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.