… in a modest house in Edgbaston round the back of what, as kids, we used to call the rezzer. We called the recreation ground the rec and the reservoir was the rezzer. Apparently, those kids who still get out and about these days speak the same language.
On that kitchen table, back in autumn 2009, stood two five gallon fermentation vessels. As well as homebrew beer they contained an idea which had been fermenting for almost a decade and which now became a mission – bringing real ale back to Birmingham.
Those two beers were the result of more than 50 years (well, we’re late developers!) of the combined homebrew experience of lifelong friends Mark Arnott-Job and Trevor Harris who had first discussed the idea of setting up a brewery back in the late 1990s over a few pints of homebrew. As you do!
That’s when they began brewing together, steadily developing from amateur hobbyists, brewing for fun, into amateur hobbyists brewing seriously, which meant they were often doing more reading and studying than brewing. Over that decade up till 2009 that vague, pie-in-the-sky idea of setting up their own brewery became less vague and more pint-in-the-hand than pie-in-the-sky. They also became more focussed on the idea of ‘bringing real ale back to Birmingham’. Which wasn’t a dig at the other fine breweries in Birmingham but an ambition to brew the kinds of ales that had been available in the region in the past; before the introduction of pasteurised, artificially carbonated beers in the 60s and 70s. Then there was that day, in 2009, the two fermentation vessels sitting on the kitchen table, when “Wouldn’t it be great to set up our own brewery” became “Let’s do it!”
The beer in those two vessels, by the way, eventually became Baskerville Bitter and Mott Street Mild.
A year later, in 2010, Two Towers Brewery was in business. They chose a basic, undistinguished industrial unit quite deliberately, with no regard for aesthetics, because they wanted the brewery to reflect the industrial heritage of Birmingham. After all, pioneers of the industrial revolution such as Boulton, Watt and Murdoch (commemorated in that glittering statue at the city end of Broad Street) didn’t build factories to look pretty.
(OK. That’s a bit tongue in cheek. They were the only affordable premises we could find!)
Utter madness, you may think, setting up a brewery in the midst of a recession and a huge increase in the number of microbreweries fighting for a share of Britain’s beer pumps. At the time we’d have disagreed. In hindsight … well, we’re still here, which delights us as much as it surprises others.
We’re Two Towers Brewery because our ales were first brewed, and the enterprise conceived, believe it or not, within sight of two towers! From the aforementioned kitchen you can see the solid and impressive Victorian water tower in the grounds of the Severn Trent Water depot next to Edgbaston reservoir. Just a couple of hundred yards down the road is another tower: Perrotts Folly, built in 1758 by John Perrott; probably so he could survey his hunting grounds for wild boar and deer.
We liked the name Two Towers because it has a nice ring to it but when we discovered the possible link with Minas Morgul and Orthanc, the two towers familiar to Orcs, Ents, Hobbits and other inhabitants of Middle Earth, we were convinced.
OK, there’s no actual proof that the Lord of the Rings author, JRR Tolkien, based the fictional two towers on the real two towers but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence.
Tolkien grew up in Birmingham and, from the age of 12 till he went to university, lived in Edgbaston, just around the corner from the water tower and Perrotts Folly. He wouldn’t have been able to step outside his front door without seeing the two towers. On many occasions Tolkien acknowledges that much of his fiction is based on real people, places and events and it seems almost impossible for the two towers that were a constant presence in the formative years of his youth not to find their way into his fiction.
Anyway, it’s a nice coincidence and a good story. So why shouldn’t we celebrate the connection between Birmingham and Tolkien?