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.