Sadler's are a black country brewer who've been around for over 100 years. But their brews are as modern and exciting as any start up, while holding onto traditional flavours.
They're very proud of their black country heritage, continuing to be based in Lye, just outside Stourbridge, where they have their brewery, their tap house and their brewhouse bar.
Despite being a local outfit their beer can be found in many an excellent pub outside the area and even in the big supermarkets. Including one that was brewed for Aldi's craft beer range.
A homage to the dark and murky world of the post world war one crime gangs of Birmingham (immortalised by BBC television show of the same name). Despite 'Black IPA' being a signature of current trends in heavily hopping any beer, dark or light, this is a thoroughly traditional beer. The brewer aimed to brew a beer as close as possible to what would have been drunk in the midlands between the wars.
It is the beer that introduced me to this wonderful brewery. It's unique taste is closest to some of the dark beers I've tasted in Prague's traditional beer halls. A deep roasted, almost burnt flavour, mixed with spices and berries finished by a smokiness, which makes me imagine the factories of early 20th century Brum. Hop flavours are most definitley their but they are an after taste and not front and centre like many Black IPAs.
A more evocative beer I am yet to find!
Not all beers can live up to the delight that is Peaky Blinder but Sadler's have some pretty good beers in second place. Thin Ice is a lighter, more refreshing beer. A tropical, citrusy taste it feels more like a beer for the BBQ than the Brummie back streets (although I have been known to have a BBQ on the back street, they aren't mutually exclusive)! This beer has a much more contemporary feel than Peaky Blinder and shows this brew can hop it up with the best of them, while keeping it all about the taste. There's no soapy finish or unnecessary additions here. This is a beer drinkers beer, enjoyable for hipsters and their dads.
One of the joys of Sadler's is that they have a whole family of bars where you can sample their beers. In Lye they have The Windsor Castle, friendly local with food to boot, and The Brewhouse and Bar, with live music and a party atmosphere. There's also a Southampton branch which is a little out of my jurisdiction.
A blog about both of these places coming soon in my Pubs blog.
The Newport based Tiny Rebel started in 2008 by two fellas in a garage and has blossomed into one of the most exciting breweries in the British craft beer scene. Tiny Rebel has two top notch tap houses in South Wales with such a wide range in their own back catalogue that they can stock an entire bar (a very well stocked bar). But their beers are everywhere. From Brighton to Glasgow and around the world.
Tiny Rebel's range is ever changing but Cwtch has been there from the beginning and it's clear why it's still their signature brew (and one you'll see the most in pubs outside of south Wales). Welsh for cuddle, this is a hoppy, malty cuddle in a glass. The flavours are familiar but blended in a way that feels new. The rusty colour makes it look like a traditional bitter but it's caramel hit and american hops make it feel modern. I love Cwtch and can see exactly why it won Champion Beer of Britain 2015.
A newer addition to the Tiny Rebel range is Clwb Tropicana, only released in 2016. I stumbled on this one in a pub in Brighton. I chocked on the initial sip, realising it had cost me £6, but loved every other mouthful. Don't worry they're Brighton prices and if you find it elsewhere it is much less likely to burn a hole in your pocket and you can concentrate on the surprisingly fruity and vibrant tropical IPA. Fruit flavours up front with mango, passionfruit, pineapple and peach all discernible flavours. Finishing with a gentle bitterness left by those fruity hops. Not to everyone's taste but if you're a fan of an IPA (or Wham) it's worth a taste.
Dirty Stop Out
Like lots of modern craft brewers Tiny Rebel do have a focus on lighter coloured IPAs and golden ales but the stouts and porters they do do can hold their own with the best. Tiny Rebel describe Dirty Stop Out as 'Dark and smokey' and they aren't wrong! The smoked oats and multiple malts are right up front, making me feel like I'm drinking in a smokey old saloon. This is a complex beer though, not just oldie worldy but full of the bitterness of the modern hop fetish. Sounds a little strange but every mouthful is a delight.
This is just skimmed the surface of the Tiny Rebel range. If you see the little teddy give it a go, but be prepared..... these beers are not the expected!
Look out for a a take over near you!
Samuel Smith's (known to fans as Sam Smith's) is a brewer like no other. In this day and age most brewers distribute their beers to pubs and bars that sell them alongside a myriad of other beers and booze. Even brewery pubs will sell other name brand spirits and wines. Not Mr. Smith. Sam Smith's pubs exist up and down the land (but mainly up north) selling their ales, stouts and lagers along side Sam Smith's spirits and even soft drinks! Not a Coca Cola or Stella in sight.
Now there are many perks to Mr. Smith's exclusive sales strategy:
1) Costs are low (even in central London)
2) Beer quality is guaranteed- step in to a Sam Smith's pub in Yorkshire or London and you know you're going to get something good
3) Pub quality is guaranteed- you can't get a pint of Sam Smith's in a substandard Public House
The Duke of Argyll in Soho was the first ever Sam Smith's I frequented. In my early 20s I moved to London, a little nervous and a little poor (I was a student). My brother, who knew London well, took me for a night out with his friends to help me feel at home. We met at The Duke. Everyone had been very liberal with the rounds, buying drink after drink. I was beginning to feel guilty and decided I should build up the courage to buy a round of me own (at London prices). I ordered the drinks, 10 + pints; I held my breath, clutching around £50 in my hand, would i have enough? Would I be able to afford another drink that evening? "That'll be £30" said the Bar man. I asked him to check, but know, that's how much a round cost in a Sam Smith in Soho! This was 10 years ago it is a little more now but still the most reasonable pint I've ever bought in London.
The Duke of Argyll was my first Sam Smith, but not the last. The 10 years since have been punctuated with excellent Sam Smith's pubs that became my local, like the Ordnance in St. John's Wood (near the school were I was teaching) and The Jolly Sailor in Whitby, just down the road from my parent's house.
The price is what started my love for these pubs but it isn't the only thing that kept me going back (and hunting them out). Although no pub is the same they do hold key things in common:
>There's no background music, so you can talk, and hear!
>They are traditional (normally victorian) pubs
> They often have fires in the winter (particularly nice in the sea side Jolly Sailor)
>The bar staff are polite, knowledgeable and helpful
Some people I have taken to these pubs have been unsure about the lack of music and traditional feel, and each to their own, but the one thing there's no arguing about is that the beer is good!
At Sam Smith's pubs there's something for everyone, from Taddy's lager to the Extra Stout, Ciders and fruit beers. All are brewed in the Old Brewery in Tadcaster, using traditional methods and natural ingredients. Also good to note that their beers are Vegan Society approved, with the exception of The Old Brewery Bitter.
The beers are classic beers, this is not the place to go if you're looking for an experimental 20% craft beer served in a taxidermy squirrel. But they are packed with taste and all you need for a session. My personal favourite is Indian Ale.
Indian Ale is only served on draft in selected pubs but it can be bought in bottles in most. It's a pale ale close to what many would call an IPA. But if you're used to drinking modern craft IPAs it might be a bit of a surprise. Hops are a background note in this beer, not front and centre like many drinkers might expect. There is instead a deep biscuity malt flavour with the light aftertaste of a pale beer.
Other beers I would recommend are:
Old Brewery Bitter (for getting warm by the fire)
Organic Wheat Beer
Alpine Lager (from hot summer afternoons)
Now in my humble opinion Purity is one of the best breweries around. Firmly based in the Midlands, it's everywhere you look around here, from Pure Bar and Kitchen, it's tap house in Birmingham, to its sponsorship of Wasps rugby team. The midlands has really taken this brewer to its heart. And it's not hard to see why...
I first came across Purity when I moved back to Birmingham in 2013. On my first night in my new digs I took my mum (Joan) for a drink in Harborne's The Junction. Tending, as I do, to choose a beer based on an excellent name, I went for a pint of "War Lord"- a blast of hops, as strong as it's name. I was hooked! Unfortunately, I don't think they make it anymore, which is a damn shame.
Purity was set up in 2005 in Warwickshire. They have a focus on sustainability and brewing with a conscience, recycling water, using spent grains for animal feed and attempting to reduce energy consumption. All this, and without any compromise on quality.
Purity's core range is flawless.
Ubu is my go-to pint - I've found it in pubs up and down the land and if it's on I'm drinking it. An sweet easy drinking amber ale, low on hops and high on malt, I can drink it all night.
Purity's website has some helpful notes on food matching, but they mainly focus on meat and as a veggie I personally think it's perfect with a decent veggie burger. They also suggest a strong cheese, so that's one for me to try.
Saddle Black is a rarer find at your average bar (it's a seasonal beer so sadly you can only get it November- March). It's a diamond of a beer for the hop lovers among us. It is a perfect example of what is becoming commonly know (paradoxically) as a black IPA. A combination of new world hops and the smokey, coffee richness of porters. You can also see why Purity save this one for the holiday season - the oranges and spices make me think of Christmas.
These are just two of my personal favourites but if you see a Purity it's definitely worth a try.