The 8th of March is International Women’s Day (IWD) and in addition, since 2014, International Women’s Brewing Collaboration Day. As part of this celebration of both women and brewing I was invited to attend a brew day experience at Brewhouse and Kitchen (BHK) in Sutton Coldfield. The day is co-ordinated by Project Venus, a UK based group of female brewers who want to promote and support women in brewing .
The pub in the town centre is one of 14 BHK sites in the UK with three more due to open shortly. The main difference between this and other chain pubs is that each venue has its own brewhouse as part of the bar. The 450L copper clad kit in Sutton Coldfield was ready and waiting for me and the 6 other ladies who had been invited to take part in the day.
We were a varied group – 2 from the soon to open BHK in Nottingham, one from the PR company in London that represents BHK, a reporter from the local paper and 2 regulars in the pub. The Mayor of Sutton Coldfield also joined us for a short while! There was a range of experience in beer and brewing knowledge that I think these days are ideal for – they a great introduction to beer styles and the hard work that goes into making beer.
We started our day with a coffee and bacon sandwich and being introduced to the brewer Tom Guy. He told us that many of his mentors as he developed as a brewer were women. He also surprised a number of our group by saying that women were the brewers in many ancient civilisations. No pressure for us then!
The theme for the beers this year was ‘Unite Local’ – every bar will brew a different beer using this as their inspiration. Tom told us he’d looked into local history to get ideas for the recipe and having found out that Typhoo Tea started life in Birmingham and that the city was one of the first to import citrus fruits to its markets our beer would be an Earl Grey Pale Ale.
We were given a brief introduction to the ingredients and the process before being split into groups to start weighing out ingredients. For our malt bill we used Cara Light, Pale and Munich. Hop wise it was Citra and Sorachi Ace in pellet form and our yeast was a London ESB.
The tea was steeped in buckets to basically make giant cuppas and these were then added at the end of the boil. The idea of the mixed bags, rather than just Earl Grey, is that the original flavour is quite delicate so by replicating it with black tea and citrus we would retain the aroma and taste during the boil and fermentation.
During the day we discussed lots of different topics around brewing including styles, current breweries, styles of glasses and of course the cask vs keg debate. We also tried a number of the beers brewed on site (all BHK beers served in the bar are brewed in their own brewhouse):
· John Grey Mild – the choice of style from their previous French brewer. A 3.2 % light mild with a very light flavour and malt aroma.
· Marksman – their bestseller. This is a 5% traditional IPA. It had a good hop aroma and amber colour with a light, cask flavour.
· Cup – a 3.6% session bitter named for the pub before its conversion. It captured the traditional flavour with a sweet, malty dry taste. We actually got to try some Cup that had been in the fermenter for 4 days and I have to say I preferred the flavour!
· Shoestring – a 4% American Amber. For me this had a very crystal malt flavour with a slight hop bitterness. It’s brewed with Hercules for bittering and Cascade and Mosaic for aroma.
· Moody Mike – a 5 % smoked porter. 10% smoked malt gives it a smooth flavour with a hint of chocolate.
· Black Belt – our last beer of the day. A 4.5% Porter brewed with Windsor Yeast to give a fruity, bready flavour.
During some down time in the brewing process, there was quite a lot of waiting around (unlike in a normal brewery where there is always something to do!), I had a chat with Martin the new General Manager of the bar. He’s only been in the role for a couple of weeks but has a history in local pubs and bars in the area.
We started off talking about the bar in general. It’s a big space with a very open, light feel. Martin said he’s seen a lot of changes in bars over the last 20 years. As it was IWD we did talk a bit about how women are coming back to pubs and bars more now. Martin felt that the smoking ban had made a big difference making pubs more welcoming and that the range of beers on offer in BHK was also a draw. Women might come in and start on the sweeter fruit beers (which they have in bottle) then move onto tasters of the cask beers available. He reinforced that in an area where they are in competition with 2 bars opposite and a Wetherspoons next door the inclusion of an on site brewery made BHK a unique location. Coupled with this their offerings of masterclasses, brew days and a rotating selection of craft beers in bottles made the pub an attractive location to a diverse group of people.
They currently only brew into cask however there is a plan to brew an American Pale soon and put some of that into keg. I also learned that although the beers are similar in each of the bars they are named differently to reference local ideas or people. The idea being that each of the beers tells a story.
We talked about the importance of keeping beer, particularly cask, in the best condition and Martin told me all their staff go through training modules and taste all the core beers as well as the bottle range. The assistant managers go on the brewery experience day and the cellar is looked after by the brewer. Martin’s ethos is the “less people who touch the beer the better”.
As he is new into role he’s in his early days but he talked about how he wanted to utilise the bar in quiet periods for more community activities as this used to be a key function of pubs in the past. By bringing in a range of people and offering special brew days engaging the community he hopes to attract a different clientele to the surrounding bars and make the BHK a centre in the community.
The beer we brewed should be ready late March and a percentage from each pint will go to breast cancer research categories.