Tag: Wolverhampton

Spotlight on Punchline

Have you ever sat around with a group of friends in a pub and as the beers flowed discussed what it would be like to open your own brewery? Well for one such group it went further than a drunken discussion…We’ll come to the back story of Andy, James, Lisa, Louise and Richard in a bit but our introduction to them came on the afternoon of Saturday July 22nd when Deb and I caught the tram out to Priestfields to check out one of the newest breweries on the West Midlands block, Punchline. We knew they had taken over the premises and kit formerly owned by Gwen Sanchirico of Sacre Brew – check out previous posts here http://midlandsbeerblog.co.uk/2016/06/20/birmingham-beer-bash-profiles-sacre-brew/ and here http://midlandsbeerblog.co.uk/2017/07/10/au-revoir-sacre-brew-thank-you-and-good-bye-to-gwen/. This was their first chance to meet local drinkers and gauge some reaction to the work they have been doing for the last few months, and I think it is safe to say the reaction took them by surprise. Whilst we were there there was always a queue at the bar of drinkers of both sexes and all ages, and at one point they had to start labelling up bottles as the supply in the fridge had run out. They had 2 beers they were serving on draft, Why the Long Face, an IPA & No Eye Deer, a saison. These were complimented by 3 in bottles, Dyathinkhesaurus, an imperial porter, Sunburnt Penguin witbier, and The Other Side, a black ipa, and they ranged in abv from 6.1% to 7.7%. Between us we sampled all 5 and thoroughly enjoyed them and were pleased to see via Untappd that many others agreed. We managed to snatch brief conversations with a couple of them as things began to wind down but decided to meet at a later date for an informal chat about their beginnings. And so over a few beers in the Wolf at the end of August I dug into their history with Andy, Louise, Richard and Lisa. They described themselves as very keen drinkers whose friendship goes back a long way, Richard having known Andy from the age of 8, and they still have regular Friday night meet ups in Wednesfield where some of them are based. The first thing that I found surprising, and which they had touched on at the open day, is that none of them had been involved in the drinks trade in the past, or had done any form of home brewing (although volunteers Alastair & Lisa who were keen home brewers were onboard from the beginning). The latter had been talked about as something they were going to start doing, and that was when the name Punchline had been originally bandied about, but then an opportunity knocked as they say. James was the one who had the original connection to Gwen and she had actually helped with a 50th birthday meal when she cooked an 8 course meal with 8 of her beers to go with it. And then in January of this year she announced she was selling up, but wanted the whole brewery to go to kindred spirits who would carry on brewing in the space rather than selling off the equipment in bits and pieces. Thus came the drunken idea to buy the brewery between them with no experience. So they went and helped Gwen out at the brewery, did a collaboration brew with her, a golden ale called Fenrir 14/48 Transatlantic Beer and then learnt everything they could in the months leading up to her returning to the USA. And then it was time to start brewing on the 240 litre, 4 FV brewing kit with all the beer being brewed, kegged, bottled and labelled on the premises. Since there were 5 of them they picked the aforementioned 5 different styles saying this was partly based on their differing tastes since, for instance, Andy is not really a fan of hoppy beers and prefers the dark side, whereas Richard is a more hops the better kind of guy. With the name Punchline decided upon it came time to find a name for the beers and a design look. To do this they went to The Studio Group, a Wolverhampton-based design agency, taking with them a clear idea of simple, bold colourful designs and a lot of bad jokes.
And then it came time to let the public decide, and as mentioned above the reception was good on their open day. The first customer actually knocked the door a while before they opened and bought 12 bottles of each beer and they were still buzzing about the whole, slightly exhausting experience a few weeks later when we met them. They said about a third of the people that turned up were friends and colleagues but the rest were a mix of supporters of Gwen, local beer drinkers, and the curious. Since then they have had success at the Beer Envy stall at the Lichfield food Festival where they sold out, and placed a selection of beers in the Hungry Bistro in Wolverhampton City Centre. And now comes the next stage with their brewing procedures – and the kit itself – evolving; the fermentation room has been upgraded and there are plans to gradually upgrade the kit.
We had now come to that time of the evening to kick back and just chat about various beery adventures we’d all been on and ask the epiphany beer question: Andy and Louise (who share a love of strong, dark, continental beers) are in complete agreement on this: De Molen’s Bordeaux barrel-aged Bommen & Granaten. The beer has inspired a now annual pilgrimage to the brewery’s Borefts Beer Festival. As for Richard and Lisa, well Richard is a simple soul, liking anything with plenty of hops, in fact the hoppier the better, he said “I don’t really have an outright favourite, I’m lucky to have the Vine in Wednesfield as my local so there is always a great range of my style of beers on, difficult to pick just one” Lisa isn’t the biggest of drinkers anyway, but prefers a lighter style of ale, again nothing specific.
We ended our meet up wishing them the best of luck in the future because although these first few months have been a lot of hard work they are determined to still have fun and live up to their tag line – Seriously good beer. #No joke.

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.

41st Wolverhampton Beer & Cider Festival, a review.

11694162_10209138290244593_7024983997558580560_nI’ll start with a confession, I haven’t been to many beer festivals due to my nocturnal working arrangements and it’s a long time since I’ve actually written anything longer than a short note to be read by anyone else. So if this doesn’t meet the high standards you are used to I apologise.

This year’s beer festival was held at the New Hampton Arts Centre in Dunkley Street, a short walk from the bus and train stations through Wolverhampton’s University Quarter. The arts centre opened in 2000 in the former Grammar School, a 120-year-old building which was refurbished with the help of a National Lottery grant and aims to provide a creative hub were people can engage with the arts. The “beer hall” was quite an intimate room, smaller than the Wulfrun Hall of former years, however extra space was available in the café, which was also serving food, and main hall if need. I’m glad that I made the decision to attend on the Friday afternoon and not one of the evening sessions or on the Saturday when it could have become quite crowded. While it wasn’t too busy when I arrived just after twelve by four o’clock the numbers had increased considerably.

With 68 draught beers, 29 bottled beers and, 16 ciders and perries on offer I decide to keep it LocAle as much as possible and not to over indulge. To break the ice and slake my thirst, the first third was a Cnebba brewed by the dwarves at Fownes, a Baltic porter (barrel aged for six months) which I really enjoyed but would have liked to have just a little more carbonation, whether the lack of carbonation was by design or due to the cask being emptied quicker than the yeast could re-carbonate I don’t know and as there were no dwarves on hand to ask I didn’t find out. My second drink was Sacre Brew’s Man on the Oss, as I wanted to compare this with Kinver Brewery’s festival special, Man Off the ‘Oss. Gwen had been relegated to the end of the bottle bar under a sign for foreign beers! Which is quite ironic as apart from Banks’s I don’t think there is another brewery closer to the venue. Man on the Oss (a rye saison) tantalised with hints of rhubarb, while the Man Off the ‘Oss despite being a nice golden colour totally lacked character and flavour. For two drinks so closely named they could not have been further apart in taste and character.

I hate to say it but most of the pale ales that I tried were disappointing, I could have chosen poorly or it may have been down to the warm weather (low to mid 20s) and high humidity but the pale ales certainly didn’t seem to be up there with the porters. For me the stand out beers were the two porters Fowenes’ Cnebba and Ayr’s Rabbies Porter, and both Wendigo IPA and Man on the Oss from Sacre Brew. Oh, and not forgetting Sadlers’ Peaky Blinder a black IPA. It’s interesting to note that unlike the other ales which were served from casks Sacre Brew’s beers were served from KeyKegs and maybe this helped these beers maintain their quality better than the other pale ales.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try Brough’s  Sledgehammer as it wasn’t available while I was there, and I’d also have preferred to see Marstons showing its revisionist range of beers instead of those it had on show, although CAMRA may not class them as real ales. Notable by their absence were both Twisted Barrel and Fixed Wheel breweries, which was a shame. All in all, in my short time at the festival I got to try a few excellent beers, some good beer and, some not so good beer, talk to some interesting people and enjoy an afternoon where everyone was there for the beer.

Since writing this I have learnt the results for the public vote for best beer in festival which is as follows;sign-599x400

1st Wendigo (Sacre Brew)

2nd US Pale Ale (Mordue)

3rd Man on the Oss (Sacre Brew).

Not only a justified one three for Wolverhampton brewing but also for Sacre Brew.