Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Top Ten Movers and Shakers in Birmingham's Beer Scene

This blog, obviously, is about the beer scene in Birmingham: part commentary, part rallying cry.  So far all I've really done is report on the situation as is, but how about we do a bit of digging below the surface?  If I don my Famous Five hat and Clark Kent trousers, perhaps I can pretend to do a bit of real journalism and take a look at the movers and shakers on the Birmingham beer scene.  Who runs the show in Brum, and how?  Once we know that, perhaps we can work out an effective brown-nosing lobbying strategy to keep things moving in the right direction.  Here goes then, in reverse order:

10.  Paul Halsey (Managing Director of Purity Brewing Co.)

Purity aren't based in Birmingham, but they may as well be, as their products have an enviable tendency to pop up in nearly every good boozer in town.  Their three beers are consistent and tasty, but just think... if they were to produce a red IPA, a delicious Porter or a super rich Stout they could use their network of clients to stick experimental, challenging beers under the noses of half the drinkers in the West Midlands.  The possibilities are tantalising and intriguing.

9.  Adrian Posnett (Managing Director of Oakham Ales)

Oakham delivered a beautiful gift to Birmingham, back in 2004: The Bartons Arms.  It's a gift that keeps on giving - delicious Thai food, sensationally kept [delicious] Oakham ales and wonderful pub architecture.  Oakham are also the best represented of the UK's top quality brewers, in Birmingham's pubs.  By remaining committed to the Bartons, Oakhams are maintaining one of our essential pubs, a key source of fantastic beer.  

8.  Mark Arnott-Job and Trevor Harris (Co-Directors and Head Brewers at Two Towers Brewery)

Their beers are getting better and now they have their own pub - the Brown Lion.  Brum is not over blessed with microbreweries, in fact with this post being written prior to the launch of the Beer Geek Brewery, there is only Two Towers and ABC.  Two Towers therefore need to keep up the good work and start throwing out some big, flavoursome new beers. 

7.  Bob Ivell (Executive Chairman of Mitchells and Butlers)

M&B has four of its Nicholsons pubs in the City centre, offering good beer, often from some of the UK's best breweries.  If Mr Ivell turned round tomorrow and decided to turn the Old Contemptibles, the two Shakespeare pubs and Bacchus bar into Wacky Warehouses, then as a City we'd instantly be much poorer as a result.  Think about it. 

6.  Mark Delaney (Birmingham CAMRA Chairman)

The results speak for themselves.  Are things improving on the beer front in Birmingham? - Yes.  Do we have more pubs serving real ale than before? - Yes.  As sure as eggs is eggs, the local CAMRA branch must be doing something right.  Plus, importantly, last year's festival was tremendous fun, with an improving range of beers. 

5.  Matt Scriven (Bitters n Twisted)

Bitters n Twisted have four bars in the City, each offering something slightly different: Jekyll and Hyde is a modern day gin parlour, Island Bar is a hip cocktail joint, the Rose Villa Tavern is a beautiful old pub turned gastropub, and the Victoria is a hipster hangout.  Clearly Mr Scriven knows what he is doing and I'm grateful that all of his venues recognise the importance of good beer, offering a smattering of bottles, taps and handpumps.  Now, if they could keep that moving in the right direction and increase the range and quality of the beers, that would be lovely.  In fact if they would like to open a new place, seeking to fill the remaining good beer niche, then they can talk to me and I'll point them in the right direction.  I'm serious.

4.  Graham Smith (Urban Art Bar)

Urban Art Bar has two pubs in the Jewellery Quarter: the Lord Clifden and the Red Lion .  Both places have placed beer at the heart of their appeal and have been important in acknowledging that a cool pub, can and should serve real ale.  Both of these venues were old pubs which were tarted up in a most tasteful way - so that they are both great to spend time in.  Mr Smith - more please. 

3. Gerry Keane (The Anchor)

The Anchor has been in the Keane family for donkeys years.  For all of my time in Brum, they have been offering a fantastic range of real ales, often from smaller breweries.  They were also the first place to offer Erdinger on tap and Belgian bottles.  Regardless of whatever else is happening in Brum, the Anchor remains a reliable oasis of good beer and good cheer. 

2. Krishan Rajput (Stirchley Wines and Spirits)

In 2002 I bought a house, partly because it had easy access to the fantastic off-licence Stirchley Wines and Spirits, with it's range of beers unparallelled in Birmingham.  In the 10 years since then, SWS has gone from strength to strength.  It is now the only place in the City offering access to some of the country's top beers (such as the Kernel) and and the best imports (Stone, Nogne, Mikkeller).  The owners expend a lot of energy in continuing to source new products: every day I get tweets from them, trying to lure me back for the latest unmissable treats.  This year they also ran the Foreign beer bar at the Birmingham Beer Festival, which brought more positive exposure.  They are spreading the good word, giving access to the best beers and opening eyes.  We would be lost without them.  If they opened a pub, they would nick top spot.  

1.  Nigel Barker (The Wellington/Post Office Vaults)

Before Nigel opened the Wellington, Brum relied totally on the Anchor for access to guest ales.  But since late 2004, things have got better and better, as we now have 16 handpulls of real ale, slap bang in the centre of town.  You don't need me to tell you that the Welly does alright - the fact that it is usually packed is a clear indicator.  With fast rotation of ales and regular beer festivals, Nigel gave Birmingham a venue which was essential, not just for Brummies, but for beer fans across the country.  In fact, in 2011 the Wellington amazingly ranked as the 36th best beer bar in the World, according to Ratebeer.  At the back end of last year, Nigel sprinkled some of his magic on the Post Office Vaults, another city centre real ale haunt, this time offering a massive selection of Belgian bottles - something the City definitely needed.  So why does Nigel get the top spot?  Quite simply he altered the direction of good beer in our City, he showed us what we had been missing and raised our expectations.  It should be noted that his arrival in the City also coincided with the re-energising of the local CAMRA branch.  Top man indeed.  

Thursday, 26 January 2012

A quick sortie: through gin palace and seat of learning

Today, unable to sit idle on an afternoon of annual leave, I plunged headfirst into some Birmingham pubs that I rarely get to - all in the name of my Birmingham Pub Map project, which is now nearing the completion of phase 1.

My first port of call was The Gunmakers Arms, located in, wait for it, the Gun Quarter now officially to be renamed St.George and St.Chad.

But here's a sordid confession: upon arriving, I daren't go in.  You see it was the middle of the afternoon, the windows were covered from the inside and it's not exactly in a busy area.  So I took the coward's way out and declined to push open the door and enter.  This is apparently a Slovakian run pub, which advertises it's National affiliations with a flag on the outside, and lists it's drink prices on a blackboard outside, including real ale.  If you have been in, please let me know what it's like, but as an ungregarious, solitary boozer, today was not the day for me to peer inside.  Not that I have anything against Slovakia you understand, in fact if a dyslexic currency salesperson at Marks and Sparks had had their way, I may almost have gone there on holiday once.

So, scuttling briskly from the Gunmakers, I ducked into the always lovely Bull, which is 5 seconds away.  This pub is a marvel of homespun, traditional charm and always has einen well presented bit of booze on tap, in this case Acorn Barnsley Bitter, which was as rugged and lovable as Gene Hackman.

Next up was the Sacks of Potatoes, located fairly and squarely in the centre of Aston University's campus.  I last came here when I was an actual student, which was an eye-wateringly long time ago.  I admit that I expected this to be full of trendy herberts supping WKD and snakebite or something, but clearly today's student is much more savvy than I ever was/am.  6 real ales were on offer here including 4 guests.  I felt like a bit of an old letch propping up the bar, so I necked a tasty Sadlers Honey Fuggle and an odd Wentworth Rock-Spalt and slung my hook.

This was all happening mid-afternoon, sadly too early for the Wellington beer fest, which was kicking off at 5.00; so I consoled myself with a brief nosey inside the Jekyll and Hyde.  This place is quite smart, a bit trendy and therefore probably demands a slightly cooler clientele than what I am.  Unfortunately my visit coincided with zero Thornbridge beers being on, even though I know that they have been offering 3 err offerings from that brewer during the week.  I nursed a half of Freedom Stout, whilst marvelling at the range of gins/gin cocktails and gin-tasting events which the J&H offer.  I tell you, if I liked drinking gin, I would certainly gravitate to this place and drink some gin.

After that I headed homeward boundish.

Kings Heath and Moseley beckon tomorrow, for some concluding beer map visits.   

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Brodies Alert!

Without wishing to be a marketing man for the Wellington, and without really having anything to write, I felt I must put the word out that, finally, Brodies are coming to town.

Two Brodies beers will be on offer during the upcoming Wellington Beer Festival, which starts tomorrow.  They are Whitechapel Weizen and American Brown.  Yum yum.

Also making an appearance will be Tyne Bank, a new Newcastle microbrewer, who bring Silver Dollar and Single Blonde; and an always welcome offering from Redwillow - Heartless.

All in all there are 24 beers on offer, with a preponderence of Scottish sounding names - I can't think why.

Enjoy, and post your feedback here.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Important beers on Dan's journey. No.2 Hoegaarden

Remember back in 2002/2003 when every other bar had Hoegaarden on tap?  I do.  Those days are well gone now, just like my youth and vigour.  Which means I view both through rose-tinted goggles.

I wanted to take my time writing this post, because this beer is a significant one for me, and reviewing the time we've spent together is a bit cathartic.

People talk about gateway beers - ones which open the doors to new flavours or styles; well Hoegaarden is just such a gateway for me, THE gateway in fact.

During my early pub going days, I only drank cider, being unable to stomach the taste of lager.  Then, around the age of around 22 I finally ditched cider, as my stomach was no longer able to stomach the taste, and my brain was no longer able to stomach the hangovers.  I switched straight to lager, looking for something easy to drink and inoffensive - in short, something without a lot of flavour.  My favourite early lagers were Fosters and Budweiser: being refreshing and reasonably light.

Then I tried Hoegaarden (and shortly afterwards Belle Vue Kriek).

From that day on, I was a beer fan: fascinated by hunting down new brews and obsessed by finding the best/most interesting tastes and experiences.

How did Hoegaarden do this?  Hard to say exactly, but it was something to do with the chalky mouthfeel, the subtle lemon flavour, the opaque appearance and the refreshing qualities of Belgian Wit, a style I still love to this day.  The portcullis had been lowered and I wanted to get right into the heart of the European beer kaleidoscope.  Trips to Belgium, Holland, Germany and Poland in 1999-2001 cemented my absolute fascination with continental brewing heritage and, much to my delight, the trend started to seep back to the UK, helped by the increasingly ubiquity of the Internet and the availability of cheap flights.

My knowledge was growing, my thirst was raging and even in uncosmopolitan Birmingham, Hoegaarden was in every supermarket and city centre pub.  To quote Henry Hill "it was a glorious time".

But things move on, tastes develop and old favourites no longer satiate our thirst.  I was after variety and even though I loved Hoegaarden, I wanted more hops, nay I demanded more hops.  I would happily have sipped the odd Hoeg, dovetailed with a Darkstar Hophead or a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but in the end, I'm a simple man and couldn't commit to Hoeg on a regular basis.

Before you know it, 5,6,7 years have passed and Hoeg is no longer a fixture at the Old Joint Stock or Edmunds.  In fact, you hardly ever see it.  And despite the odd pang of regret for times passed, the reality is that as I sup a Hoeg right now, it just doesn't excite me as much.  It's still handsome and functional, but nowadays, it's appeal to me lies in the wistful memories, rather than the exciting future.  But I can't take away the effect it has had on my life, shaping and crafting me into the person I am.

There.  You didn't expect that, did you?  That was a bit cod wasn't it?  But I meant it.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Saturday's stolen 'crawl' and a craft beer checklist

Well it was stolen, but not a crawl.  I left work yesterday, pinched borrowed 5 bob off leather-clad chum Malcy, legged it straight to the Welly and necked two halves in ten minutes, as follows:

Black Iris Bitter - a proper old-skool, 'real man' type Bitter, which makes no concessions to fruity transatlantic flavour, just a wallop of grizzled UK hops and chiselled sandpaper malt.  It was alright though.  Interestingly enough, having tried all five beers from this newish Derby-based microbrewer, I am now their top rater in the World.  Consider personal trumpet thoroughly parped.

Second was a new beer from Oakham - always a pleasant sight to greet a weatherbeaten beer fan, upon entering a boozer.  This one, entitled 'Preacher' was a suntanned bronze colour, with a luscious aroma of tropical fruit.  Taste was right upfront in the 'delicious mango and passionfruit' department and as balanced as my current account* throughout.  Really good from Oakham.  As always.  Which got me thinking....

How many of the top, top UK breweries' products actually make it to Birmingham on a regular basis?

Oakham - We are lucky to have one of their own pubs serving all their best stuff, plus their beers always make it to the Welly.

Crouch Vale - they pop up in the Welly, fairly frequently.

Moor - Nicholsons carry them, so four chances for their beers to appear in the City centre.

Brewdog - no bar in Birmingham as yet, and their stuff hardly ever pops up on cask, except occasionally in the Bleagle.  Nowhere in Brum serves craft beer on keg, so we are fairly scuppered for Brewdog generally.  Their bottles make it to Stirchley Wines; as do >>>

The Kernel - no pubs in Brum take these bottled masterpieces.  Thankfully Stirchley Wines are doing Birmingham proud.

Magic Rock - to my knowledge, none of their beers have ever appeared in a Birmingham pub, which is nothing short of a scandal, given their reputation as one of the UK's hottest new brewers.  Thankfully Stirchley Wines have just picked up their bottled range (are you noticing pattern here?).

Summer Wine - they very (very) occasionally pop up in the Welly - I've sampled them there twice. 

Thornbridge - pretty good coverage with Post Office Vaults, Wellington and the Nicholsons' pubs taking them.  Unfortunately no one serves their keg efforts, so we have never seen Versa, Italia or Kill Your Darlings, to name but three.

Dark Star - these appear in the Welly with almost acceptable frequency.

Brodies - never glimpsed in Brum.

Redwillow - spotted twice in the Welly by my good self.

Marble - occasional visitors to the Welly, but a full bottled range is at... wait for it.... Asda Stirchley Wines.

Bristol Beer Factory - not spotted in any Brum pubs for a good wee while, luckily someone has some bottles for your delectation. 

Hard Knott - Stirchley only.

Hawkshead - interestingly enough, Wetherspoons are your best bet for these Cumbrian beauties.

Gargoyles - The Anchor is your best bet to try these Devonian treats on cask, which is the same story for...

Steel City - only spotted in the Spanker.

Camden Town - only Nicholsons have sported a beer from this lot so far, but then again, they are primarily keg only.

Buxton - yawn, I'm boring myself now ... these are spotted very occasionally in the Welly, but Stirchley take their bottled range.    

As a City, the end of term report reads "Must do better".  Beer fans like you and me must request these brewers' products and our band of dedicated landlords must seek them out. 

*perhaps more so actually.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Wellington Wednesday and a Killer Stout

Wednesdays can be beautiful.

Last night was a night dans le boozer, which unusually, involved spending time in the company of other people - people I know. Amazing and much needed.

The Wellington beckoned and was pleasantly empty.  The pre-Christmas crushes experienced at this venue had become exceptionally tiresome - a trip to the Welly usually involved squeezing through the front door, flighting to the bar, just about managing to get my order heard, then necking it and legging it, having shifted my own body weight in sweat during that time. But last night, aaaah - a seat, some chums and I didn't have to shout to make myself heard.  Bliss.

So what of the beers: first a fittingly mediocre Elland Diablo, which was a bit thin and taste like chocolate melted on a bar-b-q [that word has been spelled in a deliberately annoying way].  I also had a pint, yes a whole pint, of Oakham Citra which is the epitome of reliability.  It's tasty too.

The best offering though, was Beowulf Killer Stout, a 7.9% UK Imperial Stout, from a brewery I have made my own - by which I mean that, according to Ratebeer, I am the top taster/reviewer of Beowulf beers in the World.  That may make it sound like I love all of their beers, which is not true at all.  But I do appreciate their dark efforts - Dark Raven, Finns Hall Porter, Dragon Smoke Stout and now this Killer Stout, which is a very flavoursome, drinkable and balanced attempt at a beer style usually only mastered by our American cousins.  It's a real shame that more of these stronger beers simply so not turn up on tap in Birmingham pubs; but then again, if they did, I wouldn't have been inspired to begin this blog.

After leaving the Welly, and having popped into Tesco, I followed some good Twitter advice from the previous night and was lucky enough to sample Moor Unfined Confidence on tap in the Lower Temple Shakespeare. It was a ruddy tasty and ruddy coloured ale, which the lack of filtering had rendered mushy in the mouth and with some murkiness added to the hoppy bitter.

Finally, a dash through the Post Office Vaults en route to the bus stop; a flying visit which yielded a well priced bottle of De Molen Op and Top - a strange beer which sat somewhere between a UK IPA and a Belgian Ale ala Leffe.  Largely pleasant.

A good evening's work.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Where to go? Where to go?

Just a short note tonight, as Leicester's crushing win over Nottingham Florist needs to be celebrated with a cup of tea and several chocolate biscuits.

Tomorrow, a mid week visit to the pub beckons, but which one? 

I'm due to meet chums in the Welly, but it is acceptable to turn up, have a nose through the beer list, then if nothing grabs me, drag them off to another boozer? 

And if I do drag them off to, say, the Shakespeare, in search of Moor beers, what happens if the said Moor beers are nowhere is sight?  Can I then drag them off to a third pub (the POVaults), in search of cask treats, but knowing that I can have a De Molen whenever I feel like it?  Would a bitterly cold Wednesday evening be the right occasion to try and turn on some unsuspecting suburbanites, to the joys of Victory Storm King imperial stout?

Or alternatively, should I feign injury and mysteriously disappear during the proceedings, so that I can do a super covert 4 x Nicholsons' pub crawl?

Perhaps I should just stay in. 

Monday, 16 January 2012

Birmingham's Top 10 Pubs

The Evening, sorry Birmingham Mail recently pronounced it's Top 10 Birmingham pubs and it's a solid list.  Admittedly it's based on unspecified criteria, but this is not intended as a nit-picking blog post, more of a conversation starter and gosh darnit, a celebration of some fine Brum establishments.

The Wellington, The Anchor, The Black Eagle, The Bartons Arms, the Old Contemptibles are no-brainers: places that combine good beer choices with a convivial atmosphere/good decor etc.

For the rest of my five, this is my thinking (in no particular order): 

Lord Clifden
Lovely artwork, good music, ping-pong, a GREAT beer garden and just enough good beer to top things off.  Cool pub.

Post Office Vaults
New kid on the block and already the subject of it's own blog post.  Could be the City's top venue soon enough.

Lamp Tavern
Small, located on an industrial estate, and fantastic. The welcome is warm, the beers are well kept and the banquette seating takes me right back to Syston in 1992. A magnificent survivor.   

The Shakespeare (the Summer Row one, not the Lower Temple Street one)
The Mail chose Bacchus, but I've gone for a different Nicholsons pub.  I love the arrangement of the L-shaped front room, with it's elegant street aspect.  I love the fact that it is Brum's most reliable stockist of Moor beers - this fills me with a deep joy.  This is almost my favourite.

The Brown Lion
This one scrapes in if I'm honest, as it is still a bit underfurnished and not quite lived in, although it is early days.  The beer is what brings me here, because the BroLi is the brewery tap for Two Towers - one of Birmingham's small crop of microbreweries.  At first, even the beer wasn't enough to bring me back regularly, but TT are pulling their fingers out now and I'm becoming quite paternal towards them.

What connects the above five places and the five Mail choices that I agree with?  Well, after a bit of chin scratching I think that it's some ethereal combination of good beer choice and an aspirational outlook.  I want to leave a pub with a good tingle on my tastebuds and a spring in my step.

Birmingham doesn't yet have a proper craft beer bar, but it does have some nice beer venues; and when I think back to late 2004, just prior to the opening of the Wellington, things were really grim.  Only the Anchor was shining a light.  Our City has come a long way.

And my favourite place of all?  Probably the Anchor.  Just.   

Whats your favourite, my beer brethren?

(With apols to the Red Lion, Prince of Wales, Old Joint Stock, the Junction (Harborne)).

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Important beers on Dan's journey. No.1 Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

As I have marched relentlessly through hundreds of beers, there are certain ones which mark turning points in my evolution; after which things will never be the same again.

I believe that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of those.  Way back in 2003, following a trip to Vancouver and Seattle, I returned to the UK full of excitement about the American Craft brewing scene.  Unfortunately however, examples of the US scene just had not made the long trip across the Atlantic.  Except for Sierra Nevada.  It was the first beer to regularly pop up in accessible locations, including Waitrose.  The Waitrose thing was particularly exciting, as I could nip in and grab a bottle just before my Monday night ping-pong session at Hall Green Library.  These things leave a lasting impression don't you know.

As for the beer itself, it was a revelation: light, refreshing, but packed with hops - the type of hops which just didn't exist in British brewing at that point.  In 2004, when I got the chance to try Stone Arrogant Bastard in California I came to realise the difference between the largeness of an IPA compared to the more delicate hop balance of an American Pale Ale such as SNPA.  That same year, 2 of my favourite 'at home session' beers were SNPA and Goose Island IPA - I remember both of these lads easing the pain of England's exit from Euro 2004.

Even as recently as 2007, the discovery of SNPA on tap at the Fighting Cocks in Moseley was a heartwarming find.  On tap it was fresh, juicy and lethal, but the hipsters lapped it up.  To see SNPA on tap, in branded glasses a few yards from my flat, gave me a really positive sense that the craft beer revolution had been continuing apace, even while I was in a beer hunting hiatus.

I'm supping a SNPA as I write this, and I must admit it just doesn't have the same excitement for me now: the hops are subtle and slight compared to the beasts I prefer, along the lines of Great Divide, Oakham or Kernel.  Even so, it's a beautful sight to see the iconic green label, and somewhere in the mists of time, my heart still skips a beat.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Friday afternoon, an early finish, and another stolen crawl

God bless the Wellington for having an interactive beer board which lets you see what is on, in 'real time'.  It's a shame that there aren't more beers 'on', more frequently, which tantalise my tastebuds, but hey ho.  This afternoon though, they had an Allgates and Saltaire, so the chance of a double your money, Brucie bonus beckoned.  Not a roaring success though really:

i) the Allgates Winter Warmer, was slightly akin to licking an over-warmed, honey and rosehip lathered innertube; whilst

ii) the Saltaire Rye Pale Ale had a yawn of balanced, tasty hops, but didn't really turn up to the party wearing its party trousers. Shame.

But still.  Don't be downhearted brethren, for I skipped and gambolled across New Street and down to the Post Office Vaults, the lovely new venture, now occupying the old Royal Mail.  Yes, it smells of paint and yes there was a really annoying customer grilling each person who had the temerity to order a pint, but even so, it was a worthwhile [brief] visit.

I have now popped into the POV about 5 times since it opened in December and my emotions towards it vascillate up and down like a bride's nightie.  What am I on about?  Well I started off with massive expectations as someone mentioned that it would be a 'craft' beer venue :) >>> but then it turned out that they wouldn't be serving kegged ales :( >>> then I realised that it had a fantastic selection of Belgian beers - something Brum has been crying our for :) >>> then I had two horrible halves of Byatts beers (not sure whether this was due to beer quality or what really) :( >>> then I popped in today and had a Thornbridge McConnells Vanilla Stout :) >>> and realised that they are now stocking 2 x de Molen beers :) :) amongst other bottled treats. 

Phew! No wonder I'm exhausted.

On the whole, I think the POV may be on track to dislodge the Wellington in the hotly disputed contest to be the place that offers the best beer range in the City.  Certainly it's too early for them to get cocky (I'm sure they won't), but if you are looking for 6 reasonable ales and 100+ Belgian bottles, in a central Brum location, then you will struggle to find somewhere else called the Post Office Vaults, which is as good as this one.

Once home I had intended to sup a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale tonight also, but on reflection I'll have some chocolate biscuits and a cup of tea instead, because my Fantasy Football team won't choose itself.

Fridays are exciting aren't they?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Birmingham's Top Ten Beers (apparently)

The Birmingham Mail today produced a little article entitled "Brum's Best Beers".

For anyone too lazy to click on the link, they were/are:

1. M&B Brew XI (now contract brewed in Wales)
2. Ansells Mild (now contract brewed in Lancashire)
3. M&B Springfield Bitter (no longer brewed)
4. M&B Mild (now brewed in Burton)
5. Davenports Original (now brewed in Walsall)
6. Two Towers Baskerville Bitter
7. Aston Brewing Company Aston Distressway
8. Silhill 4 Percent (Solihull)
9. Birmingham Mild (no longer produced).
10. Two Towers Mild and Brazen

OK. So of that list two no longer exist and five aren't actually brewed in Birmingham.  Whoops, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the current scene.

Hooray though for Two Towers who seem to be really pulling their finger out now, with tasty beers such as Complete Muppetry and Jewellery Porter, both of which are available at their heartwarmingly spartan Brown Lion tap in the Jewellery Quarter.

Hooray also for Aston Brewing Company (ABC), who I had assumed had disappeared off the face of the Earth, until I fortuitously tried their Dizzy Blonde at the Queens Arms, just days before sampling their festive offering A Berry Christmas at the Brasshouse on Broad Street (of all places).

So brewing in Brum is not entirely dead then.  But... where is the beery guile, the craft brewing inventiveness?  After all, we can't keep living off the glory days of factory workers swigging Mild; I mean, I like a nice pint of Mild as much as the next man, but most days what I'd prefer to drink is actually a pint of Unmild.  Just like Birmingham once revelled in it's reputation as a City of a Thousand Trades, I'd like to see our next generation of microbrewers turning us into the City of a Thousand Beer Styles.

So who is going to pick up this mantel of hoppy creativity?  Well, these lot look promising for a start .... no pressure lads.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Bataille de l'ennuyeuse bières brunes

Beggars can't be choosers and I am grateful really.  So let's attack the beers left over from Christmas. 

Last night was Marstons Pedigree and tonight it's the turn of London Pride, in the Battle of the Middle of the Road Brown Bitters (AKA the title they all want to win).

I first rated Pedigree way back in February 2004 and it's fair to say I wasn't very impressed.  However, whilst by rights I should view Pedigree even more harshly now (what with all those extra beers under my belt); if anything I feel a smidge of tenderness towards this ponging beast.  The bonus of last night's bottle was that Pedigree is now 5%, so at last it's a bit warming and masks the lack of finesse.  It's still not great though. 

Fullers London Pride is a slightly sexier brand than Pedigree, but is a very similar horse. When I rated it back in 2003, I don't think I really knew what I was on about.

Nowadays, where Ped is clunking, fizzy and furred like a honey drizzled doormat; Pride is thin, toasted and honey riddled, like a maple glazed rich tea biscuit.  Yes, the differences are that distinct.

Pride probably just edges it, but neither of these fellows deserve to share my bed chamber on a regular basis.

On a more general note, I have a soft spot for Marstons due to their Burton on Trent heritage; while Fullers score points for having a pub in Birmingham - the Old Joint Stock, which is a grand affair indeed.  I would certainly go there more often than I do, if only the price of a pint wasn't the same a second hand Fiat Cinquecento.

Sorry, no photos tonight either, but honestly, you all know what these beers look like, so you don't need any visual clues.

Monday, 9 January 2012


I probably should have introduced myself earlier.

I'm Dan. I love trying new beers and I love visiting good pubs.  What do I mean by good?  I generally mean pubs that serve a good range of good beers.  What do I mean by good beers?  Oh I don't know, probably I mean beers that are brewed with integrity and passion, which have interesting, distinct flavours.  Usually I also like beers with lots of hops.

Since 2003 I have also been rating beers.  Here's my page on Ratebeer. I had a break between 2007-2010, but I have resumed my duties now.

I also like putting together Beer Maps >>>> here's one for Birmingham.

Given half a chance, I'd spend every other Saturday gallivanting round the country sampling the wares of hot new brewers, but on balance, it's probably better that I behave like a responsible parent.  

Sorry, this post was a bit functional wasn't it?  Probably necessary though.

(occurrences of the word probably in this post - 4)

Some rapid feedback on Sunday's stolen crawl

Let's strike while the iron is hot.  Let's do another blog post and try and learn how to use Blogger a bit better. 


The televised football finished about 3.00, and I was supposed to be on the other side the City by 3.30, with a journey time of between 40-60 minutes.  I wasn't going to make it.  I would face a wrath.  Oh dear, may as well make it worse by squeezing in a mini stolen crawl.

That was the backdrop to Sunday's mad dash down New Street in search of beery treasure (which I wasn't to find).  It was a further chance to play one of my favourite games - 'guess which Birmingham pub might be serving a good beer'.  Now this popular local pass time involves reading about all the lovely beers being supped across the UK (Twitter helps with this), then hoping that one of these might have reached Brum, then closing your eyes and jabbing your finger into a Birmingham pub map, in the hope that you might pick the right venue for that good beer.  It's a bit like playing the national lottery.

So off I trot, to hit two Nicholsons pubs, right in the centre of town, both with beautiful interiors, but middling track records for beer, although fond memories abound for previous good 'finds' of Salopian Kashmir and Moor Gold, Frankincense and Moor

The Shakespeare (which interestingly enough is one of three pubs in central Birmingham called 'The Shakespeare' - nothing like cashing in, eh?) is a rather nice, snug boozer, squirrelled just off New Street, next to a posh shoe shop. It used to be a bit rougher than it is now and as such is very pleasant.  The beer is rubbish 50% of the time mind, but bless them, they do try.  The beer (range that is, not the way it was kept) was rubbish today also, but scored a half of Leeds Midnight Bell and found it to be a reasonable dark ale, certainly a smooth one.  Are Leeds a good brewery?  The jury is out. 

Bacchus Bar is a beautiful mish mash of medieval banqueting hall and Victorian opium den, hidden conspiratorially under the Burlington Arcade on New Street.  It's dark, romantic, opulent, clean, posh and interesting and usually has 3 rotating handpulls.  Unfortunately, not much was on today, only Doom Bar, Brains' Rev. James and Dorset Ammonite. I've never sampled anything from the latter, so quickly guzzled a half of caramelly, lager-hopped strawness.  Not brilliant.  Not terrible though.

And that was that.  It took about 20 minutes all told.  I should have taken some pictures really, that would have livened this page up somewhat.  I'll remember next time.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Is it wrong to want to drink on your own?

We all know that pubs are sociable places and that, therefore an interest in good beer is a very healthy hobby for a growing boy.

But what if, for a variety of boring reasons you find yourself starved of suitable drinking partners?  What if wandering into a pub and striking up a conversation with the jolly locals fills you with a sense of creeping dread?

Surely there is room in this crazy old world for someone who likes pub crawls, nice boozers, quality beer produce and yet, oh and yet is not ready for either professional alcoholism or a flat cap and pint of brown ale supped sadly in the corner?

Since the onset of parenthood (and the accompanying reduced wallet thickness) I have fought to establish new beer drinking routines, but the one constant has been that planning in advance is very difficult.  This therefore discounts the chance to organise pub crawls and meet ups with chums in advance.  When I am able to get out, no one else is about, so this has seen the rise of a new phenomen - the stolen crawl.

What is the stolen crawl?  Well, when wife and daughter are out for the afternoon, then suddenly an opportunity has presented itself, so it's straight onto Google maps, cross referenced with the bus route finder and with a quick nose through Ratebeer places and beerinthevening, to find pubs which are both reasonable and reachable.  With a window of 2-3 hours (or even less) I have grown rather proficient at hitting lots of pubs, with a military mindset - Bus > pub > drink half > next pub > drink half > home (etc).

Now this is all rather positive, but I do have the persistent nagging feeling that I am completely missing the point: after all I don't talk to anyone during the crawl (save barstaff), so is the experience of the good beers I sample diminished?  I tend to think not, for I am anti-social at heart, but I worry how I am viewed by others.

What worries me more, is that I am actually growing to love drinking on my own.  I set the pace of my drinking, meaning that my legendarily low constitution is not exposed.  I also choose the route and speed of the crawl, satisfying my curiosity for new pubs, without dragging others in my wake.  I am also allowed to behave in a baffling manner, as and when I choose - i.e. leaving a wonderful pub, to go and sample horrible produce in a hovel; just so I can mark off another venue as 'done'. 

What would Morrissey think of it all?  I think I need to feel comfortable in my own drinking skin.