Thursday, 24 March 2016

Birmingham, the Black Country and its Beers - Two Towers Brewery

The saying that some Greek fella said back in the day that 'The Whole is greater than the Sum of it's Parts' is very true when it comes to any major city in the world. London has its hip parts, its culture-vulture parts and its industrial parts; Manchester has it's history of sporting excellence in its suburbs and panache in the centre and Birmingham is no different. We've got the pinnacle of glass making at home in Stourbridge, areas of historical significance in Dudley and the home of a bonifide footballing miracle in West Bromwich (maybe this one is a bit biased, but forgive me for one bit of indulgence...) 

One place that has been of great significance is an area just situated outside of the City Centre, in the southern part of a suburb of Hockley, wonderfully named the Jewellery Quarter. The self-proclaimed centre of jewellery-making since the 1800s the UK, it still accounts for 40% off all production in the country. Add onto this, it's home to the Birmingham Assay Office (largest in the world to hallmark gold and check value of diamonds) and the renowned RBSA Gallery and you have a hotplate of culture and vibrant attractions. However, hidden away from all of the hustle and bustle of the bright lights, there is a gem that is bigger and will inevitably shine brighter than anything that you'll find on sale in the main jeweller shop stretch.

Two Towers Brewery has one simple message to the public; it wants to thrust good Birmingham beer back into the spotlight and show the country that we can do it just as well as anyone. The idea started brewing in 2009 within the minds of the brainchildren Mark Arnott-Job and Trevor Harris and came to fruition in 2010, when in the most industrial of industrial units in the maze of streets in Hockley, the Two Towers Brewery was born. It has a 10 barrel capacity, so they are the testament to small, produced beers.

I had the privilege of attending one of the many brewery tours that they offer and got to see the inner workings of a much smaller operation than the Fuller's Brewery tour that I did a few weeks back. They produce a variety of beers, with all of them having some link back to their heritage and the area where they are based. Some of the beers they make that I didn't get the chance to try was the Chamberlain Pale Ale (4.3%), named after Joseph Chamberlain, a famous mayor of the city and the peculiarly named 'Bhacker Ackhams' (5.6%), an award-winning chocolate porter named after the famous department store 'Rackhams' in the centre of Birmingham, where (if you were meeting someone), you'd meet them at 'the back 'o' Rackhams'.

During the tour, you get to see their brewing vessels, named Bertha and Bessy, see what they have brewing at the moment and get the opportunity to ask as many questions as any novice or experienced home-brewer needs to. However, more importantly, you get to try some beer whilst listening to Mark describe the intricacies of getting the perfect pint.

Whilst wandering around, we tried the brewery's best seller, Hockley Gold (4.1%), which was a very refreshing drop. A good balance of hops and bitterness, with a slight biscuity note on top. One of the best golden ales I've tried in a while.
Also, we tried their English IPA, Complete Muppetry (4.3%), which is a complete departure away from the big-hopped US IPA's currently in fashion. Easy drinking, with very light hops, but a tad bit more bitterness. A good session beer, if not spectacular, in my opinion.

What is especially great about Two Towers is that rather than having to scour the city to find a bottle shop that sells their fine wares or pub-hop around the Midlands to find them on draught, they have a Tap House in very close proximity to the brewery, allowing you to tuck into some more of their liquids. The Gunmakers Arms looks unassuming and much like your usual suburban pub, but it has some of their craft beers and also some good stock beers such as Pilsner Urquell, Freedom Brewery Lager and Hogans Cider from Warwickshire.

It was to there where I schlepped The Lass to a couple of days later and tried a couple more brews, and get an informed second opinion from someone who has a slightly less beer-sculpted palate.

The two we tried were Electric Pale Ale (4.1%), brewed especially for the UK's oldest independent cinema, The Electric in Central Birmingham. Apart from its brilliant '40s feel label, this has a lovely citric zest that runs right through it and would be a brilliant drop as the sun sets in a sunny back garden. This was a real favourite of The Lass, who is a wine drinker at heart, but the crisp, fruity nature of it sat well with her.

In addition to that, we tried a trusted recommendation from Peter (Mark's brother, who helps out at the pub), who guided us to Baskerville Bitter (3.8%), that had a soft malty and biscuity touch to it, but a good length too (there is nothing that disappoints me more than a beer that brushes your tastebuds, but is then gone quicker than it takes you to put your glass down...).

Leaving the pub, I was flush, with not only the feeling that only 2 pints can give you when you hit outside for the first time, but also the feeling that brewing in Birmingham is back in safe hands, moving away from all the 'Bells and Whistles, Fancy Dan' establishments that make average beer, back to what matters most; spectacular beer with a no-nonsense approach. 

Now that is definitely a boozy 'Part' that will contribute to the West Midlands 'Whole'...

Two Towers Brewery do frequent brewery tours and you can purchase their beers direct from the brewery or pubs and stockists, which can be found here. The Gunmakers Arms is open Sunday to Saturday from 12pm, with directions here.

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