Blood, Sweat and Otter’s Tears….

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Back in October 2015, we finally got the keys to 24 Queen Street here in Burslem, Stoke-On-Trent. An almost forgotten little shop/office on what used to be one of the towns busiest thoroughfares, home to the now derelict Indoor Market, once the bustling hive of the town.

Although Queen Street is much quieter these days, it still holds a host of hidden treasures, the stunning architecture of The Wedgwood Institute and School Of Art, an old hotel in need of renovation, a butchers, greetings card shop, Samaritans, two chemists, a wedding dress store, insurance broker, hairdresser, pubs, an Indian restaurant, takeaways, even a radio station.

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But sadly there are lots of empty shops too, as with other town centres, a by-product of stores migrating to out-of-town retail parks or a move to internet retailing, plus of course the decline in manufacturing jobs especially here in the very heart of the Potteries.

So what made us choose here?

Well, for one we felt a genuine desire from local people to try to revive that heart, still beating, albeit with a feeble pulse. As with the old indoor market pictured below, old shop fronts still mothballed, public meetings organised to try to raise funds to bring it back to life and in use by the community in some form. Other buildings being renovated, cafés opening, even a hog roast shop, that in itself a good reason to locate here…

On top of all that though, we saw this place and felt with a bit of vision, a scattering of creative thinking to best use the odd space, a touch of madness, several car loads of paint and LOTS of hard work, we could breathe life into this sad neglected building and turn it into something to be proud of.

So over a period of about two months, with a little help from lots of people here and there, we grafted to bring the image in my head to life.

There is not a lot more to add here apart from a little photo narrative, but here in pictures is what we started with and where we ended up, in Otter’s Tears Beer Co.

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First job, strip out upstairs, clean and paint EVERYTHING white, to give us a blank canvas.IMG_4798

Add a splash of colour and rip out that manky old carpet..

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Decoration complete, upstairs… Now to tackle that cellar!

This may seem a tad over the top, but believe me these walls were in a proper state, damp, crumbling mortar, the entire room needing scrubbing with a wire brush before being coated with sticky PVA to get a firm base to bond to.. img_4912 IMG_4913 IMG_4926One particular Saturday we had a bit of help wielding paintbrushes and rollers from Chris @ckdsaddlers, Michelle from OffBeat and Dave Shipman from Otherton Ales (he’s hiding somewhere)IMG_4930 IMG_4931

Enter James, my old mate from the Bespoke Trellis Company, who put his skills to work in a new direction for this job, cladding, building and shelf design and construction. James took my ideas, threw in a few of his own and basically after scribbling them down, made them appear, from trees, metal tubes and fixings, like magic!IMG_4951 I waxed wood…IMG_4957

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Lots and lots of wood…IMG_4989 IMG_4993

IMG_4959 But gradually, things started to take shape.IMG_4960 Randomly turning up in the same shirts…IMG_4975 IMG_4977

IMG_4995 IMG_5030 IMG_5072 Ready for BEER!IMG_5115

I thought painting outside was going to be a piece of cake, but that arch is higher than it looks, that ladder is flimsier than it looks, that pavement slopes in all directions and we were having gales at the time. The only option was to bungy the ladder to the T-bar supports and on a particularly cold day, for Rach to spend hours gripping the bottom of the ladder, the shivers travelling up the ladder strings..IMG_5054 IMG_5056 IMG_5127 The logos as designed by Lemon Top Creative start to be applied by local sign-writer Mark from Poster Express. I was away fetching goodies in Yorkshire when these went up, it was a lovely moment when I first saw them in action, made it all seem very real. IMG_5203

IMG_5158The earlier mentioned goody fetching beer trip…
IMG_5189 IMG_5194 IMG_5195 IMG_5196 Lots of shelf space to fill… More beer arriving day after day.IMG_5204 IMG_5266 IMG_5270 IMG_5276

Shane, on a late night delivery…
IMG_5227 Fridges man-handed in, unwrapped, then returned after being mugged-off…

New fridges arrived, man-handled again, the genuine article this time from a new supplier.

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More wood waxing.IMG_5234 Shelf filling.. IMG_5265 IMG_5271 Oh, there’s Mr Shipman, where else would you find him..IMG_5245IMG_5292

Shop front finished off…IMG_5218

Cellar finished off..IMG_5678 IMG_5680Finished article..IMG_5681

Three weeks in, we are doing well, lots of old friends have visited Otter’s Tears, lots of new friends too. Importantly though, people are walking past, doing a double take, then coming in to see what we are about. Exactly what we hoped for and in doing so, we hope it will inspire other people to come to Burslem to shop, even start a business of their own (and enjoy a good beer or two from us of course).

There is of course a lot more to come. Currently that tasting room isn’t open that much, mainly Saturdays and Vale home games, but that will change soon. We’ve lots of events in the pipeline, and LOTS of new and interesting beers due to hit those “hand-crafted” shelves.

Things are most definitely getting Otter…

img_4754Follow us on Twitter: @otterstears

Like our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OttersTears/

Share this post too, we need your support, Thanks! 🙂

 

Address: Otter’s Tears Beer Co, 24 Queen Street, Burslem, STOKE ON TRENT ST6 3EG

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Otter’s+Tears+Beer+Company/@53.0446984,-2.2002328,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x487a42948b962f69:0x86b4cffcf9be8021

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Macc To Basics in Pictures

As has become customary over the last few years, rather than writing anything up; I’m posting a few pictures taken over the course of the day; plus a few tweets from the #MaccToBasics hashtag.

To summarise, probably the most laid back of the three Twissups in Macclesfield so far, but still a good crowd of around 50 people at its height; and very enjoyable. Maybe we can liven things up a bit next year, just maybe…

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Getting some practice in…

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Sun trap in The Wharf beer garden

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Cellar aged beverages being served at The Wharf

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RedWillow Brewhouse

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Rob doing what I didn’t do much of, TWEET!

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Freedom Olly in full flow

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Molly, flipping Frosty’s burgers

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Youngest twissuper ever, currently awaiting adjudication…

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What I like to see, a good meat to bun ratio..

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intense concentration..

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Three amigos

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Marble Stu, undertaking quality control procedures

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Mmmmmmm, Great North “Breakfast Pie” at The Treacle Tap

Thanks again to all involved in making this happen; especially those who gave up their time to work, and the good folk that came along to enjoy the day.

Cheers all! 🍺

Mug Shots #coffee

Steve LeightonIt’s a slight departure from beer talk today, looking at coffee, more specifically at Stephen Leighton‘s weekly video blog “In My Mug” for his Staffordshire based coffee company Has Bean.

It is fair to say that I am a bit of a coffee geek, and I do think that there are lots of similarities to be found in picking out the aroma, flavours, mouthfeel and sometimes bitterness of a decent fresh brewed coffee as there are in beer, they sort of go hand in hand. Which sort of explains one of Steve’s other online activities with a weekly podcast with roasting pal Roland, SARBP (Steve and Rolands Beer Podcast).

Two reasons for this today, one is revenge! 😉 “Well, not really”. Purely a bit of fun (I hope), which came into my head after Steve invaded my dreams last night. He turned up at my house in a white van driven by a tall, bald, moustachioed chap. He handed me five white 100g bags of mystery coffee, he wouldn’t tell me what it was or how much it was going to cost, but I handed him a £100 note and he disappeared. Damn that coffee must have been special!

The other thought that spurred me on to post this was after watching this weeks In My Mug, which has become a bit of a Monday morning ritual for me when time allows. To explain, the show forms part of a subscription service offered by Hasbean, the coffee turns up on Saturday morning and the weekly show airs on the following Monday, talking coffee news, focussing on the delivered coffee’s origin country, farm, various tastings using different brewing methods and the infamous “map bit”. There are lots more to it than that, but you get the idea.

This week (episode 347), looked different somehow, at first I thought it was just a lack of the seemingly obligatory Sunderland outfit, but no, a new video camera upgrade it seems was the reason. But it got me wondering though as to what these shows looked like in their infancy as I only started to subscribe in the latter 200’s, so I started to do a little digging into the YouTube and Vimeo archives…

The results are really interesting, yes it’s funny watching Steve, younger obviously, but nervously pulling the first few shows together, especially when you see the confident flamboyant presenter he has become today. But seeing the show developing over time as that confidence grew along with the Has Bean company is where things really come into focus. Showing what a great idea, blogging and a good social media presence can really do for a business. Ideas come, and either stay and improve, or are discarded. Simple graphics and themes developing over time into a highly polished professional “tour de coffee”. It really is a remarkable transformation.

So, go grind some beans, brew up some “tasty and delicious drinks”, and take twenty minutes to reminisce, chuckle and most importantly see how it’s done.

Episode One…

Episode 7 (so many changes already)

Episode 100

Episode 156 – purely because I liked the opening sequence.

Episode 200 – Another milestone, more format changes and shiny new furniture

Episode 299 – with a great “Map Bit”

Steve will probably kill me for this (I hate reading my really old blog posts), and I expect a bottle of Camp Coffee with chicory in the post next Saturday instead of my usual delicious coffee beans. But if nothing else, please check Has Bean out, I’ve learned so much following this journey and drank some absolutely fabulous coffee, you should try some.

Here’s to episode 400, CHEERS!

 

Talking to the dead…

logoA blast from the past this, as I wrote it almost a year ago as a follow on to a write-up on the Los Muertos tap-house. It’s been sat in my drafts box since July 2014, needs airing, so here goes nothin’. Please note though, that may things may have changed since then as the bar and beer range has no doubt grown, a year is a long time…

I met Conner Watts, owner and master brewer at Los Muertos briefly and perhaps not in the best of circumstances for which a chat, and of course an accurate recollection of said chat could be relayed here. Nevertheless, I’ll try to recap and capture the essence of the conversation, assisted by a few emailed notes from Conner himself.

It was a busy afternoon at the Los Muertos Brewpub, the football world cup in full swing, with the USA versus Belgium game being shown live that afternoon. The bar was full of American supporters, plus two others, us, shouting for Belgium in the cheap seats. By this stage we’d pretty much gone through the beer menu and it’s fair to say that I was a tad tipsy at this point. I’d seen someone who I assumed was the brewer dashing around the place doing this and that, chatting to customers and I’m glad to say, trying to get some of the folk still drinking local bottles to at least sample something from the range on tap. Finally I caught him standing still at the bar and wobbled across to introduce myself.

We chatted a little about the beers and what I thought of them and about the bar, food etc and I duly sang their collective praises, whilst giving him my thoughts on what I had enjoyed the most, plus those that I’d found lacking a little. Conner explained that they were all pretty much works in progress, with some being closer to being exactly how he wanted than others. The problem being that he was trying to be slightly conservative in some aspects, wanting to get more interest locally with Mexican nationals rather than only appealing to the tourist trade. The range of beers that locals have been exposed to are pretty “safe” lager/beers and ambers, mass-produced offerings you might say, so there would be little point brewing only beers to the massive “hop-head” market.

I mentioned that I’d spotted him chatting away to folks at tables drinking bottles, and he confirmed that basically he was aiming to educate them slowly as to what he was about, in the hope that gradually folk would start to try other things and spread the word. A slow battle, but one that was reaping some reward.

Lastly my biggest gripe, an odd one for most, but something I have just gotten used to over recent years, that being serving measures. Pints or 16oz glasses of beer are great for slipping down the session pales, lagers and the like, ideal in fact for the hot and humid temperatures of Puerto Vallarta, but if you want to try a few different beers, can be hard work.

It was explained that smaller glasses and even flights were on order (and should by now be in place), always being part of the plan but slipping down the pecking order of all the things that were critical in getting the place into shape.

In an earlier life, Conner had been a restaurateur in a ski resort in Park City back in USA before moving to Puerto Vallarta. Why Mexico? Well, simply because his wife was sick and tired of the cold! What they missed most after a few months was the variety of beer, so they said to each-other “we can do something about this” and set to work.

“I’d been home-brewing beer myself ever since I was at school in Colorado, so I went back and spent a summer there brewing commercially, trying to refine my knowledge and expanding it to cope with the economies of scale before jumping in with both feet. Once back in Mexico we set about making the brewery happen, the rest is history”

IMG_9605On asking about the challenges he’d faced along the way? “Our biggest challenge getting started was temperature. The original brew house had a really poor cooling capacity, so we had issues from knocking out to maintaining appropriate fermentation temperatures to crashing our tanks and dispensing beer.

The result was mediocre beer at best. We were able to get that fixed and now I’m extremely proud to serve ALL our beers.”

As a footnote to this post, you may, especially in the UK and US, have heard about another beers with a very similar look and branding to Los Muertos, “Cerveza de los Muertos” being one as written about by Philip Montoro of “Chicago Reader” here.

These beers are not from the same stable and I am reliably informed that “los muertos” can’t, or at least would be tricky to copyright. However, as with most things, although established first, Los Muertos do not have the financial backing to be able to fight the might of the likes of Coors who are said to own the other “Mexican Craft” brand, so just have to suck it up and carry on. An all too familiar story..

Cheers

Flogging a dead ‘oss

twissupSeveral weeks ago I posted this about #MaccToTheFuture, this years now seemingly annual beer gathering or #Twissup in Macclesfield, at the time really excited and hopeful that the idea was sound and would gather loads of interest. Sadly though, very little has come of it in terms of active involvement from either breweries or beer writers, so we have decided that its time to probably pull the plug on the idea and move on.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed, I am, especially that no beer writers seemed interested in getting something going, but hey, that’s just the way it is, forget it, dust off, move on, NEXT!

10359148_10154603868995788_8429793537792974573_nTo be clear though, we are intending to continue doing something, #MaccToTheFuture will happen if the desire is there from folks to hold it, we’ll just use the tried and tested formula of getting great beers sorted and hopefully a few new brew launches as with earlier years. So watch this space on that front, beers are being sourced and all ideas* are welcome too. *contacts below

So, the proposed date is still Saturday 22 August 2015, stick it in your beer diaries and let me know if you are interested in coming along, either by comments here, via twitter @Filrd or the Facebook page.

Cheers

 

Beyond The Velodrome

Leaving home for Manchester yesterday, I had to confess I did so with a hint of trepidation. Not beating around the bush, I’ve felt more than a little let down with some of the CAMRA led beer festivals I’ve attended recently, which is not a dig at CAMRA nor the fabulous volunteers that organise and run these events, it’s hard work and a thankless task at times I know. More a wish that the guys choosing the beers to serve would be a little more “adventurous”, rather than sticking with the same beverages once used to champion the fight against Watneys Red Barrel 😉

Anyway moving on, that uneasiness was not helped by a few comments I’d picked up about Wednesdays opening session which were less than complimentary for various reasons. But, I am very, very happy to say that those feelings proved most thoroughly unfounded on my experience, perhaps first night teething problems on Weds?

IMG_1467Getting to the venue was an absolute breeze, once we established the right Metro platform (which became obvious from those gathered there already), £3 return, ten minutes and bosh, direct link to the festival.

Wisely opting for a quiet afternoon session, there were no queues and with minimal fuss we are in and looking our first brewery bar. Jointly hosted by OffBeat, Blackjack, Ilkley, Bridestones and already I am spoiled for choice, but wasting little time I picked the tongue in cheekly named “Copyright Ingingement” from Blackjack to christen my stemmed half/third glass which gets another tick from me.

We wandered then down the stairs that lead under the track to the main beer hall. As you emerge, although you are in what is basically a bloody big sports hall, it is still an awesome sight as the velodrome opens out before you. The gracious sweeping curve of continuous pine is just stunning, a real first for me and worth the trip for that alone.

IMG_1471Watching Team GB training too was an absolute privilege, where else can you sample wonderful beers with such a spectacular backdrop. The speed at which these athletes storm around the track is at times dizzying, but never stops drawing the eye throughout the day, which could be very dangerous after too many samples..

IMG_1474As I explored the venue further the more I liked it, the main hall is well spread out, with lots of tables, although as usual folks set up camp and close ranks on those for the duration, however it doesn’t feel cramped and the bars are well manned making choice and purchase a breeze. To add to this there are bars spread all around the periphery of the trackside, adding to that feeling of space and with the added bonus of seating opportunities aplenty for those weary or wobbly beer legs. Great views from up there too.

IMG_1476Throwing a negative in here at this point, as you’d expect from a moaning old bugger like me, the food… I’m sorry but very poor, perhaps apart from the ploughman’s stall which at least looked appetising. The Mexican buffet, a row of six or seven tins on warming platters that looked like they had been there all day. A curry and pie area which reminded me of a school dinner hall,  and the Teppanyaki sushi and noodle bar. The latter being our selection of choice for both meal and late afternoon snack, and perhaps where the poor description is slightly unfair. The food itself here was actually very nice, it just wasn’t hot which for a style of food preparation based on show cooking was really disappointing. As a tip for the organisers next time, assuming you have choice and are not forced by venue contracts, look at what IndyMan Beer Con do, surely in Manchester there are plenty of top quality food retailers who would do you proud and be glad of the opportunity to showcase their talents.

IMG_1478In true “kiss, slap, kiss” style, back to the beer, and where this event excelled, going some way to restore my faith and hope for future CAMRA beer festivals. What a really wide ranging interesting selection, it just seemed to cater for everyone. There is hope beyond the velodrome!

Yes there were the old faithful standards, some safer bets so to speak, but clearly a lot of folks enjoy them so fair do’s. But there were also a good proportion of newer breweries and some more adventurous brews too.

IMG_1472We were also treated to not one but TWO foreign beer bars ,with a huge, top quality range on draught and in bottle. Highly unlikely I know, but wouldn’t it be great to have another bar, selling the best of British keg at next years bash, to let folks make up their own minds on this most controversial of subjects? (hides behind the sofa)

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IMG_1468I can honestly say, with hand firmly on heart, that I did not have a beer that I didn’t enjoy all day and came away with many more that I would loved to have tried if time had allowed. From memory, these were my choices….

Blackjack – Copyright Ingingement
Tiny Rebel – Dirty Stop Out 12 month BA Brett
Hawkshead – NZPA
Marble/Hawkshead – Beer Matts
Marble – 125 Barley Wine
Tapped Brew – Mojo
De 3 Horne – Kerselaere
NMBC – New World IPA Dry Hopped
NMBC – Monacus
Opat Kvasnicak – Coriander
Andechs – Dunkelweisse
Wild – Yankee Sandwich
Oersop/Oedipus – Flavoured Saison
Ramses – Den Dorstige Tijger

Well done to all involved in that selection process and to those who set up served them to the multitudes. There were also some top folks errr, ‘supervising” too..

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A quality day out, a serious big thanks and well done to all involved. See you next year and I promise I won’t wear lycra..

“We all need another beer-oh
We don’t ever want to goooo home
All we want is to be back, at the Velodrome..”

Sorry…I’ll get me coat…

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Slow Cooked Steak in a Port and Mushroom Sauce with Gnocchi

It has been a while since I did any sort of cooking/recipe type posts on here, but as this seemed to go down well with my Facebook chums, and I’d bothered to scribble down what I’d done for some of them  thought I may as well share it here too.
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Also it’s worth mentioning here, that as it was never intended for publication, the photographs featured are hardly describable as informative…apologies for that.
Anyway here goes, the ingredients are approximate but not far off, serves about three people or two if you like a good munch, but just double up to feed a bigger group, it’s a really hearty cockle-warmer.
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Ingedients:

500g lean steak (this would work even better with something fattier like shin beef but we were trying to be healthy)
1 carton of passata (sieved tomatoes)
2 medium onions cut into chunky wedges
3 cloves garlic (peeled but not chopped)
Tspn Italian herbs (or fresh) & to taste.
2 bay leaves
2 heaped tspn plain flour
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper (about a tspn each)
Glass of port or red wine (or more to taste)
Beef stock cube with about 400ml boiling water.
Handful of mushrooms quartered
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Mix the flour salt and pepper in a bowl, throw in the steak and toss in the seasoned flour to coat the meat and until all the dryness has gone.
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In a wok/large frying pan/skillet, throw in a splash of olive oil, when hot add the onions and garlic, frying on a medium heat for 1 minute.
Add the steak and cook until all the meat is sealed and starting to brown.
Pour in the passata and beef stock, stirring well to get all that lovely meaty coating off the bottom of the pan.
Finally mix in the port, herbs and bay leaves, stirring further whilst bringing to a simmer.
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Then, transfer to a covered casserole pot and cook on a med to low oven at about 150-160 for approximately 3 hours. Keep checking to make sure the sauce is thickening but not drying out.
At that point I added the mushrooms and a touch more seasoning to my personal taste and put it  back in the oven (lid on still) for a further hour.
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Note: You can add the mushrooms at the beginning if you wish, but I prefer them to retain a bit of firmness which is lost if slow cooked in my opinion. Also, I am sure this would be even better if a slow cooker was used and it cooked all day, so is perfect to put in before work and have a lovely home cooked meal to look forward to.
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I served this fresh with gnocchi (supermarket bought), it only takes about 3 to four minutes to cook. Once the gnocchi is cooked through, add at the last 5 minute before serving mark and stir in to coat with that indulgent velvety sauce. It could be served with pasta or creamy mash for a similar effect though.
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Tip: If it is getting too thick whilst cooking, add a bit more stock or port (not Stockport) & lower the heat slightly, remember though, that sauce needs to be thick and velvety to coat the gnocchi and just be generally lush..
220px-Rochefort-beersFor a beer to pair with recommendation, I thought back to a Mark Dredge FABPOW post from several years ago, where he went for Rochefort 8 to go with Spaghetti Bolognese. Although a very different sauce of course I am sure these would still compliment each other really well, or maybe go even heavier with perhaps a Chimay Blue (Grande Réserve) which is often available in supermarkets or even better, Rochefort 10…enjoy
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