I have an admission to make, I am proud to be from Coventry, so Coventry’s own Twisted Barrel has a special place in my heart. It has been great to see them grow and find some success, it also helps that they make fantastic beer.
In its short life as a brewery they have become arguably, the most well know microbrewery in the Midlands, so we wanted to know more about these guys and share with you why they are ‘More Folk than Punk’. Twisted Barrel will be joining Sacre Brew (Find there Profile here), and Fixed Wheel (Find there Profile here) as one of the local breweries showcased at this year’s Birmingham Beer Bash and so become the third of our Birmingham Beer Bash Profile blogs.
I sat down with four of the Twisted Barrel team, Bar Manager Jaime, Owner and Head Brewer Ritchie, Brewer Carl and a fourth man, who will remain unknown, a man of mystery if you will. Many of the questions were answered by the team, unless I have specifically stated otherwise.
I asked for a bit of background about each of the team, and what got them into beer and led to them being part of Twisted Barrel.
Jamie – I look after front of house and help out around the brewery, racking bottling etc. I’ve known Ritchie for over 15 years. I am part of a group of people who came together to create Twisted Barrel, before this I worked at Warwick University and as a game designer & web designer for some time. My focus is looking after our customers in the tap room but also learning to brew. I created Baltic Porter last year that was described as heavier than ketamine. My next brew will be a Smoked Chilli Porter. We like to be creative here, we are boarding the crazy train and you’re all invited to come with us.
My beer journey was largely due to Living in and around Earlsdon, there were a lot of places that sold interesting beers, things from Belgium and things like that. I discovered beers like Saison Du Pont, and also as a Hunter.S.Thompson and Ralph Steadman fan I was drawn to the Flying Dog bottles.
Ritchie – My previous career was as an accountant for 17 years or so. I started Twisted Barrel with Chris and our partners Jenny and Annie in Chris’s garage back in July 2013 in Tile Hill Coventry. We started home brewing and started Twisted Barrel to see if our beers would be commercially liked, not just liked by our friends, who we gave beers to for free. We started as the smallest brewery (Pico Brewery) in the country with only 120 bottles finding their way out into the world and we still worked full time. We sought to improve our beers, learn new techniques and try different recipes before we took to the next step. We stayed at that level for a year and then started to make expansion plans in July 2014. I was able to give up my job in January 2015 to focus on the brewery and that’s what I do as my day job now. I am the only employee along with Carl and I focus on the brewing and running the company on a day- to-day basis.
I initially got into ale while in New Zealand due a brewery called Monteith, one of the first breweries I remember producing beer in 330ml bottles. We would also spend evenings at The Craven (the one in Coventry) drinking Sarah Hughes Ruby Red Ale and talking about beer, which is really where the podcast came from (more on that later).
Carl – I started home brewing about four or five years ago and was still working in the NHS. I was bored and disgruntled and discovered I really liked beer I wanted to get involved. I felt the best way to do that was to get a qualification so I went up to Sunderland to complete a course and began looking for jobs with breweries. I quickly learnt there were no brewery jobs going. A microbrewery opened up in Coventry, I applied and I got job as the Head Brewer, but I quickly realised it wasn’t really environment for me. Coincidentally at the same time Twisted Barrel were looking for another brewer, I’d been a fan of Twisted Barrel from the first month it started and they create the beers that I was kind of aiming for. I started working here about 4 months ago.
I originally got into cask ales and really enjoyed Hobgoblin. I then went over to Oregon and had Rogue Dead Guy Ale and it was that good, I actually stole the glass from the brewery tap. Whilst drinking the beer I realised that the name of beer was on the glass and wanted to remember it. I spoke to the bar staff and left a tip. About a year later I was looking at the glass and really wanted to find the beer again, but couldn’t find it anywhere in the UK or nearby. I eventually got in contact with Cotteridge Wines and my love of beer progressed from there.
The genesis of Twisted Barrel can be found in Ritchie and Chris’s Podcast history. I wanted to know more, and learn how the podcast led to starting the brewery.
What led you to starting the Podcast?
General beer geekery really. You get to that point in life where you almost need an excuse to get together around someone’s house and have a drink. So we called it a podcast. It was just a way to share our love of beer with the world and talk about something that we cared about. Something creative to focus on, something we really cared about instead of our day job. We just want to have fun and have a bit of a laugh.
We got in to home brewing to be more knowledgeable for a podcast and then realised we liked home brewing so much we ended up not doing podcasting anymore – it all escalated from there.
And we are very glad it did escalate. The podcast can still be found at All Hail the Ale! and on iTunes.
I originally encountered Twisted Barrel while visiting the Earlsdon Festival, when Chris and Ritchie were offering tastings outside of Beer Gonzo. I liked what I had and was fascinated as they were the only Coventry Brewery I was aware of at that time. I had been able to get hold of some of their bottles from Beer Gonzo and had some interaction with the guys via Twitter and Untapped and had continued to be very impressed. So when I heard they were looking to develop and grow by opening a brewery and tap room in Fargo Village, I was really excited. It is perhaps typical of Twisted Barrel that this came about collaboratively and had a community of people involved.
I had a lot of friends and family help with the setting up of the brewery both financially and practically, right down to the creation of the actual bar here in the Tap Room. The whole process of setting up between March and June 2015 was stressful with the impending realisation of ‘oh crap I have to set up a big ass brewery’. But the opening day was so lovely, and the turnout on launch day was just stunning. There was a queue forming at 11:45am and as soon as we opened the door we began serving and didn’t stop until 7:10pm we were non-stop, serving for about 7 hours. We realised we may have underestimated how many people would arrive and the response was overwhelming. Overtime, we have built up a really good hardcore group of regulars and lots of people dropping in to check the place out.
We’ve had great support since launch and we continue to develop and grow. We have continued to explore what we can do with the space including events and brewery tours. The people of Coventry support us that much, that we almost became a bar instead of a brewery , and quite by accident we became the third best venue in Coventry – as voted by the local paper. About 6 months ago we did have to reassess how to enable us to focus on external sales, and find a way to take me (Ritchie) away from the bar. I was doing 16 hour days, brewing during the day and then working in the tap in the evening. Some of the other partners have been able to help out and we brought in Carl.
During our conversations for the blog we have been heartened to hear that many of the beer people and businesses in the Midlands have supported each other, Twisted Barrel have been no different.
In terms of venues there been supportive from day one, Stirchley Wines, Beer Gonzo and Inspire in Coventry. Cherry Reds has been fantastic supporter from day one. Cotteridge Wines have also been very supportive.
More Folk than Punk
The team at Twisted Barrel have developed a clear identity for the brewery, one that reflects the personalities of the people behind it. This is encapsulated in their moto ‘More Folk than Punk’.
One of the directors came up with that – we both looked at each other and said yeah that explains it and encapsulates us. A little left leaning, like to work collaboratively, and work face-to-face with people.
Punk has become more corporate nowadays and we’re not the kind of people that stand on a rooftop and shout about ourselves. It feels like it fits with our family focused, collaborative approach.
This personality extends to the beers and their names, often named after sci-fi or fantasy (Wake-Up Juice refers to Back to the Future 3), and the events held at the brewery (Father Ted day & Game of Thrones Day to name a few). I personally believe the success of the Tap Room is largely due to the welcoming and family centred atmosphere they have developed.
Twisted Barrel – To be Continued…
Twisted Barrel is a brewery starting to gain fans nationally. They have been featured in Flavourly Beer Boxes, hosted #craftbeerhour and been interviewed on the Beer O’clock Show. They have grown exponentially, and we wanted to know what comes next:
Now it’s a case of getting some national distribution going. Over the last three months especially we’ve had a lot of more interest. I think some people think we’re a bigger brewery than we are and people don’t realise we only really have two employees.
We will continue to make good beer. We hope to continue to develop our company profile and build on the increased interest we have had recently. We also hope to continue to find new routes to market.
The group of directors are looking at focusing on developing new venues and Birmingham is very much on our radar. We don’t intend to be a national player, like Beavertown and breweries like that. We hope to be a leader in the regional area and we want to maintain our interaction, face-to-face with our customers, ensuring we maintain our connection to people.
I had a great time chatting with the team, with a lot of laughs. We discussed a lot more but this blog is already long enough. They are a passionate bunch, who care about making a great product, but will not compromise on their principles.