Month: October 2017

MBBC On Tour – New Belgium Brewery, Fort Collins, Colorado

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Colorado was our two visits to the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins. On the advice of Matt Curtis we made sure we booked the free 90 minute tour well in advance, but due to quite convoluted circumstances we were able to meet up with Steve Wood whose title is National Sales Ranger Trainer a couple of days later. First up though was our tour with Morgan of the 4th largest craft brewery in the USA which began with a brief history along with the first beer taster, a Belgian dubbel. The brewery sort of started in a basement with Jeff Lebesch beginning to homebrew in the mid 80s due to his finding not much flavour in the mainstream beers available in the US…a story we have heard before. He wanted to brew a Belgian style beer but hadn’t actually had one so decided to take his next vacation over there. Realising that drinking strong Belgian beer and driving wouldn’t be a great mix he took his fat tired bike with him along with a journal to document the beers and any ideas he had. His beer epiphany occurred in the great beer city of Bruges where he came up with a recipe idea and couldn’t wait to get home to start brewing it. That first beer was a version of the Abbey ale that we had a taster of on the tour, and the second was an amber style that became their

The original brewki

iconic Fat Tire. At this point the brewery was still in the basement and he was still just giving it to family and friends because he couldn’t legally sell it, so in the early 90’s his wife Kim stepped in and got them a brewing licence. For 2 more years they kept their full time jobs before taking the plunge in 1995, opening up in the current Fort Collins location which, due to a growth in business, expanded in 2001. In 1997 they were one of the first breweries to start collecting wine barrels and 2 years later they released the first ever sour beer in the USA, a Flanders style red. Morgan explained that for their sours they use 2 base beers, Oscar, a dark lager, and Felix, a Golden Ale. At this point on the tour we had a sample of the latest version of said beer, La Folie (Lips of Faith) (2017), which went down better than expected (I’m not a huge sour fan). Morgan carried on with the story, being particularly taken by how, as the new millennium started and with business  going well, Kim was delivering kegs to local bars and sometimes getting more sales than certain bigger brands.

By now we were beginning to get an idea of the size of the brewery, it’s a huge operation, running 24/7 with 35 brewers working in shifts on different production lines. I was also taken aback by some of the figures, for example the huge fermenting vessels that we could see outside held the equivalent of 470,000 bottles of beer. The bottling line itself fills 714 a minute which is the equivalent of a 12 pack every second…phew! Time for another beer, a kettle soured beer called Tartastic that was pretty fresh having been bottled about 45 minutes earlier.

 

One of the most interesting things for us was hearing about how the company operates in relation to the staffing and the surrounding community. The core values have remained important along with the need to make money because they are a business after all. With Kim being a social worker she always had a strong desire to make sure that the staff were well looked after which probably accounts for the current 93% retention rate. Ever since their beginnings the bike has always had a strong role in the brewery identity, and after 1 year at the company every employee gets the gift of a new fat tire bike with each year’s design being different. After 5 years there is an all expenses trip to Belgium to discover a bit more about the origins of the company, and after 10 you get a 1 month paid sabbatical. This could explain why they are ranked as one of the top 30 companies in the USA to work for. They are also very environmentally conscious with 99.9% of their waste diverted from landfill, provide 18% of their own solar electricity, and have an onsite water treatment plant that provides 220 gallons of water to the cities households each day. By now we were coming to the end of the tour and had our last beer from a can overlooking the canning line which only does 320 a minute. This was Dayblazer, a 4.8% golden ale brewed to appeal to the Bud and Miller market and which I’m sure will go down well at the The New Belgium Porch, a purpose built bar and party deck at the new Colorado State University stadium – up the Rams! It had been a good tour, Morgan was a great guide being both informative and funny and the 90 minutes flew by…the only thing left to do was have a seat at the bar and sample a few more beers.

 

Two days later we were back to chat with Steve who has been working for the company for 18 years, having worked for a distributor of imported beers before that. He introduced us to Patrick who has been a brewer there for 17 years and is part of the team of 35 who work in shifts to keep production going. He had just finished his 6 – 2 shift but was gracious enough to give us a more in depth behind the scenes tour. We started in Brewhouse One where the mash tun, kettle etc were on a slightly larger scale than I am used to and I was surprised to learn that with a lot of the core beers they mash for just 30 minutes before emptying out the tun, rinsing it and then going again with the same beer so they can do many batches a day. We were shown the yeast propagation lab where 2 young female interns were being taught before moving onto the barrel room. We’d already had some background on this with Morgan but we were able to chat with Ted, a young brewer, about the huge wine barrels that are used for souring and blending the beers, hear the story of how their first American Oak barrel was won during a bowling game in Missouri, and have a sample of a cherry sour straight from the wood so to speak – it was delicious. The beers are all aged for a minimum of a year and tested constantly to see how they are developing. We got a glimpse of Lauren Salazar down there who is responsible for the blending along with making sure all the beers that are brewed there are the best they can be with her daily tasting tests in the sensory lab.

Next we popped in to view the pilot brew system which was on a more recognisable scale and were given a couple of samples from the FVs. All the staff are encouraged to get involved if they want with experimentation being welcome, although Dave who is in charge of acquisitions said there are sometimes problems when they upscale in terms of getting the quantities of ingredients required. Finally came one of the most fascinating aspects of the tour, going onto the floor of the bottling and canning line, some of which was too much for my tiny mind to comprehend such as the labelling which was being done so fast you couldn’t really see it. The whole process from the start when the flat 6-pack boxes are made up to the laser sensor which checks the bottles are full to the same level was fun to see. And cheers to Steve for letting us grab a pretty fresh beer off the line when it was safe to do so…We also picked up a can of Old Aggie, a Superior Lager that was brewed for the aforementioned CSU football team, which I have been introducing to iconic landmarks (check @davhop72 for pictures).

All in all it was a fascinating experience and a bit of an eye opener to see craft beer brewed on such a scale. The beers are not readily available over here but if you are on vacation in the States, or are visiting Colorado, then I recommend giving them a try.

 

Fownes Brewing Company at 5!

 

Dwarfen brewers Tom and James Fownes of the Fownes Brewing Company are proving Gimli, from Lord of the Rings, wrong when he says that Dwarves are only good over short distances.  As they are approaching their 5th birthday I asked them a few questions about the history of the brewery, the future and what we can expect at their Quinquennial celebrations.

It’s your 5th birthday time flies!  Tell me about the history of the brewery, how you started and where you are now?

As with most of life’s great adventures, the Fownes Brewing Company began not with salad but down the pub. Ironically at the pub we would find ourselves brewing out the back of!

We were about six pints in to the night when one of us declared the beer we were currently drinking was a bit thin and lacking. Obviously the answer was that, of course, we could do better! James also stipulated it should be a Dwarfen Brewery.

Now bear in mind we’d never even done any home brewing at this point, but we were ‘men of science’, it must be possible!

I’m sure many people have had similar conversations like that down the pub. The difference here was when James called me the next morning to remind me of this great idea we’d had down the pub. I dutifully replied that we had been quite drunk when having said revelation.

Sadly for me, James was rather unhappy in his then profession of teaching and was looking for a change of career. I was quite happy being a poor music journalist, but somehow got dragged along on this adventure to become a poor brewer instead!

So with nothing but a few books and some thirty litre all grain brew kit, we began what has so far been a seven year long attempt to become millionaires through brewing.

It’s all got rather out of hand since then. In the July of 2012 we sold our first cask, 9 gallons of Frost Hammer, to Rob at the Jolly Crispin, and 3 months later we finished refurbing the current brewery building out the back of the same said pub and moved in with our then current 100 litre tower kit.

In the 5 years since we sold that first cask we’ve upgraded our kit again, now at 600 litres and, hopefully, once we’ve relocated to new premises, will be upgrading again.

What have been some of the highs and lows in this time?

We’ll start with the lows. The thing that sucks the most being a brewer is when something goes wrong and you have to ditch a whole batch. We’ve been quite fortunate in that respect as I count on my fingers the times it’s happened, and that’s out of probably close to 500 brews.

The highs have been many and varied. From winning our first beer festival award, to our first regional award, to just getting to go out and meet people who enjoy the product we make.

The biggest high we’ve experienced in 2017 was the success of a crowdfunding campaign we ran to fund our new range of bottled beers. Around 90 people chose to Belong with the Dwarfs, providing money in exchange for beer. It was a humbling experience to see how many people loved what we are doing.

What are the plans for the Dwarves for the next 5 years?

Move, expand, grow, be more awesome!  From these four things should flow a better life for our families and the community that we want to build around our business.

And finally hat can people expect at your birthday party on 22nd Oct?

The best party of the year! We love throwing our birthday party, it’s a chance to get to know new fans and spend time with existing ones we might not get to see as often as we like. Financially it’s normally not a good day for us because we spend so much money on making it the best party we can. I mean where else can you get a glass, a t-shirt, a bottle of beer, live wrestling and professional storytelling AND access to our latest beers for under £15? Mad!

If you haven’t already got your tickets for the party what are you waiting for?  Follow this link to a great afternoon and see you there!

Me and Tom at the Beer Bazaar earlier this year.

Can We Go Dutch – What Can We Learn from Dutch Beer Festivals

I’m not sure if there’s a word for this (Dutch-o-phile, perhaps?) but I’m a big fan of anything to do with the Netherlands.

From the ‘I saw a mouse!’ song of my childhood to my current status as fan-girl and unofficial cheerleader for Dutch breweries.

Suffice to say I am biased when I say this but…Dutch beer festivals are better than UK beer festivals.

Admittedly the sample size isn’t large enough for me to say this with any scientific certainty -although believe me, I am working on that – but there is a chilled, laid back air to festivals in the Netherlands that you rarely see in the UK.

For one thing, it appears that across the North Sea being drunk is seen almost as an unfortunate side-effect of beer rather than the raison d’etre of many British drinkers. Families (babies and small children are a common site at Dutch beer festivals) gather around stodgy picnics of sausage, bread, cheese and bananas to stave off drunkenness for as long as possible. That’s not to say every UK festival degenerates into the blood-splattered carnage I’ve witnessed at CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival and London Craft Beer Festival, or that that I’ve not seen soon-to-be regretted excesses at the PINT Bokbierfestival in Amsterdam’s Beurs van Berlage.

A few weeks ago, I decided to test my theory at Brouwerij de Molen annual Borefts festival in Bogegraven, South Holland. Trying my hardest to cast a critical eye over what I believe to be the best festival in the world serving the best beer in the world (see told you I was biased), I spotted families with prams, pet dogs sitting under tables, picnics, camaraderie and locals handing out flyers to encourage festival goers to venture out of the brewery and visit the nearby town. Admittedly, there was a smattering of rowdiness later in the day but that was decidedly low level considering most beers hovered above the 8% mark with a couple of notable big-hitters – De Molen’s 21.3% Hel & Verdoemenis Bowmore Barrel Aged IJsbock and Brouwerij Kees 26% Ijbock 2017 Oloroso BA – moving the average ABV upwards.

De Molen’s Menno Oliver told me that Borefts wasn’t typical of all Dutch festivals, he put its friendly atmosphere down to three things:

“We give people lots of space here, there’s no music and people come from all around the world – it’s more like a gathering of friends than a beer festival”.

He’s right of course, Borefts is as much about the destination as the drinking: there were 7,000 visitors from 40 countries; a map displayed by the main entrance shows visitors from across Europe and as far afield as the US and New Zealand. This makes the festival goers slightly older and certainly more intent on remembering the festival than if they’d just popped down the road for a beer blitz.

But I still maintain that there’s something about Dutch festivals that is all together more welcoming. Despite some obvious shortcomings, this summer’s Planet Oedipus (£30 a pint homebrew anyone?) is a case in point: not least because it took place at an urban farm in the suburbs of Amsterdam. Laid out like a cross between music festival and a village fete it radiated inclusivity and cool vibes. As with Borefts, the stands were manned by the breweries, if not the brewer themselves.

So what can we learn from Dutch beer festivals?

  • Give people the option of smaller measures;
  • Have more brewers and breweries serving their own beers;
  • Encourage people to bring their own food to help ward-off drunkenness;
  • Make the environment welcoming and, if possible, family-friendly;
  • Give people space.

In the meantime, I’m readying myself for this month’s Bockbierfestival. Pass me a small glass of 8 % beer and a chunk of gouda, I’m determined to master that confident, chilled, Dutch vibe…

World Mental Health Day – Beer with Buddies

Tuesday 10th October is World Mental Health Day and the theme is Tea & Talk. People are being encouraged to get togther and talk mental health, share experiences and/or raise awareness with the hope of making it an easier topic to talk about.

Mental Health is still not an easy topic to talk about, especially amongst men, with suicide being one of the major killers of men. According to Samaratians latest figure the numbers of female suicide per year are also showing an increase.

These figures show the need to talk openly without fear and judgement about our mental health. I have read some thoughtful and powerful blogs from beer bloggers that I highly recommend reading including Mark Johnson, Pete McKerry and Jim Cullen.

The beer scene itself has had a major impact on my own mental health as I have made some great friends, many of whom I believe will be lifetime friends, and people I can be open and honest about my mental health struggles.

This is where my clumsy alliteration comes in. For World Mental Health Day why not contact a buddy to go for a beer and chat, I’m not saying go and get drunk, but a chat with a friend while sipping on a Session IPA may be just what you or your friends needs.

Then do it again, not just on World Mental Health Day, but make chatting with friends about your struggles and your victories a normal occurance. We all have mental health, and nearly everyone has periods of poor mental health, so it should be normal to talk about it.

The alliteration aside (and who doesn’t love a bit of alliteration) you don’t need a beer or tea, or any beverage…just talk. Perhaps World Mental Health Day can just be the start.

Brum Beer Profiles- The Paper Duck

Three friends, two venues and lots of great beer.

A little over a year ago I took a walk up to The Custard Factory to find out a little more about the new beer venue that seemingly appeared from nowhere.  We chatted to the three friends about their plans for Clink.

A year later, a few expansions, and lots more beer, those three friends are now opening their second venue, this time joining The Sportsman/The Hop Garden in Harborne.

Some serious work has gone into the The Paper Duck, to convert the old shop into a contemporary beer venue with a focus on great, British beer.  The guys have brought in the experienced and passionate Neil Hemus to manage the space.  To ensure the beer is always at its best they will have 18 lines beer and have invested in a expertly fitted Cold Store by Jolly Good Beer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It has been a real pleasure to watch the development of this project from the beginning, to looking around around at the soft launch.  The excitement and passion from the team at The Paper Duck in infectious,  they even got me excited about a fridge (an expertly fitted giant magical beer fridge granted).  I have no doubt this venue will be a success.

What these three friends have achieved in such a short space of time is very impressive, and we are sure both Clink and The Paper Duck will go from strength to strength (the latter will soon be adding a Beer Garden, so lots of outdoor drinking in Harborne).  The Paper Duck is a very welcome addition to the Birmingham Beer Scene, and we look forward to what comes next.

*Full disclosure – Our very own Dave Hopkins will be one of bartenders serving your beer from time to time.  I wonder if he has an obsession with Ducks?