Impressions of Birmingham Pubs

We had a less than satisfactory time on the second part of our recent sort-of-holiday, which we spent in Birmingham (of which more in our monthly newsletter), but there was plenty of fun to be had down the pub.

We had a hit list of places we want­ed to vis­it, either because we’d heard they were good, or because they were of his­toric or archi­tec­tur­al inter­est. That’s just as well because – gen­er­al­i­sa­tion alert – it’s not the kind of city where play­ing it by ear works espe­cial­ly well. It seemed to us that the city cen­tre is large­ly the domain of chains. Large­ly but not entire­ly, of course: The Welling­ton and The Post Office Vaults, both five min­utes walk from New Street Sta­tion, between them have more than enough beer to keep the snooti­est of drinkers hap­py for a week­end. We did also pop into Puri­ty’s craft beer bar, Pure­craft, and did­n’t take to it – it was like drink­ing in Piz­za Express – but we’d had a long day and oth­ers seem to like it.

To get to the rest of the inter­est­ing stuff, though, you have to brave the ring road (we spent what felt like hours wait­ing at traf­fic lights or wan­der­ing in sub­ways) after which you find your­self very quick­ly in the kind of post-indus­tri­al streetscapes which can feel a bit ‘sketchy’ to an out­sider.

Tower blocks, Birmingham.Local favourite The Craven Arms, for exam­ple, is only just beyond the very cen­tre of the city, but it’s not a pub a vis­i­tor would ever stum­ble upon, being up a side street, past a con­crete car park, what looks like a half-col­lapsed estate pub, some waste­land, and those beau­ties above. But it’s not actu­al­ly dodgy, as far as we can tell, and the leap of faith is total­ly worth it for the sight of this gor­geous exte­ri­or against the grey:

The exterior of the Craven Arms.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Impres­sions of Birm­ing­ham Pubs”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14/11/2015

Here’s the beer news and commentary that most interested or amused us in the last seven days.

→ For Bel­gian Smaak, Bre­andán Kear­ney writes at length about a col­lab­o­ra­tion between Irish and Bel­gian brew­ers:

A hard-nosed Bel­gian farmer arrives at the his­tor­i­cal brew house in the Flem­ish vil­lage of Bokrijk on an old Dex­ta trac­tor to pick up the spent grain… Rob Hynes makes a bee line for the trac­tor. “That’s a thing of beau­ty,” he says. “I used to own one years ago but I sold it. I regret that.”

→ Des de Moor has been explor­ing the Mid­lands and wrote a long piece about Black Coun­try brew­eries for his web­site, Beer Cul­ture:

The name dates from this peri­od: con­tem­po­rary accounts talk of a blast­ed land of spoil heaps and per­pet­u­al twi­light, over­cast by fac­to­ry smoke in the day­time and lit by fur­naces at night. J R R Tolkein, who grew up in south Birm­ing­ham, based his chief vil­lain Sauron’s des­o­late domain in The Lord of the Rings on this land­scape. Its name, Mor­dor, even trans­lates as ‘black coun­try’ in the author’s invent­ed lan­guages.

→ In the age of ‘crowd-fund­ing fatigue’ Seth Fiegerman’s take for Mash­able, under the head­line ‘Crowd­fund­ing may not cre­ate the ‘next Face­book,’ but it’s great for craft brew­eries’, is an inter­est­ing one. (Via @BeerAttorney.)

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Bottled Milds 2: The Midlands

This time, we tasted three bottled milds from Dudley, Nottingham and Wolverhampton, the latter from both can and bottle.

The Mid­lands is a part of the UK where (in our admit­ted­ly lim­it­ed expe­ri­ence) mild still feels alive – where ‘pub­by’ pubs seem to have one on draught and might even offer a choice of dif­fer­ent brands, or dif­fer­ent types of mild. (See Bar­m’s 2014 account of explor­ing ‘Eng­land’s Fran­co­nia’ for more on this.)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly – or, actu­al­ly, maybe we mean for­tu­nate­ly? – lots of Mid­lands milds are cask beers by def­i­n­i­tion and either don’t seem to make it into bot­tles, or the bot­tles are hard to come by. The selec­tion we man­aged to scrape togeth­er includes some­thing from the super­mar­ket main­stream, a mild with some­thing of a cult rep­u­ta­tion, and an out­ly­ing ‘crafty’-looking beer that isn’t sure exact­ly what it is.

We pur­chased all of these from Beers of Europe online:

  • Banks’s Mild (can, 3.5%, £1.49, 500ml)
  • Bank’s Mild (bot­tle, 3.5%, £1.69, 500ml)
  • Hold­en’s Black Coun­try Mild (£2.09, 3.7%, £2.09, 500ml)
  • Blue Mon­key 99 Red Baboons (£2.99, 4.2%, 500ml)

Tak­ing them in order of ABV, we start­ed with Banks’s (part of the Marston’s empire but still brewed in Wolver­hamp­ton, as far as we can tell) and decid­ed to drink the can and bot­tle side by side in pint glass­es.

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Live in the Midlands and Want to Blog?

If you’re a Midlands-based beer enthusiast who wants to write, the Midlands Beer Blog Collective might be the opportunity you’ve been looking for.

A while ago, pon­der­ing Lon­don­cen­tric­i­ty in beer blog­ging and writ­ing, we men­tioned that Birm­ing­ham was under-served by beer blog­gers with sev­er­al vet­er­ans hav­ing giv­en up, moved on to oth­er roles in the beer indus­try, or just slowed their pro­duc­tion of con­tent to a trick­le.

Now, Bob Max­field and his col­leagues have launched a mul­ti-author blog ded­i­cat­ed to ‘the love of beer across the Mid­lands and beyond’.

He’s look­ing for peo­ple to write on the blog and says:

We are keen to have dif­fer­ent back­grounds and points of view on the site to dis­cuss and pro­mote all that is hap­pen­ing in the beer world in the Mid­lands. I’m hap­py for peo­ple to blog direct­ly on the site or reblog from their own sites.

In oth­er words, you can host a post on your own blog but also share it via the MBBC or, if you can’t be both­ered to set up and host your own blog but have some­thing to get off your chest, or only want to blog once in a while, MBBC will host the con­tent for you.

We don’t imag­ine you have to actu­al­ly live in the Mid­lands, either – it might just be that you’ve got some­thing to say about the region’s beer and pub scene based on a vis­it or pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence.

Self­ish­ly, we’re delight­ed because this means there might be a more steady flow of intel­li­gence on what’s going on in the region, and because we think mul­ti-author sites might well be the sav­iour of beer blog­ging, tak­ing the pres­sure off any one indi­vid­ual to keep com­ing up with mate­r­i­al.

If you want to get involved, drop Bob a line via Twit­ter or by leav­ing a com­ment on the ‘About’ page of the blog.

GALLERY: Modern Watney’s Pubs from Matchboxes

These were carefully removed from matchboxes produced, we would guess, in about 1968, probably for sale in Watney’s pubs. (Any matchbox collectors who want to correct us, go for it.)

The Silver Sword, Coventry, which now looks like this.
The Sil­ver Sword, Coven­try, which now looks like this (Google Street View).
The Roebuck, Erdington, Birmingham, described in 2010 as 'like a wild west saloon'.
The Roe­buck, Erd­ing­ton, Birm­ing­ham, described in 2010 as ‘like a wild west saloon’.

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