Category: Beer

Verzet Bottle Tasting at Clink – 28th March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Debbie – Oaky Moaky for its complexity.

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

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

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

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

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

Cycle and Wicked Weed at Brewdog AGM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me with Doug (left) and Charlie from Cycle.

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

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

 

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

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

Me with Richard

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

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

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

The Bottle Shed

Another great logo designed by The Upright One

The Inn on The Green (IOTG) has been named the Birmingham CAMRA Pub of the Year for the last two years, largely down to its great selection of beers and friendly, community focused environment; so we were excited to hear they were turning their hand to creating a bottle shop…or a Bottle Shed.

“Even though the shed is technically a different business to IOTG, it is a complement to the pub, if there isn’t something that takes your fancy on the bar, I’m sure the shed will have something for you, or visa-versa.”

The three key people behind The Bottle Shed are IOTG landlord; Brendon, General Manager; Ross Lang, and Rambo.  As you can see, Rambo is a silent partner, so we posed some questions to Brendon and Ross to find out more about their plans.

Silent Partner, Rambo

For our first question we asked what was their epiphany beer, the one that turned it from being just another drink, to a passion.

Brendon – “My first epiphany craft beer was Brooklyn East India IPA, and I remember it well as I had it when I arrived in Chicago on 9/11 waking up the horrific devastation that took place that day.”

Ross – “My epiphany beer is Brodies London Fields Pale Ale. As soon as I drank it I knew that ale was my future.”
With a very successful pub already under their belt we wanted to know why they wanted to take on the extra work and stress of The Bottle Shed, with its bottle and taps.
“We opened the Shed because of a love of good beer and to push the Birmingham craft beer scene forward.”
Ask the team what their taps were in a previous life?
The shop is stocked with beer from local breweries, beers from great British breweries and beers from further afield including the States.   We wanted to know how they made the decisions of which beers to stock:
“We choose the beers we sell by trying to keep our finger on the pulse. Continually seeing what people are talking about and what is getting people excited. Also if we see something we’ve never heard off we will look into that beer or brewery and see if it’s a worth us following up.”
We had the chance to visit The Bottle Shed on its opening night, and along with drinking beer I was transfixed by the retro gaming, ticking off two of my favourite things, gaming and beer.
“The uniqueness of The Bottle Shed is the whole ethos. It’s a bottle shop and more. The retro games really add a different dimension and it’s great seeing people laughing and joking as Pac-Man gets caught by a ghost. We have a laid back atmosphere, no hard sell. Just a comfortable experience.”
I now know I am rubbish at Pac-Man (but that could have been the beer) but I am still a dab-hand at Galatron.
The Bottle Shed has been open for a few months now, and is proving popular, but what are the future plans for Rambo and his work pals?
“Our future plans are to expand the size of the shed while also keeping the range of beer at a desirable level. We don’t want to sell the mediocre, we want the best of the best.”
If you haven’t visited The Bottle Shed, this weekend provides you with a great reason: Why not pop along to the IOTG beer festival, starting today (13th April) and running through to the 16th April.
“The quarterly festivals are always well received and this will be the 2nd time that The Bottle Shed is involved. We will have 20 cask beers on handpull and stillage, 7 keg beers, 300+ bottles and live music from the likes off Steve Ajao.”
“All the beers will be awesome, from the likes of Siren, Cloudwater, Howling Hops and more, but we don’t want to give too much away.”
You can find The Inn on The Green & The Bottle Shed in Acocks Green.  It has great transport links, with Acocks Green Train station nearby and sits on the 11 bus route.

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…

Quick City Guide – Leeds – March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Women’s Day Brew – 8th March 2017

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

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.

Siren Q&A @ Beer Gonzo 2 March 2017

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

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.