Sunday, 22 December 2013

Dan's Golden Pints 2013

OK, so in the back part of 2013 I became an ex-blogger.  Why?  Two words - the Birmingham Beer Bash.  Post-Bash I was a spent force: sick of beer, craftiness and extensive flavour profiles.  I had to recuperate on East European lager for a looonnng time and subsequently forgot to start blogging again.  Whoops.

Then again, maybe it was a blessing all round.  

When I started writing in January 2012 I was crusading for a better beer Birmingham, one which could provide me with all the delights I wanted.  Here, at the back end of 2013 that Birmingham now exists.  Is the battle over?  Perhaps.  With a clear mind in 2014, I reckon the time will be right to revisit the state of Brum's craft scene and decide whether I am needed any longer.  Either way, I know that my place in the history of the second city is secure: as a pioneer, a visionary and a person who made things happen - sort of like a boozy Matthew Boulton or James Watt.  Yeah?

Anyway, at the end of a superb year for UK beer, here are my 'Golden Pints', because if nothing else, I still love making lists and top 10s. 

Best UK Cask Beer

I think that this has to be Oakham Green Devil IPA, which still crushes the competition.  Of all the categories, this was probably the clearest margin of victory.  In fact the only other beer which Ratebeer tells me came close was (and bear with me, cos I can't believe this either) was... Ringwood XXXX Porter, in a Wetherspoons.  It was luvverly.  

Best UK Keg Beer

A couple of standouts here - Moor Hoppiness at the Three Tuns in Bristol was fabulous.  As was Arbor/Moor Double Dark Alliance, but then again that was sampled at the Birmingham Beer Bash, so it was always going to be great experience.  Looks like Moor have this category wrapped up.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer

Salopian take this prize for Black Ops, which is smooth, hoppy and moreish. Yep.  This has been a big year for Salopian - Vertigo, Automaton, Boomerang, Black Ops, Kashmir, Oracle and Darwin's Origin were all in great form.   

Best Overseas Draught Beer

Dieu Du Ciel Aphrodisiaque was amazing at Brewdog Birmingham.  What a great brewery. 

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

This year has delivered a whole skip-load of foreign bottles and cans of the highest possible order.  Honourable mentions are well deserved by Bruery Tart of Darkness, Cantillon Mamouche, Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva and De Molen Hemel and Aarde, but one name tops the pile:- 3 Fonteinen Armand'4 Oude Geuze Herfst was a mind-blowing experience, which preceded the best beer tasting evening ever, with 2 great friends.     

Best Collaboration Brew

Weird Beard/Northern Monk Bad Habit was certainly an awesome collaboration.  A great UK Tripel, enjoyed on keg at the Birmingham Beer Bash, surrounded by friends, respected associates and the brewers themselves.  Dreams are made of this kind of stuff.  Ja. 

Best Overall Beer

That'll be 3 Fonteinen Armand'4 Oude Geuze Herfst

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label

Hard to look past Magic Rock, but Siren and Salopian are cool too.

Best UK Brewery

Here is a list.  There are three names on the list.  The list is probably in order, but all three breweries have had a fabulous 12 months.

1. Magic Rock
2. Siren Craft
3. Salopian

A close run thing, but I reckon Magic Rock are the top dogs this year, for delivering fresh tempting High Wire and a powerful series of specials, of which Un-Human was massive. 

Best Overseas Brewery

Errrrr.  Tough one.  Can I say Cantillon?  I'm saying Cantillon

Best New Brewery Opening 2013

Siren Craft.  By a mile.  Fresh out of the box and everything of theirs that I've tasted, has been accomplished and rammed hard with flavour.    

Pub/Bar of the Year

Birmingham now has a great range, but my favourite of the new batch and my favourite overall is the Craven Arms, which combines a great welcome, good bottles, kegs and casks, supplemented by cobs, obscure music and a curmudgeonly host (who I love).

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

Ah. You'll notice that I chose the Craven above; and they did open in 2013.  But in order to squeeze in a further new bar which is well worthy of a mention, I'm nominating Cherry Reds for this category (their new, second, city centre venue).  Great vibe.  Great decor.  Great beer.   

Beer Festival of the Year

Only 1 winner here - BIRMINGHAM BEER BASH.  Is it cheating for me to nominate BBB?  I don't care.  It was an awesome weekend for the whole of Birmingham.  Roll on Twenty Fourteen.

Supermarket of the Year

Dunno.  Waitrose maybe.

Independent Retailer of the Year

Cotteridge Wines.  They've gone from strength to strength, adding draft keg beer to an unparallelled bottle range.  Wow.  

Best Beer Blog or Website

I'm a Ratebeer man, from way back.  No reason to change now.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer 

I've never met Boak and Bailey, but they seem like really, really cool people. 

Best Brewery Website/Social media

Evil Twin perhaps?

So that's your lot.  I LOVE YOU ALL.  See you next year.  OK bye. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Birmingham Beer Bash (2) - The Actual Thing

OK, so my previous post tried to give a context to the event; the event being the Birmingham Beer Bash.

This bit of text [mit piccies] is an attempt, instead, to try and capture my sense of how the two days actually went.  That sounds rather vague and is, because my overriding memory of the 26th and 27th July was threefold, a) mega stress, ii) time whizzing by at a break-neck pace and 3) enormous relief.

Normally I try** to sprinkle my writing with wry, pithy prose.  This post however, verges on mawkish sentimentality and I make lots some no apologies for this.   


The set up of the Birmingham Beer Bash took place over a 3-day period leading up to the first session on Friday lunchtime and it was characterised by eerie intervals of slack and {conversely} intense periods of insane and often sustained madness.  But anyway, as the doors opened, we were prepared, we were steeled, we were eager and we were ready to seize the day.

Being as I am, a thoroughly impractical and unskilled person, my role in the execution of the event was always going to be a case of slotting in where I could cause least damage.  There was never any possibility of my understanding how cask and keg bars need to be operated and I hate getting my hands dirty, so, therefore, I gravitated to a front of house position, which was entirely appropriate, given my upfront PR efforts to promote the Bash*.  I shook hands with quite a few brewers as they are arrived and tried to ensure a warm welcome, but more (or equally importantly) I also tried to provide a professional and friendly 'bonjour' to all of our brilliant customers.  I was determined that people's first impression of our event would be a positive one - professional and enthusiastic.  It helped that I had some awesome volunteer staff alongside me and is worth noting that all of the volunteers who gave up their time to help at the Birmingham Beer Bash were sensational and crucial for us.

 So then, during that first session, as the punters cascaded through the doors, the intense dread seemed to wither slightly..... it appeared that people were enjoying themselves and that we had not really delivered any massive cock-ups.  By the inter-session break I was already tired, but the adrenaline ensured that during those few minutes between chuck-out and re-opening of the gates, I was running around like a mad thing, because the big Friday night rush was on the way, we were smelling a sell out and the place needed to be restored to it's earlier, tidier state.  By around 21.00 on the Friday, having been at the venue for some 14 hours already, I finally started to relax.  On that beautiful Summer evening, I started to get a sense of how happy our customers were.  The venue was working beautifully, with people creatively using the outdoor spaces to compliment their drinking.  The air was filled with satisfied chatter, the food smelled excellent and the bars were surrounded by excitable throngs of craft beer drinkers.  It was looking good.

The mix of people was beautiful: young, old; male, female; beer geeks, beer novices; the enthusiastic, the curious.  One of our first customers of the day was a lovely older chap who shook my hand and said "Thanks for putting this on" - I could have kissed him.     

In those last few hours of Friday, I took the time to catch up with chums who had come along to support the event.  Without exception, they told me how much they were enjoying themselves.  "You've done it" said one, "You've created something in the Birmingham beer landscape, and people have bought in to it.".  It started to get to me.

As that first evening drew to a completion, I stopped to glance at the tweetwall which we'd set up in our main bar area: positive comment followed positive comment.  Rapturous, universal acclaim; the online buzz was tangible and I finally knew that we had delivered something which people had loved.  By the end of that first day, I realised that we'd done what we set out to do, we'd provided the precise experience that I imagined/dreamt.  As I looked once more at the tweetwall, the lump in my throat hardened and a couple of tears escaped a duct and drizzelled down my cheek.  It was mainly relief.

One always wants to impress one's peers.  The desire to impress those who impress you is lifelong.  So when Beer Beauty hugged me at the end of the session and told me how much she had enjoyed herself and that she felt emotional for us organisers... that made me emotional too.   

Interestingly, during that entire Friday, I did not allow myself a single drop of beer until we closed.  I was so wired that I couldn't risk losing my focus.  That first beer of the evening was well worth waiting for - an Arbor/Moor Double Dark Alliance on keg - utterly outstanding.  This was quickly followed by small tasters of Siren Craft QIPA, Wild Beer Ninkasi, Northern Monk New World IPA, Buxton Black Rocks and Redwillow Witless III: all delicious.  It seems that we stocked a bagful of great beers - no wonder people were happy!

Saturday was equally fantastic.  An effort of will was required, as energy levels were depleted, but the satisfaction was all around me.  A succession of great Twitter friends came and went - all loving the experience.  Laughter, big smiles, delight at the beer selection, handshakes aplenty.

By Saturday evening, the rain came down in droves, but it didn't seem to hurt us - we sold out again.  In fact, on that rainy evening, people were queuing for returned tickets.  Mind boggling.  Towards the end of that last session I finally stood behind a bar for the first time (in order to show off to my sister).  Behind our International Bar, it really was lovely to talk to customers, recommending great beers and sharing my enthusiasm.  Those few scraps of conversation which I remember were special - a unique opportunity to invite strangers to your gaff and delight them with delightful beer - a captive audience to proselytize to.  Me in the pulpit at last.

During the last few minutes of the Birmingham Beer Bash, the main hall was filled with the sounds of Motown and grown men were dancing - probably due to lovely beer, but I'd like to think it was due to pure joy.  

And that was it.  It was suddenly over.  All gone too fast.  Me too wired to properly enjoy myself, but, in retrospect, the satisfaction palpable and real.  Phew.     

 *Wordsmith, rather than practical person = moi.
**I do.  I'm not saying I succeed at this, just that I try. 

All photos are taken from the Birmingham Beer Bash Flickr group, and as such all rights are reserved

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Birmingham Beer Bash (1) - The Build Up

It won't (or will) have escaped your notice that I have become an absent blogger over the preceding 3 months.  The reason for this is that I have been busy on the Birmingham Beer Bash, assisting my fellow team members in ensuring that it was a roaring success.  This was a big collective effort, but was more than worth it.

So then, now that the Beer Bash is over* I suddenly find a lapse in a my life, a lull in my stress.  It is only fit and proper therefore, that I resume my typing duties today and reflect upon the Birmingham Beer Bash - which I am absolutely convinced was a momentous occasion in the history of beer in the Second City.

In order to properly cover the various aspects of BBB that I wish to cover, I am resolved to produce a triptych post - dealing with the before, the during and the after of the Birmingham Beer Bash.  This first part will deal with what was going on, in the lead up to the 26th and 27th July 2013.

For the sake of telling the whole story, the Birmingham Beer Bash was effectively born on the 21st April 2012, which was the date of the first Birmingham Twissup.  This event was the first time that the Birmingham Beer Bash team had ever met each other in the flesh.  Of course, at that point we were not a team at all, we were just a group of bloggers and tweeters who shared a set of values with regard to good/craft beer and it's availability in Birmingham.  During that first meeting, we toured the city's pubs and chatted about the kind of pubs and brewers who we hoped would come to Birmingham sometime soon.  We were exasperated that beers from the toppest, freshest, most excitingest microbrewers never seemed to pop up in the pubs of Birmingham.  At all.  We drunkenly discussed the idea of mounting a showcase event - a new kind of beer festival, which would present these fantastic new brews to the beer fans of the Midlands, and introduce the city of Birmingham to all those cool breweries.

And thus the idea was born.  In the following months, things started to get a little bit organised: a company was formed, paperwork was signed, there were shareholders.  With a group of enthusiasts signed up, the ball started rolling.  Fast forward to the Birmingham Beer Festival of October 2012 and we were {mostly} all together once more.  By that time we'd already ditched out first version of the event name (Brumcraft anyone?) and needed to decide whether we really were going to do this thing.  Well... as we crowded around the international bar, we looked each other in the eyes and sort of knew the answer.  The answer was "Yes".  (The question was does Birmingham really need a craft beer event.) 

Post Christmas, it all got serious.  Suddenly, in a cavalcade of developments we had a new name, a new logo and a venue.  Our Twitter account started to gather a large number of followers, people were mad keen.  This was going to be a cinch, yeah?  Build and they'll drink, right?  Well, sort of.  Between 1st January 2013 and July 26th 2013, an incredible amount of progress was made, and each step was paid for in stress and sweat.  Mainly that sweat belonged to David Shipman (our Leader and inspiration), but all of us did our bit.

My bit was the social media and PR portions of the project.  The Twitter thing was OK - we'd tapped into a rich seam of goodwill and were grateful for it.  But what about those people in the world who weren't beer geeks?  How could we get them to come along to our Bash?  That was the tricky part and it was that which drove my preciptiously steep PR learning curve.  Thanks to the generous support of some clever PR professionals, I was able to try a few things to spread the word.  Of course, they didn't all work, but lessons were learnt and we started to play the game, a bit.  Appearances on Radio WM and in the Birmingham Post and Mail were important for us - they won us extra credibility.  The production of our fabulous beer Rotunda poster was also an important step - giving us visual appeal and a bit of class.  Meanwhile we turned up the volume on Twitter and Tim played a blinder of Facebook.

Against a backdrop of wonderful brewers signing up for the event, plus speakers, beer celebrities and talented caterers, we suddenly had a fully formed, enticing offer; a multi-dimensional beer experience awaiting our public.

Now obviously this could not have happened without the support of our sponsors, nor the vision of the organisers (again, I must tip my hat to our Leader).  Perhaps our real success in the first 6 months of this year, was to effectively and persuasively translate our raw passion and enthusiasm into a credible and deliverable business proposition.  Because after all, this wasn't just a bit of a jolly boys' outing - big money was involved in mounting the Birmingham Beer Bash - it cost a fortune and needed to cover it's costs.  This was a RISK.  And with financial risk comes BIG STRESS.

Putting aside for a minute the hard physical work in setting up the event in the 4 days beforehand - the thing that most tired me out was the nerves.  The fear of failure was palpable - not through any lack of planning or organisational skills, but purely because it was our first time.  We did not know what to expect, and the cold, bony finger of doom certainly bumped it's way down my spine on that sleepless night before we opened....

But that's melodramatic isn't it?  It seems a bit OTT given that I'm now on the other side of that stress.  But it was real.  As we opened the doors on Friday morning, I felt nauseous.  I knew that I would give it the full welly, to make sure we achieved our objectives.

And it's worth reminding ourselves what those objectives were.  Where have we come from?  And what did we tell people we were going to do?  A grand statement perhaps, but the original idea, spouted at that first Twissup meeting was this - we wanted to change the beer landscape in Birmingham.  Could we do it?

*for this year, at least

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

10 beers to 'go to', AKA my Top Ten goto beers.

I have been monumentally slack in writing any fantastic blog pieces for the last month.  There aren't any especially good reasons for this, but here is my attempt to make my excuses anyway.

Work has been crazy.  Cliched, but true.  My job has recently involved me applying for my own job and simultaneously moving to a new building.  It has been pressured.

Family stuff.  This never goes away (for anyone).  Thus, a rubbish excuse.

Birmingham Beer Bash.  Ah now, this one is genuine.  In [brilliantly] managing the social media arms for this wonderful, upcoming celebration of progressive beer, I have found myself becoming increasingly confused: which 'voice' am I talking in today?  Who am I representing?  Have I got anything interesting to say?  Now on the latter point the answer is obviously 'Yes'.  Why?  Well, the BBB is shaping up very nicely indeed.  Loads of great brewers are on board and people are working very hard behind the scenes. Not me (obviously), but others.  I'm the type of glory hunter who likes to associate themselves with success*, therefore I want to associate myself with this fest.  Keep an eye on local media over the coming months - I will be trying to make myself famous and steal all the credit.

*I'm a Leicester City fan.

Anyway, after that extended preamble, here's the succulent fillet of this post, i.e. here comes some juicy meat.

Top 10s - we all love them.  Here, without ado is a list which I have come up with tonight, of 10 beers which I would like to 'go to' whenever possible.  These are 10 beers I would like to have in my fridge/cupboard/ottoman at all times.  If I won the lottery, I would buy a crate of each and hand them out to tradespeople, whenever the fancy took me. 

For the sake of brevity, I haven't bothered to try and define what constitutes a 'goto' beer.  Use your own interpretative powers - you won't be far off.  <no particular order>.

1.  Rodenbach Grand Cru.  I'm drinking one now.  It's a sour, funky pleasure.

2.  Svyturys Baltas.  A delicious white hefeweizen from Lithuania.  The best looking beer on the planet.
3.  Jever.  My favourite lager.  A dry grass temptress.

4.  Lion Stout.  Smooth, strong, supremely drinkable.  I've just entered a competition to win a case of this on Facebook.

5.  Westmalle Tripel.  I have a thing for Tripels.  This may well be my favourite.  Is it yours?

6.  Brodies London Lager.  I want this every moment of the day.  You don't know how much I want it.

7.  Cantillon Gueuze.  I used to underrate it.  I no longer do so.  The fact that the Craven Arms now sells it for a bargain price may have something to do with my new-found, glowing fondness for it. 

8.  Ska Modus Hoperandi.  A canned IPA?  Yes.  Squelchingly hoppy and delectable.

9.  Oakham Green Devil.  If only they'd continue to bottle it (SOB).

11.  Schneider Hopfenweisse.  A booming Weizen Bock, with US hops.  Always a source of fulfilment.

12.  Fruh Kolsch.  You'd have to be demented not to love Kolsch and/or be able to differentiate between different Kolschs.

13.  Thornbridge Jaipur.  Discussed ad nauseum.  For good reason.  

Sorry that was a bit short.  I'll try to feed you some Birmingham Beer Bash snippets in the upcoming weeks.
For the avoidance of doubt, this is NOT a sponsored post.  No one would be stupid enough to pay me for this rubbish.  However, if you are loaded and gullible, why not buy me a few crates of beer? - I'll make it worth your while.**


**I won't.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

March - Monthly Report FULL OF GREAT STUFF

Realised that I hadn't written anything for over a month. Felt shame-farced, so decided to rectify.

This is a sort of headline thing where I write something about a number of different things, meaning topic. OK.

1. Report on booze-free January

Pretty rubbish really.  A silly idea to give up booze.  Proved nothing, to no one.  At least I managed it though - good old me!

In fact, the first couple of weeks were really hard, but it did get easier.  I ended up dreaming about the aroma of particular beers and looking longingly at beautifully captured beer images.  True story that.

You know the weirdest thing?  On the day that I was once again able to drink, I didn't really fancy a beer anyway.  I still had one (or two), but didn't massively enjoy it.  Why?  Hard to say - but I think abstinence attached a sense of guilt to the drinking, which I couldn't just turn off on 1st Feb - it lingered.

Also interestingly, during booze-free January I felt rubbish.  My health was up and down and low-level depression which perhaps would ordinarily have been chased away by beer, was instead allowed to drag it's heals.

Might not bother next year.

2.  Birmingham Beer Bash Update

Eagle-eyed viewers will have been pleased to see the recent BBB updates regarding the involvement of Purity, Freedom and Thornbridge.  This is really fabulous news and shows the World (and ourselves) that we mean business.  This is real.

We saw our venue in action at the recent Whisky Birmingham Festival.  It is such a cool place: the canal, the railway arch, the rooms, the space.  Everything points to a chilled out venue for a buzzing beer sipping experience.

Our logo is now out and looks grrrreat.  Our website will be launched shortly and, at that point, you'll be able to bag your tickets.  

3. Memorable Beer Tasting Evening

Myself and two great chums* convened round the house of one of them, one evening in mid-February and supped a simmering succession of some of the greatest beers ever brought together on an occasion when I've been present.

3 Fonteinen Armand’4 Oude Geuze Herfst - a peerless Gueuze
Rodenbach Caractère Rouge - a marvellous Sour Flemish Red Ale
Struise Black Albert- and bone crunching Imperial Stout
The Bruery Tart of Darkness - a scintillating and pretty much perfect Sour Ale
Magic Rock Clown Juice - a thick and sweet draft Belgian Wit
AleSmith Wee Heavy Scotch Ale - a malt heavy US Scotch Ale
Nøgne Ø Citrus Hystrix IPA - a fruity IPA
Evil Twin Even More Jesus - a big, smooth and brutish Imperial Stout
Cantillon Mamouche  - a blisteringly good Elderflower Lambic
Ragutis Smetoniška Duonos Gira - an almost undrinkable Kvass, which featured the most rankest stench ever encountered in a beer.

The company was excellent, the cheese was great top.

Unprecedented quality all round.  

4. Craven Arms makes it a hattrick

Birmingham's "brand new" craft beer quarter now has a third spoke in it's erm tripod.  The Craven Arms formerly a lovely but scary place, has now been acquired by Black Country Ales and is being landlorded by friend** of Mediocre Beer Adventures Chris Sherratt.  Offering a range of handpulled bitters, cobs and Cantillon Gueuze (at £3.90), the Craven has quickly vaulted towards the top of my Birmingham pub ranking system (DBPRS).  Add in the fact that it sits atop a lovely hill behind the Mailbox, the other fact that it has comfortable seating and the erm other and third (probably last also) fact that it is very easy to pop into the Victoria and/or Brewdog on your way there/back and you have a winner on many (all fronts) fronts. Yes.

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*I'll insert their names if they allow me.
**Well, he said "hello" when I walked up to the bar and "thanks" when I paid for my drinks.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Taking ones own advices

Some while ago I wrote a post about the ideal Birmingham pub crawl - it's here.

Now over the course of the year this has proved to be quite popular (in so far as my blog statistics appear to show).  This post also seems to have had bursts of sporadic popularity, where I am gratified to say, people appear to be actually using it to plan real-life crawls.  So I decided to do the same.

The opportunity throated itself when my long-standing and brilliant chum @joneso76 came a-visiting from Leicester.  He's fairly new to Twitter and had quickly become enraptured by the exciting adventures that the West Midlands beer community always seemed to be involved in.  So, on arrival in Brum he begged for the chance to hit as many hot 'spots' as possible, during his one-day duration. This situation seemed set-up for revisiting as many of the locations on my ideal pub crawl, as could reasonably be fisted into a day.

Before my arrival in the centre, Jones already ticked off Brewdog and walked past Post Office Vaults (2 down).

We rendezvoused in the Victoria, where we were honoured to be the first people in the pub to ever sample cask Magic Rock.  In fact, we were possibly the first people to ever sample cask Magic Rock, in the whole history of Birmingham.  Ku.  dOS.  It was Curious.  It was history.

After the Victoria it was back to Brewdog for some delicious Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast and a chance meeting with two of Birmingham's foremost international beer connoisseurs Hazel and David.  Unfortunately Brewdog didn't have any lager from Bhutan, so they had to drink something nice instead.  Ho hum.

Next up, Citra and delicious Thai grub at the Bartons, having walked through Bacchus en route.  The Bartons never disappoints, although the lack of bottled Green Devil IPA did remind me just how baffled I am that Oakham will no longer be bottling it - madness.

From there to the Lord Clifden, where it was yeasty Budvar and one of the city's most impressive hand dryers.

The LC is an Urban Art Bar, as is the Red Lion, which I'll come to in a minute.  But before that, it was the Drop Forge and a pint of Malvern Hills Black Pear.  What a smart place.

So then, the Red Lion for more lager- this time some Estaminet Pils, which was extremely tasty and served in a splendid, ribbed beaker.  Golf.

Finally, for a quick pint of Bathams (which turned into several), it was to the ever [and always] brilliant Black Eagle.  It has been too long since I visited this esteemed and fabulous location, which seems to transcend the vicissitudes of beer fashion; so I made the most of my stay.  1) Free chips.  2) Bathams served in tip-top condition. 3) Dancing with, and for the entertainment of, an older and surprisingly sprightly clientele (old ladies).

If I say one thing about the above mentioned pub crawl, it is this: it was brilliant.  If I say a second thing, it's that Birmingham has loads of great boozers, and sometimes I forget that.  I increasingly find myself drawn to a handful of crafty joints in the city centre these days, but in order to de-narrow my beerview, perhaps I need to be more stringent in making sure I remember to visit the other venues of legend, in this, the Second City.

~ ~

In the coming weeks, I will endeavour to bring you posts on the following:
i) The greatest beer tasting evening I've ever known
ii) My reflections on a booze-free January
iii) An update on the Birmingham Beer Bash   

Monday, 11 February 2013

The 2013 Top Ten Movers and Shakers on the Birmingham Beer Scene

A year ago, I done a blog post, which I was actually rather proud of.  It constructed a list of the 10 most influential people in Birmingham's crazy 'world' of good beer.

12 months on and much has changed (or is in the process of changing), therefore we need to do a follow up.  The only slight problem is that the formulae used to determine how influential people were/are, and therefore where they ranked in the list, has disappeared into the mists of time - in fact these formulae may never have existed in the first place.  As such, these ten are served up to you in alphabetical order (by surname).  Annnnnnnnnnnyway, here is this years list - the Top Ten Movers and Shakers on the Birmingham Beer Scene for 2013.

Nigel Barker (Wellington and Post Office Vaults)

The Wellington yet again took CAMRA's top prize as the Birmingham pub of the year, but it was with Nigel's newer venture - the Post Office Vaults, that he made the biggest impact on Birmingham this year.  With a mind boggling range of Belgian and German beers, crammed into a tiny space, the POV has quickly become a staple of any Birmingham pub crawl, and finally (FINALLY) offers somewhere for us to consistently drink world classics such as Orval, Rodenbach Grand Cru and De Molen Vuur and Vlam.  Tiny Rebel often feature on cask too, which is a big plus.  Strictly speaking, this ranking is sort of shared between him and Mike Perkins, with them both being co-owners of the POV, whilst Nigel, is sole licensee of the Welly.

Dr Paul Bennett (Beer Geek Brewery)

Launched in February 2012, Beer Geek are a common sight in the pubs of Birmingham, plus their excellent branding is now being recognised in London and other faraway places.  Following the demise of the Two Towers' brewery tap at the Brown Lion, Beer Geek are now Brum's most recognisable local brewer and have the chance to broaden their range to seriously tickle the fancy of the city's swelling band of actual beer geeks.  

Marverine Cole (Beer Beauty)

Not just an award-winning beer blogger and former Sky News presenter; this local-girl come good, is also a veritable tour de force banging the good beer gospel on television and radio (as in here).  Savvy, well connected and glamorous, Marverine is ideally placed to use her national celebrity and local pride to bear on the Birmingham beer scene, with hopefully marv-ellous results.   

Paul Halsey (Purity)

If this list had been written in a few months time, I would expect Paul to be higher up the list*.  This would be because of the projected opening of the Purity Craft Beer bar, which is, I believe, due to touch down near John Bright Street to form (along with Brewdog Birmingham, The Victoria and the also imminent Craven Arms) the city's 'Craft Beer Quarter'.  However as it stands we don't yet know what the new place will look like.  Purity Mad Goose is still delicious however, and with their three beers still being ubiquitous in Birmingham, Paul is still a shaker.

Jaz and Kal Kandola (Cotteridge Wines)

This time last year I didn't even know that Cotteridge Wines existed.  Now they are a nationally recognised off licence, with a range of 700-800 different bottles, offering access to US brewers not previously glimpsed in our city.  It is an astonishing rise. Via a twin assault of well priced UK craft beers (and a big range too), plus access to foreign beers (Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Anchorage, Bruery et al) Cotteridge now present an irresistible offer, which has undoubtedly diversified the craft beer audience in Birmingham.

Gerry Keane (The Anchor)

The Anchor keeps rocking and rolling.  The line up of great cask beers keeps coming, with a excellent representation of lesser known brewers from around the country.  Also their range of beery events is as impressive as ever.

Dan Muldoon (Brewdog Birmingham)

Finally, in December, the big boys arrived.  Brewdog, undoubtedly the superbrand of UK craft brewing, finally killed off Brum's reputation as a desert for kegged craft beer.  With a dozen or so taps of unadulterated quality, BD now bring us their own highly flavoured offerings, plus guest beers we would previously have had to get to London to sample (Nogne, Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Brodies etc).  With imperial stouts such as Tokyo, AB:12 and Paradox they are the first place to offer high strength beers on tap.  With regulars such as Dogfight, Punk IPA and 5AM Saint, they are pretty much the only place in Brum to guarantee hoppy draught choices.  Two big pluses.  Since opening, they have also killed off the myth that Birmingham couldn't support such a 'craft' establishment, or that there simply wasn't the demand in our great city for premium beers.  The place is rammed each night - go figure.  With a De Molen tap takeover on the horizon, and other such events in the pipeline, we now have a place to light up the beery imagination of a generation and blaze a trail for independent outlets to follow.  He built it. We came.

Jen Nadin (Cherry Reds)

Cherry Reds is a wonderfully homely and friendly bar/cafe in Kings Heath, which has made a concerted effort to stock good beer in bottles and on tap.  Jen has also programmed a consistent range of themed beer tasting events, and a held their second annual beer festival last August.  This would be enough to earn Jen a place on this list, but, coupled with her participation in the Foreign Beer Bar at the Birmingham Beer Festival, and, perhaps more intriguingly, the projected opening of a city centre version of Cherry Reds this year, Jen is right at the heart of the good things which are afoot. 

Krishan Rajput (Stirchley Wines and Spirits)

Krishan and his father are Brum beer pioneers; perhaps last year was the year where we saw his spiritual children begin to emerge, blinking, into the Birmingham sunlight.  Stirchley Wines and Spirits continues to be a nationally recognised off licence, with an awesome range of bottles, PLUS they now have their own tap, offering fresh, draught craft beer to take away - to my mind, one of only two places in the city to offer this!  In addition, Krishan again brought beer quality to the Birmingham Beer Festival, with a powerful selection at his foreign beer bar.  

Matt Scriven (Bitters and Twisted)

Matt's Bitters and Twisted chain continued it's expansion this year, by opening the steak-fuelled New Inn in Harborne.  More importantly (for me) however, this year the beer range in his pubs was certainly on the up.  With consistent cask offerings from Dark Star, Thornbridge and Red Willow and with a range of excellent bottles, the choice of good beer for Brum beer geeks suddenly got better overnight.  Not only were the Victoria, New Inn, Jekyll and Hyde the first pubs in the city (to my knowledge) to stock beer from UK craft brewers such as Kernel, Summer Wine and Arbor, but they remain amongst the few to do so.  (plus Magic Rock on tap is in the pipeline...) 


Initial observations on the list?  Well clearly it shows the importance of entrepreneurs.  12 months ago, there was space on the list for people who headed up national companies - this is no longer the case.  In fact, apart from the Brewdog, whose brand power in the world of 'craft' beer is irrefutable, all of the other people who make this ten are local, highly motivated individuals, seizing Birmingham's beer scene by the scruff of the neck.

Next year (if I'm still alive) I fully expect the following people to appear in the list, for a variety of reasons: David Shipman (Birmingham Beer Bash), Keith Marsden (Prince of Wales, Moseley), Chris Sherratt (Craven Arms).      

Having completed the above list, I sit here perambulating in my own glory.

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In this post-perambulation period, I have also come to a sort of encapsulation regarding exactly what it means to be a 'mover and shaker' on my list.  It is part to do with the impact on the progressive beer scene in the city, and secondly, it's to do with the personal trajectory of the individual - have they improved or remained steady, etc etc.  I hope that's clear.

*even though, as Carl Durose has pointed out - this sentence is complete nonsense. After all, for someone to move up the list, it would involve them knobbling all/some of the people ranked alphabetically higher than them on the list.  Watch out Paul, Nigel and Marverine!  Happy now?