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.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Special Report - Gurd's Trip to Marylebone

For a late Summer treat, this article, for the first time ever*, is penned by a guest columnist.  Gurdeep Singh is primarily known for his pioneering work in 15-minute drum solos, but is also a well respected respecter of beer, social activist, gardener and pigeon fancier.  So then, please enjoy his handcrafted report of a recent trip to Marylebone.  If it goes well, maybe he'll be allowed to write a regular column**. 


Preamble: [not sure about the underlining here- Ed]

This was very much a “stolen crawl” in every sense of the word phrase, as the intention was to have just one pre-homeward-bound-train drink that turned in to quite a few more.  The night before, I had experienced easily one of the top 3 gigs of my life, watching the Afghan Whigs (doing a one off UK show after a 10 year hiatus) at KOKO in Camden.  Before venturing to Camden, we'd supped a sunset hued Staropramen overlooking the lake in Victoria Park, before the tube whisked us to Mornington Crescent, where a pre-venue Brooklyn lager was drunk to limber us up for haggling with (predominantly unspecific) ticket touts.  Cold cans of Red Stripe were standard “gig drink” fayre, but we did manage to find some late bars after the gig that sold real ale into the wee hours. 

After a relaxed brunch at a greasy spoon on the Roman Road in Mile End we headed off to Marylebone to get the train home before our ticket cut off point of 3pm – the rest did not quite go according to plan…

The crawl itself

Marylebone is a much more pleasant and civilised way to enter (or leave in this case) the big smoke by train, rather than coming in to the concrete mass of Euston except.... when it comes to watering holes - in a word mediocre!

We had a pint of Heineken on the station bar, which was as suitably acceptable and refreshing hair of the dog as I'd imagined on a scorching early afternoon.  It certainly washed down my fry up well enough, so much so that it actually gave me an appetite to scope out some proper boozers and sod the 3pm train - “we’re on holiday” after all.

Round the corner was a place called the Allsop Arms, which had a lovely line (literally) of young, female, olive-skinned European visitors outside it, waiting for the Easyjet bus to ferry them to the airport.  Shame about the choice of drinks though.  Peroni was supped by us both [Gurd was accompanied by his chum, pro-cyclist Sean] and onwards to find the next joint.  [I believe that 'joint' is a cool, slang word for venue - Ed].

Next stop was the Harcourt Arms whose only real ale was not on, but a decent pint of Budvar in a real suntrap of an intimate concrete beer garden, was enjoyed here leisurely, as the music was decent.  The street was home to all things Swedish, which was quite interesting, but we never did get to find out why, as we were on a time limit and I was itching to get to the next gaff for some proper ale.

Winsdor Castle was a peculiar place, with an amazing amount of cheap English paraphernalia tucked in to every nook and cranny of this mid-terrace haunt, and whose barman was very, very strange indeed (imagine the John Inman character in “are you being served” crossed with Kenneth Williams in a Carry On film).  We were genuinely unnerved by his opening gambit (or it could have been the cumulative effect of the 3rd day of solid boozing).  Anyhow, a half of nondescript bitter was necked quick time in search of somewhere with a more unchallenging welcome.

We heartily cheered up when we discovered the Wargrave Arms just around the corner with its bright, huge open plan bar/restaurant and beautifully kept hanging baskets and shrubbery adorning the outdoor seating.  A decent choice of ales was on here with Sean and I "keeping it Pale", by going for a lovely pint of Liberation Ale.

Sean at the Carpenters Arms

Things were on a steady incline of improvement by now, as we hit the best pub of the day next - The Carpenters Arms.  Small, busy, independent, loads of ales and Sky Sports to boot.  Sean had a Harveys Ale, I had a 5% IPA that was very nice, but I can't remember the name. [tsk tsk - Ed].  What more could a man ask for?  Errr maybe a meaty snack of the kebabish variety?  Being so close to Edgware Road it would be rude not to patronise a café of the Kurdish brethren while in the vicinity, so we had what we both agreed was the best kebab of our lives from a street food stall called Cafe Helen - a very Kurdish name I'm sure you'll agree.

The view out of the Larrik window
The final place we hit before the train, with one of the nicest, biggest ever window views I've ever experienced from a pub called the Larrik (and you know how much I love them).  The beers were just standard fayre, but we were struggling by now, so Marylebone station was a welcome sight.

The moral of this story is: when in and around the Marylebone vicinity, the pub you should head for is the Carpenters Arms, which is about a 10 minute walk away.  But to say that would only have taken up two sentences and that wouldn't have been very good, would it?

*And probably final time ever.
** I wouldn't bank on this.  In fact, for the removal of all doubt, I make no promises of any future columns.  Whatsoever.

Monday, 3 September 2012

A Challenge for you/Off licence map update

It's been a while since I did anything regarding the Off-Licence Project, i.e. that lovely Google Map which the readers of Mediocre Beer Adventures helped to populate with the City's best purveyors of East European lager and World craft beer.

The map is still here:- BIRMINGHAM OFF LICENCES

Recent additions are a couple of venues in Erdington, specialising in Polish beer and the deletion of at least one Dudley Road venue, which had gone to seed.

Now I think this still requires a little work, so I would exhort you and everyone you know to remain vigilant and look out both for interesting offies, but also good beer ranges in non-offie locations.

That was part 1 of this post.

Part 2 of this post is a plea.

Looking at Ratebeer (which I do regularly), I have been alarmed to see that my beer ticking brethren across the UK seem to be uncovering a range of East European beer treasure, which I are not clapped eyes on in Brum.

This is a worry.

It's not a worry because I'm missing out on good beer per se, but it is a worry because I'm an obsessive and one of my obsessions is questionable lager.  I'll be blowed if Scunthorpe folk are getting access to obscure Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian stock, while I'm not.  Sadly however, this seems to be the case.

So I would like to enlist you all (yes, both of you) to help me find some of these new, 'mysterious' beer treats.  Here is a hit-list:

From Latvia:

Cesu Nefiltrētais

From Lithuania:

Bauskas Gaisais Specialais
Butautu Dvaro Alus Sviesus
Butautu Dvaro Alus Tamsus
Fortas Stiprus
Fortas Ekstra
Fortas Stipriausias
Kauno Senasis Porteris
Kauno Biržieciu Alus Stouts
Kupiškio Kupiškėnų Šventinis Alus
Kupiškio Magaryčių Alus
Kupiškio Keptinis
Tauras Porteris
Taruškų Kanapinis Alus Tamsus
Volfas Engelman Rinktinis

From Poland:

Książęce Pszeniczne
Lomza Export Miodowe
Perla Miodowa
Tyskie Mocne

From Romania:


From Russia:

Baltika 6 Porter

From Ukraine

Zlata Praha Svetle Pivo

Please tell me if you spot any of these during you travels.

N.B. Tesco and Asda may not be the best places to start your hunt.

N.B. (2) There may be a prize for the person who locates the most - sort of like a scavenger hunt.

N.B. (3) Off licence owners of the region - please, please do not buy a crate of these beers purely on my say-so.  I am, by no means, providing a guarantee of quality, nor am I certain that these will be 'big' sellers.
However, if you do want to take a punt on these, why not do so?  Only please don't kick me, when you're flogging them off at 10p per can, come Christmas.