Author: Dave Hopkins

Happily married lover of beer, movies, comics & cats

Birmingham Beer Bazaar

The Birmingham Beer Bazaar is a new beer festival coming this summer and set to be organised by the team of Andrew Maxam, Nigel Barker, David Moorhouse and William Young. I had a chat with Nigel and Will to see what we can look forward to…
Local historian Andy Maxam of Maxam Publishing first came up with the idea of doing something after the news broke that there would be no Birmingham Beer Bash this year. All four of the above had attended and enjoyed the Bash in recent years and felt that the city needed a good summer festival, and so an idea was born. Nigel and Dave shouldn’t be strangers to local beer drinkers as it was the former opening the Wellington on Bennetts Hill at the end of 2004 that broadened the range of real ale available in the city centre. Since then he has opened the Post Office Vaults on New Street and The Woodman in Digbeth, and the Welly as it is affectionately known has added 2 keg lines to it’s upstairs bar for us bearded hipsters 🙂 Will Young has been in the trade for 7 years, working in pubs around the country, before joining the Wellington in 2014 as bar staff where he was quickly promoted to assistant manager. Once the four had come together and solidified the idea of what they wanted to do they looked around Birmingham for a venue and alighted on the Studio in Cannon Street. The plan is to have the event over 2 floors including an outdoor drinking area plus a bottle/can shop in the studio bar. Both cask and keg will be on offer, Nigel is hoping to source what he called some interesting cask, and there will be specific brewery bars both local and from further afield. And of course there will be a selection of street food and snacks to put a lining on the stomach.
As mentioned above there will be a considerable focus on keg, and for that side of the festival the organisers turned to Kirk and Rich from Tilt to help get on board some of the UKs top breweries and we’ll be chatting to them about their plans soon.

The Anchor, Digbeth – Reimagining an Icon

Just before Christmas we got the opportunity to visit The Anchor in Digbeth to meet the new owner Jules and the cellar man Jason (The Beer Wizard) and learn a little more about what they have in store for this famous old Brummie boozer.


An Inn has been on the present site since approximately 1803, with the current building standing since 1901.  The heritage building passed into the hands of the Keane Family in 1973, with Gerry Keane taking over from his father in 1983.  Under his stewardship he bought the Freehold in the 1990’s and it would eventually be named Birmingham CAMRA Pub of the Year four times.

After raising one family and beginning to raise another Gerry made the decision to sell up in early 2016.  He wasn’t content with handing it over to anybody, instead choosing to sell to somebody who would respect the old building and maintain its independence.

Jules has been in drink and hospitality business most of his working life beginning at TGI Fridays on the Hagley Road, 22 years ago, before taking his interest in cocktails and spirits to Bank, Ronnie Scotts and Red Bar among others. During this time the main focus of his drinking in terms of beer was mainly lager and Newcastle Brown Ale but when he became part of the Bitter ‘n’ Twisted chain and took over as manager of the Victoria he found a bit of a taste for real ale in the shape of Wye Valley.

He then moved on to the Botanist for a while, did a bit of freelance work, but the yern to have his own place was gnawing away at him, so when he heard Gerry was selling, his interest was piqued and he saw his next challenge, the chance to run a proper boozer.

“He liked what I wanted to do with it, and was glad it was me, not a big company or brewery”

To begin with quite a bit of work was needed in the cellar along with general cleaning, tidying, a lick of paint here and there but his ethos was not to change the fundamentals of the pub.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel; it just needed a lick of paint and a bit of love”

The Anchor had been known for the quality of its beers, re-establishing this reputation was a key part of their future plans.  Who better to work magic on the cellar than The Beer Wizard himself Jason Green.

Having started in the trade as a glass collector he has had an extensive and varied career in the beer industry beginning at Beefeater steakhouses before getting cellar training with M&B which took him up and down the country where he developed an enjoyment of looking after beer, learning many of the tricks of the trade, and developing a few tricks of his own (remember he is a wizard). He has worked in both the independent and corporate world leading him to The Victoria, where he first met Jules, and was part of the team that helped The Vic become a great beer venue for a while as they we were able to bring in some great beers from across the country.


The team took over The Anchor in August 2016 and immediately began their work.

“Walked in on the 8th August and immediately headed down to the Cellar and start cleaning…from 12 hand pulls at the time we condemned 5”

The team built a relationship with Marston’s who helped replace much of the equipment.  The main bar area remains largely the same, with many of the period features still in place.  The focus of the back room is a bit more youth oriented, hosting DJ’s, musicians and comedians and a small room is available for community groups and organisations free of charge.  Future plans include opening up the kitchen to serve food, and improving the rear of the building to create a beer garden.

The bar now hosts 6 cask and 3 interesting Keg, including Marston’s, Wye Valley and a rotation of local beers including Fixed Wheel, and beers from further afield such as Brodie’s.  If the beers sell well, there is space for up to 4 more cask beers and 3 more Keg.  Beers in the fridge include Beavertown, Magic Rock and Moor Beer Company to name a few.  The Team at The Anchor are focused on bringing the best to their customers; this included beers, but also includes a carefully chosen selection of whiskey, gin & wine along with other quality spirits.  Jules also works his magic on a unique selection of cocktails and Boilermakers (Whiskey and Beer Mixes named after staff members).

The team at The Anchor are determined to make a success of the venture with a focus on quality products and great service, something Jules has a track record of delivering.

“We want to make sure we have something for everyone.  We want to do it well.”

We leave the final words to Jules and Jason, with their mission for the Future of The Anchor.

“We are going for the ‘Cheers’ feel…We want to be people’s favourite boozer”

MBBC Road Trip – Derby

Our first port of call was a very short walk from the railway station to The Brunswick, home to thep1010151 brewery of the same name, and CAMRA pub of the year. It’s a decent size, a few rooms with nooks and crannies, and a good size bar with 14 hand pulls dispensing beers from the on site brewery and guest ales. Deb & I both had Brunswick beers which were really nice, nothing outrageous, no reinvention of the wheel but good clear beers in great condition.
Next, we took a short walk along the River Derwent to the Furnace Inn, home to Shiny brewery, sort of. Having a quick chat with the guy behind the bar I discovered that Pedro bought the pub first and then set up the brewery, but now the bulk of the brewing is done at new premises in Long Eaton. However the original brewery still exists doing small batch brews including both the Tomahawk American Brown and Crystal Mess ipa. After a swift half of cask each we tried both of these on keg and p1010178they were very nice, both a bit unusual, good hoppy nose on the Mess, and a bit of subtle sweetness about both beers. The pub itself is again very unassuming in the middle of a residential area, but judging by all the pump clips if you live nearby you’ll be ok for a decent beer or two. Also, kudos for the excellent pork pies that they serve.

For our 3rd visit we popped along to Friars Gate and the fairly recently opened Suds and Soda. I had met Tom Ainsley at the Beer Bash when he worked with me as one of the volunteers and remembered him saying he was hoping to open a bottle bar and tap room in Derby, so was quite pleased a couple of months later to see that it had opened. He and his business partner Josh Mellor both had experience of working in bars and were both postmen when they simultaneously came up with the idea of opening a shop to sell bottles and cans but also having a small amount of taps to keep customers there awhile. Although there is a really good cask ale scene in Derby they wanted to show the other side so to speak of what was on offer from modern brewers. Interestingly Josh wasn’t really into beer that much and was just a lager drinker but has gradually found a taste for keg beers, especially pale ales, although he is partial to the odd bottle of strong stout. Tom said the first beer he remembered making a distinct impression on him was Hopback Summer Lightning but then he moved to Canada for a while and discovered new tastes. By the time he got back to England he was able to discover the delights of Kernel and Beavertown which was the beginning of his journey to where he is now. I asked where the name came from, and he said was a fan of the movie The Shawshank Redemption and the quote – “I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds.“ (As an aside I only recently found out that the slang word suds for beer comes from Sudwerk being the German for brewhouse). Plus the band Deus have a song called “Suds and Soda” so it kind of fell into place. They p1010189are pretty pleased by the way things are going so far and although they have had a few people in to check out “the new trendy bar” who they may not see again they have started to build up a few regulars in their first month or so. On the day we visited they had beers from Neon Raptor on because they’d had a Meet the Brewer the night before, and they were pretty decent. We also tried a couple from the shelves, a Key Lime Pie Gose by Westbrook Brewing Co. for me and Jakehead IPA by Wylam for Deb which she really enjoyed.
To finish this little mini tour of Derby we headed back down Sadler’s Gate to Hop Gate, a bar which after only being open 7 weeks won a local bar of the year award… It is owned by Chris Farman, a CAMRA committee member but obviously one of the newer breed since the bar sells both cask and keg, and it is his second venture, the other being the Barrel Drop in Nottingham. It’s quite a quirky little space but we made ourselves at home with some cheese and biscuits from a nearby deli and settled down to finish the evening off in style. Whilst ordering I had a quick chat with the guys behind the bar who told me they try to support local breweries but after the first few months Beavertown and Cloudwater are the ones that have been selling well. And although the bar p1010192embraces both cask and keg it was the latter we went for with Deb having the tasty and juicy American Psycho by Mad Hatter to begin with. She followed this up with Gondoila by Beavertown, an 11% imperial chocolate and raspberry stout which she thought was quite complex with definite fruity overtones. As for me I went for The Big Top by Magic Rock Brewing, an imperial red ale which I described on Untappd as lush, and followed it up with Brewed With Friends #1 by Brouwerij Kees…even lusher. I guess by then even my normal poor powers of description had deserted me, but this latter was a 12.55 Belgian Quad brewed in collaboration with Magic Rock so i guess I can be forgiven.
All in all we had a great day, and I got the impression there are more places to explore, but should you be in Derby for shopping, culture, or football (Up The Rams!) we can highly recommend these 4 venues for your drinking pleasure…

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The End of an Era?

A few people have asked us if we are going to do a blog about the recent events at the Craven Arms, but since we don’t have any facts we feel this would be inappropriate. Like most of you reading this we are very disappointed that Chris and Sharon have left, and we do feel it is a step backwards for whatever the “beer scene” is in Birmingham. Mostly we are going to miss the incredible range of well kept cask ales on the bar and realise it may be some time before we see some of the breweries they featured on cask in Birmingham again. And we will miss the Meet the Brewer events that they had occasionally been putting on on a Monday night, which neatly leads me into this…

Although Elusive Brewing is a fairly new concern having only started in April of this year, its head honcho Andy Parker (aka the nicest man in brewing) has been in the game a bit longer, and at the Craven Arms on Halloween night he told us his story and introduced us to some of his fine selection of beers.
Andy began home brewing in 2012, and having done a bit of it myself I was pretty impressed that after only 2 years he won UK home brewer of the year in 2014. (As an aside, after 2 years I would be happy just to be making something drinkable). The winning beer was an American Red, which later became Level Up, one of the core range of Elusive beers, and it lead to him brewing the rather excellent (imho) Lord Nelson with Weird Beard. Later, via another homebrew competition that Siren and Omnipollo ran jointly, he ended up doing a collaboration with the former even though he only came 2nd. Ryan Witter, then head brewer at Siren, asked him to help brew a beer preferably using some of the large amount of Vienna Malt they had, and so they came up with Dinner for One, the first in a series of light, sessionable beers using the same grist but altering the hop profile. Eventually though, after a lot of effort, some of which was alluded to in this post about Cotteridge’s birthday – , he found premises, and started to brew. He has a 5 barrel brewery and just got his 3rd FV in, and at the time of the event he was on Gyle 26 and offers beers in cask, keg and bottles mixing it up between his 2 core beers, Starship Fleet and Level Up, and some special brews. The core beers do change though depending on hop availability, the former is on Wave 4 and the latter Level 3, and he was keen to point out that he likes a balanced beer rather than a hop bomb. As for the specials, well 2 very special ones were on the bar for p1010124the event. Carve’n Yams had been brewed especially for the occasion and had a thematic note for halloween being “a smooth, sweet pumpkin porter with lashings of Hasbean coffee ( El Salvador Finca Argentina Estate Washed Bourbon) and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg” to quote the description on Untappd. It was very smooth and easy drinking. The other special was the only cask of the beer that Andy had brewed with Affinity brewery in Tottenham and the Brewdog bar in Clerkenwell for this years Collabfest 2016, Brimful of Masha, a coffee and maple American red ale. By now, from some of the names, you might be able to tell that Andy is of an age when 8 bit computer games were all the rage, and also that he likes a pun or allusion in the name. All his core beers have a pixel design derived from the old BBC micro font and vintage computer style graphics. Going forward he wants to keep finding new flavours from the hops he is able to get hold of, a problem many other brewers have been having. He is only able to brew one of his beers, Shadow of the Beast, a great easy drinking black ipa with light roastiness and fruitiness, when he can get the hops. However, he did finish his talk by saying that as a small brewer he still enjoys walking into a pub and seeing his beers on the bar. So this night must’ve been as enjoyable for him as it was for us customers partaking of all these fine beers…

A week later, on Nov 7th, it was the turn of Lost and Grounded to pay Birmingham and the Craven Arms a visit, a fairly new brewery that has recently opened up in Bristol. This one was a little different because all 6 beers were on keg. Alex Troncoso was on hand with his partner Annie and members of the brewing team to give us a little history of himself, the brewery and the beers. His background is in chemical engineering and his introduction to brewing came in 1993 when he started to dabble in home brewing. After that came a bit of travelling about including a move back to Australia where he got a job for a few years with Little Creatures brewery. Eventually they ended up in England, and although he was still working in brewing there was a certain monotony to the job. He said a turning point came when they visited Bristol and found people in pubs laughing and having fun and so the decision was made to start a new brewery in the city. He had mainly been brewing pale ales in his previous jobs so he decided on a new beginning, and since he had a bit of a fascination with Belgian and German styles that has become their focus. Even before the brewery had opened there was a lot of focus on them on social media, and I did wonder if they were aware of this, but Alex and Annie said during this period they were so focused on what they were doing that it was basically work, sleep and fret if they had made a huge mistake. Fortunately they need not have worried since they seem to have hit the ground running and their first few beers have found favour with drinkers around the country.. The 6 beers on tap ranged from thep1010199 “simple but satisfying” Keller Pils to the bigger and more complex Apophenia, a Belgian style Tripel. My 2 favourites of the night were the Saison d’Avon which takes it’s name from the river across from the brewery and was a really nice clean, fruity example of a saison, and the aforementioned Apophenia which hid its 8.8% strength well behind the Belgian yeast and general fruitiness. Alex was an engaging speaker, I did like when he said, using a certain amount of self deprecation,that they worked as if they were the only brewery around, and his attitude to the word craft was that it was a state of mind and referred to people that gave a shit from start to finish. I certainly think their philosophy behind the brews and use of local artists from the Drawn in Bristol website for the branding of the beers is commendable. They have taken what they have learned from travelling and studying in the past to start a new adventure. This became the focus for the second half of the evening as it became meet the customer and a few of us shared our experiences of drinking, where we began, and what our epiphany beer was. For Alex it was Rochefort 8 that changed his view, for me Thornbridge Jaipur, which you can read about here –
There was another shout out for Jaipur, plus mentions of Dead Pony, Boddingtons, Brooklyn Lager, Yellow Belly, and Stones Ruination IPA, so a fairly varied selection and some interesting tales from customers pasts.

So to conclude, two good nights of beery chat, thanks to Tim Rowe for helping to organise these and events in the past. And yes, the Craven Arms under the direction of Chris and Sharon will be missed but we at the blog will continue to celebrate and promote what we can of Birmingham’s “beer scene” and work in partnership with people across the Midlands to support future events…

MBBC Social and brewery crawl on Dec 3rd

We were very pleased over the last few days (Nov 10th – 12th) to see 6/8 cafe have a resounding success with their little mini beer festival which we had given them a bit of advice on, the main part being get local brewers involved. So it was great to see so many people come out to meet and support Chris and Rich from Burning Soul, Carl and Ritchie from Twisted Barrel, Scott from Fixed Wheel, and Gwen from Sacre Brew. This celebration of local breweries was one of the raison d’etre for starting the blog and it is with this in mind that we have organised our first social event.
drinkSo, if you enjoy drinking good beer at the source and chatting with like minded people join us on the afternoon of Dec 3rd. We will meet by Snow Hill around 11.45 and take a short walk to visit Burning Soul where Rich and Chris will open up a bit earlier for us. If you have read any of our blog posts about the Birth of the Brewery you will be aware of the hard work and passion these guys have put into this endeavour, and if you haven’t yet visited you are in for a treat. Staying in the Jewellery Quarter we’ll walk over to the Rock and Roll brewhouse to have a few cask beers, maybe marvel at the great memorabilia on the walls, and fight over who gets to sit in Nick’s Cave. From there we’ll hop on the train to Stourbridge to visit Green Duck brewery to sample what Alex Hill has been up to. And last, but by no means least, we’ll be finishing off at Fixed Wheel where Scott will have his usual fine selection of cask and keg. And if by this point we are ready for food the excellent Balti Towers is a few minutes away.
So you can either join us for the whole “crawl” or just jump in where and when you can. The plan is we should be able to spend over an hour at each venue so hopefully it won’t be too rushed, you can try a couple of beers, and you have a look around and chat to the brewers. See you there!

The Facebook Event can be found here:

Tilt Turns 1 – Swedish Takeover Weekend

p1010137      Although it was the end of October and there were a lot of Halloween themed events on, we’ve never been big fans (except of the original John Carpenter movie), so on Saturday 29th, after getting a suitably flavoursome lining on our stomach courtesy of OPM, we arrived at a very busy Tilt bar just before 6 pm to celebrate their 1st birthday. For the event they were having a Swedish tap takeover featuring Omnipollo and Dugges, the night we went it was just the former on the 8 taps. Omnipollo is an award winning brewery that was founded in 2011 by Henok Fentie and Karl Grandin, and although based in Stockholm they brew at different breweries across the globe to craft their beers. I’d been a fan of the brewery since tasting the collaboration with Buxton, Yellow Belly, a peanut butter biscuit stout with no biscuits, butter or nuts, which I’d described on my Untappd check-in as sweet, nutty, nicely alcoholic. Since then I’d had a few others and really enjoyed the big, bold flavours they produced. So whilst Deb chatted with friends I ordered the first 2 reasonably low abv beers. Deb had Cassius, a 6 % Citra pale ale which Omnipollo say isp1010140 their finest pale ale, she found it very fruity and quite easy drinking, and I went for Onda, a really good 100% Mosaic pale ale. By the second round, Zodiak for Deb and Leon for me, my wife had decided that Omnipollo was her new favourite brewery. Zodiak is described as the house ipa, although I’m not sure if so called gypsy brewers can have such a thing, and Deb said “another gorgeous hoppy beer with just right amount of bitterness”. Leon is a Belgian pale ale, a style I have a lot of time for, and this one is described by Henok as “assertively hopped and fermented dry using champagne yeast. The yeast and the hops in combination with a simple malt bill provides the beer with a quality of being rich in taste yet refreshing.” And I’m not going to argue with that. 20161029_182820At this point the birthday cake provided by Bake in Kings Heath was brought out, a blueberry cheesecake cake to go with Anagram, a 12% blueberry cheesecake stout…wow, what a beer, sweet, fruity, and boozy. We wondered if anything could match this, but fortunately our last 2 beers managed to do ok. Hypnopompa is another big 11% imperial stout, this one brewed with marshmallows and vanilla beans giving it a rich, creamy taste, and Polimango is a 9.5% imperial ipa and again was superbly hoppy and fruity, unsurprisingly tasting a bit of mango 🙂
During the evening we had a chat with Kirk who seems happy with the way the first year has gone, and I know they have some exciting plans for their second year, so kudos to him and Rich for taking the plunge to open the bar, and many thanks to the staff, past and present, for great service on the many occasions I’ve visited…

The Marston’s Re-brand & Nano Kit Launch: Our Thoughts

A few weeks ago we received the offer to attend the launch for a new Nano Kit at Marston’s Brewery in Burton. It’s the first time we have been invited to this type of event, and as Dave is a proud Burtonian, it was interesting to explore Burton’s brewing history, and Dave’s own personal history. (Disclosure: We went, drank free beer and ate fantastic pork pies).  In this blog, both Dave, and I are going to take you through our thoughts of the evening, and the re-brand of Marston’

Bob’s Thoughts:

We thought we would write a few few words about the event and it would be no big thing….then I looked at Twitter in the morning and saw the response to the new brand launch.  As Boak & Bailey have highlighted, it was met with nearly universal dislike from all corners of the beer

I’m going to get this out of the way now, I’m not a fan of the new artwork on Marston’s range of beers, this is just a gut reaction.  A sense of dread began to grow that the event would be about who the fella on the new Pedigree bottle was, why they chose the name Pearl Jet, and that it would have nothing to do with the exciting things we had already heard about the nano kit. 

I still don’t particularly like the artwork, however, I came away genuinely excited about the direction Marston’s are going and plans they have for the beer they produce. One of the lines we heard was ‘this is not just a brand change, but a change of attitude’. This could quite easily be a trite, empty statement, but the evidence we saw suggests that Marston’s are at least trying to change the way they do things.  Where I expected a mundane discussion on colour schemes I found people passionate about what they could add to Burton (not just consume), and where I expected a slideshow, I was met with passionate brewers, and people who really cared about the beer they were

As a beer fan, the most exciting element of the event was the beer the brewers have been producing on the nano kit, including a lovely stout full of dark fruits and roasty notes named Dark Current (full disclosure:may have had a few pints of this one).   As part of the re-brand Marston’s have overhauled their Visitor Centre Bar (D14) and installed a nano brew kit. Speaking to the head brewer Patrick, he spoke excitedly about getting back to basics when brewing on the kit and how excited the other brewers are to try interesting and exciting recipes (saison, sour, and chai were just some of the words thrown around).

Many of the conversations we had with the brewers were similar to the conversations we have had with microbrewery owners, a seriousness about the ingredients and reverence to the brewing process.  


I’ve had many conversations with beer fans saying this is the way we want the big brewers to behave, make these changes and put good beer first.  But is it even possible? I was left with a feeling of damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Marston’s seem to be trying to do things the right way, exploring new recipes, trying to make a difference to its community, and making changes to it core range to benefit the beer (bottle conditioning).  The question, I’m left with, is whether the share holders will allow this freedom,  and the wider beer community are willing to give the beers ago, to enable them to make these changes, and ‘go with it’, or if, because it’s a big brewery, and is well known for its traditional beers, it can ever successfully take a different direction, with smaller batch brews, that appeal to a different type of consumer.  Is it even possible for a brewery like Marstons to  genuinely make these changes, and if so, will beer drinkers let them? 

I’m still not a big fan of Pedigree and was not overly won over by Pearl Jet, but IF (and it’s a big IF) they produce more beers like Dark Current, their new Red IPA – Slow Mo, and continue to be serious about making a difference to the people of Burton,  I’m gonna cut them a little slack about some naff artwork.

Dave’s Thoughts:

“The old home town looks the same…”, well not really, Burton on Trent has changed a lot since I left there longer ago than I care to think about, so it was nice to go back on the 1st November. The reason for this was that our blogging colleague Lucy Kemp was doing PR for Marston’s brewery and invited us over to check out the new nano brewery that they had installed in the Visitors

As well as the nano brewery launch what we didn’t know when we accepted the invite was that it also coincided with the re-branding of Marston’s which is a sure fire way to stir up the beer cognoscenti hornets nest. Suffice to say the twitterati had been out in force all day and the impression I got was that most people thought it was the work of the devil. From my own point of view I get why they feel the need to do it, they are a business after all, but it will have little impact on me personally since I don’t buy a lot of Marston’s beer. We had a talk from the people behind it and they all seemed passionate about the brand, and also about Burton, Lee Williams, the marketing manager,  said that it was “the spiritual home of brewing” and they wanted to bring a focus back onto the town and its brewing history. Well as a man of a certain age who felt like he’d had a dagger in the heart when they put the Coors symbol on the Bass tower, I concur with that sentiment. So, as a new experience it was interesting to hear things from a marketing perspective, but we were really there for the beer.

On arrival rather than trying the 2 beers from the nano kit I went for half of Pedigree, a beer I used to love in my formative years…but somewhere over the intervening years something has changed, not sure if it’s the beer or my taste, or a mixture of both. We will come back to that later. Next we tried the Slow Mo, a reasonably hoppy red ale that had been brewed on the small kit. At this point we had a brief chat with Patrick, the head brewer who was quite enthusiastic about the hands on experience of the nano kit which is only a 2.5 barrel kit as opposed to the huge scale of the regular, computerised brewing he does. And I think the fact that a lot of the new young brewers will be able to come up with ideas and get their hands dirty has a certain appeal.p1010150

After the above PR talk we had a bit of food, cheese, pork pie and scotch egg from a local vendor that went very well with the beer. Patrick also lead a little mini tasting of 2 beers, one from the big brewery and one from the nano kit. First up was Old Empire pale ale which used lightly kilned malt to produce a very clear golden coloured ale. It is a traditional IPA of the sort that was regularly sent to India back in the 19th century, and uses Goldings and Cascade hops to produce a flavour that begins sweet but then edges towards a light bitterness. The second beer was Dark Current, an imperial 7.5% stout brewed on the nano kit. This used chocolate & black malt with malted wheat and an addition of coffee beans in the kettle to give a big bold flavour. Everybody was pretty impressed by this beer, and I don’t know if this is damning with faint praise but I don’t think you’d guess this was a Marston’s beer, and judging from some of the ideas we were told about I think that might be true of some of the forthcoming brews.

After the tasting we had the pleasure of having Gen showing us the Burton Union System. This is a woman that is both passionate and knowledgeable about beer and the history of Marstons and brewing in Burton and listening to her made us both proud to be Burtonians. Although no brewing had been done that day it was still great to climb the stairs to see where the yeast (which has been used for many years) is collected. And I am in awe of the guys who clean out the wooden barrels. I’m just not sure why, if this is the way Pedigree has always been brewed it tastes so different…but as I said before maybe it’s me.

So all in all we had a very pleasant evening, I do like the Visitor Centre and hope it succeeds in attracting drinkers in to sample the new brews from the DE14 nano brewery and, although not a big drinker of Marston’s ales, I do wish them continued success in the future.


Over coming months, we look forward to re-visiting Marston’s, and trying more of their small batch brews. Currently these beers are being served at Marston’s Visitor Centre, with the aim of being served in other venues in and around Burton.  If you get the opportunity to try any of the beers brewed on their nano kit, we strongly recommend you give them a go!  We’d welcome conversations with you about what you think, both of the re-brand, and their new beers.

Birth of a Brewery pt 4

So before I left for my vacation with Deb I found time to pop in and see Rich and Chris at Burning Soul on Tuesday 20th September for the last part of our Birth of a Brewery series. The place has changed a lot since we first visited and is looking, and smelling really good…on the day they were brewing a rye pale ale to add to their growing portfolio. This was also the first time I got to see their bottle bar…yes, although the rather poor photo shows a work in progress the results so far look p1000528-2pretty impressive. They had a visit from Robert Holmes whilst I was there and you could almost see his eyes light up, and like me he was working what he’d had. I can already see this being a great conversation piece when the bar opens. And when might that be I hear you ask… Well they will be opening in October, hopefully on the 1st if all goes according to plan, but keep an eye on @BurningSoulBrew for more information and updates, and they hope to have 8 beers ready to pour. I was fortunate enough to be able to try a few and even the ones not fully ready were pretty good. I started with the red ale that they were brewing on the pilot kit last time I visited, this was the one they split and used 2 different yeasts. Unfortunately one didn’t work so well but the one that did was nice, not overly hoppy but with a creamy taste. Next up was a blackberry saison, the fruit being freshly picked whilst Rich was walking his dog. It had a good solid fruit taste and an appealing dry bitterness at the end.  For a dark beer they had brewed a coconut porter using 3 whole coconuts and plenty of Sorachi Ace hops (natch!), and they also had a pale ale with a fairly new experimental hop called Orbit.  For the last 2 beers I tried a bretted ipa using a yeast from their home brewing days which had a great aroma, really full flavoured, but again with a dry finish, and an imperial stout.  For this Rich had soaked charred oak fingers in a bottle of bourbon for 6 months until there was none of the liquid left, and then used them during the brewing and aging process, and by golly it tasted mighty good.  They also had an ipa using Summit and Chinook that was ready for kegging, a Belgian ale that was fermenting away merrily, and plans for a double ipa soon. They seem happy with their malt and hop contracts and basically can’t wait to let more people try the beers and what works will be rebrewed on the big kit and the pilot kit will carry on being used for prototype brews.  There is still some work to do mainly the odd touch of welding that their friends are helping out with but all in all both in front and behind the scenes it is all looking pretty, pretty good…Now we just need to wait a bit longer before we can all get together and celebrate this great new venture.


Bristol Weekend

      When we booked tickets for the Bristol Craft Beer festival we decided to make a weekend of it since we were aware of the many great places to drink in the city. And then we discovered it was the end of Bristol Beer Week on the Friday so there were a few events going on. One of these was at the Barley Mow, a pub that had been recommended several times, and was a Bristol vs USA keg match up (not a competition apparently) and since they did food it was a bit of a no brainer. We went the scenic route from where we were staying and with it being a nice, warm, sunny evening many bars in the city were quite busy.

      But the Barley Mow is a little bit out of the centre so I guess you need to be aware of it since you are not just going to stumble across it. As we got closer we could hear  a growing hubbub suggesting a few people must know about it because it was pretty busy. We settled in with swift halves of cask from Arbour & Bristol Beer Factory before going on to the main event. The beers were conveniently paired up and so we started at the top of the board with Gigantic Brewery: The Business and Moor: Return of the Empire, 2 pale ales at 6% and 5.7% respectively.  The former was from Oregon, a state we visited last year and had many excellent beers (read here and here), It was good, nice aroma but not outstanding, and somewhat surprisingly to us both we preferred the subtler, more subdued flavour from the English hopped beer from Moor.  Next we went for the two saison selections, Sorachi Ace from Brooklyn Brewery and Saison in the Rye from Wiper and True, both very decent examples of the style.  Round 3 was the dark beers, from Rogue in Oregon the Mocha Porter was nice with a good chocolate flavour but it was blown out of the water by the Arbor/Left Handed Giant collaboration, Flat White, an imperial coffee milk stout.  There was a difference in abv, 5.6% as opposed to 8.6% but the latter was stunning, so much flavour, full mouthfeel, bitterness giving way to a smooth creaminess…wow!  We finished off with two 10% beers:Torment from Heretic in California and the Bristol Beer Factory’s Unlimited Wheat Wine.  The former was a Belgian style dark ale and was quite sweet with lots of dark fruit flavours, and the latter was…well my untappd description said “quite unusual”, it’s certainly complex being bourbon barrel aged, blended with cold brewed coffee, and fermented with Bristol Beer factory’s triple strain house yeast”.  I found it quite winey and boozy but it wasn’t to Deb’s taste at all, but despite that when we added up our scores Bristol had won, not that it was a competition.  After all that there was only one thing left to do: go and visit the Moor Brewery taphouse since it was only 5 minutes walk away.  

     The staff were super friendly even though it was 20 mins to closing, and when I explained where we’d been, I was given 3 beers to try to finish the night with a bang.  I chose the Fusion, an old ale aged in cider brandy barrels which was very punchy, and suffice to say I slept very well that night!

     Saturday dawned with a forecast of rain, and, if I’m honest, a slightly fuzzy head from the previous night, plus an awareness that we didn’t want to drink too much during the day, but first we needed coffee. Kirk at Tilt and Alistair from Faculty both recommended Full Court Press and it didn’t disappoint with the coffee and pastries. After a bit of a stroll we ended up at the Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf, a place I didn’t know about until I looked on the Bristol Beer Week website, and I got the impression it was quite new. The beer board looked good and included a lot of recognisable breweries, but when in Rome etc, so I went with Sleeping Lemons by Wild Beer figuring it would go well with fish and chips. And how right I was, the flavour was good, and the food was excellent.

p1000458Fast forward to the evening which sees Deb and I following 20 guys dressed as pirates (and one parrot) on the way to Motion, the venue for Bristol Craft Beer festival which fortunately didn’t turn out as badly as this suggests. Getting in was easy, a wristband, a glass and a little booklet introducing the breweries, but no beer list. But with 30+ breweries and their employees this wasn’t a problem, much like the Birmingham Beer Bash I think the idea is to encourage a conversation. We managed to do this a little with James and his colleague from Thornbridge, the Yeastie Boys staff and a couple of others. And having paid the all inclusive price no more money needed to change hands for the beer as you could go around p1000462-2the bars having as many small taster measures as you liked… but as I write this some time after the event I still don’t know what I think about it. It was different to anything we’d been to because as well as the beer rules there were DJs playing continuously all night. Now I’m an old git and haven’t been to a club for donkey’s years, but fortunately the music wasn’t too loud and was either bearable with tunes we recognised-or fairly anonymous. And the beers were all good coming as they did from local Bristol breweries, many of the movers and shakers in the industry, and a smattering from overseas. I can’t really remember what we drank, not because we had so much but because I’d ask for an ipa or a dark beer and not really worry about the name, so no Untapping for me. A few things stand out though, Deb really enjoyed the Magic Rock Special Relationship & it was nice to try the Hop hunter from the Sierra Nevada guys, but probably the standouts for both of us were the beers from the Basqueland Brewing Project. I should also mention that the food selection was pretty good, especially the pork pie from West Country Deli. So, and this may not make sense, the blogger & ticker part of me thinks maybe I didn’t make the most of it, but the beer enthusiast really enjoyed it…and so did Deb thankfully.

Sunday breakfast was a leisurely affair at Spicer and Cole because amazingly enough we were waiting for places to open so we could have a few more beers… King Street is home to Small Bar, the Original Royal Naval Volunteer (known as the Volley), and the Beer Emporium, the latter being a well regarded bottle shop and taphouse that we will have to visit next time (and I’m fairly certain there will be a next time). But we managed to find time to pop in to the first 2 where we partook of more local beers from Good Chemistry, Wiper and True, and Left Handed Giant, the latter included a barrel aged version of Flat White which was ridiculously potent and packed a mighty alcoholic punch.  Both bars were really cool, Small Bar seemed to be the place for the brewers from the festival to wind down, and the size and selection at the Volley were mightily impressive, and the fact that they were on the same street with several other bars must be a testament to how good the beer scene is in Bristol.  After having a very good traditional  roast lunch in the Volunteer Inn we ended almost where we began at the Moor Brewery taphouse since it was on the way back to the station where we shared So’hop and Nor’hop, 2 quality beers to end a quality weekend.

Meet the Brewer ~ Paul Spraget

I originally met Paul Spraget at the 2nd Birmingham Beer1 Bash in 2014 when I was a volunteer and did a stint behind the Weird Beard bar. The following year we were both back but he had moved on to Mad Hatter. So when he came up to Birmingham for the 2016 Bash and included a tasting session at Loki Wine (read about that here) I figured it would be a good time to have a chat about his itinerant brewing career.

He started off by telling me that he’d had minimal dabbling in homebrewing and by 2010 was unemployed and living in a bedsit opposite Pentonville prison and a night of good drinking would revolve around a few cans of Strongbow. And then Daniel Vane took him to a central London pub that had a Kernel black ipa & Brodies Old Street pale ale which was the archetypal light bulb above the head. Further research led him to try US breweries such as Sierra Nevada and Goose Island, and then he got a job at the Clapton Hart pub in East London which had a pretty good beer selection. He got a homebrew kit and wanted to brew a Goose Island ipa clone and a friend of a friend got him some Cluster hops but it didn’t turn out that well. A year later he was running a pub in Walthamstow called the Chequers and buying Weird Beard and Redemption beers amongst others and was inspired to do a couple more homebrews which turned out better. And then Daniel Vane, now the brewer at Weird Beard, re-enters the picture in 2013. They had a job for a brewer’s assistant, and after having a trial brewday which Paul enjoyed he decided to work two days there, doing a 100 minute tube journey to get there.  After 2 months he took the plunge to learn to be a brewer, taking a pay cut in the process, and began learning from Dan, Bryan and Gregg at the brewery.  After 6 months they told him it was his turn to do a brew for Little Things That Kill, the low abv session beer that still packs a punch.  Each batch has the same malt and body but the hop bill changes, and for batch 8, since Paul’s favourite hop is Sorachi Ace that is one of the hops that went into it, and it also became known as Sorachi Face Punch.  This was taken to a further extreme by mixing the recipe with the one for Holy Hoppin’ Hell, a 9.6% imperial ipa to create Sorachi Face Plant.  I was suitably impressed the first time I had it in Brewdog on Neil Hemus’ recommendation, but there again I am a big fan of the hop myself.  At around this time his partner, Alex, got a job near Liverpool.  Somewhat fortunately he’d met Gaz from Mad Hatter Brewing Company at the Birmingham Beer Bash, had a few beers, got talking and found out they were looking for a new head brewer, and so he went from being Weird Beard Paul to Mad Hatter Paul.  They were in the process of expanding their operation and moving to newer, bigger premises and Paul began by brewing Penny Lane Pale, a hoppy, easy drinking low abv session beer.  Over the next 20 months he learned to brew lots of special and unusual beers including absencewhat was originally intended to be a strawberry and lime saison. However for some reason they did everything except add the strawberries, dry hopped it with mosaic, and thus the “absence of…” series was born.  He was also instrumental in the creation of one of the more unusual beers I’ve had, the Tzatziki Sour-here’s the description on Untappd – “A kettle sour: if you haven’t had this beer, then yes, it really does taste like tzatziki. Cucumbers, yogurt, mint, ouzo (no garlic, that would be weird). Delicious and strange.”  During this time his relationship with his partner became a long distance one when she moved back down to London, and eventually he decided he wanted to move back and learn what he termed high process brewing.  fourEnter Four Pure where he has now settled with both their big and 1 hectolitre experimental kits and is hoping to be able to brew a few sour beers and do some barrel aging in the near future.  You can check him out on twitter here – @MarshallStaxx – and having enjoyed many of his beers in the past we here at the blog wish him continued success and look forward to raising a glass and having a chat again soon…