Tag: Tilt Birmingham

Meet the Brewer: Jamil Zainasheff of Heretic Brewing

On Thursday March 16th Tilt in Birmingham City Centre played host to an international Meet the Brewer with Heretic from California and its owner Jamil Zainasheff.

As is often the case with these events this became a great social occasion with many friends drinking great beer including Evil Cousin, Evil 3, Grapefruit Mosaic, and the Chocolate Hazelnut Porter. And although I didn’t have a glass myself, the Cruel Beauty, a robust porter aged in oak barrels on tart cherries for nearly two years seemed to go down particularly well.

I had chance to have a brief chat with Jamil but figured that doing a formal interview there after a few beers was asking a bit much of my brain, and so it came to pass that on a rather chilly Saturday lunchtime we rendezvoused at Burning Soul brewery for an informal chat over a beer or 2.

I first asked Jamil a bit about his background and he said he was working in software and living in Northern California just drinking whatever beers were available whenever he went out. But then he had his epiphany moment when his neighbour Steve handed him a beer to try that was full of flavour. When he asked where it was from Steve replied ”I brewed it” which was a bit of a mind blower because Jamil just thought that beer was brewed in big factories (which to be fair was probably correct).

By the late 70s the US beer industry had shrunk in size to just 44 breweries who mainly brewed light lager style beers with little character or taste, although change was on the way. The first root of this change was Fritz Maytag buying the Anchor Brewing company in 1965 where he carried on brewing some unique styles such as steam beer. This was followed by the short lived New Albion Brewery that was opened in 1976 by, wouldn’t you just know it, homebrewing enthusiasts. It was these people that through the 80s and 90s pioneered the opening of micro breweries and brew pubs that sold beer with more flavour and adapted styles from the Old World. Jamil told his wife that you could make good tasting beer on a small scale and for Christmas she bought him a Mr Beer Homebrew Kit. It was an extract kit and he followed the instructions, and the beer was horrible, but he knew that good home brewed beer was possible. In the late 1990s he practised and practised to achieve that aim, eventually winning many awards for his home brewing and writing books about it.

Fast forward to 2009 and after 15 years at the same company he took a year off to write a critically acclaimed book about yeast with Chris White before taking the plunge with his wife’s blessing to open Heretic Brewery in Fairfield. At the time there was one other micro brewery in town, but they have since been joined by a couple of others, but he said one of his main motivations to open in the town was the quality of the water. (He’d been told that the reservoir had been built for Anheuser Busch, so maybe some good can come out of big monolithic corporations)… The brewery is family owned, with both his wife and older daughter working for the company, and the first batch of beer was released in 2011. Eventually, after getting a bit fed up with the one hour commute to work the family moved a bit closer, and he’s now 6 miles away. He is a big believer in having as little negative impact on the environment as possible and drives an electric car which he charges at the brewery which is all powered by wind power, and is aiming for a zero waste workplace.

We moved on to a discussion about US Brewing because on Thursday at Tilt I’d said how it would be good to speak to someone who was from the country that lead the way in brewing, or something along those lines. But he was quick to point out that really the American beer revolution had been started by visitors to the UK, Belgium and Germany who enjoyed the different styles that were on offer. They then returned home and tried to replicate it but with little success, but gradually, over time, they studied brewing and learnt about techniques to get it right. And then they were able to experiment and basically do what they liked until now, Jamil feels there are true American brewing styles and many great American breweries. One of these is undoubtedly Russian River which is also based in California, and when he first started the brewery he took his staff there to sample some beers. They tried a 20 beer flight, all the beers were great, some were truly excellent and he remembers saying to them “How do we make one beer this good? ” and realised the challenge he faced. But he believed that if you have your goal in mind and take it one step at a time you will eventually get there. Now, 6 years later when he stands in the tap room looking at the 16 taps, he knows he has come a long way and is very proud of what he does. And at first he didn’t want a tap room, and there wasn’t one for the first 3 years because he loved to socialise but didn’t want to be standing around trying to sell his beer, he just wanted people to taste it. But now they are open 7 days a week and will soon be adding a kitchen and a distillery, which they hope to be another positive resource for the local community. This desire not to have a negative impact on the community or the environment is part of their underlying philosophy along with his definition of craft which he believes to be about putting the quality of the product above profit. In fact he said that when asked what are the priorities about the brewery, number one is safety, number two is quality and profit comes a lot lower down the list.

I asked how the brewery got on whilst he was away since he seemed to be a hands on sort of guy, and his itinerary this trip included Belgium, the Netherlands, Birmingham, Bristol and London in the UK, and Sweden and Denmark, so quite a long trip. He said when he started he employed a guy called Chris Kennedy who is now the head brewer, although Jamil still comes up with ideas because it is still his vision. He paid tribute to the team that he had though, saying that they did a great job, offering input on the brews and basically executing said vision.

We finished off with a brief discussion about social media which he sees as both a good thing for promoting things, and a bad thing when a negative element can take over. He also thought, like me, that sometimes us beer drinkers can’t see the wood for the trees and can get a bit hung up on the latest thing and fads (iceman pour anyone? ) when really all we went is a good beer in a good venue with good company. By this time, Scott Povey and his partner Sharon of Fixed Wheel and popped in for a drink, and once they started talking about attenuation I dropped out of the conversation…my beer education hasn’t gone that far yet.

Brewers United

In closing, I’d like to say thanks to Jamil for his time and for a great conversation, and to Chris and Rich at Burning Soul for their hospitality.

Tilt Turns 1 – Swedish Takeover Weekend

p1010137      Although it was the end of October and there were a lot of Halloween themed events on, we’ve never been big fans (except of the original John Carpenter movie), so on Saturday 29th, after getting a suitably flavoursome lining on our stomach courtesy of OPM, we arrived at a very busy Tilt bar just before 6 pm to celebrate their 1st birthday. For the event they were having a Swedish tap takeover featuring Omnipollo and Dugges, the night we went it was just the former on the 8 taps. Omnipollo is an award winning brewery that was founded in 2011 by Henok Fentie and Karl Grandin, and although based in Stockholm they brew at different breweries across the globe to craft their beers. I’d been a fan of the brewery since tasting the collaboration with Buxton, Yellow Belly, a peanut butter biscuit stout with no biscuits, butter or nuts, which I’d described on my Untappd check-in as sweet, nutty, nicely alcoholic. Since then I’d had a few others and really enjoyed the big, bold flavours they produced. So whilst Deb chatted with friends I ordered the first 2 reasonably low abv beers. Deb had Cassius, a 6 % Citra pale ale which Omnipollo say isp1010140 their finest pale ale, she found it very fruity and quite easy drinking, and I went for Onda, a really good 100% Mosaic pale ale. By the second round, Zodiak for Deb and Leon for me, my wife had decided that Omnipollo was her new favourite brewery. Zodiak is described as the house ipa, although I’m not sure if so called gypsy brewers can have such a thing, and Deb said “another gorgeous hoppy beer with just right amount of bitterness”. Leon is a Belgian pale ale, a style I have a lot of time for, and this one is described by Henok as “assertively hopped and fermented dry using champagne yeast. The yeast and the hops in combination with a simple malt bill provides the beer with a quality of being rich in taste yet refreshing.” And I’m not going to argue with that. 20161029_182820At this point the birthday cake provided by Bake in Kings Heath was brought out, a blueberry cheesecake cake to go with Anagram, a 12% blueberry cheesecake stout…wow, what a beer, sweet, fruity, and boozy. We wondered if anything could match this, but fortunately our last 2 beers managed to do ok. Hypnopompa is another big 11% imperial stout, this one brewed with marshmallows and vanilla beans giving it a rich, creamy taste, and Polimango is a 9.5% imperial ipa and again was superbly hoppy and fruity, unsurprisingly tasting a bit of mango 🙂
During the evening we had a chat with Kirk who seems happy with the way the first year has gone, and I know they have some exciting plans for their second year, so kudos to him and Rich for taking the plunge to open the bar, and many thanks to the staff, past and present, for great service on the many occasions I’ve visited…

August Bank Holiday Weekend

So the August Bank Holiday weekend proved to be quite an interesting few days if you were a beer drinker in and around Birmingham; lots of events and beer festivals going on as well as the usual excellent selection of beers at the Craven Arms, yes Fallen Brewery Chew Chew I’m looking at you…

First up on Thursday for Deb & I was Kernel meet the brewer with Evin O’Riordan at Tilt, a bit of a no brainer since we are both big fans of their beers. We started with the latest iteration of the low abv table beer, this one being the Mosaic version which was a good solid start and went well with the takeaway dinner from Mission Burrito. Next was one of the changes to the original beer listing, the biere de saison Citra, a refreshing, zingy beer with a hint of tartness and quite fruity. Another change to the menu was the pale ale Comet which originally was going to be a Nelson Sauvin version but Evin didn’t think it was quite up to scratch. It was around this time as Deb had this and I had the IPA Mosaic Nelson Sauvin that Kirk brought Evin over and introduced us, although we had met previously at Cotteridge Wine. So we had quite a long chat about the the beers we were drinking, the Birmingham scene, the Brexit effect, how things were going in London etc, and we were joined by Joe Rushton for a while. I also introduced him to Gwen from Sacre Brew so he knew some good things were happening in the area. As usual it was a relaxed night, good service from Kirk, Rich, Neil (soon to leave for a new career in dog grooming – he will be missed) and new recruit Nathan. Plus it was nice to see people from other bars popping in to support this venture. Just to shake things up a little we veered off the Kernel path for our last beer and had a bottle of Northern Monk Wasted to share which hit a nice balance of sweet, sour and fruitiness.

Friday brought what I think might be a fairly unique event, in a bottle shop at least: the chance to meet not one, not two, but three brewers from three of the biggest and most respected breweries in the country at Cotteridge Wine. It was to celebrate the release of the 2nd version of Rule of Thirds, a collaboration between Beavertown, Magic Rock and Siren, and whilst there Bob Maxfield & I had a chat with head brewer Stuart from Magic Rock. He told us that Ryan Witter had the original idea for Rule of Thirds whilst he was still at Siren, and asked Beavertown and Magic Rock for the recipes for Gamma Ray and Cannonball respectively and made adjustments for the different brewery sizes to come up with something workable. This time though the breweries are of similar size, 55 hectolitres, and so they just used a third of each recipe and aimed for a beer a third of the strength. He said that many of the hops used in Cannonball were also in Gamma Ray and Soundwave which made life a little easier but they were used in different places in the schedule, and to give it that Magic Rock feel Magnum was used for bittering. Brewers from Beavertown and Siren made the trip to Huddersfield on brew day to give support and advice and do a bit of grafting and it all went quite smoothly. Apparently it is often the duty of the guest to dig out the mash tun… wonder who drew the short straw there… We also had a more general chat about how things were going at the new brewery site, but for a more insightful view check out http://www.magicrockbrewing.com/blog/august-2016-expansion-one-year/

As for the evening itself it was the usual relaxed evening full of great beer and conversation, was really nice to be able to have a half of each of the 3 beers that went into Rule of Thirds before having it, and when we did I for one wasn’t disappointed. It had a lovely bitterness and great fruity grapefruit taste. And I was very pleased that the Bloody Notorious had made it in time, I love Bloody ‘Ell and this bigger, punchier version is very good, a great way to end another fantastic event at Cotteridge.

Saturday was a day off…

Sunday we woke up to a message that said Twisted Barrel had ran out of beer, not normally a problem but since we were planning on visiting the taphouse for their beer festival it could’ve been. But after some toing and froing on twitter we figured it was still worth the journey. And there was the added incentive of Digbeth Dining Club being at Coventry p1000382Cathedral, so that was lunch sorted. And what an excellent lunch courtesy of @Chevaux_65 and Street Souvlaki with a lovely crepe from @crepesandmore for dessert, and so suitably full we made the 15 minute walk out to Fargo Village. They had put a couple of their own beers on to replace ones that had run out, so it seemed pretty churlish not to try them…first up was  Soup Dragon which they describe as a smoked saison, made with 50% rauch malt, flavoured with lime zest and chipotle, and it was indeed a nice combination of spice, smokiness and heat. One of the other new ones was Mongrel which had been brewed by one of the guys behind the bar using all English hops and which had a pleasing bitterness to it.  Over the course of a couple of hours, despite the odd rain shower, the tap house was continually busy, here is a paragraph from Deb giving her verdict on the afternoon…

Well for saying they had “run out of beer” Sunday at the Twisted Barrel Beer Festival in the Fargo village part of Coventry was distinguished by some delightful and diverse beer. In fact I dread to think what Saturday was like as Sunday was pretty damn popular, a so-called dearth of ale notwithstanding. I reckon there was a continuous queue at the bar for for the last 60 minutes or so! Then at 5.40 they had to refuse custom as they were in danger of running dry again for unlucky attendees on Bank Holiday Monday. Success is a Bummer! The poor TB employees were gonna have to scrabble around again to find beer for thirsty Coventrarians! ? I had a lovely time in pretty pleasant surroundings on a reasonably sunny August afternoon.

As we got close to the end of the afternoon we hit the big guns, the breweries own Wake Up Juice their version of a Belgian Tripel which was lush, good thick mouthfeel, pleasant floral aroma, full on taste, kind of creamy fruit, and Morag from Beer Nouveau in collaboration with Clever Yeti Brewing, an Imperial Sorachi Bubblegum Stout, which was unusual because you actually did get a bubblegum hit from it.  So all in all a really nice Sunday afternoon was had, very pleased we decided to go and will definitely be going back, sooner rather than later…

And to finish off the weekend we went a little closer to home once I had finished work and visited the Swan in Halesowen to see what they had left from their festival.  Fortunately there were some decent ales on the bar and in the marquee on stillage so we supped from Mallinsons, Salopian, Kelham Island, Bad Co Brewery, Bristol Beer Factory and a tasty half of Ride it Like you Stole it, which hadn’t had to travel far from Fixed Wheel Brewery just up the road…a fitting end to a great beery long weekend.

PS – many thanks to Laura Creaven of @FulltotheBrum for letting me use a couple of her photographs

NMBCo, carrying on the tradition

nbm2 On Thursday 18th February Tilt bar in Birmingham staged their first tap takeover and meet the brewer event with Northern Monk from Leeds. In the house was head brewer Brian Dickson to give us a short history of the brewery and talk us through the beers on offer. They started as cuckoo brewers, doing their beers on other people’s equipment, before setting up a permanent base in August 2014 in a grade II listed old flax mill building in Leeds. Starting off with 3 fermenters they have doubled up to 6 and are a 10 barrel plant currently on gyle 170, brewing every day for cask, keg, and cans. In the beginning 60% of the beers went in cask, but that has dropped to 25% now.

20160218_210830Working my way through the board I started with the Pale which is primarily a cask beer and used mainly British hops but with a bit of Cascade as well. Next up was Eternal, a session ipa which was juicy and piney and at only 4.1% eminently drinkable. The New World ipa was probably the 1st of their beers I had back in the summer of 2013 at the 1st Birmingham Beer Bash, at the time I described it as a “lovely ipa, complex, fragrant, tasty”, and although they have been tweaking the recipe in the last 18 months it is an excellent drink, fantastically hoppy, this version had Chinook and Simcoe. On to the dark side with Northern Star, a mocha porter done in collaboration with Leeds North Star coffee roasters using 8kg of coffee in a cold brew and lactose in the boil giving a really nice chocolate, coffee and vanilla taste combination. And talking of collaborations I had to try the Tilted Monk, described as a coffee cream ale and brewed with the help of the Kirk at Tilt. Like an idiot I expected it to be dark, but it was a nice amber colour with quite a subtle earthy coffee flavour, again using lactose, Origin coffee from Nicaragua, and Rakau hops from New Zealand.  Last, but certainly not least, was Rapscallion a brew based on a historic recipe from the 1640’s called Purl, also known as Wormwood Ale which included orange peel and leaves from the senna plant.  For this version Brian told us they used an all UK hop bill and added orange zest and just enough crushed ginger to give a gentle kick. It certainly had a nice orangey flavour with a little spiceyness to it.

20160218_212150Over the course of a very relaxed evening I was able to chat with Brian and it was good to hear some stories from The Grove in Huddersfield, where he had worked for 7 years, a place my wife and I hope to be visiting in the near future.  And the brewery seems to be going from strength to strength, it now has 4 brewers, and last year opened the Refectory Tap Room in Leeds, another venue I have heard good things about. So thanks to Kirk, Rich and Brian for a nice night, already looking forward to the next MTB later this month.