A bit late? Or right on time?

I have been meaning to write this for some time now. I have been sitting on my thoughts, my feelings and yes, some anger for long enough. Maybe I wanted just to wait: store all my thoughts into a collective heap. That way I could keep ignoring them, get on with things. But no: working for a brewery based in the West Midlands doesn’t help the frustration! The collective heap kept staring at me, gnawing away, even growing. Is it ‘a bit late? Or right on time?’ for this blog? I guess you decide, but first I need you all to stare at the monster. Familiar to me, but a new horizon for you: The West Midlands beer scene….

poll

I asked a question on Twitter in the form of a poll on the 18th July 2017: ‘Do you think the beer scene in the West Midlands is overlooked? If so, what could be done to improve it?’. I was taken aback by some of the responses. Impressed, deflated and left in shock at the overall thoughts of some people and the way they view the centre of the UK. Let me break this down first of all:  the poll was only answered by 231 people, a teeny tiny small percentage of the beer loving public. It also gives no geographical detail of those that responded: it could in theory have been 200 people from the West Midlands. Or, on the other hand, they could all be from elsewhere. Whichever way you look at it, polls are polls. What I did not expect, however, was the conversation that happened under the Tweet. For me, this was more fascinating. It also gave me (and a few others) a better understanding of what on earth is going on in the West Midlands at the moment.

Here are a few Tweets that I received; I tried to answer as many as I could. If you would like to go back and refresh your minds, or even Tweet me again, you can find the poll and the Tweets HERE!

poll5poll4poll3poll1

Sensing a general theme? It seems like Breweries, bars and events aren’t shouted about enough in the West Midlands. I live in the area and am involved in the beer scene, so I know about the majority of things that are happening, and I can tell you that they ARE happening. We had our first ever Beer Week based in Birmingham this year: who knew about that outside of the West Midlands? The Birmingham Beer Bizarre happened this year too, a massive beer festival smack bang in the middle of Birmingham: who heard about this? There are taprooms open on Friday nights and at weekends around the Birmingham and Coventry area. Bars, bottle shops and pubs are now regularly opening their taps for ‘meet the brewers’  Do you know when the next one is?

There has been a like-minded group of people working on this issue in the form of The Midlands Beer Blog (Twitter: @midlandsbeerbc). They get around. A lot. If you are interested in the Midlands Beer Scene I would say this would be the best place to start… a lovely bunch of people who can direct you to the right places for beer around the West Midlands! For a start, check out their BEER MAP.

The West Midlands has been redeveloping its transport network for the last year or so, with trams now accompanying buses, trains and taxis as means of venturing in to places like Coventry and Birmingham, making it easier to get around. Places like Earlsdon in Coventry – home of Beer Gonzo – is very easy to get from the train station. Cotteridge Wines, Stirchley Wines and Wild Cat Tap are more accessible than you think with a 5 minute walk from Kings Norton train station. Yet accessibility seems to be a problem. With any trip away to another city/town, you will need to plan. Places like Leeds, Manchester and London etc. are well known for certain beer bars. Test yourself: how many do you know in Birmingham or Coventry? If the answer is none, ask yourself why you don’t? Is it because of a preconceived idea that the West Midlands is devoid of good beer and not served well? Any city in the UK has at least a few pubs or bars that will serve beer to your taste, why not give the West Midlands a chance?

poll6

I challenge that the breweries in the West Midlands are high enough quality already: Burning Soul are going to be taking part in Indy Man over the next week. Marstons (Banks’), no matter your taste in beer, are a high quality brewery: one that sells more beer than all other West Midlands breweries combined in a year. Bars in Birmingham are continually selling beer in the West Midlands. Even though we have fewer breweries in the West Midlands, we have a high number of breweries bringing out amazing core and seasonal beers, and still managing to sell a lot of beer outside of the West Midlands.

poll2

The final question I pulled out made me think a lot. What are WE as brewers, publicans, bottle shop owners and bloggers doing to get people looking at OUR scene. This is a hard one to answer, even looking to other areas: what does Manchester do to attract people there? How about Newcastle? Leeds? Other successful beery cities and towns? Regular events? The West Midlands does them. Social Media? All the main bottle shops, bars, and bloggers are very active online. So we are, in some ways, ensuring that people are looking at us. However, ensuring awareness of the West Midlands isn’t getting people into the taprooms here. It isn’t becoming a destination for people from Manchester and London. Why, because the scene has grown so slowly that people from other places do not need us anymore? They have their own bubble, their own unique places that they enjoy, why travel a few hours when you are happier at home? Well, come to the West Midlands – our home – and rather than wondering what the West Midlands can gain, find out what your City or Town is missing. Like this blog, our scene is not late. Our scene, the West Midlands beer scene, has actually arrived. It’s arrived like this blog: on time! But there is still more to come!

 

 

 

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A bit late? Or right on time?

B³- Three IS a magic number: Part Two

Part two, and I continue to reminisce about the Birmingham Beer Bash; the beer consumed and the people I met. I feel that it goes without saying, that without the people who worked tirelessly behind the scenes in the weeks and months leading up to the event, such a event would not have been possible. This extends not only to the volunteers, but also the brewers that gave up their time to be part of the proceedings, the food vendors that helped add to the whole experience, right back to the people who originally dreamt up the idea years before. 

One of the cask bars at B- Cubed.
One of the cask bars at B- Cubed.

One thing that really stood out at this beer festival, compared to many I have attended before (both Independent and CAMRA affiliated) is… hold on to your hats, this might sound a bit weird… the toilets.

Bear with me on this. Beer festivals are generally held in buildings with their own facilities, so it really can’t be helped if there is a queue, if they are smelly, if the toilet door is hang off the wall etc. With Birmingham Beer Bash largely based outside, the control over the facilities lies with the organisers. Most people wouldn’t pay much attention to them, but with all the beer consumed and the food eaten over the space of 3 days, the toilets are seeing as much action as the bars! How did they do it? Portaloos, and plenty of them. Not once did I have to wait, even with 200+ people at the venue. I never had any trouble going (pardon the pun). Each visit I made, they were clean, with plenty of loo roll and surprisingly odour-free. Why am I talking about the toilets at a beer festival you ask? Simple. Not only does it show the attention to detail behind the Beer Bash, but queuing to go to the toilet will reduce your drinking time significantly. With little or no queuing for the toilet, you can get back to drinking your beer in no time. Which is just what I did.

Wild Beer Co – Fresh. 5.5% (Cask): I am going to start off by saying I am a massive Wild Beer Co fanboy. I have tried nearly all of their range of beers in bottles and was extremely excited and nervous when I saw that they were releasing their beers in cans. Will they provide the same uniqueness as the bottles? I think that answer lies in a future blog. The last cask version of a Wild beer I had was ‘Bibble’, their ‘everyday beer’. I hadn’t had ‘Fresh’ from a bottle for a while, but I couldn’t remember it tasting like this. For me, this was a little off the mark. It had a medicinal aroma to it, almost comparable to penicillin. The taste was a little chalky, yet the appearance had a slight rustic tinge to it. Aesthetically, this beer looks great. A golden, lovely, creamy head that grabs hold of the glass after each sip. I would be interested to know which hops were used in this beer, as Fresh is brewed differently each time. (Twitter: @WildBeerCo)

Magic Rock Brewing- Bearded Lady; Chocolate Orange. 10.5% (Keg): Magic Rock are a brewery that really need no introduction. They are a constant reminder of how a brewery can produce consistently good beer without setting a foot wrong in an industry ripe with hop issues. Bearded Lady is an outstanding imperial stout in bottle form, yet I’d never before tried it from a keg. When looking at the beer list for the weekend, this was one of the beers I was really keen to try. As with the original Bearded Lady, it sat in the glass like a heavy, dark syrup, with a lovely tanned head draping down the side of the glass. Putting it to my lips, the aroma was intense: mildly roasty with orange notes. Taking the first sip was almost romantic! For a 10%+ beer, this was smooth but rich in body. For an Imperial barrel-aged stout, this was full of body yet quaffable like the easiest session IPA. The alcohol left a sharp taste on your tongue, while the initial hit triggered a feeling of being in a log cabin by an open fire while watching snow flutter past the window. The orange had such robust flavour as drinking an orange Options hot chocolate. It was superbly well balanced; a welcome companion to the already great Bearded Lady. Just as I thought this beer couldn’t get any better, it did.(Twitter: @MagicRockBrewCo)

Beavertown – Earl Phantom. 4.5% (Keg): It was about time I made a trip to the Wild and Sour bar. With the Beavertown backdrop for the keg dispensers, it was tucked neatly in to the corner next to the band performance area. The staff behind this bar were once again informative when helping me make my selection. Earl Phantom is the corny cousin of Beavertown’s two new canned beers: Lemon Phantom and Yuzilla Phantom. Earl Phantom is a Berliner Weisse, using these two new beers as a base. Earl Grey Tea was then added while conditioning. It poured a very pale yellow with a high, white, tight head. The tartness and bitterness of the lemon base completely battles through; my mouth feeling like it was shrinking with each sip. This is a beer you really need to dig deep in to. The more you drink, the more flavours your tongue dissects. I still can’t work out if the punch of the zesty lemon comes through more than the dry, earthy taste of the Earl Grey. Either way, they work very much in harmony with one another to create an excellent beer. I, for one, can’t wait ’til next week when both the Lemon and Yuzilla get canned. Definitely ones to watch out for if you enjoy sours. (Twitter: @BeavertownBeer)

Celt Experience- Goddess of Spring. 6% (Keg): Celt Experience, hailing from Wales, have been making massive strides within the UK for a while. Growing in reputation, their beers are certainly becoming the ones to drink. Goddess of Spring is a saison with a difference. Deep pink in colour, with a pinkish-white head, you could smell the dry tartness of the yeast as soon as it approached your mouth. The sharp, rich berry texture of the beer was excellent; the more you drink, the more the sour comes through. It was a really good beer to drink with friends in the sunshine. If Celt Experience continue to be this consistent away from their core range, they will easily push their way through to the bigger leagues of the craft beer world. (Twitter: @CeltBeers)

B³- Three IS a magic number: Part Two

The Tip of the Ice-beer-g: A West Midlands story.

According to the latest census, the West Midlands contains a population of over 5 million! With at least a million of these folks living in Birmingham, it’s quite surprising that a ‘craft’ beer scene hasn’t prevailed here. Well, hold on to your hats: what if I was to say it has, and it’s been here for a while?

In the beginning, Midlands Beer had its roots firmly in Burton: a massive stronghold for real ale. Marston’s is a shining example of this: trying to retain a ‘local’ sense through owning a number of high-profile Midlands breweries, with a couple of national exceptions in Jennings and Wychwood. Despite the lesser popularity of macro breweries in the ever-growing scenes of the big smokes – London, Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Bristol, Newcastle – they are firmly entrenched here in the Midlands. Perhaps we are subconsciously trying to preserve the idea of traditional bitters and milds? Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I will be the first to hold my hand up and say that macros should be praised on the consistency and speed in which they can produce beer. However, as individuals with our respective tastes, I would not expect unanimous agreement. This is reflected in the on-going change and progressive interest in the beer scene. For the past 5 years, perhaps longer, punters have been increasingly craving craft beer. Weary of tradition, people have been pursuing variety, but with the Mercian traditional beer backbone, this hasn’t been easy. From a personal perspective, this has involved money, travel and time. Good beers were hard to find in the supermarkets. There was a meagre micro scene, so trying to get hold of these beers meant making the effort to seek them out yourself.

Fast forward a few years later and I had discovered a beer haven in Cotteridge Wines, and a little further on down the road, Stirchley Wines. Both based in Birmingham, it still involved a bit of travelling, but allowed me to get multiple beers from a variety of micro breweries in one place. Not only from West Midlands breweries, but world-wide. An outstanding feat for small Birmingham businesses. The Midlands’ quiet craft undercurrent is now producing some of the UK’s best beers (which I’ll talk about in more detail in another blog), and their growing outreach has only been helped by these Midlands suppliers, among some of the best in the UK.


Cotteridge Wines has been run by brothers Kal and Jaz for 20 years, celebrating it’s anniversary in 2015. A shop that has been supplying beer to the local community and beyond for that length of time deserves a lot of praise! The past few years has seen them grow from strength to strength: supplying beers from new breweries, helping both the UK and worldwide craft beer movements and opening a great Tasting Room. This has already housed many a ‘meet the brewer’ event, bringing the London, Manchester and Liverpool-based breweries even closer. These accomplishments give just a few examples of why Cotteridge Wines have won Ratebeer’s ‘Best Bottle Shop in the UK’ award for 2015. (Twitter: @CotteridgeWines)

Stirchley Wines’ owner Krishan is a very active member of the beer scene. Through the thriving bottle shop, Krishan has brought the beers of the Pico and Micro breweries of the West Midlands to the masses of Birmingham. As one of the originating ‘enthusiasts’ of the Birmingham Beer Bash (or B-Cubed to those in the know), SW’s proactive involvement has helped B-Cubed grow to become one of the best and most diverse beer festivals in the UK. Always selling out quickly, it’s definitely not one to be missed! ( Twitter: @StirchleyWines)

Beer Gonzo is the more recent of these bottle shops, and the first of it’s kind in Coventry. Located just outside the city centre, Anthony Akers has worked tirelessly as one of the driving forces behind developing a central beer hub in Coventry. Since it’s opening in 2010, the range of beers stocked has always been excellent, along with their hospitality. A vast extent of beer knowledge has obviously been aided by the success of their independent bar, Inspire (equally well worth a visit!) and the guys are always willing to help and advise with beer choices. Beer Gonzo has a growing reputation for it’s huge stack of German beers, and if you’re not be able to check these out in person, they also happen to be one of the best ale-by-mail shops in the country. (Twitter: @beergonzo1)


This is really only the tip of the ice-beer-g of what the West Midlands has to offer. As someone that has been lucky enough to already enjoy the beer, the shops and the breweries of the West Midlands, I feel it has all been overlooked for too long. This – I hope – will be the first post of many which explains on one hand, what the UK has been missing out on, but on the other hand, what the UK has to look forward to.

The Tip of the Ice-beer-g: A West Midlands story.