Author: Catherine Webber

A fan of beer, food, films and music! Born in Wales, raised in Sussex and ending up in Birmingham via Sheffield.

Goskino vs Burning Soul – 27th July

Ahead of Goskino playing at Burning Soul, this Thursday (27th), I dropped both the band and the brewery a few questions to find out how the gig had come about and what people could expect.

I started out by asking Burning Soul how the gig came about:

“We’re both really into live music so naturally love the idea of having local bands playing here. It feels like we have been discussing having live music since we opened to the public last October. Since this will be the first time we’re really excited to see how it goes and hopefully open the door to more small gigs showcasing local talent.”

“We have a very diverse taste in music but you’ll often find blues or rock on it the taproom Friday and Saturdays. Greg from Goskino drinks at Burning Soul often and was kind enough to give us a copy of their album a while back which we really enjoyed, so when he asked if it was possible to play at the brewery the reply was somewhere along the lines of “hell yeah”!

“This is also the first time we have had a street food vendor at Burning Soul so we’re excited to see how that goes for Trailer Trash who are coming down and hooking people up with some mean burgers. People often say the only problem with our place is the fact we don’t do food so getting some street food vendors for our Saturday opening is definitely something were looking into.

I asked if they’d had time to brew anything special for the gig:

“We haven’t brewed a beer especially, but we will have some special Fuzz Bomb edition bottles of our Zephyr Saison with some awesome artwork from the Goskino guys as well as our 8 taps.  We’ve held back some kegs of our new IPA ‘Pure Passion’ and our black IPA especially for the event and there should be some new beers coming on as well.”

As you may not know Goskino I asked them to describe their sound, how they felt about playing a brewery (a first for them) and what are their favourite beers:

Goskino are a three piece plying their trade in fuzz laden garage rock. Unabashed short fuzzy fast edgy songs delivered with unfetted conviction. Tom on guitar and vocals, Adam on Bass and Greg on drums. 

The guys at Burning Soul seem to have a similar ethos to the band, no sense of doing things by halves – total commitment to what they are doing. Elegant, spiky, complex and super tasty beers abound. Goskino playing at the Brewery is a perfect match. Let’s hope Goskino’s notorious volume doesn’t curdle the beer!

Tom – Corona

Adam – Stroud Brewery – Budding

Greg – Burning Soul OCT

Doors are due to open with the band on at 7 but the brewery told me:

“We’ll have the bar open from 5pm so anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of a sound check is welcome to come and grab a beer before the official 7pm start and on stage time of 8pm.”

So come along and support a local band, brewery and street food vendor all in one night!

Birmingham Brewery Tour – Review

Birmingham Brewery Tours (part of UK Brewery Tours) have been running since March this year and I was very happy when they invited me along to join them this month to see what it was all about*.

The tour starts at 2pm at Rock and Roll Brewhouse in the Jewellery Quarter. I was met by our guide for the day, Stuart, along with Lynne and Mark from the brewery.

The first thing I noticed, as I’ve not been in for a while, was the new seating area – they’ve purchased the adjoining unit and knocked through to make a lovely area complete with windows which really lightens up the whole bar. We were soon joined by the rest of our group – newlyweds Joe and Elaine and father and son Joe and Joe (at least I didn’t have any trouble remembering people’s names!). There were 2 beers being poured as part of the tour Thirst Aid Kit and British Beer Power and we had our first half as Mark took us into the brewery complete with coloured lights and disco ball! He told us about his history in brewing from his days as a homebrewer, through his time at Banks’ and brewing on the roof of the Lamp Tavern in Digbeth. We were surprised to learn we were surrounded by 200 year old walls and that their fermentation vessels are wine tanks from Italy. He told us that the ethos of the whole brewery was “a little space for people who love beer and music” hence the name and all the memorabilia and records lining the walls. The whole group were really interested and asked lots of questions. No one (apart from me) had been there before or, in some cases, even knew it existed and I think this is the great part of this tour taking people to these hidden gems. Then it was time to move on so we left wishing Lynne and Mark a happy birthday as it had been the taproom’s birthday the night before and moved on to our next location – Burning Soul.

By coincidence Burning Soul are also celebrating a birthday as it is one year since they got the keys to the unit – the taproom will celebrate its birthday later in the year! As before none of the rest of the group had been here previously and again they were immediately impressed. Chris and Richard were there to greet us and pour us our first beers – here we had the choice of the whole board and as in Rock and Roll we could have 3 halves. Richard took us into the brewery and gave everyone a potted history from the garage brewing days, via ebay and retrofitting equipment to the newest conditioning vessel just arrived, if slightly dented, that week. He then showed the group a range of malts which we could smell and taste along with some hops as he explained the brewing process.

Again the atmosphere was very relaxed with everyone really enjoying the beers and asking lots of questions. We stayed there for around an hour and then it was time to go to our final destination Pure Bar and Kitchen.

The final part of the day was a little different. As this is not the brewery itself we were there to have a short tutored tasting of some beers led by Sam from the bar. We were told that Purity like to pair their beers with food so we had some small snacks to try with our beers – sausage rolls, cheese, gherkins and chocolate chips. We tasted a range of Purity beers both on draft and from cans, not everyone in the group had been to the bar before and they were interested to hear more about the beers and also try the different food pairings. We were also lucky enough to get a brief glimpse into the cellar which allowed us to see how the beer is stored and transported up to the pumps in the bar above.

To finish off I talked to the group about their experience of the day and here are some of their quotes – “Impressed with how it was handled and the personal experience, hands on, sampling the beer.” “Very welcoming, very nice people.” “Overall a great day and just the right size group, 6 to 8 is enough. It’s more personal.” “We didn’t know any of these places existed we will definitely go back to all the locations and we will bring our friends too.”

I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone who’s not tried these breweries before. It’s a good day out, everyone on the tour was really interested and Stuart was a great, knowledgeable guide.

*I was invited to attend the tour by the organisers and did not pay however this has not impacted my views.

Pirate Life – They Come from a Land Down Under!

Whilst out for a farewell drink with Gwen (see my previous blog “Au Revoir Sacre Brew…”) we popped into Brewdog who were having a showcase from Pirate Life. Never one to miss a blog opportunity I sat with Sean Robertson (European Developer) to have a chat about this Australian brewery and their plans for the UK.

The brewery, based in Adelaide, started about two and a half years ago and the two founding brewers, Jack Cameron & Jared Refert started their brewing lives at Brewdog in Ellon. From there they went to Little Creatures and Cheeky Monkey respectively before Jack’s father raised the money to set them up in their own brewery. The brewery has grown 15 fold in two and a half years and is moving toward 220 thousand litres a month. They now brew 17 styles of beer, with staff increasing from 6 to 36 people including 6 brewers.

The event was more of a meet and greet however Sean told me they had a more full on program of meet the brewer type events planned at other Brewdog bars over the coming weeks. He told me the relationship comes from starting at Brewdog but there is still a healthy competition!
The brewers intend to come over to the UK and Europe every 10 weeks, having freed themselves from the brewery, to drive forward events, Q&As and promotion. We agreed this will be great for them to see the challenges facing breaking into other markets.

We talked about the challenges of bringing beer from so far away and I found out that the beers are shipped in chilled transport for their 6 week journey and that Pirate Life are passionate about maintaining an all cold supply chain. Within Australia they have their own distribution network but to bring beer to the UK they have had to have a number of trial runs. The first shipment was not great with the Throwback IPA, particularly, not travelling well. They tweaked the temperature on the 20ft refrigerated units and dropped it to 3C – it seems 3 was the magic number! They were now on container number 3 with container 4 on the way with, so far, only the core range coming over but it’s arriving in great shape.

I was also pleased to hear that they didn’t want to be London-centric but would be UK wide getting into “grass roots and off piste smaller towns”. They are using smaller distributors to get into these smaller locations and hope to have around 10 distribution partners by the end of the year.

In Australia 83% of their market is cans, the UK market is much more draft focused and much more competitive in general. Also the market in Australia is much more focused on bottle shops but the team have taken the approach to “blend in” with the UK sales profile focusing on wider sales channels. Sean told me they are keen to spearhead the import of Australian beers “We are aware, as Pirate Life Europe, we want to be the pioneers of Australian craft beer – we’ve a great history of brewing but there are a lot of hurdles to get over like ‘the original Fosters scenario’. Also Little Creatures have relaunched and Prancing Pony is coming over from the same region as Pirate Life”.

In respect of the beers I drank during the evening I started with a Throwback IPA which tasted really light and fresh with a good grapefruit flavour, the 6.8% IPA which was super hoppy and spot on and finally the 8.8% Double IPA – this really showcased the hoppy flavour and the benefit of that 3 degree shipping. I have to say I was really impressed with them all and would certainly order them again and look out for the cans.

During the interview we talked about various bars in Birmingham and I mentioned the great focus on events at The Wolf and it seems my advice went in as there is an event there on 22nd July for Birmingham Beer Week! So get down there and try some great, fresh tasting Australian beers!

 

Au Revoir Sacre Brew! – Thank You and Good Bye to Gwen

For the past 3 years New Yorker Gwen Sanchirico has been brewing on a 200L kit out of an industrial unit in Wolverhampton but now it is time for her to return to her home city to be closer to her family. Since we’ve covered a lot of her journey here on the blog (and drunk a lot of her beer!) it made sense for us to have one final interview with her before she heads off back to the Big Apple. So it was that in a quiet corner of Cherry Red’s she and I sat down and talked about Alice Donut, beer, Wolverhampton, and washing machines!

So although we’ve talked before on the blog about Gwen coming to the UK I thought it would be good just to recap how a girl from Queens ended up in Wolverhampton! She told me this is the number one questions she’s been asked for the last 5 years and after a brief discussion on alien abduction she said that she’d gone to see Alice Donut in a tiny venue in Brooklyn that isn’t there any more and whilst there she met her now husband Mark and they just hit it off. But it took another 6 months for them to start dating, long distance. After 18 months of this, with money running out, Mark said they’d have to get married and one of them move for the relationship to continue. So after researching the UK and US immigration policies Gwen realised it would be easier for her to come to the UK coupled with the fact she was falling out of love with her role as a project manager for a software development team at a large New York hospital and that Mark loved his job. All the pieces were in place so after marrying in City Hall in New York they moved to Wolverhampton.

Once in the UK Gwen says “I couldn’t get a job for the life of me. I worked really hard at job hunting. It was demoralising and after nearly a year of that I decided to start my own business.”

She started out by entering a competition in Wolverhampton run by the Portas Pilot scheme, which offered a financial award to the winner. Her original idea was to start an “American/Belgian hybrid beer bar/brewpub where the beer is brewed on site.” Once she was in the competition she had some financial mentoring and help with a business plan and she realised that this was too ambitious and she’d need to scale it back. So this is where the idea of Sacre Brew began.

I asked Gwen about her history of brewing and she told me she started home brewing in 1993, which was when it had really started to take off in the US. She said she liked trying “weird and unusual beers” which were beginning to come on the market there. It really started by reading an article in the local paper about the two homebrew shops in all of New York and since she liked to cook and make her own stuff it sounded like something she wanted to try. So with her then-boyfriend they got some equipment and started brewing.

I moved on then to ask Gwen what were the really big challenges she faced in opening a brewery in Wolverhampton? “Starting it was pretty easy. It was easy to raise money as people get excited about beer!” She started out crowdfunding to raise the majority of the money needed to get started and since people were generous and excited by the idea of a microbrewery she soon reached her target. The first challenge was the size. She told me, “I knew how to brew but scaling it up was more difficult than I realised – not because of the process of brewing but the dealing with people.” One of these main issues was with the kit that Gwen purchased – it was so “not fit for purpose” that there was even an informal support group set up to help people who’d bought the kit! It was a catalogue of disasters from missing parts, to those requiring modification right up to the mash tun supplied being smaller than ordered and not capable of brewing more than a 4% beer. She said that she had to learn a lot including the names for parts and connectors etc. as she said she “didn’t have the vocabulary I needed to request parts from vendors.” All in all, this took about 6 months to resolve which was very frustrating. I experienced this when I brewed with Gwen back in August 2014 with my husband for his 40th birthday – overflowing hot liquor tanks, digging out mash tuns without Charles (the wet vac and general life saver!) and flushing buckets of wash water down the toilet.

But it wasn’t all bad – “the best part is going to Cherry Reds, for example, and seeing somebody order your beer and drinking out of the bottle with so much gusto and going ‘ahhh’ in a really satisfied way afterwards is really satisfying. Knowing that people like your beer is really cool.”

Gwen had a second round of crowdfunding for her bottling kit and has always worked with lots of volunteers so I asked her how that experience had been for her. She told me she had a few dedicated volunteers who came to help out on a regular basis for 2 years or more and those who would help out now and again or even just once. Quite a few people who were interested in getting into brewing themselves also worked with Gwen to see what the experience was like and they would come and spend the day seeing a brewery in action.

We moved on to talking about the workshops that Gwen had started running, was this something she enjoyed? “I do enjoy it. I like the science of it, and there’s a lot of science involved. It’s another way for me to interact with people and the workshops didn’t always involve my beer so it wasn’t just about showcasing my beer but talking about beer in general and the bigger picture and what the range and scope and limits are.” She told me that she’s noticed British people don’t like to complain so therefore quality is worse as people don’t complain when they get a bad beer. “If it’s infected or not ready or not made right or they’re lying to you about what it is, that makes me angry and I want to do something about it. So the best way to empower people is to educate them and the bad beer workshops are a fun forum where you get to drink beer and educate people – and they get it.”

Having been in the UK now for a little over 5 years I wondered whether Gwen thought the beer scene here had changed? Simple answer yes! “When I first moved here one of the reasons I decided to open a brewery was that I was very unhappy with the beer.” She tells stories of quaint English pubs but with awful beer that after only half a pint give you a terrible hangover!

We talked about when she first came it was just Cherry Red’s, Brewdog, and The Post Office Vaults but there is a lot more choice now with places like Clink, Pure Bar, Tilt, and The Wolf and that she’s been involved in the Beer Bash too. Is this something she’s enjoyed?

“I thought it was great. That was the only beer festival I cared about. It was a lot of fun as an attendee and as a brewer. It was great to interact with people drinking my beer and it was great that so many other brewers were there who you could talk to about their beers. And the beer was really good!”

So now that she’s heading home I asked her about the future of the brewery. “I sold the equipment, the Sacre Brew name is still mine, but [a brewery] will continue on in the same premises. I’ve been training them on how to use the kit. There are 6 people who own it; two of them were [Sacre Brew] supporters. They share a passion for beer and the dream of owning a brewery so this was their opportunity.” She told me the handover is going pretty well they’re learning quickly and are enthusiastic. Since Gwen has worked out a lot of kinks in the kit and established links with suppliers the process should be a little easier for them. They are currently working twice a week either brewing or bottling or both.

When we spoke she told me two of their beers were nearly ready with a third ready to bottle and a fourth ready to dry hop. As a side note we’re hoping to go and talk to them (Punchline Brewing) in the coming weeks.

I finished up by asking Gwen if she had any plans to continue brewing when she gets back? She said that right now she’s not sure, she needs to do a bit of groundwork. She already has a lot of contacts over there particularly in Queens, where she will be living. “I do have a business opportunity to start a new microbrewery so I’ve been doing a lot of research on that and getting quotes but right now I need to be there to find a premises, as rent in New York is crazy and at the volumes discussed we wouldn’t cover the rent.” She said that she still has opportunities to help out in breweries as she did on her last holiday. Also that as brewers come and go, she could end up working for another brewery and this is her fallback position if she can’t open her own place. The good news is the name would live on as maybe Sacre Brew New York or Sacre Brew Queens.

I asked her if there were breweries in our ever-improving scene in the Midlands that she would tell people to keep an eye on? “Glasshouse, Josh’s brewery. Just from talking to him I can tell he’s a good brewer. The way he describes malts and flavours and what he does with them as a pallette is very revealing and I don’t get that from too many other brewers. I’ve had a few of his beers as they’ve become available and they are very impressive.”

To close out our chat I asked her what she’d miss most about the UK and her answer was quite surprising! “Washing machines are superior in this country and there are some birds that we don’t have in the United States or New York that are really cool and there’s lots of other little things that have made it nice.” She did also say, of course, that there were many people she’s met and worked with over the past 5 years that she will miss and I am sure that many of them will miss her too. I know I will.

Everyone on the blog wishes you good luck Gwen in your next enterprise and keep us informed I quite fancy a blog trip to New York for Sacre Brew V2.

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!

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!

The First Brum Beer Babs Meet Up!

The Babs and Alex from Five Points

Get the 26th of April 2017 in your calendars – it’s hopefully going to be remembered as a momentous day!

It marks the very first meet up of the Brum Beer Babs a ladies beer group that I’ve founded.

I’ve been thinking for some time about ladies and beer. As you can imagine I go to a lot of beery events and tastings and more often than not I am in the minority. I’ve been seeing lots of inspiring ladies on the internet organising beer events (@ladiesthatbeer, @dealatis, @wotfest) and I thought Birmingham needed to join the fun. I wanted to offer a way to meet up and try new beers plus meet like minded women. I feel that sometimes it can be a bit daunting as a woman in a bar when faced with a wide beer choice and I have certainly experienced some condescending bar people over the years – making sure I know a beer is ‘very sour’ or ‘a bit strong’ for example. So I thought I’d bite the bullet and go for it. The plan is to have a meet up once a month, maybe at an event such as meet the brewer, a beer festival or just for a beer and a chat. I’m hoping that we get a good rotating group each month and that as we develop we can start to organise our own events – Ladies that Beer recently had a beer and food matching evening curated by Melissa Cole (maybe this is a bit ambitious for us right now but we’ll aim high!).

For our first event I decided to take advantage of an already scheduled meet the brewer with The Five Points Brewing Co at The Wolf. Sallie and Josh were happy to host us and even reserved us a table – I optimistically booked it for 8 people slightly worried I’d be sitting on my own all night. How wrong I was – we filled the table! I was also contacted by a number of people who wanted to come but had last minute travel or work issues so we could have been even more!

When I arrived I met Alex Zapela and Thom Hill from the brewery and they told me that they’d brought along some special limited release beers for us to try and that they’d do a small tasting session for us – what a wonderful start for our group! Alex said to let him know when we were ready and he’d crack the first beer. A few of us tucked into some of the lovely food from the bar and once the table was full we were off!

We started off with a quick overview of the brewery, they’re based under the railway arches in Hackney. Their current capacity is 30BBL/9000 Hectolitres. They also have 15 Burgundy red wine casks that they use to age their barley wine and porter. They are currently in the process of expanding to the next door archway where they should be ready to open a tap room and off sales space in late 2017 early 2018. They currently fill into keg, cask, can and bottle – all of which, Alex told us, are equally important to the brewery – they’re doing all formats every week.

The first beer we tried was Citrus Pale (Can at 4.2%) – this is brewed with Mosaic hops which gave it a lemon zesty flavour. This was a can from the first batch and had only been released the previous Tuesday. It was super drinkable and well met their aim to keep the abv low but with lots of flavour. They’ve since brewed a second batch dry hopped with more Mosaic but now even that is all gone. We loved the cat design on both the can and the pump clip and that it said Meow on the bottom of the can!

The second beer was Old Greg’s Barley Wine. This is a special beer that they only brew on New Year’s Eve – it’s always brewed with Challlenger, Target and East Kent Golding hops and the same malt bill. We had two version to try the 2015 (brewed on 31st December 2014) and the 2016 (brewed on 31st December 2015). It’s a big hitter at 9.5% for the 2015 and 9.3% for the 2016.

We started with the older version this had a rich smooth flavour, lots of dried fruits – a real Christmasy beer. The newer version was sweeter with a much more malty flavour, this will definitely improve with age I’m sure. Vanessa had a great analogy for the flavours saying the older one was a fruit cake whilst the younger one was more of a teacake.

The final beer was the Barrel Aged Railway Porter. This beer was available on the bar in its standard format so we got to do a side by side tasting. This beer uses those Burgundy barrels and spends 2 years in them. The initial beer went in at 6.1% but we guessed the barrel ageing had increased that a bit! The bottle we had had a best before of 06/2018 but I think it could definitely have gone on improving way past that date. The beer had rich chocolate flavour and was very dry and smooth. The standard porter was also very good but you could see how the barrel ageing added some depth. We did a little poll at the end to see who preferred which porter and it came out 50:50 – so a win for both beers!

I think this was a great start to our meet ups – a number of people said they’d learnt something, even if it was only that they didn’t like Barley Wine!

I want to say a big thank you to The Wolf for hosting us so well and to Alex and Thom for bringing some cracking beers and spending time to talk to us about them and their brewery. Of course thanks to the ladies who came along too – Joanne, Donna, Sarah, Laura, Deb, Vanessa and Lindsey – I hope to see some or all of you on future meet ups. On that note our next meet up is back at The Wolf on Wednesday 24th May when we’ll be taking part in a tap takeover by Mad Hatter from Liverpool and their brewer Gaz – feel free to pop along – the more the merrier!

If you would like to be a Brum Beer Bab and find out about any future events follow on Twitter @BrumBeerBabs and Facebook here.

The Fun of Beer Festival Volunteering!

Easter weekend – eggs, chicks, hot cross buns? Not for me – for me it was volunteering at the inaugural Hop City Festival at Northern Monk in Leeds.

I’d been to Leeds only a few weeks before to help Roberto Ross celebrate his birthday and enjoyed our visit to the refectory bar. The building is lovely with the brewery on the ground floor, the refectory bar in the middle and an events space on the top floor.

The festival promised to offer a selection of hop forward beers over 3 days (13th-15th April). Since I’m a complete hop fan I knew it would be for me then I saw a call to arms from Dea Latis to get more ladies to volunteer – I’d enjoyed volunteering at the Birmingham Beer Bash last year and (as you know from this blog) I love talking about beer so I signed up for 2 sessions – Thursday and Friday evenings.

I arrived on the Thursday to a very calm upper floor. There was the usual level of organised chaos from the organisers (shout out to Rob who organised us all and was great). As is usual you start out getting your volunteer t-shirt (a fetching yellow one with a giant hop on it) and a safety briefing. The usual rules of not knocking back pints and pints on shift – you’re there to work after all, but of ensuring you taste the beers you’re serving so you know what you’re talking about were explained along with the food voucher system and important health and safety info.

Each brewer had brought 2 beers with them and these would remain the same for the whole festival to prevent any fear of missing out by only going to one session. However the range was amazing.

My first shift was with Toby and Chris from Brew By Numbers – they’d brought 01/01 their very first beer, a Citra Saison, and 05/21 an Azacca and NZ Cascade IPA. They told me they’d planned to bring a different beer but an issue with a batch of yeast meant it wasn’t up to scratch. We were in great company as our neighbours included Beavertown, Other Half (I got to meet their brewmaster Sam Richardson at my ‘drinking’ session on Saturday), Wylam, Siren and Kernel.

Me with Toby and Chris from Brew by Numbers

Toby and Chris explained the beers to me and we had a taste – the saison was light and fruity and ended up being a popular palate cleanser during the hop overload whilst the IPA was a real juice bomb. They had a beer engine which I’d used before so pouring was no issue. As is the thing with all festivals the highlight is meeting people – punters, volunteers (it was great to meet Mac from @sotoncraftbeer, on with Kernel, who’d come all the way from Southampton to volunteer!) and brewers. As the evening wore on the fantastic soundtrack provided by the guys from Wylam got us all dancing behind our respective bars. I’m not sure if that attracted customers or put them off but we had fun. Of course there is hard work too – once the customers for the night had gone it was all hands on deck to clear up rubbish, collect empty glasses and get the area cleaned down for the next session.

Meeting Sam Richardson, Brewmaster at Other Half

Day 2 dawned and I spent the day enjoying Leeds with my husband but as 5pm rolled around I was back to Northern Monk for shift 2. One of the main draws is that for this festival Northern Monk had spared no expense in air freighting over a range of Alchemist beers from Vermont. These near mythical brewers make the top rated beer on Rate Beer – Heady Topper. Along with this the can bar also had Focal Banger, Luscious and Farmer’s Daughter. When I arrived I was assigned to this can bar and spent a very pleasant hour listening to classical music resonating around the brewery (as that is where the bar was situated) and getting to learn about the beers and the ‘rules’ for serving them. Only one of each per customer, mark their wristbands with the appropriately coloured Sharpie, 3 tokens a can and they must be opened at the table – no exceptions! Having spent all that money getting the beers over they rightly did not want people taking them away and storing them goodness knows how or for how long ruining the fresh taste and generating bad feedback. I started my day working with Tara Taylor from Northern Monk (she has my dream job – Brand Ambassador), she was a very lovely lady all the way from California! She told me they’d had 2 hours of solid queues on the previous sessions so I knew what to expect. She wasn’t wrong – once the doors opened a large proportion of people made their way straight to the can bar. Of course we had people asking for take aways (they got more as the evening went on – all sorts of bribes were offered and rejected!) but in general people were just happy to get their hands on these rare beers.

Chelsea, Tara and I show off The Alchemist beers!

I was joined early on by Adam (from @beermoresocial) so there was a fair bit of blogging conversation going on. Then the hightlight for me was we were joined by Chelsea Nolan one of the brewsters from The Alchemist! She’d only just flown in that morning and come direct to the festival. She was super friendly and more than happy to talk about her beers and the brewery. I learnt during the day that they have 6 people brewing – 3 men and 3 women (that’s a pretty good split!). She also told me that the reason Heady Topper and Focal Banger tell you to drink direct from the can is really 2 fold – the main reason is that volatiles from the super high levels of hops begin to be lost as soon as you pour out the beer so the can keeps them in and that also in the US plastic glasses are used at a lot of venues so by drinking it from the can you’re saving the environment too!

I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever opened so many cans, I soon had a blister! I also had ‘can envy’ as I got to smell all the wonderful aromas from the beers but not drink them! But we had great fun and Chelsea was great company joking with the customers all evening (obviously beer counteracts jet lag!).

As the evening wore on Tara came to ask for a volunteer to go up and work on the Refectory bar – I couldn’t miss this opportunity (I’d briefly worked on there the day before but it was fleeting). So I ended my volunteering working at the main Northern Monk bar. It was busy and there were quite a few people looking a bit the worse for wear but still lots of people interested in the line up of beers on. It was a great end to a really fun couple of days of volunteering.

If you don’t mind hard work and maybe blisters from opening cans I can wholeheartedly recommend volunteering at a beer festival – you meet great people from all over the world, brewers, volunteers and visitors. You get to talk about beer with like minded people and I got to go to the festival on the Saturday too, so I got over my can envy! Roll on my next volunteering adventure and Hop City 2018!

Verzet Bottle Tasting at Clink – 28th March 2017

This is a co-blog event as the tasting group consisted of me, my husband Dave, my co-blogger Dave and his wife Debbie. We had a cosy corner in Clink and we were ready to go with Roberto Ross at the helm.

Roberto has recently returned from an epic trip to Belgian and Holland. He was there to take cask beers from Landlocked to the Alvinne Fest. Of course he couldn’t visit without going to see some brewers and one he visited was Brouwerij ‘T Verzet.

Verzet are a new Belgian brewery which is pretty much unheard of since most breweries in Belgian have been around  forever. It’s about 2 years old and the 2 brewers have a great pedigree from working at De Ranke and De Proef. Roberto told us that whilst at De Proef they had been brewing beers for Mikkeller and when they set up their own brewery they brewed a beer called Scandinavian Pussy (probably best not to Google that at work!) a 3.8% session IPA as an insult to them!

They are specialising in barrel aged beers and currently have an Oud Bruin as one of the six core beers. We were lucky enough to try all of these core beers along with a 750ml bottle of a special variation of the Oud Bruin brewed with raspberries.

Another fun fact shared by Roberto is that they name all their barrels after rock stars so there are, to name but a few, Marley, Bowie, Cash and Johnny Rotten!

As this is a co-blog I’m going to put both our sets of tasting notes in (it is good to see we concurred on most of the beers!):

The first beer we drank was Super Noah – this is a 4.9% Belgian Blonde unusually these days, brewed with no American hops..

C&D – It has yeasty, bready flavour with some good citrus notes too.

D&D – Good mouthfeel, typical Belgian yeasty taste, biscuity with a slight citrus bitterness kick and a bit of oomph!

Moose Blues was next. A 7.5% red bruin/Belgian dubbel. A nice nod to their rock and roll interests is the note below the beer name “B-Beer King”!

C&D – It had a sweet, dried fruit taste with the label description mentioning maple syrup.

D&D – Sweet, first sip is quite refreshing for the abv then the alcohol hits and it becomes quite boozy.

Sticking with 7.5% we moved on to Golden Tricky brewed with Australian and New Zealand hops.

C&D – This had a murky IPA taste but still with the flavours of Belgian yeasts and some tropical fruits.

D&D – Not a typical IPA at first, again tastes quite light and refreshing but then becomes more substantial , juicy and fruity with that Belgian yeasty taste.

 

The next beer is the favourite style of the brewers – Oud Bruin. 6% this one with 2 years in barrels before blending.

C&D – As expected it had a sweet balsamic/cider vinegar taste with a fruity finish – we agreed a great food pairing for this would be strawberries.

D&D – Quite acetic, Deb thought it a bit like a balsamic vinegar, fruity on the nose with a rich, red colour to it.

Back up to 7.5% next for Oaky Moaky a complex, oaky, smokey barrel aged sour.

C&D – I have to say it had a distinct taste of blue cheese with a possible pecorino aroma! However this just added a creaminess to the mouthfeel and balanced the, also present, strong barrel aroma and slight oud bruin vinegar flavour.

D&D – Complex, hint of tartness, a bit smokey and cheesy.

 

Our penultimate beer was Rebel Local, the strongest beer of the night at 8.5%. This is a Belgian blonde, basically a ‘big’ version of Super Noah.

C&D – It tasted well below the abv with a sweet, bready flavour. We also detected some bananary notes in there too.

D&D – Drinks under it’s abv, bready with hints of banana.

 

Our final beer was a special addition – Oud Bruin Raspberry Harvest 2016. This is the Oud Bruin but with the addition of 150g/L of raspberries.

C&D – The fruit taste was immense and a great balance to the vinegary nature of this style of beer.

D&D – Really strong raspberry on the nose, and unsurprisingly quite tart and fruity.

We did a round table at the end to find out everyone’s favourite beer of the night – here are the results:

Debbie – Oaky Moaky for its complexity.

Dave H – Rebel Local “like a supernova traditional Belgian style plus extra!”

Roberto – Oud Bruin an old style reimagined at this new brewery.

Dave W – Oud Bruin Raspberry simply “it’s f-in good”

Catherine – Oud Bruin a great new example of an old style of beer.

Thanks to Roberto for getting these over to us to try, Verzet don’t currently have a distributor in the UK which is a shame as their core range is really good and I’d be interested to try a lot more of their special editions too.

Cycle and Wicked Weed at Brewdog AGM

Yes I admit I’m an Equity Punk! It seems lately that Brewdog has been getting a fair bit of bad press but I don’t intend to go over that again. We’ve been going to the AGM for the last 4 years and it’s always a great day out – an interesting selection of beers and some top music too.

This year we attended 2 meet the brewer/tasting events – Cycle and Wicked Weed.

First up – Cycle. Doug Dozark (Founder/Brewer) and Charlie Meers (Director of Shenanigans – yes that’s what it says on his business card!) had travelled over 25 hours non stop to get to Aberdeen from Tampa but this didn’t dampen their enthusiasm and friendliness to everyone who came to talk to them. Cycle Brewing started in Pegs Cantina with Doug coming from Cigar City. The majority of their beer is distributed in the local area so we were lucky to get to try Crank (IPA) and an Imperial Stout with no name during the tasting. The brewery has a large number of  barrels (mostly from Pritchard Distillery) with their output being Imperial Stouts available mainly in bottles and crowlers.

They have 5 year round beers – Crank, Fixie, Cream & Sugar Please, Peleton and Sharrow.

Crank accounts for 50% of their production with it all going on draft in their taproom so getting this on draft was a bit of a coup. This batch had spent an extra 2 weeks in the brewery. A mix of base and flake malt with mainly Citra, Simcoe and Columbus hops gives it a fruity dry flavour. This dryness comes from the addition of dextrose which dries out the beer and “lets the hops shine”.

The second beer at the tasting was an Imperial Stout. It was 2 years in the making with a lot of caramel forward Munich malt. The base stout was 11% with the addition of locally roasted cocoa nibs and whole coffee beans.

Me with Doug (left) and Charlie from Cycle.

When asked how much coffee the response was “a sh*t ton”!

They said they either add these to the fermentors and/or the bright tanks. They also admitted it had no written recipe so who knows if we’ll get to try it again. It has to have been one of my beers of the day with a rich chocolate milk flavour – I hope they do work out how they made it!

 

Our second tasting was with Richard Kilcullen of Wicked Weed but just that week of the new Overworks sour brewery belonging to Brewdog. Richard started by telling us a bit about Wicked Weed – their mission was to “demystify sours” and make beers with a “sense of place”. He explained that Wicked Weed have only one house strain of Brett and they control the flavours by controlling the fermentation temperatures. This allows them to remove any cloying flavours and the acidity is tempered.

The first beer we tried was Genesis (6.6%). This beer is brewed with 1lb of tropical fruits (mango, pineapple, papaya and guava) per gallon of beer. It’s then aged for 8 months in red wine barrels. The fruit is added before barrelling to give a secondary fermentation before racking off. A super fruity, sour bomb with a good balanced flavour (as promised the acidity was smoothed out).

Me with Richard

Our second beer was Silencio. This is a 7.4% black sour ale. Tahitian vanilla and El Silencio coffee (giving it the name rather than the club in Mulholland Drive – pity!). Aged in bourbon barrels. It did a have a slightly acidic coffee flavour but all the flavours from the coffee, vanilla and barrels came through.

The final part of the talk was about Overworks, the new Brewdog sour facility in Ellon. They are basically building a ‘farmhouse’ which will use mixed culture fermentation. Construction began in January 2017 and Richard said he is looking forward to starting to use his knowledge from Wicked Weed to brew great sour beers in Scotland. The end of the session included a Q&A with the question raised “where is sour beer going?”, Richard’s answer “in my mouth”. I have to say that this is a sentiment I have to agree with!

In both cases it was great to try some unusual beers and meet some interesting brewers. I hope that Cycle can get their beers over here and that the Overworks is a success.