Tag: Beer

Siren Q&A @ Beer Gonzo 2 March 2017

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Birmingham Beer Profiles-Lone Wolf is Lone No More

We have said before that Jewellery Quarter is the place to be for independent businesses, especially beer business.  The Lord Clifden, The Church & Rose Villa Taverns have been joined by The Gunmakers Arms, 1000 Trades and Pig & Tail over the last year or so.  To this group, you can now add Lone Wolf

Brother and Sister duo Josh & Sallie, Birmingham natives, have spent much of their working life managing pubs in the thriving centre of London, and witnessed the growth of the exciting London Beer Scene.  As they worked in a managed estate they had limited choice on the beers they could bring in, but jumped at any opportunity to bring in a beer from some of the exciting new breweries popping up across the capital, including Kernel, Beavertown and Camden Town among others.

After becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of choice and freedom, in 2015 they made the decision to return home to Birmingham, with the plan to open their own independent venue.  They looked at a number of venues, and did investigate the possibility of opening a venue in Birmingham City Centre.  Unfortunately they ran in to an all too familiar problem, one we have heard regularly, as they found the cost to be prohibitive.  While they waited to find the right place, they kept themselves busy by getting reacquainted with the Birmingham scene, and also supported The Button Factory with their opening.

When they decided on the venue they choose 2-10 Constitution Hill, part of the Bismillah Building Buiding.  It is within easy walking distance of both St.Chads and St.Pauls Tram line and many buses travel down Consitution Hill on their way to their eventual destination.  It is also close to The Gunmaker Arms, The Church and Burning Soul Brewery Tap if you are thinking of adding them to a crawl.

Their focus is on quality local products with coffee provided by Quarter House, pies, cheese and charcuterie provided by a company from Wolverhampton, and fresh bread from just around corner at Peel & Stone.  They opened with three keg lines, but have since increased to ten, with a focus on great local beers and quality beers from further afield.  Their plans for the future include Meet the Brewer events, as well as art shows and musical performances.

We have been really impressed with the community focused venues opening in Birmingham, such as 1000 Trades and now Lone Wolf, or as will now have to be known as ‘The Wolf’.

After being open for a few weeks Josh & Sallie received a Cease and Desist letter from the Beer Punks themselves Brewdog.  Brewdog are in the process of opening their own distillery, which they have chosen to call Lone Wolf…

We are not able to discuss the legal specifics, but the approach taken by Brewdog seems distinctly lacking in any Punk sensibility as they have chosen to use their superior size to force a change, at extra cost, to an independent venue.  Josh & Sallie have decided to make the best of the situation, and are planning a relaunch event, a Lone Wolf no more, as they become The Wolf.  We will keep you update on their plans in our weekly newsletter.

Sacre Brew Guided Beer Tasting – 11th February 2017


On a snowy February afternoon my husband Dave and I set off to Sacre Brew in Wolverhampton to be part of a small group of people lucky enough to have a guided tasting of 8 beers by brewster/owner Gwen Sanchirico.

Each participant was given a tasting wheel and notes on the sort of words you can use to describe beer – I have to say ‘catty’ is one of my favourites!
The tasting consisted of eight beers – Man on the Oss, Sloe Loris, Tangle, Dracunculus, Defeating Synths, Love for 2 Oranges, Blood Lust of Ocipio and Buffalo Beer 2016. The tastings were accompanied by examples of malts and other ingredients used to help understand where the flavours and colours of the beers come from.


We started off our journey with Man on the Oss. Gwen told us that when she set up her brewery she wanted to brew beers that were exotic but accessible and this was her first one as Sacre Brew. It’s a saison brewed with 25% rye and the batch we drank (SA1024) was 4.4% down from the original 5.2%. The beer is a wonderful orangey colour, thanks in part to the Munich malt used, with a peppery, orangey flavour to match. As with all of Gwen’s beers the label is as good as the contents, this one drawn by the lead singer of Alice Donut Tomas Antona. This has additional significance for Gwen as it’s through this band she met her husband Mark and came to move to Wolverhampton!
The second beer of the afternoon was Sloe Loris – a sloe gin inspired beer (yes it’s pink!) that I was lucky enough to be involved in brewing the first time round. The orignal beer was brewed for last year’s Birmingham Beer Bash (an event sadly lacking from the calendar this year). It’s “sour but not sour” as it does not use the wild yeasts that usually give that flavour. In this case it comes from the sloe juice added in fermentation. The gin flavours are given by the 1.5KG of juniper berries, angelica root, coriander seeds and lemon peel. The label in this case was drawn by my friend Greg McLeod, one half of The Brothers McLeod.
A dark beer next, Tangle, originally a Belgian stout but this batch (BST002) is only Belgian ‘inspired’ as it was brewed with abbey yeast. A slight metallic odour but with a light, malty, dark fruit flavour. Lovely label artwork by local artist Sarah Stokes.
Another beer that we were involved with was next – Dracunculus (meaning little dragon). This was first brewed by Dave as a present for a ‘big’ birthday two and half years ago. The recipe has evolved over time as Gwen has had different hops and yeasts available. This again had the orangey, golden colour from the Munich malt. A bready, banana and melon flavour from the abbey yeast.


The next beer was brewed with Donncha Burke of Ar Suil. Donncha is a home brewer who Gwen met at Clink and he asked if he could come and brew with her. Gwen tells of a number of discarded recipes before they settled on this final one. It has a fruity, dry flavour with spicy notes. I have to say that I liked it better when I had it on keg at 6/8 Kafe a few weeks back. The label in this case reminded us all of Predator as well as Japanese Manga – it’s drawn by Peter Tinkler who has contributed a number of pieces to Gwen for labels.


Moving up the abvs now, at 8.5% Love for 2 Oranges is a tripel and part of the Hailstone series of beers. The first hailstone beer was named as such because a hailstone fell into the brew! No hailstones in this one but tons of flavour. A sharp citrus aroma with a bready, Belgian flavour. Against tradition this tripel is spiced and we were shown the star anise and grains of paradise that went into the brew.

Our penultimate beer was Blood Lust of Ocipio a 9.1% double IPA. The name comes from a stream of consciousness poem that Gwen wrote which eventually became song lyrics. The beer is heavily dry hopped with Vic Secret (Gwen won 20KG of these hops). It’s a very light beer given its strength with the hops adding a fruity, resinous flavour.

Our final beer was the first beer we ever had from Sacre Brew – Buffalo Beer. The 2016 incarnation which was brewed back in November is aging very well. The flavour is in part from the jaggery Gwen uses to sweeten it. Jaggery is a cane sugar used mainly in Africa and Asia which adds a spicy note to the beer along with the fenugreek, long peppers, grains of paradise and cumin which we got to see and smell during the tasting too.

As always this session served to show how diverse Gwen’s beers are and she has certainly succeeded in making beer that is both exotic but accessible. The West Midlands brewing scene will be all the poorer when she returns to New York later this year. But who knows maybe Sacre Brew NYC will rise from the ashes?

Note: We’ll be having a final interview with Gwen before she leaves to talk about how her experience has been as an American brewster in Wolverhampton and her plans for the future.

The Anchor, Digbeth – Reimagining an Icon

Just before Christmas we got the opportunity to visit The Anchor in Digbeth to meet the new owner Jules and the cellar man Jason (The Beer Wizard) and learn a little more about what they have in store for this famous old Brummie boozer.

TAKING ON A LEGEND

An Inn has been on the present site since approximately 1803, with the current building standing since 1901.  The heritage building passed into the hands of the Keane Family in 1973, with Gerry Keane taking over from his father in 1983.  Under his stewardship he bought the Freehold in the 1990’s and it would eventually be named Birmingham CAMRA Pub of the Year four times.

After raising one family and beginning to raise another Gerry made the decision to sell up in early 2016.  He wasn’t content with handing it over to anybody, instead choosing to sell to somebody who would respect the old building and maintain its independence.

Jules has been in drink and hospitality business most of his working life beginning at TGI Fridays on the Hagley Road, 22 years ago, before taking his interest in cocktails and spirits to Bank, Ronnie Scotts and Red Bar among others. During this time the main focus of his drinking in terms of beer was mainly lager and Newcastle Brown Ale but when he became part of the Bitter ‘n’ Twisted chain and took over as manager of the Victoria he found a bit of a taste for real ale in the shape of Wye Valley.

He then moved on to the Botanist for a while, did a bit of freelance work, but the yern to have his own place was gnawing away at him, so when he heard Gerry was selling, his interest was piqued and he saw his next challenge, the chance to run a proper boozer.

“He liked what I wanted to do with it, and was glad it was me, not a big company or brewery”

To begin with quite a bit of work was needed in the cellar along with general cleaning, tidying, a lick of paint here and there but his ethos was not to change the fundamentals of the pub.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel; it just needed a lick of paint and a bit of love”

The Anchor had been known for the quality of its beers, re-establishing this reputation was a key part of their future plans.  Who better to work magic on the cellar than The Beer Wizard himself Jason Green.

Having started in the trade as a glass collector he has had an extensive and varied career in the beer industry beginning at Beefeater steakhouses before getting cellar training with M&B which took him up and down the country where he developed an enjoyment of looking after beer, learning many of the tricks of the trade, and developing a few tricks of his own (remember he is a wizard). He has worked in both the independent and corporate world leading him to The Victoria, where he first met Jules, and was part of the team that helped The Vic become a great beer venue for a while as they we were able to bring in some great beers from across the country.

RE-IMAGINING THE LEGEND

The team took over The Anchor in August 2016 and immediately began their work.

“Walked in on the 8th August and immediately headed down to the Cellar and start cleaning…from 12 hand pulls at the time we condemned 5”

The team built a relationship with Marston’s who helped replace much of the equipment.  The main bar area remains largely the same, with many of the period features still in place.  The focus of the back room is a bit more youth oriented, hosting DJ’s, musicians and comedians and a small room is available for community groups and organisations free of charge.  Future plans include opening up the kitchen to serve food, and improving the rear of the building to create a beer garden.

The bar now hosts 6 cask and 3 interesting Keg, including Marston’s, Wye Valley and a rotation of local beers including Fixed Wheel, and beers from further afield such as Brodie’s.  If the beers sell well, there is space for up to 4 more cask beers and 3 more Keg.  Beers in the fridge include Beavertown, Magic Rock and Moor Beer Company to name a few.  The Team at The Anchor are focused on bringing the best to their customers; this included beers, but also includes a carefully chosen selection of whiskey, gin & wine along with other quality spirits.  Jules also works his magic on a unique selection of cocktails and Boilermakers (Whiskey and Beer Mixes named after staff members).

The team at The Anchor are determined to make a success of the venture with a focus on quality products and great service, something Jules has a track record of delivering.

“We want to make sure we have something for everyone.  We want to do it well.”

We leave the final words to Jules and Jason, with their mission for the Future of The Anchor.

“We are going for the ‘Cheers’ feel…We want to be people’s favourite boozer”

6/8 Kafe Basement Bar Opening Night – 2nd Dec 2016

Back at the start of December I popped along to the official opening night of the basement bar at 6/8 Kafe. A few weeks before I’d been to their successful craft beer festival, featuring a number of local brewers, and I was interested to see what the new bar would be like without the draw of this event.

The opening consisted of 3 taps – two from Sacre Brew (Love for 2 Oranges and Crème de Stout) and one from Twisted Barrel (In Amber Clad) Gwen had been instrumental, with others, in getting the bar up and running including a last minute dash to a plumbing supply shop for a bush reducer (yeah I don’t know what it is either!). But it all came together and as I wandered in the beer was flowing and Gwen was serving behind the bar.

I have to say the beers I had on the night In Amber Clad and Love for 2 Oranges were tasting extremely fresh and clean and the small crowd in the bar seemed to be really enjoying them too. It really is great to walk into a bar and see only local beers on the taps – we need more of this in Birmingham.

Whilst I was there Dav (the owner) and Gwen recorded a pod cast which you can find here – Dav is keen to increasehis beer knowledge (more on that later) and Gwen was happy to take him through a tasting and record it for posterity.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk to Dav about the background and future for 6/8 and he was happy to oblige – in fact I ended up recording 25 minutes with him! Since you don’t want to hear all our babble I’ve distilled this into the conversations below.

I started out by asking about how Dav and 6/8 had decided to make the move from being a coffee bar to a craft beer bar as well. He told me that he’d started the business about 6 years ago, at that time he was working abroad a lot in Germany (we reminisced about bierkellers in Munich!) and Belgium and frequenting the bars and coffee shops in those locations. When he came home he couldn’t get a new job so he created his own job based on these experiences. He said his experiences of drinking in the UK was of excess so he went for a coffee shop. The coffee shop was a success and they even got in to the Barista Championship semi-final twice. The decision was taken to open another store however this turned out to be a drain on resources and coupled with the building work at the main shop covering the front of the store in scaffolding – this hit them hard. The shops on either side closed and being shrouded in scaffolding meant people thought they too had closed.

At this time he said they had a couple of staff interested in craft beer and inspired by the businesses in London who are both coffee and beer destinations they decided to branch out.  He told me that until recently he hadn’t realised how great beer could be! But he wanted to create something great and given the opening of various big chain coffee shops he realised they needed to expand. He wants to keep the focus on the coffee but to expand the beer side.

I moved on and asked him about the beer festival – was it successful? He said it brought people in and on the Friday, Burning Soul showed him how the bar was trending on Twitter for Birmingham! He says the beer festival not only made for a great ‘opening’ for the bar but it made people aware of the coffee shop again as they had lost some interest over the last year (due to the building work).

We talked about the huge beer scene in Manchester where it seems there is a craft beer bar every 100 yards yet here in Birmingham it still feels like we’re struggling (it’s getting better with Tilt, Brewdog, Cherry Red’s and the upturn in the Jewellery Quarter). I asked him what was challenging about starting and promoting a business (their location is not so visible but Bull Street tram stop has to help!). He said that his understanding of Manchester is that it has the Northern Quarter – in the past (not sure now!) rent was cheaper, it’s an artistic area, it has the same scene with coffee bars there too. So basically people went there as it’s cheaper which has now led it to become such an oasis for both beer and coffee lovers. But in Birmingham the rents in the centre are higher but in the slightly outlying areas like the locations of Tilt and 6/8 the rents are a little lower. This is where business will pop up.

We went back to talking about the beer festival and how it focussed on local brewers – I asked if this would be something he‘d like to stick to – locally sourced beer? He replied that the success of the festival was down to that very point – not only because of the beer but because of the help and advice the brewers gave him on setting up the festival and the bar in general. He’d like to keep a local focus and will look to get more advice from people including both brewers and guys like us on the blog. We are going to keep asking people to help with sourcing beers he wants to do great interesting, fun stuff and if he can get that locally that is great but he will also consider customer feedback as the bar moves forward.

We finished up talking about the future. He told me the bar will be closed for most of January to allow for more staff training (they’ve had some changes recently) as well as looking for interesting events to hold in the bar. We talked about the possibility of combining beer with music, art and film all of which are of interest to him- he wants to make the bar a real destination for coffee, beer and the arts and for that I think he should be applauded.
Birmingham needs more of these small independent places where, as Dav said, “we can interact with interesting people on interesting topics”. He knows it’s going to take time and hard work but he certainly seemed to filled with the enthusiasm to get stuff done!

#SuperSundayDrinking Lambic Special @ Clink

Surely the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon is at Clink with Roberto Ross drinking 10 Lambic beers?  Well that is what Dave and I were lucky enough to do, along with Jeff, Jo, Andrew and Donna, on the 6th of November.

Upon arrival Roberto told us he was worried there wasn’t enough beer (?!) so he’d brought along 3 additional beers.  To add to this we brought a bottle from our visit to Three Floyds to share with our new friends.  So that bumped the total to 14 – it was going to be a good afternoon!  It wasn’t all liquid as we’d all brought along a selection of nibbles to help soak up some of the alcohol too!  So we were ready to go…

Now I’m not planning to write you a blog on all the beers (you can see the full list in the picture) but I am going to take the liberty of picking out some of the stand out beers for me from the tasting.

imageLet’s start with the “add on” beers – there were 2 stand outs here the first being Brassiere Du Pont Avec les Bons Voeux.  This was an exciting opening as Roberto did not know what year’s vintage it was – it had expiry date of 06/2006 so it was cracking on in age!  The answer lay on the cork – 2001!  So a 15 year old beer, would it be vinegar or nectar?  I have to say that, thankfully, it was more the latter than the former.  Upon pouring it still showed a good level of carbonation and a sweet sherry like aroma.  That aroma carried over in the flavours with a slight cane sugar hit but smooth notes balanced by the light bubbles.  A real treat!  The next stand out from this set of beers was the Three Floyds Chevalier Bertram de Guesclin which we brought back from our visit to the brewery tap room last month (what a place that was!).  This is a sour blueberry ale aged in wine barrels.  Small bubble carbonation helped to deliver a fruity beer with a good level of sharp sourness.  I’m glad we’ve another bottle stored away!

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Having made a good start here we were onto the ‘main event’.  I had 4 top beers from this list, which is not to say that the others were not good – they all were (as we expect from Roberto) but these ones took the biscuit (and cheese, olives, crisps etc!).  An interesting “set” of beers for the first one – 3 Founteinen Golden Doesjel 2015.  Roberto told us that doesjel means lazy and refers to the yeasts in these brews – sometimes the just don’t wake up and there is little or no fermentation.  To test out this we had 7 bottles!  The idea here was to blend these bottles together and see what we got.  The first bottle to be opened had good carbonation but after that they were certainly “lazy” with a range of little to absolutely no fizz at all.  Mixing them together (in 2 rounds) worked well and allowed us to see how the flavour changed with the carbonation levels.  To me the less carbonated ones had a less woody flavour which was more pleasant even if they were flat.

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My next choice is Tilquin/Rulles Stout Rullquin 2015.  This is a blend of 7/8 Rulles Brune (Stout de Gaume) and 1/8 of a blend of year old lambics.  It’s matured in oak barrels and refermented in the bottle for 6 months.  The barrels certainly add to this flavour – an almost red wine note to it.  I also got a hint of chocolate from this very light and drinkable beer.  Also an interesting change to the other more traditional lambic beers we had during the afternoon.

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My third favourite of the day was the Oud Beersel Bzart Kriekenlambiek Millesime 2012. This is a 13 month old lambic made with Haspengouwse cherries (try saying that 10 beers in!).  The beer is then aged in 130 year old barrels for 6 months and finished with champagne yeast.  As you can imagine it was a complex tasting beer!  I was certainly getting a really good champagne soaked cherry flavour coupled with some dark chocolate notes too.  It all added up to a very smooth dark beer.

My final choice of the day was 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze (Cuvee Armand & Gaston).  This is a blend of lambics from 2013, 2014 and 2015 and limited to only 10,500 bottles.  It is also the first beer to be made on their new kit without the use of imported wort.  It had much more body than the standard Oude Gueze (of which I am very fond) with a malty richness and more depth of flavour which I guess comes from the blending.  We can only hope that all the beer from the new kit is this good!

Thanks to Roberto for sourcing all these beers, many from his recent trip to the opening of the new 3 Fonteinen taproom – I have to say I remember seeing pictures of this trip on social media, I was sitting at my desk at 9am whilst Roberto was on his first lambic at 10am local time – I’m wondering if I’m in the wrong job!  Also thanks to Jeff, Jo, Andrew and Donna for the great company and impromptu picnic.  Finally thanks to Clink for hosting – a pleasure as always chaps!

Here’s to the next event – cheers!

 

 

 

The Marston’s Re-brand & Nano Kit Launch: Our Thoughts

A few weeks ago we received the offer to attend the launch for a new Nano Kit at Marston’s Brewery in Burton. It’s the first time we have been invited to this type of event, and as Dave is a proud Burtonian, it was interesting to explore Burton’s brewing history, and Dave’s own personal history. (Disclosure: We went, drank free beer and ate fantastic pork pies).  In this blog, both Dave, and I are going to take you through our thoughts of the evening, and the re-brand of Marston’s.photo-01-11-2016-21-53-32

Bob’s Thoughts:

We thought we would write a few few words about the event and it would be no big thing….then I looked at Twitter in the morning and saw the response to the new brand launch.  As Boak & Bailey have highlighted, it was met with nearly universal dislike from all corners of the beer world.photo-01-11-2016-19-47-17

I’m going to get this out of the way now, I’m not a fan of the new artwork on Marston’s range of beers, this is just a gut reaction.  A sense of dread began to grow that the event would be about who the fella on the new Pedigree bottle was, why they chose the name Pearl Jet, and that it would have nothing to do with the exciting things we had already heard about the nano kit. 

I still don’t particularly like the artwork, however, I came away genuinely excited about the direction Marston’s are going and plans they have for the beer they produce. One of the lines we heard was ‘this is not just a brand change, but a change of attitude’. This could quite easily be a trite, empty statement, but the evidence we saw suggests that Marston’s are at least trying to change the way they do things.  Where I expected a mundane discussion on colour schemes I found people passionate about what they could add to Burton (not just consume), and where I expected a slideshow, I was met with passionate brewers, and people who really cared about the beer they were producing.photo-01-11-2016-19-47-22

As a beer fan, the most exciting element of the event was the beer the brewers have been producing on the nano kit, including a lovely stout full of dark fruits and roasty notes named Dark Current (full disclosure:may have had a few pints of this one).   As part of the re-brand Marston’s have overhauled their Visitor Centre Bar (D14) and installed a nano brew kit. Speaking to the head brewer Patrick, he spoke excitedly about getting back to basics when brewing on the kit and how excited the other brewers are to try interesting and exciting recipes (saison, sour, and chai were just some of the words thrown around).

Many of the conversations we had with the brewers were similar to the conversations we have had with microbrewery owners, a seriousness about the ingredients and reverence to the brewing process.  

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I’ve had many conversations with beer fans saying this is the way we want the big brewers to behave, make these changes and put good beer first.  But is it even possible? I was left with a feeling of damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Marston’s seem to be trying to do things the right way, exploring new recipes, trying to make a difference to its community, and making changes to it core range to benefit the beer (bottle conditioning).  The question, I’m left with, is whether the share holders will allow this freedom,  and the wider beer community are willing to give the beers ago, to enable them to make these changes, and ‘go with it’, or if, because it’s a big brewery, and is well known for its traditional beers, it can ever successfully take a different direction, with smaller batch brews, that appeal to a different type of consumer.  Is it even possible for a brewery like Marstons to  genuinely make these changes, and if so, will beer drinkers let them? 

I’m still not a big fan of Pedigree and was not overly won over by Pearl Jet, but IF (and it’s a big IF) they produce more beers like Dark Current, their new Red IPA – Slow Mo, and continue to be serious about making a difference to the people of Burton,  I’m gonna cut them a little slack about some naff artwork.

Dave’s Thoughts:

“The old home town looks the same…”, well not really, Burton on Trent has changed a lot since I left there longer ago than I care to think about, so it was nice to go back on the 1st November. The reason for this was that our blogging colleague Lucy Kemp was doing PR for Marston’s brewery and invited us over to check out the new nano brewery that they had installed in the Visitors Centre.photo-01-11-2016-20-32-15

As well as the nano brewery launch what we didn’t know when we accepted the invite was that it also coincided with the re-branding of Marston’s which is a sure fire way to stir up the beer cognoscenti hornets nest. Suffice to say the twitterati had been out in force all day and the impression I got was that most people thought it was the work of the devil. From my own point of view I get why they feel the need to do it, they are a business after all, but it will have little impact on me personally since I don’t buy a lot of Marston’s beer. We had a talk from the people behind it and they all seemed passionate about the brand, and also about Burton, Lee Williams, the marketing manager,  said that it was “the spiritual home of brewing” and they wanted to bring a focus back onto the town and its brewing history. Well as a man of a certain age who felt like he’d had a dagger in the heart when they put the Coors symbol on the Bass tower, I concur with that sentiment. So, as a new experience it was interesting to hear things from a marketing perspective, but we were really there for the beer.

On arrival rather than trying the 2 beers from the nano kit I went for half of Pedigree, a beer I used to love in my formative years…but somewhere over the intervening years something has changed, not sure if it’s the beer or my taste, or a mixture of both. We will come back to that later. Next we tried the Slow Mo, a reasonably hoppy red ale that had been brewed on the small kit. At this point we had a brief chat with Patrick, the head brewer who was quite enthusiastic about the hands on experience of the nano kit which is only a 2.5 barrel kit as opposed to the huge scale of the regular, computerised brewing he does. And I think the fact that a lot of the new young brewers will be able to come up with ideas and get their hands dirty has a certain appeal.p1010150

After the above PR talk we had a bit of food, cheese, pork pie and scotch egg from a local vendor that went very well with the beer. Patrick also lead a little mini tasting of 2 beers, one from the big brewery and one from the nano kit. First up was Old Empire pale ale which used lightly kilned malt to produce a very clear golden coloured ale. It is a traditional IPA of the sort that was regularly sent to India back in the 19th century, and uses Goldings and Cascade hops to produce a flavour that begins sweet but then edges towards a light bitterness. The second beer was Dark Current, an imperial 7.5% stout brewed on the nano kit. This used chocolate & black malt with malted wheat and an addition of coffee beans in the kettle to give a big bold flavour. Everybody was pretty impressed by this beer, and I don’t know if this is damning with faint praise but I don’t think you’d guess this was a Marston’s beer, and judging from some of the ideas we were told about I think that might be true of some of the forthcoming brews.

After the tasting we had the pleasure of having Gen showing us the Burton Union System. This is a woman that is both passionate and knowledgeable about beer and the history of Marstons and brewing in Burton and listening to her made us both proud to be Burtonians. Although no brewing had been done that day it was still great to climb the stairs to see where the yeast (which has been used for many years) is collected. And I am in awe of the guys who clean out the wooden barrels. I’m just not sure why, if this is the way Pedigree has always been brewed it tastes so different…but as I said before maybe it’s me.

So all in all we had a very pleasant evening, I do like the Visitor Centre and hope it succeeds in attracting drinkers in to sample the new brews from the DE14 nano brewery and, although not a big drinker of Marston’s ales, I do wish them continued success in the future.

Conclusion:

Over coming months, we look forward to re-visiting Marston’s, and trying more of their small batch brews. Currently these beers are being served at Marston’s Visitor Centre, with the aim of being served in other venues in and around Burton.  If you get the opportunity to try any of the beers brewed on their nano kit, we strongly recommend you give them a go!  We’d welcome conversations with you about what you think, both of the re-brand, and their new beers.

“All the Pig, All the Time” at Peel & Stone Harborne

Only 12 hours after landing back in the UK after our holiday my husband Dave and I were sitting in the cosy surroundings of Peel and Stone in Harborne ready to start our ‘All the Pig, All the Time’ dinner and beer pairing.

The menu
The menu

Who can resist a menu that starts with something surely Dracula would be proud of ‘Pain Au Blood’!

The first beer was from London Fields a brewery I have to admit to not having tried before.  However after tasting their 3 Weiss Monkeys I shall be seeking them out.  It was a very crisp, pale white IPA with a sharp lemony flavour.  This sharpness of flavour worked well with the buttery croissant where the chocolate was replaced by black pudding, it was a great start food and beer wise – in fact the beer was so good Dave had a second!

The carbonara and beers
The carbonara and beers

The next course was ‘Proper Carbonara’.  Sounds simple and I guess it is but I’ve also had some awful ones!  This was not one of those – sweet crispy bacon, creamy but not heavy sauce and lashings of parmesan.  But the beer….this gem of a dish was paired with Purity’s Lawless Lager.  I have to say straight off this is not a beer I like, I find it far too malty and sweet.  I can see the idea of the pairing but the sweetness of the bacon cut through the sauce and I would have liked something with a bit more bite be that hoppyness or citrus flavours, it was a sentiment echoed on a few of the tables around us too.  Dave had the right idea and kept some of his 3 Weiss Monkeys back to try with it – a much better match.

A light break then with ‘Pig Ear Salad’  – pickled watermelon with crispy strips of pigs ears.  To be honest the only pigs ears I’d come across before were the ones you feed to dogs so I was a bit dubious but it was delicious.  This was paired with Twisted Barrel’s Saison from Another Place (MBBC 1st Birthday Special Edition).  I was so pleased to have a chance to try this beer as I missed out on the birthday party (by being on our aforementioned holiday) and it did not disappoint – lemon curd aroma with a floral, sherberty taste.  A very clean tasting beer with an slight lactose flavour (but of course not an ingredient as all their beers are vegan!).  It paired really well with the salad creating an almost margarita type flavour with the watermelon.  My favourite beer of the evening.

Roast pork, dauphinois and veg
Roast pork, dauphinois and veg

Moving onto the heavy hitters then it was ‘Roasted Pork Rump, Dauphinois, Date Jus and Roasted Veg’ paired with Anspach and Hobday’s Sea Salt and Chilli Stout.  I was a little nervous about the rich meal and beer pairing but it absolutely worked.  The beer has a rich chocolate, figgy aroma but is so light  and easy drinking.  There is a hint of the salt and the chilli is warming rather than blow your head off.  When paired with the food we also detected some more liquorice notes coming through in the beer which with salt and chilli worked well.

Finally the dessert, how would they get ‘pig’ into this we wondered?!  Turns out through lovely sweet bacon strips in the Bacon, Peanut Butter, Chocolate and Cherry concoction served as a little stack in a glass.  The beer pairing here was Redchurch’s Hoxton Stout.  A very light aroma to this one with a sweet, hoppy, vanilla flavour.  The pudding was very rich (but delicious) and this added an interesting bitterness to the beer that was not there when it was drunk alone.  An interesting mix of a rich beer with a rich flavoured dessert that created a balance.

I finished off my evening with a Almanac Horchata Milk Stout.  A slight bitter aroma to this with a sweet chocolatey flavour.  I didn’t get a lot of cinnamon or almonds as you would in the source drink but there was a fruitiness to it that balanced out the sweetness very well.

A cracking first evening back in the UK and we managed to stay awake through to the end! And as always great service and atmosphere in this little ‘hidden gem’.

 

 

Brum Beer Profiles – Rock & Roll Brewhouse

The Jewellery Quarter is rapidly becoming a must visit venue for the drinkers of Birmingham, The Lord Clifden, The Rose Villa Tavern & The Church being joined by exciting new venues  like 1000 Trades, The Pig & Tail & the subject of our latest profile.  Upon hearing Nick Cave’s new album playing as Lynne met me at the Door of the Rock & Roll Brewhouse, I knew I was going to like this place.  Dave joined us a short time later and we got to know the people with such good musical taste.

The Rock & Roll Brewhouse can be found on Regents Place in The Jewellery Quarter where we found proprietors Mark & Lynne.  Mark has long experience of brewing, starting as a home brewer and then getting involved with the Rock and Roll Brewery when it was based at the Lamp Tavern in Barford St and the Bluebell Cider house in Hockley Heath.

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Lynn used to write the “Lynn’s Letters” column in the Birmingham CAMRA magazine and met Mark when doing an interview with him for the magazine.  They soon discovered they had a shared interest in music as well as beer, and when the need arose for Lynn to get a bit of brewery work experience she turned to Mark.  The initial impetus had been the possibility of working in a pub on the Derbyshire/Leicestershire border, but circumstance made this a bit difficult, so instead she concentrated on dividing her time between her shifts at the Post Office Vaults bar in Birmingham city centre and the brewery and being Birmingham’s only female brewer.

After a while the brewery job won out, and although there was a limit on what they could brew at the pub the enjoyment outweighed that.  Recently however, the chance came to move the brewery to its own premises and within 10 minutes of viewing the current location Mark knew it would be OK, despite its quirkiness.  The pair got the keys on 1st Feb and have worked hard to create the space they wanted.  At the time it was 6 different units with a couple of long corridors, and photography studios with band rehearsal rooms taking up the space, but after a lot of hard work it has now become a working brewery and tap room.

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It has a 6 barrel kit plus a smaller pilot kit and they now have no constraints over what they can brew, which they are really enjoying, and are revelling in having control of their own product.  When we visited, they were brewing a green hop beer using hops from Mark’s garden, when a musician they had been chatting to at the Moseley Folk Festival turned up with a big bag of mulberries, which they popped into the brew because…well, why not.  One particularly impressive elements of their rebuild is their focus on sustainability, with much of the material from building being reused to create cladding and insulation for the brewery equipment.  This focus on sustainability, is fundamental to Mark & Lynne, echoed across all their practices and they have no desire to grow, as they believe small is beautiful.

When Mark came up with the name Rock and Roll Brewhouse, as well as tying into his passion for music, it enabled them to theme the beer names around songs, bands and puns, which we found quite cool…who wouldn’t want to try a glass of Brew Springsteen.  In the spirit of keeping things local they are getting their pump clips done by a manufacturer in the JQ.

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We asked Mark & Lynne what help they had received from the local organisations and were pleased to hear JQ Development Team had offered support and encouragement, as well as a community to be part of.  This has taken the form of including them in the JQDT weekend and building community through litter picks Mark & Lynne have been getting involved in.    This left me wondering what would happen if this kind of support was available for the city centre.

Besides being available at the Brewhouse on a Friday evening, and, from October, the first Saturday of the month, their vegan beers can be found at the Lamp Tavern, the Bluebell, and various local beer festivals.

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The decor of the bar revolves around the music theme with nods to the musical history of Birmingham in the shape of framed gig tickets and posters, shelves and a ceiling of 7” singles and the “beer garden” part of which featured, rather appropriately,  Nick’s Cave.  I don’t know if it is the place or the people but it wasn’t long before we moved off the subject of beer and onto a discussion music over a bottle of Bramble On, which I have to say was very nice.