So then, how do these two places match up for beer? Strangely enough, they are very similar indeed.
Let's do this in the style of the final day of the Ryder Cup - you know that head to head, 1 UP, 3&4 type affair.
Birmingham's top pubs are discussed here. Leicester's are shown here.
For beer breadth and quality, Leicester's top spot is The Pub - which showcases great cask and a selection of continental keg and bottles. It also has the Criterion and its older sister the Swan and Rushes, which is my personal favourite in the City. Why? Well, I love the set-up of the 2 rooms, I love the tables, I love the beermat holders and the beer selection. In fact, the Swan and Rushes holds particularly fond memories, as it was almost the first place in the UK, where I encountered an exciting range of German and Belgian bottles. Leicester also now has the Salmon. But I haven't been there yet. However, the Leicester Mercury informs me that this very weekend, they are holding a beer festival showcasing the work of female brewsters. It sounds good.
Using the same indicators of quality, Birmingham has the Post Office Vaults, The Wellington and The Anchor, along with the Bartons Arms and the Black Eagle. Additionally, these offer stunning pub architecture and/or charm, character and warmth. For touchy feeliness or aesthetic stimulation, Leicester has the fin de siecle Cafe Bruxelles and the homespun Ale Wagon, which is also an outlet for the local Hoskins Bros brewery....
For number of pubs and general quality: LEICESTER 1-UP.
For local beer generally, [in addition to Hoskins Bros] Leicester also has Steamin' Billy, Everards, Dow Bridge, Wicked Hathern, Parish, Shardlow, Langton; whilst Birmingham has ABC, Two Towers and [soon] Beer Geek.
For numbers alone: LEICESTER 1-UP.
Beer Shops/Off Licences
Birmingham has Stirchley Wines and Spirits, Leicester has The Offie. The Offie is a splendid shop, carrying a beer range which is remarkably similar to SWS. SWS has a brilliant, friendly owner, so does The Offie. If we are escaping from the city centre, then Birmingham (Solihull actually) has Bernies, but Leicester (Market Harborough actually) has Duncan Murray Wines.
(LEICESTER 2.5 / BIRMINGHAM 0.5)
This post ended up being much shorter than I anticipated, which is probably a blessing for you all. Leicester seems to have won this beer battle, which is still a bit sad for a second city which is 4 times bigger. As a general (and slightly bland) final comment, I'll just add that for a city centre pub crawl, I'll take Leicester over Brum. Why? Well in Brum, a central crawl would take in number of pubs which MAY or may NOT have good beers on, on a given day. In Leicester, visits to comparable pubs would yield a much better shooting percentage for pubs with attractive, delicious, desirable brews.