Tag: birmingham

Fownes Brewing Company at 5!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and Tom at the Beer Bazaar earlier this year.

People in Glasshouses….Glasshouse Brewing Co

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me with Josh and Julie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Not Long Now…Birmingham Beer Bazaar is almost here!

After all the delights and highlights of Birmingham Beer Week last month it’s time to look forward to the next event on the local beer calendar, the inaugural Beer Bazaar. Taking place from August 17th to 19th right in the city centre over 2 floors at the Studio in Cannon St it is going to be a celebration of cask and keg ales both local and from further afield. Chatting to Will, one of the organisers, recently he told me that the plan is a Wellington cask bar with plenty of one off specials which we’ll come to later, a Beer Bazaar keg bar featuring UK breweries, a Hook Norton cask bar, a Hogans cider bar, a keg bar from the guys at Tilt with a phenomenal range of beers over the 3 days, a bar from sponsors Purity, and brewery bars from Burning Soul, Fixed Wheel, Fownes, Green Duck, and Twisted Barrel. So something for everyone… And should you need something to take home, well Clink will have you covered with their bottle and can bar. And we can’t survive on just beer so food needs will be catered for by Andy Low’n’Slow, Chi gourmet sausage rolls and vegetarian and vegan options plus a variety of coffee bars featuring local roasters Quarter Horse Coffee. But we’re the Midlands Beer Blog so let’s talk beer…

First off the cask list has a great range of interesting and unique beers. Upon seeing the list I immediately broke into a smile at the first beer, Fresh Cream by Siren, an 11%Imperial Bourbon Barrel Aged Milk Stout with Coffee, Vanilla and Chocolate, normally only available in keg and bottle this has been casked exclusively for the Bazaar. Other exclusives in cask include :-

Cold Conscience, a collaboration between Abbeydale, Brewdog Sheffield & Rotherham band Alverez Kings, this is a mango and lychee infused, New Zealand hopped pale ale;

Strong Ale #1, another Abbeydale collaboration, this time with journalist and beer historian Ron Pattison and Jules Grey of Sheffield’s Hop Hideout bottle shop. They’ve dug into the archives for a William Younger recipe from 1868 to produce this 10.3% ale.

Also, Wolf’s Hood, a 9% Heather honey dipa from Ardent Brewery and Bazaar Dipa-the Wellington Cellar team got together with Chris and Rich at Burning Soul to create a 7.5% New England ipa. And then there’s Old Freddy Walker, the champion beer from Moor that has been aging for 8 months, plus Chimpagne from Blue Monkey which could win the prize for best beer name at the festival, a 10% pale crafted using…you’ve guessed it, champagne yeast.

There will also be 5 beers available in wood casks including another collaboration from the Wellington Cellar team, this time teaming up with Hook Norton to produce the 5% Tuxedo Stout

The keg lineup is stellar and features far too many great beers to mention, if you haven’t checked out the list it is pinned on Tilt’s twitter feed – @Tilt_Brum. However, from a personal standpoint I am looking forward to trying Dark Souls and Doughnuts from our friend Andy Parker at Elusive, the Life collab from Cloudwater and Other Half, the Kernal and Jester King Saison, and, to finish off one of the nights I’m sure, Sippin into Darkness from Lervig and Hoppin’ Frog.

I already know that on the local brewery bars Alex has been brewing up some special beers for Green Duck and I’m pretty sure Scott at Fixed Wheel, Chris and Rich at Burning Soul, Thomas and James at Fownes, and Richie and Carl at Twisted Barrel will not let us down with their selections either.

So there you have it…will one session be enough to sample all this beery goodness, well that dear reader is for you to decide. But we hope you support this endeavour put together by Nigel, Will, Andy, Dave, Kirk and Rich, and we hope to see many of you there.

 

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

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.

The First Brum Beer Babs Meet Up!

The Babs and Alex from Five Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verzet Bottle Tasting at Clink – 28th March 2017

This is a co-blog event as the tasting group consisted of me, my husband Dave, my co-blogger Dave and his wife Debbie. We had a cosy corner in Clink and we were ready to go with Roberto Ross at the helm.

Roberto has recently returned from an epic trip to Belgian and Holland. He was there to take cask beers from Landlocked to the Alvinne Fest. Of course he couldn’t visit without going to see some brewers and one he visited was Brouwerij ‘T Verzet.

Verzet are a new Belgian brewery which is pretty much unheard of since most breweries in Belgian have been around  forever. It’s about 2 years old and the 2 brewers have a great pedigree from working at De Ranke and De Proef. Roberto told us that whilst at De Proef they had been brewing beers for Mikkeller and when they set up their own brewery they brewed a beer called Scandinavian Pussy (probably best not to Google that at work!) a 3.8% session IPA as an insult to them!

They are specialising in barrel aged beers and currently have an Oud Bruin as one of the six core beers. We were lucky enough to try all of these core beers along with a 750ml bottle of a special variation of the Oud Bruin brewed with raspberries.

Another fun fact shared by Roberto is that they name all their barrels after rock stars so there are, to name but a few, Marley, Bowie, Cash and Johnny Rotten!

As this is a co-blog I’m going to put both our sets of tasting notes in (it is good to see we concurred on most of the beers!):

The first beer we drank was Super Noah – this is a 4.9% Belgian Blonde unusually these days, brewed with no American hops..

C&D – It has yeasty, bready flavour with some good citrus notes too.

D&D – Good mouthfeel, typical Belgian yeasty taste, biscuity with a slight citrus bitterness kick and a bit of oomph!

Moose Blues was next. A 7.5% red bruin/Belgian dubbel. A nice nod to their rock and roll interests is the note below the beer name “B-Beer King”!

C&D – It had a sweet, dried fruit taste with the label description mentioning maple syrup.

D&D – Sweet, first sip is quite refreshing for the abv then the alcohol hits and it becomes quite boozy.

Sticking with 7.5% we moved on to Golden Tricky brewed with Australian and New Zealand hops.

C&D – This had a murky IPA taste but still with the flavours of Belgian yeasts and some tropical fruits.

D&D – Not a typical IPA at first, again tastes quite light and refreshing but then becomes more substantial , juicy and fruity with that Belgian yeasty taste.

 

The next beer is the favourite style of the brewers – Oud Bruin. 6% this one with 2 years in barrels before blending.

C&D – As expected it had a sweet balsamic/cider vinegar taste with a fruity finish – we agreed a great food pairing for this would be strawberries.

D&D – Quite acetic, Deb thought it a bit like a balsamic vinegar, fruity on the nose with a rich, red colour to it.

Back up to 7.5% next for Oaky Moaky a complex, oaky, smokey barrel aged sour.

C&D – I have to say it had a distinct taste of blue cheese with a possible pecorino aroma! However this just added a creaminess to the mouthfeel and balanced the, also present, strong barrel aroma and slight oud bruin vinegar flavour.

D&D – Complex, hint of tartness, a bit smokey and cheesy.

 

Our penultimate beer was Rebel Local, the strongest beer of the night at 8.5%. This is a Belgian blonde, basically a ‘big’ version of Super Noah.

C&D – It tasted well below the abv with a sweet, bready flavour. We also detected some bananary notes in there too.

D&D – Drinks under it’s abv, bready with hints of banana.

 

Our final beer was a special addition – Oud Bruin Raspberry Harvest 2016. This is the Oud Bruin but with the addition of 150g/L of raspberries.

C&D – The fruit taste was immense and a great balance to the vinegary nature of this style of beer.

D&D – Really strong raspberry on the nose, and unsurprisingly quite tart and fruity.

We did a round table at the end to find out everyone’s favourite beer of the night – here are the results:

Debbie – Oaky Moaky for its complexity.

Dave H – Rebel Local “like a supernova traditional Belgian style plus extra!”

Roberto – Oud Bruin an old style reimagined at this new brewery.

Dave W – Oud Bruin Raspberry simply “it’s f-in good”

Catherine – Oud Bruin a great new example of an old style of beer.

Thanks to Roberto for getting these over to us to try, Verzet don’t currently have a distributor in the UK which is a shame as their core range is really good and I’d be interested to try a lot more of their special editions too.