Friday, 21 December 2012

Happy Christmas

from Mediocre Beer Adventures.

Big love to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog, during the past 12 months.  I love you all.

Even bigger love to the Birmingham beer community (they know who they are).  We have made enormous strides in 2012, but 2013 is where things go SUPERMASSIVE.

"We're bigger than US steel"

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Year of Achievement

A short while ago, a colleague was commenting on the massive admiration he had for this blog, given all the successes it's helped to bring about during the past 12 months.  He thought it would be good (and a sort of end of year treat for you all) if I did a quick post summing up some of Mediocre Beer Adventures' successes:

1. Invented a phrase
Back in my earliest posts, the 'stolen crawl' appeared.  12 months later it's a phrase which entered general circulation to such an extent that the OED is set to include it in it's next edition.

2.  Organised a Twissup
Way back in Spring(?) MBA thought it was about time that the various Brum beer Twitter people sat down and looked each other in the eye.  Hence the inaugural Twissup, which took in some prime pubs and cemented several friendships, borne out of a load of blokes saying 'you're me besht mate' over and over again.

3. Named a beer
To celebrate Ian Harrison's 10,000th review on Ratebeer, Steel City kindly offered to brew a beer in his honour.  Stumped for a suitable name, who stepped into the breach?  Yes, Mediocre Beer Adventures.  The name?  Olymp-Ian.  Genius.

4. Became the voicepiece of Industry
In perhaps my most genuine-est piece of investigative journalism, I took a long hard look at the major players in the Birmingham beer scene.  This went up a storm and allowed me to use stake my claim as 'a player' in my own right.  Since that date I am able to walk into any pub in the city and people offer me free beer (in exchange for me giving them money).  But seriously (great album btw) this blog post was a fascinating experience and allowed my readers to see the men and women who control their beer lives.

5. Did a 3-way collaborative blog post
Way back in April, I instigated a beautiful blog collaboration, which saw 3 bloggers review 3 beers, all of which were under 3%.  All the beers were rubbish, but it was a brilliant idea.  Thanks to Simon at CAMRGB and the much missed Richard at Porter Pages for taking part.

6. Carried out 2 x craft beer reconaissance missions
Selflessly I visited both Sheffield and London, to assess their beer scenes and report back to the eager drinkers of the West Midlands just exactly what they were/are still missing.  Namely a Euston or Sheffield Tap, a Craft Beer Co and a Brewdog.  By Wednesday 12th December, we'll be able to scratch one of those from our collective wish lists.

7. Predicted the future
Along with erstwhile blogging colleague David Aleman (of the OthertonAleman blog), I wrote what can now be seen as a prophetic post, outlining exactly what sort of characters were required to instigate a craft beer revolution in our city.  As if by magic, I become a beer maven for a seething mass of drinkers, ready to smash down the doors of perception*, in search of acceptable beer choice. 

8. Built an off-licence map
No one else saw the need for a map of Birmingham off licences.  No one else had the foresight.  I did.  I dared to dream.  Now, every time a fellow beer lunatic drives halfway across the city, to purchase a bottle of rubbish Ukrainian lager, from a East European food shop, they have me to thank for it.  My number #1 ranked post (by page views).

9. Drove the craft beer revolution 
Through constant harrassment of pub chains, landlords and brewers, good beer has seeped into Birmingham like a dyke from which a finger has been removed.  I demanded that Brewdog come to Birmingham - now they are.  I asked for other beer bars - some are on the way.  I demanded UK craft beer choice in our established boozers - it is here.  I don't want to become a victim of my own hyperbole, but as I sit here, fully clothed, it occurs to me that I may just be Birmingham's beer Messiah.  Is this getting too much yet? 

10. Invented novelty beer photography
A good idea was waiting to be discovered.  It was so simple, why had no one thought of it before?  All you need[ed] is beer, a camera and a selection of seemingly random objects...... Behold, a new craze was born.

11. Dominated the local press
Oh, and I was featured in an article in the Birmingham Post, written by a top PR guru.

12. Galvanised, nay initiated a Birmingham Beer Scene
Through my Twissup effort I gathered together the disparate Brum beer strands on Twitter.  I then charmed them at beer tastings and festivals, and, for my pains lent my credibility to beer and brewery launches.  Some thought I was spreading myself too thin, but I just couldn't stop giving.  And now the rewards are clear, as the children of my revolution go out into the Birmingham heartlands, spreading my good words and propelling the Brum craft beer scene into larger and bigger erm things.

13. Generated 18000 hits
Is that a lot?  It sounds like a lot.  Even discounting the number of people who feel obliged to log in, because they know me, that is still a lot of people who have dropped by.  And I'm grateful.  And no, although my Dad is mad keen on MBA, even he wouldn't be prepared to log in 18,000 times, just to pump my ego.**

So there you have it.  What started out as a bit of fun for me, a place to flex my linguistic and punctuational muscles, has turned into a radical, some might say vital campaigning force, which has brought about real change on the Birmingham beer scene.  2013 is lift-off for craft beer in Brum: who knows what we, or rather I will be able to achieve this year.  Let's have, errr, it.

Deluded? Moi? Non.

*a reference which makes no sense.  Whatsoever.
**but I love him anyway

Monday, 10 December 2012

Golden Pints 2012

Hello, yes. 

Last year I sent off my nominations for the Golden Pints awards, even though I wasn't a blogger.  A year on and I am, in the words of my wife "always typing on the ruddy computer", so I feel fully justified in making a proper 'blogger's' response to the 2012 version.

Here are my award WINNERS:

Best UK Draught Beer

Tiny Rebel Urban IPA

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
Brodies Hoxton Special IPA

Best Overseas Draught Beer

Ska Modus Hoperandi

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

Nogne India Saison

Best Overall Beer

Brodies Hoxton Special IPA

Best Pumpclip or Label

Anything from Moor

Best UK Brewery


Best Overseas Brewery


Pub/Bar of the Year

In Birmingham and the Black Country = Windsor Castle, Lye
Nationally = Sheffield Tap, err Sheffield

Beer Festival of the Year

Not a big festival fan.  Only been to one in 2012, so it'll have to be Birmingham Beer Festival. 

Supermarket of the Year


Independent Retailer of the Year

Cotteridge Wines

Online Retailer of the Year

Beers of Europe

Best Beer Book or Magazine


Best Beer Blog or Website

The one and only.... Mediocre Beer Adventures

Best Beer Twitterer

Simon Johnson or Pierre Van Klomp

Best Online Brewery Presence

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

I don't eat and drink simultaneously

In 2013 I’d most like to...

Visit Birmingham's new range of craft beer bars, on a regular basis

My Best Post of the Year

Now, eagle-eyed viewers will spot that I've adopted a slightly provocative, 'Liam Gallagher' style posture in my nominations.  I'm not sure if I like it, so you may not see this persona a second time.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

Birmingham/Black Country Pub of the Year 2012

A short post this, as I am trying to learn to be conciser that what I have been known to be.

My pub of the year is based on a combination of two things, of which the latter is the subordinate.

First: I look for good beer - either a big range, or a smaller range of good beer.  Ideally a big range of great beer.  Extra points are gained here for uniqueness of the offering.

Second: a like a pub with a nice feel - friendly staff, nice furniture, good music, cool decor et al.

For Birmingham, I believe this year has been a transitional one for pubs: we are betwixt the great craft beer 'lift-off' of 2013, but much {much} better off than the pre-Wellington days of 2004.  In the Black Country meanwhile, the old classics plough on undaunted, even while the next generation of pubs and breweries chomp at the/a bit.

And so, without further ado, here are my Top 3 [Brum/Black Country] pubs of the 2012 year, in reverse order.

3. Post Office Vaults, Birmingham
Loses points for being cramped and very expensive, but gains big points for having a marvellous Belgian range.  To be able to go into a city centre boozer and be guaranteed Orval, De Molen, St Bernardus, Slaapmutske etc is fantastic and not to be taken for granted.  For donkeys' years we have begged for a place like this, and now we have it.  Tiny Rebel on tap, on a regular basis is appreciated also.

2. The Victoria, Birmingham
Scores highly for being a cool place to hang out.  Also garners enormous praise for being the first, and largely the only city centre pub to stock UK craft beer, albeit in bottles.  I love the idea (and the reality) of leaving work, and then 5 minutes later being able to drink Kernel or Red Willow, whilst listening to some cool choons.  The Bitters 'n Twisted pub chain deserves credit for seeking to fill the craft beer gap in Birmingham and the Victoria is a place I enjoy spending time.  Bravo.

1. The Windsor Castle, Lye
A wonderful place.  A short train journey from Snow Hill station brings you to the home of Sadlers, a West Midlands brewery who are absolutely at the top of their game.  This place scores well for cleanliness, comfort, staff and decor, but let's not pretend otherwise - it's the beer range that brings me back.  To be able to walk into a pub and be confronted by 10 or so handpulls devoted to fresh, local produce is fantastic.  Added to this is the fact that Sadlers are churning out big, hoppy beers; more so than any other local brewery.  Hop Bomb is marvellous, but Dr Hardwicke's is the one what does it for me the mostest.  If I can recommend a pub crawl to people in 2013, it is the Number 9 crawl which takes in the Duke William in Stourbridge (for Craddock's beers), the Windsor Castle in Lye and the Waggon and Horses in Halesowen.  Black Country beer heaven - I'M TELLING YOU.

Well done to Sadlers and well done to the Windsor Castle - the Mediocre Beer Adventures Birmingham and Black Country Pub of the Year for 2012. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Fetishization of Beer. (My)

For a while now, I've realised that some of/perhaps most of the fun I get from beer, isn't actually always the beer itself.  Very often I get a real buzz from all the peripheral stuff...... I present the following evidence:

i) I am hoarding beer.  My cupboard overfloweth.  I so cherish the idea of having a large and splendid collection of beer in my stash, that I am often loathe to drink any of my 'treasures'.  Even when I know that I have a cupboard full of lovely beer at home, I still desire to go beer-shopping.  I dream about it in fact.  Generally I only allow myself to drink the really good beers, when (due to over shopping) I can no longer hide* my beers in my cupboard.  Having to drink the good stuff however, makes me feel a bit wretched.  This, in part,  leads to second phenomena (see ii)

ii) The sourcing, acquisition and discovery of beers.  As often stated, it gives me enormous pleasure to find an obscure Polish or Lithuanian beer in an obscure local shop.  The pleasure of finding is very often larger than the pleasure of drinking these 'finds' - BUT they serve the purpose of allowing me to consume beer regularly, without having to eat into my 'treasures'.  DOUBLE WHAMMY!

iii) I take photographs of the beers I drink.  I'm not sure when this started, but it's getting worse.  Now, not only do I take photographs of particularly noteworthy beers, I also snap pump clips, glasses of indistinguishable liquid and anything that I buy from a beer shop.  Not only that, but a new breed of beer photography has been spawned from this - artistic beer photography.  Twitter reveals that I am not the only one who likes to snap their beers.

iv) I rate my beers.  This is a very longstanding symptom: for ten years I have been reviewing and recording every different beer I sample.  This gives rise to a whole panoply of statistical beer geekery, allowing me to tick off countries, beer styles, drinking establishments and actual beers.  This pretends to give legitimacy to the innate, blokey need to hunt/gather beers and shout about it to the other members of the 'tribe'.  Even though it pretends to be cooler, Untappd fulfils this function also; so for all you Untappd dudes, please be assured you are just as sad as me.

v) I talk endlessly about beer.  Whenever I can, I do this with people in the room with me; when this isn't possible, I go online.  In fact, by seeking out and forming a peer group of like minded beer geeks, I have fundamentally changed the dynamics of my friendship circle, via the medium of Twitter.  Again, and rather obviously, I am not alone in this.

Now points iii), iv) and v) are connected: they are clearly outward expressions of the need to be a part of the crowd and feel accepted.  However, as for points i) and ii) - your guess is as good as mine.  Perhaps I didn't have enough Star Wars figures as a child.  Perhaps I am overvaluing each beer too much, instead of drinking them and yielding to their dirty pleasure.  Perhaps my inner puritanical streak shrinks from the wanton lust of actual beer consumption, and therefore turns the acquisition of them into a guilty, exciting pleasure.  Others in my 'circle' are less obsessive than me and are able to buy, consume and enjoy: but for me, the possession is part of the excitement.

I also love 'the choice'.  In life generally I often find that 'the choice' is much more exciting that 'the choosing'.  What does this mean?  Well, when I walk into Cotteridge or Stirchley Wines and behold the shelves stacked with colourful treats, my heart is aflutter.  When I have to actually select 5 or 6 bottles, I feel constrained, limited and cut short, because the wide expanse of 'the choice' is behind me and and I must live with the results of 'the choosing' (forever wondering whether the grass was greener on the other side)**.  This torment repeats itself in my beer cupboard - the thrill of having a really healthy stash, somehow seems more boundlessly exciting than the rather limited excitement of having to select just one to actually drink.     

Am I a complete weirdo?  Am I alone?  No. No I'm not alone.  Twitter proves this.  And in fact, even for those who do not obsess about beer, they are free to get jiggy with trainspotting, or go wobbly at the knees for vinyl.

I accept that I am a beer fetishist.  After all, I actually sat down to write this blog piece about the subject - that's how twisted I am.  You (yes, you!) on the other hand have read this article.  You're a fetishist too.  Accept it.   

*from wife
** rather horrifyingly, this seems to correspond with aspects of my romantic life, during the mid part of the Noughties.  Epiphany!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Beer of the Year 2012

The ever excellent Campaign for Really Good Beer recently issued their call for Beer of the Year selections (**and then announced the winner, which I'll mention at the end). 

I'm a stats geek, I love lists and I use Ratebeer to record every new beer I try.  In short, I was built to choose my beers of the year.  In fact, I took the whole nomination process so seriously that I ended up writing copious notes for myself, to ensure the rigorousness of the submission.

Here then, for your information and 'enjoyment' is a schemata showing how I came to settle on the eventual selection of my 3 beers of the year for 2012.

First task was to scour my reviews on Ratebeer, to see which beers earned the best marks during 2012.  The results are as follows  (showing which beers scored 4.7 out of 5.0 and so on):

{I'm not doing links in this post, otherwise I'd be here all night.  I have been here all night anyway, but .....}

1.                        De Molen Mooi and Medogenloos
2.                        Mikkeller Beer Hop Breakfast
3.                        Kernel Black IPA III
4.                        Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze
5.                        Brodies Hoxton Special IPA

6.                        Brewdog/Mikkeller I Hardcore You
7.                        De La Senne Jambe de Bois

8.                        Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast
9.                        Lion Stout
10.                    Kernel Double SCCANS
11.                    Nogne India Saison
12.                    Ska Modus Hoperandi
13.                    Mikkeller/Grassroots Wheat is the New Hops
14.                    Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor
15.                    De Ranke Saison de Dottignies
16.                    Kernel IPA Summit
17.                    Tiny Rebel Urban IPA
18.                    Brodies Smoked IPA

Now aside from beers specifically falling within those three highest score 'brackets', I also felt that there were some which, though they had scored lower, left such a positive impression on me, that they deserved to be included in this conversation.  These are they: 

Selected highlights
19.                    Kernel Brick
20.                    Brodies London Lager
21.                    To Ol Raid
22.                    De Molen Amarillo
23.                    Buxton Imperial Black
24.                    Beavertown 8-Ball Rye IPA
25.                    Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (Nigerian)
26.                    Arbor Single Hop Citra
27.                    Brodies Hackney Red IPA
28.                    Nogne Imperial Stout

Now inevitably there will have been other beers which I really enjoyed but have missed.  I've tried to minimise that risk, but it's still an outside possibility. That's life.  I'll live with it. 

Having selected the contenders, I still needed to pluck three from within.  The most straightforward thing would be to pick the 3 beers I liked best, from that group which scored 4.7 - such a trio would look like this:

Top 3 by score

De Molen Mooi and Medogenloos
Kernel Black IPA III
Brodies Hoxton Special IPA

The other [alternative] thing to do, would be to nose through the whole list and then pick the three which give me the warmest, fondest feelings - such a list would look like hence:

Top 3 by ‘hunch’

Brodies Hoxton Special IPA
Tiny Rebel Urban IPA
Nogne India Saison

OK, have you noticed anything?  Yes, we have a clear winner, which is Brodies Hoxton Special IPA.  Well done to them, very well deserved.  However, in terms of submitting a trio to CAMRGB, I still needed to make a decision.  It came down to one of my enduring internal wrangles - i.e. does scoring/reviewing a beer on Ratebeer always reflect exactly how much you enjoy it?  If you think yes, then the beers with the best scores are the best.  Simple as.  However, if you think that there is some contextual x-factor which impacts upon how much you enjoy a particular beer, then there is a real chance that your Ratebeer scores (based as they are on technical proficiency*) will not capture the pleasure gained from imbibing the beer in question.  Now obviously this is deeply boring and naval-gazing beer geekery, so I will cut to the chase and say that I decided to pick my three 'hunch' beers, i.e. the ones which I believe I loved the most this year.

But it's been a great year for beer.  No debating that.

Embedded image permalink

As an addendum, here is a list of breweries and how many times their products featured in my Top 28. 

Mikkeller - 4
Kernel - 4
Brodies - 4
De Molen – 2
Nogne - 2
Buxton - 1
Brewdog - 1
Guinness - 1
Beavertown - 1
To Ol - 1
Arbor - 1
Tiny Rebel - 1
De Ranke - 1
Gouden Carolus - 1
Lion - 1
Dottignies - 1
Ska - 1
Lindemans - 1
De La Senne – 1***

Almost as equally fascinating (I think), and by this measure then Mikkeller, Kernel and Brodies are joint top of my tree - which pretty much sums it up.

**The Overall Result

In the time it took me to write this post, CAMRGB performed the much more impressive feat of counting up all the votes and publishing the results.  According then, to the members and supporters of the Campaign for Really Good Beer, the beer of the year was Kernel S.C.C.A.NS. IPA.  I must admit, that even though it wasn’t on my list, I’m pleased that a Kernel beer won, as they are a magnificent brewery. 

So I didn’t back the winner, but ho hum it’s no biggie.  The main thing is that loads of people have managed to identify loads of lovely beers this year, which made this year a 12 month celebration of erm lovely beer.  [unbelievably poor sentence].

*I have always intended to write a fulsome blog post, which attempts to explain the fascination of and the mindset required for a full appreciation of Ratebeer.  I daresay I'll do it, once I perform some significant self analysis.

***Eagle-eyed UK beer fans will be aghast to see that no Magic Rock beers made my list of 28 finalists.  I’m a bit surprised myself, but there is good reason: almost 11 months after beginning this blog, with the aim of trying to bring Magic Rock and other top breweries to the pubs of Birmingham….. they have still not arrived.  Aside from the odd [extremely] isolated occasion and at beer festivals, I have still never, NEVER glimpsed a Magic Rock beer on a handpull in the city.  I have witnessed not a single one of those lovely Magic Rock pumpclips winking at me, as I entered a bar.  Surely, surely this cannot go on for much longer?  Next year’s new batch of Birmingham ‘craft’ pubs must surely right this wrong (surely). 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Brum Beer Fest 2012 + other stuff

Hello yes.

The 2012 version of the Birmingham Beer Festival 2012 took place last week (24th-26th October).  I attended on Friday and here are a few 'observations' (which is a posh way of saying that I'm going to tell you things about it).

First off, it was a massively good chance to catch up with fellow beer lovers from Birmingham and the surrounding sectors; people one regularly converses with on Twitter.  In fact, the Thursday and Friday evening sessions were designated #Twissups, allowing me to check in with a selection of friendly faces.  This was obviously a massive pleasure.

Second, the Foreign Beer Bar being run by Krishan and the Stirchley Wines team was a big plus, offering access to treats such as Emelisse Triple IPA and Duvel Tripel Hop, as well as £5 shots of 32% Brewdog Tactical Nuclear Penguin.

From a very personal point of view, the foreign beer options made up for the rather pedestrian cask beer list, which offered up a series of so-so beers during my foray.  Now, I'm not not trying to be sniffy, but having been denied some promised Summer Wine beers, and with a hugely in-demand barrel of Magic Rock High Wire refusing to clear sufficiently to be sold, I was left slightly disappointed at a lack of cutting edge/well-hopped beers.  Indeed, it was tricky to move beyond standard Bitters or Golden ales, but I did enjoy a Revolutions Paranoid Porter and a Tyne Bank Southern Star.  Sadlers also came up with the goods (as they usually do), with a very nice double IPA entitled Sweet Leaf.  But sadly, there were not many other cask beers sampled by me, which put their bubbly heads above the parapet.

Lastly: music at beer festivals.  What's that about?  By about 9.00 on this Friday evening, the upper floor of the festival venue was 'rocking' to a heavily metal band.  This band may have been brilliant for all I know, but the volume, and my consequent inability to have a conversation with fellow beer geeks, meant that effectively the national beer floor became off limits.  Which was a shame.

Still for all the mixedness of the above bag, the experience was undoubtedly positive.  As a member of the BrumBeerTwitterati pointed out - it was good to feel 'part of something [a community]".  The organisation of the fest was exemplary and the queues outside the venue on Friday evening were clear testimony to the popularity of the event.  It has to be said that I don't really enjoy beer festivals (I prefer pub crawls) but I did enjoy my visit to the Birmingham Beer Festival.


The following day, I had another lovely beer experience.  Following an exciting LCFC loss against Crystal Palace, I managed a mini-crawl of Leicester which took in the Swan and Rushes, Criterion, The Pub and the Ale Waggon.

I'm happy to say that the Swan came out on top, by retaining a dynamic selection of foreign bottled beers and by offering bar staff with the wit and knowledge to coherently discuss your potential choices.  Because of the staff intervention on Saturday, I managed to add a DELICIOUS De la Senne Jambe de Bois, to the Kneitinger Bock and Forsting Festbier which I had already necked.  When I was starting my beer journey in the early noughties, it was this pub that grabbed my tackle and got me excited.  10 years on and I still relish every visit.

The Criterion no longer has a bottled range to rival the Swan, but I did pick up a nice bottle of Krusovice Imperial.  The Pub meanwhile had St Feuillien Brune on tap, which was a deliciously smooth Belgian treat.

Finally, after nipping into the Ale Waggon, I managed to grab 3 off licenced treats: Slovakian Saris, UAE Barbican (pineapple flavoured, alcohol free) and Ukranian Obolon.  Cheering indeed.



On the day previous to the Beer Festival (Thursday) I had a super, smashing, great sightseeing trip to London.  Having visited all the 'hot' spots and scoffed a delicious falafel sandwich, I managed a lightning visit to the Euston Tap, which never disappoints, and which didn't disappoint.  3 x halves of Bristol Beer Factory Acer, De Molen Blikken and Blozen and Red Willow Soulless were all extremely well tasty and sent me on my way happily.

More soon.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Birmingham Beer Heroes, No.1 - David Byrne

In this, the first of an unspecific series, we meet the first of our nominated Birmingham Beer Heroes. Birmingham Beer heroes, people who have added a touch of pizzazz to our drinking landscape with their ingenuity, skill and fortitude.  Here then is David Byrne* (@DSByrne), who is on a quest to [literally] drink himself around the planet.  What follows is the text of an actual interview between me and him.  It's like real journalism, isn't it?

So tell us about your project - you're aiming to drink at least one beer from each of the countries in the world, is that right?

Yes, the aim is to drink 280 beers: no more than one from each country, each state in the USA and each county in England.

First question (the obvious one) - Why?

A personal challenge, and something to encourage me to try different beers. Just a little bit of fun really.

So that's your answer and you're sticking to it, but honestly, what drives you to do this - is it a love of collecting/documenting, or an appreciation of World beer heritage?

Mostly I like drinking beer and trying new things. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a collectors streak and this is something to spend my money on other than late 80s alt-rock records.

Presumably you keep notes, photos details of each beer as 'proof'?

Of course, every beer is documented on twitter with a photo and it’s number in the challenge. I’ve got a scratch off world map and have documented on a map on the internet as well. Initially I considered a blog, but it turns out drinking a lot of beer and then making time to write it isn’t so easy!

You're a ticker.  We all are.  It's what makes us sane.  How far are you along?  Have you nearly finished?

I’m about 130 beers in. Just less than half way numbers wise... not in time though!

OK, so stating the beetling obvious, but some countries must be easier to tick off than others?

Obviously it’s getting progressively more difficult. I’ve exhausted anything I can get in supermarkets, specialist off-licences and it’s even getting tricky on online specialists.

Of the ones that you have not done, what are the common factors - small countries?  Far flung? No beer heritage in that country?

A number of factors: prohibition (although this hasn’t stopped all), no exports or small far flung places which the UK just doesn’t trade with. There are a couple of annoying countries which have alluded me – who knew South Africa was so hard!

How will you tackle countries where alcohol is actively discouraged or banned?

I’ve had to accept that some of my beers with be non-alcoholic. I’ve recently had UAE and Iran – there’s just no way around that.

I know the answer to this one, but will ask anyway..... what type of beers are you mainly getting hold of from these varied locations?

I’ve had flavoured “malt” drinks which are advertised as beer (and acknowledged as beer on Ratebeer). One was lemon, one was apple. Not the same as a proper beer but fairly drinkable.

Hmmm.  you must now be an expert on Pale Lagers - are they much of a muchness or have there been some standouts?

I’ve gone for – wherever possible – a range of different styles of beer. There have been a lot of pale lagers. A lot of the asian beers have been fairly poor lagers, but I do really like the robust Eastern European beers such as Zywiec and Viru.

Time to put your money where your mouth is - what is the best beer you have tried during this project?

By far and away my favourite beer has been Einstok Toasted Porter from Iceland. I’ve gone on to try all of the Einstok range of beers which I can recommend highly.

And what was the worst?

Uinta Brewing Company XVII anniversary Barley Wine Ale from Utah. Who knew an almost entirely dry state made such bad beer?! It may well be to somebody’s taste, but it tasted to me like someone had spiked my beer with vodka.

A project like this requires a strong support team; who have you enlisted to help out?

My girlfriend has helped a lot – she’s a serious cataloguer/organiser and I quite often find her trawling the internet for beer. She also managed to persuade her friends and family to send beer from holidays and travel – managed to get Cape Verde and Tanzania this way! My friends have been great too – helping with making my incessant online ordering a little more normal and of course stopping me from having to drink all on my own – so thanks to @grammaticalrecords and @natef15her.

There must have been some moments of euphoria, as you located a new country.  What has been your greatest moment to date?

After having bought Nogne #100 (Norway) quite early on, I managed to save it to drink as my 100th. Not a bad beer, but a great feeling of achievement.

There must have been some surprise finds too...... tell us about them.

The biggest surprise was finding the non-alcoholic beers – mostly because it was a find that I wasn’t looking for it. One of the most satisfying finds was finding a South Korean supermarket and realising they stock South Korean beer (Hite – and very reasonably priced too!). It’s lucky we live in such a multi-cultural city.

Will there come a point where you give up or will you still be doing this in 30 years time?

I don’t intend to give up until it’s a completed project – however the pace of new beers slows quickly and I imagine it will continue to do so.

Has this project changed you?  Will you ever be able to enjoy beer like you used to?

The project was more a sign of how my beer drinking had changed, rather than the other way round. When I first started drinking, I only drank premium lagers such as Stella or Kronenbourg. However, during my early twenties I started discovering ales and stouts.

And what beers would you like to drink were you not on this mission?  What is your favourite style(s)?

Guinness would be my “go to drink” or often whichever guest ale I haven’t previously tried.

Mediocre Beer Adventures loves this project.  I use Ratebeer to keep track of my finds in exactly the same way, and as is well documented, I love to visit small off licences, looking for obscure beers.  We are brothers.

Thank you for you time - any closing remarks?

It’s good to see that with the help of Stirchley Wines, Cotteridge Wines, Rai Wines, as well as pubs like The Post Office Vaults and The Wellington it’s now really easy to get good variety of quality beer.

Couldn't have said it better myself.  If anyone spots beer from any obscure countries, or is going on holiday to Bhutan, perhaps they could drop David a line, via Twitter. 

*This link is a hoax.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

September Round Up

A. There are a few bits and bobs I can update you on, and a few photographs you can drool over.

Q. What is the point of this post?

First up, some sad news.  Apparently the Brown Lion has closed.  This is really sad, for not only was this a friendly venue, but they were also Birmingham's only genuine brewery tap, offering Two Towers' beers, such as Jewellery Porter and Complete Muppetry, both of which were very drinkable indeed.

Way back in April I reported on quiz night at the Brown Lion and (I hope) conveyed my enjoyment.  Fingers crossed that the Brown Lion will return in some form, but perhaps by then, Birmingham's sights will have moved to John Bright Street and the impending Brewdog Brum.  Speaking of which...

Brewdog Birmingham is now scheduled to open in errrrr, not sure.  It was originally due in August, but the last official word was that it'll be mid-November.  I don't suppose it matters when it gets here, as BD's fans are so rabid, that they'll lap it up come what may.  I probably will too.

Last week I had a lovely super quick tour of Leicester, which mixed Richard III tourism, with visits to some of the City's lesser known boozers/hidden 'treats'.

I hit the Salmon, the Ship and the Longstop, of which the first one was the best.  All were interesting though.   

In Twitterati news, this week I, along with Carl Durose and Tania Nexust hosted national beer legends Jezza, Martin Ridge and the enigmatic Black Haddock.  This was a good opportunity to sample excellent Thai food and Oakham Carioca at the Bartons Arms, some Saltaire at the Anchor and bottled UK 'Craft' beer at the Victoria.

Speaking of which, did I tell you that a Birmingham pub has finally taken the plunge and started stocking bottles from the UK's best new breweries, i.e. the ones who have invigorated and/or reinvigorated our national scene?  Kernel, Bristol Beer Factory, Arbor and Summer Wine are all (or certainly have all been) available, with highlights such as Amarillo Pale Ale and Cohort.  It is worth saying again, simply to highlight how gobsmacked I am that it has taken this long, but let me emphasise that the Victoria are still the ONLY pub in Birmingham stocking bottles from our top breweries.  Well done to the Victoria, I hope that their adventure is rewarded by people buying the new range by the truckload and that therefore the experiment widens and becomes a permanent feature.

But honestly, all other Brum pubs need to look hard in the mirror and ask themselves why no one else has been prepared to have a stab at stocking UK bottled craft.

In happier, or rather equally happy news, here are some of the best beers I've sampled in the last fortnight:

Raw Citra Black Ale - a magnificent Black IPA sampled at the Anchor,

Flying Dog In De Wildeman Farmhouse IPA - a deliciously funky Saison, which utilises New World hops.

Raw Dark Peak Stout - sampled at the Salmon in Leicester, this is the second delicious Raw beer I've tried recently; with this one being a super smooth and tasty Stout.

Great Heck Powerhouse - as recommended by @ckdsaddlers, this was a well balanced UK Golden Ale, replete with many hops and sampled at the Anchor.

Ksiazece - a lovely Polish Hefe Weizen, picked up in Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton

Finally, as previously mentioned,

Oakham Carioca - a wonderful tropical fruit salad of hops and that. Smelt like an Avon saleswoman's basket.

Oh, one final thing - here are a photo of bottled "treats" which have latterly been placed in my beer cellar [cupboard] for future consumption.

Lager is for life, not just for Michaelmas.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Black Country - Parte Un


Parte the First.

Cannot believe I haven't previously written about the Black Country.  But then again it took me over a decade of living in Birmingham, to discover and appreciate this geographical wonder on my doorstep.

Actually geographical wonder might me a bit misleading, instead the Black Country is more like a frying pan of sociological, demographical, cultural intrigue.  Moreover, it is a mecca for beer and pubs: and really, that's
where I come in, isn't it?

Where to start?  Now that is a tough one.  In introducing you to the Black Country, (or simply offering my perspective), my work is going to be split between a guide to it's pubs and a guide to it's beers.


The BC is a wide and many-varied place.  Consequently, pubs are scattered across the region and offer a good ratio of gems.  In fact, by head of population, the BC is much better than Brum for pubs - and that may be a fact.  I'm splitting this mini guide into a clutch of guides covering routes or sub-regions:

The Number 9 Bus Route
This pub crawl involves getting on the Number 9 bus, either in Birmingham city centre, or Stourbridge and then getting on and off, periodically, at the following pubs:

Waggon and Horses, Halesowen

Classic scoopers pub - crammed with character, wonkiness, cheap grub, over a dozen handpulled ales, plus Belgian kegs.  Unmissable.

Hawne Tavern, Halesowen

Up the road from the W&H, this is a homely backstreet boozer, with a nice range of real ales.

Windsor Castle, Lye

Home of Sadlers Ales, and as such has about 10 well kept and extremely tasty beers always available.  Good food options too.

Shovel Inn, Lye

Quite a few real ales available and themed food nights.  Up the road from both the Windsor Castle and Lye railway station.

Duke William, Stourbridge

Very sympathetically tarted up trad-pub.  A few guest ales, a fistful of good bottles, and several beers from Craddocks microbrewery, who own this place and another in Stourbridge.

Roberto Ross is the man to give you a full run down of the other excellent Stourbridge offerings. 

"A little corner of beer heaven".  Some of the best pubs ever, which can be traversed by walking from the bottom to the top of a big hill (or vice versa).  Going between Lower and Upper Gornal will make you love the Black Country forever.

Old Bulls Head, Lower Gornal

Home of Black Country Ales, which is either a good thing or a mediocre thing, depending on whether you like their beers.  Pretty unspoilt blokey type place.

The Fountain, Lower Gornal

Clean, welcoming pub halfway up Gornal.  Nice food (including juicy faggots) and several real ales and foreign kegs.  Good.

The Black Bear, Upper Gornal

Great country style pub in Upper Gornal.  Good beer, good views.

Britannia, Upper Gornal

Wonderfully preserved boozer.  Could almost have been plucked intact from 1931 and dropped back in the present.  Great f&f and Bathams' beers.

Jolly Crispin, Upper Gornal

[Yet] another traditional boozer, which has a low-beamed front room, and bright airy eating area out the back.  Usually around 6 or 7 great handpulls in operation.

Dudley and Surrounds
Dudley is the heart of the Black Country, as far as pubs are concerned.  Unfortunately it can be a bit tricky to get to, but don't let that put you off.

Court House, Dudley

Owned by Black Country Ales, this place has a really good range of real ale, and used to be a, wait for it, Court House.  Bang in the middle of Dudley. 

Park Inn, Woodsetton

The tap for Holdens, adjoining the actual brewery.  A bit of a strange mish-mash of decor, but worth a visit to get your fill of Holdens - who provide some sweet, bitter Black Country beer legends, such as Golden Glow. 

Beacon Hotel, Sedgley

An absolute, cast iron legend.  Home of the Sarah Hughes brewery, this is a wonderful pub, with a very strange central serving hatch, where you shout your beer order through a chest height hole and are served without ever seeing the barman/maid's face.  A beautifully preserved treat.  Unmissable under no circumstances/not missable under any circumstances.  ?????  

Tame Bridge, Great Bridge

Pillar box red, just down the road from Great Bridge Library - this is primarily a locals' pub, next to Sheepwash Urban Park and offering a few guest ales.  Worth a look. 

Waggon and Horses, Tipton

The brewery tap for Toll End Brewery.  This is another one which will require a bit of perserverance/organisation to get to, but if you are prepared to head to Tipton, you could possibly get the train, and combine with visits to other local boozers, like the famous Pie Factory.  If you do get to Tipton, look out for horses - the locals tend to keep them tethered on urban grass verges, or in their back gardens. 

Ma Pardoes/Old Swan, Netherton

Another [yet another] legend.  This, along with the Beacon Hotel, the Waggon and Horses (Halesowen) and the Bull and Bladder, are rightfully the most famous pubs in the Black Country.  Ma Pardoes is the home of the Old Swan brewery.  The front bar, including it's ceiling needs to be seen to be believed.  Great and cheap beer.   

Metro Run
For those who don't know, the Metro is a tram service which runs from Birmingham Snow Hill to Wolverhampton.  It's very helpful in planning your pub visits to the Black Country and can indeed form the basis of your crawl - as here>>>>> 

Great Western, Wolverhampton

Magnificent boozer, extremely close to Wolverhampton railway station.  Train themed pub [duh], owned by Holdens and serves their range in addition to Bathams and guests (the former of which is a massive draw).  Really charming.  If you start your Metro run here, you might be tempted to stay all day.

Olde White Rose, Bilston

This place is a bit of a maverick.  A good choice of ales, very cheap carvery, but occasionally comes across as a bit grubby.  I like it though.  Very close to Bilston Central Metro station.

Trumpet, Bilston

A jazz pub in the middle of Bilston.  Owned by Holdens. 

[Ye Olde Leathern Bottle, Wednesbury]

I've mentioned this place because Wednesbury is one of the most obvious stop-offs on any Metro Run.  However.... when Steve and I got off the tram at the Wednesbury Parkway stop on our Metro pub crawl, we didn't find any good pubs.  It transpired that we walked in the wrong direction, and thus didn't make it here.  Take a map.  And if it's not up to much, don't blame me.  But it probably is a very good place. People say it is.  

Wheatsheaf, West Bromwich

I'd say that this is the only decent pub in the centre of West Bromwich - which is itself [one of the] centre[s] of the Black Country.  This is on the High Street, closest to the Lodge Road Metro stop, and an extremely pleasant, cheap and quite welcoming place.  Contextually, a real gem. 

The Vine, West Bromwich

Lovely old fashioned boozer, popular with Baggies fans and well served with excellent an Indian grill menu.  Not much beer, but that isn't everything [wha??] in this case. 

Right, to complete this Black Country run, you have to actually leave the Black Country, so just to be clear, the next four pubs are not in the Black Country. 

[Black Eagle, Soho]
Use the Soho Benson Road stop.

[Red Lion, Jewellery Quarter]
Stop at, wait for it, Jewellery Quarter.

[Lord Clifden, Great Hampton Row]
Stop at St. Pauls.

[Old Contemptibles, Snow Hill]
Stop at the end of the Metro line, AKA Snow Hill.


Vine/Bull and Bladder, Brierley Hill

Very possibly the best pub in the entire West Midlands, but an absolute bugger to get to, by public transport.  For over a year, I have been wracking my brains about how to shoehorn this into some kind of crawl.   This is, of course, the home of Bathams - meaning beautiful beer + friendly locals + an absolutely charming and comfortable multi-roomed old skool boozer.  People come from miles around to visit - and quite rightly.

The Waterfall, Cradley Heath

Another slightly tricky one to get to.  A very well-loved Holdens' pub, close to Cradley Heath/Old Hill.

Waggon and Horses, Oldbury

A Brains' pub, slap bang opposite Sandwell Council House.  A really lovely, beautifully preserved and clean place.  The best in Oldbury, which a bit of a transport hub, rather than a destination in itself. 

The Malt Shovel, Blackheath (aka Rowley Regis)

Let me state that I need to return to Blackheath, to ensure that my pub knowledge is bang up to date.  Having said that, I know that this place was very nice on my visit and featured several guest handpulls.

So that's it for now.  This took me ages to write, so I'm now off for a rest, but will return at some point, to do Part II of my Black Country guide - focussing on the beers.