Tag: bottle shops

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

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

HUNTER S. THOMPSON, The Curse of Lono

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Interaction with people in a happy place”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

HUNTER S. THOMPSON

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

Brum Beer Profiles – Clink

‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them’

Walt Disney

 ‘Have you seen that Tweet? Who are Clink?’

A movement or scene is often started by dreamers, people with an idea and a passion, and the courage to try to make them come true.  Others may follow suit, each with their own dreams, and the courage to pursue them.

Now in Birmingham, like most cities we suppose, there is a low-level swirl of rumours around the beer scene over who is doing what; most famous or maybe infamous, being that of Birmingham Tap, (similar to Euston Tap) is going to open soon…for the last 2-3 years. So in mid-July a tweet declared that ‘Clink’, a new bottle shop and tap-room, would be opening at The Custard Factory in Digbeth.  We had people getting in touch with us asking if we knew who was behind it, the short answer being, not a clue. Out of nowhere a new venue was opening a few minutes’ walk from the Bullring.  To quote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid “Who are those guys?”  So one wet Monday evening we went along to find out…

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Our first question was who are these courageous souls, who are brave enough to pursue their dreams? The guys in question are Richard Sadler (no relation to the Black Country brewers of the same name), James Beckett, and David Purcell; 3 colleagues who work together at Fazeley Studios and spent time together drinking in the bars of Birmingham.

We met with Richard and James to learn more.

Dave – So how did you get into beer?

Richard: I’ve been interested in beer since I was old enough to drink.  About three years ago I got turned on to craft beer thanks to Brewdog and cold fresh Punk IPA.  I had always liked beer but when I tried that, it was on another level, and I started thinking, where can I get more? As I got more and more in to it I become more passionate.

James: I became a more selective drinker, after growing up drinking lager,  thanks to a family friend that started Northern Monk in Leeds. They have also proved helpful in providing advice once we’d decided to open our bar.

David: I grew up in Hereford and was a real ale drinker from the start, especially Wye Valley as they were local.  I even had a few of the seasonal specials with a nettle beer being one that still lives large in the memory.  My epiphany beer was Steph Weiss by And Union in Munich which in a roundabout way led me to discover Cotteridge Wines and their huge selection of beers…

Dream Becomes Reality

We asked the guys how Clink went from dream to reality, and the answer was beautiful in is simplicity;

While working together we were all just batting the idea around jokingly really, and it just spiralled out of control.  And we went into it head first.  It all happened really quickly.

They had discussed their passion for beer, including their admiration for places like Cotteridge Wines, and dreamt of opening their own space, when one of them said, ‘Lets do it’.

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They have received advice and help from various parts of the industry:

Other bottle shops, breweries, people who fit bars, nearly everyone was really welcoming.

With the likes of Cotteridge Wines offering encouragement:

Yeah they’re my beer heroes.  I was really nervous at first because I thought they might be annoyed about us doing it.  Jaz messaged us on Twitter and said ‘I’m going to come down’ adding to my nerves but when he come down he was so nice and friendly.  We are lucky that we have been able to build a good relationship with them.

The guys set about making enquirers at a number of different venues, but working in Digbeth the Custard Factory seemed like an obvious choice, and so close to where they all still work.

The Custard Factory have been supportive, with their Twitter account being most people’s first inkling that Clink was happening.

The reality into action

Clink is a bottle shop, boasting a fantastic selection of bottles, from some of the best breweries from the UK, Europe and the USA, along with eight taps with the ability to buy, and fill growlers.

We just wanted great beer, beer we would like.  We get the beers direct from breweries where we can.

The guys have become the first Birmingham Venue to take on Untappd Verified Venue Status

We are just trying it out.  We all use Untappd ourselves and liked the way you could put your  whole beer menu online, we have had quite a few people pop by because they have seen we have put a beer on.  We wondered  if it would be worth it and it seems to have been so far.

Who is their customer base in Digbeth?  When we meet them it was perhaps a little too early to get a clear sense of their average…well anything really.

We have literally no demographic, all ages have been popping in so far. We have had some customers from surrounding businesses, including one place that has a beer fridge in their office, and another that buys beer for their employees on a Friday. We think it is great that such a diverse group of people are into good beer.

When we spoke to the guys they had only been open for a week or 2, and they were still figuring out a lot of stuff, but their passion and commitment will see them through. They are still trying to settle on set opening times, and learning when their busy times may be, but will always answer if you tweet them for information. They have been known to be flexible, with a focus on just enjoying engaging with customers, and staying open a little longer when busy.

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More Dreaming

Future plans for Clink include possible Meet the Brewer events and possible tap take overs, but the main focus is making a success of the shop, and enjoying making their dream a reality.

Perhaps in the future we could look at opening something else, perhaps open something on the Pershore Road, maybe a tap-room or something, with all the awesome places already there, Wildcat Tap, Stirchley WInes & Spirits, Cotteridge Wines, The British Oak. It could become a bit of a beer mile.

Whatever the future plans we are chuffed to see these guys having the courage to pursue their dreams and hope others will look at the actions they have taken and also choose to follow their own dreams.

We are excited to see the progression of this great little venue, and look forward to popping back to chat to the lads when they are fully settled in.

Are you considering starting to brew?  Want to open a bottle shop? Or Bar?  Do you want to add to the scene/movement here in Birmingham and the surrounding areas?

Well listen to Uncle Walt’s words and make it happen.

Happy Birthday Cotteridge Wines

We often lament about the Birmingham beer scene compared to London, Leeds or Manchester, hoping for more bars and pubs to sell quality beer, and no doubt there is some more work to be done for  Birmingham to reach its potential, but one area we do lead the way in is our fantastic bottle shops. Birmingham has two of the UK’s best bottle shops, according to RateBeer (and us) in Stirchley Wines & Cotteridge Wines, and both along the same road. With Cotteridge Wines approaching its 21st birthday they want to celebrate with their friends and customers, and they want to celebrate big. We wanted to know more about the two brothers, their 21 year history, and how they became RateBeers No.1 bottle shop in the UK.20160622_170017
But what makes Cotteridge Wines different?

From the outside of the building it seems like any normal off-licence, until you take a closer look and see the names of the breweries they feature. Once you step inside you notice two things, firstly it’s no frills layout, and then you see the beers, the vast lines of bottles organised by brewery, and what an amazing selection to choose from (it can be a little intimidating on first visit).  So it’s kind of hard to imagine now when you walk in and see this to think that there was a time when they were just a regular neighbourhood off-licence selling Carling, Fosters and Lambrini. But 21 years ago that’s how Hari Kandola with his sons Kal and Jaz began on the Pershore Road in Birmingham, and for the vast majority of the stores history that was the status quo.

About 5 years ago Hari retired allowing the brothers to take full control, and they set about putting their own individual stamp on the store. They had begun to do a few more world beers such as Singha and Dab, and slowly added a selection of Belgian and German beers as well as bottle conditioned British beers such as Hobgoblin. This change coincided with the first stirrings of the “craft” beer movement in the UK and with a combination of customers asking and doing their own research they began to stock breweries such as Kernel, Brodies and Buxton.  They also got to know a relatively local lad, called Logan Plant who had set up a brewery in London called Beavertown.

So, with the help of social media they began pushing what they were doing and championing all of these new breweries, both of them sharing the passion and commitment of what these brewers were doing. The first 6 months of this change in approach were slow, but gradually word of mouth began to build and so the customer base began to expand. At the same time, by travelling to the breweries to pick up the beers they began to build a special relationship built on mutual respect and this has borne fruit, so to speak, especially with regards to their 21st birthday celebration in July, but more on that below.

Jaz and Kal’s approach to business, mirrors the shop in their no-nonsense and straightforward ethic. They have focused on building relationships and friendships with brewers, and in some cases not taking no for an answer. They said that one of the main contributors to their success was starting to supply Mikkeller, and this mainly came through the involvement of James Brodie, who pretty much vouched for them and what a great job they were doing.  This led to Mikkel telling his brother Jeppe who runs Evil Twin, quickly followed by To Øl supplying them.  Once these highly respected breweries began selling in the store, more breweries followed at a steady pace, all adding to the vast selection available in store and, as you can see from the beer board on the day we were there, meant they are able to put on some really great beers. 20160622_162452 (2)
The beer board came about during another change in late 2014 with the introduction of the tasting bar and growler filling station. I remember when I bought mine that the guys said they had done considerable research into getting the growlers just right.  Mine has seen a lot of use, both at the shop, and at my local brewery, Green Duck (read about them here).

As well as the bar there is also a small room and an outside area  with chairs and tables so you can enjoy a chat and a few beers when the weather is fine.  This has also meant they have organised tasting sessions and meet the brewer events, which are really enjoyable, including one I attended, hosted by Evin O’Riordan of Kernel Brewery (read about that here).P1000225
Another notch on their bow, so to speak, has been the collaborative beers that they have done such as Bish’s APA with Brodies, named after a customer, one Tom Bishop (thanks to Simon Williams of CAMRGB for providing this info here ), and No. 11 with Beavertown.  For their 20th birthday both Steel City (Maple & Vanilla Porridge Stout) and Siren (Cotteridge Wines Anniversary Blend) produced special beers to celebrate.  Siren especially has been one the breweries that they have built a very strong friendship with. Both Jaz and Kal told us that Ryan Witter, the ex-head brewer, had been a really big help in their development and they still keep in touch with him and his family since his move to Hill Farmstead.

The brothers told us that the last 5 years have been their best, as they have really enjoyed getting to know and chatting about beer with their customers, built friendships and a community.  I have to say both Bob and I were surprised when they said that they reckon about 90% of that customer base comes from outside Birmingham.  I’m not sure if that is a testament to how good the shop is, or whether it says something about Birmingham drinkers, probably a bit of both (perhaps something we will explore in the future). Whatever the reason, their range and customer service helped them win  RateBeer’s award of UK’s best beer bottle shop for 3 years running.

So what can we expect on July 8th and 9th at their 21st birthday… Well, a lot of breweries offered to make some special beers, so they had to make sure they didn’t end up with all the same style, but here are just a few of the beers they told us about:

They will also be selling the 20th Anniversary bottles at £10, plus they have some specialties from Brasserie Fantôme, De Struise Brouwers, To Øl & Mikkeller.  Follow the store on Twitter for more information and new updates.

Oh, and let’s not forget that very soon the online site will be launching.

So let’s raise a glass or two, Pilsner for Kal and something hoppy for Jaz, and wish the guys a very Happy 21st birthday!

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Making a scene

I’m sat writing this in the Hop Inn, Newcastle-under-Lyme, drinking Hopcraft’s delightful pale-and-hoppy Oceanic. A few years ago, finding a beer like this within the area would be unthinkable, but now it’s the norm. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to see the rapid development of a beer scene within Stoke-on-Trent & Newcastle-under-Lyme, let me give a quick account of just how quickly things can change.

 

Let me start by sketching the beer scene in this area a couple of years ago. There’s never been a shortage of pubs in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, but they mostly stocked the usual suspects from big national breweries. Cosmetic differences and locality were the key factors in who they attracted through the door. If you wanted something different to drink, your choice was the obvious Whetherspoons, a Titanic brewery pub (for local bitters served in a clean, traditional style of pub) or The Holy Inadequate. The Inadequate was the first pub in the area to embrace the new wave of more experimental small breweries and good beer from abroad – bottles of Schneider Weiss and Tiny Rebel NP10 stand out in my memory.

 

The Inadequate stood out for quite a while as the lone voice calling for exciting beer. This status quo was changed in 2013 as local small brewery Lymestone opened the Lymestone Vaults in Newcastle-under-Lyme. A beautifully fitted out cosy pub, they served the breweries range of good traditional beers – including my perennial favourite “Einstein” which uses European hops in a pale British bitter to great effect. No surprise really, as Head Brewer Brad was formerly of Titanic and shows all the best qualities of that brewery in his own business.

 

The following year, The Hop Inn opened, also in Newcastle. Clean, classic styling was paired with a range of predominantly pale-and-hoppy (sessionable strength) beers – Mallinson’s, Hopcraft, Oakham and Magic Rock proving regular favourites in a changing line up that frequently shows a love of Yorkshire beers).

 

The next shift in local beer was one you could see coming if you frequented the Hop, as the people behind it were mostly to be found drinking (and planning) in there. Within the last 6 months or so, four bottle shops have opened – first BottleCraft in Hanley, then Ten Green Bottles and The Hop Water Cellar in Newcastle, and last (but by no means least!) Otters Tears in Burslem.

 

2015 also saw the arrival of three micro-pubs to the area – first the Bridge Street Ale house in Newcastle, followed by the London Road Alehouse in Stoke & the Ale Corner in Hanley. Of these, the London Road Alehouse is my closest and seems to have gone for beers from more traditional small breweries, the kind of ones you will rarely see online buzz about and may well never come across again outside of their local CAMRA festivals.
Somewhere in the middle of all the change, we also saw the quiet arrival of Bert’s – a burger bar offering a nice selection of Belgian and German bottled beers.

 

Equally interesting to these new options was the changes to the existing pubs. The Lymestone Vaults remains a lovely, cosy spot, whilst Brad has begun to expand his range and to experiment further – a version of their Stout, Stone Dead, brewed using Saison yeast was a highlight for me. The Titanic pubs, too, have expanded their offerings, with increasingly interesting guests on the bar and a “craft beer” keg and bottle range that always holds something of interest. Meanwhile, the Hop has added a well curated bottle selection and expanded their range to include two keg lines (correction – 4 keg lines, thanks Phil!).

 

All in all, there’s now a good range of choices for those hunting good beer in Stoke and Newcastle – if you haven’t been to see it for yourself, you should. Anyway, I’m going to turn my mind to the weightier question of whether to have the Northern Monk/Weird Beard collab next, or the Magic Rock – it’s great to have such difficult quandaries to face!