Author: Catherine Webber

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

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.

Quick City Guide – Leeds – March 2017

Roberto Ross doesn’t like having a birthday in January so every year he has a second birthday in March. This is celebrated by a beer focused weekend trip to a location in the UK and this year that trip was to Leeds.

We were only with him for one of the two days so this quick blog just covers the bars we visited – there were plenty more that looked interesting that we didn’t visit – Leeds is certainly a thriving city when it comes to great places to drink beer and eat good food, a model Birmingham would do well to follow!

We started our day at the Northern Monk Refectory. To be honest I could have stayed there all day. It has 16 keg lines and a couple of cask as well. Long tables and a few high bar tables with stools fill the cosy area – it’s not big but the atmosphere is great and the beer list amazing. We had some lunch here too a ploughmans for me and avocado and poached eggs for Dave.

One of our merry band of travellers was Josh Waldock the Brewing Manager at Ridgeside Brewery on the ouskirts of Leeds. Never one to miss a quick interview opportunity I got a few details from him about his brewery as I’d not heard of them before. He said that the majority (80%) of what they brew goes to cask with the remainder in keg, bottle and can. They have 5 core beers and also a few specials throughout the year. Back in 2010 the brewery was a traditional CAMRA style place but 18 months ago new owners came in with a new head brewer (Matt Lovatt) and shook it up a bit. I am looking forward to trying his beer when I volunteer at Hop City Leeds in April (taking place in Northern Monk).

As Josh was with us we were lucky enough to get a quick visit to the brewery itself (on the lower floor of the building) – it’s compact and bijou and limited by the height of the ceiling. They are planning to move to a bigger site shortly but will retain this smaller brewhouse as well.

We then moved on to the Head of Steam. The bar here is split into 3 areas – US kegs, Belgian and cask lines. It was a bit of an odd place if I’m honest. Packed as it was Saturday afternoon but mostly with people drinking macro lagers. We all agreed it felt a bit like a Wetherspoons but with a more diverse beer selection. We stayed for one and moved on.

 

Our next stop Tapped was at capacity so we reluctantly left there and moved onto Friends of Ham.

More of a restaurant feel to this place but very nice and an impressive beer list too. They have a clever process of listing what’s on each tap and what’s on next so when one runs out they stamp the list and the next beer is on. The downside of this is you can see some great beers coming but not get them! What a temptation! The other great thing here is the 3 thirds for £5.50 or 6 for £10 – regardless of the individual prices of the beers. We had a nice big round table downstairs and all took advantage of these flights. Again it was really busy and we were lucky that Josh had called ahead to get us a table. I will definitely be back here in April to try some of their charcuturie too!

A short walk then to the wonderful Corn Exchange and the Little Leeds Beer House. The Corn Exchange itself is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture completed in 1864. It was the sort of place you could wander for hours looking at all the quirky independent stores and then going for a beer. The beer house had three taps and a nice selection of bottles and cans. I really love that this building is still being used for its original purpose, trade, but in a modern and independent way.

Two bars next to each other were stops 5 and 6. First up Whitelocks. A traditional style pub with a lovely copper bar. Keg and cask was available and since it was such a busy place we ended up sitting outside. Next stop was the Turk’s Head – this was more of a hipster establishment and not as busy as it’s neighbour.

Our final stop for beer and dinner was Bundobust. Wonderful vegetarian Indian streetfood and a great selection of beer on tap and also in bottles. It’s a small place and like a lot of the other locations we visited it was packed. I wish we had one of these in Birmingham – I’m sure it would be a success.

It was a great day out and it was so good to see such a vibrant beer scene. It’s worth noting that none of the places we went were more than a stone’s throw from the train station. It made me a little melancholy too to be honest that Leeds seems to be able to support such a thriving scene whereas here in Birmingham although we have good places they are few and far between – maybe our city council can learn something about supporting small business from Leeds?

I am very much looking forward to going back to the city in April for Hop City and trying a few more great beers in the process!

International Women’s Day Brew – 8th March 2017

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day (IWD) and in addition, since 2014, International Women’s Brewing Collaboration Day. As part of this celebration of both women and brewing I was invited to attend a brew day experience at Brewhouse and Kitchen (BHK) in Sutton Coldfield. The day is co-ordinated by Project Venus, a UK based group of female brewers who want to promote and support women in brewing .
The pub in the town centre is one of 14 BHK sites in the UK with three more due to open shortly. The main difference between this and other chain pubs is that each venue has its own brewhouse as part of the bar. The 450L copper clad kit in Sutton Coldfield was ready and waiting for me and the 6 other ladies who had been invited to take part in the day.
We were a varied group – 2 from the soon to open BHK in Nottingham, one from the PR company in London that represents BHK, a reporter from the local paper and 2 regulars in the pub. The Mayor of Sutton Coldfield also joined us for a short while! There was a range of experience in beer and brewing knowledge that I think these days are ideal for – they a great introduction to beer styles and the hard work that goes into making beer.
We started our day with a coffee and bacon sandwich and being introduced to the brewer Tom Guy. He told us that many of his mentors as he developed as a brewer were women. He also surprised a number of our group by saying that women were the brewers in many ancient civilisations. No pressure for us then!
The theme for the beers this year was ‘Unite Local’ – every bar will brew a different beer using this as their inspiration. Tom told us he’d looked into local history to get ideas for the recipe and having found out that Typhoo Tea started life in Birmingham and that the city was one of the first to import citrus fruits to its markets our beer would be an Earl Grey Pale Ale.
We were given a brief introduction to the ingredients and the process before being split into groups to start weighing out ingredients. For our malt bill we used Cara Light, Pale and Munich. Hop wise it was Citra and Sorachi Ace in pellet form and our yeast was a London ESB.
The tea was steeped in buckets to basically make giant cuppas and these were then added at the end of the boil. The idea of the mixed bags, rather than just Earl Grey, is that the original flavour is quite delicate so by replicating it with black tea and citrus we would retain the aroma and taste during the boil and fermentation.
During the day we discussed lots of different topics around brewing including styles, current breweries, styles of glasses and of course the cask vs keg debate. We also tried a number of the beers brewed on site (all BHK beers served in the bar are brewed in their own brewhouse):
· John Grey Mild – the choice of style from their previous French brewer. A 3.2 % light mild with a very light flavour and malt aroma.
· Marksman – their bestseller. This is a 5% traditional IPA. It had a good hop aroma and amber colour with a light, cask flavour.
· Cup – a 3.6% session bitter named for the pub before its conversion. It captured the traditional flavour with a sweet, malty dry taste. We actually got to try some Cup that had been in the fermenter for 4 days and I have to say I preferred the flavour!
· Shoestring – a 4% American Amber. For me this had a very crystal malt flavour with a slight hop bitterness. It’s brewed with Hercules for bittering and Cascade and Mosaic for aroma.
· Moody Mike – a 5 % smoked porter. 10% smoked malt gives it a smooth flavour with a hint of chocolate.
· Black Belt – our last beer of the day. A 4.5% Porter brewed with Windsor Yeast to give a fruity, bready flavour.
During some down time in the brewing process, there was quite a lot of waiting around (unlike in a normal brewery where there is always something to do!), I had a chat with Martin the new General Manager of the bar. He’s only been in the role for a couple of weeks but has a history in local pubs and bars in the area.
We started off talking about the bar in general. It’s a big space with a very open, light feel. Martin said he’s seen a lot of changes in bars over the last 20 years. As it was IWD we did talk a bit about how women are coming back to pubs and bars more now. Martin felt that the smoking ban had made a big difference making pubs more welcoming and that the range of beers on offer in BHK was also a draw. Women might come in and start on the sweeter fruit beers (which they have in bottle) then move onto tasters of the cask beers available. He reinforced that in an area where they are in competition with 2 bars opposite and a Wetherspoons next door the inclusion of an on site brewery made BHK a unique location. Coupled with this their offerings of masterclasses, brew days and a rotating selection of craft beers in bottles made the pub an attractive location to a diverse group of people.
They currently only brew into cask however there is a plan to brew an American Pale soon and put some of that into keg. I also learned that although the beers are similar in each of the bars they are named differently to reference local ideas or people. The idea being that each of the beers tells a story.
We talked about the importance of keeping beer, particularly cask, in the best condition and Martin told me all their staff go through training modules and taste all the core beers as well as the bottle range. The assistant managers go on the brewery experience day and the cellar is looked after by the brewer. Martin’s ethos is the “less people who touch the beer the better”.
As he is new into role he’s in his early days but he talked about how he wanted to utilise the bar in quiet periods for more community activities as this used to be a key function of pubs in the past. By bringing in a range of people and offering special brew days engaging the community he hopes to attract a different clientele to the surrounding bars and make the BHK a centre in the community.
The beer we brewed should be ready late March and a percentage from each pint will go to breast cancer research categories.

Siren Q&A @ Beer Gonzo 2 March 2017

Beer Gonzo’s taproom has been open a few weeks now but I’ve not had the opportunity to get over to Coventry to visit them. I’ve seen plenty of activity on social media and some great check ins on UnTappd so I really felt I was missing out. My opportunity came with this event – a Q&A and tasting with Siren Craft Brewing led by Sam Lee from the brewery.
The taproom was busy when we arrived and the tap list was certainly impressive but I held off for the tasting itself. I hadn’t seen the tasting list before arriving but I knew it would be worth the wait.
Sam started off by telling everyone a bit about the history of Siren. It all started with founder Darron Anley enjoying a 5am Saint from Brewdog. That was back in 2012. He sought advice from Jasper Cuppaidge at Campden Town Brewing who told him buy a kit double the size you’ll need and don’t brew yourself. Darron followed this advice and recruited Ryan Witter-Merithew, who had already made over 200 beers with the likes of Mikkeller, Evil Twin and Omnipollo. The first beer to be brewed was released in February 2013 and was the now iconic Maiden. Since then the brewery has expanded to brewing 10,000 HL in 2016 and exporting to 22 countries.
They brew 5 (soon to be 6) core beers and 4 seasonal IPAs. Our first beer of the night was one of these Ryesing Tides a rye IPA brewed with 8% rye and a mix of centennial, mosaic and simcoe hops to give a tropical fruit taste with a dry, spicy finish.
Sam went on to explain where the name and design of Siren had come from – just as the beautiful but deadly sea maidens of Greek legend used to lure sailors to the doom so would these beers draw you into their spell – all pretty sexy really! This led us on to the second beer of the night a ‘pimped up’ English style brown ale. It seems though that the marketing department had a slight memory lapse when it came to the ‘sexy’ ethos of the brand and named this one ‘American Oak Brown’! This beer is brewed with a special mix of malts and 3 types of oats, it’s also dry hopped with mosaic and simcoe to give it balance. It had a boozy taste with more than a hint of oak chips and old barrels.
We then started to move onto the big guns, first brewed in 2014 Caribbean Chocolate Cake was a collab with Cigar City and aged in cyprus wood making it 5 times as expensive as a batch of Soundwave! However when the team tasted it the cyprus hadn’t quite worked (they’d used a bag in fermenter method). The feedback was that the beer needed to spend longer in contact with the wood in a “spin bot”. This piece of kit allows the beer to be pumped continuously over the wood increasing the exposure time and therefore flavour. Of course Siren didn’t have one of these just lying around so they used their contacts and got a fabrication company based next to the brewery to convert an old grundy tank into their own version. This allows them to fill from top and bottom and circulate the beer over the wood for 4-8 hours. It has a capacity of 600L but can run up to 1000L and they are now looking at if they can also fill it with hops!
We then reached a turning point in Siren’s history – due to family circumstances Ryan decided to leave and move back to the US to Hill Farmstead (rated the best brewery in the world). That was July 2015, and our next beer was born of a three way collab between Siren, Beavertown and Ryan’s new side project Casita Cervecería (created using Hill Farmstead’s kit at night!) and brewed in Vermont. The beer is Amigos Brittanicos – this version using an Ardennes (wild) yeast to give a herbal floral flavour to this 7.8% farmhouse ale. It’s flavoured with Santa Fe Grande chillis, lime juice and blossom flower honey. To be honest it split the room! I thought it had a distinct aroma of Jif and the greenness of the chillis was a bit much to begin with but the honey flavour did come through as it warmed up.
Next up another core beer – Broken Dream. However this was a special version started 18 months ago with Modern Times. It was barrel aged with green coffee beans (as their porous skins allow for more flavour transfer) then aged at Siren in wet bourbon barrels in January 2016. The beans were then sent to a roaster, crushed and ground and returned to the brewery to be returned to the beer. They usually use around 4KG per 5000L however this time someone thought the flavour wasn’t quite rich enough so the added, by accident, around 15-20KG!! This gave us this special version Bourbon Coffee Broken Dream at 6.5% it has an almost espresso martini flavour with a real caffeine build. It was definitely a sipper despite the relatively low ABV.
A palate cleanser next, Squealer, a 100% bretted beer and the first for new brewer Kyle Larsen. It’s a 6.5% sour ale which utilises a kettle souring process. The beer has a cold sparge and the grains are washed with lactose, this is then covered in blanket of CO2 and left for 48 hours. The beer is then fermented with raspberries. It had a very dry flavour with the fruit not really detectable although it may contribute to the smooth, slightly fruity finish.
Our last beer of the night was the new DIPA, Hop Candy, a big beer at 9.2%. Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic hops and lupulin powder (which is a more refined flavour I learned). In addition there is 2KG of lime zest added to the boil. The beer had 2 extra weeks of tank time due to the move over to the new brew kit. The flavour was not at all bitter and it drank well below the ABV (which could be dangerous!). I did think it had a slight ‘powdery’ aroma but that might be the effect of knowing about the lupulin powder.
A short Q&A followed in which Sam was asked the inevitable question of if they would every brew Limoncello again – simple answer NO! Partly as they don’t want to be known only for that beer – great as it was.
The tap room is a nice cosy space and certainly lends itself to these types of events – I look forward to visiting them again very soon to try out some to their great beers on tap let alone the amazing bottle selection!
Thanks to Ant and the team for an enjoyable night and to Sam for being entertaining and informative as always.

Tiny Rebel Can Tour at Cotteridge Wines 18/02/2017

 

Tiny Rebel are the latest brewery to start putting their beer into cans.   As part of the move to their new brewery in January they have invested in their own bottling and canning equipment and to promote having 3 of their core beers (Cwtch, Clwb Tropicana and Cali) now available in cans they embarked on a ‘can tour‘ around the UK.

I popped along to the last stop on the tour at Cotteridge Wines to talk to Gazz from the brewery about their move into canning and the evolution of the brewery over the last 7 years.  There was a great atmosphere in the taproom with people enjoying the range of cans and chatting to Gazz and the rest of the team from the brewery.  I grabbed a can of Cwtch (my favourite TR brew) ,Gazz and a table in the corner and started my chat…

I started off asking Gazz how he’d become interested in brewing and he told me both he and Brad, his brother-in-law and co-founder, “were not brewers or businessmen we were engineers and beer lovers“.  He said he used to be fascinated by his Grandfather making ginger beer under the stairs and the way the plastic bottles expanded (sometimes to the point of explosion) piqued his interest in fermentation and as he grew up into brewing. Along with this whilst all his friends were downing pints of lager, he was drinking real ales because he wanted to drink something with a real flavour.  The seed was sown.

Brad and Gazz started homebrewing and in 2008 started seriously thinking about going into brewing as they “wanted to see beers in their local supermarket that were as good as our homebrews“.  After 2 years of planning they bought a 50L homebrew kit and in 2012 Tiny Rebel was born. Within 12 months they’d won Champion Beer of Wales for Dirty Stop Out, their smoked oat stout along with Silver and Bronze for Fubar and Urban IPA respectively.  The brewery continued to go from strength to strength by the end of 2012 they had brewed 82,000L and by the end of 2014 close to 500,000L.  The awards continued to come in with Cwtch winning the Champion Beer of Britain in 2015 – an accolade proudly displayed on the new cans.

Gazz told me that as good as it was brewing all this beer there were still only a handful of places to drink decent beer in the South Wales area.  The market was monopolized by Brains and other big regional beers.  So in 2013 Tiny Rebel, Cardiff was born.  The aim was to not only showcase their own beers but also to ensure that there was a great range of guest beers which the guys had enjoyed but not necessarily in their region.  Interestingly he told me that in both this bar and the newly opened bar in their (and my) hometown of Newport it is the Tiny Rebel beers that most people are drinking not the guests!

I noticed when I checked out their website before my chat (always pays to do your research!) that in 2016 they had produced a homebrew kit of Cwtch.  I wondered how this had come about and it turns out it was their bottle supplier who came up with the idea.  They asked Tiny Rebel if they’d be interested in collaborating on a homebrew kit as although they produced some already they were very traditional styles and they wanted to attract new, young, craft brewers.  Since the guys had started as homebrewers they were happy to come on board and they are now working on developing kits for Fubar and Hadouken to add to the range.

The final part in their brewery story was completed in January this year when they moved into their new facility in Newport.  The new kit will have the ability to brew up to 5 million litres using 2 side by side kits the second of which was due to arrive that week.  The new site also includes the bottling and canning lines I mentioned at the start and this led us on to talking about the move into cans.  The benefits are clear – the beer can keep fresh for longer, transportation costs are less, chill time is reduced and last but not least they are much easier to drink on the go (train beer anyone?).  Gazz was keen to stress though that they are not moving away from bottles completely, some markets in fact will only accept bottles and some beer just tastes better in a bottle too.  He also told me they will continue to brew into both keg and cask and that they have decided this year to expand their cask range from 4 to 6 lines.

I asked Gazz why, unlike some other well publicised cases recently, they had decided to expand their cask offering when others are reducing or even stopping cask all together.  He told me he felt very strongly that cask ale is a “unique British product” and that “good cask beer is unrivaled” (60% of their output is cask).  He started his beer drinking, as did many of us, with cask beer but he also recognises that it can be daunting now for new drinkers and that one bad experience can put you off it for life.  The key to Tiny Rebel is that they only sell their casks to people who they trust to look after them, they know the storage and serving of the beer is paramount to it reaching the consumer in the same condition it left the brewery.  If you want to read more about Tiny Rebel’s approach to cask you can read their excellent blog here.

As I finished my can of Cwtch (tasting super fresh and fruity), we finished off our chat talking about how sticking to their roots rather than moving their brewing to Cardiff or even Bristol has gained them great local support amongst drinkers young and old as well as plenty of press coverage. The not so tiny any more rebels from Newport are doing a great job in keeping both traditional cask and innovative keg, can and bottle alive and well in the South Wales valleys and around the world.  I look forward to seeing what they do next!