Warwick Beer Festival 21st – 22nd July 2017

Warwick is renowned for its Castle and its proximity to tourist hotspot Stratford on Avon. Warwick is not renowned for many beery events. However, every July for the last few years, Warwick Racecourse has hosted a Beer Festival. This year’s event coincidentally coincided with the inaugural Birmingham Beer Week twenty miles up the road. Hosted by Warwick Court Leet for the last few years, the event has two purposes: to provide the local community an enjoyable weekend of beer and also importantly to raise money to support local charities and good causes. Local businesses sponsor individual casks whilst breweries’ including Purity and Byatt’s provided further significant sponsorship this year.

 

 

We decided to hit the Friday evening session as in previous years several casks had run dry by the Saturday afternoon. Weather was poor but there was already a sizable crowd by the time we arrived, which meant that the indoor area was quite packed due to little of the outdoor seating being used. We purchased our custom half-pint glass and tasting notes and headed for the bar.

Eighty-five beers were on offer, all on gravity cask dispense, augmented by thirty ciders available for those seeking solace in the form of apples. Those looking for Lambics, searching for Saisons or delving for DIPA’s may have been a little disappointed though as this is a traditional CAMRA real ale style festival. First drink of the evening had to be Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild, a long time favourite beer from the Black Country and fairly rare to find in Warwickshire. It’s rich fruitiness makes it a dangerously drinkable beer especially as although billed as a mild, it is a powerful 6% ABV.

The serving system at this festival is a little different to the norm, as the casks are all numbered to match your tasting notes so you order purely by number, not by beer name and tokens are used for payment equating to £1.50 a half pint. Whilst this speeds up service, it does mean your tasting notes are essential as the bar staff have little knowledge about what they are actually serving. The volunteers worked hard though and there were no long waits to get served.

Food was available but I have to say that the options were fairly limited as there was only one burger van offering a choice of hot dogs, burgers and hog roast. If you are vegetarian your only option was chips! I think in these diverse times a vegetarian/vegan option should be provided. Sadly, no options for water to drink or rinse your glass were provided either, unless you purchased some bottled water. This does seem to be a pretty common omission at most other festivals. Live music was provided throughout the festival ranging from acoustic duos to full bands playing a mixture of covers and original material. Sadly the incessant drizzle meant no option to get outside for a quieter conversation with friends.

Standout beers of the festival for me included the rare occasionally brewed Black Voodoo from West Yorkshire’s Fernandes Brewery, a smooth full-bodied stout with a chocolate orange and vanilla flavour that would make it a perfect dessert beer. Along similar lines was the Plum Porter from Titanic Brewery, which was dark and well rounded with the plums to the fore but not overly sweet or cloying. An imperial version of this would be a real winter favourite. I tended to go for the darker beers on offer, finding some of the pale ales a bit bland and lacking the hoppy bite and zest that my palate has become accustomed to over the last few years. The one beer that did have a decent hop-kick though was the classic Citra from Oakham Ales, which provided the pungent grapefruit and lychee goodness that I was craving.

Overall, despite the poor weather being a slight hindrance, the festival had another successful year. The organisers put a lot of work in, including having to replace the posters in Warwick three times after they had been stolen, presumably by some underground temperance movement! Here’s to another successful festival next year.

Goskino vs Burning Soul – 27th July

Ahead of Goskino playing at Burning Soul, this Thursday (27th), I dropped both the band and the brewery a few questions to find out how the gig had come about and what people could expect.

I started out by asking Burning Soul how the gig came about:

“We’re both really into live music so naturally love the idea of having local bands playing here. It feels like we have been discussing having live music since we opened to the public last October. Since this will be the first time we’re really excited to see how it goes and hopefully open the door to more small gigs showcasing local talent.”

“We have a very diverse taste in music but you’ll often find blues or rock on it the taproom Friday and Saturdays. Greg from Goskino drinks at Burning Soul often and was kind enough to give us a copy of their album a while back which we really enjoyed, so when he asked if it was possible to play at the brewery the reply was somewhere along the lines of “hell yeah”!

“This is also the first time we have had a street food vendor at Burning Soul so we’re excited to see how that goes for Trailer Trash who are coming down and hooking people up with some mean burgers. People often say the only problem with our place is the fact we don’t do food so getting some street food vendors for our Saturday opening is definitely something were looking into.

I asked if they’d had time to brew anything special for the gig:

“We haven’t brewed a beer especially, but we will have some special Fuzz Bomb edition bottles of our Zephyr Saison with some awesome artwork from the Goskino guys as well as our 8 taps.  We’ve held back some kegs of our new IPA ‘Pure Passion’ and our black IPA especially for the event and there should be some new beers coming on as well.”

As you may not know Goskino I asked them to describe their sound, how they felt about playing a brewery (a first for them) and what are their favourite beers:

Goskino are a three piece plying their trade in fuzz laden garage rock. Unabashed short fuzzy fast edgy songs delivered with unfetted conviction. Tom on guitar and vocals, Adam on Bass and Greg on drums. 

The guys at Burning Soul seem to have a similar ethos to the band, no sense of doing things by halves – total commitment to what they are doing. Elegant, spiky, complex and super tasty beers abound. Goskino playing at the Brewery is a perfect match. Let’s hope Goskino’s notorious volume doesn’t curdle the beer!

Tom – Corona

Adam – Stroud Brewery – Budding

Greg – Burning Soul OCT

Doors are due to open with the band on at 7 but the brewery told me:

“We’ll have the bar open from 5pm so anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of a sound check is welcome to come and grab a beer before the official 7pm start and on stage time of 8pm.”

So come along and support a local band, brewery and street food vendor all in one night!

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.

Birmingham Beer Week – Opportunity for Adventure and New Discoveries

It starts!

Well, it actually started yesterday with the fine fellows at Brum Vegan Beer & Food Fest, but today marks the first day of the Birmingham Beer Week, an opportunity for the drinkers of Birmingham (and Beyond) to explore the fantastic beer scene we have in here in the countries 2nd City.

Many of the people who follow us and read our blogs are likely to already know about much of what is available in Birmingham but we would encourage our readers to be adventurous, if you haven’t had chance to check out what The Dark Horse Moseley has to offer, why not go along to the Moseley Craft Beer Festival

Check out our interview with the organiser here

Perhaps you haven’t explored the beers being made by our local brewers?  They check out the Collab Beer Launch with Twisted Barrel and Blackjack at The Wolf.

The adventure to had is not just yours alone, with so many great events across the 10 day, it’s the perfect opportunity to help friends and family, perhaps even work colleagues, to discover the beery goodness on offer in Birmingham.  (More people drinking local beer, more people drinking in local venues, the better it is for the scene.

Maybe your Uncle is Vegan, Brum Vegan fest offer a great chance to introduce them to the wonders of Vegan beer.  Or you could head over to Cherry Reds for the ‘When is Beer Not Vegan?’ a Vegan dinner and beer pairing.  (At John Bright Street & Kings Heath).

Perhaps your sister is a big gig goer and particularly likes Fuzzrock then why not take them along to Burning Soul Brewery for the Goskino V Burning Soul gig, giving them the chance to enjoy great local beers while tapping their feet. (or what ever the Fuzzrock alternative is)

And if you just want to party with your friends, the bars on John Bright Street have got your back with a Street Party.

There are lots to explore and many beer adventures to be had over the next 10 days,  we hope to see Birmingham Beer Week be a great success, bring new customers to venues and breweries across the city and showcase how great the beer scene is…And perhaps next year it will be even bigger, with even more events and amazing beers on offer for the beer drinking public of the city.

We have given just a small taste of the events over the Beer Week, to see the full program check out www.birminghambeerweek.uk

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!

 

Moseley Beer Festival – Birmingham Beer Week Events

With Birmingham Beer Week quickly approaching one of the events we are looking forward to the most is The Dark Horse’s Moseley Craft Beer Festival.  We have been excited by the beers they have announced and particularly impressed with the balance of beers from nationally recognised breweries like Cloudwater and Siren,  and local Midlands breweries, such as Moseley Beer Company & Burning Soul

We wanted to know more about the event that will close Beer Week on 28th to the 30th July so posed some questions to one of the organisers Andy.

How long have you been planning the festival?  Was the Beer Week happy coincidence or inspiration?

I had the idea for the beer festival back in January, as The Dark Horse has got a live music space upstairs and unused space out back which I thought would allow us to do something on a decent scale. The general feeling was that we should wait until the end of the year to give us plenty of time to plan it, but when the guys at Birmingham Beer Week asked us if we wanted to do something it seemed like the perfect time to take a punt and see if we could do it. The downside is we were left with about two and a half months to plan a beer festival, without a clue where to start. I wouldn’t recommend trying this.

What format will the festival take? – individual bars by brewery/style etc?

It’s Birmingham Beer Week and first an foremost we want to promote beer in Birmingham and try to help show that our beer scene is something to be proud of. We’ve got loads of fantastic brewers from across the country getting involved, but we hope that the Birmingham Beer Week bar will take centre stage for the event. There’s some fantastic beers being brewed in the city at the moment. I’d tried the beers that Josh was making at Glasshouse and was blown away, so asked him if he could brew an exclusive for us. He came up with the brilliantly named ‘0121 Brew One’, and everyone who buys a ticket will get one of these for free on arrival. There will also be an MCBF bar pouring some great brews from breweries who sadly weren’t able to make it along.

 

The rest of the bars will be stalls from the different breweries who were kind enough to come along and join us to make this a great event.

This is where the Drinks will be flowing.

How have you chosen the breweries and beer to include in the festival?

As I said earlier, I didn’t really have any idea where to start with the festival, but thankfully the guys at Birmingham Beer Week HQ were good enough to offer me advice. I came up with a list of my favourite breweries, looking for both big names as well as breweries I think are under represented. Probably the breweries I was most excited to get on board were Odyssey and Elusive. They’re both pretty small and don’t always get the most hype, but these guys make seriously great beers.

Are their any beers you or your members of staff are looking forward to trying?

For me the beer I can’t wait to try is Fresh Cream from Siren. They’ve held back some of the Bourbon Milkshake to make up special one off kegs for special events and festivals by adding different ingredients. I’m really excited that we’ll have a Siren beer that you won’t be able to try anywhere else except at our festival.

 

 

The staff at the Dark Horse love sour beers so no doubt the Kettle Sour from Cloudwater will be a hit with them.

 

We’re making batches of craft beer ice cream too for the festival – I’ve just tried the sensational Grievous Angel from Odyssey with Chocolate, Coffee and Orange which we’re all looking forward to trying in ice cream form!

Would they see this becoming an annual event?

We hope to see this become an annual event that grows year on year, but I guess that depends on how it’s received by the people who come along. We’re really passionate about great beer and want to share that with the people of Birmingham by putting on the best event we can.

The guys at The Dark Horse have made a strong start and we are sure the event will be a massive success, how could it not with Craft Beer Ice Cream on offer!

It is fantastic to have another event on the calendar for the beer drinkers of Birmingham, and another place for local brewers to sell their beers.

Tickets are still available, pop along to www.skiddle.com

Check out some of the beers on offer below.

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.

Cans Film Festival at The Electric Cinema

As a fan of both film and beer you can imagine how happy I was to read about the ‘Cans Film Festival’ which is running at The Electric Cinema over the summer. For those of you who don’t know The Electric is the oldest working cinema in Britain and despite it’s slightly chequered past (it was an ‘adult’ cinema at one time) is now a haven for film lovers plus the only place I know of where you can sit in a comfy leather sofa and text someone to bring you your drinks!

The festival consists of seven films matched with 7 beers (well 6 beers and a cider) and I got to go along and talk to Sam Bishop, Operations Manager at The Electric Cinema, all about it.

We started off talking about the ‘real’ Cannes Film Festival and how beer and film mixed there.

Sam – “I’ve been lucky enough to go to Cannes Film Festival 3 or 4 times now but 16 Euros for a pint of beer is a bit ridiculous! The biggest hotel is called the Majestic and behind the hotel is a tiny little pub ironically called The Petit Majestic and what’s beautiful about Cannes is that it’s dripping with pretence but the Petit Majestic gets rid of all the pretence. After about 2am it’s the latest pub open so everyone from Jude Law downwards meets there, it’s a tiny little pub and you all spill out onto the streets and everyone there is united by a love of beer and a love of film which is wonderful and that’s the part of Cannes I enjoy the most.”

I asked if this experience is what inspired the festival and he said that actually the pun was the starting point! “We started with the pun and worked backwards! We’re very lucky at The Electric in being independent and that we don’t have public funding we’ve got the freedom to have wacky ideas and we put things out there and see if people agree with us”.

From my point of view this is what makes The Electric so special and makes all their events so different and interesting. I moved on then to ask what came first the films or the beers?

Sam – “We looked at what beers we could get from a range of boutique beer suppliers who look after us in the region. Then we had a short list of about 50 beers we went through them and found what inspired films we could choose and we selected about 30 films that paired up with the design or the name or the logo of the beer. Then we whittled it down from what stock was available and what a good selection of films would be and then we ended up with these 7.”

Sam told me Tiny Rebel were the first brewery to get in touch with him and that they really loved the idea and that they’ve been enthusiastic and great to work with. So moving on from that I asked him what the format would be for the showings?

Sam – “It’s entirely on the breweries because I’ve approached a number of them and tried to encourage them and make them enthusiastic about it and the best events are going to be the ones where the breweries are coming along. Most of them have got some presentations from people from the brewery who are coming to give us some behind the scenes tours on screen and little secrets of the industry. Most of them have been really good to sponsor us a free drink on arrival which is very nice. A lot of them have given us free t-shirts as well, I think we might put a number on the bottom of each can and every can you buy we’ll raffle it out at the end of the screening. But essentially it was a quick idea and it’s definitely an informal idea . So it’s just some good films and we’ll have some beer available to buy at the bar throughout the summer and on the day we’ll just all get to taste it all and we’ll have fun watching great films.”

I asked if Sam planned to keep the beers (and one cider!) on the bar beyond the event and he said that at the moment they will be available from now until the end of the festival and after that if any of them have proven to be successful they will look at the possibility of extending their availability.  However he did also say he’d like to keep this special and return to it again next summer with another selection of beers.

I said to Sam that although it was a great range of beers there was nothing local (turns out the cider is from Aston!) so would he consider doing an event with a local brewery? (Of course we don’t have so many local breweries canning so it does make the pun a little redundant!). We agreed we need to think of a good film where they drink a lot of beer (we did discuss American Frat House films but you’d have to pick a good one!).

Sam – “We have Two Towers Brewery on our doorstep and they do our Electric Ale. So definitely I’d be interested in doing local beers. A lot of what we do is trying to keep things independent and local where possible.”

I finished up asking what level of interest the event had received.

Sam – “The feedback has been good. It’s a very easy pitch which is good, sometimes you try and do these kind of events and they can get a bit complicated but this is easy it’s just 7 films 7 beers come and enjoy. So it’s been an easy one to market. It’s been very well received on Facebook, all of the screenings are at least half full already. We’ve had to put a second screening of Goodfellas on, that’s been the most popular so far.”

I asked if there was anything Sam wished was on the bill but wasn’t and he replied that one he did miss was Brewdog‘s Elvis Juice as they haven’t shown an Elvis film in many years but he just couldn’t get one in. We finished up discussing the idea of a local brewery making a beer inspired by a film which Sam was very interested in so local brewers get your thinking caps on!

Thanks to Sam for his time and the mini behind the scenes tour. I hope the festival is a big success and it gets lots of people into this wonderful cinema and drinking some great beers! I know I’ll be there!

Stone Berlin and Greg Koch

One of the main reasons Deb & I wanted to go to Berlin was to visit the recently opened restaurant “World Bistro and Gardens” and brewery of Stone Brewing since we’d had a few friends singing its praises. We decided on dates and once booked we were fortunate to discover that on the Wednesday a Brewers’ Dinner was on the events calendar. This seemed like an opportunity not to be missed and when we knew we had tickets I thought I might as well ask if there might be a chance to have a chat with Greg Koch, the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Stone Brewing. And after a couple of emails back and forth with Colin Lenz, their PR guy, it was set up for late afternoon. I got a bit panicked because we were running a bit late but needn’t have worried because they seemed very chilled and laid back. Colin met us outside and we were pretty knocked out upon entering the reception area where we could see a bar, merchandise, a fridge full of beer and a small glass enclosed room. Then we entered the main hall and were fleetingly blown away by the sheer scale of the place before being ushered into the new library bar where Greg was waiting for us.

I began by asking him when he first got the idea for a European base and was surprised when he said it was as far back as 2009. So they spent a while looking at different sites including the UK and Greg said they had put very good proposals together but just couldn’t find any traction until they found the site south of Berlin’s city centre. Built in 1901 it had been a gasworks facility and due to its size it provided a space for the brewery, plus restaurant and gardens to enjoy great food and great beer in a beautiful setting. When he saw it he could see its potential, and after a few visits to the city of Berlin he fell in love with its history, architecture and vibrant cultural life.We then went back to the beginning, Before Stone, when he was living on the West coast and working in the music industry and although into beer the choice was fairly limited. Then before I could ask him, he mentioned his epiphany beer was drinking an Anchor Steam Ale whilst in LA in 1987. This had two effects, the first being that he became a beer geek and went in search of more flavourful beers and sought out beer festivals. But he also had a sense of disappointment and frustration and felt that by brewing bland corporate beers the big brewers had somehow avoided giving the public a choice. This was a theme he returned to a couple of times in our conversation. But back to the early 90’s and Greg met fellow beer enthusiast Steve Wagner who was also a homebrewer, and so they began brewing together. The first beer they brewed was a very hoppy Altbier, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess there weren’t a lot of examples of this style around, it being an amber ale of German origin. So even at this early stage the guys were setting out their stall so to speak. There followed a further 3 – 4 years when they went down the rabbit hole of beer geekdom, getting increasingly angry about the aforementioned lack of choice and the fact that there were only a few bars in major cities with anything approaching a decent selection of beers. So by 1995 they came to the conclusion that they needed to open their own brewery, and after searching for a few months settled on San Diego in February the following year with the first beer being released in July. They came upon the name Stone purely by tossing ideas out and actually coming up with something that neither of them objected to with both liking the fact it had a naturalness about it, and its attributes including the sense of solidity. Originally they thought they wanted to do traditional European styles of beer with Greg being a self professed Europhile, and so the gargoyle symbol came about because it was a motif to ward off evil spirits. In the case of Stone it is there to ward off cheap ingredients, pasteurisation, and chemical additives…

 

Their first beer was a pale ale, but they followed this up with a smoked porter almost in an effort to really show the possibilities that they felt were missing in the beer scene. But the barriers to entry into the beer market were high and included coming into contact with a certain amount of ignorance. He told us a story of one meeting with a group of beer distributors to sample the beers and when he poured the porter, one of them was astonished that it was so dark! And they had opened at a bad time for the burgeoning craft beer industry which had gone from having growth of 25% and then 45% to just 7% in 1996 and down to 2% the following year. This was the year that they released one of their signature beers, Arrogant Bastard, a beer that seems to have been loved and misunderstood in equal measure. Like many people I thought their message does come across as a bit arrogant, but when you are with Greg he doesn’t come across that way at all, and when he explains the reasoning behind the wording on the Arrogant Bastard label (which I’m sure he’s had to do more times than he can remember) it does make sense. You have to try to imagine what it was like 20 years ago when the beer drinking public just had Miller, Bud, Coors etc and so they weren’t aware of whether they might like something different because they didn’t have the choice. So when the label says you probably won’t like it, well for 99% of drinkers at the time it was probably true, ditto not having the taste or sophistication. At first they were just going to produce 100 cases of the beer because there was a sense that in amongst the sense of fun they were also trying to put people off. And yes it takes a dig at the big corporations but at the time this beer was an outlier pointing to a future that was maybe a little bit uncertain.

But a bit to their surprise it became a success which lead to many variations and it taking on a life of its own in recent months cf Arrogant Brewing. Moving into the new century Stone, like many American breweries, found themselves able to take a few left turns since they had no recent strong brewing heritage in the land of fizzy yellow lager. It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor but it was like being in a culinary environment with a blank canvas. I mentioned to Greg that one of my favourite beers of theirs was the Stone Cali-Belgique IPA because I loved that meeting between a west coast ipa and Belgian yeast although he did say that it was no longer a big seller in the US. But you only have to look at their Untappd listings to see how adventurous they have been during their 20+ year history. Eventually success meant that they outgrew their original brewery and moved to the current location in Escondido, north of San Diego in late 2005. A year later they opened the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens to sell their beers, locally sourced organic food, and give themselves event space for festivals. I finished off my conversation by asking how he felt things had developed since that big move and how he felt about social media. He said he found the business to still be extremely competitive and even with their name and success they still had to work hard to get their beers into bars and keep producing high quality product with the best ingredients. Social media is just seen as a communication tool, not a selling one

Once Greg had left Colin suggested we had a beer and brought the list in for us to peruse…omg, it was big, 51 taps split into Stone Berlin & San Diego, Arrogant Brewing, and guests. I went for the Pataskala Red IPA (I’m sure Colin said it was named after the town of Greg’s birth) which uses a German speciality malt to give it a red hue and sweet bready base for the combination of Mosaic, Cascade and Amarillo hops to sit on. Deb had Tangerine Express ipa which she described as being lovely and full bodied with the correct amount of orangy goodness. We had a little chat about his background in Germany – he had also been working in the music industry in Berlin before moving to Stone in October of last year into a job which he is really enjoying. We asked about his epiphany beer and he said it was a Lervig Lucky Jack pale ale that he had 7 years ago in Oslo. He added as well that whilst touring the US West Coast with his girlfriend he was impressed by all the small breweries along the way, specifically Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka where he celebrated his birthday on the 4th of July. He also gave us a little more history of the place telling us the brewery is 100 hectolitres with the first beer being released last June, and the pilot brewery, which was the first to become operational in December 2015, is 10 hectolitres. The restaurant had opened in September and, like the one at Escondido, used ingredients from small local, organic farms for its menu which is inspired by different food cultures. The library bar where we were sitting was a recent addition, having only been opened in the previous month and was full of bric a brac some of which were gifts from other breweries. After a while Colin had to go back to work and so we explored a bit more including the garden space, and I’m going to quote their fact sheet first – “Approximately 5.000 square meters with corners, nooks and gathering spaces created using natural elements of the space and repurposed building materials. The expansive gardens include boulders, large trees, and plants maintained using 100 percent organic methods.” I’m not sure if this gives an indication that, like the indoor bar and restaurant area, it is not uniform and corporate but has different distinct looks which we thought really added to the ambiance of the place. The brewery feels calm and welcoming, and although quiet when we first arrived it soon filled up with couples, families, and groups of friends coming to sample beers from the 2 Stones breweries and the plethora of guests. Eventually it was time to join our fellow guests for the brewers dinner with Greg, Drew Curtis, collaborator on w00tstout, and Thomas Tyrell, the Director of Brewing.

So after a brief meet and mingle period we took our places at a table for 6 with Colin, his girlfriend Michaela, and a German couple Daniel and Meike, the latter being a food and drink blogger in Berlin. If you are visiting, check out http://smamunir.de/  although if you’re like me you may need to use Google translate. With 4 courses of excellent food and 10 beers it was a long, fun night – here are some of the highlights (unsurprisingly my note taking became more sporadic as the night went on.) We discovered that the Stone Berliner Weisse that came with the first course is Greg’s favourite beer when he visits the brewery, and with the second course we had 2 relatively new beers, Stone Ripper Pale Ale and the previously mentioned Tangerine Express. With the main course of spicy pork chop we had Arrogant Brewing Punishment which used chilis from Greg’s garden originally and is his mother’s favourite beer (which is pretty hardcore). Greg said that great brewing is art and art should have a point of view and by the this course I think we were getting it – my description of Punishment just said “Wow, what a beast, chilli heat and maltiness”. The other third course beer was the Drew Curtis / Wil Wheaton / Greg Koch Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout (2016), the continuation of a collaboration that first began in 2013. Taking its name from Wil Wheaton’s W00tstock show it was inspired by Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie dessert, Drew said they thought the pecans gave it a good mouthfeel and helped the different flavours work well together. Finishing up with Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard and a mellow Coffee Milk Stout a rather splendid evening of great food, beer and conversation came to an end.

In conclusion we found Berlin to be a great city to visit, so much history and culture for one thing, but this afternoon and evening at Stone was certainly a highlight and it’s highly recommended as a place to visit…cheers to Greg, Colin and the rest of the staff!

 

 

 

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!