Category: Beer

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.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Birmingham Beer Profiles-Lone Wolf is Lone No More

We have said before that Jewellery Quarter is the place to be for independent businesses, especially beer business.  The Lord Clifden, The Church & Rose Villa Taverns have been joined by The Gunmakers Arms, 1000 Trades and Pig & Tail over the last year or so.  To this group, you can now add Lone Wolf

Brother and Sister duo Josh & Sallie, Birmingham natives, have spent much of their working life managing pubs in the thriving centre of London, and witnessed the growth of the exciting London Beer Scene.  As they worked in a managed estate they had limited choice on the beers they could bring in, but jumped at any opportunity to bring in a beer from some of the exciting new breweries popping up across the capital, including Kernel, Beavertown and Camden Town among others.

After becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of choice and freedom, in 2015 they made the decision to return home to Birmingham, with the plan to open their own independent venue.  They looked at a number of venues, and did investigate the possibility of opening a venue in Birmingham City Centre.  Unfortunately they ran in to an all too familiar problem, one we have heard regularly, as they found the cost to be prohibitive.  While they waited to find the right place, they kept themselves busy by getting reacquainted with the Birmingham scene, and also supported The Button Factory with their opening.

When they decided on the venue they choose 2-10 Constitution Hill, part of the Bismillah Building Buiding.  It is within easy walking distance of both St.Chads and St.Pauls Tram line and many buses travel down Consitution Hill on their way to their eventual destination.  It is also close to The Gunmaker Arms, The Church and Burning Soul Brewery Tap if you are thinking of adding them to a crawl.

Their focus is on quality local products with coffee provided by Quarter House, pies, cheese and charcuterie provided by a company from Wolverhampton, and fresh bread from just around corner at Peel & Stone.  They opened with three keg lines, but have since increased to ten, with a focus on great local beers and quality beers from further afield.  Their plans for the future include Meet the Brewer events, as well as art shows and musical performances.

We have been really impressed with the community focused venues opening in Birmingham, such as 1000 Trades and now Lone Wolf, or as will now have to be known as ‘The Wolf’.

After being open for a few weeks Josh & Sallie received a Cease and Desist letter from the Beer Punks themselves Brewdog.  Brewdog are in the process of opening their own distillery, which they have chosen to call Lone Wolf…

We are not able to discuss the legal specifics, but the approach taken by Brewdog seems distinctly lacking in any Punk sensibility as they have chosen to use their superior size to force a change, at extra cost, to an independent venue.  Josh & Sallie have decided to make the best of the situation, and are planning a relaunch event, a Lone Wolf no more, as they become The Wolf.  We will keep you update on their plans in our weekly newsletter.

Sacre Brew Guided Beer Tasting – 11th February 2017


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…