Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Taking ones own advices

Some while ago I wrote a post about the ideal Birmingham pub crawl - it's here.

Now over the course of the year this has proved to be quite popular (in so far as my blog statistics appear to show).  This post also seems to have had bursts of sporadic popularity, where I am gratified to say, people appear to be actually using it to plan real-life crawls.  So I decided to do the same.

The opportunity throated itself when my long-standing and brilliant chum @joneso76 came a-visiting from Leicester.  He's fairly new to Twitter and had quickly become enraptured by the exciting adventures that the West Midlands beer community always seemed to be involved in.  So, on arrival in Brum he begged for the chance to hit as many hot 'spots' as possible, during his one-day duration. This situation seemed set-up for revisiting as many of the locations on my ideal pub crawl, as could reasonably be fisted into a day.

Before my arrival in the centre, Jones already ticked off Brewdog and walked past Post Office Vaults (2 down).

We rendezvoused in the Victoria, where we were honoured to be the first people in the pub to ever sample cask Magic Rock.  In fact, we were possibly the first people to ever sample cask Magic Rock, in the whole history of Birmingham.  Ku.  dOS.  It was Curious.  It was history.

After the Victoria it was back to Brewdog for some delicious Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast and a chance meeting with two of Birmingham's foremost international beer connoisseurs Hazel and David.  Unfortunately Brewdog didn't have any lager from Bhutan, so they had to drink something nice instead.  Ho hum.

Next up, Citra and delicious Thai grub at the Bartons, having walked through Bacchus en route.  The Bartons never disappoints, although the lack of bottled Green Devil IPA did remind me just how baffled I am that Oakham will no longer be bottling it - madness.

From there to the Lord Clifden, where it was yeasty Budvar and one of the city's most impressive hand dryers.

The LC is an Urban Art Bar, as is the Red Lion, which I'll come to in a minute.  But before that, it was the Drop Forge and a pint of Malvern Hills Black Pear.  What a smart place.

So then, the Red Lion for more lager- this time some Estaminet Pils, which was extremely tasty and served in a splendid, ribbed beaker.  Golf.

Finally, for a quick pint of Bathams (which turned into several), it was to the ever [and always] brilliant Black Eagle.  It has been too long since I visited this esteemed and fabulous location, which seems to transcend the vicissitudes of beer fashion; so I made the most of my stay.  1) Free chips.  2) Bathams served in tip-top condition. 3) Dancing with, and for the entertainment of, an older and surprisingly sprightly clientele (old ladies).

If I say one thing about the above mentioned pub crawl, it is this: it was brilliant.  If I say a second thing, it's that Birmingham has loads of great boozers, and sometimes I forget that.  I increasingly find myself drawn to a handful of crafty joints in the city centre these days, but in order to de-narrow my beerview, perhaps I need to be more stringent in making sure I remember to visit the other venues of legend, in this, the Second City.

~ ~

In the coming weeks, I will endeavour to bring you posts on the following:
i) The greatest beer tasting evening I've ever known
ii) My reflections on a booze-free January
iii) An update on the Birmingham Beer Bash   

Monday, 11 February 2013

The 2013 Top Ten Movers and Shakers on the Birmingham Beer Scene

A year ago, I done a blog post, which I was actually rather proud of.  It constructed a list of the 10 most influential people in Birmingham's crazy 'world' of good beer.

12 months on and much has changed (or is in the process of changing), therefore we need to do a follow up.  The only slight problem is that the formulae used to determine how influential people were/are, and therefore where they ranked in the list, has disappeared into the mists of time - in fact these formulae may never have existed in the first place.  As such, these ten are served up to you in alphabetical order (by surname).  Annnnnnnnnnnyway, here is this years list - the Top Ten Movers and Shakers on the Birmingham Beer Scene for 2013.

Nigel Barker (Wellington and Post Office Vaults)

The Wellington yet again took CAMRA's top prize as the Birmingham pub of the year, but it was with Nigel's newer venture - the Post Office Vaults, that he made the biggest impact on Birmingham this year.  With a mind boggling range of Belgian and German beers, crammed into a tiny space, the POV has quickly become a staple of any Birmingham pub crawl, and finally (FINALLY) offers somewhere for us to consistently drink world classics such as Orval, Rodenbach Grand Cru and De Molen Vuur and Vlam.  Tiny Rebel often feature on cask too, which is a big plus.  Strictly speaking, this ranking is sort of shared between him and Mike Perkins, with them both being co-owners of the POV, whilst Nigel, is sole licensee of the Welly.

Dr Paul Bennett (Beer Geek Brewery)

Launched in February 2012, Beer Geek are a common sight in the pubs of Birmingham, plus their excellent branding is now being recognised in London and other faraway places.  Following the demise of the Two Towers' brewery tap at the Brown Lion, Beer Geek are now Brum's most recognisable local brewer and have the chance to broaden their range to seriously tickle the fancy of the city's swelling band of actual beer geeks.  

Marverine Cole (Beer Beauty)

Not just an award-winning beer blogger and former Sky News presenter; this local-girl come good, is also a veritable tour de force banging the good beer gospel on television and radio (as in here).  Savvy, well connected and glamorous, Marverine is ideally placed to use her national celebrity and local pride to bear on the Birmingham beer scene, with hopefully marv-ellous results.   

Paul Halsey (Purity)

If this list had been written in a few months time, I would expect Paul to be higher up the list*.  This would be because of the projected opening of the Purity Craft Beer bar, which is, I believe, due to touch down near John Bright Street to form (along with Brewdog Birmingham, The Victoria and the also imminent Craven Arms) the city's 'Craft Beer Quarter'.  However as it stands we don't yet know what the new place will look like.  Purity Mad Goose is still delicious however, and with their three beers still being ubiquitous in Birmingham, Paul is still a shaker.

Jaz and Kal Kandola (Cotteridge Wines)

This time last year I didn't even know that Cotteridge Wines existed.  Now they are a nationally recognised off licence, with a range of 700-800 different bottles, offering access to US brewers not previously glimpsed in our city.  It is an astonishing rise. Via a twin assault of well priced UK craft beers (and a big range too), plus access to foreign beers (Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Anchorage, Bruery et al) Cotteridge now present an irresistible offer, which has undoubtedly diversified the craft beer audience in Birmingham.

Gerry Keane (The Anchor)

The Anchor keeps rocking and rolling.  The line up of great cask beers keeps coming, with a excellent representation of lesser known brewers from around the country.  Also their range of beery events is as impressive as ever.

Dan Muldoon (Brewdog Birmingham)

Finally, in December, the big boys arrived.  Brewdog, undoubtedly the superbrand of UK craft brewing, finally killed off Brum's reputation as a desert for kegged craft beer.  With a dozen or so taps of unadulterated quality, BD now bring us their own highly flavoured offerings, plus guest beers we would previously have had to get to London to sample (Nogne, Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Brodies etc).  With imperial stouts such as Tokyo, AB:12 and Paradox they are the first place to offer high strength beers on tap.  With regulars such as Dogfight, Punk IPA and 5AM Saint, they are pretty much the only place in Brum to guarantee hoppy draught choices.  Two big pluses.  Since opening, they have also killed off the myth that Birmingham couldn't support such a 'craft' establishment, or that there simply wasn't the demand in our great city for premium beers.  The place is rammed each night - go figure.  With a De Molen tap takeover on the horizon, and other such events in the pipeline, we now have a place to light up the beery imagination of a generation and blaze a trail for independent outlets to follow.  He built it. We came.

Jen Nadin (Cherry Reds)

Cherry Reds is a wonderfully homely and friendly bar/cafe in Kings Heath, which has made a concerted effort to stock good beer in bottles and on tap.  Jen has also programmed a consistent range of themed beer tasting events, and a held their second annual beer festival last August.  This would be enough to earn Jen a place on this list, but, coupled with her participation in the Foreign Beer Bar at the Birmingham Beer Festival, and, perhaps more intriguingly, the projected opening of a city centre version of Cherry Reds this year, Jen is right at the heart of the good things which are afoot. 

Krishan Rajput (Stirchley Wines and Spirits)

Krishan and his father are Brum beer pioneers; perhaps last year was the year where we saw his spiritual children begin to emerge, blinking, into the Birmingham sunlight.  Stirchley Wines and Spirits continues to be a nationally recognised off licence, with an awesome range of bottles, PLUS they now have their own tap, offering fresh, draught craft beer to take away - to my mind, one of only two places in the city to offer this!  In addition, Krishan again brought beer quality to the Birmingham Beer Festival, with a powerful selection at his foreign beer bar.  

Matt Scriven (Bitters and Twisted)

Matt's Bitters and Twisted chain continued it's expansion this year, by opening the steak-fuelled New Inn in Harborne.  More importantly (for me) however, this year the beer range in his pubs was certainly on the up.  With consistent cask offerings from Dark Star, Thornbridge and Red Willow and with a range of excellent bottles, the choice of good beer for Brum beer geeks suddenly got better overnight.  Not only were the Victoria, New Inn, Jekyll and Hyde the first pubs in the city (to my knowledge) to stock beer from UK craft brewers such as Kernel, Summer Wine and Arbor, but they remain amongst the few to do so.  (plus Magic Rock on tap is in the pipeline...) 


Initial observations on the list?  Well clearly it shows the importance of entrepreneurs.  12 months ago, there was space on the list for people who headed up national companies - this is no longer the case.  In fact, apart from the Brewdog, whose brand power in the world of 'craft' beer is irrefutable, all of the other people who make this ten are local, highly motivated individuals, seizing Birmingham's beer scene by the scruff of the neck.

Next year (if I'm still alive) I fully expect the following people to appear in the list, for a variety of reasons: David Shipman (Birmingham Beer Bash), Keith Marsden (Prince of Wales, Moseley), Chris Sherratt (Craven Arms).      

Having completed the above list, I sit here perambulating in my own glory.

<5 minutes elapse>

In this post-perambulation period, I have also come to a sort of encapsulation regarding exactly what it means to be a 'mover and shaker' on my list.  It is part to do with the impact on the progressive beer scene in the city, and secondly, it's to do with the personal trajectory of the individual - have they improved or remained steady, etc etc.  I hope that's clear.

*even though, as Carl Durose has pointed out - this sentence is complete nonsense. After all, for someone to move up the list, it would involve them knobbling all/some of the people ranked alphabetically higher than them on the list.  Watch out Paul, Nigel and Marverine!  Happy now?