Month: September 2017

People in Glasshouses….Glasshouse Brewing Co

On Friday 8th September Josh Hughes pretty much completed the ‘circle of beer’ (apologies Lion King fans) when he hosted a tap takeover and meet the brewer for his own brewery, Glasshouse Brewing Co, where his beer journey started in Brewdog Birmingham.

I managed to grab the newest brewer on the block and ask him some questions about where he’s come from, where he is now and where he’s headed. Here’s what I learnt…

I started out by asking Josh how it had all started and he told me he’d joined the Brewdog team in June 2012 and worked at the bar for four and a half years. During that time, at James Watt’s request, he spent some time brewing on the pilot kit up at Brewdog HQ in Ellon. The big catalyst was then giving his homebrew to James and the way that not only he reacted but the whole company. “It sent a shockwave through the company” that someone in one of their bars could be brewing beer to that standard. James even said that trying this homebrew was the highlight of his time working in the bar in Birmingham!

The other thing to come out of this encounter was Josh and Neil Hemus starting the homebrew club with Josh being the sole organiser after Neil Hemus moved on. He told me that Brewdog had really wanted him to stay up in Ellon but he found the process too automated and that he wanted to get his hands dirty – that’s what brewing means to him. So that’s how Glasshouse was born.

They started on October 21st 2016 in a greenhouse in Kings Heath and if you’re wondering how the brewery got its name it’s all thanks to Josh’s niece who said “are you in the brewery today? You’re in the glasshouse brewery” and Glasshouse Beer Co. was born!

After getting set up from October the first beer was released in March this year and that’s when the brewery is really counting its birthday (so look out for celebrations next March!).

We moved on then to talk more about the brewery itself and their general ethos. Glasshouse is pretty much just Josh, he does all the recipe development and is the head brewer. He’s also assisted by Callum Marnock who’s been part of the team from the start. They are currently brewing on a one barrel kit, but a five and half barrel kit will be operational early in November with 20 barrels worth of fermentation vessels and at least one bright tank (maybe 2). The plan is to move away from keg and bottle conditioning to forced carbonation, the reason for this is to ensure the consistency of the beer. Josh told me though that they now plan to cease bottling for 2 reasons one “it’s a pain in the arse” and secondly once the new kit is up and running they’re moving into canning.

Me with Josh and Julie

I asked Josh about the breweries approach to styles and having a core range of beers as I’ve noticed that there are only a couple of his beers I’ve had more than once. “We’ve adopted a real Kernel and Cloudwater approach to experimentation. Not weighing ourselves down with a core range”. He said that he hates the labelling of beer with it having to be defined as one style or another “it’s so much more than that. I don’t like the distinction of west coast or east coast pales for example. If you want to brew a dank juicy IPA with loads of flaked oats –giving a juicy body and clean finish then go for it” There are lots of people doing this at the moment and he cited a few idols such as Deya, Verdant and Cloudwater. However he did say that sometimes he finds their beers too sweet, and since he’s a committed “hop fiend” he wants to show off the hops. He told me that he “spends time on the malt bill, so the hops can shine through. If it’s an IPA the hops should be at the front of the beer.”. Of course it can’t all be about the hops so the chocolate milk stout and, the frankly delicious, Me Julie shows they are not a one trick pony.

I moved on to ask Josh why we weren’t seeing so much of his beer around at the moment. It’s all down to his high levels of quality control “as the head brewer I have had to ensure the CO2 levels, the hop flavour over time and the way the flavour profile matures are all measured and controlled. I’ve kept stock back looking at it with a longer view.” Sometimes this has gone wrong and he’s held it back too long but that allows for the setting of a realistic best before date and will help with proper stock rotation once it gets to the bars. He also said this gives a baseline for the move to the big kit. “Ensuring that when the beer is released it’s at its optimum freshness, and that the flavour and aroma profile and CO2 levels are all perfect”.

He told me how his current role working at Clink has actually helped him with this quality control process “launching at Clink gets me unbiased feedback on the beer, 99.9% of the people drinking there don’t know I’m Glasshouse so I get unfiltered feedback direct from the customers”. He said

“It’s an ongoing research and development, it’s an ongoing discipline there is always something you can learn”.

I for one am really excited about the beers I’ve tried so far as well and the real passion and knowledge Josh displays for his craft.

I’ve got an invite to go and visit the brewery once the new kit is all up and running so watch this space for an update nearer the end of the year.

Spotlight on Punchline

Have you ever sat around with a group of friends in a pub and as the beers flowed discussed what it would be like to open your own brewery? Well for one such group it went further than a drunken discussion…We’ll come to the back story of Andy, James, Lisa, Louise and Richard in a bit but our introduction to them came on the afternoon of Saturday July 22nd when Deb and I caught the tram out to Priestfields to check out one of the newest breweries on the West Midlands block, Punchline. We knew they had taken over the premises and kit formerly owned by Gwen Sanchirico of Sacre Brew – check out previous posts here http://midlandsbeerblog.co.uk/2016/06/20/birmingham-beer-bash-profiles-sacre-brew/ and here http://midlandsbeerblog.co.uk/2017/07/10/au-revoir-sacre-brew-thank-you-and-good-bye-to-gwen/. This was their first chance to meet local drinkers and gauge some reaction to the work they have been doing for the last few months, and I think it is safe to say the reaction took them by surprise. Whilst we were there there was always a queue at the bar of drinkers of both sexes and all ages, and at one point they had to start labelling up bottles as the supply in the fridge had run out. They had 2 beers they were serving on draft, Why the Long Face, an IPA & No Eye Deer, a saison. These were complimented by 3 in bottles, Dyathinkhesaurus, an imperial porter, Sunburnt Penguin witbier, and The Other Side, a black ipa, and they ranged in abv from 6.1% to 7.7%. Between us we sampled all 5 and thoroughly enjoyed them and were pleased to see via Untappd that many others agreed. We managed to snatch brief conversations with a couple of them as things began to wind down but decided to meet at a later date for an informal chat about their beginnings. And so over a few beers in the Wolf at the end of August I dug into their history with Andy, Louise, Richard and Lisa. They described themselves as very keen drinkers whose friendship goes back a long way, Richard having known Andy from the age of 8, and they still have regular Friday night meet ups in Wednesfield where some of them are based. The first thing that I found surprising, and which they had touched on at the open day, is that none of them had been involved in the drinks trade in the past, or had done any form of home brewing (although volunteers Alastair & Lisa who were keen home brewers were onboard from the beginning). The latter had been talked about as something they were going to start doing, and that was when the name Punchline had been originally bandied about, but then an opportunity knocked as they say. James was the one who had the original connection to Gwen and she had actually helped with a 50th birthday meal when she cooked an 8 course meal with 8 of her beers to go with it. And then in January of this year she announced she was selling up, but wanted the whole brewery to go to kindred spirits who would carry on brewing in the space rather than selling off the equipment in bits and pieces. Thus came the drunken idea to buy the brewery between them with no experience. So they went and helped Gwen out at the brewery, did a collaboration brew with her, a golden ale called Fenrir 14/48 Transatlantic Beer and then learnt everything they could in the months leading up to her returning to the USA. And then it was time to start brewing on the 240 litre, 4 FV brewing kit with all the beer being brewed, kegged, bottled and labelled on the premises. Since there were 5 of them they picked the aforementioned 5 different styles saying this was partly based on their differing tastes since, for instance, Andy is not really a fan of hoppy beers and prefers the dark side, whereas Richard is a more hops the better kind of guy. With the name Punchline decided upon it came time to find a name for the beers and a design look. To do this they went to The Studio Group, a Wolverhampton-based design agency, taking with them a clear idea of simple, bold colourful designs and a lot of bad jokes.
And then it came time to let the public decide, and as mentioned above the reception was good on their open day. The first customer actually knocked the door a while before they opened and bought 12 bottles of each beer and they were still buzzing about the whole, slightly exhausting experience a few weeks later when we met them. They said about a third of the people that turned up were friends and colleagues but the rest were a mix of supporters of Gwen, local beer drinkers, and the curious. Since then they have had success at the Beer Envy stall at the Lichfield food Festival where they sold out, and placed a selection of beers in the Hungry Bistro in Wolverhampton City Centre. And now comes the next stage with their brewing procedures – and the kit itself – evolving; the fermentation room has been upgraded and there are plans to gradually upgrade the kit.
We had now come to that time of the evening to kick back and just chat about various beery adventures we’d all been on and ask the epiphany beer question: Andy and Louise (who share a love of strong, dark, continental beers) are in complete agreement on this: De Molen’s Bordeaux barrel-aged Bommen & Granaten. The beer has inspired a now annual pilgrimage to the brewery’s Borefts Beer Festival. As for Richard and Lisa, well Richard is a simple soul, liking anything with plenty of hops, in fact the hoppier the better, he said “I don’t really have an outright favourite, I’m lucky to have the Vine in Wednesfield as my local so there is always a great range of my style of beers on, difficult to pick just one” Lisa isn’t the biggest of drinkers anyway, but prefers a lighter style of ale, again nothing specific.
We ended our meet up wishing them the best of luck in the future because although these first few months have been a lot of hard work they are determined to still have fun and live up to their tag line – Seriously good beer. #No joke.

New Balls Please! The Sportsman becomes The Hop Garden – Harborne

The Sportsman in Harborne is tucked away off the High Street next to the M&S car park. I have to admit I’ve driven past it many times without giving it a second glance but when I heard that Brendon Daly, owner/director of the Inn on the Green/Bottle Shed in Acocks Green, was taking it over I was intrigued.

Brendon invited me over to have a look at the pub as it is, with some renovations already underway, and I have to say I was impressed. It’s not huge inside but it has some great areas and some really nice features. I particularly liked an area slightly separated off on the right of the bar that would make a great area for bottle shares and meet the brewer events. One of the big selling points is the garden. It’s a nice, big open space and Brendon plans to grow hops where the current children’s sand pit is located and this is where the pub will get its new name The Hop Garden.

When I visited Brendon was removing plasterboard from the walls to expose the brickwork, he had also taken up the carpet and removed the seating from around the walls. The plan is to have long tables around the room and give it a much more cosy feel rather than the pastel shades it has now.

The main area as you come into the pub is great with a large fireplace and a stone slab floor and this is the area that leads you straight to the bar. In addition to the physical changes a new logo has been designed by local designer The Upright One who has, among many other things, done work for lots of local breweries and created our logo. This updated design will be a big part of the re-branding of the pub and reflect the revamped interior.

So let’s move onto the plans for the bar itself – the current 4 cask lines will be extended to 5 and a large new keg dispense will be installed at the back of the bar with 7 beer and 5 cider lines. In addition there will be a large bottle fridge to drink in or take away. Brendon told me he plans it to be a hybrid of the Inn on the Green and The Bottle Shed. There is also a kitchen on site and the slightly longer term plan is to have pop ups in there. To begin with simpler food will be served with maybe some pop ups at the weekends.

We discussed the location of the pub as it’s not on the busy High Street but in some ways we agreed this was a good thing. There are a lot of great pubs in Harborne and having this one just out of the way will make it more of a destination and certainly with the focus on beer and the planned events, such as meet the brewer and tap takeovers, it will be different to the other venues in the village.

Of course the garden will be a big draw but as we are coming to the end of the summer (such as it’s been!) this will be a focus for next year. The plans are for a more substantial covered area, separate smoking ‘room’ and an access to the kitchen.

We only talked briefly about the range of beers Brendon has planned – it’s early days yet but I did say that I hoped we see some of our local stars on the bar and he said that was a definite in both in keg and cask.

 

The opening is currently planned for mid-October and I’ve been invited back to see it all as the work continues as well as when it’s finished so we’ll be able to keep you updated on what I think will be a great addition to the pub scene in Harborne.