Tag: midlands

Warwick Beer Festival 21st – 22nd July 2017

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goskino vs Burning Soul – 27th July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom – Corona

Adam – Stroud Brewery – Budding

Greg – Burning Soul OCT

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

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

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

Birmingham Brewery Tour – Review

Birmingham Brewery Tours (part of UK Brewery Tours) have been running since March this year and I was very happy when they invited me along to join them this month to see what it was all about*.

The tour starts at 2pm at Rock and Roll Brewhouse in the Jewellery Quarter. I was met by our guide for the day, Stuart, along with Lynne and Mark from the brewery.

The first thing I noticed, as I’ve not been in for a while, was the new seating area – they’ve purchased the adjoining unit and knocked through to make a lovely area complete with windows which really lightens up the whole bar. We were soon joined by the rest of our group – newlyweds Joe and Elaine and father and son Joe and Joe (at least I didn’t have any trouble remembering people’s names!). There were 2 beers being poured as part of the tour Thirst Aid Kit and British Beer Power and we had our first half as Mark took us into the brewery complete with coloured lights and disco ball! He told us about his history in brewing from his days as a homebrewer, through his time at Banks’ and brewing on the roof of the Lamp Tavern in Digbeth. We were surprised to learn we were surrounded by 200 year old walls and that their fermentation vessels are wine tanks from Italy. He told us that the ethos of the whole brewery was “a little space for people who love beer and music” hence the name and all the memorabilia and records lining the walls. The whole group were really interested and asked lots of questions. No one (apart from me) had been there before or, in some cases, even knew it existed and I think this is the great part of this tour taking people to these hidden gems. Then it was time to move on so we left wishing Lynne and Mark a happy birthday as it had been the taproom’s birthday the night before and moved on to our next location – Burning Soul.

By coincidence Burning Soul are also celebrating a birthday as it is one year since they got the keys to the unit – the taproom will celebrate its birthday later in the year! As before none of the rest of the group had been here previously and again they were immediately impressed. Chris and Richard were there to greet us and pour us our first beers – here we had the choice of the whole board and as in Rock and Roll we could have 3 halves. Richard took us into the brewery and gave everyone a potted history from the garage brewing days, via ebay and retrofitting equipment to the newest conditioning vessel just arrived, if slightly dented, that week. He then showed the group a range of malts which we could smell and taste along with some hops as he explained the brewing process.

Again the atmosphere was very relaxed with everyone really enjoying the beers and asking lots of questions. We stayed there for around an hour and then it was time to go to our final destination Pure Bar and Kitchen.

The final part of the day was a little different. As this is not the brewery itself we were there to have a short tutored tasting of some beers led by Sam from the bar. We were told that Purity like to pair their beers with food so we had some small snacks to try with our beers – sausage rolls, cheese, gherkins and chocolate chips. We tasted a range of Purity beers both on draft and from cans, not everyone in the group had been to the bar before and they were interested to hear more about the beers and also try the different food pairings. We were also lucky enough to get a brief glimpse into the cellar which allowed us to see how the beer is stored and transported up to the pumps in the bar above.

To finish off I talked to the group about their experience of the day and here are some of their quotes – “Impressed with how it was handled and the personal experience, hands on, sampling the beer.” “Very welcoming, very nice people.” “Overall a great day and just the right size group, 6 to 8 is enough. It’s more personal.” “We didn’t know any of these places existed we will definitely go back to all the locations and we will bring our friends too.”

I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone who’s not tried these breweries before. It’s a good day out, everyone on the tour was really interested and Stuart was a great, knowledgeable guide.

*I was invited to attend the tour by the organisers and did not pay however this has not impacted my views.

Pirate Life – They Come from a Land Down Under!

Whilst out for a farewell drink with Gwen (see my previous blog “Au Revoir Sacre Brew…”) we popped into Brewdog who were having a showcase from Pirate Life. Never one to miss a blog opportunity I sat with Sean Robertson (European Developer) to have a chat about this Australian brewery and their plans for the UK.

The brewery, based in Adelaide, started about two and a half years ago and the two founding brewers, Jack Cameron & Jared Refert started their brewing lives at Brewdog in Ellon. From there they went to Little Creatures and Cheeky Monkey respectively before Jack’s father raised the money to set them up in their own brewery. The brewery has grown 15 fold in two and a half years and is moving toward 220 thousand litres a month. They now brew 17 styles of beer, with staff increasing from 6 to 36 people including 6 brewers.

The event was more of a meet and greet however Sean told me they had a more full on program of meet the brewer type events planned at other Brewdog bars over the coming weeks. He told me the relationship comes from starting at Brewdog but there is still a healthy competition!
The brewers intend to come over to the UK and Europe every 10 weeks, having freed themselves from the brewery, to drive forward events, Q&As and promotion. We agreed this will be great for them to see the challenges facing breaking into other markets.

We talked about the challenges of bringing beer from so far away and I found out that the beers are shipped in chilled transport for their 6 week journey and that Pirate Life are passionate about maintaining an all cold supply chain. Within Australia they have their own distribution network but to bring beer to the UK they have had to have a number of trial runs. The first shipment was not great with the Throwback IPA, particularly, not travelling well. They tweaked the temperature on the 20ft refrigerated units and dropped it to 3C – it seems 3 was the magic number! They were now on container number 3 with container 4 on the way with, so far, only the core range coming over but it’s arriving in great shape.

I was also pleased to hear that they didn’t want to be London-centric but would be UK wide getting into “grass roots and off piste smaller towns”. They are using smaller distributors to get into these smaller locations and hope to have around 10 distribution partners by the end of the year.

In Australia 83% of their market is cans, the UK market is much more draft focused and much more competitive in general. Also the market in Australia is much more focused on bottle shops but the team have taken the approach to “blend in” with the UK sales profile focusing on wider sales channels. Sean told me they are keen to spearhead the import of Australian beers “We are aware, as Pirate Life Europe, we want to be the pioneers of Australian craft beer – we’ve a great history of brewing but there are a lot of hurdles to get over like ‘the original Fosters scenario’. Also Little Creatures have relaunched and Prancing Pony is coming over from the same region as Pirate Life”.

In respect of the beers I drank during the evening I started with a Throwback IPA which tasted really light and fresh with a good grapefruit flavour, the 6.8% IPA which was super hoppy and spot on and finally the 8.8% Double IPA – this really showcased the hoppy flavour and the benefit of that 3 degree shipping. I have to say I was really impressed with them all and would certainly order them again and look out for the cans.

During the interview we talked about various bars in Birmingham and I mentioned the great focus on events at The Wolf and it seems my advice went in as there is an event there on 22nd July for Birmingham Beer Week! So get down there and try some great, fresh tasting Australian beers!

 

Moseley Beer Festival – Birmingham Beer Week Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

This is where the Drinks will be flowing.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

Would they see this becoming an annual event?

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

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

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

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

Check out some of the beers on offer below.

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.

The Bottle Shed

Another great logo designed by The Upright One

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

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

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

Silent Partner, Rambo

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

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

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

Bad Dog!

So, a few weeks ago we wrote about a new bar that had opened on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter called Lone Wolf. We were pretty impressed by the space and the passion of Sallie and Josh, and after only a few weeks they increased the tap range to 10 which made it even better. But they did mention a spanner in the works because Brewdog had a distillery called Lone Wolf and had sent a cease and desist letter for them to change their name.

And so it came to pass that Lone Wolf became Wolf because they didn’t think it was worth trying to argue with the big boys so to speak. With costs being incurred by themselves they changed signage and everything and relaunched on March 15th as The Wolf bar (@TheWolfBham), and a great night it was with brewers from @BurningSoulBrew, @greenduckbrew, @MauleBrewingCo and @TwistBarrelAle (and if you are not checking these guys out you should be).

Rob Davies from the Guardian happened to be at Sheffield beer festival recently when someone, who may or may not have read our original blog post, told him the story. So Rob got in touch with Sallie and Josh to get more details,  but didn’t say when the story would be published.  March 26th it was published online (here’s the link for those that didn’t see it https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/26/brewdog-lone-wolf-birmingham-pub-change-name – and the proverbial hit the fan with the phone at the bar ringing off the hook, twitter notifications going mental, and messages coming in from friends and acquaintances in Newcastle, Liverpool, Berlin, and even Australia. It was great for us to see the Birmingham beer community get behind these guys and give them their support, although I personally thought some of the anti-Brewdog vitriol got a bit out of hand.

Anyway James Watt eventually tweeted…but forgot to tag the bar so they didn’t see it straight away. After even more press, including the Birmingham Mail, the PM Show on Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, and BBC WM amongst others, the brewery did get in touch, with James emailing to say they would cover all the costs, and even inviting them to the distillery…Since then there have been a few more jabs at Brewdog who maybe aren’t that punk after all (“ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”) but in the end it probably isn’t going to do them a lot of harm.

Josh says their twitter following, and more importantly, footfall has already increased, and hopefully it will continue to do so. He said now they just want to put an end to it and move on, and to that end they have lined up a few events, which include tap takeovers and meet the brewers with Five Points in April and Mad Hatter in May, with hints of more to come.

So let’s hope this fable ends with the Wolf and the Dog peacefully co-existing and living in beery harmony…

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.

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!