Category: Reviews

Birmingham Brewery Tour – Review

Birmingham Brewery Tours (part of UK Brewery Tours) have been running since March this year and I was very happy when they invited me along to join them this month to see what it was all about*.

The tour starts at 2pm at Rock and Roll Brewhouse in the Jewellery Quarter. I was met by our guide for the day, Stuart, along with Lynne and Mark from the brewery.

The first thing I noticed, as I’ve not been in for a while, was the new seating area – they’ve purchased the adjoining unit and knocked through to make a lovely area complete with windows which really lightens up the whole bar. We were soon joined by the rest of our group – newlyweds Joe and Elaine and father and son Joe and Joe (at least I didn’t have any trouble remembering people’s names!). There were 2 beers being poured as part of the tour Thirst Aid Kit and British Beer Power and we had our first half as Mark took us into the brewery complete with coloured lights and disco ball! He told us about his history in brewing from his days as a homebrewer, through his time at Banks’ and brewing on the roof of the Lamp Tavern in Digbeth. We were surprised to learn we were surrounded by 200 year old walls and that their fermentation vessels are wine tanks from Italy. He told us that the ethos of the whole brewery was “a little space for people who love beer and music” hence the name and all the memorabilia and records lining the walls. The whole group were really interested and asked lots of questions. No one (apart from me) had been there before or, in some cases, even knew it existed and I think this is the great part of this tour taking people to these hidden gems. Then it was time to move on so we left wishing Lynne and Mark a happy birthday as it had been the taproom’s birthday the night before and moved on to our next location – Burning Soul.

By coincidence Burning Soul are also celebrating a birthday as it is one year since they got the keys to the unit – the taproom will celebrate its birthday later in the year! As before none of the rest of the group had been here previously and again they were immediately impressed. Chris and Richard were there to greet us and pour us our first beers – here we had the choice of the whole board and as in Rock and Roll we could have 3 halves. Richard took us into the brewery and gave everyone a potted history from the garage brewing days, via ebay and retrofitting equipment to the newest conditioning vessel just arrived, if slightly dented, that week. He then showed the group a range of malts which we could smell and taste along with some hops as he explained the brewing process.

Again the atmosphere was very relaxed with everyone really enjoying the beers and asking lots of questions. We stayed there for around an hour and then it was time to go to our final destination Pure Bar and Kitchen.

The final part of the day was a little different. As this is not the brewery itself we were there to have a short tutored tasting of some beers led by Sam from the bar. We were told that Purity like to pair their beers with food so we had some small snacks to try with our beers – sausage rolls, cheese, gherkins and chocolate chips. We tasted a range of Purity beers both on draft and from cans, not everyone in the group had been to the bar before and they were interested to hear more about the beers and also try the different food pairings. We were also lucky enough to get a brief glimpse into the cellar which allowed us to see how the beer is stored and transported up to the pumps in the bar above.

To finish off I talked to the group about their experience of the day and here are some of their quotes – “Impressed with how it was handled and the personal experience, hands on, sampling the beer.” “Very welcoming, very nice people.” “Overall a great day and just the right size group, 6 to 8 is enough. It’s more personal.” “We didn’t know any of these places existed we will definitely go back to all the locations and we will bring our friends too.”

I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone who’s not tried these breweries before. It’s a good day out, everyone on the tour was really interested and Stuart was a great, knowledgeable guide.

*I was invited to attend the tour by the organisers and did not pay however this has not impacted my views.

41st Wolverhampton Beer & Cider Festival, a review.

11694162_10209138290244593_7024983997558580560_nI’ll start with a confession, I haven’t been to many beer festivals due to my nocturnal working arrangements and it’s a long time since I’ve actually written anything longer than a short note to be read by anyone else. So if this doesn’t meet the high standards you are used to I apologise.

This year’s beer festival was held at the New Hampton Arts Centre in Dunkley Street, a short walk from the bus and train stations through Wolverhampton’s University Quarter. The arts centre opened in 2000 in the former Grammar School, a 120-year-old building which was refurbished with the help of a National Lottery grant and aims to provide a creative hub were people can engage with the arts. The “beer hall” was quite an intimate room, smaller than the Wulfrun Hall of former years, however extra space was available in the café, which was also serving food, and main hall if need. I’m glad that I made the decision to attend on the Friday afternoon and not one of the evening sessions or on the Saturday when it could have become quite crowded. While it wasn’t too busy when I arrived just after twelve by four o’clock the numbers had increased considerably.

With 68 draught beers, 29 bottled beers and, 16 ciders and perries on offer I decide to keep it LocAle as much as possible and not to over indulge. To break the ice and slake my thirst, the first third was a Cnebba brewed by the dwarves at Fownes, a Baltic porter (barrel aged for six months) which I really enjoyed but would have liked to have just a little more carbonation, whether the lack of carbonation was by design or due to the cask being emptied quicker than the yeast could re-carbonate I don’t know and as there were no dwarves on hand to ask I didn’t find out. My second drink was Sacre Brew’s Man on the Oss, as I wanted to compare this with Kinver Brewery’s festival special, Man Off the ‘Oss. Gwen had been relegated to the end of the bottle bar under a sign for foreign beers! Which is quite ironic as apart from Banks’s I don’t think there is another brewery closer to the venue. Man on the Oss (a rye saison) tantalised with hints of rhubarb, while the Man Off the ‘Oss despite being a nice golden colour totally lacked character and flavour. For two drinks so closely named they could not have been further apart in taste and character.

I hate to say it but most of the pale ales that I tried were disappointing, I could have chosen poorly or it may have been down to the warm weather (low to mid 20s) and high humidity but the pale ales certainly didn’t seem to be up there with the porters. For me the stand out beers were the two porters Fowenes’ Cnebba and Ayr’s Rabbies Porter, and both Wendigo IPA and Man on the Oss from Sacre Brew. Oh, and not forgetting Sadlers’ Peaky Blinder a black IPA. It’s interesting to note that unlike the other ales which were served from casks Sacre Brew’s beers were served from KeyKegs and maybe this helped these beers maintain their quality better than the other pale ales.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try Brough’s  Sledgehammer as it wasn’t available while I was there, and I’d also have preferred to see Marstons showing its revisionist range of beers instead of those it had on show, although CAMRA may not class them as real ales. Notable by their absence were both Twisted Barrel and Fixed Wheel breweries, which was a shame. All in all, in my short time at the festival I got to try a few excellent beers, some good beer and, some not so good beer, talk to some interesting people and enjoy an afternoon where everyone was there for the beer.

Since writing this I have learnt the results for the public vote for best beer in festival which is as follows;sign-599x400

1st Wendigo (Sacre Brew)

2nd US Pale Ale (Mordue)

3rd Man on the Oss (Sacre Brew).

Not only a justified one three for Wolverhampton brewing but also for Sacre Brew.