Category: Beer

The Hop Garden – A Rebirth in Harborne

What a difference 3 months makes! The last time I visited The Hop Garden it was still , in name anyway, The Sportsman and had the remains of its tired furniture and sporting memorabilia and if I remember rightly Brendon was swinging a sledgehammer!

This visit could not be more different – Brendon had a cup of tea for a start rather than a demolition tool! The interior has been completely transformed with reclaimed materials such as pallets, floorboards and salvage lighting to give a cosy welcoming feel from the moment you walk in.

The first thing you see is the completely renovated bar. 5 permanent taps remain (currently serving 2 lagers, a fruit beer and a cider) however there are now 5 cask hand pulls, 7 craft beer taps and 5 cider taps (including a mulled one for the winter). It was great to see some Burning Soul beers on both cask and keg (as well as other local heroes Fownes in the well-stocked bottle fridge).

Above the bar is the electronic tap list with the scrolling Untappd check-in feature along the bottom (I for one love waiting to see my check-in appear – silly I know but sometimes it’s the simple things!). I like this set up as it keeps the tap area clear and allows the staff to keep the boards updated quickly and simply.

I sat down with Brendon on one of the sharing tables and we started off talking about the journey he’d been on with the pub over the last few months. One of the biggest challenges to get to the opening night (30th November) was the level of damp throughout the pub not least in the cellar. Brendon told me they’ve had to completely replaster that as well as a number of areas in the bar itself. In fact the damp has still been causing a few issues with the electrics causing the pub to be plunged into darkness multiple times last Saturday as the packed crowd on the Crimbo Crawl were enjoying their beers – apparently no one seemed to mind, beer makes everything bearable after all! The good news is that the electrics have now been sorted so everyone can enjoy their beer in the light from now on.

We moved on to talk about the plans for the New Year and especially the plans for the garden area. In 2 weeks’ time the plans will be finalised and sent for approval with the aim to complete the work by the end of April. There will be a 40ft communal table and a new entrance to the garden directly from the cut through next to Marks & Spencers. Access will be available to the kitchen, via a hatch, where the plan is to have different pop ups every weekend over the summer as well as a separate bar and a coffee machine. Brendon also said that there is a plan to enclose the area nearest the pub during the winter to allow ‘the outside in’ even in the colder months (with heaters of course!). Another exciting element of the garden will be the hops that will be planted in December – these will establish next year and who knows maybe even give a small harvest in September. To tie in with the opening of the garden the pub will have its first beer festival with 40 beers on both keg and cask – we’ll update the blog calendar once we get the dates!

I asked Brendon what kind of feedback he’d been getting in the few days he’d been open. He said they’ve already had a lot of 5* reviews on Facebook and that the locals had been interested to see the transformation of the pub and commented on the addition to the scene saying “Harborne is now on the map with 2 new beer houses” (The Hop Garden and Paper Duck). It was also great to see that the pub is dog friendly (as is Paper Duck) with fresh water and treats provided for your four legged companions.

We talked a little more about the future and the type of events Brendon has planned. He told me the first meet the brewer event will be on 8th February with not one but 2 breweries in attendance – Hopcraft and Waen. He said that he wants the pub to “have lots of strings to its bow” with meet the brewers, bottle tastings and shares and film nights in the garden. He also told me that they’ve set aside an area in the pub and are looking for local artists to create a piece of work to hang there. Entry for this will begin in the New Year with the requirement to have created the piece from reclaimed materials. The winner (judged by panel) will receive £200 and the pub will get a unique piece of art.

Brendon is keen for the pub to be a real hub in the community attracting not just beer aficionados but social groups and artists as well. In addition, and to support this community feel, he is looking for a local charity that the pub can support in 2018 – any ideas pop in and let him know!

My visit was quite brief this time but it was great to see the transformation that has taken place, due mainly to Brendon’s hard work and commitment. I’ll definitely be back to try out a few more beers and I’m sure in the summer the lovely garden is going to become a staple for any visit to Harborne. Pop along, enjoy the beer and support a new local gem.

Twisted Barrel – The Next Chapter

My ladies’ beer group, Brum Beer Babs, have been invited to brew at Twisted Barrel in January with beer sommelier and writer Melissa Cole so to start the planning process I popped over to Coventry to talk to owner/head brewer Ritchie Bosworth. Whilst I was there I took the opportunity of talking to him, his wife, director, Jen and brewer Carl Marshall about the new, expanded, tap room and brewery.

The original brewery and tap room opened at Fargo Village in June 2015 with a brewing capacity of 6BL and 3 fermentation vessels. It soon became a very popular destination with the taproom being filled to capacity on many weekends and evenings. Jen told me they seriously started to think about moving in the spring of 2016 driven by a need to expand the brewery size and increase the storage space. Not wanting to leave Fargo they found a furniture shop that had its lease up in July 2016. The owner, however, did not decide that they wanted to vacate it until the autumn and in the meantime had split the unit into 2. It was at that point that the planning and raising funds began.

Early in 2017 they applied to Funding Circle, having decided against the crowdfunding route favoured by some other breweries. However their application was not successful so it was back to the drawing board. They then heard of the Coventry and Warwickshire Reinvestment Trust who are a non-profit organisation that support businesses in the area. They submitted their business plan, attended interviews and finally found out that they had been successful in securing the maximum amount of funding. It was all systems go for the move! Jen told me that when she got the call and told Ritchie it was “the happiest moment of this year”.

Work began to totally gut and refit the old furniture shop as a working brewery and vastly expanded tap room. They certainly had their work cut out with a floor space 4 times the size of the old unit and the capacity to hold three times as many people. Of course all this work had to go on hand in hand with brewing and running the tap room in the old unit.

The doors of the new, 24 tap, tap room opened on the 13th October with the new fermentation vessels (they now have a total of 5 including one double size) arriving on 17th and the existing brewing kit moving from the old unit on the 18th. Ritchie told me they’ve brewed 9 beers in 3 weeks with their core stout ‘God’s Twisted Sister’ being the first. “It’s weird to be brewing so prolifically” he said.

We moved on to talk about the plans for the brewery including their new can range (canned on site by Them That Can) which should be launched later this month. Ritchie told me that all of the 9 beers brewed so far have either gone into cask or can. This is another benefit of the new unit in that they now have space for a cask washer and will move to use ecask for many beers going forward as in the past they have not been able to keep up with the demand for cask. They will still do keg but as Ritchie says “some beers suit cask and we’ll take advantage of that. Some taste better in cask so let’s not ignore that and get them in casks”. With the move to cans I asked Ritchie if they planned to move away from bottling. He told me that in the past this has all been done by hand and that not all their beers are suited to bottles “it’s a case of what is the best way to showcase the beers”. In general if it works well on keg then it’s going to work well in a can. The core range going into 440 ml cans (since we agreed 330ml is not enough and 500ml is too much!) are those beers which are both sessionable and sell well – Great Went, Sine Qua Non, Detroit Sour City and Naido. These will be joined by monthly specials of a new NEIPA – with each one having a different dominant hop. Bottles will still figure in the range but it could be as larger ‘special editions’ with more focus on Belgian styles.

Whilst enjoying a delicious Naido from the bar we talked about what the coming months have in store. Once their licence comes through they plan to have live music in the bar along with quizzes, speakers, film & TV nights. The bar itself will champion up and coming breweries with a definite focus on local stars “we’re not about the latest Cloudwater beer, are you a new brewer then we want you on the bar, that’s what excites me” Ritchie explained.

Another new feature will be the kitchen takeovers the first being this Sunday (19th) by Vegan Grindhouse. These pop ups will continue for one day once a month, of course with all food being vegan. I also found out that there are plans for ‘break even’ nights, bottle shares and brewery showcases for up and coming brewers.

Not content with their new tap room and brewery I also got the scoop that on 28th July next year they will host their first vegan beer fest in conjunction with Fat Gay Vegan. The event will take place in the Boxx at Fargo Village and consist of 24 lines of vegan beer along with some top vegan food to soak up the beer!

There was a lovely friendly, chilled atmosphere in the bar during my visit with a great mix of young and old, families and couples and even a dog or two. I’d like to thank Ritchie, Jen and Carl for the great chat and wish them all the very best in this new location. I’d also encourage people to go and seek out this great local gem that is not only boosting Fargo Village but the whole of Coventry. I am looking forward to our brew day even more now!

MBBC On Tour – New Belgium Brewery, Fort Collins, Colorado

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Colorado was our two visits to the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins. On the advice of Matt Curtis we made sure we booked the free 90 minute tour well in advance, but due to quite convoluted circumstances we were able to meet up with Steve Wood whose title is National Sales Ranger Trainer a couple of days later. First up though was our tour with Morgan of the 4th largest craft brewery in the USA which began with a brief history along with the first beer taster, a Belgian dubbel. The brewery sort of started in a basement with Jeff Lebesch beginning to homebrew in the mid 80s due to his finding not much flavour in the mainstream beers available in the US…a story we have heard before. He wanted to brew a Belgian style beer but hadn’t actually had one so decided to take his next vacation over there. Realising that drinking strong Belgian beer and driving wouldn’t be a great mix he took his fat tired bike with him along with a journal to document the beers and any ideas he had. His beer epiphany occurred in the great beer city of Bruges where he came up with a recipe idea and couldn’t wait to get home to start brewing it. That first beer was a version of the Abbey ale that we had a taster of on the tour, and the second was an amber style that became their

The original brewki

iconic Fat Tire. At this point the brewery was still in the basement and he was still just giving it to family and friends because he couldn’t legally sell it, so in the early 90’s his wife Kim stepped in and got them a brewing licence. For 2 more years they kept their full time jobs before taking the plunge in 1995, opening up in the current Fort Collins location which, due to a growth in business, expanded in 2001. In 1997 they were one of the first breweries to start collecting wine barrels and 2 years later they released the first ever sour beer in the USA, a Flanders style red. Morgan explained that for their sours they use 2 base beers, Oscar, a dark lager, and Felix, a Golden Ale. At this point on the tour we had a sample of the latest version of said beer, La Folie (Lips of Faith) (2017), which went down better than expected (I’m not a huge sour fan). Morgan carried on with the story, being particularly taken by how, as the new millennium started and with business  going well, Kim was delivering kegs to local bars and sometimes getting more sales than certain bigger brands.

By now we were beginning to get an idea of the size of the brewery, it’s a huge operation, running 24/7 with 35 brewers working in shifts on different production lines. I was also taken aback by some of the figures, for example the huge fermenting vessels that we could see outside held the equivalent of 470,000 bottles of beer. The bottling line itself fills 714 a minute which is the equivalent of a 12 pack every second…phew! Time for another beer, a kettle soured beer called Tartastic that was pretty fresh having been bottled about 45 minutes earlier.


One of the most interesting things for us was hearing about how the company operates in relation to the staffing and the surrounding community. The core values have remained important along with the need to make money because they are a business after all. With Kim being a social worker she always had a strong desire to make sure that the staff were well looked after which probably accounts for the current 93% retention rate. Ever since their beginnings the bike has always had a strong role in the brewery identity, and after 1 year at the company every employee gets the gift of a new fat tire bike with each year’s design being different. After 5 years there is an all expenses trip to Belgium to discover a bit more about the origins of the company, and after 10 you get a 1 month paid sabbatical. This could explain why they are ranked as one of the top 30 companies in the USA to work for. They are also very environmentally conscious with 99.9% of their waste diverted from landfill, provide 18% of their own solar electricity, and have an onsite water treatment plant that provides 220 gallons of water to the cities households each day. By now we were coming to the end of the tour and had our last beer from a can overlooking the canning line which only does 320 a minute. This was Dayblazer, a 4.8% golden ale brewed to appeal to the Bud and Miller market and which I’m sure will go down well at the The New Belgium Porch, a purpose built bar and party deck at the new Colorado State University stadium – up the Rams! It had been a good tour, Morgan was a great guide being both informative and funny and the 90 minutes flew by…the only thing left to do was have a seat at the bar and sample a few more beers.


Two days later we were back to chat with Steve who has been working for the company for 18 years, having worked for a distributor of imported beers before that. He introduced us to Patrick who has been a brewer there for 17 years and is part of the team of 35 who work in shifts to keep production going. He had just finished his 6 – 2 shift but was gracious enough to give us a more in depth behind the scenes tour. We started in Brewhouse One where the mash tun, kettle etc were on a slightly larger scale than I am used to and I was surprised to learn that with a lot of the core beers they mash for just 30 minutes before emptying out the tun, rinsing it and then going again with the same beer so they can do many batches a day. We were shown the yeast propagation lab where 2 young female interns were being taught before moving onto the barrel room. We’d already had some background on this with Morgan but we were able to chat with Ted, a young brewer, about the huge wine barrels that are used for souring and blending the beers, hear the story of how their first American Oak barrel was won during a bowling game in Missouri, and have a sample of a cherry sour straight from the wood so to speak – it was delicious. The beers are all aged for a minimum of a year and tested constantly to see how they are developing. We got a glimpse of Lauren Salazar down there who is responsible for the blending along with making sure all the beers that are brewed there are the best they can be with her daily tasting tests in the sensory lab.

Next we popped in to view the pilot brew system which was on a more recognisable scale and were given a couple of samples from the FVs. All the staff are encouraged to get involved if they want with experimentation being welcome, although Dave who is in charge of acquisitions said there are sometimes problems when they upscale in terms of getting the quantities of ingredients required. Finally came one of the most fascinating aspects of the tour, going onto the floor of the bottling and canning line, some of which was too much for my tiny mind to comprehend such as the labelling which was being done so fast you couldn’t really see it. The whole process from the start when the flat 6-pack boxes are made up to the laser sensor which checks the bottles are full to the same level was fun to see. And cheers to Steve for letting us grab a pretty fresh beer off the line when it was safe to do so…We also picked up a can of Old Aggie, a Superior Lager that was brewed for the aforementioned CSU football team, which I have been introducing to iconic landmarks (check @davhop72 for pictures).

All in all it was a fascinating experience and a bit of an eye opener to see craft beer brewed on such a scale. The beers are not readily available over here but if you are on vacation in the States, or are visiting Colorado, then I recommend giving them a try.


Fownes Brewing Company at 5!


Dwarfen brewers Tom and James Fownes of the Fownes Brewing Company are proving Gimli, from Lord of the Rings, wrong when he says that Dwarves are only good over short distances.  As they are approaching their 5th birthday I asked them a few questions about the history of the brewery, the future and what we can expect at their Quinquennial celebrations.

It’s your 5th birthday time flies!  Tell me about the history of the brewery, how you started and where you are now?

As with most of life’s great adventures, the Fownes Brewing Company began not with salad but down the pub. Ironically at the pub we would find ourselves brewing out the back of!

We were about six pints in to the night when one of us declared the beer we were currently drinking was a bit thin and lacking. Obviously the answer was that, of course, we could do better! James also stipulated it should be a Dwarfen Brewery.

Now bear in mind we’d never even done any home brewing at this point, but we were ‘men of science’, it must be possible!

I’m sure many people have had similar conversations like that down the pub. The difference here was when James called me the next morning to remind me of this great idea we’d had down the pub. I dutifully replied that we had been quite drunk when having said revelation.

Sadly for me, James was rather unhappy in his then profession of teaching and was looking for a change of career. I was quite happy being a poor music journalist, but somehow got dragged along on this adventure to become a poor brewer instead!

So with nothing but a few books and some thirty litre all grain brew kit, we began what has so far been a seven year long attempt to become millionaires through brewing.

It’s all got rather out of hand since then. In the July of 2012 we sold our first cask, 9 gallons of Frost Hammer, to Rob at the Jolly Crispin, and 3 months later we finished refurbing the current brewery building out the back of the same said pub and moved in with our then current 100 litre tower kit.

In the 5 years since we sold that first cask we’ve upgraded our kit again, now at 600 litres and, hopefully, once we’ve relocated to new premises, will be upgrading again.

What have been some of the highs and lows in this time?

We’ll start with the lows. The thing that sucks the most being a brewer is when something goes wrong and you have to ditch a whole batch. We’ve been quite fortunate in that respect as I count on my fingers the times it’s happened, and that’s out of probably close to 500 brews.

The highs have been many and varied. From winning our first beer festival award, to our first regional award, to just getting to go out and meet people who enjoy the product we make.

The biggest high we’ve experienced in 2017 was the success of a crowdfunding campaign we ran to fund our new range of bottled beers. Around 90 people chose to Belong with the Dwarfs, providing money in exchange for beer. It was a humbling experience to see how many people loved what we are doing.

What are the plans for the Dwarves for the next 5 years?

Move, expand, grow, be more awesome!  From these four things should flow a better life for our families and the community that we want to build around our business.

And finally hat can people expect at your birthday party on 22nd Oct?

The best party of the year! We love throwing our birthday party, it’s a chance to get to know new fans and spend time with existing ones we might not get to see as often as we like. Financially it’s normally not a good day for us because we spend so much money on making it the best party we can. I mean where else can you get a glass, a t-shirt, a bottle of beer, live wrestling and professional storytelling AND access to our latest beers for under £15? Mad!

If you haven’t already got your tickets for the party what are you waiting for?  Follow this link to a great afternoon and see you there!

Me and Tom at the Beer Bazaar earlier this year.

Can We Go Dutch – What Can We Learn from Dutch Beer Festivals

I’m not sure if there’s a word for this (Dutch-o-phile, perhaps?) but I’m a big fan of anything to do with the Netherlands.

From the ‘I saw a mouse!’ song of my childhood to my current status as fan-girl and unofficial cheerleader for Dutch breweries.

Suffice to say I am biased when I say this but…Dutch beer festivals are better than UK beer festivals.

Admittedly the sample size isn’t large enough for me to say this with any scientific certainty -although believe me, I am working on that – but there is a chilled, laid back air to festivals in the Netherlands that you rarely see in the UK.

For one thing, it appears that across the North Sea being drunk is seen almost as an unfortunate side-effect of beer rather than the raison d’etre of many British drinkers. Families (babies and small children are a common site at Dutch beer festivals) gather around stodgy picnics of sausage, bread, cheese and bananas to stave off drunkenness for as long as possible. That’s not to say every UK festival degenerates into the blood-splattered carnage I’ve witnessed at CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival and London Craft Beer Festival, or that that I’ve not seen soon-to-be regretted excesses at the PINT Bokbierfestival in Amsterdam’s Beurs van Berlage.

A few weeks ago, I decided to test my theory at Brouwerij de Molen annual Borefts festival in Bogegraven, South Holland. Trying my hardest to cast a critical eye over what I believe to be the best festival in the world serving the best beer in the world (see told you I was biased), I spotted families with prams, pet dogs sitting under tables, picnics, camaraderie and locals handing out flyers to encourage festival goers to venture out of the brewery and visit the nearby town. Admittedly, there was a smattering of rowdiness later in the day but that was decidedly low level considering most beers hovered above the 8% mark with a couple of notable big-hitters – De Molen’s 21.3% Hel & Verdoemenis Bowmore Barrel Aged IJsbock and Brouwerij Kees 26% Ijbock 2017 Oloroso BA – moving the average ABV upwards.

De Molen’s Menno Oliver told me that Borefts wasn’t typical of all Dutch festivals, he put its friendly atmosphere down to three things:

“We give people lots of space here, there’s no music and people come from all around the world – it’s more like a gathering of friends than a beer festival”.

He’s right of course, Borefts is as much about the destination as the drinking: there were 7,000 visitors from 40 countries; a map displayed by the main entrance shows visitors from across Europe and as far afield as the US and New Zealand. This makes the festival goers slightly older and certainly more intent on remembering the festival than if they’d just popped down the road for a beer blitz.

But I still maintain that there’s something about Dutch festivals that is all together more welcoming. Despite some obvious shortcomings, this summer’s Planet Oedipus (£30 a pint homebrew anyone?) is a case in point: not least because it took place at an urban farm in the suburbs of Amsterdam. Laid out like a cross between music festival and a village fete it radiated inclusivity and cool vibes. As with Borefts, the stands were manned by the breweries, if not the brewer themselves.

So what can we learn from Dutch beer festivals?

  • Give people the option of smaller measures;
  • Have more brewers and breweries serving their own beers;
  • Encourage people to bring their own food to help ward-off drunkenness;
  • Make the environment welcoming and, if possible, family-friendly;
  • Give people space.

In the meantime, I’m readying myself for this month’s Bockbierfestival. Pass me a small glass of 8 % beer and a chunk of gouda, I’m determined to master that confident, chilled, Dutch vibe…

World Mental Health Day – Beer with Buddies

Tuesday 10th October is World Mental Health Day and the theme is Tea & Talk. People are being encouraged to get togther and talk mental health, share experiences and/or raise awareness with the hope of making it an easier topic to talk about.

Mental Health is still not an easy topic to talk about, especially amongst men, with suicide being one of the major killers of men. According to Samaratians latest figure the numbers of female suicide per year are also showing an increase.

These figures show the need to talk openly without fear and judgement about our mental health. I have read some thoughtful and powerful blogs from beer bloggers that I highly recommend reading including Mark Johnson, Pete McKerry and Jim Cullen.

The beer scene itself has had a major impact on my own mental health as I have made some great friends, many of whom I believe will be lifetime friends, and people I can be open and honest about my mental health struggles.

This is where my clumsy alliteration comes in. For World Mental Health Day why not contact a buddy to go for a beer and chat, I’m not saying go and get drunk, but a chat with a friend while sipping on a Session IPA may be just what you or your friends needs.

Then do it again, not just on World Mental Health Day, but make chatting with friends about your struggles and your victories a normal occurance. We all have mental health, and nearly everyone has periods of poor mental health, so it should be normal to talk about it.

The alliteration aside (and who doesn’t love a bit of alliteration) you don’t need a beer or tea, or any beverage…just talk. Perhaps World Mental Health Day can just be the start.

Brum Beer Profiles- The Paper Duck

Three friends, two venues and lots of great beer.

A little over a year ago I took a walk up to The Custard Factory to find out a little more about the new beer venue that seemingly appeared from nowhere.  We chatted to the three friends about their plans for Clink.

A year later, a few expansions, and lots more beer, those three friends are now opening their second venue, this time joining The Sportsman/The Hop Garden in Harborne.

Some serious work has gone into the The Paper Duck, to convert the old shop into a contemporary beer venue with a focus on great, British beer.  The guys have brought in the experienced and passionate Neil Hemus to manage the space.  To ensure the beer is always at its best they will have 18 lines beer and have invested in a expertly fitted Cold Store by Jolly Good Beer.

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It has been a real pleasure to watch the development of this project from the beginning, to looking around around at the soft launch.  The excitement and passion from the team at The Paper Duck in infectious,  they even got me excited about a fridge (an expertly fitted giant magical beer fridge granted).  I have no doubt this venue will be a success.

What these three friends have achieved in such a short space of time is very impressive, and we are sure both Clink and The Paper Duck will go from strength to strength (the latter will soon be adding a Beer Garden, so lots of outdoor drinking in Harborne).  The Paper Duck is a very welcome addition to the Birmingham Beer Scene, and we look forward to what comes next.

*Full disclosure – Our very own Dave Hopkins will be one of bartenders serving your beer from time to time.  I wonder if he has an obsession with Ducks?

People in Glasshouses….Glasshouse Brewing Co

On Friday 8th September Josh Hughes pretty much completed the ‘circle of beer’ (apologies Lion King fans) when he hosted a tap takeover and meet the brewer for his own brewery, Glasshouse Brewing Co, where his beer journey started in Brewdog Birmingham.

I managed to grab the newest brewer on the block and ask him some questions about where he’s come from, where he is now and where he’s headed. Here’s what I learnt…

I started out by asking Josh how it had all started and he told me he’d joined the Brewdog team in June 2012 and worked at the bar for four and a half years. During that time, at James Watt’s request, he spent some time brewing on the pilot kit up at Brewdog HQ in Ellon. The big catalyst was then giving his homebrew to James and the way that not only he reacted but the whole company. “It sent a shockwave through the company” that someone in one of their bars could be brewing beer to that standard. James even said that trying this homebrew was the highlight of his time working in the bar in Birmingham!

The other thing to come out of this encounter was Josh and Neil Hemus starting the homebrew club with Josh being the sole organiser after Neil Hemus moved on. He told me that Brewdog had really wanted him to stay up in Ellon but he found the process too automated and that he wanted to get his hands dirty – that’s what brewing means to him. So that’s how Glasshouse was born.

They started on October 21st 2016 in a greenhouse in Kings Heath and if you’re wondering how the brewery got its name it’s all thanks to Josh’s niece who said “are you in the brewery today? You’re in the glasshouse brewery” and Glasshouse Beer Co. was born!

After getting set up from October the first beer was released in March this year and that’s when the brewery is really counting its birthday (so look out for celebrations next March!).

We moved on then to talk more about the brewery itself and their general ethos. Glasshouse is pretty much just Josh, he does all the recipe development and is the head brewer. He’s also assisted by Callum Marnock who’s been part of the team from the start. They are currently brewing on a one barrel kit, but a five and half barrel kit will be operational early in November with 20 barrels worth of fermentation vessels and at least one bright tank (maybe 2). The plan is to move away from keg and bottle conditioning to forced carbonation, the reason for this is to ensure the consistency of the beer. Josh told me though that they now plan to cease bottling for 2 reasons one “it’s a pain in the arse” and secondly once the new kit is up and running they’re moving into canning.

Me with Josh and Julie

I asked Josh about the breweries approach to styles and having a core range of beers as I’ve noticed that there are only a couple of his beers I’ve had more than once. “We’ve adopted a real Kernel and Cloudwater approach to experimentation. Not weighing ourselves down with a core range”. He said that he hates the labelling of beer with it having to be defined as one style or another “it’s so much more than that. I don’t like the distinction of west coast or east coast pales for example. If you want to brew a dank juicy IPA with loads of flaked oats –giving a juicy body and clean finish then go for it” There are lots of people doing this at the moment and he cited a few idols such as Deya, Verdant and Cloudwater. However he did say that sometimes he finds their beers too sweet, and since he’s a committed “hop fiend” he wants to show off the hops. He told me that he “spends time on the malt bill, so the hops can shine through. If it’s an IPA the hops should be at the front of the beer.”. Of course it can’t all be about the hops so the chocolate milk stout and, the frankly delicious, Me Julie shows they are not a one trick pony.

I moved on to ask Josh why we weren’t seeing so much of his beer around at the moment. It’s all down to his high levels of quality control “as the head brewer I have had to ensure the CO2 levels, the hop flavour over time and the way the flavour profile matures are all measured and controlled. I’ve kept stock back looking at it with a longer view.” Sometimes this has gone wrong and he’s held it back too long but that allows for the setting of a realistic best before date and will help with proper stock rotation once it gets to the bars. He also said this gives a baseline for the move to the big kit. “Ensuring that when the beer is released it’s at its optimum freshness, and that the flavour and aroma profile and CO2 levels are all perfect”.

He told me how his current role working at Clink has actually helped him with this quality control process “launching at Clink gets me unbiased feedback on the beer, 99.9% of the people drinking there don’t know I’m Glasshouse so I get unfiltered feedback direct from the customers”. He said

“It’s an ongoing research and development, it’s an ongoing discipline there is always something you can learn”.

I for one am really excited about the beers I’ve tried so far as well and the real passion and knowledge Josh displays for his craft.

I’ve got an invite to go and visit the brewery once the new kit is all up and running so watch this space for an update nearer the end of the year.

Spotlight on Punchline

Have you ever sat around with a group of friends in a pub and as the beers flowed discussed what it would be like to open your own brewery? Well for one such group it went further than a drunken discussion…We’ll come to the back story of Andy, James, Lisa, Louise and Richard in a bit but our introduction to them came on the afternoon of Saturday July 22nd when Deb and I caught the tram out to Priestfields to check out one of the newest breweries on the West Midlands block, Punchline. We knew they had taken over the premises and kit formerly owned by Gwen Sanchirico of Sacre Brew – check out previous posts here and here This was their first chance to meet local drinkers and gauge some reaction to the work they have been doing for the last few months, and I think it is safe to say the reaction took them by surprise. Whilst we were there there was always a queue at the bar of drinkers of both sexes and all ages, and at one point they had to start labelling up bottles as the supply in the fridge had run out. They had 2 beers they were serving on draft, Why the Long Face, an IPA & No Eye Deer, a saison. These were complimented by 3 in bottles, Dyathinkhesaurus, an imperial porter, Sunburnt Penguin witbier, and The Other Side, a black ipa, and they ranged in abv from 6.1% to 7.7%. Between us we sampled all 5 and thoroughly enjoyed them and were pleased to see via Untappd that many others agreed. We managed to snatch brief conversations with a couple of them as things began to wind down but decided to meet at a later date for an informal chat about their beginnings. And so over a few beers in the Wolf at the end of August I dug into their history with Andy, Louise, Richard and Lisa. They described themselves as very keen drinkers whose friendship goes back a long way, Richard having known Andy from the age of 8, and they still have regular Friday night meet ups in Wednesfield where some of them are based. The first thing that I found surprising, and which they had touched on at the open day, is that none of them had been involved in the drinks trade in the past, or had done any form of home brewing (although volunteers Alastair & Lisa who were keen home brewers were onboard from the beginning). The latter had been talked about as something they were going to start doing, and that was when the name Punchline had been originally bandied about, but then an opportunity knocked as they say. James was the one who had the original connection to Gwen and she had actually helped with a 50th birthday meal when she cooked an 8 course meal with 8 of her beers to go with it. And then in January of this year she announced she was selling up, but wanted the whole brewery to go to kindred spirits who would carry on brewing in the space rather than selling off the equipment in bits and pieces. Thus came the drunken idea to buy the brewery between them with no experience. So they went and helped Gwen out at the brewery, did a collaboration brew with her, a golden ale called Fenrir 14/48 Transatlantic Beer and then learnt everything they could in the months leading up to her returning to the USA. And then it was time to start brewing on the 240 litre, 4 FV brewing kit with all the beer being brewed, kegged, bottled and labelled on the premises. Since there were 5 of them they picked the aforementioned 5 different styles saying this was partly based on their differing tastes since, for instance, Andy is not really a fan of hoppy beers and prefers the dark side, whereas Richard is a more hops the better kind of guy. With the name Punchline decided upon it came time to find a name for the beers and a design look. To do this they went to The Studio Group, a Wolverhampton-based design agency, taking with them a clear idea of simple, bold colourful designs and a lot of bad jokes.
And then it came time to let the public decide, and as mentioned above the reception was good on their open day. The first customer actually knocked the door a while before they opened and bought 12 bottles of each beer and they were still buzzing about the whole, slightly exhausting experience a few weeks later when we met them. They said about a third of the people that turned up were friends and colleagues but the rest were a mix of supporters of Gwen, local beer drinkers, and the curious. Since then they have had success at the Beer Envy stall at the Lichfield food Festival where they sold out, and placed a selection of beers in the Hungry Bistro in Wolverhampton City Centre. And now comes the next stage with their brewing procedures – and the kit itself – evolving; the fermentation room has been upgraded and there are plans to gradually upgrade the kit.
We had now come to that time of the evening to kick back and just chat about various beery adventures we’d all been on and ask the epiphany beer question: Andy and Louise (who share a love of strong, dark, continental beers) are in complete agreement on this: De Molen’s Bordeaux barrel-aged Bommen & Granaten. The beer has inspired a now annual pilgrimage to the brewery’s Borefts Beer Festival. As for Richard and Lisa, well Richard is a simple soul, liking anything with plenty of hops, in fact the hoppier the better, he said “I don’t really have an outright favourite, I’m lucky to have the Vine in Wednesfield as my local so there is always a great range of my style of beers on, difficult to pick just one” Lisa isn’t the biggest of drinkers anyway, but prefers a lighter style of ale, again nothing specific.
We ended our meet up wishing them the best of luck in the future because although these first few months have been a lot of hard work they are determined to still have fun and live up to their tag line – Seriously good beer. #No joke.

New Balls Please! The Sportsman becomes The Hop Garden – Harborne

The Sportsman in Harborne is tucked away off the High Street next to the M&S car park. I have to admit I’ve driven past it many times without giving it a second glance but when I heard that Brendon Daly, owner/director of the Inn on the Green/Bottle Shed in Acocks Green, was taking it over I was intrigued.

Brendon invited me over to have a look at the pub as it is, with some renovations already underway, and I have to say I was impressed. It’s not huge inside but it has some great areas and some really nice features. I particularly liked an area slightly separated off on the right of the bar that would make a great area for bottle shares and meet the brewer events. One of the big selling points is the garden. It’s a nice, big open space and Brendon plans to grow hops where the current children’s sand pit is located and this is where the pub will get its new name The Hop Garden.

When I visited Brendon was removing plasterboard from the walls to expose the brickwork, he had also taken up the carpet and removed the seating from around the walls. The plan is to have long tables around the room and give it a much more cosy feel rather than the pastel shades it has now.

The main area as you come into the pub is great with a large fireplace and a stone slab floor and this is the area that leads you straight to the bar. In addition to the physical changes a new logo has been designed by local designer The Upright One who has, among many other things, done work for lots of local breweries and created our logo. This updated design will be a big part of the re-branding of the pub and reflect the revamped interior.

So let’s move onto the plans for the bar itself – the current 4 cask lines will be extended to 5 and a large new keg dispense will be installed at the back of the bar with 7 beer and 5 cider lines. In addition there will be a large bottle fridge to drink in or take away. Brendon told me he plans it to be a hybrid of the Inn on the Green and The Bottle Shed. There is also a kitchen on site and the slightly longer term plan is to have pop ups in there. To begin with simpler food will be served with maybe some pop ups at the weekends.

We discussed the location of the pub as it’s not on the busy High Street but in some ways we agreed this was a good thing. There are a lot of great pubs in Harborne and having this one just out of the way will make it more of a destination and certainly with the focus on beer and the planned events, such as meet the brewer and tap takeovers, it will be different to the other venues in the village.

Of course the garden will be a big draw but as we are coming to the end of the summer (such as it’s been!) this will be a focus for next year. The plans are for a more substantial covered area, separate smoking ‘room’ and an access to the kitchen.

We only talked briefly about the range of beers Brendon has planned – it’s early days yet but I did say that I hoped we see some of our local stars on the bar and he said that was a definite in both in keg and cask.


The opening is currently planned for mid-October and I’ve been invited back to see it all as the work continues as well as when it’s finished so we’ll be able to keep you updated on what I think will be a great addition to the pub scene in Harborne.