Monday, 23 April 2012

Twissup: The Aftermath

Saturday was a jolly day indeed, for it marked the first Birmingham Twissup and another positive sign that Birmingham is inching towards a stronger, beefier, more something something beer culture.

As Otherton Aleman has already reported, the festivities started at the Lamp Tavern, before moving through the Anchor to the Post Office Vaults, with an epilogue at the Wellington.

Strangely enough, most of the participants of Birmingham's first Twissup, aren't actually from Birmingham.  We had @19irishdragon (Walsall), @ckdsaddlers (Wolverhampton), @MarbleTim (Manchester), @OthertonAleman (Penkridge), @RobertoRossUK (Halesowen) and @CarlDurose (Birmingham resident, but recently imported from Herefordshire).  Luckily I was there.  I come from Leicester and live in Sandwell.  Errr.

Most of the party met up at the The Lamp Tavern, which is a warm little pub, tucked away on the edge of industrial Highgate.  I chose to start here because I wanted to showcase a hidden gem, a survivor, a pub of principles.  I sampled a Welback Abbey Donovan - a dry golden ale, billed as a Polish pale ale: which was a bit of a novelty.  The Lamp was throbbing with conviviality. 

From heritage and values, we moved on to some solid real ale choice. The Anchor has been the best pub in Brum for ages, and it's still my favourite (shush).  The assembled throng swelled slightly here, with the arrival of our Southern guest @mrdavidj, along with a cameo from one of Birmingham's top pub reviewers ilooklikeme.  Sat in the 'quiet room' of the Anchor, we had a good chin wag and sampled (well I did anyway) a beautiful Stout George from brand new Middlesbrough brewery Truefitt.  Like I said - beautiful.  I also took advice from Twissup's chief brewer and enjoyed a De Ranke Pere Noel.  Microbrewed UK excellence and established Belgian spiciness - a nice blend.

The most exciting moment of the Twissup's Anchor period came when 2x unexpected guests joined us.  Stewart and Kate had learnt of the gathering via, wait for it - social media and allowed their curiosity to get the better of them.  What a massively pleasant boost, to tangibly realise that there are like minded, intelligent beer fans in the city, just itching to be part of the movement towards a more robust beer topography.  In addition to the people who had already arrived, obviously.

From the Anchor, we bolted to the Post Office Vaults for a stint of quality foreign bottles, including Nogne Saison, Rodenbach Grand Cru and a Hellers Kolsch, the latter of which didn't quite meet the standards of the evening.  PO Vaults was as rammed as expected, but we miraculously got some seats and hooked up to the wireless to tweet some photos into the ether.

The Wellington was an extra helping, but by that point, the good work had already been done.  A bunch of friendly, passionate West Midlands beer fans got together, in the name of Twitter and made concrete, a previously nebulous network.

What was the point of Twissup?  Well as far as moi is concerned, it was to put down a starting point, another marker on the route to good beer.  I'm not suggesting that a load of blokes drinking beer in some pubs is in any way an unusual thing, but when a gathering happens in the name of something, then perhaps it means err something.  Our route took us from humming local boozer, to scoopers' stronghold, to our newest beer bar - provider of the best beers from outside our borders.  Perhaps by the next Twissup (or the one after), we'll be able to add an extra venue onto our journey - a bar offering kegged IPAs, the hottest US-brews and a palette of the very [very] best UK microbrewers.

(Oh and big respect to Richard of Porter Pages - Twissup was his idea and even though he couldn't make it, I notionally raised several glasses in his honour on Saturday). 


Monday, 16 April 2012

Brand New! Off Licence Project

In Birmingham, we all know that Stirchley Wines and Spirits rock the party as far as offies are concerned.

That being said, there are other places we will all need to pop into now and again to pick up beer - sometimes because we happen to be in a certain part of Birmingham, sometimes because I am we are too lazy to get on the Number 11 bus and head to see Krishan.

Because these occasions arise, and because SWS don't have enough space to stock those questionable lagers which so tickle my fancy, I have been known to nose around in all sorts of wacky off licences.  We all have.

But we don't have a directory of these second rung off licences do we?  How can we gain a knowledge of which Ukrainian lagers might be right on our doorsteps?  Here's how.

I have instigated a brand new Google Map of Birmingham's 'better' off licences, for which I humbly request your assistance.  The job has begun, but you will need to let me know of places which deserve to go on.  Places like Cotteridge Wines, Casper and Lituanica.

Please use the comments section of this post to name any off licences which have interesting beers, lots of beers or a mixture of the two.  The prototype map is linked here: Birmingham Off Licences

Check back regularly, to see how it is being updated.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Birmingham #Twissup

This is a calling notice.  A belated one.

Birmingham Twissup has been scheduled for next Saturday - Saturday the 21st April.  Having no idea what a Twissup should, or should not entail, a 'programme' has been devised as follows:

4.00 - Lamp Tavern, Highgate (for backstreet charm)

6.00 - Anchor, Digbeth (allegedly holding a Festival that day)

8.00 - Post Office Vaults (to express our inner beer geeks)

Apart from those few pointers, there are no guidelines as such.

If you are able to, please pop along and say "Hi".  I have no idea how we will recognise each other, but it's the ideal chance to try walking around the pub shaking hands with random strangers - which is certainly something I've always wanted to 'have a go at'.

Perhaps I should warn these pubs that we will be dropping by.  Not sure.  I might do.

Come on chaps and chapesses, let's make this happen.  Let's inaugurate Brum as a happening beer city.  Lets start the movement.  


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Quiz Night at the Brown Lion

Last night I was happy to pay a return visit to the Brown Lion, which as you know, is the Two Towers' brewery tap, in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter.

The pub is still gloriously spartan, but has a acquired a few knick-knacks to fill it out a bit (e.g. some logs).  It also seems to have dropped it's range of foreign bottled beers (boo), but does offer a nice menu of pub grub (hooray). 

(Very happily) TT seem to be going from strength to strength as a brewer, with slicker pump clips, and more consistent beer.

Unusually for me, I stayed in the pub for a prolonged period, rather than flitting from place to place drinking halves.  This was because I was socialising with normal people and felt obliged to try and be a bit more 'normal' - but in the end I'm glad I made the effort.  Over the course of the evening I sampled pints of Complete Muppetry - a very tasty tropical-hopped Golden Ale; Mott St Mild - a deliciously smooth and chocolatey, jet black Mild; and Baskerville Bitter, a robust, traditional effort.  This was genuinely pleasing: the Complete Muppetry was as good as the first time I tried it - fruity, smooth and aromatic, whilst the Mild was moreish, smooth and gently tasty.  Well done Two Towers - now you just need to start pumping out some experimental specials, to build on your solid core range.

The other bonus of the evening was achieving a victory in the Brown Lion's inaugural Wednesday night quiz.  Unfortunately for everyone else, the quizmaster played straight into my cohort's specialism and gave us both a 'music' round and an 'album cover' round.  It was a massacre.

Generally, I believe that the Brown Lion already enjoys a positive reputation amongst Brum beer fans, so it only remains for me to tell them to keep up the good work, and for patrons to keep patronising it.  It should also be reiterated that the Jewellery Quarter now offers a very nice little beer crawl, taking in the Red Lion, Drop Forge, Rose Villa Tavern, Brown Lion and the Lord Clifden.  You could even tack the Church Tavern on the end.


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Photos from Sheffield trip

No text here as such, except to say please enjoy these pub based pictures of sunny Sheffield. When I work out how, I will have annotate(d) the snaps, but in the meantime, please bear with us (me).
Beer garden cum sun terrace at the former Hillsbough Hotel, now simply The Hillsborough
Hillsborough Hotel was home of the Crown Brewery, now The Hillsborough is the home of the Wood St Brewery
The wonderful Gardener's Rest
The Wellington AKA Bottom Wellie. Home of Little Ale Cart and ensuing hoppy, golden goodness
Interior of Wellington - note the beautiful tables
Kelham Island Tavern
The Fat Cat - home to Kelham Island brewery's wares

The Harlequin - come here for Brew Company products
The Shakespeare
Interior of the Shakespeare - looks pretty genuine to me

DAda - Thornbridge's very swanky bar
The Hop - bringing Ossett beers to students and people who enjoy loud music

There's something a bit continental about the Devonshire Cat
The Rutland Arms

Monday, 2 April 2012

MBA on Tour in Sheffield

Last Friday was indeed a good Friday, as Mediocre Beer Adventures and their brother in law took it's second (and pending financial upturn, possibly last) 'foreign' pub survey of the year.

I have been to the Steel City before (well I've watched LCFC lose at Bramall Lane and been shopping at Meadowhall), but this was my first drinking-based visit - one I felt impelled to make, after hearing nothing but good from wiser and better beer aficionados than myself.

A full programme yielded visits to 12 splendid pubs, including 7 or 8 official/unofficial brewery taps and left a warm, rippling feeling inside my heart.

Because there were so many good beers and lovely pubs, this report is going to be a bit of 'whistle stop' (much like my day), so watch out for bullet points and try to keep up.

1. On the Sheffield Station itself is the amazing Sheffield Tap, offering Thornbridge on cask and keg, + other top craft efforts from the likes of Tempest and Magic Rock, all complimented by hundreds of the World's best bottles.  Nice leather seats too.  Magnificent.  I could have stayed here all day.

2.  A short trip by tram, to the destination furthest from the centre: The Hillsborough Hotel.  Or..... rather the about to be renamed 'The Hillsborough'.  A lovely raised beer garden afforded a lovely view of the local ski slope (!) and I enjoyed sampling 2 beers from their house brewery Crown.  Or.... rather from their about to be already renamed house brewery Wood St.  Top marks for the [nearly] defunct beers and for stocking November's issue of Ales and Tales (which is the local CAMRA mag for the Stourbridge/Halesowen/Dudley branch) and which (coincidentally) contains an article written by me!  I did offer to sign it for them, but they politely told me to sling my hook.

3.  A walk down a hill, through an industrial estate, landed us up at the Gardener's Rest, my fave pub of the day.  A tap for the Sheffield brewery - they stocked 4 of their offerings, plus other handpulled guests; but it was the decor and fabulous beer garden that won the plaudits.  What a lovely clean pub, with lovely light and furniture, and what a lovely garden: full of nick-nacks, stained glass pagodas and a river view.  Genuinely lovely.

4.  Tap for the Little Ale Cart brewery - The Wellington was up next.  Very quiet inside, but with excellent tables and nectar-like hoppy Goldens on the bar, I did not care.  Several charming rooms.  Another winner.

5.  No time to hang around, because it was 5 minutes down the road, to the multiple winner of CAMRA UK pub of the year, the Kelham Island Tavern.  Nice burger scoffed, then on to...

6.  The Fat Cat, unofficial tap for the Kelham Island brewery (are you keeping up?).  This was [yet] another beautifully genuine and unspoilt old boozer, nestling on a corner.  Dead comfy inside, with charming features and a mix of handpulls and foreign beers.

7.  But we couldn't dawdle, as it was off to the Shakespeare, our last venue in the Kelham Island area*, before wending back to the wending towards, heading back to town.  The Shakespeare specialised in old furniture, pump clips on the wall and a serving hatch that looked like it had been scraped from a giant bar of soap.  Summer Wine Vanguard was the beautifully hoppy pale ale sampled here, thank you very much.

*Of course, this is not strictly true, as we first popped into venue number 8, which was:

8. The Harlequin - brewery tap for the Brew Company.  Samples of their Blonde and Best Bitter were completed, just as a touring party arrived. Nice wooden furniture here also + good foreign beers. 

9. DAda.  Which is, of course, Thornbridge's reinterpretation of a wine bar.  Funky collages on the tables and funky keg beers on offer, mainly of the Thornbridge variety, but appendixed by the brilliantly hoppy Modus Hoperandi, from the Coloradan Ska Brewery.  Wowee!  What a greatly delicious beer to perk up the sagging central trunk of our crawl.  Onwards.

10.  Bonus visit!  We nosed our way inside Hop, on the way to pub number 10, and were rewarded with very loud music, lots of students and nightclub style interior.  Very strange when you consider that this is an Ossett gaff, with 4 of their beers on handpull.  Inspite of this, it was the lovely Hawkshead Dry Stone Stout, which tempted me.

Number 11 was the Devonshire Cat, which offered an impressive array of well known Belgian bottles and about a dozen handpulls.  Very big, very modern, very open plan, very busy, very short visit.

12. It took an age to find the Rutland Arms, but then again I did have to divert via a comfort break, which had become all too pressing.  The Rutland was more like rammed-land (by which I mean it was rather busy).  I believe this is an unofficial tap for the Blue Bee brewery, but didn't realise until afterwards.  This explains why I sampled an Ascot beer.  Chris had a pickled egg.  Bully for him.

Then back to the Sheffield Tap and just enough time for a Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, before boarding train home.

Final thoughts:
  • The best pub crawl in the World?  Yes.
  • Every pub a winner?  Ain't that the truth.
  • My fave was the Gardener's Rest, but the Sheffield Tap was amazing, the Wellington was grrrrreat, the Fat Cat was effortlessly homely and DAda dripped with cool.  They were all good.
  • Lots of beer gardens.  A relative rareity in Brum, but in Sheff, each pub offered a bit of inner-city greenery and the chance to sample some fresh air.
  • Great scenery in this hilly city.
  • Good beer was unavoidable.  Every place offered lots of cask choice.  And keg choice.  And foreign bottles were ubiquitous.  And the quality was high.  And there about 1000 different breweries within a 10-mile radius. Mind blowing.
  • Quite cheap too.  Not to be sniffed at.
  • I love Sheffield.
(Photos will be posted separately (probably), once I have worked out how to use new iPhone.)

This post is dedicated to Steven Raymond Vaughan, who recently celebrated his 30th birthday.