Author: Catherine Webber

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

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Sacre Brew Guided Beer Tasting – 11th February 2017


On a snowy February afternoon my husband Dave and I set off to Sacre Brew in Wolverhampton to be part of a small group of people lucky enough to have a guided tasting of 8 beers by brewster/owner Gwen Sanchirico.

Each participant was given a tasting wheel and notes on the sort of words you can use to describe beer – I have to say ‘catty’ is one of my favourites!
The tasting consisted of eight beers – Man on the Oss, Sloe Loris, Tangle, Dracunculus, Defeating Synths, Love for 2 Oranges, Blood Lust of Ocipio and Buffalo Beer 2016. The tastings were accompanied by examples of malts and other ingredients used to help understand where the flavours and colours of the beers come from.


We started off our journey with Man on the Oss. Gwen told us that when she set up her brewery she wanted to brew beers that were exotic but accessible and this was her first one as Sacre Brew. It’s a saison brewed with 25% rye and the batch we drank (SA1024) was 4.4% down from the original 5.2%. The beer is a wonderful orangey colour, thanks in part to the Munich malt used, with a peppery, orangey flavour to match. As with all of Gwen’s beers the label is as good as the contents, this one drawn by the lead singer of Alice Donut Tomas Antona. This has additional significance for Gwen as it’s through this band she met her husband Mark and came to move to Wolverhampton!
The second beer of the afternoon was Sloe Loris – a sloe gin inspired beer (yes it’s pink!) that I was lucky enough to be involved in brewing the first time round. The orignal beer was brewed for last year’s Birmingham Beer Bash (an event sadly lacking from the calendar this year). It’s “sour but not sour” as it does not use the wild yeasts that usually give that flavour. In this case it comes from the sloe juice added in fermentation. The gin flavours are given by the 1.5KG of juniper berries, angelica root, coriander seeds and lemon peel. The label in this case was drawn by my friend Greg McLeod, one half of The Brothers McLeod.
A dark beer next, Tangle, originally a Belgian stout but this batch (BST002) is only Belgian ‘inspired’ as it was brewed with abbey yeast. A slight metallic odour but with a light, malty, dark fruit flavour. Lovely label artwork by local artist Sarah Stokes.
Another beer that we were involved with was next – Dracunculus (meaning little dragon). This was first brewed by Dave as a present for a ‘big’ birthday two and half years ago. The recipe has evolved over time as Gwen has had different hops and yeasts available. This again had the orangey, golden colour from the Munich malt. A bready, banana and melon flavour from the abbey yeast.


The next beer was brewed with Donncha Burke of Ar Suil. Donncha is a home brewer who Gwen met at Clink and he asked if he could come and brew with her. Gwen tells of a number of discarded recipes before they settled on this final one. It has a fruity, dry flavour with spicy notes. I have to say that I liked it better when I had it on keg at 6/8 Kafe a few weeks back. The label in this case reminded us all of Predator as well as Japanese Manga – it’s drawn by Peter Tinkler who has contributed a number of pieces to Gwen for labels.


Moving up the abvs now, at 8.5% Love for 2 Oranges is a tripel and part of the Hailstone series of beers. The first hailstone beer was named as such because a hailstone fell into the brew! No hailstones in this one but tons of flavour. A sharp citrus aroma with a bready, Belgian flavour. Against tradition this tripel is spiced and we were shown the star anise and grains of paradise that went into the brew.

Our penultimate beer was Blood Lust of Ocipio a 9.1% double IPA. The name comes from a stream of consciousness poem that Gwen wrote which eventually became song lyrics. The beer is heavily dry hopped with Vic Secret (Gwen won 20KG of these hops). It’s a very light beer given its strength with the hops adding a fruity, resinous flavour.

Our final beer was the first beer we ever had from Sacre Brew – Buffalo Beer. The 2016 incarnation which was brewed back in November is aging very well. The flavour is in part from the jaggery Gwen uses to sweeten it. Jaggery is a cane sugar used mainly in Africa and Asia which adds a spicy note to the beer along with the fenugreek, long peppers, grains of paradise and cumin which we got to see and smell during the tasting too.

As always this session served to show how diverse Gwen’s beers are and she has certainly succeeded in making beer that is both exotic but accessible. The West Midlands brewing scene will be all the poorer when she returns to New York later this year. But who knows maybe Sacre Brew NYC will rise from the ashes?

Note: We’ll be having a final interview with Gwen before she leaves to talk about how her experience has been as an American brewster in Wolverhampton and her plans for the future.

6/8 Kafe Basement Bar Opening Night – 2nd Dec 2016

Back at the start of December I popped along to the official opening night of the basement bar at 6/8 Kafe. A few weeks before I’d been to their successful craft beer festival, featuring a number of local brewers, and I was interested to see what the new bar would be like without the draw of this event.

The opening consisted of 3 taps – two from Sacre Brew (Love for 2 Oranges and Crème de Stout) and one from Twisted Barrel (In Amber Clad) Gwen had been instrumental, with others, in getting the bar up and running including a last minute dash to a plumbing supply shop for a bush reducer (yeah I don’t know what it is either!). But it all came together and as I wandered in the beer was flowing and Gwen was serving behind the bar.

I have to say the beers I had on the night In Amber Clad and Love for 2 Oranges were tasting extremely fresh and clean and the small crowd in the bar seemed to be really enjoying them too. It really is great to walk into a bar and see only local beers on the taps – we need more of this in Birmingham.

Whilst I was there Dav (the owner) and Gwen recorded a pod cast which you can find here – Dav is keen to increasehis beer knowledge (more on that later) and Gwen was happy to take him through a tasting and record it for posterity.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk to Dav about the background and future for 6/8 and he was happy to oblige – in fact I ended up recording 25 minutes with him! Since you don’t want to hear all our babble I’ve distilled this into the conversations below.

I started out by asking about how Dav and 6/8 had decided to make the move from being a coffee bar to a craft beer bar as well. He told me that he’d started the business about 6 years ago, at that time he was working abroad a lot in Germany (we reminisced about bierkellers in Munich!) and Belgium and frequenting the bars and coffee shops in those locations. When he came home he couldn’t get a new job so he created his own job based on these experiences. He said his experiences of drinking in the UK was of excess so he went for a coffee shop. The coffee shop was a success and they even got in to the Barista Championship semi-final twice. The decision was taken to open another store however this turned out to be a drain on resources and coupled with the building work at the main shop covering the front of the store in scaffolding – this hit them hard. The shops on either side closed and being shrouded in scaffolding meant people thought they too had closed.

At this time he said they had a couple of staff interested in craft beer and inspired by the businesses in London who are both coffee and beer destinations they decided to branch out.  He told me that until recently he hadn’t realised how great beer could be! But he wanted to create something great and given the opening of various big chain coffee shops he realised they needed to expand. He wants to keep the focus on the coffee but to expand the beer side.

I moved on and asked him about the beer festival – was it successful? He said it brought people in and on the Friday, Burning Soul showed him how the bar was trending on Twitter for Birmingham! He says the beer festival not only made for a great ‘opening’ for the bar but it made people aware of the coffee shop again as they had lost some interest over the last year (due to the building work).

We talked about the huge beer scene in Manchester where it seems there is a craft beer bar every 100 yards yet here in Birmingham it still feels like we’re struggling (it’s getting better with Tilt, Brewdog, Cherry Red’s and the upturn in the Jewellery Quarter). I asked him what was challenging about starting and promoting a business (their location is not so visible but Bull Street tram stop has to help!). He said that his understanding of Manchester is that it has the Northern Quarter – in the past (not sure now!) rent was cheaper, it’s an artistic area, it has the same scene with coffee bars there too. So basically people went there as it’s cheaper which has now led it to become such an oasis for both beer and coffee lovers. But in Birmingham the rents in the centre are higher but in the slightly outlying areas like the locations of Tilt and 6/8 the rents are a little lower. This is where business will pop up.

We went back to talking about the beer festival and how it focussed on local brewers – I asked if this would be something he‘d like to stick to – locally sourced beer? He replied that the success of the festival was down to that very point – not only because of the beer but because of the help and advice the brewers gave him on setting up the festival and the bar in general. He’d like to keep a local focus and will look to get more advice from people including both brewers and guys like us on the blog. We are going to keep asking people to help with sourcing beers he wants to do great interesting, fun stuff and if he can get that locally that is great but he will also consider customer feedback as the bar moves forward.

We finished up talking about the future. He told me the bar will be closed for most of January to allow for more staff training (they’ve had some changes recently) as well as looking for interesting events to hold in the bar. We talked about the possibility of combining beer with music, art and film all of which are of interest to him- he wants to make the bar a real destination for coffee, beer and the arts and for that I think he should be applauded.
Birmingham needs more of these small independent places where, as Dav said, “we can interact with interesting people on interesting topics”. He knows it’s going to take time and hard work but he certainly seemed to filled with the enthusiasm to get stuff done!

#SuperSundayDrinking Lambic Special @ Clink

Surely the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon is at Clink with Roberto Ross drinking 10 Lambic beers?  Well that is what Dave and I were lucky enough to do, along with Jeff, Jo, Andrew and Donna, on the 6th of November.

Upon arrival Roberto told us he was worried there wasn’t enough beer (?!) so he’d brought along 3 additional beers.  To add to this we brought a bottle from our visit to Three Floyds to share with our new friends.  So that bumped the total to 14 – it was going to be a good afternoon!  It wasn’t all liquid as we’d all brought along a selection of nibbles to help soak up some of the alcohol too!  So we were ready to go…

Now I’m not planning to write you a blog on all the beers (you can see the full list in the picture) but I am going to take the liberty of picking out some of the stand out beers for me from the tasting.

imageLet’s start with the “add on” beers – there were 2 stand outs here the first being Brassiere Du Pont Avec les Bons Voeux.  This was an exciting opening as Roberto did not know what year’s vintage it was – it had expiry date of 06/2006 so it was cracking on in age!  The answer lay on the cork – 2001!  So a 15 year old beer, would it be vinegar or nectar?  I have to say that, thankfully, it was more the latter than the former.  Upon pouring it still showed a good level of carbonation and a sweet sherry like aroma.  That aroma carried over in the flavours with a slight cane sugar hit but smooth notes balanced by the light bubbles.  A real treat!  The next stand out from this set of beers was the Three Floyds Chevalier Bertram de Guesclin which we brought back from our visit to the brewery tap room last month (what a place that was!).  This is a sour blueberry ale aged in wine barrels.  Small bubble carbonation helped to deliver a fruity beer with a good level of sharp sourness.  I’m glad we’ve another bottle stored away!

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Having made a good start here we were onto the ‘main event’.  I had 4 top beers from this list, which is not to say that the others were not good – they all were (as we expect from Roberto) but these ones took the biscuit (and cheese, olives, crisps etc!).  An interesting “set” of beers for the first one – 3 Founteinen Golden Doesjel 2015.  Roberto told us that doesjel means lazy and refers to the yeasts in these brews – sometimes the just don’t wake up and there is little or no fermentation.  To test out this we had 7 bottles!  The idea here was to blend these bottles together and see what we got.  The first bottle to be opened had good carbonation but after that they were certainly “lazy” with a range of little to absolutely no fizz at all.  Mixing them together (in 2 rounds) worked well and allowed us to see how the flavour changed with the carbonation levels.  To me the less carbonated ones had a less woody flavour which was more pleasant even if they were flat.

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My next choice is Tilquin/Rulles Stout Rullquin 2015.  This is a blend of 7/8 Rulles Brune (Stout de Gaume) and 1/8 of a blend of year old lambics.  It’s matured in oak barrels and refermented in the bottle for 6 months.  The barrels certainly add to this flavour – an almost red wine note to it.  I also got a hint of chocolate from this very light and drinkable beer.  Also an interesting change to the other more traditional lambic beers we had during the afternoon.

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My third favourite of the day was the Oud Beersel Bzart Kriekenlambiek Millesime 2012. This is a 13 month old lambic made with Haspengouwse cherries (try saying that 10 beers in!).  The beer is then aged in 130 year old barrels for 6 months and finished with champagne yeast.  As you can imagine it was a complex tasting beer!  I was certainly getting a really good champagne soaked cherry flavour coupled with some dark chocolate notes too.  It all added up to a very smooth dark beer.

My final choice of the day was 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze (Cuvee Armand & Gaston).  This is a blend of lambics from 2013, 2014 and 2015 and limited to only 10,500 bottles.  It is also the first beer to be made on their new kit without the use of imported wort.  It had much more body than the standard Oude Gueze (of which I am very fond) with a malty richness and more depth of flavour which I guess comes from the blending.  We can only hope that all the beer from the new kit is this good!

Thanks to Roberto for sourcing all these beers, many from his recent trip to the opening of the new 3 Fonteinen taproom – I have to say I remember seeing pictures of this trip on social media, I was sitting at my desk at 9am whilst Roberto was on his first lambic at 10am local time – I’m wondering if I’m in the wrong job!  Also thanks to Jeff, Jo, Andrew and Donna for the great company and impromptu picnic.  Finally thanks to Clink for hosting – a pleasure as always chaps!

Here’s to the next event – cheers!

 

 

 

“All the Pig, All the Time” at Peel & Stone Harborne

Only 12 hours after landing back in the UK after our holiday my husband Dave and I were sitting in the cosy surroundings of Peel and Stone in Harborne ready to start our ‘All the Pig, All the Time’ dinner and beer pairing.

The menu
The menu

Who can resist a menu that starts with something surely Dracula would be proud of ‘Pain Au Blood’!

The first beer was from London Fields a brewery I have to admit to not having tried before.  However after tasting their 3 Weiss Monkeys I shall be seeking them out.  It was a very crisp, pale white IPA with a sharp lemony flavour.  This sharpness of flavour worked well with the buttery croissant where the chocolate was replaced by black pudding, it was a great start food and beer wise – in fact the beer was so good Dave had a second!

The carbonara and beers
The carbonara and beers

The next course was ‘Proper Carbonara’.  Sounds simple and I guess it is but I’ve also had some awful ones!  This was not one of those – sweet crispy bacon, creamy but not heavy sauce and lashings of parmesan.  But the beer….this gem of a dish was paired with Purity’s Lawless Lager.  I have to say straight off this is not a beer I like, I find it far too malty and sweet.  I can see the idea of the pairing but the sweetness of the bacon cut through the sauce and I would have liked something with a bit more bite be that hoppyness or citrus flavours, it was a sentiment echoed on a few of the tables around us too.  Dave had the right idea and kept some of his 3 Weiss Monkeys back to try with it – a much better match.

A light break then with ‘Pig Ear Salad’  – pickled watermelon with crispy strips of pigs ears.  To be honest the only pigs ears I’d come across before were the ones you feed to dogs so I was a bit dubious but it was delicious.  This was paired with Twisted Barrel’s Saison from Another Place (MBBC 1st Birthday Special Edition).  I was so pleased to have a chance to try this beer as I missed out on the birthday party (by being on our aforementioned holiday) and it did not disappoint – lemon curd aroma with a floral, sherberty taste.  A very clean tasting beer with an slight lactose flavour (but of course not an ingredient as all their beers are vegan!).  It paired really well with the salad creating an almost margarita type flavour with the watermelon.  My favourite beer of the evening.

Roast pork, dauphinois and veg
Roast pork, dauphinois and veg

Moving onto the heavy hitters then it was ‘Roasted Pork Rump, Dauphinois, Date Jus and Roasted Veg’ paired with Anspach and Hobday’s Sea Salt and Chilli Stout.  I was a little nervous about the rich meal and beer pairing but it absolutely worked.  The beer has a rich chocolate, figgy aroma but is so light  and easy drinking.  There is a hint of the salt and the chilli is warming rather than blow your head off.  When paired with the food we also detected some more liquorice notes coming through in the beer which with salt and chilli worked well.

Finally the dessert, how would they get ‘pig’ into this we wondered?!  Turns out through lovely sweet bacon strips in the Bacon, Peanut Butter, Chocolate and Cherry concoction served as a little stack in a glass.  The beer pairing here was Redchurch’s Hoxton Stout.  A very light aroma to this one with a sweet, hoppy, vanilla flavour.  The pudding was very rich (but delicious) and this added an interesting bitterness to the beer that was not there when it was drunk alone.  An interesting mix of a rich beer with a rich flavoured dessert that created a balance.

I finished off my evening with a Almanac Horchata Milk Stout.  A slight bitter aroma to this with a sweet chocolatey flavour.  I didn’t get a lot of cinnamon or almonds as you would in the source drink but there was a fruitiness to it that balanced out the sweetness very well.

A cracking first evening back in the UK and we managed to stay awake through to the end! And as always great service and atmosphere in this little ‘hidden gem’.