Month: June 2017

Cans Film Festival at The Electric Cinema

As a fan of both film and beer you can imagine how happy I was to read about the ‘Cans Film Festival’ which is running at The Electric Cinema over the summer. For those of you who don’t know The Electric is the oldest working cinema in Britain and despite it’s slightly chequered past (it was an ‘adult’ cinema at one time) is now a haven for film lovers plus the only place I know of where you can sit in a comfy leather sofa and text someone to bring you your drinks!

The festival consists of seven films matched with 7 beers (well 6 beers and a cider) and I got to go along and talk to Sam Bishop, Operations Manager at The Electric Cinema, all about it.

We started off talking about the ‘real’ Cannes Film Festival and how beer and film mixed there.

Sam – “I’ve been lucky enough to go to Cannes Film Festival 3 or 4 times now but 16 Euros for a pint of beer is a bit ridiculous! The biggest hotel is called the Majestic and behind the hotel is a tiny little pub ironically called The Petit Majestic and what’s beautiful about Cannes is that it’s dripping with pretence but the Petit Majestic gets rid of all the pretence. After about 2am it’s the latest pub open so everyone from Jude Law downwards meets there, it’s a tiny little pub and you all spill out onto the streets and everyone there is united by a love of beer and a love of film which is wonderful and that’s the part of Cannes I enjoy the most.”

I asked if this experience is what inspired the festival and he said that actually the pun was the starting point! “We started with the pun and worked backwards! We’re very lucky at The Electric in being independent and that we don’t have public funding we’ve got the freedom to have wacky ideas and we put things out there and see if people agree with us”.

From my point of view this is what makes The Electric so special and makes all their events so different and interesting. I moved on then to ask what came first the films or the beers?

Sam – “We looked at what beers we could get from a range of boutique beer suppliers who look after us in the region. Then we had a short list of about 50 beers we went through them and found what inspired films we could choose and we selected about 30 films that paired up with the design or the name or the logo of the beer. Then we whittled it down from what stock was available and what a good selection of films would be and then we ended up with these 7.”

Sam told me Tiny Rebel were the first brewery to get in touch with him and that they really loved the idea and that they’ve been enthusiastic and great to work with. So moving on from that I asked him what the format would be for the showings?

Sam – “It’s entirely on the breweries because I’ve approached a number of them and tried to encourage them and make them enthusiastic about it and the best events are going to be the ones where the breweries are coming along. Most of them have got some presentations from people from the brewery who are coming to give us some behind the scenes tours on screen and little secrets of the industry. Most of them have been really good to sponsor us a free drink on arrival which is very nice. A lot of them have given us free t-shirts as well, I think we might put a number on the bottom of each can and every can you buy we’ll raffle it out at the end of the screening. But essentially it was a quick idea and it’s definitely an informal idea . So it’s just some good films and we’ll have some beer available to buy at the bar throughout the summer and on the day we’ll just all get to taste it all and we’ll have fun watching great films.”

I asked if Sam planned to keep the beers (and one cider!) on the bar beyond the event and he said that at the moment they will be available from now until the end of the festival and after that if any of them have proven to be successful they will look at the possibility of extending their availability.  However he did also say he’d like to keep this special and return to it again next summer with another selection of beers.

I said to Sam that although it was a great range of beers there was nothing local (turns out the cider is from Aston!) so would he consider doing an event with a local brewery? (Of course we don’t have so many local breweries canning so it does make the pun a little redundant!). We agreed we need to think of a good film where they drink a lot of beer (we did discuss American Frat House films but you’d have to pick a good one!).

Sam – “We have Two Towers Brewery on our doorstep and they do our Electric Ale. So definitely I’d be interested in doing local beers. A lot of what we do is trying to keep things independent and local where possible.”

I finished up asking what level of interest the event had received.

Sam – “The feedback has been good. It’s a very easy pitch which is good, sometimes you try and do these kind of events and they can get a bit complicated but this is easy it’s just 7 films 7 beers come and enjoy. So it’s been an easy one to market. It’s been very well received on Facebook, all of the screenings are at least half full already. We’ve had to put a second screening of Goodfellas on, that’s been the most popular so far.”

I asked if there was anything Sam wished was on the bill but wasn’t and he replied that one he did miss was Brewdog‘s Elvis Juice as they haven’t shown an Elvis film in many years but he just couldn’t get one in. We finished up discussing the idea of a local brewery making a beer inspired by a film which Sam was very interested in so local brewers get your thinking caps on!

Thanks to Sam for his time and the mini behind the scenes tour. I hope the festival is a big success and it gets lots of people into this wonderful cinema and drinking some great beers! I know I’ll be there!

Stone Berlin and Greg Koch

One of the main reasons Deb & I wanted to go to Berlin was to visit the recently opened restaurant “World Bistro and Gardens” and brewery of Stone Brewing since we’d had a few friends singing its praises. We decided on dates and once booked we were fortunate to discover that on the Wednesday a Brewers’ Dinner was on the events calendar. This seemed like an opportunity not to be missed and when we knew we had tickets I thought I might as well ask if there might be a chance to have a chat with Greg Koch, the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Stone Brewing. And after a couple of emails back and forth with Colin Lenz, their PR guy, it was set up for late afternoon. I got a bit panicked because we were running a bit late but needn’t have worried because they seemed very chilled and laid back. Colin met us outside and we were pretty knocked out upon entering the reception area where we could see a bar, merchandise, a fridge full of beer and a small glass enclosed room. Then we entered the main hall and were fleetingly blown away by the sheer scale of the place before being ushered into the new library bar where Greg was waiting for us.

I began by asking him when he first got the idea for a European base and was surprised when he said it was as far back as 2009. So they spent a while looking at different sites including the UK and Greg said they had put very good proposals together but just couldn’t find any traction until they found the site south of Berlin’s city centre. Built in 1901 it had been a gasworks facility and due to its size it provided a space for the brewery, plus restaurant and gardens to enjoy great food and great beer in a beautiful setting. When he saw it he could see its potential, and after a few visits to the city of Berlin he fell in love with its history, architecture and vibrant cultural life.We then went back to the beginning, Before Stone, when he was living on the West coast and working in the music industry and although into beer the choice was fairly limited. Then before I could ask him, he mentioned his epiphany beer was drinking an Anchor Steam Ale whilst in LA in 1987. This had two effects, the first being that he became a beer geek and went in search of more flavourful beers and sought out beer festivals. But he also had a sense of disappointment and frustration and felt that by brewing bland corporate beers the big brewers had somehow avoided giving the public a choice. This was a theme he returned to a couple of times in our conversation. But back to the early 90’s and Greg met fellow beer enthusiast Steve Wagner who was also a homebrewer, and so they began brewing together. The first beer they brewed was a very hoppy Altbier, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess there weren’t a lot of examples of this style around, it being an amber ale of German origin. So even at this early stage the guys were setting out their stall so to speak. There followed a further 3 – 4 years when they went down the rabbit hole of beer geekdom, getting increasingly angry about the aforementioned lack of choice and the fact that there were only a few bars in major cities with anything approaching a decent selection of beers. So by 1995 they came to the conclusion that they needed to open their own brewery, and after searching for a few months settled on San Diego in February the following year with the first beer being released in July. They came upon the name Stone purely by tossing ideas out and actually coming up with something that neither of them objected to with both liking the fact it had a naturalness about it, and its attributes including the sense of solidity. Originally they thought they wanted to do traditional European styles of beer with Greg being a self professed Europhile, and so the gargoyle symbol came about because it was a motif to ward off evil spirits. In the case of Stone it is there to ward off cheap ingredients, pasteurisation, and chemical additives…

 

Their first beer was a pale ale, but they followed this up with a smoked porter almost in an effort to really show the possibilities that they felt were missing in the beer scene. But the barriers to entry into the beer market were high and included coming into contact with a certain amount of ignorance. He told us a story of one meeting with a group of beer distributors to sample the beers and when he poured the porter, one of them was astonished that it was so dark! And they had opened at a bad time for the burgeoning craft beer industry which had gone from having growth of 25% and then 45% to just 7% in 1996 and down to 2% the following year. This was the year that they released one of their signature beers, Arrogant Bastard, a beer that seems to have been loved and misunderstood in equal measure. Like many people I thought their message does come across as a bit arrogant, but when you are with Greg he doesn’t come across that way at all, and when he explains the reasoning behind the wording on the Arrogant Bastard label (which I’m sure he’s had to do more times than he can remember) it does make sense. You have to try to imagine what it was like 20 years ago when the beer drinking public just had Miller, Bud, Coors etc and so they weren’t aware of whether they might like something different because they didn’t have the choice. So when the label says you probably won’t like it, well for 99% of drinkers at the time it was probably true, ditto not having the taste or sophistication. At first they were just going to produce 100 cases of the beer because there was a sense that in amongst the sense of fun they were also trying to put people off. And yes it takes a dig at the big corporations but at the time this beer was an outlier pointing to a future that was maybe a little bit uncertain.

But a bit to their surprise it became a success which lead to many variations and it taking on a life of its own in recent months cf Arrogant Brewing. Moving into the new century Stone, like many American breweries, found themselves able to take a few left turns since they had no recent strong brewing heritage in the land of fizzy yellow lager. It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor but it was like being in a culinary environment with a blank canvas. I mentioned to Greg that one of my favourite beers of theirs was the Stone Cali-Belgique IPA because I loved that meeting between a west coast ipa and Belgian yeast although he did say that it was no longer a big seller in the US. But you only have to look at their Untappd listings to see how adventurous they have been during their 20+ year history. Eventually success meant that they outgrew their original brewery and moved to the current location in Escondido, north of San Diego in late 2005. A year later they opened the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens to sell their beers, locally sourced organic food, and give themselves event space for festivals. I finished off my conversation by asking how he felt things had developed since that big move and how he felt about social media. He said he found the business to still be extremely competitive and even with their name and success they still had to work hard to get their beers into bars and keep producing high quality product with the best ingredients. Social media is just seen as a communication tool, not a selling one

Once Greg had left Colin suggested we had a beer and brought the list in for us to peruse…omg, it was big, 51 taps split into Stone Berlin & San Diego, Arrogant Brewing, and guests. I went for the Pataskala Red IPA (I’m sure Colin said it was named after the town of Greg’s birth) which uses a German speciality malt to give it a red hue and sweet bready base for the combination of Mosaic, Cascade and Amarillo hops to sit on. Deb had Tangerine Express ipa which she described as being lovely and full bodied with the correct amount of orangy goodness. We had a little chat about his background in Germany – he had also been working in the music industry in Berlin before moving to Stone in October of last year into a job which he is really enjoying. We asked about his epiphany beer and he said it was a Lervig Lucky Jack pale ale that he had 7 years ago in Oslo. He added as well that whilst touring the US West Coast with his girlfriend he was impressed by all the small breweries along the way, specifically Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka where he celebrated his birthday on the 4th of July. He also gave us a little more history of the place telling us the brewery is 100 hectolitres with the first beer being released last June, and the pilot brewery, which was the first to become operational in December 2015, is 10 hectolitres. The restaurant had opened in September and, like the one at Escondido, used ingredients from small local, organic farms for its menu which is inspired by different food cultures. The library bar where we were sitting was a recent addition, having only been opened in the previous month and was full of bric a brac some of which were gifts from other breweries. After a while Colin had to go back to work and so we explored a bit more including the garden space, and I’m going to quote their fact sheet first – “Approximately 5.000 square meters with corners, nooks and gathering spaces created using natural elements of the space and repurposed building materials. The expansive gardens include boulders, large trees, and plants maintained using 100 percent organic methods.” I’m not sure if this gives an indication that, like the indoor bar and restaurant area, it is not uniform and corporate but has different distinct looks which we thought really added to the ambiance of the place. The brewery feels calm and welcoming, and although quiet when we first arrived it soon filled up with couples, families, and groups of friends coming to sample beers from the 2 Stones breweries and the plethora of guests. Eventually it was time to join our fellow guests for the brewers dinner with Greg, Drew Curtis, collaborator on w00tstout, and Thomas Tyrell, the Director of Brewing.

So after a brief meet and mingle period we took our places at a table for 6 with Colin, his girlfriend Michaela, and a German couple Daniel and Meike, the latter being a food and drink blogger in Berlin. If you are visiting, check out http://smamunir.de/  although if you’re like me you may need to use Google translate. With 4 courses of excellent food and 10 beers it was a long, fun night – here are some of the highlights (unsurprisingly my note taking became more sporadic as the night went on.) We discovered that the Stone Berliner Weisse that came with the first course is Greg’s favourite beer when he visits the brewery, and with the second course we had 2 relatively new beers, Stone Ripper Pale Ale and the previously mentioned Tangerine Express. With the main course of spicy pork chop we had Arrogant Brewing Punishment which used chilis from Greg’s garden originally and is his mother’s favourite beer (which is pretty hardcore). Greg said that great brewing is art and art should have a point of view and by the this course I think we were getting it – my description of Punishment just said “Wow, what a beast, chilli heat and maltiness”. The other third course beer was the Drew Curtis / Wil Wheaton / Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout (2016), the continuation of a collaboration that first began in 2013. Taking its name from Wil Wheaton’s W00tstock show it was inspired by Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie dessert, Drew said they thought the pecans gave it a good mouthfeel and helped the different flavours work well together. Finishing up with Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard and a mellow Coffee Milk Stout a rather splendid evening of great food, beer and conversation came to an end.

In conclusion we found Berlin to be a great city to visit, so much history and culture for one thing, but this afternoon and evening at Stone was certainly a highlight and it’s highly recommended as a place to visit…cheers to Greg, Colin and the rest of the staff!

 

 

 

Burning Soul – Grape vs Grain

 

For a brewery that is less than a year old Burning Soul are certainly making their mark in Birmingham and beyond. They’ve already won Rate Beer‘s Best New Brewery in the West Midlands and have just recently been nominated in the Midlands Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards. So of course I was excited to attend their Grape vs Grain event at Cheval Blanc in Moseley on the 31st of May.

First things first though – as well as matching 5 of their beers to food at the restaurant they had provided 8 beers for a tap takeover at the next door Dark Horse. Having had a very warm walk from work (this was in our one week of summer!) I started my evening with a new beer Eureka! a 6% IPA. It was welcomingly refreshing and light for the abv – a great start to the evening’s event.

I attended the dinner with my husband Dave and our friend James so my review is going to include some comments from them as well as their favourites in each ’round’.

Chris and Richard started off by telling the sold out crowd a bit about them and their brewery. They told us how they’d started out as home brewers with Chris not really liking beer. They home brewed as a money saving exercise however they now readily admit that a brewery was probably their most expensive idea ever. They took us back 4 years to when they started to collect brewing equipment and store it in Richard’s Nan’s garage and to their breaking point of ‘let’s just do this’ last July when they began work on the brewery. They wanted to brew ‘beer we wanted to drink’ and looked around the world for styles and flavours to develop their diverse range. They said they go for big, bold and intense flavours and they use the small batches they brew to test out recipes in their taproom (well worth a visit – it’s my new ‘local’!).

We were instructed not to pick just our favourite drink but to use our scoring sheets to note which drink went best with the food. And with that we were off!

First course – Greek Salad, Wine – Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, Beer – Zephyr Saison.

The beer is brewed with peppery Motueka hops and named Zephyr as it’s designed to be ‘light and breezy’. I felt that the beer went best and brought out the peppery flavour of the rocket whilst the wine had more citrus notes to it. On this one we were split, Dave was with me in preferring the beer pairing whilst James felt the citrus flavour of the wine was a good contrast to the peppery salad.

Second course – Pork Belly, Wine – Pinot Noir from South Africa, Beer – Mount Olympus.

Chris and Richard told us this is their ‘go to pale’ it’s crisp and dry which they assured us would cut through the fattiness of the pork. I found the wine a bit harsh but it did mellow with the food which had a sweetness to the sauce. The beer lost some of its bitterness with the pork and both Dave and I felt it didn’t really cut through the sweetness of the sauce. James although liking the wine with the food agreed the beer was a better match. Tough round this one, the wine was too boozy for our table but the beer did not tick all the boxes either. We all voted beer here as we did feel it was the better match overall.

Third course – Wings and Arancini, Wine – Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Beer – OCT.

This is the benchmark IPA for the brewery and one of their very first recipes. The plan was for the bitter, citrus flavour to cut through the spicy wings and we all agreed it did that very well. As James said ‘who drinks wine with wings?!’. A win for beer from the whole table.

Fourth Course – Aged Cheddar, Wine – Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile, Beer – Kettle Sour.

The idea here for the beer pairing was that the sourness would cut through the rich cheese and in addition Lactobacillus is used in both the cheese and beer production – a microbial marriage! This beer is hopped with my least favourite hop (Citra) however in this case the citrusy flavour from the hops cut through the rich, dense cheese. The wine was very fruity and a little heavy on the tannins. This was a tough round again, Dave was expecting to prefer the wine but in the end felt the beer was a better accompaniment. James agreed that the fruity beer was a better match and also a particularly good match to the quince jelly. Beer wins again!

Fifth course – Chocolate Brownie with Coconut Porter ice cream, Wine – Grenache from France, Beer – Coconut Porter.

This beer is now one of the most popular they make which came as a surprise to the brewers and the inclusion of the beer in the ice cream was nothing if not a work of genius! This was a very ‘grown up brownie’ and the beer was a great match to this. The wine had a nice cherry, chocolate flavour to it but we all felt that we didn’t need that sweetness on top of the brownie and ice cream. The table voted beer as the final course winner.

Once we’d finished eating our voting sheets were collected and counted up.

This is the third grape vs grain event that they’ve held and in the first 2 wine has won both times but (drum roll please) on this night beer was the winner!!

I can’t fault Cheval Blanc at all, the food, wine and atmosphere were excellent and it was a great value night out at only £25 a head. Of course the beers were top notch but it was great to have them in a different setting and see the sold out restaurant really get involved in the tastings. The background Chris and Richard shared on each beer and the food pairings was engaging and I hope that this event, and the tap takeover, encourages lots of people to seek out their tap room and enjoy more Burning Soul beer. Here’s to the next 12 months – who knows where they’ll conquer next!

Brewery Spotlight – Fownes

Fownes Brewing Co. will be celebrating their 5th anniversary next month after what started as an idea over a few pints of beer in 2010 became a reality. Yes unlike a few brewers we’ve talked to who started off as home brewers James and Thomas were not, just drinkers who figured they could make something better than the ales they had in their local pub. This pub was the Jolly Crispin in Upper Gornal and the bar manager was someone that James knew from college who, upon hearing the idea, mentioned the landlord had said the “garage” behind the pub was ideal for such a thing. At the time James was teaching and Tom was involved in concert photography but both had the desire to do something different. So after 10 months of renovating and an intense 18 months of learning how to brew they moved in October 2012 with a tower brewing system and 3 200 litre plastic fermenters. Their first cask had been released in the July, Frost Hammer a 4.6% pale ale, which became part of their core range of 4 beers. They decided to call themselves a Dwarfen brewery, partly in reference to the small nature of their brewery, but also because of their interest in Tolkienesque fantasy and Games workshop style gaming. Thus, as brewers of Epic Tales, they have created a universe and characters for their beers with stories by Tom and illustrations by James to go along with them (they also have a professional storyteller to join them at events to perform the tragic saga of King Korvak), and found that the more unusual the name at beer festivals the more drinkers seem willing to try them. It also gives the new pump clips and bottles a distinctive look with the designs being somewhat reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt covers and Hellboy artist MikeMignola for anyone with an interest in comic books. Over the years some things have changed. At first they were going to focus on English hops but unfortunately they couldn’t get all the tastes and aromas they needed and so now incorporate more hop varieties from the US, New Zealand. Malt wise they use British malt for pale ales but have found the German company Weyermann are the best source for all their speciality malt which they are so fond of since they have over 90 different malts available. Their love of darker beers has given them a good reputation amongst beer drinkers and festival awards, especially with King Korvak’s Saga, a 5.4% porter (CAMRA’s Champion Porter of the West Midlands 2015, 2017), another core beer. As well as the 4 core beers they do a range of Special (seasonal), Limited (quarterly) and Saga Editions. The latter showcase their dark beers of which I’ve only sampled one so far, chapter IV – Downfall –  a big 9% beast of a baltic porter where 7 malts combine to give an intense, flavourful experience, but easy drinking for the abv. Since their early local beginnings they realised that they can’t really compete with a lot of the bigger micro breweries, so have endeavoured to get their beers into at least one pub in a selection of towns and cities such as Walsall, Leicester, Kidderminster, where they can be found at The Weavers Ale House, and the Wellington in Birmingham. The next step to try to get the beers more widely available in bottles and to further this they have turned to a crowdfunding initiative, which you can read about here – http://igg.me/at/fownes – We at the blog are big fans of small independent brewers so think this is well worth supporting, plus we like the beers, and in the name of transparency I will mention that James did give me some bottles when we visited. Not sure if beer bottles can be described as cute, but they have gone for 330ml ones that are short and stocky in keeping with the dwarf theme. And if you still need persuading what great guys they are, well just recently, upon the untimely death of singer Chris Cornell they announced they would brew a beer in his honour. The beer is named after the Soundgarden track By Crooked Steps and they will be donating money from the sale of the beer, which will be available in cask, keg and bottles, to CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) (https://www.thecalmzone.net/) , a charity devoted to preventing male suicide. As well as their hop and malt suppliers matching their donation, their bottle label and pump clip suppliers are donating their services as well which is great news.

So if you haven’t done so before, now is the time to partake of the epic tales and raise a glass to the Dwarfen brother and sisterhood.

Website –  http://fownesbrewing.co.uk/ and follow them on Twitter & Facebook