Category: Profiles

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

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

The original brewki

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Brum Beer Profiles- The Paper Duck

Three friends, two venues and lots of great beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stone Berlin and Greg Koch

One of the main reasons Deb & I wanted to go to Berlin was to visit the recently opened restaurant “World Bistro and Gardens” and brewery of Stone Brewing since we’d had a few friends singing its praises. We decided on dates and once booked we were fortunate to discover that on the Wednesday a Brewers’ Dinner was on the events calendar. This seemed like an opportunity not to be missed and when we knew we had tickets I thought I might as well ask if there might be a chance to have a chat with Greg Koch, the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Stone Brewing. And after a couple of emails back and forth with Colin Lenz, their PR guy, it was set up for late afternoon. I got a bit panicked because we were running a bit late but needn’t have worried because they seemed very chilled and laid back. Colin met us outside and we were pretty knocked out upon entering the reception area where we could see a bar, merchandise, a fridge full of beer and a small glass enclosed room. Then we entered the main hall and were fleetingly blown away by the sheer scale of the place before being ushered into the new library bar where Greg was waiting for us.

I began by asking him when he first got the idea for a European base and was surprised when he said it was as far back as 2009. So they spent a while looking at different sites including the UK and Greg said they had put very good proposals together but just couldn’t find any traction until they found the site south of Berlin’s city centre. Built in 1901 it had been a gasworks facility and due to its size it provided a space for the brewery, plus restaurant and gardens to enjoy great food and great beer in a beautiful setting. When he saw it he could see its potential, and after a few visits to the city of Berlin he fell in love with its history, architecture and vibrant cultural life.We then went back to the beginning, Before Stone, when he was living on the West coast and working in the music industry and although into beer the choice was fairly limited. Then before I could ask him, he mentioned his epiphany beer was drinking an Anchor Steam Ale whilst in LA in 1987. This had two effects, the first being that he became a beer geek and went in search of more flavourful beers and sought out beer festivals. But he also had a sense of disappointment and frustration and felt that by brewing bland corporate beers the big brewers had somehow avoided giving the public a choice. This was a theme he returned to a couple of times in our conversation. But back to the early 90’s and Greg met fellow beer enthusiast Steve Wagner who was also a homebrewer, and so they began brewing together. The first beer they brewed was a very hoppy Altbier, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess there weren’t a lot of examples of this style around, it being an amber ale of German origin. So even at this early stage the guys were setting out their stall so to speak. There followed a further 3 – 4 years when they went down the rabbit hole of beer geekdom, getting increasingly angry about the aforementioned lack of choice and the fact that there were only a few bars in major cities with anything approaching a decent selection of beers. So by 1995 they came to the conclusion that they needed to open their own brewery, and after searching for a few months settled on San Diego in February the following year with the first beer being released in July. They came upon the name Stone purely by tossing ideas out and actually coming up with something that neither of them objected to with both liking the fact it had a naturalness about it, and its attributes including the sense of solidity. Originally they thought they wanted to do traditional European styles of beer with Greg being a self professed Europhile, and so the gargoyle symbol came about because it was a motif to ward off evil spirits. In the case of Stone it is there to ward off cheap ingredients, pasteurisation, and chemical additives…

 

Their first beer was a pale ale, but they followed this up with a smoked porter almost in an effort to really show the possibilities that they felt were missing in the beer scene. But the barriers to entry into the beer market were high and included coming into contact with a certain amount of ignorance. He told us a story of one meeting with a group of beer distributors to sample the beers and when he poured the porter, one of them was astonished that it was so dark! And they had opened at a bad time for the burgeoning craft beer industry which had gone from having growth of 25% and then 45% to just 7% in 1996 and down to 2% the following year. This was the year that they released one of their signature beers, Arrogant Bastard, a beer that seems to have been loved and misunderstood in equal measure. Like many people I thought their message does come across as a bit arrogant, but when you are with Greg he doesn’t come across that way at all, and when he explains the reasoning behind the wording on the Arrogant Bastard label (which I’m sure he’s had to do more times than he can remember) it does make sense. You have to try to imagine what it was like 20 years ago when the beer drinking public just had Miller, Bud, Coors etc and so they weren’t aware of whether they might like something different because they didn’t have the choice. So when the label says you probably won’t like it, well for 99% of drinkers at the time it was probably true, ditto not having the taste or sophistication. At first they were just going to produce 100 cases of the beer because there was a sense that in amongst the sense of fun they were also trying to put people off. And yes it takes a dig at the big corporations but at the time this beer was an outlier pointing to a future that was maybe a little bit uncertain.

But a bit to their surprise it became a success which lead to many variations and it taking on a life of its own in recent months cf Arrogant Brewing. Moving into the new century Stone, like many American breweries, found themselves able to take a few left turns since they had no recent strong brewing heritage in the land of fizzy yellow lager. It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor but it was like being in a culinary environment with a blank canvas. I mentioned to Greg that one of my favourite beers of theirs was the Stone Cali-Belgique IPA because I loved that meeting between a west coast ipa and Belgian yeast although he did say that it was no longer a big seller in the US. But you only have to look at their Untappd listings to see how adventurous they have been during their 20+ year history. Eventually success meant that they outgrew their original brewery and moved to the current location in Escondido, north of San Diego in late 2005. A year later they opened the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens to sell their beers, locally sourced organic food, and give themselves event space for festivals. I finished off my conversation by asking how he felt things had developed since that big move and how he felt about social media. He said he found the business to still be extremely competitive and even with their name and success they still had to work hard to get their beers into bars and keep producing high quality product with the best ingredients. Social media is just seen as a communication tool, not a selling one

Once Greg had left Colin suggested we had a beer and brought the list in for us to peruse…omg, it was big, 51 taps split into Stone Berlin & San Diego, Arrogant Brewing, and guests. I went for the Pataskala Red IPA (I’m sure Colin said it was named after the town of Greg’s birth) which uses a German speciality malt to give it a red hue and sweet bready base for the combination of Mosaic, Cascade and Amarillo hops to sit on. Deb had Tangerine Express ipa which she described as being lovely and full bodied with the correct amount of orangy goodness. We had a little chat about his background in Germany – he had also been working in the music industry in Berlin before moving to Stone in October of last year into a job which he is really enjoying. We asked about his epiphany beer and he said it was a Lervig Lucky Jack pale ale that he had 7 years ago in Oslo. He added as well that whilst touring the US West Coast with his girlfriend he was impressed by all the small breweries along the way, specifically Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka where he celebrated his birthday on the 4th of July. He also gave us a little more history of the place telling us the brewery is 100 hectolitres with the first beer being released last June, and the pilot brewery, which was the first to become operational in December 2015, is 10 hectolitres. The restaurant had opened in September and, like the one at Escondido, used ingredients from small local, organic farms for its menu which is inspired by different food cultures. The library bar where we were sitting was a recent addition, having only been opened in the previous month and was full of bric a brac some of which were gifts from other breweries. After a while Colin had to go back to work and so we explored a bit more including the garden space, and I’m going to quote their fact sheet first – “Approximately 5.000 square meters with corners, nooks and gathering spaces created using natural elements of the space and repurposed building materials. The expansive gardens include boulders, large trees, and plants maintained using 100 percent organic methods.” I’m not sure if this gives an indication that, like the indoor bar and restaurant area, it is not uniform and corporate but has different distinct looks which we thought really added to the ambiance of the place. The brewery feels calm and welcoming, and although quiet when we first arrived it soon filled up with couples, families, and groups of friends coming to sample beers from the 2 Stones breweries and the plethora of guests. Eventually it was time to join our fellow guests for the brewers dinner with Greg, Drew Curtis, collaborator on w00tstout, and Thomas Tyrell, the Director of Brewing.

So after a brief meet and mingle period we took our places at a table for 6 with Colin, his girlfriend Michaela, and a German couple Daniel and Meike, the latter being a food and drink blogger in Berlin. If you are visiting, check out http://smamunir.de/  although if you’re like me you may need to use Google translate. With 4 courses of excellent food and 10 beers it was a long, fun night – here are some of the highlights (unsurprisingly my note taking became more sporadic as the night went on.) We discovered that the Stone Berliner Weisse that came with the first course is Greg’s favourite beer when he visits the brewery, and with the second course we had 2 relatively new beers, Stone Ripper Pale Ale and the previously mentioned Tangerine Express. With the main course of spicy pork chop we had Arrogant Brewing Punishment which used chilis from Greg’s garden originally and is his mother’s favourite beer (which is pretty hardcore). Greg said that great brewing is art and art should have a point of view and by the this course I think we were getting it – my description of Punishment just said “Wow, what a beast, chilli heat and maltiness”. The other third course beer was the Drew Curtis / Wil Wheaton / Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout (2016), the continuation of a collaboration that first began in 2013. Taking its name from Wil Wheaton’s W00tstock show it was inspired by Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie dessert, Drew said they thought the pecans gave it a good mouthfeel and helped the different flavours work well together. Finishing up with Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard and a mellow Coffee Milk Stout a rather splendid evening of great food, beer and conversation came to an end.

In conclusion we found Berlin to be a great city to visit, so much history and culture for one thing, but this afternoon and evening at Stone was certainly a highlight and it’s highly recommended as a place to visit…cheers to Greg, Colin and the rest of the staff!

 

 

 

Brewery Spotlight – Fownes

Fownes Brewing Co. will be celebrating their 5th anniversary next month after what started as an idea over a few pints of beer in 2010 became a reality. Yes unlike a few brewers we’ve talked to who started off as home brewers James and Thomas were not, just drinkers who figured they could make something better than the ales they had in their local pub. This pub was the Jolly Crispin in Upper Gornal and the bar manager was someone that James knew from college who, upon hearing the idea, mentioned the landlord had said the “garage” behind the pub was ideal for such a thing. At the time James was teaching and Tom was involved in concert photography but both had the desire to do something different. So after 10 months of renovating and an intense 18 months of learning how to brew they moved in October 2012 with a tower brewing system and 3 200 litre plastic fermenters. Their first cask had been released in the July, Frost Hammer a 4.6% pale ale, which became part of their core range of 4 beers. They decided to call themselves a Dwarfen brewery, partly in reference to the small nature of their brewery, but also because of their interest in Tolkienesque fantasy and Games workshop style gaming. Thus, as brewers of Epic Tales, they have created a universe and characters for their beers with stories by Tom and illustrations by James to go along with them (they also have a professional storyteller to join them at events to perform the tragic saga of King Korvak), and found that the more unusual the name at beer festivals the more drinkers seem willing to try them. It also gives the new pump clips and bottles a distinctive look with the designs being somewhat reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt covers and Hellboy artist MikeMignola for anyone with an interest in comic books. Over the years some things have changed. At first they were going to focus on English hops but unfortunately they couldn’t get all the tastes and aromas they needed and so now incorporate more hop varieties from the US, New Zealand. Malt wise they use British malt for pale ales but have found the German company Weyermann are the best source for all their speciality malt which they are so fond of since they have over 90 different malts available. Their love of darker beers has given them a good reputation amongst beer drinkers and festival awards, especially with King Korvak’s Saga, a 5.4% porter (CAMRA’s Champion Porter of the West Midlands 2015, 2017), another core beer. As well as the 4 core beers they do a range of Special (seasonal), Limited (quarterly) and Saga Editions. The latter showcase their dark beers of which I’ve only sampled one so far, chapter IV – Downfall –  a big 9% beast of a baltic porter where 7 malts combine to give an intense, flavourful experience, but easy drinking for the abv. Since their early local beginnings they realised that they can’t really compete with a lot of the bigger micro breweries, so have endeavoured to get their beers into at least one pub in a selection of towns and cities such as Walsall, Leicester, Kidderminster, where they can be found at The Weavers Ale House, and the Wellington in Birmingham. The next step to try to get the beers more widely available in bottles and to further this they have turned to a crowdfunding initiative, which you can read about here – http://igg.me/at/fownes – We at the blog are big fans of small independent brewers so think this is well worth supporting, plus we like the beers, and in the name of transparency I will mention that James did give me some bottles when we visited. Not sure if beer bottles can be described as cute, but they have gone for 330ml ones that are short and stocky in keeping with the dwarf theme. And if you still need persuading what great guys they are, well just recently, upon the untimely death of singer Chris Cornell they announced they would brew a beer in his honour. The beer is named after the Soundgarden track By Crooked Steps and they will be donating money from the sale of the beer, which will be available in cask, keg and bottles, to CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) (https://www.thecalmzone.net/) , a charity devoted to preventing male suicide. As well as their hop and malt suppliers matching their donation, their bottle label and pump clip suppliers are donating their services as well which is great news.

So if you haven’t done so before, now is the time to partake of the epic tales and raise a glass to the Dwarfen brother and sisterhood.

Website –  http://fownesbrewing.co.uk/ and follow them on Twitter & Facebook

 

 

 

 

Coventry Beer Profiles – Beer Gonzo – “Buy the ticket, take the ride”

“The greatest mania of all is passion: and I am a natural slave to passion: the balance between my brain and my soul and my body is as wild and delicate as the skin of a Ming vase.”  

HUNTER S. THOMPSON, The Curse of Lono

I am a Coventry kid and very proud of it, it’s a city that has got a bad rep, often laughed about or treated with derision, but it is a city of industrious people, with a sense of independent spirit, typified by its defiance to not be part of ‘Greater Birmingham’.  It’s this independent spirit that has made the growing Coventry beer scene so exciting with Twisted Barrel, Inspire Café Bar, Drapers Bar & Beer Gonzo at the forefront of this.

Recently we had the opportunity to speak to Anthony, the owner of Beer Gonzo to learn more about the bottle shop and the exciting new Tap Room they have recently opened.

Like many recent stories of opportunity and the adventure of independent business, it starts with the credit crunch.  Around 2007, Ant was unfortunately made redundant, but thanks to a friendship with Mark Leape and a love of Belgian beer (his epiphany beer is Duvel) he began working at Inspire Café.  Once they realised people were choosing to have drinks at home, before coming out later in response to the credit crunch an off licence was the obvious choice for their next business venture.

Alexander Wines in Earlsdon had already had a reputation for quality drinks, so when they took it over in 2010 they wished to build on this reputation and add a good selection of Belgian beers to the offering.  In late 2012 they hit a speed bump when handed a one months’ notice to end their tenancy, and though they were able to find new premises would have to wait 6 months until they were able to open.

The new store, Beer Gonzo, was originally envisaged as a shop front for their online store but after they opened on May Day 2013 the beer scene had changed, with the people of Coventry excited about the new breweries and exciting new beers, and more willing to experiment.  This was underlined by how quickly they sold a bottle of Wild Beer Co, Ninkasi.

Ant’s original passion was Belgian Beer, and thanks to relationships they begun cultivate while at Alexander Wines, they are able stock some of the most interesting beers from Belgian best breweries, including beers from Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij, St. Bernardus Brouwerij & Brasserie Fantôme and can now boast one of the best selection of Belgian beers available to buy in the UK.

With a focus on high quality breweries they have expanded their stock to include some of the most exciting breweries from the states such as Crooked Stave, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales & Wicked Weed Brewing alongside all the very best that UK breweries has to offer, including beer from local breweries such as Twisted Barrel.

Through the success of the shop Beer Gonzo has created a community feel, going on a journey with their customers exploring exciting and interesting beers together, and to quote Anthony…

“Interaction with people in a happy place”

With the increased success of the website sales, the shop store room was no longer big enough and the decision was made to move to a separate warehouse space, leaving Ant with the predicament of what to do with all the space he now had…a Tap Room of course, but a Tap Room done Beer Gonzo’s way.

The Tap Room has now been open since January and has proved to be a fantastic success, employing the principles of great international and UK based beers, with a focus on interesting and high quality.  Since opening they have routinely had one of the most interesting and exciting tap lists in the region… I mean…just look at it…in Coventry.

Boasting 16 taps with the taps 1 to 8 cooled at 8°C for Stouts and Porters and, taps 9 to 16 cooled at 6°C for sours and pales to ensure the beers are always served at their best.  Growlers can also be purchased and filled.

Along with the exciting tap list Ant has also create an astonishing collection of rare bottled Lambic that can also be purchased and consumed in the tap room.  In fact, we almost brought a tear to Ant’s eye when we raided the selection on the opening night.

Future plans include beer tastings with Roberto Ross, more meet the brewer events and setting up The Share, a bottle share.  Ant also plans to continue to have more rare Lambics.  They continue to want to go on a journey with their customer, tasting brilliant beers with people from Coventry and beyond.

You no longer need to wait to be sent to Coventry, you can choose to go yourself and drink the excellent beers available!

 

“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”  

HUNTER S. THOMPSON

Check out www.beergonzo.co.uk to shop online and find out the opening times for the bottle shop and tap room.

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.

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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.

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.