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.