Brief Encounter With Beer

The beer list at the Wellington pub, Birmingham.

When the train from Penzance spat us out in Birmingham on Friday, on the way to Warwickshire for a wedding, we found we had time for a pint or two between trains. Is there anything sweeter than an hour in the pub stolen from a day which is otherwise not your own? (Would ‘more bitter’ be appropriate?)

The entrance to the Post Office Vaults pub, Birmingham.The Post Office Vaults is a windowless basement pub a short walk from the back entrance of Birmingham New Street Station. It smells, as cellar bars often do, a little earthy, but those first pints of pale’n’hoppy ale (Salopian Oracle (4%) and Ossett Citra (4.2%)) were just what we needed to revive us. The Hobson’s Mild (3.2%) with which we followed those tasted a bit… mild. Too much crystal malt was in evidence for our taste, but there was no doubt it was in excellent condition. The finisher, a bottle of Stone IPA, was anything but mild, though its taste didn’t quite live up to its in-your-face, marmalade perfume.

On the return leg, we arranged a slightly longer pause between trains, and managed to dash to the Wellington, an old-school ‘beer exhibition’ with fifteen cask ales on offer. Mid-refurbishment, it felt tatty, but not unpleasantly so, and the real-time beer list on a flat-screen was a distinctly modern touch. At one point, we watched the landlord pull a tot of golden ale into a half pint glass and hold it up to the window, turning it on his fingertips and peering with narrowed eyes, like a diamond dealer inspecting a stone for flaws. We were in the hands of professionals.

The star of the show at the Wellington was Oakham Citra (4.2%), though we couldn’t have managed a long session on it, and if we’d have been staying for the afternoon, we’d have stuck with Abbeydale’s Exodus (4.3%) — also very pale, also ‘floral’, but more balanced, and without any tooth-jangling astringency. Abbeydale seem very reliable to us and we wonder why they’re not better known; their understated (homemade-looking) graphic design can’t help.

Finally, we fit in a brief stop at a largely deserted Brewdog Birmingham. Cocoa Psycho (10%), a chocolate stout, had a big hole where some flavours should have been. The same was true of a fairly bland IPA hopped only with Goldings from Kent (6.7%). Neither was ‘fizzy’ or ‘cold’ — just lacking depth. The same IPA with Slovenian Dana hops, however, was a startling, freakish eye-opener that made us laugh. Our immediate thought: roast lamb! On dissecting that, we decided we were tasting something like thyme, mint and ‘onion flowers‘. We’re not sure we liked it, but our taste-buds appreciated the wake-up call. Someone should go all out and use Dana in a Rauchbier, or even a meat stout.

The local CAMRA branch seems to be pretty clued-up and active. Their magazine is a slick publication which, in the current issue, includes a nice article on Antwerp, as well as sneer-free news of Brewdog’s opening. Their free ‘real ale map’ of the city is excellent, too. Brewdog’s staff, for their part, were doing an excellent job of educating interested punters without patronising them.

5 thoughts on “Brief Encounter With Beer”

  1. Abbeydale seem very reliable to us and we wonder why they’re not better known; their understated (homemade-looking) graphic design can’t help.

    That, and the fact that their labels never give any clue whatsoever as to what you’re going to get (it’s generally a) pale and b) hoppy, admittedly). And all the confusion around the Dr Morton’s beers with the awful sixth-form pump clips – or is that actually a separate brewery these days? All in all, you know how Tandleman was saying that Thornbridge were “on top of their game” a bit back, & then refused to define “on top of their game” (no offence, Tand)? Abbeydale are a classic example of brewers who aren’t, even though they’re producing some good beers.

    Neither was ‘fizzy’ or ‘cold’ — just lacking depth.

    Get on with you, I bet they were. And what’s with the inverted commas? I guess it’s your way of saying that their being fizzy and/or cold wasn’t what you didn’t like, which is fair enough, but it carries an overtone that ‘fizzy’ and ‘cold’ are just labels people apply to beers they don’t like, not actual descriptors. Good or bad, most of the keg beers I’ve had have been pretty heavily carbonated, and I’ve never had one that wasn’t cold.

    1. They weren’t any more highly carbonated or lower in temperature than the cask ales we’d been drinking elsewhere. Admittedly, those might have been a bit cool for some people’s tastes, but then we don’t mind beer a couple of degrees below the prescribed temp.

      ‘..an overtone that ‘fizzy’ and ‘cold’ are just labels people apply to beers they don’t like, not actual descriptors.’

      That overtone was intended. Fizzy and cold is how people describe highly carbonated and/or cool beers they don’t like. Which is odd, because I think fizzy actually ought to mean ‘with bubbles rising and breaking the surface’. Lots of Belgian bottled beers have very high rates of carbonation — huge billowing heads — but aren’t fizzy.

      1. Are you saying that the word ‘fizzy’ should refer to how a beer looks, not how it tastes? I’m not sure I follow.

        I wouldn’t slag off a beer just for being served cold – apart from anything else, they will warm up if you leave them long enough. I do think it’s hard to taste or smell anything below a certain temperature, and that some beers are served too cold – at a temperature where all you can really do is knock it back. But that’s about the flavour, not the cold in and of itself.

        1. I’m no expert on the suspension of gas in liquid, but I think there’s a huge difference in ‘mouthfeel’ (if not flavour, exactly) between that which has been absorbed and that which effervesces out. I wouldn’t consider German wheat beers to be fizzy, though they are usually gassy. Maybe gassy is a better word?

          Some lagers are actually fizzy, though, actually, as a child who grew up on bottles of pop, I don’t find that intrinsically unpleasant either.

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