Macc To Basics

For the oh so many people that have been asking me about this, I can at last confirm that this years Macclesfield #Twissup is go!

P1020544As you can probably guess from the lack of updates, since we decided to kill the “Macc To The Future” idea through lack of interest (it seemed a great idea when we were drunk), things have been a little quiet..

I stand and solely take the blame for this, as for many reasons which are now thankfully all gone, I’d lost my drive to drive the event as much as I had in previous years. But thankfully due in truth to the support from you guys, and in particular I’d say Matt at the Treacle too for pushing me on, we going ahead as planned on Saturday 22nd August 2015.

What has made it trickier this time around is that there has been so much going on behind the scenes. Toby at RedWillow building a new brewery, Chris closing and reopening a new, larger and much improved Brewtique, and Bronwyn and Tim with their network of fine establishments. So we decided to take it back to basics (#MaccToBasics) and just go with a great social drinking theme. No big beer launches (unless of course anyone fancies it), just a great range of beer and food, a good crowd of friendly people having a beery bimble around the usual haunts.

IMG_6367So far we have the return of the amazing Great North (breakfast) Pie Co at The Treacle Tap as our starting point at 11AM. Where we will also have the pleasure of an informal Meet The Brewer session with Marble and I’m sure a fine selection of their beers tbc.

Toby is again opening up RedWillow brewery for us to try a few beers and take a look around the new brewery building so that you can see it as a work in progress.

Chris at The Wharf is escaping on holiday, but again is happy to welcome us and put on some “cellar specials” as well as the normal top range. He is also hoping that folk will take an excursion up to the new shop which now has beer on tap including a dedicated sour line. It’s probably not feasible for us all to go “en-masse”, but we should have plenty of time to visit as they are open all day till late.

Image 1Finishing off the day as last year in RedWillow Bar, which I am sure will have enough to keep you all happy on the cask, keg and gin front among other things. Molly and the team will I’m sure pull out the stops to make the days beer board as amazing as last year.

IMG_0273Full details to be confirmed for all venues as soon as I have them on the likely beer lists, venue timing itineraries, food etc. “So keep em peeled”. Hope to see you all soon.

Cheers

Bargain Beverages

Everyone loves to bag a cheap beer don’t they, or at least a decent beer that doesn’t break the bank, a BOGOF, three for a fiver or a cheeky little discount here and there. But how far can it go?

How often do we hear about the demise of the British high street, it’s all over the news, in the papers and on many a documentary.

It’s all too clear when you walk into town too, well it is around these parts at least. Even in Hanley which is known as the “shopping centre” of the Potteries, the place that is credited to have sucked the life out of all the other local towns, walk a few hundred yards from the “Intu” centre and there are more boarded up shop fronts than those open for business.

This is why headlines like this worry me a little:

Lidl embraces craft ale craze following success with upmarket wine sales

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/03/lidl-embraces-craft-ale-craze-following-success-with-upmarket-wine-sales

It’s not that I’m against supermarkets stocking decent beer as such, I’ve been moaning about the piss-poor selection in most for years. In fact even now I still always take a look down the beer aisle just to see if anything decent is in, often wearily trudging away, shaking my head at the assumed lack of thought that has gone into the stock choice.

Going back eighteen months or so, we had the “faux-craft” knee jerk reaction, as some of the big retailers realised how much money was at stake if only they could convince their existing bulk suppliers to rebrand or create something “crafty” at production line prices. Personally speaking I think only M&S managed to pull this of with any success, by selling existing products like Oakham Citra under their own banner whereas others like Tesco for example, chose to go the other way with the “Marstons Revisionist” range, which absolutely sucked among many more.

More recently of course, things have started to look better, with Waitrose, M&S, and even Tesco and Morrisons trying a little harder, with a small range of decent UK and International breweries finally getting shelf space, the two premium retailers taking the lead. Not forgetting Sainsbury’s of course who made strides with “the great British beer hunt”, but still seemed to favour current supermarket brands when choosing winners.

Looking at the picture which came from the Lidl headline though, my eyes were immediately drawn to the “Boulevard Tank 7, Single Wide IPA” and “La Chouffe” bottles. I’ve always been a fan of Chouffe beers especially (Houblon) and although only trying it recently for the first time, Tank 7 was absolutely lovely, Single Wide IPA too.

Maybe those beers had just been casually “prominently placed” in the shot, yes, it could be that…

It is worth noting that (unless I’m very much mistaken) all these brands are owned by Duvel Moortgat, having being acquired at various stages over the last 10-15 years. Amongst others not shown, including Bernard, De Koninck, Maredsous and Ommegang of whom I also think they held a founding stake.

Is that itself a good thing? I still like most of the brands listed above, but it’s not rocket science to see that a deal has clearly been struck here between multi-national beer giant and huge discounter, to supply to a bargain hungry beer guzzling public. But then who is next to be swallowed up, the “small micros” also mentioned, or even bigger “cult beer” fish?

Then of course there are the independent specialist beer retailers. Shops, micro-pubs and bars. Those places that folk either really want nearby on their high street, or has, and perhaps complains that they do, but can only rarely visit because the prices are just too high and so are “forced” into supermarket purchases. What of those, how long before the huge purchasing power of the shopping giants starts to close those one by one because they simply can’t compete on price?

Déjà vu, or pessimistic scaremongering?

It is fair to say that I have completed no real in-depth research to back any of this up and as such it is pretty much only my own thoughts/concerns. It is also worth pointing out that I’m not knocking any of the few breweries lucky/successful enough to secure a supermarket deal either. As an argument for, you could say for example, deals like this make good beer accessible to everyone and in doing so, gets more people interested in trying something new. Maybe the only way this ever expanding growth in beer can continue is that some do fall by the wayside, or the reverse, are bought out and go mainstream replacing existing big brands. Although, I definitely hope that this isn’t the future.

Personally speaking I’ve just taken a decision to try really hard to support local high street traders where possible, not just in beer purchases, but for as much as I possibly can on everything. Which speaking from the town officially listed as having the most empty shops in the UK this year isn’t easy, but seems the only way to encourage positive change or face the consequences..

What are your thoughts, is the discount store the way to go, your only route, or a potential disaster in the making?

Cheers

 

 

Macclesfield beer gathering III – #MaccToTheFuture

As you may or may not know, I have helped organise an event in Macclesfield over the last two years, a Twissup, beer gathering, meet up, call it what you will. Both seem to have been well received, many new beers produced and especially with the most recent, many brewers attending to chat and drink alongside customers.

This last year (2014) under the “Back In Macc” banner, we tried to focus on new breweries and brewers not yet quite there commercially, giving them a chance to showcase something to a decent sized audience. (the “we” by the way is myself and mainly Toby Mckenzie of RedWillow Brewery, ably assisted by local pub/bar owners Chris Stairmand and Bronwyn Riley of The Wharf and Treacle Tap respectively) plus friends/supporters. There are a few pics from previous events in progress below:


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10659166_10154603871210788_1359327912401101491_n10600646_10154603870660788_3115339361503113849_nAnyway, it seems folk want another in 2015 so I’m exploring an idea.

What I am trying to do is get an “Old School” or traditional brewer(y), perhaps family generational owned, or anyone with a bit of history of just being plain good at what they have always done with no great desire to change as such. Hopefully avoiding those who have already tried “reinventing themselves” with a “CRAFT arm” or branding.

Then get them to pair up with a newer brewer(y), perhaps noted for being one of the new breed, progressive styled or trendier etc. The idea being that they create something together, not trying to change one or the other, or prove which is best. Maybe take an old recipe and recreate it, give an existing beer a new twist, or create something completely new. A no holds barred, free rein brief. Perhaps simplified as a meeting of minds. Clearly I’m talking about more than one collaborative brew here, it would be slightly limited in appeal otherwise, in fact the more the merrier..

The title of the event should it come to fruition is likely to be “Macc To The Future” but that’s not carved in stone if it doesn’t suit what works out. #Macctothefuture

To add to this and perhaps where some of you good people reading this come in. I’d like to also pair up a writer/blogger up with each collective (locally if possible), to work on the idea, join in with the brew day and promote it. The proposed timing is a Saturday around late Aug to mid Sept 2015 (tbc asap).

Unfortunately there is no money in this for anyone, it’s a labour of love, as it costs the venues a lot to buy the beers, and a lot of time and energy is given locally with the only beneficiaries being a local charity in past years. This from beer and food donated free by RedWillow at the Brewery.

This is the list of potential target breweries that came out of my first Twitter/Facebook poll as being perhaps unfairly overlooked as being “off trend”. Some may not suit and we probably wouldn’t be able to do them all, it does give us a wider scope though. It’s also worth noting that this list does not exclude anybody necessarily either, purely a starting point for reference.

Fullers
Robinsons
Harveys
Hook Norton
G W Wright
Burton Bridge
Holts
Bathams
J W Lees
Holdens
HopShackle
Black Sheep
Sam Smiths
Shepherd Neame
Banks
St Austel
Camerons
Titanic
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Note: Adnams and Thwaites were also suggested, but my thought process puts them a little too far down the “reinvented” path, with the Crafty Dan brewery and the newer Adnams ranges, but included for fairness and reference as they were suggested. This though to be clear does not exclude them either, if there is a perfect match out there.
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Ground rules.

In terms of what to brew, I suggest a no holds barred approach as I’ve said, anything goes, although clearly we’d need to try to make sure we didn’t end up with all big ABV’d bruisers

Each brew definitely needs at least someone there to represent each beer collective collaboration, it just adds to the occasion, giving folks a chance to talk about and be talked to about the project and promote it.

Cost is important of course to make sure the beer bill doesn’t spiral out of control and make this a burden for anyone. So please bare that in mind when deciding what to brew, or at least be prepared to ask a reasonable price of the guys hosting it in the town. It’s for fun not profit on this occasion.

If you are interested let me know, get in touch and register interest, especially if you have a collective in mind. We can then see if there is any mileage in pulling it together and set a firm date.

Contact me via twitter @filrd

Or via the MaccTwissup Facebook page here

Or comment on this post and we can arrange on how to get in touch, unfortunately listing email addresses on here leads to a massive spam-fest!!

Cheers

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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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Beer Belly?

I’ve always been a bit of a porker really, well that’s not strictly true actually, lets just say I have “struggled” with my weight in one way or another, and generally speaking have ended up being at the wrong side of the scale most of the time.

P1030581As a child, one of my earliest memories on the subject harks back to the days of family teas at my Nan’s house. These were traditional affairs I suspect replicated in many of your own minds when thinking of childhood, cold meat sandwiches of SPAM, or tinned ham if we had company. Tinned pink salmon complete with crunchy bones soaked in vinegar. Malt loaf, Caramel Wafers, Chocolate Teacakes, pink and white Coconut Mallows, Snowballs and the obligatory Battenberg Cake. The finale always being the centrepiece Birds Trifle complete with “Dream-Topping”, or on the odd occasion a choice of Angel Delight or Instant Whip..

I was quite skinny back then (shock horror), and I can still remember my grandparents poking me in the ribs and saying “you need to eat that, get some beef on your bones” etc. Especially as back then I hated butter (or margarine), and coming from a Northern family, this was a complete no-no. Butter is a “must eat” food item. (Just ask a certain Yorkshire TV Chef, or watch about any ten random seconds, of ANY of his bloody programmes…) Basically, I was always encouraged to pile on the weight to become, “healthy”.

Until of course I did, THEN, “I was too fat…”

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Disclaimer* (Not really me by the way)

Fast forward a few years (a very lot), and a health check at my local Doctors Surgery. The practice Nurse asked if I minded having a student in the room with my while I was examined, I said it was fine and we continued. Stripped to the waist (me, not her), she turned me to the student, plunged her own very pudgy finger (pot and kettle I thought) knuckle deep into one of my pecs/moobs (delete as applicable), and said to him “do you know what causes these?”

Before I had chance to blurt out “they, are the results of strenuous physical exercise” in protest, she turned her glare to meet my own and said, “BEER!!”

Now if I’m honest with myself, at the time I believed she was right and have always thought that beer has had a major part to play in my rotundness, especially in recent years. This thought ably assisted by continuously having beer being named and shamed by every “health expert” under the sun, in some study we’ve paid for in grants over many years. The most recent of course that breweries should have to start putting calorific content values on everything they produce for sale.

Which brings me to Chubvember…

To most people this will mean nothing, but also perhaps seem quite familiar.. During November, a small group of mainly beery friends and I took part in this as a bit of a weight loss self motivational drive. Mostly via a private Facebook group although there may have been the odd Twitter breakout. Nothing serious, just a bit of fun with the Chubvember name being a tongue in cheek dig at the various none drinking/eating/smoking months that seem to have jumped on the Mo-vember bandwagon. There were no rules, no targets, nothing was banned, but I personally chose to at least try and reduce my alcohol intake.

In the beginning I did this for two reasons, the obvious one being that I was too heavy, I felt it draining me, my clothes were starting to strain and I wanted a change for me. The second, the alcohol part, was more that I felt I needed a break, it wasn’t as important any more, things were becoming stale. At least that was, in the beginning, before I sort of wanted to prove a personal point.

After the first few days, of no beer (or alcohol), I think I shocked myself as to how easy I found it to lay off the booze. It definitely took my wife and close friends by surprise too I think, all of whom were very supportive, baring in mind I don’t think I’d taken more than perhaps one day off in the previous year unless by illness. On top of the booze I cut out all or most of the bad things for me (you know the sort, all the tasty enjoyable things you really like) and tried to eat really healthily. I always cook as much fresh food as I can and eat lots of vegetables, but now I was making Hairy Dieters dishes and such, cutting out fats, plus upping my walking much to the dogs delight. I used an app to track progress and was pretty much always under my daily intake targets, genuinely determined to make a go of it.

Predictably I shed around 3lbs in as many days, smiling to myself as I got off the scales that day, all my self-sacrifice was worth it. Then, it stopped….

Some times after a couple of days I lost half a pound or so, other times I had done particularly well on the food, drink and exercise front and had somehow managed to put weight on, it was bizarre. The food and walking alone should really have seen some results I thought considering my size, but no beer too, the source of all the evil if facts are to be believed? I had gone from drinking out every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, not to excess but a decent amount, plus a few bottles at home every other day of the week and was massively disappointed by the results I was seeing.

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*Artists impression of the results

Despite this though I continued and went through the full month, taking around twenty or so days off. I lost around 7lbs in that time, which is still good, normally at about 1lb per week, a steady decline which I am sure is best all round (no pun intended).

I’ve also managed to stick with it up to now too, albeit not so strictly. Chubvember long forgotten and now well into the season of goodwill and Christmas beer (Fatcember) it will be tougher still, but for now at least I feel I can carry on and shed a few more pounds and I’m now another couple of pounds lighter. I feel healthier, my bones don’t creak so much and my dodgy knees are definitely benefitting from more use, carrying less bulk.

The other upside of course is that I’m finding I like a break in taking the odd day off having bevvy, it isn’t really a struggle and the next beer tastes SO much better.

To summarise, what does all this prove, nothing. There’s no science to any of this and I’m certainly not going to try and tell you all that drinking alcohol every day is fine and harmless because of course it isn’t in some circumstances. Neither am I saying that drinking beer won’t make you put on weight, it might, especially when done to excess.

What think I am trying to say though is this, beer alone is not the main culprit as some sources would have you believe, or at least I can safely say at least not for me. It is all a matter of balance. Make your own choices, for you, when YOU want to and only then will YOU be happy with the results and be able to feel whatever sacrifices you made were worth it.

So with that, you can stick “Drynuary”, or whatever the next daft title that some bloody doom-monger comes up with to justify yet another form of enforced abstinence where the sun don’t shine!

Cheers and a Merry Bleedin’ Christmas to you all!

UPDATE: My good friend Claire Knight ( @krider2010 ) who manages to combine being a keen foodie and lover of great beer, with a hard fitness regime to competition level was compelled to write a very complimentary and informative post over on her own fitness and nutrition blog Deskbound Girevik. It’s called “Moderation Is Key” and can be found following the previous link. Please give it a read, comment and give Claire a follow too 🙂

Thanks Claire!

 

The Art of Beer – Rob Pointon at The Bulls Head

IMG_8740I don’t tend to do event plugs on here (as stand alone posts at least), but this one is a little different as it features something that has both happened and is yet to be. It features many people I know well, and sees a guest appearance of my own best doggie pal Maggie.

Sporadically over the last few weeks, my local pub The Bulls Head in Burslem, has paid host to artist Rob Pointon as he painted a scene perhaps typical to most people reading this, the inside of a pub, or maybe more importantly, warm daily pub life.

Rob set up his easel over several nights and it was absolutely fascinating to watch him build up the scene on canvas, a living picture you were part of. Starting with blocks of shaded colour, familiar faces and objects began to take shape gradually over time, before fine details were committed to history with an almost casual looking, but ultimately accurate flick of Robs brush, bringing them to life before our eyes.

The finished work is set to feature in an exhibition at the Bare Wall gallery in Burslem, showcasing art from the Potteries and North Wales. The event details are below, if you are in the area, make sure to call in.

Cheers

http://www.robpointon.co.uk/home 

Rob, signs the finished masterpiece.

Rob, signs the finished masterpiece.

POINTON

An exhibition of new work featuring The Potteries and North Wales.

Saturday 29th March 2014 until Saturday 5th April 2014

Barewall Studio, 2-4 Market Place, Burslem, Stoke on Trent ST6 4AT.

You've been framed! (Thanks to Jim at the Bulls head for the pic)

You’ve been framed! (Thanks to Jim at the Bulls head for the pic)

 

 

 

Birmingham Beer Bash

988543_504585336279325_346701567_nTomorrow is a very special day for some very brave, committed and probably slightly bonkers friends of mine, for they have done something that I have longed to do.

Last year changed my perception of what a beer festival should be like forever.

Commencing with Hawkshead who were the first for me who had opted for the all-embracing approach of good beer served how the brewers intended, be that cask, keg or bottle. Mixed with fine food, a warm friendly atmosphere and surely the prettiest location. Then I visited the De Molen Borefts Festival which had the most eclectic mix of the worlds finest beers under one (two) roof/s I had ever experienced, it and was my first introduction to bitterballen. Finally we saw the birth of IndyMan who for me still hold the bar as the UK’s finest and in doing so have a lot to live up to themselves in 2013, a fact I’m sure they are relishing in trying to achieve.

But the competition is hotting up…

This year we’ve had similar events popping up all over the UK which is a great thing, I’m not against CAMRA festivals in any way you understand, but what I love about the likes of the above and Liverpool Craft Beer Expo for example is that the thinking is different, a fresh approach without the constraints of a rule book which needs a bloody good overhaul.

BPypgP3CMAAJ7WpEnter stage left David Shipman or Otherton Ale Man as he is also known, father to Birmingham Beer Bash and leader of a fine body of folks of a similar mind. Reading back over Dave’s blog you can see how this has slowly come together after a lot of hard work, scary meetings and dedication.

Having recently organised a much lower key Twissup event in Macclesfield even without the massive finical implications of they have had to content with, I have some idea how he and all of the other organisers are feeling right now.

A mix of excitement, a screaming impatience and mostly, fear.

BOrCrd8CQAAs-8_Will folks turn up, will the beer be ok, will anything go wrong and a thousand other little niggles and doubts will be swirling around heads tonight and I doubt a lot of sleeping will happen.

Knowing these guys though the fears will all fall away when the doors open and folks flood in. The beer list they have pulled together is impressive to say the least, again with no rulebook shackles imposed so as to bring something for every taste and opinion. There are side events of break out seminars and beer/food matching dinners etc too. Finally the guys have brought street food vendors of various cooking styles in house for those of you who’d prefer to munch as you go. Check the bookable sessions out here and here.

I have tickets for the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon sessions personally, so if you are about come and say hello, lets drink beer and support what promises to be a brilliant weekend of beer.

If you’ve not yet got tickets you need to act fast, some sessions are already sold out and you REALLY don’t want to miss this one. Tickets available here ->

BP9AsDgCAAQ-R4QBirmingham Beer Bashers, I salute you and wish you the very best of luck.

CHEERS!!

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