A fresh start in beer?

It’s hard to sum up my views on the Midlands beer scene: not because there isn’t one, but because of the way that other cities have developed, it somehow feels like we have been left behind. This makes it a little more challenging to think of somewhere to liken it to. Firstly, the Midlands is a massive place, comprised of cities and towns including Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Coventry and Birmingham. I have more of an understanding of how the West Midlands specifically has evolved within the world of beer, particularly Wolverhampton, Coventry and Birmingham. This is less of an overview of the Midlands as a whole, more an overview of my locality.

Around 3 years ago, the yet-to-be giant that was Brewdog moved into Birmingham. A fresh belief in ‘craft beer’ crept into the city. As the already established Cherry Reds was situated just opposite, it looked like the traditional ale hold on Birmingham was losing its grip. Another brewery emerged called Beer Geek; things were starting to look good for the ‘craft beer’ drinkers. The traditional ale pubs, a number of which are scattered around Birmingham, were still not feeling the pressure. With the insurgence of ‘craft beer’, people just wanted to drink again. Two Towers from Birmingham and Byatt’s from Coventry were helping to steer people away from drinking cheap lager at home and bringing them back to pubs. Bottle shops spread their wings a little more to bring beers from the new breweries in London to the West Midlands. Things were looking good: our tastes were developing. The West Midlands was a bit behind many cities with the variety of beer coming from the tap and bottle, but we weren’t that far off some major cities outside of London.

Fast forward to today. Shamefully, nothing much has changed. Thankfully, Cherry Reds and Brewdog are still around and a number of bottle shops are still here. In fact, I would go as far as to say that these have been the true pioneers over the past few years. The real ale pubs are still around, but most freeholds have dwindled; taken over by the big breweries, forcing local breweries to adapt. Unfortunately, some haven’t: Beer Geek disappeared into thin air, leaving a lot of people (including me) confused. To say that we have gone backwards compared with other cities would be harsh, but we just haven’t progressed as quickly. Thanks to the bars, pubs and bottle shops keeping the beer flowing into the West Midlands, it has inspired people to start homebrewing and made people realise that they can help diversify and challenge the typical tastes that we in the Midlands expect. Only recently we seem to have had another injection of breweries, bars and real ale showing up in Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country. “Why has it taken this long?” is a question I am still asking myself. There is certainly a strong push to get people to try different beer, with the Pure bar opening a while ago in Birmingham, and most recently Tilt bar. Brew taps have opened: Black Tap in Redditch, Twisted Barrel in Coventry and Sadler’s in Stourbridge. Green Duck, Byatt’s and Two Towers have also increased their range of beers.

While pubs, bars and breweries have been struggling to get started, bottle shops haven’t. Places like Cotteridge Wines, Stirchley Wines and Beer Gonzo have been supplying beer to people locally for many years, continually extending their ranges. Our bottle shops have consistently been listed as the best bottle shops in the UK by Ratebeer, on numerous occasions. So does this mean that people in the West Midlands prefer to ‘take-away’ than go to a pub or a bar? Probably not, but it does mean the people of West Midlands have a lot more options when it comes to beer than some areas of the UK have. Maybe we are all too busy drinking beer here to care enough about running a pub, bar or brewery.

Despite the slow start, the pace has picked up and the future looks bright. With even more breweries choosing Birmingham and the Midlands as places to host ‘meet the brewer’ style events, it shows an increasing interest in being educated about beer. Bars and pubs are popping up sporadically around the West Midlands, all hosting a variety of beers from local and distant breweries. With the new brewpub phenomenon, we are definitely experiencing a boom in outlets for locally produced beer. Breweries like Twisted Barrel, Fixed Wheel and Sacre Brew are making their mark on the Midlands brewing scene and beyond, as are Sadler’s, Purity, Green Duck and Byatt’s, with drinkers being more than happy with their wares. Newcomers such as Glassjaw are making an appearance in Birmingham, and there are many more appearing in the West Midlands. It looks as though it has taken a while to get started, but now we are well on our way to producing high-class, quality beer. We have a very exciting year in beer coming up.

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A fresh start in beer?

4 thoughts on “A fresh start in beer?

  1. There are a few discrepancies here over timelines, for example while Cherry Reds was well established in their original first site they didn’t open on John Bright St opposite Brewdog until after the latter themselves opened. Beer Geek had pretty much been and gone by that point, certainly within a year their journey had pretty much run its course.

    Not fundamental issues to the point being made but it is nice to get the details right.

    Personally I find it much more baffling that in charting a long-awaited rise in the quality of drinking opportunities in the West Midlands that you’d choose to overlook the Beer Bash. Naturally I’m disappointed to be overlooked as I have a very personal involvement, but who wouldn’t be? I’m always humbled by the feedback we get, by the credit we get for helping make a change in the local beer scene so when a opinion-piece such as this ignores completely the modern-day style of beer festival it, quite honestly, hurts a little.

    I’m only human and commented on this on my personal Facebook, which I’m entitled to do. I see you’ve since had a bit of a rant at me on Twitter (which I try to reserve more for business stuff now) but as I was busy working this evening I didn’t see it or reply at the time. I’ve now got more time and the necessary tools at my disposal to reply on here, so thee you go. In respect of those Twitter comments I’m at a loss as to how you think I’ve been hypocritical in being upset at the exclusion above, but feel free to enlighten me. Likewise I don’t understand how it is ‘silly’ to be baffled by (as you state) three blogs singing the event’s praises yet feel it unworthy of a mention in a wider discussion of the changes in the West Midlands beer scene.

    In the end though, you’really entitled to your opinion and view, and I’m entitled to be disappointed by it.

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    1. Of course why shouldn’t you be dissapointed in me not mentioning the beer bash? But this blog was focuses on breweries and pubs only not once did I mention any beer festivals outside the West Midlands to compare it too. As I agree that there is an influence here to the West Midlands beer scene. You discredit the amount of effort CAMRA have displayed during these years. But like I have said before I have not included them. Maybe it’s time for another blog? Independent beer festivals and CAMRA style festivals within the Midlands? Also the beer bash has had 3 blog posts out of a total of 11. Kind of thought people would of got the message if they had read them all! Good luck at brewdog Birmingham tap take over, I am hoping to be there to talk more. But I will DM you if I am I would like to talk more to help the progression of Birmingham cubed and the progression of the West Midlands beer scene as a whole.

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  2. Ah ok, so when you write about “the Midlands beer scene”, “how the West Midlands specifically has evolved within the world of beer”, “the variety of beer coming from the tap and bottle”, and “a strong push to get people to try different beer”, I and any other readers are somehow meant to know that you only want to focus on breweries and pubs (and bottle shops, and home brewing actually, since you mention them too). Festivals aren’t part of the focus of this post, but there’s no explanation that this is the case or maybe even a passing reference to other posts that touch on the influences to the beer scene that you’require not focusing on here. Maybe that is some constructive criticism you can take forward in your writing because this all comes across like the influence of festivals isn’t relevant.

    You’really right that you don’t mention any festival outside the West Midlands to compare to. But then you don’t mention any pub, brewery or bottle shop outside the West Midlands either, so that comment has no bearing on why you chose to overlook festivals (and that doesn’t have to just be Beer Bash, the (CAMRA) Birmingham Beer and Cider Festival’s growth to a much bigger venue is also a factor of interest surely).

    And yes, CAMRA. I’be discredited the amount of effort they’be played over these years? Sorry, but I haven’t discredited anyone. I didn’t mention CAMRA because my disappointment was in the lack of recognition of the role Beer Bash has had in the improvement in beer choice in the area. You chose not to mention CAMRA in your post, so why is my not mentioning them suddenly a discredit? And while on the subject, what about all the other pubs that you fail to mention: the Victoria, the Craven, the Post Office Vaults to name three just in the centre of Birmingham that were all advancing the “craftier” (and god help me, I hate bring the c word into this) side of what was available before the “true pioneers” you do reference. And that is not meant as any discredit to Cherry Reds or Brewdog who have both helped make great strides in the local scene, but they aren’t the only ones and weren’t the first.

    I appreciate that you wrote three posts (though actually one write-up in three instalments) about your visit to Beer Bash. That was great, and appreciated. But does that mean therefore that when writing about the changes in the West Midlands beer scene over the last three or so years it shouldn’t get some passing mention? That everyone should just know because you wrote about it separately a while back and make the connection themselves? That this post will only be read by people that have read through all your other posts?

    If you were writing about pubs and breweries in the West Midlands in the last few years I’d say your approach and comments were understandable. But this was a post ostensibly about “the West Midlands beer scene” and as such it paints out part of that scene entirely without any explanation why.

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    1. Dude, I limit myself to 900 words max per blog. You need to appreciate I can’t mention everything. Have you commented on the other blogs about the West Midlands and how they don’t mention any beer festivals? Don’t understand why you have got offended by this post. But like you said you are welcome to you opinions and I will always have a platform for you to share them thoughts. It’s the only way the beer scene around here will improve.

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