Category: Interviews

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.

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.

Birmingham Beer Bazaar

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

The Anchor, Digbeth – Reimagining an Icon

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

TAKING ON A LEGEND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RE-IMAGINING THE LEGEND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Brum Beer Profiles – Rock & Roll Brewhouse

The Jewellery Quarter is rapidly becoming a must visit venue for the drinkers of Birmingham, The Lord Clifden, The Rose Villa Tavern & The Church being joined by exciting new venues  like 1000 Trades, The Pig & Tail & the subject of our latest profile.  Upon hearing Nick Cave’s new album playing as Lynne met me at the Door of the Rock & Roll Brewhouse, I knew I was going to like this place.  Dave joined us a short time later and we got to know the people with such good musical taste.

The Rock & Roll Brewhouse can be found on Regents Place in The Jewellery Quarter where we found proprietors Mark & Lynne.  Mark has long experience of brewing, starting as a home brewer and then getting involved with the Rock and Roll Brewery when it was based at the Lamp Tavern in Barford St and the Bluebell Cider house in Hockley Heath.

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Lynn used to write the “Lynn’s Letters” column in the Birmingham CAMRA magazine and met Mark when doing an interview with him for the magazine.  They soon discovered they had a shared interest in music as well as beer, and when the need arose for Lynn to get a bit of brewery work experience she turned to Mark.  The initial impetus had been the possibility of working in a pub on the Derbyshire/Leicestershire border, but circumstance made this a bit difficult, so instead she concentrated on dividing her time between her shifts at the Post Office Vaults bar in Birmingham city centre and the brewery and being Birmingham’s only female brewer.

After a while the brewery job won out, and although there was a limit on what they could brew at the pub the enjoyment outweighed that.  Recently however, the chance came to move the brewery to its own premises and within 10 minutes of viewing the current location Mark knew it would be OK, despite its quirkiness.  The pair got the keys on 1st Feb and have worked hard to create the space they wanted.  At the time it was 6 different units with a couple of long corridors, and photography studios with band rehearsal rooms taking up the space, but after a lot of hard work it has now become a working brewery and tap room.

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It has a 6 barrel kit plus a smaller pilot kit and they now have no constraints over what they can brew, which they are really enjoying, and are revelling in having control of their own product.  When we visited, they were brewing a green hop beer using hops from Mark’s garden, when a musician they had been chatting to at the Moseley Folk Festival turned up with a big bag of mulberries, which they popped into the brew because…well, why not.  One particularly impressive elements of their rebuild is their focus on sustainability, with much of the material from building being reused to create cladding and insulation for the brewery equipment.  This focus on sustainability, is fundamental to Mark & Lynne, echoed across all their practices and they have no desire to grow, as they believe small is beautiful.

When Mark came up with the name Rock and Roll Brewhouse, as well as tying into his passion for music, it enabled them to theme the beer names around songs, bands and puns, which we found quite cool…who wouldn’t want to try a glass of Brew Springsteen.  In the spirit of keeping things local they are getting their pump clips done by a manufacturer in the JQ.

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We asked Mark & Lynne what help they had received from the local organisations and were pleased to hear JQ Development Team had offered support and encouragement, as well as a community to be part of.  This has taken the form of including them in the JQDT weekend and building community through litter picks Mark & Lynne have been getting involved in.    This left me wondering what would happen if this kind of support was available for the city centre.

Besides being available at the Brewhouse on a Friday evening, and, from October, the first Saturday of the month, their vegan beers can be found at the Lamp Tavern, the Bluebell, and various local beer festivals.

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The decor of the bar revolves around the music theme with nods to the musical history of Birmingham in the shape of framed gig tickets and posters, shelves and a ceiling of 7” singles and the “beer garden” part of which featured, rather appropriately,  Nick’s Cave.  I don’t know if it is the place or the people but it wasn’t long before we moved off the subject of beer and onto a discussion music over a bottle of Bramble On, which I have to say was very nice.

Brum Beer Profiles – Clink

‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them’

Walt Disney

 ‘Have you seen that Tweet? Who are Clink?’

A movement or scene is often started by dreamers, people with an idea and a passion, and the courage to try to make them come true.  Others may follow suit, each with their own dreams, and the courage to pursue them.

Now in Birmingham, like most cities we suppose, there is a low-level swirl of rumours around the beer scene over who is doing what; most famous or maybe infamous, being that of Birmingham Tap, (similar to Euston Tap) is going to open soon…for the last 2-3 years. So in mid-July a tweet declared that ‘Clink’, a new bottle shop and tap-room, would be opening at The Custard Factory in Digbeth.  We had people getting in touch with us asking if we knew who was behind it, the short answer being, not a clue. Out of nowhere a new venue was opening a few minutes’ walk from the Bullring.  To quote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid “Who are those guys?”  So one wet Monday evening we went along to find out…

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Our first question was who are these courageous souls, who are brave enough to pursue their dreams? The guys in question are Richard Sadler (no relation to the Black Country brewers of the same name), James Beckett, and David Purcell; 3 colleagues who work together at Fazeley Studios and spent time together drinking in the bars of Birmingham.

We met with Richard and James to learn more.

Dave – So how did you get into beer?

Richard: I’ve been interested in beer since I was old enough to drink.  About three years ago I got turned on to craft beer thanks to Brewdog and cold fresh Punk IPA.  I had always liked beer but when I tried that, it was on another level, and I started thinking, where can I get more? As I got more and more in to it I become more passionate.

James: I became a more selective drinker, after growing up drinking lager,  thanks to a family friend that started Northern Monk in Leeds. They have also proved helpful in providing advice once we’d decided to open our bar.

David: I grew up in Hereford and was a real ale drinker from the start, especially Wye Valley as they were local.  I even had a few of the seasonal specials with a nettle beer being one that still lives large in the memory.  My epiphany beer was Steph Weiss by And Union in Munich which in a roundabout way led me to discover Cotteridge Wines and their huge selection of beers…

Dream Becomes Reality

We asked the guys how Clink went from dream to reality, and the answer was beautiful in is simplicity;

While working together we were all just batting the idea around jokingly really, and it just spiralled out of control.  And we went into it head first.  It all happened really quickly.

They had discussed their passion for beer, including their admiration for places like Cotteridge Wines, and dreamt of opening their own space, when one of them said, ‘Lets do it’.

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They have received advice and help from various parts of the industry:

Other bottle shops, breweries, people who fit bars, nearly everyone was really welcoming.

With the likes of Cotteridge Wines offering encouragement:

Yeah they’re my beer heroes.  I was really nervous at first because I thought they might be annoyed about us doing it.  Jaz messaged us on Twitter and said ‘I’m going to come down’ adding to my nerves but when he come down he was so nice and friendly.  We are lucky that we have been able to build a good relationship with them.

The guys set about making enquirers at a number of different venues, but working in Digbeth the Custard Factory seemed like an obvious choice, and so close to where they all still work.

The Custard Factory have been supportive, with their Twitter account being most people’s first inkling that Clink was happening.

The reality into action

Clink is a bottle shop, boasting a fantastic selection of bottles, from some of the best breweries from the UK, Europe and the USA, along with eight taps with the ability to buy, and fill growlers.

We just wanted great beer, beer we would like.  We get the beers direct from breweries where we can.

The guys have become the first Birmingham Venue to take on Untappd Verified Venue Status

We are just trying it out.  We all use Untappd ourselves and liked the way you could put your  whole beer menu online, we have had quite a few people pop by because they have seen we have put a beer on.  We wondered  if it would be worth it and it seems to have been so far.

Who is their customer base in Digbeth?  When we meet them it was perhaps a little too early to get a clear sense of their average…well anything really.

We have literally no demographic, all ages have been popping in so far. We have had some customers from surrounding businesses, including one place that has a beer fridge in their office, and another that buys beer for their employees on a Friday. We think it is great that such a diverse group of people are into good beer.

When we spoke to the guys they had only been open for a week or 2, and they were still figuring out a lot of stuff, but their passion and commitment will see them through. They are still trying to settle on set opening times, and learning when their busy times may be, but will always answer if you tweet them for information. They have been known to be flexible, with a focus on just enjoying engaging with customers, and staying open a little longer when busy.

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More Dreaming

Future plans for Clink include possible Meet the Brewer events and possible tap take overs, but the main focus is making a success of the shop, and enjoying making their dream a reality.

Perhaps in the future we could look at opening something else, perhaps open something on the Pershore Road, maybe a tap-room or something, with all the awesome places already there, Wildcat Tap, Stirchley WInes & Spirits, Cotteridge Wines, The British Oak. It could become a bit of a beer mile.

Whatever the future plans we are chuffed to see these guys having the courage to pursue their dreams and hope others will look at the actions they have taken and also choose to follow their own dreams.

We are excited to see the progression of this great little venue, and look forward to popping back to chat to the lads when they are fully settled in.

Are you considering starting to brew?  Want to open a bottle shop? Or Bar?  Do you want to add to the scene/movement here in Birmingham and the surrounding areas?

Well listen to Uncle Walt’s words and make it happen.

Brum Beer Profile -1000 Trades

Let it not be said that we do not go to extreme measures to bring you news and information about the Midlands beer scene.  To this end, we both braved the recent storms and floods that blighted Birmingham to ensure we could chat to the guys behind 1000 Trades and report back to you fine readers.

Who are 1000 Trades?

1000 Trades is co-owned by Jonathan Todd and John Stapleton, who have recently moved from London.  About 18 months ago Jonathan, who works in the music industry moved with his family to Birmingham and settled in the Jewellery Quarter. John soon followed and they began plans for their new business venture.  But why Birmingham?

“Jonathon wanted to move out of London, somewhere more affordable for his family.  He wanted somewhere that was still vibrant with stuff going on, Birmingham fits the bill.”  

And then began a long conversation between the two of them about opening a bar and eventually, they settled upon the Grade II-listed premises on Frederick St.

As usual we asked when he first got into beer.  John told us it was his time in Manchester whilst at University in 2002, a time when he would’ve been introduced to the delightful hoppy beers brewed by Marble to name just one.  Back in London a couple of years later he became more involved with beer by doing a bit of home brewing, helping out with the London Brewers Alliance and getting a job at the Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch, where he helped organise a beer festival featuring London breweries.  Of his time working in the London beer scene John commended:

It was incredible to see the brewing scene go from 8 to 80 in about 5 years.”

An exciting time indeed, and something we hope will be replicated, at least to some degree, here in Birmingham and the surrounding areas.

The building

A lot of work has gone on, and is still ongoing; to make it look more like it was back in the 19th century when it was a workshop with lots of bare brick walls and removing the features of its previous existence as a nightclub.

“We want a pub feel but not an actual pub.  We have a large amount of space, and hope to make the best of it. This is a listed building and we want to make the best of it.  We want it to be contemporary but welcoming and not pretentious. This places is not designed to be a beer place, its beer lead but is designed to celebrate independent companies.  We are independent and we want to support good independent businesses. We want to be a community hub.  This area is very much a creative area, and we want to celebrate that.”

1000 Trades

The new name harks back to when Birmingham was known as the city of 1000 Trades, a place where the crafts people were renowned for their skill in being able to make practically anything.

“Birmingham was known as the city of 1000 trades in Victorian times, with all kinds of creative industries across the city, the Jewellery Quarter being a big part of that.  This creativity and independence very much fits with our ethos.”

And it’s this ethos, paying homage to those 1000 Trades, that makes this venue unique.  A community focus and desire to champion independence and creative industries underlies the bars approach to business. This includes their plan to open the kitchen to street food vendors and give catering students opportunities.

“We have a kitchen that we will encourage local street food vendors to use and we have also contacted UCB to make the space available to some of their catering students, giving them a chance to gain experience in a working kitchen.  Our first kitchen take over with be Chilli Dog Dogs who have been doing awesome things at The Prince Of Wales Moseley.  We will also be providing spots for apprenticeships in the bar and kitchen, giving young people the chance to learn a trade.”

1000 Trades will also be supporting other creative industries by making their fantastic space available to independent and creative businesses.

“We have said to loads of people, come and use our spaces.  We hope to do something with our wine suppliers; we have spoken to Roberto Ross about beer tastings.  We have also offered opportunities to local independent musicians.  There is a thing called Label Market, which has been successful in London, where local indie labels and musicians bring their music in and they are able to interact directly with the public and sell their music.”

“The whole idea is to bring the people that make things into contact with the consumers.  The reason we have the hatch to the kitchen is so the public and interact with the chief and see the work going into the food.”

On our visit we were pleased to see Midlands beers well represented with offerings from Fixed Wheel (read their profile here), Sacre Brew (read their profile here), Salopian and Twisted Barrel (read their profile here).  However, it’s not just about the beer, and one of their innovations is selling boxed wine at a very reasonable price for a glass, and, although not sampled by us, word is that it is of very good quality.

We are excited to see how this venue develops and delighted they will be championing local suppliers and business, something that will not only benefit the Jewellery Quarter but the wider Birmingham area.

For more information you can follow 1000 Trades on Twitter & Facebook or visit their website www.1000trades.org.uk

Birmingham Beer Bash Profiles -Twisted Barrel Ale

I have an admission to make, I am proud to be from Coventry, so Coventry’s own Twisted Barrel has a special place in my heart.  It has been great to see them grow and find some success, it also helps that they make fantastic beer.

In its short life as a brewery they have become arguably, the most well know microbrewery in the Midlands, so we wanted to know more about these guys and share with you why they are ‘More Folk than Punk’.   Twisted Barrel will be joining Sacre Brew (Find there Profile here), and Fixed Wheel (Find there Profile here) as one of the local breweries showcased at this year’s Birmingham Beer Bash and so become the third of our Birmingham Beer Bash Profile blogs.

The Folk

I sat down with four of the Twisted Barrel team, Bar Manager Jaime, Owner and Head Brewer Ritchie, Brewer Carl and a fourth man, who will remain unknown, a man of mystery if you will.  Many of the questions were answered by the team, unless I have specifically stated otherwise.

I asked for a bit of background about each of the team, and what got them into beer and led to them being part of Twisted Barrel.

Jamie – I look after front of house and help out around the brewery, racking bottling etc. I’ve known Ritchie for over 15 years.  I am part of a group of people who came together to create Twisted Barrel, before this I worked at Warwick University and as a game designer & web designer for some time.   My focus is looking after our customers in the tap room but also learning to brew.    I created Baltic Porter last year that was described as heavier than ketamine.   My next brew will be a Smoked Chilli Porter.  We like to be creative here, we are boarding the crazy train and you’re all invited to come with us.

My beer journey was largely due to Living in and around Earlsdon, there were a lot of places that sold interesting beers, things from Belgium and things like that.   I discovered beers like Saison Du Pont, and also as a Hunter.S.Thompson and Ralph Steadman fan I was drawn to the Flying Dog bottles.

Ritchie My previous career was as an accountant for 17 years or so.  I started Twisted Barrel with Chris and our partners Jenny and Annie in Chris’s garage back in July 2013 in Tile Hill Coventry.   We started home brewing and started Twisted Barrel to see if our beers would be commercially liked, not just liked by our friends, who we gave beers to for free.   We started as the smallest brewery (Pico Brewery)  in the country with only 120 bottles finding their way out into the world and we still worked full time.    We sought to improve our beers, learn new techniques and try different recipes before we took to the next step.  We stayed at that level for a year and then started to make expansion plans in July 2014.  I was able to give up my job in January 2015 to focus on the brewery and that’s what I do as my day job now.   I am the only employee along with Carl and I focus on the brewing and running the company on a day- to-day basis. 

I initially got into ale while in New Zealand due a brewery called Monteith, one of the first breweries I remember producing beer in 330ml bottles.  We would also spend evenings at The Craven (the one in Coventry) drinking Sarah Hughes Ruby Red Ale and talking about beer, which is really where the podcast came from (more on that later).

Carl I started home brewing about four or five years ago and was still working in the NHS.   I was bored and disgruntled and discovered I really liked beer I wanted to get involved.  I felt the best way to do that was to get a qualification so I went up to Sunderland to complete a course and began looking for jobs with breweries.   I quickly learnt there were no brewery jobs going.  A microbrewery opened up in Coventry, I applied and I got job as the Head Brewer, but I quickly realised it wasn’t really environment for me.  Coincidentally at the same time Twisted Barrel were looking for another brewer,  I’d been a fan of Twisted Barrel from the first month it started and they create the beers that I was kind of aiming for.   I started working here about 4 months ago.  

I originally got into cask ales and really enjoyed Hobgoblin.    I then went over to Oregon and had Rogue Dead Guy Ale and it was that good, I actually stole the glass from the brewery tap.   Whilst drinking the beer I realised that the name of beer was on the glass and wanted to remember it.   I spoke to the bar staff and left a tip.   About a year later I was looking at the glass and really wanted to find the beer again, but couldn’t find it anywhere in the UK or nearby.  I eventually got in contact with Cotteridge Wines and my love of beer progressed from there.

The genesis of Twisted Barrel can be found in Ritchie and Chris’s Podcast history.  I wanted to know more, and learn how the podcast led to starting the brewery.

What led you to starting the Podcast?

General beer geekery really.   You get to that point in life where you almost need an excuse to get together around someone’s house and have a drink.   So we called it a podcast.   It was just a way to share our love of beer with the world and talk about something that we cared about.   Something creative to focus on, something we really cared about instead of our day job.  We just want to have fun and have a bit of a laugh.  

We got in to home brewing to be more knowledgeable for a podcast and then realised we liked home brewing so much we ended up not doing podcasting anymore – it all escalated from there.

And we are very glad it did escalate.  The podcast can still be found at All Hail the Ale! and on iTunes.

Press Start

I originally encountered Twisted Barrel while visiting the Earlsdon Festival, when Chris and Ritchie were offering tastings outside of Beer Gonzo.  I liked what I had and was fascinated as they were the only Coventry Brewery I was aware of at that time.  I had been able to get hold of some of their bottles from Beer Gonzo and had some interaction with the guys via Twitter and Untapped and had continued to be very impressed.   So when I heard they were looking to develop and grow by opening a brewery and tap room in Fargo Village, I was really excited.  It is perhaps typical of Twisted Barrel that this came about collaboratively and had a community of people involved.

I had a lot of friends and family help with the setting up of the brewery both financially and practically, right down to the creation of the actual bar here in the Tap Room.   The whole process of setting up between March and June 2015 was stressful with the impending realisation of ‘oh crap I have to set up a big ass brewery’.   But the opening day was so lovely, and the turnout on launch day was just stunning.  There was a queue forming at 11:45am and as soon as we opened the door we began serving and didn’t stop until 7:10pm we were non-stop, serving for about 7 hours.   We realised we may have underestimated how many people would arrive and the response was overwhelming.  Overtime, we have built up a really good hardcore group of regulars and lots of people dropping in to check the place out.

 We’ve had great support since launch and we continue to develop and grow.   We have continued to explore what we can do with the space including events and brewery tours.  The people of Coventry support us that much, that we almost became a bar  instead of a brewery ,  and quite by accident we became the third best venue in Coventry – as voted  by the local paper.   About 6 months ago we did have to reassess how to enable us to focus on external sales, and find a way to take me (Ritchie) away from the bar.  I was doing 16 hour days, brewing during the day and then working in the tap in the evening.   Some of the other partners have been able to help out and we brought in Carl.

During our conversations for the blog we have been heartened to hear that many of the beer people and businesses in the Midlands have supported each other, Twisted Barrel have been no different.

In terms of venues there been supportive from day one, Stirchley Wines, Beer Gonzo and Inspire in Coventry. Cherry Reds has been fantastic supporter from day one.   Cotteridge Wines have also been very supportive.  

Their beers can now also be found at eebria.com, and are sold in 1000 Trades and Pig & Tail to name a few.

More Folk than Punk

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The team at Twisted Barrel have developed a clear identity for the brewery, one that reflects the personalities of the people behind it.  This is encapsulated in their moto ‘More Folk than Punk’.

One of the directors came up with that – we both looked at each other and said yeah that explains it and encapsulates us.   A little left leaning, like to work collaboratively, and work face-to-face with people.  

Punk has become more corporate nowadays and we’re not the kind of people that stand on a rooftop and shout about ourselves.  It feels like it fits with our family focused, collaborative approach.

This personality extends to the beers and their names, often named after sci-fi or fantasy (Wake-Up Juice refers to Back to the Future 3), and the events held at the brewery (Father Ted day & Game of Thrones Day to name a few).  I personally believe the success of the Tap Room is largely due to the welcoming and family centred atmosphere they have developed.

Twisted Barrel – To be Continued…

Twisted Barrel is a brewery starting to gain fans nationally.  They have been featured in Flavourly Beer Boxes, hosted #craftbeerhour and been interviewed on the Beer O’clock Show.  They have grown exponentially, and we wanted to know what comes next:

Now it’s a case of getting some national distribution going.  Over the last three months especially we’ve had a lot of more interest.  I think some people think we’re a bigger brewery than we are and people don’t realise we only really have two employees.

We will continue to make good beer.  We hope to continue to develop our company profile and build on the increased interest we have had recently.  We also hope to continue to find new routes to market.

The group of directors are looking at focusing on developing new venues and Birmingham is very much on our radar.  We don’t intend to be a national player, like Beavertown and breweries like that.  We hope to be a leader in the regional area and we want to maintain our interaction, face-to-face with our customers, ensuring we maintain our connection to people.

I had a great time chatting with the team, with a lot of laughs.  We discussed a lot more but this blog is already long enough.  They are a passionate bunch, who care about making a great product, but will not compromise on their principles.

If you would like to know more about Twisted Barrel and where you can find their beers contact them via Twitter, Facebook and on their website.

Brum Beer Profiles – The Craven Arms

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Introduction

When you think about great places to drink in Birmingham city centre then the Craven Arms has to be very close to the top of the list. It has been around for quite a while but it wasn’t until Chris and Sharon Sherratt took it over in early 2013 that it started to become the beer nirvana we all know and love now. So, with Chris being a Burtonian like fellow blogger Dave Hopkins I thought it was time for the two of us to have a chat with him for the blog to discuss his beery past, how he became a publican, and his plans for the future. It became clear to us that it was this journey, and Chris’s beery adventures that led to him and Sharon being such fantastic publicans and making The Craven Arms such a great pub.

Where it all started

We began by discussing his formative years in the old home town where his first loves were the Porter from the Burton Bridge brewery, a beer fondly remembered by Dave as well, and DBA at Ind Coopes social club.

‘I was quite a late starter really!  My Mum and Dad very rarely drank, so there was very little alcohol in the house, other than the odd can of Sainsbury’s light ale, but not really anything that was worth talking about.  I remember at around 15 or 16 going down to The Bridge in Burton and drinking porter.  We started going down there and having the porter because it was different.  In those days, Bass and Pedigree were decent beers, so we drank a lot of those.  Bass was still a separate company that was brewing beer, and it was good.  I used to drink that when I went in the Blue Post, who started introducing Guest Beers, so it was quite interesting to try beers that you’d not seen in Burton in before.  And Marston’s at the time, with Paul Bailey the head brewer were doing the Brewers Choice.  So there were two different beers each month, and they were pretty interesting.  I also used to drink DBA quite a lot.  I’ve always been quite into beer and don’t think I’ve ever really drunk lager in a pub.  I’ve always been an ale drinker. ‘

His first period in Birmingham was at University where he frequented the Unspoilt by Progress and the Flapper before going back to Burton to begin his career in teaching. By 1998 he was back in Birmingham discovering the Anchor and the Waggon and Horses in Halesowen before carrying on his beer education in Nottingham, Derby in 2001 at the Flowerpot and Brunswick, and Sheffield during which time he became a bit of a ticker.

‘I then did a PGCE where I just did a lot of normal weekend drinking.  In 1998, I then lived in Birmingham for a while and re-discovered The Anchor, where the beers were always changing and were in decent condition, so that was my first taste of Coniston and Harviestoun.’

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A Beer Epiphany

Like many of us beer geeks there is often a specific beer that hooks you in, often called an Epiphany Beer.

‘For me it was probably Roosters – either ‘Yankee’, or ‘Special’.  Basically anything by Roosters really!  And Oakham beers too.  They were the first regularly seen beers that were pale and hoppy and that was probably mid to late 90’s where there was something just a bit different.  Before that, most of the beers were brown and although weren’t necessarily rubbish beers it was just nice to see something new and different. If I compare those beers now to what I had back then, I don’t think they’re what they were.  But is that me looking back with rose coloured spectacles of the type of beer they were, or is it that they have changed the beer?  I suspect it’s a bit of both, that actually the hops they use now are different, the malt, and the yeast can have an impact, but I just don’t think they’re the beers they were.’

Variety and Exploration

It is this time in Birmingham that helped to form Chris’s interest in variety and interesting beers.

‘I then later discovered The Wagon in Halesowen where they had 16 beers, and I just enjoyed drinking different beers all the time, experiencing as many different styles as I could.    

In 1998 I also joined CAMRA and there was also the Figure of Eight on Broad Street where there were always some great guest beers on in there – it was a really good Wetherspoons at the time.  And then I moved to Nottingham where I first experienced rapidly changing beers where I was on the CAMRA committee.  It was a really good experience of being able to look into the ins and outs of ale and it was a really decent CAMRA branch.  Then, in 2001 I moved back to Derby and drank in some great pubs in Derby including the Alex Brunswick.  Derby was great, and was an education  in beer really – had great access to Oakham and Rooster beers and pale, hoppy beers.  And then we discovered Sheffield, which was a revelation – that’s where I started collecting beers.  There was one year where I made a conscious decision where on January 1st, I decided I wanted to try 1000 different beers within the year, which I’d done by the August!’

The opening of The Wellington in 2004 meant he could further his beer knowledge, but by 2007-08 he began to feel the UK beer scene was beginning to stagnate. And then came another epiphany with 2 trips to New York and their enthusiasm for beer which was all served in (whisper it) keg.  Like other drinkers who had visited the States, he realised that it was more than just Bud & Miller and wondered ‘Why not in England’? Fortunately a new breed of Breweries in the UK such as Kernel came to the rescue and kick-started the UK scene that we all know and love.

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The Pub Comes a Calling

Chris and Sharon’s journey across the Midlands exploring beers, and their passion for beer led them to the decision to make a major change in their lives and become publicans, something that Dave and I, along with fellow Birmingham drinkers, are very grateful for.

‘When did you make the jump from teaching to working in and running a pub, and why?’

‘I did a beer order for Derby Winter Ales Festival in 2011 because I was a bit bored of the beer choice at beer festivals.  It always felt pretty safe, so I did the beer order for them and got 10 Brodies Beers in, 2 Kernel Casks, which at that time was still difficult to get hold of as they were still very small, but I managed to persuade them.  I also managed to get loads of Buxton as well, as that was a similar time to when they’d just started taking off with Axe Edge and Imperial Black which were fantastic.’  

‘From there, I handed my notice in and did some training with Everards, as initially I wanted to run a pub with them.  So I did cellar and bar training with them, did some experience in pubs, and then I worked for Blue Monkey and managed the Organ Grinder in Nottingham for about four months, where I got lots of Brodies and Buxton in there for them, just to spoil Nottingham’s taste buds!!’  

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The Craven Arms

Chris and Sharon wanted to return to Birmingham and fortunately for all of us beer drinkers our very own @mediocre_dan (find his most recent blog here) tweeted about the Craven being on the market, so they asked Black Country Ales and the rest is history. The pub was closed for a short period to refurbish it and turn it into a fairly typical BCA comfy pub. Initially they had 2 free pumps to pick their own beers rather than going from the Black Country list, but after the success of the first beer festival in the summer of 2013 they were allowed to do their own thing much more, and also increase the range of keg taps.

‘By this time, I knew I’d had enough of teaching and was really keen to move careers.  Once I’d generated some experience and the training, I then approached Black Country Ales and told them I was interested in running one of their pubs, but was keen to be able to select some of my own beers.  Initially we were offered the Robin Hood at Willenhall, but on Twitter had noticed that they’d just bought the Craven, so I spoke to them about this place instead.’

‘When was it you opened the Craven Arms?’

‘It was 2012 we looked into it and it was 2013 Black Country re-opened it.  It moved quite quickly.  I think we started looking at it in around October/November time and then it was closed for around six weeks before we took over in early 2013.  As soon as Black Country Ales had stamped their style on it, it felt like it started to work.  Initially we had to choose off the Black Country Ales list, but for me it was a financially risk free strategy, because the thing with Black Country is they don’t require money upfront, so it was just a case of them employing us and we get a percentage of the takings.’

 ‘Why did you choose this site?’

‘We’d walked past it when we’d been to see gigs at the O2, so we knew that it existed, but it was the fact it was Birmingham City Centre, and the fact that Birmingham City Centre still doesn’t really have enough decent pubs that just do beer.’  

 ‘When you started here did you have a plan of what you wanted it to be like?’

‘Yeah, I wanted ,if we could, to get our own beers on, but that just happened naturally within the first six months. Initially, we were offered two free choice pumps, and then it spread over the rest.  So now we’ve got up to eight guests of my choosing, plus the keg as well and that happened quite quickly as well.  After about seven – eight months we could get most beers we wanted.’

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Dave & Debs copy of the 2013 Craven Arms Beer Festival
Becoming a Legend

In our opinion what makes The Craven Arms stand out is its keg range and the great quality of their cask beers.  It is the quality of the cask beer that has led Bob to change his mind and begin to love beer from hand-pull.

‘Do you think your background in science has enabled you to keep better beer?’

‘No, not at all!  I drink my own product, so I want it to be good.  I just enjoy it, and want to aspire to have something that’s worth drinking. It’s not rocket science, so it still puzzles me as to why places can’t get it right.  They’re not difficult to look after, it’s the basics – keep your lines clean!  I know a lot of people blame the brewers or the beer, when it so often isn’t the brewers’ fault if the beer is bad – there’s more to it than that and how it’s kept is so important.’

‘When did you add keg and what was the thinking behind that?’

‘I’d been to The Grove in Huddersfield a few times, where they have loads of keg and cask in the same place, and London pubs started to do it as well, so we wanted to try it.  We started off with two, and then we went up to four and then that slipped up to six!  I think it was 2014 we started doing keg.  I’d love to do more keg lines, but we just don’t have the space to do it here.’

Opinion on the current Birmingham Beer Scene

We started this blog because we are passionate about the Beer Scene and we are keen to see it grow, (Read Bob’s opinion blog on the scene here).  It is fantastic to hear Chris feeling the same.  We believe the more the people of the scene work together the more likely we will see the improvements we want to see.

‘How do you feel about where Birmingham is currently at with its beer scene and do you feel there is anything missing?’

‘I personally don’t think it’s very good.  It’s got some good places like Tilt, Original Patty Men, but you have to compare Birmingham with other cities, and the ones you compare it with, like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and it feels like we’re behind.  I think we need something like ‘Tapped’ or a ‘Craft Beer Company’, but they don’t seem to be opening, and when places do become available, they seem to be snapped up with the wrong types of places.  We don’t need any more cocktail bars!  I also feel there needs to be a bottle shop in the centre.  We’ve got two great bottle shops with Stirchley and Cotteridge, but we’ve not got anything in the centre.’ 

What Next?

Chris and Sharon are not standing still, they are continuing to develop the The Craven Arms and have plans to make more positive impact on the Birmingham beer scene.

‘What do you plan for the future at Craven Arms?’

‘I think we’re planning on having some more ‘Meet the Brewer’ sessions – they’ve worked really well on a Monday night.  I’d be interested in doing something with Buxton here, and I’d also be really interested in doing a Beavertown Cask versus Keg event.  We’re also looking at doing a Wild Weekend of Wild Beers at some point.  I think the main thing is looking for another place as well as this, just to help with the scene as it feels so fragmented.’

‘What do you see for your future?’

‘I’d like to open a keg micro pub.  I think Birmingham could do with another place, and I’d want somewhere that had more keg lines.’  

It was wonderful to chat to Chris and learn about his passion for beer and how this has led him to making it his career.  It was also great to hear how his beer journey and experiences have led to all the elements that make The Craven Arms such a fantastic pub.

By Dave Hopkins & Bob Maxfield – We thank Chris for giving up his time to speak with us.

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We are actually a lot more sober than we look…honest!