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…

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