Category: Meet the Brewer

Cycle and Wicked Weed at Brewdog AGM

Yes I admit I’m an Equity Punk! It seems lately that Brewdog has been getting a fair bit of bad press but I don’t intend to go over that again. We’ve been going to the AGM for the last 4 years and it’s always a great day out – an interesting selection of beers and some top music too.

This year we attended 2 meet the brewer/tasting events – Cycle and Wicked Weed.

First up – Cycle. Doug Dozark (Founder/Brewer) and Charlie Meers (Director of Shenanigans – yes that’s what it says on his business card!) had travelled over 25 hours non stop to get to Aberdeen from Tampa but this didn’t dampen their enthusiasm and friendliness to everyone who came to talk to them. Cycle Brewing started in Pegs Cantina with Doug coming from Cigar City. The majority of their beer is distributed in the local area so we were lucky to get to try Crank (IPA) and an Imperial Stout with no name during the tasting. The brewery has a large number of  barrels (mostly from Pritchard Distillery) with their output being Imperial Stouts available mainly in bottles and crowlers.

They have 5 year round beers – Crank, Fixie, Cream & Sugar Please, Peleton and Sharrow.

Crank accounts for 50% of their production with it all going on draft in their taproom so getting this on draft was a bit of a coup. This batch had spent an extra 2 weeks in the brewery. A mix of base and flake malt with mainly Citra, Simcoe and Columbus hops gives it a fruity dry flavour. This dryness comes from the addition of dextrose which dries out the beer and “lets the hops shine”.

The second beer at the tasting was an Imperial Stout. It was 2 years in the making with a lot of caramel forward Munich malt. The base stout was 11% with the addition of locally roasted cocoa nibs and whole coffee beans.

Me with Doug (left) and Charlie from Cycle.

When asked how much coffee the response was “a sh*t ton”!

They said they either add these to the fermentors and/or the bright tanks. They also admitted it had no written recipe so who knows if we’ll get to try it again. It has to have been one of my beers of the day with a rich chocolate milk flavour – I hope they do work out how they made it!

 

Our second tasting was with Richard Kilcullen of Wicked Weed but just that week of the new Overworks sour brewery belonging to Brewdog. Richard started by telling us a bit about Wicked Weed – their mission was to “demystify sours” and make beers with a “sense of place”. He explained that Wicked Weed have only one house strain of Brett and they control the flavours by controlling the fermentation temperatures. This allows them to remove any cloying flavours and the acidity is tempered.

The first beer we tried was Genesis (6.6%). This beer is brewed with 1lb of tropical fruits (mango, pineapple, papaya and guava) per gallon of beer. It’s then aged for 8 months in red wine barrels. The fruit is added before barrelling to give a secondary fermentation before racking off. A super fruity, sour bomb with a good balanced flavour (as promised the acidity was smoothed out).

Me with Richard

Our second beer was Silencio. This is a 7.4% black sour ale. Tahitian vanilla and El Silencio coffee (giving it the name rather than the club in Mulholland Drive – pity!). Aged in bourbon barrels. It did a have a slightly acidic coffee flavour but all the flavours from the coffee, vanilla and barrels came through.

The final part of the talk was about Overworks, the new Brewdog sour facility in Ellon. They are basically building a ‘farmhouse’ which will use mixed culture fermentation. Construction began in January 2017 and Richard said he is looking forward to starting to use his knowledge from Wicked Weed to brew great sour beers in Scotland. The end of the session included a Q&A with the question raised “where is sour beer going?”, Richard’s answer “in my mouth”. I have to say that this is a sentiment I have to agree with!

In both cases it was great to try some unusual beers and meet some interesting brewers. I hope that Cycle can get their beers over here and that the Overworks is a success.

Meet the Brewer: Jamil Zainasheff of Heretic Brewing

On Thursday March 16th Tilt in Birmingham City Centre played host to an international Meet the Brewer with Heretic from California and its owner Jamil Zainasheff.

As is often the case with these events this became a great social occasion with many friends drinking great beer including Evil Cousin, Evil 3, Grapefruit Mosaic, and the Chocolate Hazelnut Porter. And although I didn’t have a glass myself, the Cruel Beauty, a robust porter aged in oak barrels on tart cherries for nearly two years seemed to go down particularly well.

I had chance to have a brief chat with Jamil but figured that doing a formal interview there after a few beers was asking a bit much of my brain, and so it came to pass that on a rather chilly Saturday lunchtime we rendezvoused at Burning Soul brewery for an informal chat over a beer or 2.

I first asked Jamil a bit about his background and he said he was working in software and living in Northern California just drinking whatever beers were available whenever he went out. But then he had his epiphany moment when his neighbour Steve handed him a beer to try that was full of flavour. When he asked where it was from Steve replied ”I brewed it” which was a bit of a mind blower because Jamil just thought that beer was brewed in big factories (which to be fair was probably correct).

By the late 70s the US beer industry had shrunk in size to just 44 breweries who mainly brewed light lager style beers with little character or taste, although change was on the way. The first root of this change was Fritz Maytag buying the Anchor Brewing company in 1965 where he carried on brewing some unique styles such as steam beer. This was followed by the short lived New Albion Brewery that was opened in 1976 by, wouldn’t you just know it, homebrewing enthusiasts. It was these people that through the 80s and 90s pioneered the opening of micro breweries and brew pubs that sold beer with more flavour and adapted styles from the Old World. Jamil told his wife that you could make good tasting beer on a small scale and for Christmas she bought him a Mr Beer Homebrew Kit. It was an extract kit and he followed the instructions, and the beer was horrible, but he knew that good home brewed beer was possible. In the late 1990s he practised and practised to achieve that aim, eventually winning many awards for his home brewing and writing books about it.

Fast forward to 2009 and after 15 years at the same company he took a year off to write a critically acclaimed book about yeast with Chris White before taking the plunge with his wife’s blessing to open Heretic Brewery in Fairfield. At the time there was one other micro brewery in town, but they have since been joined by a couple of others, but he said one of his main motivations to open in the town was the quality of the water. (He’d been told that the reservoir had been built for Anheuser Busch, so maybe some good can come out of big monolithic corporations)… The brewery is family owned, with both his wife and older daughter working for the company, and the first batch of beer was released in 2011. Eventually, after getting a bit fed up with the one hour commute to work the family moved a bit closer, and he’s now 6 miles away. He is a big believer in having as little negative impact on the environment as possible and drives an electric car which he charges at the brewery which is all powered by wind power, and is aiming for a zero waste workplace.

We moved on to a discussion about US Brewing because on Thursday at Tilt I’d said how it would be good to speak to someone who was from the country that lead the way in brewing, or something along those lines. But he was quick to point out that really the American beer revolution had been started by visitors to the UK, Belgium and Germany who enjoyed the different styles that were on offer. They then returned home and tried to replicate it but with little success, but gradually, over time, they studied brewing and learnt about techniques to get it right. And then they were able to experiment and basically do what they liked until now, Jamil feels there are true American brewing styles and many great American breweries. One of these is undoubtedly Russian River which is also based in California, and when he first started the brewery he took his staff there to sample some beers. They tried a 20 beer flight, all the beers were great, some were truly excellent and he remembers saying to them “How do we make one beer this good? ” and realised the challenge he faced. But he believed that if you have your goal in mind and take it one step at a time you will eventually get there. Now, 6 years later when he stands in the tap room looking at the 16 taps, he knows he has come a long way and is very proud of what he does. And at first he didn’t want a tap room, and there wasn’t one for the first 3 years because he loved to socialise but didn’t want to be standing around trying to sell his beer, he just wanted people to taste it. But now they are open 7 days a week and will soon be adding a kitchen and a distillery, which they hope to be another positive resource for the local community. This desire not to have a negative impact on the community or the environment is part of their underlying philosophy along with his definition of craft which he believes to be about putting the quality of the product above profit. In fact he said that when asked what are the priorities about the brewery, number one is safety, number two is quality and profit comes a lot lower down the list.

I asked how the brewery got on whilst he was away since he seemed to be a hands on sort of guy, and his itinerary this trip included Belgium, the Netherlands, Birmingham, Bristol and London in the UK, and Sweden and Denmark, so quite a long trip. He said when he started he employed a guy called Chris Kennedy who is now the head brewer, although Jamil still comes up with ideas because it is still his vision. He paid tribute to the team that he had though, saying that they did a great job, offering input on the brews and basically executing said vision.

We finished off with a brief discussion about social media which he sees as both a good thing for promoting things, and a bad thing when a negative element can take over. He also thought, like me, that sometimes us beer drinkers can’t see the wood for the trees and can get a bit hung up on the latest thing and fads (iceman pour anyone? ) when really all we went is a good beer in a good venue with good company. By this time, Scott Povey and his partner Sharon of Fixed Wheel and popped in for a drink, and once they started talking about attenuation I dropped out of the conversation…my beer education hasn’t gone that far yet.

Brewers United

In closing, I’d like to say thanks to Jamil for his time and for a great conversation, and to Chris and Rich at Burning Soul for their hospitality.

Siren Q&A @ Beer Gonzo 2 March 2017

Beer Gonzo’s taproom has been open a few weeks now but I’ve not had the opportunity to get over to Coventry to visit them. I’ve seen plenty of activity on social media and some great check ins on UnTappd so I really felt I was missing out. My opportunity came with this event – a Q&A and tasting with Siren Craft Brewing led by Sam Lee from the brewery.
The taproom was busy when we arrived and the tap list was certainly impressive but I held off for the tasting itself. I hadn’t seen the tasting list before arriving but I knew it would be worth the wait.
Sam started off by telling everyone a bit about the history of Siren. It all started with founder Darron Anley enjoying a 5am Saint from Brewdog. That was back in 2012. He sought advice from Jasper Cuppaidge at Campden Town Brewing who told him buy a kit double the size you’ll need and don’t brew yourself. Darron followed this advice and recruited Ryan Witter-Merithew, who had already made over 200 beers with the likes of Mikkeller, Evil Twin and Omnipollo. The first beer to be brewed was released in February 2013 and was the now iconic Maiden. Since then the brewery has expanded to brewing 10,000 HL in 2016 and exporting to 22 countries.
They brew 5 (soon to be 6) core beers and 4 seasonal IPAs. Our first beer of the night was one of these Ryesing Tides a rye IPA brewed with 8% rye and a mix of centennial, mosaic and simcoe hops to give a tropical fruit taste with a dry, spicy finish.
Sam went on to explain where the name and design of Siren had come from – just as the beautiful but deadly sea maidens of Greek legend used to lure sailors to the doom so would these beers draw you into their spell – all pretty sexy really! This led us on to the second beer of the night a ‘pimped up’ English style brown ale. It seems though that the marketing department had a slight memory lapse when it came to the ‘sexy’ ethos of the brand and named this one ‘American Oak Brown’! This beer is brewed with a special mix of malts and 3 types of oats, it’s also dry hopped with mosaic and simcoe to give it balance. It had a boozy taste with more than a hint of oak chips and old barrels.
We then started to move onto the big guns, first brewed in 2014 Caribbean Chocolate Cake was a collab with Cigar City and aged in cyprus wood making it 5 times as expensive as a batch of Soundwave! However when the team tasted it the cyprus hadn’t quite worked (they’d used a bag in fermenter method). The feedback was that the beer needed to spend longer in contact with the wood in a “spin bot”. This piece of kit allows the beer to be pumped continuously over the wood increasing the exposure time and therefore flavour. Of course Siren didn’t have one of these just lying around so they used their contacts and got a fabrication company based next to the brewery to convert an old grundy tank into their own version. This allows them to fill from top and bottom and circulate the beer over the wood for 4-8 hours. It has a capacity of 600L but can run up to 1000L and they are now looking at if they can also fill it with hops!
We then reached a turning point in Siren’s history – due to family circumstances Ryan decided to leave and move back to the US to Hill Farmstead (rated the best brewery in the world). That was July 2015, and our next beer was born of a three way collab between Siren, Beavertown and Ryan’s new side project Casita Cervecería (created using Hill Farmstead’s kit at night!) and brewed in Vermont. The beer is Amigos Brittanicos – this version using an Ardennes (wild) yeast to give a herbal floral flavour to this 7.8% farmhouse ale. It’s flavoured with Santa Fe Grande chillis, lime juice and blossom flower honey. To be honest it split the room! I thought it had a distinct aroma of Jif and the greenness of the chillis was a bit much to begin with but the honey flavour did come through as it warmed up.
Next up another core beer – Broken Dream. However this was a special version started 18 months ago with Modern Times. It was barrel aged with green coffee beans (as their porous skins allow for more flavour transfer) then aged at Siren in wet bourbon barrels in January 2016. The beans were then sent to a roaster, crushed and ground and returned to the brewery to be returned to the beer. They usually use around 4KG per 5000L however this time someone thought the flavour wasn’t quite rich enough so the added, by accident, around 15-20KG!! This gave us this special version Bourbon Coffee Broken Dream at 6.5% it has an almost espresso martini flavour with a real caffeine build. It was definitely a sipper despite the relatively low ABV.
A palate cleanser next, Squealer, a 100% bretted beer and the first for new brewer Kyle Larsen. It’s a 6.5% sour ale which utilises a kettle souring process. The beer has a cold sparge and the grains are washed with lactose, this is then covered in blanket of CO2 and left for 48 hours. The beer is then fermented with raspberries. It had a very dry flavour with the fruit not really detectable although it may contribute to the smooth, slightly fruity finish.
Our last beer of the night was the new DIPA, Hop Candy, a big beer at 9.2%. Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic hops and lupulin powder (which is a more refined flavour I learned). In addition there is 2KG of lime zest added to the boil. The beer had 2 extra weeks of tank time due to the move over to the new brew kit. The flavour was not at all bitter and it drank well below the ABV (which could be dangerous!). I did think it had a slight ‘powdery’ aroma but that might be the effect of knowing about the lupulin powder.
A short Q&A followed in which Sam was asked the inevitable question of if they would every brew Limoncello again – simple answer NO! Partly as they don’t want to be known only for that beer – great as it was.
The tap room is a nice cosy space and certainly lends itself to these types of events – I look forward to visiting them again very soon to try out some to their great beers on tap let alone the amazing bottle selection!
Thanks to Ant and the team for an enjoyable night and to Sam for being entertaining and informative as always.

Tiny Rebel Can Tour at Cotteridge Wines 18/02/2017

 

Tiny Rebel are the latest brewery to start putting their beer into cans.   As part of the move to their new brewery in January they have invested in their own bottling and canning equipment and to promote having 3 of their core beers (Cwtch, Clwb Tropicana and Cali) now available in cans they embarked on a ‘can tour‘ around the UK.

I popped along to the last stop on the tour at Cotteridge Wines to talk to Gazz from the brewery about their move into canning and the evolution of the brewery over the last 7 years.  There was a great atmosphere in the taproom with people enjoying the range of cans and chatting to Gazz and the rest of the team from the brewery.  I grabbed a can of Cwtch (my favourite TR brew) ,Gazz and a table in the corner and started my chat…

I started off asking Gazz how he’d become interested in brewing and he told me both he and Brad, his brother-in-law and co-founder, “were not brewers or businessmen we were engineers and beer lovers“.  He said he used to be fascinated by his Grandfather making ginger beer under the stairs and the way the plastic bottles expanded (sometimes to the point of explosion) piqued his interest in fermentation and as he grew up into brewing. Along with this whilst all his friends were downing pints of lager, he was drinking real ales because he wanted to drink something with a real flavour.  The seed was sown.

Brad and Gazz started homebrewing and in 2008 started seriously thinking about going into brewing as they “wanted to see beers in their local supermarket that were as good as our homebrews“.  After 2 years of planning they bought a 50L homebrew kit and in 2012 Tiny Rebel was born. Within 12 months they’d won Champion Beer of Wales for Dirty Stop Out, their smoked oat stout along with Silver and Bronze for Fubar and Urban IPA respectively.  The brewery continued to go from strength to strength by the end of 2012 they had brewed 82,000L and by the end of 2014 close to 500,000L.  The awards continued to come in with Cwtch winning the Champion Beer of Britain in 2015 – an accolade proudly displayed on the new cans.

Gazz told me that as good as it was brewing all this beer there were still only a handful of places to drink decent beer in the South Wales area.  The market was monopolized by Brains and other big regional beers.  So in 2013 Tiny Rebel, Cardiff was born.  The aim was to not only showcase their own beers but also to ensure that there was a great range of guest beers which the guys had enjoyed but not necessarily in their region.  Interestingly he told me that in both this bar and the newly opened bar in their (and my) hometown of Newport it is the Tiny Rebel beers that most people are drinking not the guests!

I noticed when I checked out their website before my chat (always pays to do your research!) that in 2016 they had produced a homebrew kit of Cwtch.  I wondered how this had come about and it turns out it was their bottle supplier who came up with the idea.  They asked Tiny Rebel if they’d be interested in collaborating on a homebrew kit as although they produced some already they were very traditional styles and they wanted to attract new, young, craft brewers.  Since the guys had started as homebrewers they were happy to come on board and they are now working on developing kits for Fubar and Hadouken to add to the range.

The final part in their brewery story was completed in January this year when they moved into their new facility in Newport.  The new kit will have the ability to brew up to 5 million litres using 2 side by side kits the second of which was due to arrive that week.  The new site also includes the bottling and canning lines I mentioned at the start and this led us on to talking about the move into cans.  The benefits are clear – the beer can keep fresh for longer, transportation costs are less, chill time is reduced and last but not least they are much easier to drink on the go (train beer anyone?).  Gazz was keen to stress though that they are not moving away from bottles completely, some markets in fact will only accept bottles and some beer just tastes better in a bottle too.  He also told me they will continue to brew into both keg and cask and that they have decided this year to expand their cask range from 4 to 6 lines.

I asked Gazz why, unlike some other well publicised cases recently, they had decided to expand their cask offering when others are reducing or even stopping cask all together.  He told me he felt very strongly that cask ale is a “unique British product” and that “good cask beer is unrivaled” (60% of their output is cask).  He started his beer drinking, as did many of us, with cask beer but he also recognises that it can be daunting now for new drinkers and that one bad experience can put you off it for life.  The key to Tiny Rebel is that they only sell their casks to people who they trust to look after them, they know the storage and serving of the beer is paramount to it reaching the consumer in the same condition it left the brewery.  If you want to read more about Tiny Rebel’s approach to cask you can read their excellent blog here.

As I finished my can of Cwtch (tasting super fresh and fruity), we finished off our chat talking about how sticking to their roots rather than moving their brewing to Cardiff or even Bristol has gained them great local support amongst drinkers young and old as well as plenty of press coverage. The not so tiny any more rebels from Newport are doing a great job in keeping both traditional cask and innovative keg, can and bottle alive and well in the South Wales valleys and around the world.  I look forward to seeing what they do next!

 

 

 

 

 

August Bank Holiday Weekend

So the August Bank Holiday weekend proved to be quite an interesting few days if you were a beer drinker in and around Birmingham; lots of events and beer festivals going on as well as the usual excellent selection of beers at the Craven Arms, yes Fallen Brewery Chew Chew I’m looking at you…

First up on Thursday for Deb & I was Kernel meet the brewer with Evin O’Riordan at Tilt, a bit of a no brainer since we are both big fans of their beers. We started with the latest iteration of the low abv table beer, this one being the Mosaic version which was a good solid start and went well with the takeaway dinner from Mission Burrito. Next was one of the changes to the original beer listing, the biere de saison Citra, a refreshing, zingy beer with a hint of tartness and quite fruity. Another change to the menu was the pale ale Comet which originally was going to be a Nelson Sauvin version but Evin didn’t think it was quite up to scratch. It was around this time as Deb had this and I had the IPA Mosaic Nelson Sauvin that Kirk brought Evin over and introduced us, although we had met previously at Cotteridge Wine. So we had quite a long chat about the the beers we were drinking, the Birmingham scene, the Brexit effect, how things were going in London etc, and we were joined by Joe Rushton for a while. I also introduced him to Gwen from Sacre Brew so he knew some good things were happening in the area. As usual it was a relaxed night, good service from Kirk, Rich, Neil (soon to leave for a new career in dog grooming – he will be missed) and new recruit Nathan. Plus it was nice to see people from other bars popping in to support this venture. Just to shake things up a little we veered off the Kernel path for our last beer and had a bottle of Northern Monk Wasted to share which hit a nice balance of sweet, sour and fruitiness.

Friday brought what I think might be a fairly unique event, in a bottle shop at least: the chance to meet not one, not two, but three brewers from three of the biggest and most respected breweries in the country at Cotteridge Wine. It was to celebrate the release of the 2nd version of Rule of Thirds, a collaboration between Beavertown, Magic Rock and Siren, and whilst there Bob Maxfield & I had a chat with head brewer Stuart from Magic Rock. He told us that Ryan Witter had the original idea for Rule of Thirds whilst he was still at Siren, and asked Beavertown and Magic Rock for the recipes for Gamma Ray and Cannonball respectively and made adjustments for the different brewery sizes to come up with something workable. This time though the breweries are of similar size, 55 hectolitres, and so they just used a third of each recipe and aimed for a beer a third of the strength. He said that many of the hops used in Cannonball were also in Gamma Ray and Soundwave which made life a little easier but they were used in different places in the schedule, and to give it that Magic Rock feel Magnum was used for bittering. Brewers from Beavertown and Siren made the trip to Huddersfield on brew day to give support and advice and do a bit of grafting and it all went quite smoothly. Apparently it is often the duty of the guest to dig out the mash tun… wonder who drew the short straw there… We also had a more general chat about how things were going at the new brewery site, but for a more insightful view check out http://www.magicrockbrewing.com/blog/august-2016-expansion-one-year/

As for the evening itself it was the usual relaxed evening full of great beer and conversation, was really nice to be able to have a half of each of the 3 beers that went into Rule of Thirds before having it, and when we did I for one wasn’t disappointed. It had a lovely bitterness and great fruity grapefruit taste. And I was very pleased that the Bloody Notorious had made it in time, I love Bloody ‘Ell and this bigger, punchier version is very good, a great way to end another fantastic event at Cotteridge.

Saturday was a day off…

Sunday we woke up to a message that said Twisted Barrel had ran out of beer, not normally a problem but since we were planning on visiting the taphouse for their beer festival it could’ve been. But after some toing and froing on twitter we figured it was still worth the journey. And there was the added incentive of Digbeth Dining Club being at Coventry p1000382Cathedral, so that was lunch sorted. And what an excellent lunch courtesy of @Chevaux_65 and Street Souvlaki with a lovely crepe from @crepesandmore for dessert, and so suitably full we made the 15 minute walk out to Fargo Village. They had put a couple of their own beers on to replace ones that had run out, so it seemed pretty churlish not to try them…first up was  Soup Dragon which they describe as a smoked saison, made with 50% rauch malt, flavoured with lime zest and chipotle, and it was indeed a nice combination of spice, smokiness and heat. One of the other new ones was Mongrel which had been brewed by one of the guys behind the bar using all English hops and which had a pleasing bitterness to it.  Over the course of a couple of hours, despite the odd rain shower, the tap house was continually busy, here is a paragraph from Deb giving her verdict on the afternoon…

Well for saying they had “run out of beer” Sunday at the Twisted Barrel Beer Festival in the Fargo village part of Coventry was distinguished by some delightful and diverse beer. In fact I dread to think what Saturday was like as Sunday was pretty damn popular, a so-called dearth of ale notwithstanding. I reckon there was a continuous queue at the bar for for the last 60 minutes or so! Then at 5.40 they had to refuse custom as they were in danger of running dry again for unlucky attendees on Bank Holiday Monday. Success is a Bummer! The poor TB employees were gonna have to scrabble around again to find beer for thirsty Coventrarians! ? I had a lovely time in pretty pleasant surroundings on a reasonably sunny August afternoon.

As we got close to the end of the afternoon we hit the big guns, the breweries own Wake Up Juice their version of a Belgian Tripel which was lush, good thick mouthfeel, pleasant floral aroma, full on taste, kind of creamy fruit, and Morag from Beer Nouveau in collaboration with Clever Yeti Brewing, an Imperial Sorachi Bubblegum Stout, which was unusual because you actually did get a bubblegum hit from it.  So all in all a really nice Sunday afternoon was had, very pleased we decided to go and will definitely be going back, sooner rather than later…

And to finish off the weekend we went a little closer to home once I had finished work and visited the Swan in Halesowen to see what they had left from their festival.  Fortunately there were some decent ales on the bar and in the marquee on stillage so we supped from Mallinsons, Salopian, Kelham Island, Bad Co Brewery, Bristol Beer Factory and a tasty half of Ride it Like you Stole it, which hadn’t had to travel far from Fixed Wheel Brewery just up the road…a fitting end to a great beery long weekend.

PS – many thanks to Laura Creaven of @FulltotheBrum for letting me use a couple of her photographs

NMBCo, carrying on the tradition

nbm2 On Thursday 18th February Tilt bar in Birmingham staged their first tap takeover and meet the brewer event with Northern Monk from Leeds. In the house was head brewer Brian Dickson to give us a short history of the brewery and talk us through the beers on offer. They started as cuckoo brewers, doing their beers on other people’s equipment, before setting up a permanent base in August 2014 in a grade II listed old flax mill building in Leeds. Starting off with 3 fermenters they have doubled up to 6 and are a 10 barrel plant currently on gyle 170, brewing every day for cask, keg, and cans. In the beginning 60% of the beers went in cask, but that has dropped to 25% now.

20160218_210830Working my way through the board I started with the Pale which is primarily a cask beer and used mainly British hops but with a bit of Cascade as well. Next up was Eternal, a session ipa which was juicy and piney and at only 4.1% eminently drinkable. The New World ipa was probably the 1st of their beers I had back in the summer of 2013 at the 1st Birmingham Beer Bash, at the time I described it as a “lovely ipa, complex, fragrant, tasty”, and although they have been tweaking the recipe in the last 18 months it is an excellent drink, fantastically hoppy, this version had Chinook and Simcoe. On to the dark side with Northern Star, a mocha porter done in collaboration with Leeds North Star coffee roasters using 8kg of coffee in a cold brew and lactose in the boil giving a really nice chocolate, coffee and vanilla taste combination. And talking of collaborations I had to try the Tilted Monk, described as a coffee cream ale and brewed with the help of the Kirk at Tilt. Like an idiot I expected it to be dark, but it was a nice amber colour with quite a subtle earthy coffee flavour, again using lactose, Origin coffee from Nicaragua, and Rakau hops from New Zealand.  Last, but certainly not least, was Rapscallion a brew based on a historic recipe from the 1640’s called Purl, also known as Wormwood Ale which included orange peel and leaves from the senna plant.  For this version Brian told us they used an all UK hop bill and added orange zest and just enough crushed ginger to give a gentle kick. It certainly had a nice orangey flavour with a little spiceyness to it.

20160218_212150Over the course of a very relaxed evening I was able to chat with Brian and it was good to hear some stories from The Grove in Huddersfield, where he had worked for 7 years, a place my wife and I hope to be visiting in the near future.  And the brewery seems to be going from strength to strength, it now has 4 brewers, and last year opened the Refectory Tap Room in Leeds, another venue I have heard good things about. So thanks to Kirk, Rich and Brian for a nice night, already looking forward to the next MTB later this month.

Siren MTB

SIREN-logo

As mentioned in a previous blog, Birmingham is blessed with some quality pubs and one such is the Craven Arms in Upper Gough St. Since taking it over a few years back Chris Sherratt, with the help of his wife Sharon and their staff, both old and new, have turned what was a rough and ready back street boozer into one of the destinations of choice for the discerning drinker. And ever since I saw the list for a beer festival they did back in 2013 (I think) and it had Brodies on it I became a convert. I remember actually thinking “Oh my God, Brodies in Birmingham, how great is that?“, and since then they have had many of the country’s best breweries on cask and keg, the latter range having been expanded, thus setting a high bar for others to aspire to. And now they have added another string to their bow with a series of Meet The Brewer events, in which they have been ably abetted by one of their staff ,Tim Rowe. I missed the first one with Cloudwater due to being on holiday, but when they announced Siren as the next one Deb & I were in like Flynn so to speak. We are both big fans of the brewery, and I think one of the eye openers for me was drinking Half Mast QIPA at the inaugural Birmingham Beer Bash…who knew such a low abv beer could be so tasty?. And so, on Monday 26th Oct we strolled up the hill to the pub for an evening of tasty beverages and beery chat.

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Will and Sam from the brewery were both there, and they gave a little introductory talk about their history. It is situated in Berkshire and was formed in 2012 by Darren Anley and an American Ryan Witter-Merithew. Ryan had a history of brewing for some of the best breweries in the world inc Duck Rabbit, Mikkeller, Tool, & Omnipello. The 2 met at the CBC in the States, Darren asked Ryan for advice, and the rest as they say is history. They have a 30 barrel kit and now have 5 core beers in their range, 3 of which were on cask on the bar – Soundwave, Liquid Mistress and Broken Dream, and thanks to good cellarmanship they were all tasting pretty good. The other 2 are Undercurrent, and Calypso which is the latest addition, and they commented that they were pleased to have such a style, a Berliner sour beer, as a core beer. But the 2 special guests so to speak at this tasting were Fortuna’s Gift and Quadrophenia, both of which were making a rare appearance on cask. I will turn to their website (http://www.sirencraftbrew.com/) for descriptions, first the Fortuna’s Gift – “Gordon’s Strong, our Wee Heavy has been aged in Cognac barrels for over a year. This one off release has been infused with orange zest, sage, cranberry and a host of Christmas spices.” And yes it really did taste like Xmas in a glass. More to my taste was the Quadrophenia – “Based out in Ohio, Jackie O’s are famed for their work with Dark Ales. Quadrophenia uses a varied malt base pitching it somewhere between a Strong Porter and a Belgian Quad. Belgian Candi Sugar and High Gravity Trappist Yeast form a delicious deep, rich dark and fruity ale.” I felt we were quite honoured to be able to sample these ales in Birmingham, so once again kudos to the Craven team. And, after a pause for refreshment, the Siren guys had a brief chat about future plans, which include the appointment of a new German brewer, a grapefruit version of their mighty fine Limoncello IPA, the return of Caribbean Chocolate Cake, and the continuation of the Rainbow Project. And even though Ryan has left and returned to the States they are still in regular communication with him to bounce a few ideas around. So I think it’s safe to say the future is looking bright.