Category: Profiles

Birmingham Beer Profiles-Lone Wolf is Lone No More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”

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.

Happy Birthday Cotteridge Wines

We often lament about the Birmingham beer scene compared to London, Leeds or Manchester, hoping for more bars and pubs to sell quality beer, and no doubt there is some more work to be done for  Birmingham to reach its potential, but one area we do lead the way in is our fantastic bottle shops. Birmingham has two of the UK’s best bottle shops, according to RateBeer (and us) in Stirchley Wines & Cotteridge Wines, and both along the same road. With Cotteridge Wines approaching its 21st birthday they want to celebrate with their friends and customers, and they want to celebrate big. We wanted to know more about the two brothers, their 21 year history, and how they became RateBeers No.1 bottle shop in the UK.20160622_170017
But what makes Cotteridge Wines different?

From the outside of the building it seems like any normal off-licence, until you take a closer look and see the names of the breweries they feature. Once you step inside you notice two things, firstly it’s no frills layout, and then you see the beers, the vast lines of bottles organised by brewery, and what an amazing selection to choose from (it can be a little intimidating on first visit).  So it’s kind of hard to imagine now when you walk in and see this to think that there was a time when they were just a regular neighbourhood off-licence selling Carling, Fosters and Lambrini. But 21 years ago that’s how Hari Kandola with his sons Kal and Jaz began on the Pershore Road in Birmingham, and for the vast majority of the stores history that was the status quo.

About 5 years ago Hari retired allowing the brothers to take full control, and they set about putting their own individual stamp on the store. They had begun to do a few more world beers such as Singha and Dab, and slowly added a selection of Belgian and German beers as well as bottle conditioned British beers such as Hobgoblin. This change coincided with the first stirrings of the “craft” beer movement in the UK and with a combination of customers asking and doing their own research they began to stock breweries such as Kernel, Brodies and Buxton.  They also got to know a relatively local lad, called Logan Plant who had set up a brewery in London called Beavertown.

So, with the help of social media they began pushing what they were doing and championing all of these new breweries, both of them sharing the passion and commitment of what these brewers were doing. The first 6 months of this change in approach were slow, but gradually word of mouth began to build and so the customer base began to expand. At the same time, by travelling to the breweries to pick up the beers they began to build a special relationship built on mutual respect and this has borne fruit, so to speak, especially with regards to their 21st birthday celebration in July, but more on that below.

Jaz and Kal’s approach to business, mirrors the shop in their no-nonsense and straightforward ethic. They have focused on building relationships and friendships with brewers, and in some cases not taking no for an answer. They said that one of the main contributors to their success was starting to supply Mikkeller, and this mainly came through the involvement of James Brodie, who pretty much vouched for them and what a great job they were doing.  This led to Mikkel telling his brother Jeppe who runs Evil Twin, quickly followed by To Øl supplying them.  Once these highly respected breweries began selling in the store, more breweries followed at a steady pace, all adding to the vast selection available in store and, as you can see from the beer board on the day we were there, meant they are able to put on some really great beers. 20160622_162452 (2)
The beer board came about during another change in late 2014 with the introduction of the tasting bar and growler filling station. I remember when I bought mine that the guys said they had done considerable research into getting the growlers just right.  Mine has seen a lot of use, both at the shop, and at my local brewery, Green Duck (read about them here).

As well as the bar there is also a small room and an outside area  with chairs and tables so you can enjoy a chat and a few beers when the weather is fine.  This has also meant they have organised tasting sessions and meet the brewer events, which are really enjoyable, including one I attended, hosted by Evin O’Riordan of Kernel Brewery (read about that here).P1000225
Another notch on their bow, so to speak, has been the collaborative beers that they have done such as Bish’s APA with Brodies, named after a customer, one Tom Bishop (thanks to Simon Williams of CAMRGB for providing this info here ), and No. 11 with Beavertown.  For their 20th birthday both Steel City (Maple & Vanilla Porridge Stout) and Siren (Cotteridge Wines Anniversary Blend) produced special beers to celebrate.  Siren especially has been one the breweries that they have built a very strong friendship with. Both Jaz and Kal told us that Ryan Witter, the ex-head brewer, had been a really big help in their development and they still keep in touch with him and his family since his move to Hill Farmstead.

The brothers told us that the last 5 years have been their best, as they have really enjoyed getting to know and chatting about beer with their customers, built friendships and a community.  I have to say both Bob and I were surprised when they said that they reckon about 90% of that customer base comes from outside Birmingham.  I’m not sure if that is a testament to how good the shop is, or whether it says something about Birmingham drinkers, probably a bit of both (perhaps something we will explore in the future). Whatever the reason, their range and customer service helped them win  RateBeer’s award of UK’s best beer bottle shop for 3 years running.

So what can we expect on July 8th and 9th at their 21st birthday… Well, a lot of breweries offered to make some special beers, so they had to make sure they didn’t end up with all the same style, but here are just a few of the beers they told us about:

They will also be selling the 20th Anniversary bottles at £10, plus they have some specialties from Brasserie Fantôme, De Struise Brouwers, To Øl & Mikkeller.  Follow the store on Twitter for more information and new updates.

Oh, and let’s not forget that very soon the online site will be launching.

So let’s raise a glass or two, Pilsner for Kal and something hoppy for Jaz, and wish the guys a very Happy 21st birthday!

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Birmingham Beer Bash Profiles – Sacre Brew

10565258_540279709442034_7800467266853589680_nIntroduction

As a lead up to this year’s Birmingham Beer Bash and the inaugural Birmingham Beer Week we, of the Collective, thought it would be nice to have a chat with the 3 West Midlands brewers that are going to be at the Beer Bash.

The Life of Gwen

Our second profile is with Gwen Sanchirico of Sacre Brew, in Wolverhampton, who told us her rambling (her words) story of how a woman from over there (USA) ended up brewing over here. As usual we discussed her formative drinking years which, since her parents are Argentinian, involved wine rather than beer, and when she did start drinking the latter at college in New York, the choice apparently wasn’t great.

Did you start off drinking Bud and Miller?

My parents are from Argentina so I was allowed to drink wine growing up, diluted of course. So I really wasn’t interested in beer until I went to college. I hadn’t really tried beer much before then. I came to the UK in 1984, when I was 16, and had beer here.

Refining a Palate

She quickly made the distinction between good beer and crap beer, and as the burgeoning US craft beer scene began to grow, was able to begin drinking a few more unusual beers. She reckons her first epiphany beer, as we like to call them, was a Witbier from a small US brewery that no longer exists, and then Midas Touch from Dogfish Head.

I went to University and did a lot of beer drinking there. Well, I wasn’t a big drinker as most of the beer then was shit and even early I realised I had a refined palate – well, identified good beer from the bad.

 To put things in context I went to University in 1985 and the craft beer/microbrewery revolution had started in the US in the 1970s when President Carter legalised home-brewing; his brother was a big fan of beer. What happened was a lot of people started home brewing and they realised their home-brew was much better than the crap they could get in the stores, so many went into business as micro-brewers, and people responded because there was more variety. The entire beer culture that had accumulated via immigration into the US was wiped out by Prohibition. So by 1979 nobody had a clue, unless you travelled to a place with a big beer culture.

 Was there an ‘Epiphany’ beer?

Nothing really blew my mind away at college, but sometime later – there was beer called W!t. It was a witbier, but not a typical witbier, as it was Americanised, and a little different. It was really easy drinking and had lots of interesting flavours. What really made me crazy, in a good way, was Dogfish Head Midas Touch. I tried that and it’s like a wine or brandy, not really beery, just this amazing combination of flavours and textures. Dogfish Head worked with this molecular archaeologist, who would analyse residues inside pottery at ancient grave sites and archaeological sites. They would test it and they identify what the crud on the pottery was. There was a site in Turkey and they analysed the pottery used to store a liquid back then. They used that and a bit of artistic licence and produced a beer called Midas Touch. It had raisins, honey, grape must, some type of grain, and malted barley. Dogfish Head created a series of beers reconstructed from archaeological sites thousands of years old to show, fun, but to also show beer has been around before agriculture, and in every culture. So it’s an important beverage. Midas Touch really resonated with me. It’s more like a Barley Wine character, but actually some ancient and weird thing.

 Sacre Home Brew

Both beers opened up a world of possibilities and when she started home brewing in the 90s it led to some experimentation i.e. her first beer was a spruce beer.

In 1993 there was an article in the local magazine, while I was living in Manhattan. They interviewed owners of two home brew stores in Manhattan and there were saying ‘you buy a kit for this much, and in brewing you could do this, this, and this’ – the reporter broke down the cost per bottle etc. That really appealed to me. I like cooking and stuff. My boyfriend and I then bought a kit. The kit came with a book called ‘The Joy of Homebrewing’ by Charlie Papazian and he covered different styles. There was a lot of emphasis on British beer, different stuff, at least better than ‘Old Milwaukee.’

 I was very creative as a home-brewer and would make beer with vanilla and beetroot; spruce was my first beer, and I liked to experiment a lot.

75320c455c4c6bb61b5365470c1f4209_320x320Jumping the Pond

After moving around a lot including 6 years in Idaho she ended up back in New York and met her future husband at a gig in Brooklyn. After a couple of years of a long distance relationship it was decided that one of them would need to move and, to some of us, it seems Gwen drew the short straw and ended up in Wolverhampton in 2012.

So what brought you to England in the first place?

I married a man living in Wolverhampton. We met at a concert in Brooklyn. We did the long distance thing, but realised if we wanted the relationship to continue we would need to get married and one of us would need to move. It made more sense for me to move here. Even when being given the choice between New York City and Wolverhampton – the choice was obvious!

Her most recent job in the States had been as a project manager for a software development team but a similar job was hard to come by in the UK, so when Wolverhampton City Council announced a contest to find budding entrepreneurs, she thought she’d have a go. And after complaining about the state of some of the British beer she was drinking, her mother in law suggested she opened a brewery, and so Sacre Brew was born.

When you moved here did you know what you wanted to do? Did you consider brewing?

No, not really. I couldn’t get a job over here. I had the credentials, but people didn’t seem to… understand them. I was aware of a glut of project managers looking for work at the same time. Plus I’m an immigrant, and that’s always a disadvantage, as they assumed I would move back in a year etc.

 After a year I got sick of looking – and it was soul sucking looking for work. I hadn’t brought my kit with me and hadn’t brewed in a few years. There was a contest for entrepreneurs who wanted to start a business. Wolverhampton Council organised it. There was a financial reward for winning it. I filled out the form and was selected.

 They gave us training, including how to do a business plan and how to do financial forecasts etc. There were a series of workshops. There was a lot of mentoring with the financial stuff. I submitted an application as I was not working and my husband said ‘you have to do something.’ He agreed I shouldn’t work at Burger King, so that was cool. I assessed my skills and asked myself ‘what could I do here that would be of value and would like to do?’ 

 

I was at the pub with family and I had a beer and I was bitching about it like I usually did, and my mother-in-law said, ‘Why don’t you open your own brewery, join the competition, and see what you get?”

SacreBrew_Logo_trans500The Name Sacre Brew

She told us that she had played bass guitar for many years, including a project that just had 2 bassists which must’ve been interesting, but the brewery name came from her stage name in an earlier band, Gwen Sacre-Bleu.

I played bass guitar and played in bands and stuff, as often as I could. I started playing guitar when I was 13. In college somebody needed a bassist, so I bought a really cheap bass. My stage name was Gwen Sacre-Bleu, with this horrible band haVeblue. Each band member had ‘blue’ in their name. As my name is Sanchirico it has some of the same letters and sounds. When I was looking to open the brewery, looking to build a website, Twitter, things like that, I still didn’t have a name. It was the last thing I did. One of my friends suggested my old stage name, and another friend said, ‘How about Sacre Brew?’ and I loved it. A lot of people seem to like it, although a lot of people mistakenly call it Scare Brew.

A Home to Brew From

Her first 3 months brewing were on a small 20 litre kit in a local restaurant called the Hungry Bistro where she sold her beer, but after a 6-month search she found a place on an industrial estate in early 2014.

First I linked up with one of the Wolverhampton business competition winners, Richard Brown, who had opened a restaurant called Hungry Bistro, and makes nice affordable food. We had similar standards and philosophies about food and drink. He invited me to brew on his premises with my 20l pilot kit until I found some premises. The relationship was he would get to sell my beer in his restaurant and anything left over I could sell to others. I was glad to get stuff out there and start building a reputation. That was really helpful. It took a few months to find a permanent place. I really needed to make a pest of myself to get it. I moved in March 24th 2014.

With help from some local bottle shops stocking the beers as well, and a bit of crowd funding she was able to upgrade the equipment and her flagship beer, ‘Man on the Oss,’ was launched. This was a sessionable saison, whose name was inspired by hearing the locals of Wolverhampton arranging to meet by the statue of Prince Albert on horseback, but she told us a lot of the names have no meaning, and some of the weirder ones are done to mess with people’s heads i.e. who is Ocipio and where does this blood lust come from?

 

Crowd funding

Gwen’s history of fundraising was instrumental in setting up, as crowd funding played a major part in meeting the financial needs of setting up. This process also helped to build a sense of community around the brewery, something Gwen has been keen to continue to foster.

When I moved to Idaho I didn’t really know many people, so I got involved in the local Green Party. I did lots of issues-based activism, community organising, and campaigning on things that were important to me – mostly environmental and social justice stuff. I worked on 13 different campaigns for various offices from highway division commissioner to state senate, and did some fundraising for those campaigns. So I learned how to ask people for money.

 So when I wanted to set up this brewery, I had nothing, I never made a lot of money working, and what little I did have I blew on flying to UK to see my now-husband. All I really had was my pension, which was only made up of the money my employer contributed, so it wasn’t a lot.

 I realised I needed more money. Through the financial planning I had to do, I worked out what I needed to set up. I had seen Indiegogo campaigns for a number of things, including microbreweries. I researched crowed funding; I looked at what other microbreweries where doing and what incentives they were offering and decided I would give it a try. I had no other recourse. I didn’t really want any investors, because I didn’t really want people telling me what to do, especially when you have quite strong ideas of how you want to do something. 

 I raised more than £6,000 in 30 days and it was a really good experience – it was very humbling and it was incredible that people wanted to contribute. People were generous and people continue to be generous, as the brewery continues to receive donations now.

 It has been really helpful as the brewery had a few problems over time, last year – I needed a new bottler as I was still using a normal one like home-brewers use. I found a very basic but efficient bottler at a very reasonable cost. This time I decided not to go with Indiegogo and raise the money via my own website and social media.  I was able to raise it and that is where I met Alec (@MrTeaBelly) who has become one of my main volunteers in the brewery.

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Alec (@MrTeaBelly) hard at work in the brewery

A Brewer with a Community Focus

It’s clear from talking to Gwen she is a person who cares and believes in action. It is fantastic to see Sacre Brew is a business that is ran along the lines of her values and beliefs.

It strikes me that they’re doing the crowd funding and seeing how you interact with people and fans of the brewery it seems you have created a kind of community feel has that been something you have purposely tried to create.

Yeah, I have a manifesto how I think this business should be run, and community building is a part of it and giving back to it is important to me. I tried to do this in practical ways such as giving away some of my mistake beers to a local art gallery, and I am very generous with many of the customers that come to the brewery. 

 You know beer brings people together and I think a brewery should do it should too because that’s where the beer’s being made.

 I really like art and believe that art should be integrated into everyday life.  It stimulates and creates conversation, and I want people to be stimulated by my beer, including the name, the artwork, and beer itself. Some of the artwork on the bottles is from friends, but also local artists. I’m not able to pay them but I do try to give them lots of exposure, including space on my website, information on the bottle, and exposure via social media.

 I feel that a lot of your values and your attitudes are born out in your beers in the flavours in the style that you make.

I have a friend that does describe Sacre Brew as an extension of me so if you don’t like me, you’re probably not going to like my beers. I also run the brewery with my own values and philosophies.

 What next?

Gwen does not plan to stand still and has big plans for the future.

What is the future for Sacre Brew?

In the short-term I would also like more space in the brewery with more fermenters coming enabling me to increase production. Long term, my original plan was to open a Brew Pub, a space for people to come and drink my beer directly from the source and eat great food; the bar at the brewery is a bit of a trial run for a Brew Pub.  I would like to continue to engage with the community including using more local artists for the bottle labels.  I envisage my beers becoming sought after, exciting recipes that people travel to have therefore bringing people to Wolverhampton.   

Gwen, a woman who speaks her mind and lets her beers speak for themselves, and you can hear them both speak at Birmingham Beer Bash.

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Sacre Brew can be found at Unit 13, Monmore Road, Wolverhampton, WV1 2TZ, www.sacrebrew.com, @sacrebrew & www.facebook.com/sacrebrew. The tap room at the brewery is currently on hiatus but will be open most weekends again in August (see social media or contact Gwen for more info) and if you’d like to find out more, you’ll be able to meet Gwen at Birmingham Beer Bash and try some of her award-winning beers.

Birmingham Beer Bash Profiles – Fixed Wheel Brewery

As part of the lead up to this year’s Birmingham Beer Bash (check out full details here www.birminghambeerbash.co.uk we thought we’d do a feature on each of the Midlands brewers that are appearing there, and so to that end I got up what to me was quite early and jumped on a train to Rowley Regis to visit Scott Povey at Fixed Wheel Brewery.

As was P1000165to be expected Scott was already there finishing off putting the malt into the mash tun, but more on that later, first a bit of history. Scott was born in South Birmingham but has been living in the Black Country for about 15 years. He remembers his early beer drinking as mainly revolving around keg in the form of Caffreys and Guinness, but he did always like dark beers such as Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout. His real education was twofold, firstly in that a big influence was a workmate when he worked at Vauxhall who was a member of Redditch and Bromsgrove CAMRA who introduced him to a more varied selection of ales. P1000181And the second influence came from his concurrent interest in cycling when the club he was in would do an off season trip to Gent in Belgium during November with it’s 200+ cafes and bars. Although a while back, particular favourites that stood out were Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant and Dulle Griet, the latter bringing back memories of fun nights trying to negotiate the steep stairs to the rest room wearing only one shoe 🙂 By this time he realised he liked to try different styles of beer, but doing time trials he missed out on the social aspect and would often only drink on a Sunday, so his love of cooking took him on to the idea of doing some home brewing around 2004/05.  He started with kits but soon moved on to building his own setup, and even now still uses his original mash tun for test brews. Over time he cut back on the cycling, but not before setting 2 British records for 50 and 100 mile time trials, and as the home brewing got serious he began to think about opening his own brewery.

Having visited a few breweries he was pleased when he saw news of Green Duck @greenduckbrew opening in Stourbridge with its glass partition so you could see where the beer was coming from. After a few visits he began chatting to Alan Preece, gave him some of his homebrews to try and by mid 2014 he had taken over as their brewer. He was able to give a few tweaks to their core beers whilst learning on the job and improving their consistency, and the brewing process as well as the quality. Later that same year he also opened up his own brewery, an 8 barrel system, on Long Lane trading estate, taking its name, Fixed Wheel, from his cycling past, and with a neat bicycle gear logo designed by Chris from Expressive Design in Tysley.

In September his first core beer, Blackheath Stout was launched, and the range was soon joined by Chain Reaction Pale aAe, No Brakes IPA, and, aP1000174 (2) little later, Century Gold, plus many others that have become favourites with the Midlands drinkers such as his range of single hop beers, called Single Speed, the Omerta Russian Imperial Stout, and, a particular favourite of mine, his recent Belgian IPA – Spartacus. And let’s not forget his collaboration with Angel Ales, Cyclone, a 15% triple IPA which I remember being quite a hit at the 2015 Birmingham Beer Bash, and speaking of which…

If I’m going to interview Scott I should do it on a brew day was my line of thinking, and since it’s the lead up to the Beer Bash it would be nice if it was going to be available there, so when Scott said he was brewing a Double IPA I jumped at the chance. So that was what he was on the opening stages of when I first arrived one dull Wednesday morning. He told me he was mashing in at 64℃, which was a bit less than his normal 66 or 67, with the recipe using 20kg of hops in total, 15 in the kettle and 5 for dry hopping (as a comparison P1000175No Brakes used 13 in total). One of the hops was Simcoe which Scott was using for the first time, and I had the task of breaking the vacuum packs up which was tons of fun and resulted in very sticky and aromatic hands. It was great to watch Scott as he checked and rechecked the temperature and Ph measurements- he is ridiculously thorough which is something that I, as a homebrewer, could learn from, but it paid off as he hit his pre-boil and fermenter og readings. We had a little taste and its promising, good colour and nice creamy, slightly oily/resinous mouthfeel.

Whilst there I also had a little chat with Harriet Bryant, the daughter of Sharon who is Scott’s business partner, chief taster and, sometimes, his biggest critic. She has the fun job of helping to bottle and then label said bottles which at the moment is all done by hand. P1000171 (2)She also helps on a Saturday when the brewhouse is open to the public serving Scott’s beers on both cask and keg. I asked if she’s always liked beer and she said she was a fan of wheat beers but since working at the brewery she has a greater appreciation of beer and likes all styles now. The bar itself gets a wide range of customers, young and old, male and female with many returnees but also lots of new faces, and they both emphasised how much they enjoyed and appreciated the community understanding and spirit that the place provides. Also keeping it in the family so to speak is the fact that a lot of the designs for the labels and pump clips is done by Harriet’s partner Ben Rolls of the Falling Leaf Tattoo Studio in Great Barr, along with Rachid Taibi aka The Upright One (find his blog on the importance of graphics and design in the beer industry here).

In the near future, as well as the release of the Ride It Like You Stole It DIPA and appearance at the Birmingham Beer Bash, there will be a beer from a recent collaboration with Clouded Minds and the Dudley Beer Festival as part of the Black Country month celebrations. And further ahead there’s a new wheat beer to be brewed, a collaboration with the Brewdog bar in Birmingham, and a 4th fermenting vessel so we’ll be able to sample more of these great beers.

In the end Scott said it is all about drink-ability, and, most importantly, balance…and let’s face it that’s pretty useful when riding a bike as well.

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!