Author: Dave Hopkins

Happily married lover of beer, movies, comics & cats

Stone Berlin and Greg Koch

One of the main reasons Deb & I wanted to go to Berlin was to visit the recently opened restaurant “World Bistro and Gardens” and brewery of Stone Brewing since we’d had a few friends singing its praises. We decided on dates and once booked we were fortunate to discover that on the Wednesday a Brewers’ Dinner was on the events calendar. This seemed like an opportunity not to be missed and when we knew we had tickets I thought I might as well ask if there might be a chance to have a chat with Greg Koch, the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Stone Brewing. And after a couple of emails back and forth with Colin Lenz, their PR guy, it was set up for late afternoon. I got a bit panicked because we were running a bit late but needn’t have worried because they seemed very chilled and laid back. Colin met us outside and we were pretty knocked out upon entering the reception area where we could see a bar, merchandise, a fridge full of beer and a small glass enclosed room. Then we entered the main hall and were fleetingly blown away by the sheer scale of the place before being ushered into the new library bar where Greg was waiting for us.

I began by asking him when he first got the idea for a European base and was surprised when he said it was as far back as 2009. So they spent a while looking at different sites including the UK and Greg said they had put very good proposals together but just couldn’t find any traction until they found the site south of Berlin’s city centre. Built in 1901 it had been a gasworks facility and due to its size it provided a space for the brewery, plus restaurant and gardens to enjoy great food and great beer in a beautiful setting. When he saw it he could see its potential, and after a few visits to the city of Berlin he fell in love with its history, architecture and vibrant cultural life.We then went back to the beginning, Before Stone, when he was living on the West coast and working in the music industry and although into beer the choice was fairly limited. Then before I could ask him, he mentioned his epiphany beer was drinking an Anchor Steam Ale whilst in LA in 1987. This had two effects, the first being that he became a beer geek and went in search of more flavourful beers and sought out beer festivals. But he also had a sense of disappointment and frustration and felt that by brewing bland corporate beers the big brewers had somehow avoided giving the public a choice. This was a theme he returned to a couple of times in our conversation. But back to the early 90’s and Greg met fellow beer enthusiast Steve Wagner who was also a homebrewer, and so they began brewing together. The first beer they brewed was a very hoppy Altbier, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess there weren’t a lot of examples of this style around, it being an amber ale of German origin. So even at this early stage the guys were setting out their stall so to speak. There followed a further 3 – 4 years when they went down the rabbit hole of beer geekdom, getting increasingly angry about the aforementioned lack of choice and the fact that there were only a few bars in major cities with anything approaching a decent selection of beers. So by 1995 they came to the conclusion that they needed to open their own brewery, and after searching for a few months settled on San Diego in February the following year with the first beer being released in July. They came upon the name Stone purely by tossing ideas out and actually coming up with something that neither of them objected to with both liking the fact it had a naturalness about it, and its attributes including the sense of solidity. Originally they thought they wanted to do traditional European styles of beer with Greg being a self professed Europhile, and so the gargoyle symbol came about because it was a motif to ward off evil spirits. In the case of Stone it is there to ward off cheap ingredients, pasteurisation, and chemical additives…

 

Their first beer was a pale ale, but they followed this up with a smoked porter almost in an effort to really show the possibilities that they felt were missing in the beer scene. But the barriers to entry into the beer market were high and included coming into contact with a certain amount of ignorance. He told us a story of one meeting with a group of beer distributors to sample the beers and when he poured the porter, one of them was astonished that it was so dark! And they had opened at a bad time for the burgeoning craft beer industry which had gone from having growth of 25% and then 45% to just 7% in 1996 and down to 2% the following year. This was the year that they released one of their signature beers, Arrogant Bastard, a beer that seems to have been loved and misunderstood in equal measure. Like many people I thought their message does come across as a bit arrogant, but when you are with Greg he doesn’t come across that way at all, and when he explains the reasoning behind the wording on the Arrogant Bastard label (which I’m sure he’s had to do more times than he can remember) it does make sense. You have to try to imagine what it was like 20 years ago when the beer drinking public just had Miller, Bud, Coors etc and so they weren’t aware of whether they might like something different because they didn’t have the choice. So when the label says you probably won’t like it, well for 99% of drinkers at the time it was probably true, ditto not having the taste or sophistication. At first they were just going to produce 100 cases of the beer because there was a sense that in amongst the sense of fun they were also trying to put people off. And yes it takes a dig at the big corporations but at the time this beer was an outlier pointing to a future that was maybe a little bit uncertain.

But a bit to their surprise it became a success which lead to many variations and it taking on a life of its own in recent months cf Arrogant Brewing. Moving into the new century Stone, like many American breweries, found themselves able to take a few left turns since they had no recent strong brewing heritage in the land of fizzy yellow lager. It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor but it was like being in a culinary environment with a blank canvas. I mentioned to Greg that one of my favourite beers of theirs was the Stone Cali-Belgique IPA because I loved that meeting between a west coast ipa and Belgian yeast although he did say that it was no longer a big seller in the US. But you only have to look at their Untappd listings to see how adventurous they have been during their 20+ year history. Eventually success meant that they outgrew their original brewery and moved to the current location in Escondido, north of San Diego in late 2005. A year later they opened the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens to sell their beers, locally sourced organic food, and give themselves event space for festivals. I finished off my conversation by asking how he felt things had developed since that big move and how he felt about social media. He said he found the business to still be extremely competitive and even with their name and success they still had to work hard to get their beers into bars and keep producing high quality product with the best ingredients. Social media is just seen as a communication tool, not a selling one

Once Greg had left Colin suggested we had a beer and brought the list in for us to peruse…omg, it was big, 51 taps split into Stone Berlin & San Diego, Arrogant Brewing, and guests. I went for the Pataskala Red IPA (I’m sure Colin said it was named after the town of Greg’s birth) which uses a German speciality malt to give it a red hue and sweet bready base for the combination of Mosaic, Cascade and Amarillo hops to sit on. Deb had Tangerine Express ipa which she described as being lovely and full bodied with the correct amount of orangy goodness. We had a little chat about his background in Germany – he had also been working in the music industry in Berlin before moving to Stone in October of last year into a job which he is really enjoying. We asked about his epiphany beer and he said it was a Lervig Lucky Jack pale ale that he had 7 years ago in Oslo. He added as well that whilst touring the US West Coast with his girlfriend he was impressed by all the small breweries along the way, specifically Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka where he celebrated his birthday on the 4th of July. He also gave us a little more history of the place telling us the brewery is 100 hectolitres with the first beer being released last June, and the pilot brewery, which was the first to become operational in December 2015, is 10 hectolitres. The restaurant had opened in September and, like the one at Escondido, used ingredients from small local, organic farms for its menu which is inspired by different food cultures. The library bar where we were sitting was a recent addition, having only been opened in the previous month and was full of bric a brac some of which were gifts from other breweries. After a while Colin had to go back to work and so we explored a bit more including the garden space, and I’m going to quote their fact sheet first – “Approximately 5.000 square meters with corners, nooks and gathering spaces created using natural elements of the space and repurposed building materials. The expansive gardens include boulders, large trees, and plants maintained using 100 percent organic methods.” I’m not sure if this gives an indication that, like the indoor bar and restaurant area, it is not uniform and corporate but has different distinct looks which we thought really added to the ambiance of the place. The brewery feels calm and welcoming, and although quiet when we first arrived it soon filled up with couples, families, and groups of friends coming to sample beers from the 2 Stones breweries and the plethora of guests. Eventually it was time to join our fellow guests for the brewers dinner with Greg, Drew Curtis, collaborator on w00tstout, and Thomas Tyrell, the Director of Brewing.

So after a brief meet and mingle period we took our places at a table for 6 with Colin, his girlfriend Michaela, and a German couple Daniel and Meike, the latter being a food and drink blogger in Berlin. If you are visiting, check out http://smamunir.de/  although if you’re like me you may need to use Google translate. With 4 courses of excellent food and 10 beers it was a long, fun night – here are some of the highlights (unsurprisingly my note taking became more sporadic as the night went on.) We discovered that the Stone Berliner Weisse that came with the first course is Greg’s favourite beer when he visits the brewery, and with the second course we had 2 relatively new beers, Stone Ripper Pale Ale and the previously mentioned Tangerine Express. With the main course of spicy pork chop we had Arrogant Brewing Punishment which used chilis from Greg’s garden originally and is his mother’s favourite beer (which is pretty hardcore). Greg said that great brewing is art and art should have a point of view and by the this course I think we were getting it – my description of Punishment just said “Wow, what a beast, chilli heat and maltiness”. The other third course beer was the Drew Curtis / Wil Wheaton / Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout (2016), the continuation of a collaboration that first began in 2013. Taking its name from Wil Wheaton’s W00tstock show it was inspired by Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie dessert, Drew said they thought the pecans gave it a good mouthfeel and helped the different flavours work well together. Finishing up with Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard and a mellow Coffee Milk Stout a rather splendid evening of great food, beer and conversation came to an end.

In conclusion we found Berlin to be a great city to visit, so much history and culture for one thing, but this afternoon and evening at Stone was certainly a highlight and it’s highly recommended as a place to visit…cheers to Greg, Colin and the rest of the staff!

 

 

 

Brewery Spotlight – Fownes

Fownes Brewing Co. will be celebrating their 5th anniversary next month after what started as an idea over a few pints of beer in 2010 became a reality. Yes unlike a few brewers we’ve talked to who started off as home brewers James and Thomas were not, just drinkers who figured they could make something better than the ales they had in their local pub. This pub was the Jolly Crispin in Upper Gornal and the bar manager was someone that James knew from college who, upon hearing the idea, mentioned the landlord had said the “garage” behind the pub was ideal for such a thing. At the time James was teaching and Tom was involved in concert photography but both had the desire to do something different. So after 10 months of renovating and an intense 18 months of learning how to brew they moved in October 2012 with a tower brewing system and 3 200 litre plastic fermenters. Their first cask had been released in the July, Frost Hammer a 4.6% pale ale, which became part of their core range of 4 beers. They decided to call themselves a Dwarfen brewery, partly in reference to the small nature of their brewery, but also because of their interest in Tolkienesque fantasy and Games workshop style gaming. Thus, as brewers of Epic Tales, they have created a universe and characters for their beers with stories by Tom and illustrations by James to go along with them (they also have a professional storyteller to join them at events to perform the tragic saga of King Korvak), and found that the more unusual the name at beer festivals the more drinkers seem willing to try them. It also gives the new pump clips and bottles a distinctive look with the designs being somewhat reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt covers and Hellboy artist MikeMignola for anyone with an interest in comic books. Over the years some things have changed. At first they were going to focus on English hops but unfortunately they couldn’t get all the tastes and aromas they needed and so now incorporate more hop varieties from the US, New Zealand. Malt wise they use British malt for pale ales but have found the German company Weyermann are the best source for all their speciality malt which they are so fond of since they have over 90 different malts available. Their love of darker beers has given them a good reputation amongst beer drinkers and festival awards, especially with King Korvak’s Saga, a 5.4% porter (CAMRA’s Champion Porter of the West Midlands 2015, 2017), another core beer. As well as the 4 core beers they do a range of Special (seasonal), Limited (quarterly) and Saga Editions. The latter showcase their dark beers of which I’ve only sampled one so far, chapter IV – Downfall –  a big 9% beast of a baltic porter where 7 malts combine to give an intense, flavourful experience, but easy drinking for the abv. Since their early local beginnings they realised that they can’t really compete with a lot of the bigger micro breweries, so have endeavoured to get their beers into at least one pub in a selection of towns and cities such as Walsall, Leicester, Kidderminster, where they can be found at The Weavers Ale House, and the Wellington in Birmingham. The next step to try to get the beers more widely available in bottles and to further this they have turned to a crowdfunding initiative, which you can read about here – http://igg.me/at/fownes – We at the blog are big fans of small independent brewers so think this is well worth supporting, plus we like the beers, and in the name of transparency I will mention that James did give me some bottles when we visited. Not sure if beer bottles can be described as cute, but they have gone for 330ml ones that are short and stocky in keeping with the dwarf theme. And if you still need persuading what great guys they are, well just recently, upon the untimely death of singer Chris Cornell they announced they would brew a beer in his honour. The beer is named after the Soundgarden track By Crooked Steps and they will be donating money from the sale of the beer, which will be available in cask, keg and bottles, to CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) (https://www.thecalmzone.net/) , a charity devoted to preventing male suicide. As well as their hop and malt suppliers matching their donation, their bottle label and pump clip suppliers are donating their services as well which is great news.

So if you haven’t done so before, now is the time to partake of the epic tales and raise a glass to the Dwarfen brother and sisterhood.

Website –  http://fownesbrewing.co.uk/ and follow them on Twitter & Facebook

 

 

 

 

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.

Meet the Brewer: Jamil Zainasheff of Heretic Brewing

On Thursday March 16th Tilt in Birmingham City Centre played host to an international Meet the Brewer with Heretic from California and its owner Jamil Zainasheff.

As is often the case with these events this became a great social occasion with many friends drinking great beer including Evil Cousin, Evil 3, Grapefruit Mosaic, and the Chocolate Hazelnut Porter. And although I didn’t have a glass myself, the Cruel Beauty, a robust porter aged in oak barrels on tart cherries for nearly two years seemed to go down particularly well.

I had chance to have a brief chat with Jamil but figured that doing a formal interview there after a few beers was asking a bit much of my brain, and so it came to pass that on a rather chilly Saturday lunchtime we rendezvoused at Burning Soul brewery for an informal chat over a beer or 2.

I first asked Jamil a bit about his background and he said he was working in software and living in Northern California just drinking whatever beers were available whenever he went out. But then he had his epiphany moment when his neighbour Steve handed him a beer to try that was full of flavour. When he asked where it was from Steve replied ”I brewed it” which was a bit of a mind blower because Jamil just thought that beer was brewed in big factories (which to be fair was probably correct).

By the late 70s the US beer industry had shrunk in size to just 44 breweries who mainly brewed light lager style beers with little character or taste, although change was on the way. The first root of this change was Fritz Maytag buying the Anchor Brewing company in 1965 where he carried on brewing some unique styles such as steam beer. This was followed by the short lived New Albion Brewery that was opened in 1976 by, wouldn’t you just know it, homebrewing enthusiasts. It was these people that through the 80s and 90s pioneered the opening of micro breweries and brew pubs that sold beer with more flavour and adapted styles from the Old World. Jamil told his wife that you could make good tasting beer on a small scale and for Christmas she bought him a Mr Beer Homebrew Kit. It was an extract kit and he followed the instructions, and the beer was horrible, but he knew that good home brewed beer was possible. In the late 1990s he practised and practised to achieve that aim, eventually winning many awards for his home brewing and writing books about it.

Fast forward to 2009 and after 15 years at the same company he took a year off to write a critically acclaimed book about yeast with Chris White before taking the plunge with his wife’s blessing to open Heretic Brewery in Fairfield. At the time there was one other micro brewery in town, but they have since been joined by a couple of others, but he said one of his main motivations to open in the town was the quality of the water. (He’d been told that the reservoir had been built for Anheuser Busch, so maybe some good can come out of big monolithic corporations)… The brewery is family owned, with both his wife and older daughter working for the company, and the first batch of beer was released in 2011. Eventually, after getting a bit fed up with the one hour commute to work the family moved a bit closer, and he’s now 6 miles away. He is a big believer in having as little negative impact on the environment as possible and drives an electric car which he charges at the brewery which is all powered by wind power, and is aiming for a zero waste workplace.

We moved on to a discussion about US Brewing because on Thursday at Tilt I’d said how it would be good to speak to someone who was from the country that lead the way in brewing, or something along those lines. But he was quick to point out that really the American beer revolution had been started by visitors to the UK, Belgium and Germany who enjoyed the different styles that were on offer. They then returned home and tried to replicate it but with little success, but gradually, over time, they studied brewing and learnt about techniques to get it right. And then they were able to experiment and basically do what they liked until now, Jamil feels there are true American brewing styles and many great American breweries. One of these is undoubtedly Russian River which is also based in California, and when he first started the brewery he took his staff there to sample some beers. They tried a 20 beer flight, all the beers were great, some were truly excellent and he remembers saying to them “How do we make one beer this good? ” and realised the challenge he faced. But he believed that if you have your goal in mind and take it one step at a time you will eventually get there. Now, 6 years later when he stands in the tap room looking at the 16 taps, he knows he has come a long way and is very proud of what he does. And at first he didn’t want a tap room, and there wasn’t one for the first 3 years because he loved to socialise but didn’t want to be standing around trying to sell his beer, he just wanted people to taste it. But now they are open 7 days a week and will soon be adding a kitchen and a distillery, which they hope to be another positive resource for the local community. This desire not to have a negative impact on the community or the environment is part of their underlying philosophy along with his definition of craft which he believes to be about putting the quality of the product above profit. In fact he said that when asked what are the priorities about the brewery, number one is safety, number two is quality and profit comes a lot lower down the list.

I asked how the brewery got on whilst he was away since he seemed to be a hands on sort of guy, and his itinerary this trip included Belgium, the Netherlands, Birmingham, Bristol and London in the UK, and Sweden and Denmark, so quite a long trip. He said when he started he employed a guy called Chris Kennedy who is now the head brewer, although Jamil still comes up with ideas because it is still his vision. He paid tribute to the team that he had though, saying that they did a great job, offering input on the brews and basically executing said vision.

We finished off with a brief discussion about social media which he sees as both a good thing for promoting things, and a bad thing when a negative element can take over. He also thought, like me, that sometimes us beer drinkers can’t see the wood for the trees and can get a bit hung up on the latest thing and fads (iceman pour anyone? ) when really all we went is a good beer in a good venue with good company. By this time, Scott Povey and his partner Sharon of Fixed Wheel and popped in for a drink, and once they started talking about attenuation I dropped out of the conversation…my beer education hasn’t gone that far yet.

Brewers United

In closing, I’d like to say thanks to Jamil for his time and for a great conversation, and to Chris and Rich at Burning Soul for their hospitality.

Bad Dog!

So, a few weeks ago we wrote about a new bar that had opened on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter called Lone Wolf. We were pretty impressed by the space and the passion of Sallie and Josh, and after only a few weeks they increased the tap range to 10 which made it even better. But they did mention a spanner in the works because Brewdog had a distillery called Lone Wolf and had sent a cease and desist letter for them to change their name.

And so it came to pass that Lone Wolf became Wolf because they didn’t think it was worth trying to argue with the big boys so to speak. With costs being incurred by themselves they changed signage and everything and relaunched on March 15th as The Wolf bar (@TheWolfBham), and a great night it was with brewers from @BurningSoulBrew, @greenduckbrew, @MauleBrewingCo and @TwistBarrelAle (and if you are not checking these guys out you should be).

Rob Davies from the Guardian happened to be at Sheffield beer festival recently when someone, who may or may not have read our original blog post, told him the story. So Rob got in touch with Sallie and Josh to get more details,  but didn’t say when the story would be published.  March 26th it was published online (here’s the link for those that didn’t see it https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/26/brewdog-lone-wolf-birmingham-pub-change-name – and the proverbial hit the fan with the phone at the bar ringing off the hook, twitter notifications going mental, and messages coming in from friends and acquaintances in Newcastle, Liverpool, Berlin, and even Australia. It was great for us to see the Birmingham beer community get behind these guys and give them their support, although I personally thought some of the anti-Brewdog vitriol got a bit out of hand.

Anyway James Watt eventually tweeted…but forgot to tag the bar so they didn’t see it straight away. After even more press, including the Birmingham Mail, the PM Show on Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, and BBC WM amongst others, the brewery did get in touch, with James emailing to say they would cover all the costs, and even inviting them to the distillery…Since then there have been a few more jabs at Brewdog who maybe aren’t that punk after all (“ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”) but in the end it probably isn’t going to do them a lot of harm.

Josh says their twitter following, and more importantly, footfall has already increased, and hopefully it will continue to do so. He said now they just want to put an end to it and move on, and to that end they have lined up a few events, which include tap takeovers and meet the brewers with Five Points in April and Mad Hatter in May, with hints of more to come.

So let’s hope this fable ends with the Wolf and the Dog peacefully co-existing and living in beery harmony…

Yorks Bakery at the Ikon

One thing that Birmingham is blessed with is a plethora of great independent coffee shops, and Yorks Bakery has been on that list for a while, first with its Newhall Street location and more recently at Stephenson Street and the Espresso Bar on Colmore Row. And now it is set to open a new venture taking over the cafe in the Ikon gallery by opening a pizza and beer bar, which is where our interest comes in. So a few days before they were due to open I stopped by to have a chat with Alex Findlay who is looking after the beer side of things. His interest in beer began whilst at university in Sheffield. He did work in what he describes as a bit of a dive bar but living in the Kelham Island district he had access to some great pubs and beers, and with the start of the keg revolution in the UK he became fascinated by the variety of styles and flavours available. For the last year and a half he put this to use as cellar manager at the Dark Horse in Moseley where he organised many events including the inaugural Grape vs Grain match up with Firestone Walker. And now he has moved on to Yorks. They have 6 very nice looking taps, 3 for core beers covering a lager, a pale, and a dark beer, and 3 for revolving guests, and this is what we can look forward to, with descriptions taken from Untappd.
Core range
Four Pure Pils – Our reimagining of a classic German Pilsner. Generous hopping with Mittelfruh and Saaz gives this beer a delightful floral and spicy aroma. The finish is dry, crisp, and refreshing. Inspired by our cycling adventures through Germany and the Czech Republic.
Wild Bibble – Brewed with Vienna Malt and Oats, an unusual mouth filling malt base. Hopped with beautiful Mosaic hops, renowned for their tropical fruit beauty, helped along with some nice orangey Amarillo hops both at the end of the boil and in the dry hop. It is unfined, so naturally hazy. A moreish bitterness is complimented by tropical fruit tastiness.
Wiper and True Milk Shake Stout – A milk stout uses sugar made from cows milk to give the beer a sweet, creamy tone. Bristol breweries were once famous for brewing the best milk stouts around. For our take on the traditional recipe we’ve used copious amounts of chocolate malts and vanilla pods to create rich, velvety and satisfying dark beer. ABV may change.
And the first guests include Magic Rock High Wire Grapefruit, Northern Monk New World IPA, and Big Smoke Mothership Amber Ale. They also have a bottle fridge with beers from One Mile End, Harbour, Bad Seed, Siren and Brew By Numbers. As things go forward Alex is hoping to introduce some local beers to the list and do some events down the line. And the free slice of pizza I had whilst chatting was very nice – looking forward to trying a full one in the very near future.
So, no offence meant to the many venues on Broad St, but personally I’m pleased we have a new independent venue so close to the Symphony Hall and the Cineworld cinema for a bit more quality choice in the area.

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.

TAKING ON A LEGEND

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.

RE-IMAGINING THE LEGEND

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 – https://aburtoniansadventuresinbeer.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/cotteridge-wines-21st/ , 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…

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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 –https://aburtoniansadventuresinbeer.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/the-background-one/
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…