Category: Profile

Fownes Brewing Company at 5!

 

Dwarfen brewers Tom and James Fownes of the Fownes Brewing Company are proving Gimli, from Lord of the Rings, wrong when he says that Dwarves are only good over short distances.  As they are approaching their 5th birthday I asked them a few questions about the history of the brewery, the future and what we can expect at their Quinquennial celebrations.

It’s your 5th birthday time flies!  Tell me about the history of the brewery, how you started and where you are now?

As with most of life’s great adventures, the Fownes Brewing Company began not with salad but down the pub. Ironically at the pub we would find ourselves brewing out the back of!

We were about six pints in to the night when one of us declared the beer we were currently drinking was a bit thin and lacking. Obviously the answer was that, of course, we could do better! James also stipulated it should be a Dwarfen Brewery.

Now bear in mind we’d never even done any home brewing at this point, but we were ‘men of science’, it must be possible!

I’m sure many people have had similar conversations like that down the pub. The difference here was when James called me the next morning to remind me of this great idea we’d had down the pub. I dutifully replied that we had been quite drunk when having said revelation.

Sadly for me, James was rather unhappy in his then profession of teaching and was looking for a change of career. I was quite happy being a poor music journalist, but somehow got dragged along on this adventure to become a poor brewer instead!

So with nothing but a few books and some thirty litre all grain brew kit, we began what has so far been a seven year long attempt to become millionaires through brewing.

It’s all got rather out of hand since then. In the July of 2012 we sold our first cask, 9 gallons of Frost Hammer, to Rob at the Jolly Crispin, and 3 months later we finished refurbing the current brewery building out the back of the same said pub and moved in with our then current 100 litre tower kit.

In the 5 years since we sold that first cask we’ve upgraded our kit again, now at 600 litres and, hopefully, once we’ve relocated to new premises, will be upgrading again.

What have been some of the highs and lows in this time?

We’ll start with the lows. The thing that sucks the most being a brewer is when something goes wrong and you have to ditch a whole batch. We’ve been quite fortunate in that respect as I count on my fingers the times it’s happened, and that’s out of probably close to 500 brews.

The highs have been many and varied. From winning our first beer festival award, to our first regional award, to just getting to go out and meet people who enjoy the product we make.

The biggest high we’ve experienced in 2017 was the success of a crowdfunding campaign we ran to fund our new range of bottled beers. Around 90 people chose to Belong with the Dwarfs, providing money in exchange for beer. It was a humbling experience to see how many people loved what we are doing.

What are the plans for the Dwarves for the next 5 years?

Move, expand, grow, be more awesome!  From these four things should flow a better life for our families and the community that we want to build around our business.

And finally hat can people expect at your birthday party on 22nd Oct?

The best party of the year! We love throwing our birthday party, it’s a chance to get to know new fans and spend time with existing ones we might not get to see as often as we like. Financially it’s normally not a good day for us because we spend so much money on making it the best party we can. I mean where else can you get a glass, a t-shirt, a bottle of beer, live wrestling and professional storytelling AND access to our latest beers for under £15? Mad!

If you haven’t already got your tickets for the party what are you waiting for?  Follow this link to a great afternoon and see you there!

Me and Tom at the Beer Bazaar earlier this year.

Brum Beer Profiles- The Paper Duck

Three friends, two venues and lots of great beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Balls Please! The Sportsman becomes The Hop Garden – Harborne

The Sportsman in Harborne is tucked away off the High Street next to the M&S car park. I have to admit I’ve driven past it many times without giving it a second glance but when I heard that Brendon Daly, owner/director of the Inn on the Green/Bottle Shed in Acocks Green, was taking it over I was intrigued.

Brendon invited me over to have a look at the pub as it is, with some renovations already underway, and I have to say I was impressed. It’s not huge inside but it has some great areas and some really nice features. I particularly liked an area slightly separated off on the right of the bar that would make a great area for bottle shares and meet the brewer events. One of the big selling points is the garden. It’s a nice, big open space and Brendon plans to grow hops where the current children’s sand pit is located and this is where the pub will get its new name The Hop Garden.

When I visited Brendon was removing plasterboard from the walls to expose the brickwork, he had also taken up the carpet and removed the seating from around the walls. The plan is to have long tables around the room and give it a much more cosy feel rather than the pastel shades it has now.

The main area as you come into the pub is great with a large fireplace and a stone slab floor and this is the area that leads you straight to the bar. In addition to the physical changes a new logo has been designed by local designer The Upright One who has, among many other things, done work for lots of local breweries and created our logo. This updated design will be a big part of the re-branding of the pub and reflect the revamped interior.

So let’s move onto the plans for the bar itself – the current 4 cask lines will be extended to 5 and a large new keg dispense will be installed at the back of the bar with 7 beer and 5 cider lines. In addition there will be a large bottle fridge to drink in or take away. Brendon told me he plans it to be a hybrid of the Inn on the Green and The Bottle Shed. There is also a kitchen on site and the slightly longer term plan is to have pop ups in there. To begin with simpler food will be served with maybe some pop ups at the weekends.

We discussed the location of the pub as it’s not on the busy High Street but in some ways we agreed this was a good thing. There are a lot of great pubs in Harborne and having this one just out of the way will make it more of a destination and certainly with the focus on beer and the planned events, such as meet the brewer and tap takeovers, it will be different to the other venues in the village.

Of course the garden will be a big draw but as we are coming to the end of the summer (such as it’s been!) this will be a focus for next year. The plans are for a more substantial covered area, separate smoking ‘room’ and an access to the kitchen.

We only talked briefly about the range of beers Brendon has planned – it’s early days yet but I did say that I hoped we see some of our local stars on the bar and he said that was a definite in both in keg and cask.

 

The opening is currently planned for mid-October and I’ve been invited back to see it all as the work continues as well as when it’s finished so we’ll be able to keep you updated on what I think will be a great addition to the pub scene in Harborne.

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.

Brewery Spotlight – Fownes

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

HUNTER S. THOMPSON, The Curse of Lono

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Interaction with people in a happy place”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

HUNTER S. THOMPSON

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

The Bottle Shed

Another great logo designed by The Upright One

The Inn on The Green (IOTG) has been named the Birmingham CAMRA Pub of the Year for the last two years, largely down to its great selection of beers and friendly, community focused environment; so we were excited to hear they were turning their hand to creating a bottle shop…or a Bottle Shed.

“Even though the shed is technically a different business to IOTG, it is a complement to the pub, if there isn’t something that takes your fancy on the bar, I’m sure the shed will have something for you, or visa-versa.”

The three key people behind The Bottle Shed are IOTG landlord; Brendon, General Manager; Ross Lang, and Rambo.  As you can see, Rambo is a silent partner, so we posed some questions to Brendon and Ross to find out more about their plans.

Silent Partner, Rambo

For our first question we asked what was their epiphany beer, the one that turned it from being just another drink, to a passion.

Brendon – “My first epiphany craft beer was Brooklyn East India IPA, and I remember it well as I had it when I arrived in Chicago on 9/11 waking up the horrific devastation that took place that day.”

Ross – “My epiphany beer is Brodies London Fields Pale Ale. As soon as I drank it I knew that ale was my future.”
With a very successful pub already under their belt we wanted to know why they wanted to take on the extra work and stress of The Bottle Shed, with its bottle and taps.
“We opened the Shed because of a love of good beer and to push the Birmingham craft beer scene forward.”
Ask the team what their taps were in a previous life?
The shop is stocked with beer from local breweries, beers from great British breweries and beers from further afield including the States.   We wanted to know how they made the decisions of which beers to stock:
“We choose the beers we sell by trying to keep our finger on the pulse. Continually seeing what people are talking about and what is getting people excited. Also if we see something we’ve never heard off we will look into that beer or brewery and see if it’s a worth us following up.”
We had the chance to visit The Bottle Shed on its opening night, and along with drinking beer I was transfixed by the retro gaming, ticking off two of my favourite things, gaming and beer.
“The uniqueness of The Bottle Shed is the whole ethos. It’s a bottle shop and more. The retro games really add a different dimension and it’s great seeing people laughing and joking as Pac-Man gets caught by a ghost. We have a laid back atmosphere, no hard sell. Just a comfortable experience.”
I now know I am rubbish at Pac-Man (but that could have been the beer) but I am still a dab-hand at Galatron.
The Bottle Shed has been open for a few months now, and is proving popular, but what are the future plans for Rambo and his work pals?
“Our future plans are to expand the size of the shed while also keeping the range of beer at a desirable level. We don’t want to sell the mediocre, we want the best of the best.”
If you haven’t visited The Bottle Shed, this weekend provides you with a great reason: Why not pop along to the IOTG beer festival, starting today (13th April) and running through to the 16th April.
“The quarterly festivals are always well received and this will be the 2nd time that The Bottle Shed is involved. We will have 20 cask beers on handpull and stillage, 7 keg beers, 300+ bottles and live music from the likes off Steve Ajao.”
“All the beers will be awesome, from the likes of Siren, Cloudwater, Howling Hops and more, but we don’t want to give too much away.”
You can find The Inn on The Green & The Bottle Shed in Acocks Green.  It has great transport links, with Acocks Green Train station nearby and sits on the 11 bus route.

What’s Behind the Green Door

      It really doesn’t seem that long ago since we were driving down Rufford Road and saw a sign that said Green Duck Brewery with an arrow pointing to a little green door. My wife Deb and I thought it was pointing to the industrial estate so we drove in and saw a guy standing by some casks, which was a good sign. We were told the weekend opening hours and so P1000162 (2)decided to give it a go. On our first visit we discovered a fairly rough and ready bar separated by a glass partition from the actual brewery, and a small array of handpumps featuring beers with a duck theme to their name. For the princely sum of 10 you could get 4 pints (you got, and still do get, tokens so you don’t have to drink them all at once) and you could keep your glass for the next time you visited. I probably had Duck Blonde or Drunken Duck and remember thinking that the beer was ok but nothing special, but having a brewery within 10 minutes walking distance was a plus point.  

      It had been set up at the end of 2013 by Alan Preece and Paul Williams although the original impetus came from Alan who went to Grafton Brewery to learn about the brewing process, and this is where the first beers were brewed. However, he hadn’t really taken into account the logistics of travelling to Worksop so after a while began to look for something a bit closer to home which is where Paul came in.  The current space was rented in summer 2013 and Alan said he always envisaged it to be a combined brewery and bar. The first brewer was freelance, ex O’Hanlons, using recipes from Alan for Blonde, Sitting, and Drunken Duck but he didn’t want to move to the Midlands which meant days would go by without the beers being checked.  Scott Povey was a customer who had done some home brewing and was keen to go to the next level and Alan thought that although he seemed a bit raw there was definitely potential…and how right he was.  He started in Jul ‘14 and I was lucky enough to give him a hand brewing a stout for the Black Country Beer Festival in Lye not long after that and was very impressed by his commitment to focusing on every aspect of the brewing process.  As a budding home brewer I can honestly say that it was a great learning experience to be able to see how things were done “properly”.  Once Scott got into the swing of things the quality improved, but maybe more importantly there was a major improvement in consistency.  And then came the Heisenberg range 20160428_214332 (2)with Alan wanting to do some beers based around the TV show Breaking Bad and using the iconic hat as the pump clip.  This helped raise the brewery profile and by putting some in keg they were able to have a successful tap takeover in the Brewdog Bar in Birmingham. Admitting to a slight bias here, I have to say I thought the beers were very good, with the Walter White Sorachi IPA being a particular favourite of both Deb and myself. Around this time Alan got a new business partner, Nathan Kiszka who had an extensive naval background and came on board (sorry!) to be in charge of increasing sales for the brewery brand. He has a natural ability to, and confidence in, talking to people due to this previous career which involved a lot of moving around and meeting a new group of people every 2 years. He was always an ale drinker and remembers his first beers being McEwan Export and Courage CSB, the latter of which was brewed specifically for the Navy. His travels meant that he tried and enjoyed lots of different styles of beer and so when he finished his stint and was looking for a new challenge it was quite fortuitous that he met up with Alan whilst their respective boys played football. And so after a few conversations he became part of the company and has helped them grow in the last few months.  But towards the end of 2015 with Scott increasingly needing to look after his own brewery, Fixed Wheel, a change was needed.

In February of this year Alex Hill, formerly the bar manager, took over as head brewer and in March brewed his first beer solo, Duck Under, a brew which has changed over time due to hop availability. This roughly coincided with a rebranding of the brewery and a new range of pump clips. Alex, now still only 24, studied chemistry and maths at Aston University and in his 3rd year worked away at Faccenda as a production planner which he enjoyed… but he decided he wanted to set up his own business instead of working for someone. He had always been an ale rather than lager drinker since his dad drank real ale and his first drinks were usually Wye Valley HPA or Bathams, although his what I call epiphany beers were Oakham Citra and Thornbridge Jaipur. During his final year at Aston he needed to find a job, and being a beer drinker he asked around in pubs to see if they needed staff and ended up working shifts at The Post Office Vaults and the Wellington, the latter being one of Birmingham’s premier real ale pubs with its array of handpulls. This fostered his growing interest in beer and doing 2 or 3 shifts a week gave him time to start home brewing, firstly with simple kits but by brew #5 he was using a 100L trial system. It was probably about this time that I first met Alex as he had been roped in to help out at a Green Duck beer festival, and not long after Philip Guy left to become landlord of the Red Lion in Amblecote he became bar manager. And so time passed, Alex kept brewing another 90 – 100 times making progress in his understanding of different beers and the whole brewing process. With a friend he began to plan for them to open a brewery called Glassjaw and Deb and I were just 2 of many that were able to sample some of their range of home brew which were all of a very high standard. But things didn’t quite pan out and earlier this year Alan made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and so here we are. Alex has been giving the recipes a few tweaks, some of which are because of hop availability, a problem that seems to be affecting a lot of brewers. He says he is quite happy doing cask beer but the brewery is going to be doing more keg in the future, and judging by the Fat Neck IPA that has just been released that is something to look forward to.  Alan also has his input on recipes and ideas, and I’ve heard them batting around a few so I think there is a lot to come from these guys in the coming months

Oh, and why a duck as the Marx Brothers once asked…well, in his “proper” job as a printer Alan had an outline of a duck onscreen for a job he was doing, and, having always been a fan of a shaped pump clip, he thought this would give the brewery a bit of a USP.  And the green?  Well, that was his son, Lewis’s favourite colour.

 

Mini profile ~ Red House Boutique

      I remember many years ago having a slight altercation at a pub quiz over the correct answer to “What is the Hulk’s real name? ” – I said Bruce Banner, the quizmaster said David, and I said you won’t like me when I’m angry…I think we still probably lost. The pub in question was part of the Hogshead in Foster Street, Stourbridge which I seem to recall used to be pretty good but over the years it changed a few times to become a fairly generic town bar. But in mid June it opened up as the Red House Boutique with, according to the Stourbridge News, the message that it is all about the beer.The owner is Paul Jones who owns Liquid Line wholesalers in Tipton along with 14 pubs in the Black Country. With the Red House he is aiming to capture a wide demographic with its range of cask

and keg, a 55 bottle fridge and also 23 different types of gin, along with the usual premium spirits, for when you fancy something different to beer. With 8 cask lines there should be plenty of choice for everyone, 6 are permanent and local including Enville, Wye Valley, Hobsons and Fixed Wheel, and I for one am happy to see the latter on that list.  The guest ales on the VIP night were from Abbeydale and Kelham Island. and it was good to see Scott P1000191Povey of Fixed Wheel and Reuben Crouch from Hobsons having a bit of a chinwag over a pint. The keg line up has a selection of European and American brews and featured Vedett and Poretti as well as a house lager and beers from Meantime, Backyard Brewery in Sweden and Flying Dog from Aspen Colorado. And the bottle list looks pretty impressive with many recognisable names, as you can see from these couple of photos.

      We had a brief chat with Paul and he said the bar won’t be having music playing as he wants people to come for conversation, although we did spy a few TV monitors in the bar area. However it is a really big space with an outdoor area as well, they will be serving what they describe as “pub snacks with a gastro twist”, and I hope it  will become a welcome addition for Stourbridge drinkers of all ages.