ladies (beard or not).  It is clear, to me at least, that the real issue with cask is the way it is so poorly looked after and managed in many bars and pubs.  Perhaps if we insist on our cask beers being kept better, and cared for, the quality of cask around the country will improve.  My personal hope is that this will be a major outcome of the CAMRA, @CAMRA_Official, Revitalisation Project and Cask beers will be revolutionised and protected again, as was CAMRA raison d’être when it originally started in 1971.

In the meantime I plan to get to a point where my blogging pal Dave @davhop72 is no longer surprised when I ask for a half of something on Cask when it’s his round.

It’s a Wrap – News Round-Up – 10/06/2016

In Case You Missed It

  • The anticipation builds for Birmingham Beer Bash (@birminghamcubed) as the announcements keep coming.
  • Tilt have now started a bi-weekly board game night. They have some great games to play – Check there twitter feed for more info (@Tilt_Brum).
  • More Tilt news – There Home Brew Club will be relaunched on Tuesday 14th June hosted by @NeilHemo5.
  • Brewdog Birmingham relaunch their own Home Brew Club on Monday 20th June with a Live brew day hosted by Josh Hughes check their Twitter feed for more info (@BrewDogBirm).
  • Hawkshead Brewery (@HawksheadBrewery) have chosen The Craven Arms and Cotteridge Wines as the Birmingham venue for the official launch of Key Lime Tau, a beer originally brewed in collaboration with @CrookedStave as part of 2015’s Rainbow 7 box– International Tau Day is on 28th June.

 

This Weeks Beer Adventures

  • 9th to 11th June – The Wolverhampton Beer Festival, Newhampton Arts Centre (@wolvescamra)
  • 10th June – Kerbside Kitchen at Fargo Village, Coventry
  • 10th June – Red House, Stourbridge, Opening
  • 11th June – Pig & Tail, Jewelley Quarter, Open  (@thepigandtail)
  • 11th June – 1000 Trades, Jewellery Quarter, Opening (@1000TradesJQl)
  • 10th to 12th June – Hilltop Farm Beer & Cider Festival, Leamington Spa (http://www.hilltopfarmshop.com)
  • 15th June – Life’s a Beach @BotanistBham as part of Beer Day Britain (@BeerDayBritain)
  • 16th to 18th June – Green Duck Summer Beer Festival, Badelynge Bar Stourbridge. (@greenduckbrew)

Check out Upcoming Events – Beer Adventures in the Midlands for future events.

 

What We Have Enjoyed Reading This Week

This week we have enjoyed reading an interesting blog, published in February, about the role of hype in the beer industry. www.beerjournal.co.uk/new-blog-1 by Theo Fitzharris.  Perhaps a topic for future a blog for the collective.

If you have anything you would like to be included in our weekly round-up drop us a message on Facebook, Twitter, or email us on midlandsbeerblog@yahoo.com

Birmingham Beer Bash Profiles – Fixed Wheel Brewery

As part of the lead up to this year’s Birmingham Beer Bash (check out full details here www.birminghambeerbash.co.uk we thought we’d do a feature on each of the Midlands brewers that are appearing there, and so to that end I got up what to me was quite early and jumped on a train to Rowley Regis to visit Scott Povey at Fixed Wheel Brewery.

As was P1000165to be expected Scott was already there finishing off putting the malt into the mash tun, but more on that later, first a bit of history. Scott was born in South Birmingham but has been living in the Black Country for about 15 years. He remembers his early beer drinking as mainly revolving around keg in the form of Caffreys and Guinness, but he did always like dark beers such as Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout. His real education was twofold, firstly in that a big influence was a workmate when he worked at Vauxhall who was a member of Redditch and Bromsgrove CAMRA who introduced him to a more varied selection of ales. P1000181And the second influence came from his concurrent interest in cycling when the club he was in would do an off season trip to Gent in Belgium during November with it’s 200+ cafes and bars. Although a while back, particular favourites that stood out were Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant and Dulle Griet, the latter bringing back memories of fun nights trying to negotiate the steep stairs to the rest room wearing only one shoe 🙂 By this time he realised he liked to try different styles of beer, but doing time trials he missed out on the social aspect and would often only drink on a Sunday, so his love of cooking took him on to the idea of doing some home brewing around 2004/05.  He started with kits but soon moved on to building his own setup, and even now still uses his original mash tun for test brews. Over time he cut back on the cycling, but not before setting 2 British records for 50 and 100 mile time trials, and as the home brewing got serious he began to think about opening his own brewery.

Having visited a few breweries he was pleased when he saw news of Green Duck @greenduckbrew opening in Stourbridge with its glass partition so you could see where the beer was coming from. After a few visits he began chatting to Alan Preece, gave him some of his homebrews to try and by mid 2014 he had taken over as their brewer. He was able to give a few tweaks to their core beers whilst learning on the job and improving their consistency, and the brewing process as well as the quality. Later that same year he also opened up his own brewery, an 8 barrel system, on Long Lane trading estate, taking its name, Fixed Wheel, from his cycling past, and with a neat bicycle gear logo designed by Chris from Expressive Design in Tysley.

In September his first core beer, Blackheath Stout was launched, and the range was soon joined by Chain Reaction Pale aAe, No Brakes IPA, and, aP1000174 (2) little later, Century Gold, plus many others that have become favourites with the Midlands drinkers such as his range of single hop beers, called Single Speed, the Omerta Russian Imperial Stout, and, a particular favourite of mine, his recent Belgian IPA – Spartacus. And let’s not forget his collaboration with Angel Ales, Cyclone, a 15% triple IPA which I remember being quite a hit at the 2015 Birmingham Beer Bash, and speaking of which…

If I’m going to interview Scott I should do it on a brew day was my line of thinking, and since it’s the lead up to the Beer Bash it would be nice if it was going to be available there, so when Scott said he was brewing a Double IPA I jumped at the chance. So that was what he was on the opening stages of when I first arrived one dull Wednesday morning. He told me he was mashing in at 64℃, which was a bit less than his normal 66 or 67, with the recipe using 20kg of hops in total, 15 in the kettle and 5 for dry hopping (as a comparison P1000175No Brakes used 13 in total). One of the hops was Simcoe which Scott was using for the first time, and I had the task of breaking the vacuum packs up which was tons of fun and resulted in very sticky and aromatic hands. It was great to watch Scott as he checked and rechecked the temperature and Ph measurements- he is ridiculously thorough which is something that I, as a homebrewer, could learn from, but it paid off as he hit his pre-boil and fermenter og readings. We had a little taste and its promising, good colour and nice creamy, slightly oily/resinous mouthfeel.

Whilst there I also had a little chat with Harriet Bryant, the daughter of Sharon who is Scott’s business partner, chief taster and, sometimes, his biggest critic. She has the fun job of helping to bottle and then label said bottles which at the moment is all done by hand. P1000171 (2)She also helps on a Saturday when the brewhouse is open to the public serving Scott’s beers on both cask and keg. I asked if she’s always liked beer and she said she was a fan of wheat beers but since working at the brewery she has a greater appreciation of beer and likes all styles now. The bar itself gets a wide range of customers, young and old, male and female with many returnees but also lots of new faces, and they both emphasised how much they enjoyed and appreciated the community understanding and spirit that the place provides. Also keeping it in the family so to speak is the fact that a lot of the designs for the labels and pump clips is done by Harriet’s partner Ben Rolls of the Falling Leaf Tattoo Studio in Great Barr, along with Rachid Taibi aka The Upright One (find his blog on the importance of graphics and design in the beer industry here).

In the near future, as well as the release of the Ride It Like You Stole It DIPA and appearance at the Birmingham Beer Bash, there will be a beer from a recent collaboration with Clouded Minds and the Dudley Beer Festival as part of the Black Country month celebrations. And further ahead there’s a new wheat beer to be brewed, a collaboration with the Brewdog bar in Birmingham, and a 4th fermenting vessel so we’ll be able to sample more of these great beers.

In the end Scott said it is all about drink-ability, and, most importantly, balance…and let’s face it that’s pretty useful when riding a bike as well.