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.
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.
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.