Category: Meet the Brewer

People in Glasshouses….Glasshouse Brewing Co

On Friday 8th September Josh Hughes pretty much completed the ‘circle of beer’ (apologies Lion King fans) when he hosted a tap takeover and meet the brewer for his own brewery, Glasshouse Brewing Co, where his beer journey started in Brewdog Birmingham.

I managed to grab the newest brewer on the block and ask him some questions about where he’s come from, where he is now and where he’s headed. Here’s what I learnt…

I started out by asking Josh how it had all started and he told me he’d joined the Brewdog team in June 2012 and worked at the bar for four and a half years. During that time, at James Watt’s request, he spent some time brewing on the pilot kit up at Brewdog HQ in Ellon. The big catalyst was then giving his homebrew to James and the way that not only he reacted but the whole company. “It sent a shockwave through the company” that someone in one of their bars could be brewing beer to that standard. James even said that trying this homebrew was the highlight of his time working in the bar in Birmingham!

The other thing to come out of this encounter was Josh and Neil Hemus starting the homebrew club with Josh being the sole organiser after Neil Hemus moved on. He told me that Brewdog had really wanted him to stay up in Ellon but he found the process too automated and that he wanted to get his hands dirty – that’s what brewing means to him. So that’s how Glasshouse was born.

They started on October 21st 2016 in a greenhouse in Kings Heath and if you’re wondering how the brewery got its name it’s all thanks to Josh’s niece who said “are you in the brewery today? You’re in the glasshouse brewery” and Glasshouse Beer Co. was born!

After getting set up from October the first beer was released in March this year and that’s when the brewery is really counting its birthday (so look out for celebrations next March!).

We moved on then to talk more about the brewery itself and their general ethos. Glasshouse is pretty much just Josh, he does all the recipe development and is the head brewer. He’s also assisted by Callum Marnock who’s been part of the team from the start. They are currently brewing on a one barrel kit, but a five and half barrel kit will be operational early in November with 20 barrels worth of fermentation vessels and at least one bright tank (maybe 2). The plan is to move away from keg and bottle conditioning to forced carbonation, the reason for this is to ensure the consistency of the beer. Josh told me though that they now plan to cease bottling for 2 reasons one “it’s a pain in the arse” and secondly once the new kit is up and running they’re moving into canning.

Me with Josh and Julie

I asked Josh about the breweries approach to styles and having a core range of beers as I’ve noticed that there are only a couple of his beers I’ve had more than once. “We’ve adopted a real Kernel and Cloudwater approach to experimentation. Not weighing ourselves down with a core range”. He said that he hates the labelling of beer with it having to be defined as one style or another “it’s so much more than that. I don’t like the distinction of west coast or east coast pales for example. If you want to brew a dank juicy IPA with loads of flaked oats –giving a juicy body and clean finish then go for it” There are lots of people doing this at the moment and he cited a few idols such as Deya, Verdant and Cloudwater. However he did say that sometimes he finds their beers too sweet, and since he’s a committed “hop fiend” he wants to show off the hops. He told me that he “spends time on the malt bill, so the hops can shine through. If it’s an IPA the hops should be at the front of the beer.”. Of course it can’t all be about the hops so the chocolate milk stout and, the frankly delicious, Me Julie shows they are not a one trick pony.

I moved on to ask Josh why we weren’t seeing so much of his beer around at the moment. It’s all down to his high levels of quality control “as the head brewer I have had to ensure the CO2 levels, the hop flavour over time and the way the flavour profile matures are all measured and controlled. I’ve kept stock back looking at it with a longer view.” Sometimes this has gone wrong and he’s held it back too long but that allows for the setting of a realistic best before date and will help with proper stock rotation once it gets to the bars. He also said this gives a baseline for the move to the big kit. “Ensuring that when the beer is released it’s at its optimum freshness, and that the flavour and aroma profile and CO2 levels are all perfect”.

He told me how his current role working at Clink has actually helped him with this quality control process “launching at Clink gets me unbiased feedback on the beer, 99.9% of the people drinking there don’t know I’m Glasshouse so I get unfiltered feedback direct from the customers”. He said

“It’s an ongoing research and development, it’s an ongoing discipline there is always something you can learn”.

I for one am really excited about the beers I’ve tried so far as well and the real passion and knowledge Josh displays for his craft.

I’ve got an invite to go and visit the brewery once the new kit is all up and running so watch this space for an update nearer the end of the year.

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.

Pirate Life – They Come from a Land Down Under!

Whilst out for a farewell drink with Gwen (see my previous blog “Au Revoir Sacre Brew…”) we popped into Brewdog who were having a showcase from Pirate Life. Never one to miss a blog opportunity I sat with Sean Robertson (European Developer) to have a chat about this Australian brewery and their plans for the UK.

The brewery, based in Adelaide, started about two and a half years ago and the two founding brewers, Jack Cameron & Jared Refert started their brewing lives at Brewdog in Ellon. From there they went to Little Creatures and Cheeky Monkey respectively before Jack’s father raised the money to set them up in their own brewery. The brewery has grown 15 fold in two and a half years and is moving toward 220 thousand litres a month. They now brew 17 styles of beer, with staff increasing from 6 to 36 people including 6 brewers.

The event was more of a meet and greet however Sean told me they had a more full on program of meet the brewer type events planned at other Brewdog bars over the coming weeks. He told me the relationship comes from starting at Brewdog but there is still a healthy competition!
The brewers intend to come over to the UK and Europe every 10 weeks, having freed themselves from the brewery, to drive forward events, Q&As and promotion. We agreed this will be great for them to see the challenges facing breaking into other markets.

We talked about the challenges of bringing beer from so far away and I found out that the beers are shipped in chilled transport for their 6 week journey and that Pirate Life are passionate about maintaining an all cold supply chain. Within Australia they have their own distribution network but to bring beer to the UK they have had to have a number of trial runs. The first shipment was not great with the Throwback IPA, particularly, not travelling well. They tweaked the temperature on the 20ft refrigerated units and dropped it to 3C – it seems 3 was the magic number! They were now on container number 3 with container 4 on the way with, so far, only the core range coming over but it’s arriving in great shape.

I was also pleased to hear that they didn’t want to be London-centric but would be UK wide getting into “grass roots and off piste smaller towns”. They are using smaller distributors to get into these smaller locations and hope to have around 10 distribution partners by the end of the year.

In Australia 83% of their market is cans, the UK market is much more draft focused and much more competitive in general. Also the market in Australia is much more focused on bottle shops but the team have taken the approach to “blend in” with the UK sales profile focusing on wider sales channels. Sean told me they are keen to spearhead the import of Australian beers “We are aware, as Pirate Life Europe, we want to be the pioneers of Australian craft beer – we’ve a great history of brewing but there are a lot of hurdles to get over like ‘the original Fosters scenario’. Also Little Creatures have relaunched and Prancing Pony is coming over from the same region as Pirate Life”.

In respect of the beers I drank during the evening I started with a Throwback IPA which tasted really light and fresh with a good grapefruit flavour, the 6.8% IPA which was super hoppy and spot on and finally the 8.8% Double IPA – this really showcased the hoppy flavour and the benefit of that 3 degree shipping. I have to say I was really impressed with them all and would certainly order them again and look out for the cans.

During the interview we talked about various bars in Birmingham and I mentioned the great focus on events at The Wolf and it seems my advice went in as there is an event there on 22nd July for Birmingham Beer Week! So get down there and try some great, fresh tasting Australian beers!

 

Au Revoir Sacre Brew! – Thank You and Good Bye to Gwen

For the past 3 years New Yorker Gwen Sanchirico has been brewing on a 200L kit out of an industrial unit in Wolverhampton but now it is time for her to return to her home city to be closer to her family. Since we’ve covered a lot of her journey here on the blog (and drunk a lot of her beer!) it made sense for us to have one final interview with her before she heads off back to the Big Apple. So it was that in a quiet corner of Cherry Red’s she and I sat down and talked about Alice Donut, beer, Wolverhampton, and washing machines!

So although we’ve talked before on the blog about Gwen coming to the UK I thought it would be good just to recap how a girl from Queens ended up in Wolverhampton! She told me this is the number one questions she’s been asked for the last 5 years and after a brief discussion on alien abduction she said that she’d gone to see Alice Donut in a tiny venue in Brooklyn that isn’t there any more and whilst there she met her now husband Mark and they just hit it off. But it took another 6 months for them to start dating, long distance. After 18 months of this, with money running out, Mark said they’d have to get married and one of them move for the relationship to continue. So after researching the UK and US immigration policies Gwen realised it would be easier for her to come to the UK coupled with the fact she was falling out of love with her role as a project manager for a software development team at a large New York hospital and that Mark loved his job. All the pieces were in place so after marrying in City Hall in New York they moved to Wolverhampton.

Once in the UK Gwen says “I couldn’t get a job for the life of me. I worked really hard at job hunting. It was demoralising and after nearly a year of that I decided to start my own business.”

She started out by entering a competition in Wolverhampton run by the Portas Pilot scheme, which offered a financial award to the winner. Her original idea was to start an “American/Belgian hybrid beer bar/brewpub where the beer is brewed on site.” Once she was in the competition she had some financial mentoring and help with a business plan and she realised that this was too ambitious and she’d need to scale it back. So this is where the idea of Sacre Brew began.

I asked Gwen about her history of brewing and she told me she started home brewing in 1993, which was when it had really started to take off in the US. She said she liked trying “weird and unusual beers” which were beginning to come on the market there. It really started by reading an article in the local paper about the two homebrew shops in all of New York and since she liked to cook and make her own stuff it sounded like something she wanted to try. So with her then-boyfriend they got some equipment and started brewing.

I moved on then to ask Gwen what were the really big challenges she faced in opening a brewery in Wolverhampton? “Starting it was pretty easy. It was easy to raise money as people get excited about beer!” She started out crowdfunding to raise the majority of the money needed to get started and since people were generous and excited by the idea of a microbrewery she soon reached her target. The first challenge was the size. She told me, “I knew how to brew but scaling it up was more difficult than I realised – not because of the process of brewing but the dealing with people.” One of these main issues was with the kit that Gwen purchased – it was so “not fit for purpose” that there was even an informal support group set up to help people who’d bought the kit! It was a catalogue of disasters from missing parts, to those requiring modification right up to the mash tun supplied being smaller than ordered and not capable of brewing more than a 4% beer. She said that she had to learn a lot including the names for parts and connectors etc. as she said she “didn’t have the vocabulary I needed to request parts from vendors.” All in all, this took about 6 months to resolve which was very frustrating. I experienced this when I brewed with Gwen back in August 2014 with my husband for his 40th birthday – overflowing hot liquor tanks, digging out mash tuns without Charles (the wet vac and general life saver!) and flushing buckets of wash water down the toilet.

But it wasn’t all bad – “the best part is going to Cherry Reds, for example, and seeing somebody order your beer and drinking out of the bottle with so much gusto and going ‘ahhh’ in a really satisfied way afterwards is really satisfying. Knowing that people like your beer is really cool.”

Gwen had a second round of crowdfunding for her bottling kit and has always worked with lots of volunteers so I asked her how that experience had been for her. She told me she had a few dedicated volunteers who came to help out on a regular basis for 2 years or more and those who would help out now and again or even just once. Quite a few people who were interested in getting into brewing themselves also worked with Gwen to see what the experience was like and they would come and spend the day seeing a brewery in action.

We moved on to talking about the workshops that Gwen had started running, was this something she enjoyed? “I do enjoy it. I like the science of it, and there’s a lot of science involved. It’s another way for me to interact with people and the workshops didn’t always involve my beer so it wasn’t just about showcasing my beer but talking about beer in general and the bigger picture and what the range and scope and limits are.” She told me that she’s noticed British people don’t like to complain so therefore quality is worse as people don’t complain when they get a bad beer. “If it’s infected or not ready or not made right or they’re lying to you about what it is, that makes me angry and I want to do something about it. So the best way to empower people is to educate them and the bad beer workshops are a fun forum where you get to drink beer and educate people – and they get it.”

Having been in the UK now for a little over 5 years I wondered whether Gwen thought the beer scene here had changed? Simple answer yes! “When I first moved here one of the reasons I decided to open a brewery was that I was very unhappy with the beer.” She tells stories of quaint English pubs but with awful beer that after only half a pint give you a terrible hangover!

We talked about when she first came it was just Cherry Red’s, Brewdog, and The Post Office Vaults but there is a lot more choice now with places like Clink, Pure Bar, Tilt, and The Wolf and that she’s been involved in the Beer Bash too. Is this something she’s enjoyed?

“I thought it was great. That was the only beer festival I cared about. It was a lot of fun as an attendee and as a brewer. It was great to interact with people drinking my beer and it was great that so many other brewers were there who you could talk to about their beers. And the beer was really good!”

So now that she’s heading home I asked her about the future of the brewery. “I sold the equipment, the Sacre Brew name is still mine, but [a brewery] will continue on in the same premises. I’ve been training them on how to use the kit. There are 6 people who own it; two of them were [Sacre Brew] supporters. They share a passion for beer and the dream of owning a brewery so this was their opportunity.” She told me the handover is going pretty well they’re learning quickly and are enthusiastic. Since Gwen has worked out a lot of kinks in the kit and established links with suppliers the process should be a little easier for them. They are currently working twice a week either brewing or bottling or both.

When we spoke she told me two of their beers were nearly ready with a third ready to bottle and a fourth ready to dry hop. As a side note we’re hoping to go and talk to them (Punchline Brewing) in the coming weeks.

I finished up by asking Gwen if she had any plans to continue brewing when she gets back? She said that right now she’s not sure, she needs to do a bit of groundwork. She already has a lot of contacts over there particularly in Queens, where she will be living. “I do have a business opportunity to start a new microbrewery so I’ve been doing a lot of research on that and getting quotes but right now I need to be there to find a premises, as rent in New York is crazy and at the volumes discussed we wouldn’t cover the rent.” She said that she still has opportunities to help out in breweries as she did on her last holiday. Also that as brewers come and go, she could end up working for another brewery and this is her fallback position if she can’t open her own place. The good news is the name would live on as maybe Sacre Brew New York or Sacre Brew Queens.

I asked her if there were breweries in our ever-improving scene in the Midlands that she would tell people to keep an eye on? “Glasshouse, Josh’s brewery. Just from talking to him I can tell he’s a good brewer. The way he describes malts and flavours and what he does with them as a pallette is very revealing and I don’t get that from too many other brewers. I’ve had a few of his beers as they’ve become available and they are very impressive.”

To close out our chat I asked her what she’d miss most about the UK and her answer was quite surprising! “Washing machines are superior in this country and there are some birds that we don’t have in the United States or New York that are really cool and there’s lots of other little things that have made it nice.” She did also say, of course, that there were many people she’s met and worked with over the past 5 years that she will miss and I am sure that many of them will miss her too. I know I will.

Everyone on the blog wishes you good luck Gwen in your next enterprise and keep us informed I quite fancy a blog trip to New York for Sacre Brew V2.

Burning Soul – Grape vs Grain

 

For a brewery that is less than a year old Burning Soul are certainly making their mark in Birmingham and beyond. They’ve already won Rate Beer‘s Best New Brewery in the West Midlands and have just recently been nominated in the Midlands Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards. So of course I was excited to attend their Grape vs Grain event at Cheval Blanc in Moseley on the 31st of May.

First things first though – as well as matching 5 of their beers to food at the restaurant they had provided 8 beers for a tap takeover at the next door Dark Horse. Having had a very warm walk from work (this was in our one week of summer!) I started my evening with a new beer Eureka! a 6% IPA. It was welcomingly refreshing and light for the abv – a great start to the evening’s event.

I attended the dinner with my husband Dave and our friend James so my review is going to include some comments from them as well as their favourites in each ’round’.

Chris and Richard started off by telling the sold out crowd a bit about them and their brewery. They told us how they’d started out as home brewers with Chris not really liking beer. They home brewed as a money saving exercise however they now readily admit that a brewery was probably their most expensive idea ever. They took us back 4 years to when they started to collect brewing equipment and store it in Richard’s Nan’s garage and to their breaking point of ‘let’s just do this’ last July when they began work on the brewery. They wanted to brew ‘beer we wanted to drink’ and looked around the world for styles and flavours to develop their diverse range. They said they go for big, bold and intense flavours and they use the small batches they brew to test out recipes in their taproom (well worth a visit – it’s my new ‘local’!).

We were instructed not to pick just our favourite drink but to use our scoring sheets to note which drink went best with the food. And with that we were off!

First course – Greek Salad, Wine – Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, Beer – Zephyr Saison.

The beer is brewed with peppery Motueka hops and named Zephyr as it’s designed to be ‘light and breezy’. I felt that the beer went best and brought out the peppery flavour of the rocket whilst the wine had more citrus notes to it. On this one we were split, Dave was with me in preferring the beer pairing whilst James felt the citrus flavour of the wine was a good contrast to the peppery salad.

Second course – Pork Belly, Wine – Pinot Noir from South Africa, Beer – Mount Olympus.

Chris and Richard told us this is their ‘go to pale’ it’s crisp and dry which they assured us would cut through the fattiness of the pork. I found the wine a bit harsh but it did mellow with the food which had a sweetness to the sauce. The beer lost some of its bitterness with the pork and both Dave and I felt it didn’t really cut through the sweetness of the sauce. James although liking the wine with the food agreed the beer was a better match. Tough round this one, the wine was too boozy for our table but the beer did not tick all the boxes either. We all voted beer here as we did feel it was the better match overall.

Third course – Wings and Arancini, Wine – Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Beer – OCT.

This is the benchmark IPA for the brewery and one of their very first recipes. The plan was for the bitter, citrus flavour to cut through the spicy wings and we all agreed it did that very well. As James said ‘who drinks wine with wings?!’. A win for beer from the whole table.

Fourth Course – Aged Cheddar, Wine – Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile, Beer – Kettle Sour.

The idea here for the beer pairing was that the sourness would cut through the rich cheese and in addition Lactobacillus is used in both the cheese and beer production – a microbial marriage! This beer is hopped with my least favourite hop (Citra) however in this case the citrusy flavour from the hops cut through the rich, dense cheese. The wine was very fruity and a little heavy on the tannins. This was a tough round again, Dave was expecting to prefer the wine but in the end felt the beer was a better accompaniment. James agreed that the fruity beer was a better match and also a particularly good match to the quince jelly. Beer wins again!

Fifth course – Chocolate Brownie with Coconut Porter ice cream, Wine – Grenache from France, Beer – Coconut Porter.

This beer is now one of the most popular they make which came as a surprise to the brewers and the inclusion of the beer in the ice cream was nothing if not a work of genius! This was a very ‘grown up brownie’ and the beer was a great match to this. The wine had a nice cherry, chocolate flavour to it but we all felt that we didn’t need that sweetness on top of the brownie and ice cream. The table voted beer as the final course winner.

Once we’d finished eating our voting sheets were collected and counted up.

This is the third grape vs grain event that they’ve held and in the first 2 wine has won both times but (drum roll please) on this night beer was the winner!!

I can’t fault Cheval Blanc at all, the food, wine and atmosphere were excellent and it was a great value night out at only £25 a head. Of course the beers were top notch but it was great to have them in a different setting and see the sold out restaurant really get involved in the tastings. The background Chris and Richard shared on each beer and the food pairings was engaging and I hope that this event, and the tap takeover, encourages lots of people to seek out their tap room and enjoy more Burning Soul beer. Here’s to the next 12 months – who knows where they’ll conquer next!

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

 

 

 

 

The First Brum Beer Babs Meet Up!

The Babs and Alex from Five Points

Get the 26th of April 2017 in your calendars – it’s hopefully going to be remembered as a momentous day!

It marks the very first meet up of the Brum Beer Babs a ladies beer group that I’ve founded.

I’ve been thinking for some time about ladies and beer. As you can imagine I go to a lot of beery events and tastings and more often than not I am in the minority. I’ve been seeing lots of inspiring ladies on the internet organising beer events (@ladiesthatbeer, @dealatis, @wotfest) and I thought Birmingham needed to join the fun. I wanted to offer a way to meet up and try new beers plus meet like minded women. I feel that sometimes it can be a bit daunting as a woman in a bar when faced with a wide beer choice and I have certainly experienced some condescending bar people over the years – making sure I know a beer is ‘very sour’ or ‘a bit strong’ for example. So I thought I’d bite the bullet and go for it. The plan is to have a meet up once a month, maybe at an event such as meet the brewer, a beer festival or just for a beer and a chat. I’m hoping that we get a good rotating group each month and that as we develop we can start to organise our own events – Ladies that Beer recently had a beer and food matching evening curated by Melissa Cole (maybe this is a bit ambitious for us right now but we’ll aim high!).

For our first event I decided to take advantage of an already scheduled meet the brewer with The Five Points Brewing Co at The Wolf. Sallie and Josh were happy to host us and even reserved us a table – I optimistically booked it for 8 people slightly worried I’d be sitting on my own all night. How wrong I was – we filled the table! I was also contacted by a number of people who wanted to come but had last minute travel or work issues so we could have been even more!

When I arrived I met Alex Zapela and Thom Hill from the brewery and they told me that they’d brought along some special limited release beers for us to try and that they’d do a small tasting session for us – what a wonderful start for our group! Alex said to let him know when we were ready and he’d crack the first beer. A few of us tucked into some of the lovely food from the bar and once the table was full we were off!

We started off with a quick overview of the brewery, they’re based under the railway arches in Hackney. Their current capacity is 30BBL/9000 Hectolitres. They also have 15 Burgundy red wine casks that they use to age their barley wine and porter. They are currently in the process of expanding to the next door archway where they should be ready to open a tap room and off sales space in late 2017 early 2018. They currently fill into keg, cask, can and bottle – all of which, Alex told us, are equally important to the brewery – they’re doing all formats every week.

The first beer we tried was Citrus Pale (Can at 4.2%) – this is brewed with Mosaic hops which gave it a lemon zesty flavour. This was a can from the first batch and had only been released the previous Tuesday. It was super drinkable and well met their aim to keep the abv low but with lots of flavour. They’ve since brewed a second batch dry hopped with more Mosaic but now even that is all gone. We loved the cat design on both the can and the pump clip and that it said Meow on the bottom of the can!

The second beer was Old Greg’s Barley Wine. This is a special beer that they only brew on New Year’s Eve – it’s always brewed with Challlenger, Target and East Kent Golding hops and the same malt bill. We had two version to try the 2015 (brewed on 31st December 2014) and the 2016 (brewed on 31st December 2015). It’s a big hitter at 9.5% for the 2015 and 9.3% for the 2016.

We started with the older version this had a rich smooth flavour, lots of dried fruits – a real Christmasy beer. The newer version was sweeter with a much more malty flavour, this will definitely improve with age I’m sure. Vanessa had a great analogy for the flavours saying the older one was a fruit cake whilst the younger one was more of a teacake.

The final beer was the Barrel Aged Railway Porter. This beer was available on the bar in its standard format so we got to do a side by side tasting. This beer uses those Burgundy barrels and spends 2 years in them. The initial beer went in at 6.1% but we guessed the barrel ageing had increased that a bit! The bottle we had had a best before of 06/2018 but I think it could definitely have gone on improving way past that date. The beer had rich chocolate flavour and was very dry and smooth. The standard porter was also very good but you could see how the barrel ageing added some depth. We did a little poll at the end to see who preferred which porter and it came out 50:50 – so a win for both beers!

I think this was a great start to our meet ups – a number of people said they’d learnt something, even if it was only that they didn’t like Barley Wine!

I want to say a big thank you to The Wolf for hosting us so well and to Alex and Thom for bringing some cracking beers and spending time to talk to us about them and their brewery. Of course thanks to the ladies who came along too – Joanne, Donna, Sarah, Laura, Deb, Vanessa and Lindsey – I hope to see some or all of you on future meet ups. On that note our next meet up is back at The Wolf on Wednesday 24th May when we’ll be taking part in a tap takeover by Mad Hatter from Liverpool and their brewer Gaz – feel free to pop along – the more the merrier!

If you would like to be a Brum Beer Bab and find out about any future events follow on Twitter @BrumBeerBabs and Facebook here.

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.