Birmingham Beer Bash reviewed pt 2

I’ve composed this post via my ipad so please forgive any quirks of layout I will edit for style and readability when back at my desk!

If you read part one of my review of Birmingham Beer Bash you’ll know I had a marvellous time and rate the event highly. But what of the beers? Well, here’s what I had to drink during my flying visit…

Celt Experience Brigid Fire Smoked Rye IPA (6.3%) keg I began with this because I wanted something that would match the pizza I was having for lunch. The man behind the bar thought it would work and we agreed the smoked elements of the beer could be good in combination with the wood fired pizza – but I could barely detect any smoked flavours in the beer. That said it was a tasty drop. An attractive opaque orangey gold coloured brew with a big, resiny, piney aroma and a fresh grapefruity flavour leading to a dry, malty payoff. It went quite well with the pizza which brought out the sweetness of the malt.

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Next up I carelessly ordered some of Hardknott Brewery’s Squiddy (3.8) keg and was shocked that it looked… well… green. One slight criticism I have of BBB is the lack of tasting notes in its beer list – but then again I know how hard it can be to gather such info in time to print a programme. I mention this here because I did not know the Hardknott beer had squid ink in it – although given the name perhaps I should have cottoned on! It didn’t make the beer black, as per squid ink pasta, though just dark green or murky gold when held to the light. The brew had a savoury, mineraly aroma which carried through to the taste and made me think it could have food matching potential but as a stand alone drink it lacked zest and wasn’t for me.

After two keg beers I decided it was time to hit the cask bar. While I was mulling over what to have my eyes alighted on a label telling me that Cheshire Brewhouse has made a beer called Sorachi Ace (6.8%) cask . Being a huge fan of the Brooklyn Brewery beer featuring and named for this hop I couldn’t resist (although I wasn’t sold on the Duvel Tripel Hop which featured it). The hop is renowned for bringing dill and lemon flavours to the beer but apparently some people also taste oak (yes, I looked that up in the Oxford Companion to Beer) and this is what I got when I tasted the Cheshire Brewhouse beer – so much so that I thought it must be barrel aged. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The beer was an utterly beautiful sunshine and golden honey colour – worth hanging on your wall although of course that would either be a waste of beer or it would just end up all over your carpet as you tried to hang it! A big, fruity aroma of apricots and peaches wafted from the glass and made the pronounced woody flavour of the beer a bit of a shock. It was an intriguing shock though that sent me back for sip after sip. It’s fair to say I was quite captivated by it. As well as the wood character the beer possessed a resiny bitterness with lots of piney notes and was very dry – but eventually the fruity aroma emerged from the wood to give a rather splendid jammy aftertaste. This was my beer of the festival

Just to be sure though I hunted down the brewer and interrogated him. No barrel aging, no wood chips, nothing like that at all. The beer was bittered with Magnum and then late hopped with ‘lots’ of Sorachi Ace including the use of a hop back (essentially a straining device that can also be used as a sort of infuser to add hops after the boil stage of brewing).

Freedom Brewery’s Barrel Aged Pilsner (5%) keg had a tough act to follow. This is the brewery’s standard pilsner which spends three months maturing in Glenfarclas Whisky casks that have previously housed bourbon – still with me?? Freedom isn’t the first to barrel age a lager in Glenfarclas casks as Harviestoun’s Orach Slie has also trod this path. The Freedom effort is subtle at first but whisky flavours build with each sip.

I decided to leave my trip to the designated Sours Bar, cleverly positioned next to the new Cider Bar to catch all those cideries who think they don’t like beer, until the end of my day. A man who didn’t like sour beers was working the bar – he clearly feared for his customers (not a bad thing!) offering a taste in case I didn’t like it when I asked for a third of Magic Rock Circus of Sour White Wine/Lychee (3.5%) keg . This little beauty is low ABV and gently sour in the Berliner Weisse style. As per the barrel aging it had an aroma of white wine. It was a very pale golden yellow colour and its refreshing tangy-ness was perfect for the blistering hot summer’s day Brum was having. I couldn’t really taste the lychees but I didn’t mind. This has got to be one to bring wine-lovers across to beer.

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My last beer of the day (on site – I grabbed a can of Four Pure Session IPA (4.2%) for the train) was from a brewery I keep hearing of but had not managed to sample any beers from. Lovibonds Henley Sour Grapes (5.4%) keg was dusky gold and smelled like a rhubarb fool. Softly sour, it was tart, juicy and contained hints of redcurrant and raspberry followed by an appropriately cheesecake base biscuitty aftertaste. Another summer’s day joy and just the sort of beer I might have in place of a dessert. I can’t wait to sample more from Lovibonds.

And so my day at BBB was over just as other people’s evenings began. The start of the evening session began as a PA was cranked into life and the noisy but marvellous sounds of Birmingham’s own Black Sabbath began to drift through the air. Sadly I had to leave just as the party was getting started but I hope to pay a longer visit in 2015.

The third Birmingham Beer Bash is already being planned and is provisionally scheduled for 23 -25 July 2015. Keep an eye on the BBB website for official announcements/confirmation.

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Birmingham Beer Bash reviewed (Pt 1)

Late to the party, as this is its second year, here are my thoughts on Birmingham Beer Bash (BBB) which started on Thursday (24th July) and continue(d) Friday and Saturday. This is part one of my ‘review’. Look out for a follow up featuring the beers I sampled and a few further thoughts!

Part of the new breed of beer festivals – which host keg as well as cask (real ale) and bottle bars – the team behind BBB were pipped to the post by Indy Man Beer Con in setting up a festival which offered beer-lovers the chance to venture beyond cask ales. But that’s not to say it shouldn’t be thought of as a pioneer of modern mixed-dispense festivals.

Where Indy Man Beer Con trades heavily on its architecturally dramatic venue BBB is in an understated – albeit historic – event space called The Bond Co right next to the canal. Close to the shopping mecca of The Bull Ring it’s easily walkable from New Street Station, off a side street just beyond Digbeth – which can sometimes feel a little bit like walking into the back of beyond but also has an air of Brooklyn about it!

The outside area at Birmingham Beer Bash

The outside area at Birmingham Beer Bash

This year The Bash offers a number of keg bars, a cask bar, a cider bar and a sours bar all in the main space just behind where you’ll pick up your glass and programme. Food stalls occupy a covered courtyard beyond which, through a door in the left hand corner, you’ll find the token stand and the International Bar.

The benefits of a small event like this are that it makes for a publike atmosphere and you don’t have to trek miles to get the beer you want.

Inside the main bar area

Inside the main bar area

Do not think for one moment though that small means not much beer. There is a fantastic selection including all the usual suspects (meant in a good way!) – Brewdog, Thornbridge, Magic Rock, Siren, Wild Beer Co, Weird Beard et al – along with plenty of less well sung heroes and heroines of the craft/modern beer era.

As I just popped in for the Friday afternoon trade session (and was heartily welcomed and invited to stay on for the evening in exchange for a small, but reasonable fee rather than booted out the door by security staff at 4.30pm sharp as per Craft Beer Rising) I’m missing out on the beer and food matched ‘fine dining’ on offer – which I’m incredibly sad about! Two very food-oriented breweries – Wild Beer Co and Compass Brewery – feature(d) on, respectively, Friday and Saturday nights, their beers paired to some six courses of some tasty looking grub prepared by Chef Nathan Eades.

It is this sort of thing that the new beer festivals are going out of their way to include and it does leave many of the CAMRA festivals standing (do correct me if I’m wrong – I’m not a wanton CAMRA-basher).

A ‘fringe events’ programme of talks and tastings and – new this year – live music on Saturday night from a local Celtic Hard Rock trio Torous completes the line-up. I will confess that music at beer festivals has started to get my goat a bit as I’d rather be able to talk to people than have to shout above a band so I’m glad to hear it’s only a Saturday night set! Not that I don’t like a good gig (many will know of my love for New Model Army) – it’s just that although I’m happy to have a beer with my music I’m not so keen on it being the other way round.

The veridct

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Birmingham Beer Bash. I liked its atmosphere, its friendly staff, its simplicity and its beer list – which was extensive enough to be exciting and include something for all tastes but not so huge as to be overwhelming and thus delay getting stuck into the beer while spending half an hour trying to work out what to have first.

Given this is a festival thought up and run by people who could be considered amateurs (but no longer are in my opinion!) they need to be heartily congratulated for what they have achieved and the ‘professionals’ should take a look at Birmingham Beer Bash to see what sort of event is created when it’s born out of genuine love of beer rather than a drive to make money.

I’ve already written about my beer-related trips to Birmingham - which has many more places to get great beer than when I  first wrote about it (including Brewdog and Pure Bar & Kitchen) – and now the Birmingham Beer Bash exists I consider it even more of must visit destination.

 

At the time of writing – tickets for the remaining sessions of BBB have completely sold out. My advice? Book early for next year as soon as dates are announced.

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Beer is the new sex…

Sex sells – so we’re told. Put the word ‘sex’ on the front of a book or magazine and it’ll sell more copies. Don’t even get me started on the objectification and exploitation of women and women’s sexuality to sell, sell, sell – this is my beer blog after all.

The reason I mention that sex sells is because marketers are well known for using it to sell products completely unrelated to sex, but now it seems they’ve turned to beer instead.

Does this mean beer is now desirable and influential within the mainstream? Or is it just a cynical ploy to get mostly female shoppers to buy apparently beer-related goods because the ‘menfolk will like them’ – thus adhering to the tired old stereotype that beer is a man’s drink (my lord!).

You may be thinking, ‘What about bierwurst?’ – that’s been in the supermarkets for ages! But it hasn’t actually got any beer in it. Rather, it’s a great example of beer and food matching as it’s said to taste best with a glass of beer.

For me, the whole thing began with a relatively innocuous packet of Morrison’s sausages. Part of their ‘M’ range these ‘thick pork and dark ale sausages’ took my fancy because of the dark ale part of the name. I bought them for Beer Husband (stereotype behaviour!) because I knew I’d be able to blag one without the risk I might scoff the lot in one sitting. They turned out to be pretty, rich and tasty – so they went on the shopping list again but I thought no more of it.

Then last week I was on the way back from visiting my best pal in Wales. I always call in at the Tesco next to Talbot Green - close to Junction 34 of the M4 – because it has a pretty impressive selection of beer. Plus it’s currently my only reliable source of Brains Dark (with the exception of buying online).

As I browsed the aisles for something with which to assemble a lunchtime roll I spotted this:

Cashing in on beer's reputation?

Cashing in on beer’s reputation?

Not long after my eyes alighted on this:

Think Ronseal...

Think Ronseal…

I was intrigued and bought a packet of each. Alas the results did not live up to intrigue.

The Kentish Ale Roast Ham purports to be, “Hand trimmed, cured and marinated in ale, then roasted in spiced sugar for a tender texture and delicious flavour.” Beer is clearly listed among the ingredients but it doesn’t specify what sort of beer.

This ham does taste of beer, but the flavour quickly disintegrates into a mish-mash of salty sweetness that led me to ‘accidentally’ drop most of it on the floor and request the dog take care of it. I imagine the decision to literally sugarcoat this ham might have been for fear that a hoppy Kentish ale could turn the meat quite bitter – but it backfired.

Next up the Belgian Beer Ham. This was a much better effort and had a much more genuine feel about it. Not so much beer is the new sex, more beer is cool let’s eat it as well as drinking it.

I would like to know exactly which Belgian beer was used to marinate this ham – which according to the packaging is actually produced in Belgium. If I had to take a punt I’d guess at some variety of brown ale. It tasted, well, satisfyingly hammy! It possessed a natural porky sweetness, (unlike the sugar coated horror of its Kent counterpart), a moist and juicy texture and was a delightful bacon substitute with my breakfast fried egg and a slither of cheese (Maasdam since you ask) I had with it in a vaguely Dutch style. The beer flavours come through in much the same way as tangy hops in a pint.

A quick search on some supermarket websites turned up the usual suspects in terms of steak and ale pies – which I appreciate have been around for donkey’s years – Tesco also offers ‘Lunch Club World Flavours Ale Ham’ and ‘Melton Red Ale’ sausages – another descriptor naming the type of beer used as per the Morrison’s sausages.

There’s also a collaboration between an award-winning butcher and the splendid Dorset-based Sixpenny Brewery to make IPA sausages (which I’ve yet to sample). These have a ring of authenticity and integrity about them though which the supermarket products lack – hence my assertion that beer is the new sex.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for further evidence to make my case – and am also interested to hear your examples to assist!

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