Members’ bottle share

This month’s member’s bottle share is Birmingham’s charming Church Inn, a traditional pub that’s been given a modern makeover
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This month’s member’s bottle share is Birmingham’s charming Church Inn, a traditional pub that’s been given a modern makeover, complete with wood-fired pizza oven, roof terrace and – most importantly – a well-chosen line-up of craft beers in cask, keg and bottle. It’s owned by Everards, a traditional Leicestershire brewery that had the good judgement some years ago to give business owner Carl Finn freedom over how he runs his pub, in design and offer. The approach has paid dividends, and the Church has the stylishly quirky feel of the best independent craft bars.

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We’ve managed to snag a snug little room behind the well-stocked bar, complete with photogenic neon and wall art (thanks guys) and the crème of Birmingham’s Beer52 membership stroll in one-by-one, for a warmup pint of Everards’ brilliant summery Sunchaser on cask. At the time of writing, we’re still firmly in the grip of The Great Heatwave of 2018 (remember that?) so this zesty, citrus golden ale, brewed with continental Saaz and Tettnang hops, really hits the spot – not too cold or frothy, this is the kind of beer I’ll always head to as an alternative to lager, which is clearly the intention.

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Our next beer, another Everards, ramps up the flavour. Tiger copper ale is available on keg and cask and bursts with British hops and malty toffee character. “You can’t go wrong with fuggles and golding,” remarks Shane Still, “and they really balance well with the rich, warming malt.” Claire Cannell has joined us from the brewery, and clearly loves this beer which, she explains, is the official beer of the Leicester Tigers. She recommends drinking it with traditional pub food like sausage and mash or steak and ale pie. Sounds good to me.

Shaun Monk admits he’d probably go for Sunchaser in the summer heat, but that Tiger is generally more his kind of beer, while Haley Johnstone describes it as a “warm fuzzy jumper” and the kind of beer she didn’t experience growing up in Canada.

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Next up, we crack open a few cans of I Still Got It, a passionfruit and raspberry sour brewed in collaboration between Cloudwater and California’s Bruery Terreux – a very different beer from our first two. Claire’s eyes pop at the yoghurty lacto sourness as she exclaims “the passionfruit really jumps out. It’s like a fruit punch – like a J20!”

“The tartness works really well with the floral fruity raspberry,” says Graeme Berry. Haley agrees, but says it’s probably “one for sharing rather than drinking by the pint”. Shane and Shaun are uncharacteristically quiet.

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So, a mixed reception for our clean lacto fruit sour, and I admit to the group that I’m a little nervous about our next pick: Little Earth Project’s Citra and Nelson Sauvin saison. This is a new one on me (they only brewed 600 bottles) but knowing Little Earth Project, I have a hunch this is going to be the most challenging beer of the bunch. Sure enough, cracking open the bottle releases a whole trunk of funk, alongside an identifiably saison-like yeast whiff and a surprisingly hoppy bite.

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“Ooo, I don’t know about this,” says Shane, taking a sip. “It’s got a lot of hoppy back bitterness, but it’s what’s going on at the front that’s got me! It’s… wallpaper paste? That’s all I can think of!”

“The thing I’m getting is grapefruit,” chips in Shaun, eliciting a nod from Claire. “It’s so interesting, but I don’t think I could drink much of it.”

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At the other end of the table Graeme is likewise concentrating on every sip. “It smells great, and is the kind of thing you just want to roll around on your tongue.”

Claire and Hayley both find a lot of wood character, particularly after the beer has been swallowed and the character continues to evolve. “There’s something like fresh oak about it – really sappy,” says Hayley. “And an almost smoky bitterness too.”

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Shane and Shaun seem to be coming round too, with the former admitting that “it keeps pulling you back for another sip” and the latter commenting on its “creamy, IPA-like body”.

Finally, I promise the gang a return to Haley’s “warm, fuzzy blanket” in our final beer of the night, Modern Times’ Haunted Stars rye porter. This is an instant hit, which has Claire blurting “plums!” and Graeme remarking it tastes like a deconstructed Christmas cake.

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Comparisons to other drinks abound with Graeme pointing out its Sauternes-like dried-fruit sweetness and Claire finding cherry kirsch. Shaun picks out a hint of liquorice at the back of the throat, which Hayley identifies as a peppery heat.

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“That’s a real dessert beer,” says Shane approvingly. “Yup,” agrees Graeme, “fuzzy blanket test passed!”

Thanks to all the staff at the Church Inn, especially to Matt and Claire, who kept us supplied with clean glasses and excellent pizza.

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