QUICK ONE: Overlooked

Here’s an interesting question, in the form of a Twitter poll, from @ThaBearded1 who works at Twisted Barrel, a brewery in Coventry:

He is no doubt going to write or do some­thing inter­est­ing him­self based on the respons­es so we won’t get too involved in the specifics of this par­tic­u­lar case but what he’s express­ing does seem to be a com­mon anx­i­ety: that the next city over, or Lon­don specif­i­cal­ly, is get­ting more than its share of atten­tion in the nation­al press or on promi­nent beer blogs.

We’ve writ­ten pieces relat­ing to this on a few occa­sions, most notably here where we said…

…if writ­ing about beer is Lon­don-cen­tric, and it might be a bit, it’s part­ly because Lon­don is both­er­ing to write about beer.

More recent­ly we sug­gest­ed that in 2017 what peo­ple mean specif­i­cal­ly when they make this kind of point is, ‘Wah! Why has­n’t Matt Cur­tis writ­ten about it/us/here!?

We say, once again, that if you think your region is over­looked, you should make the case. Write a blog post or ebook, or put togeth­er a Google Map, show­ing where a vis­i­tor to your region can find local beer, the beer-geeki­est bars and pubs, and give some sug­ges­tions for how they can get from one to anoth­er. Your tar­get audi­ence here is peo­ple on week­end breaks – why should they vis­it your city rather than, say, Sheffield, or Man­ches­ter, where there is so much inter­est­ing beer that it’s hard to know where to start? But also, by exten­sion, blog­gers and journos look­ing for advice on where to start.

But we’re not like those obnox­ious Londoners/Mancunians/Leodensians – we don’t like to shout about our­selves because we’re so hum­ble and unas­sum­ing,’ feels like a response we’ve heard sev­er­al times in this kind of con­ver­sa­tion, and that’s a bit… pathet­ic. It’s prob­a­bly bet­ter to boast than to grum­ble, and wait for some­one else to do the shout­ing for you.

And, of course, writ­ing crit­i­cal­ly is good too – it’s a sign of matu­ri­ty in a scene and can add cred­i­bil­i­ty to your guid­ance. If a vis­i­tor fol­lows your advice and ends up in pubs that are mere­ly ‘meh’, drink­ing bad beer, they’ll think less of your scene over­all.

We used to have a page here col­lect­ing links to town, city and region guides and pub crawls writ­ten by beer blog­gers, but had to scrap it because they weren’t being kept up to date and too few new ones were appear­ing. It would be nice to revive that, or at least to know that there’s a guide out there to Birm­ing­ham, Brighton, Bris­tol, or wher­ev­er, that we can point peo­ple to when they ask us, which they do from time to time.

Note: if you’re inter­est­ed here’s what we wrote about Birm­ing­ham and the Black Coun­try last sum­mer.

22 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: Overlooked”

  1. I think it’s up to the West Mid­lands to do enough to get itself noticed. I don’t know what’s hold­ing it back, per­haps the demo­graph­ic is dif­fer­ent to oth­er cities where a more mod­ern beer cul­ture has tak­en off in a big way. It seems a city needs a crit­i­cal mass of like-mind­ed peo­ple work­ing in the trade (brew­ers, bar own­ers, bot­tle shop pro­pri­etors) to gath­er the momen­tum to get over the tip­ping point.

    It costs me a mere £8.20 return on the train to get to Brum and while there are some good bars sell­ing good beer from some good brew­eries, it’s not a patch on the likes of Leeds or Man­ches­ter.

    Iron­i­cal­ly, two of the UK’s best (IMHO) bot­tle shops are both in Brum – well, in Cot­teridge and Stirch­ley, a short bus ride from the city cen­tre.

    1. I’ve just realised I’ve been using “West Mid­lands” and “Birm­ing­ham” inter­change­ably there. Hav­ing fam­i­ly ori­gins in Wolver­hamp­ton I real­ly should know bet­ter.

  2. Twist­ed barrel?checked my records and I only seem to have had one from them which I enjoyed. Don’t remem­ber see­ing any oth­ers avail­able, would def­i­nite­ly try if I saw though untapped beer list I’m not see­ing any­thing that makes me shout at bar staff to place an order. That many great brew­ers real strug­gle to get noticed out­side your local area. Ask me to name west Mid­lands brew­eries I’m blank. Prob­a­bly loads im fami­ar with just don’t know where based.

      1. Hold­ens (Sed­g­ley)
        Sarah Hugh­es (Sed­g­ley)
        Bathams (Brier­ley Hill)
        Green Duck (Stour­bridge)
        Kin­ver (Kin­ver!)
        Enville (Enville!)
        Sacre Brew (some­where near Wolver­hamp­ton I think)
        Back­yard (Wal­sall)
        Fixed Wheel (Hale­sowen)

        Those are off the top of my head, there are doubt­less loads more.

        1. See there’s a thing, I like to think I keep rea­son­ably up to date on what’s on the bar and at fes­ti­vals not a squil­lion miles away from Brum – and yet the only brew­eries that I can recall hav­ing seen on a bar are the first two. That recall may not be 100% accu­rate, but you get the idea. As a result of read­ing blogs etc I’ve become aware of Bathams and made the pil­grim­age, but I know plen­ty of fair­ly beer-geeky peo­ple who did­n’t recog­nise the name when I men­tioned them. In anoth­er life Bathams might have the same sort of dis­tri­b­u­tion and nation­al recog­ni­tion as Land­lord or Har­veys Best, but they’ve cho­sen not to go there. A brew­ery avoid­ing the cut in mar­gins to enter the lot­tery of 3rd-par­ty dis­tri­b­u­tion is a com­plete­ly rea­son­able deci­sion, but it does­n’t help nation­al recog­ni­tion of a scene when one of the “stars” hides its light under a bushel like that. Even Puri­ty have odd­ly spot­ty dis­tri­b­u­tion, despite the nation­al pro­file they’ve gained through super­mar­kets – I’m not sure what the cur­rent posi­tion is but they used not to go up the M6.

          Anoth­er way to look at it is the rat­ings web­sites – not as some gospel truth on beer qual­i­ty but a good guide to “buzz”. Untap­pd rat­ings over 3.6 sug­gests you’re at a lev­el where you’re start­ing to get nation­al atten­tion, Sarah Hugh­es and Bathams are both over 3.8, Sacre Brew & Fixed Wheel are both over 3.7, the rest you men­tion are down at the “good local beers but not real­ly notable out­side the region” lev­el.

          1. Puri­ty is very much a War­wick­shire brew­ery, not a West Mid­lands one. The dif­fer­ence mat­ters.
            Alex and Jake’s lists are all Black Coun­try brew­ers; the Black Coun­try has long had lots of small­ish, decent brew­ers, and as such what hap­pens in the Black Coun­try is fol­lowed with inter­est round and about. These beers are well-known in the region, at least; how­ev­er, Birm­ing­ham and Coven­try brew­ers – where are they? Who are they? The empha­sis in Brum has been on pubs (under­stand­ably, giv­en the pre­vi­ous M&B/Ansells dom­i­nance) rather than brew­ers, and IMHO there isn’t a loud scene in Cov pro­mot­ing beer.

          2. The prob­lem comes because “West Mid­lands” refers to both a met­ro­pol­i­tan coun­ty (equiv­a­lent to “Greater Man­ches­ter”) and a NUTS1 region (equiv­a­lent to “North­west Eng­land”). Since this was prompt­ed by a brew­er in Coven­try (in the region but not the coun­ty), I fig­ured that we were talk­ing about the region.

            In fact the nat­ur­al size of a beery sphere of influ­ence seems to be some­where between the coun­ty and region – his­tor­i­cal­ly a lot of the beer drunk in Man­ches­ter was brewed over the bor­der in War­ring­ton, but I’m not sure that Cum­bri­an brew­ers par­tic­u­lar­ly feel part of the Man­ches­ter scene.

  3. Some ran­dom thoughts, as some­one who does­n’t know the area well but has been drink­ing there a bit :

    West Mid­lands suf­fers in gen­er­al from not hav­ing a sin­gle geo­graph­i­cal “cen­tre”, and no focus for the beer scene with­in that in the same way as Bermond­sey beer mile or North­ern Quar­ter – it’s not just about get­ting a crit­i­cal mass of drinkers togeth­er for it to be worth­while for bars to take risks on more “inter­est­ing” beers, but also the net­work­ing effect of some­where where even peo­ple from out of town can gath­er.

    WM tastes def­i­nite­ly lie much more towards dark rather than light beer – mod­ern pale hop­py beers were always going to take off soon­er in the home of Bod­dies rather than Banks. But they could be well placed now that there’s more inter­est in porters and bar­rel-aged stouts etc – Titan­ic Plum Porter & Cher­ry Dark epit­o­mise a mod­ern take on Mid­lands tastes, albeit not from Brum.

    I don’t know what the stats are on tied pubs, but it feels like W&D/Marstons still dom­i­nates the local pub estate in a way that’s now fair­ly rare except per­haps in East Anglia, Kent and Corn­wall. The divorce between beer pro­duc­tion and pub­cos may not have been great in many regards but it did intro­duce palates to guest beers in a way that did­n’t real­ly hap­pen before the Beer Orders – and it cre­at­ed lots of unem­ployed brew­ers with redun­dan­cy cheques from Tetley/Boddies/Greenalls. Also a well-fund­ed region­al makes it hard for small­er com­pa­nies to buy good pubs.

    Demo­graph­ics are less favourable – high­er pro­por­tion of Mus­lims in your poten­tial cus­tomer base isn’t ide­al for busi­ness­es want­i­ng to sell alco­hol. Age struc­ture could also make a dif­fer­ence.

  4. I live pret­ty close to Coven­try, but I don’t drink there much. It means bus or taxi, and I pre­fer to walk some of my beer off these days.
    Twist­ed Bar­rel is in Far Gos­ford Street, or “Far­Go Vil­lage” as it’s termed – it’s solid­ly, uncom­pro­mis­ing­ly Stu­dent Land. Now there’s noth­ing wrong with that, and I’m sure it keeps them busy every night, but it’s not real­ly the nat­ur­al home of the beer blog­ger; as such, it’s per­haps not sur­pris­ing they don’t get that much atten­tion.

  5. I don’t believe the “Why don’t you …?” atti­tude is an exclu­sive char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Mid­lands, or of any region for that mat­ter. I find there are plen­ty of peo­ple pre­pared to tell you what you should be doing, but they back away sharpish if you sug­gest they show you how it should be done. When I edit­ed the local CAMRA mag­a­zine, I’d get com­ments about what I’d cho­sen to include and what I’d left out. For exam­ple, one came up with the rea­son­able sug­ges­tion that we have a col­umn each issue about pub-relat­ed sport. I said it was a great idea and would he do it as I’ve no inter­est in sport? No chance!

    I usu­al­ly end­ed up writ­ing most of the mag; I think there was one edi­tion in which I con­tributed less than 50%. No short­age of ‘help­ful’ com­ments, though. Peo­ple who are keen to tell you what you should be doing while con­tribut­ing noth­ing them­selves are well worth ignor­ing.

  6. Pos­si­bly one rea­son is that cen­tral Birm­ing­ham does­n’t have any­thing like the qual­i­ty and vari­ety of pubs that Leeds or Man­ches­ter have, and has always seemed to me a some­what soul­less place. Also, as oth­ers have sug­gest­ed, the oth­er parts of the “West Mid­lands” such as Coven­try and the Black Coun­try don’t real­ly look to Birm­ing­ham as a region­al cen­tre.

    1. It’s improved a lot recent­ly. Tomor­row, I’m plan­ning on vis­it­ing Pure­craft, Tilt and Brew­dog at the very least, and pos­si­bly The Post Office Vaults, The Welling­ton, Lone Wolf and Clink, depend­ing on time. I don’t know whether the Craven Arms is still going.

        1. Black Coun­try Ales, what a shame. I’ve been to one of their oth­er pubs, The Lych Gate in Wolver­hamp­ton. Under­whelm­ing to say the least. So much so I did­n’t even both­er check­ing their beers in on Untap­pd.

      1. The Craven Arms has fair­ly recent­ly had a change of man­age­ment.

        Seemed fine to me last time I was there.

        My CAMRA branch have heard good things about the new gaffer in the last place she was some­where else in the coun­try.

  7. Peo­ple keep refer­ring to Birm­ing­ham in this dis­cus­sion as if that is all there is to the West Mid­lands; and at best, they throw in the Black Coun­try. Twist­ed Bar­rel is in Coven­try, which is not by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion Birm­ing­ham – it’s a very dif­fer­ent city that likes to think of itself as still in War­wick­shire. Yes, it used to be dom­i­nat­ed by the same brew­ers, but it was always far eas­i­er to find decent beer in Cov than in Brum in the pre-Beer Orders days – more free hous­es, and a Fed­er­a­tion Brew­ery depot that meant there were at least Fed beers in many clubs, which was where much of the city’s drink­ing was done until pret­ty recent­ly. Coven­try has a lot more in com­mon with Leices­ter and the East Mid­lands in terms of taste pref­er­ence than Brum, in my view; nev­er as much preva­lence of mild as fur­ther west, and always more of a taste for Bur­ton-style beers than Brum ones. Even back in the day, many M&B pubs sold Wor­thing­ton’s Bit­ter, which was a lot more pop­u­lar than Spew XI. Even if not much bet­ter…
    So if a Coven­try-based brew­ery is com­plain­ing about the lack of beer cov­er­age of the West Mid­lands, for­get about Brum, it’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant.

  8. qq: Coven­try IS in the West Mid­lands coun­ty. What­ev­er it thinks, it is not part of War­wick­shire any more, nor does War­wick­shire want it to be. War­wick­shire does not iden­ti­fy with the West Mid­lands on any lev­el, which was the point I was mak­ing.

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