Sunday, 26 January 2014

Birmingham - Part One

Me and The Lovely Jemma were in Birmingham last weekend. It's been a long time since I was last there, and my only memories from my last visit was the terrifying shopping experience of the Bullring and walking around for nearly 90 minutes trying to find the Birmingham Academy to see some "up and coming" local bands attempt to win some award. As is the case with any "faces of the future" competitions I attend none of these bands went on to future success.

The first thing I noticed after getting off the train was that Brum seems to be taking a page out of nearby Coventry's book and is knocking everything down and starting again, although Birmingham hasn't had a helping hand from the Nazis in the demolition.. The area around New Street station in particular is awash with building sites, and although I'm sure it will all look great when it's finished it's a bit of a mess at the moment.

I wasn't going to let the sound of drilling, mixing and sweary builders get me down though. Two minutes walk from Birmingham New Street is the Post Office Vaults, our first stop on a mini ale trail I'd devised. Things got off to a good start when the blackboard advertising the pub just had "beer" written on it over and over again, like the insane ramblings of a pissed up madman. Inside the place is nothing remarkable. They haven't really disguised the fact that it is a former post office vault but there are a couple of minor attempts at decoration with some empty beer bottles along the walls and hops hanging from the ceiling. Free Wi-Fi was avaialble courtesy of the Greggs bakery next door. I'm not sure why Greggs even has wi-fi as I imagine most patrons want to get away from the stench of stale pastry and hot fat as quickly as possible so they can gobble down their overpriced and not very good sausage rolls, but there you go.

A small serving area belies the tremendous amount of drink on offer, including a fine selection of foreign beers. Naturally I avoided these as I have no idea about beers from abroad except for some Belgium Trappist offerings and a smattering of American beers. I couldn't find a beer menu to help guide me through the bottles so instead I went for a selection from their cask ales. Hobsons Mild was nothing special but a decent sup, getting correct all the elements of a mild with a slight chocolate and mocha flavour but not attempting to push the boundaries. Rat Brewery's The Rat of Khan was much better. A hoppy treat with nice floral flavours but not overpowering. Really terrible name for a beer though.

The Lovely Jemma requested a cider and I asked the friendly barman what was on offer. "We have a sparkling cider on draught" replied the friendly barman. "Oh" I replied, a bit disappointed and thinking they don't really care about cider here. "Oh and there's the twelve ciders here" he remarked as he moved out the way revealing a cannily placed blackboard listing the ciders on offer. I then noticed all the certificates from CAMRA lining the walls awarding their real cider selection. Clearly this is a place that cares about the disgusting boozy apple drink so well worth popping in if you're demented and like cider.

Next on the list was the Wellington, affectionately known as "The Wellie" according to the Good Beer Guide and "The Welly" according to Twitter. Next to the large serving area there was a plasma screen listing the beers, and a message politely asking patrons to order by pump number. The beer I wanted to try was second on the list and I decided to order it by name, because I would have found it weird and even a bit unpleasant asking the barman to provide me with "a pint of number two please."

I opted for the Black Country Ales BFG and me and TLJ departed upstairs to enjoy our booze. There was a collection of games including both Jenga and a knock off "stacking wooden blocks game" stashed in the corner looking unloved so we opted for a game of chess. While I was loosing horribly I couldn't help but think that the upstairs of the pub had a vibe that reminded me of The Harp in London, but on a larger scale. Good ale selection, mix of young and old clientèle, and similar traditional furnishing. The pint of BFG was great, and kept in good condition. Overall this was a lovely place, but as a Pub of the Year winner I wasn't wowed by it the same way as other winners have done.

The final pub of the evening was The Briar Rose, a Wetherspoons which I thought was in the Good Beer Guide but turns out it's not - the one in the guide was across town. Still it was OK in here, and it provided the basic Spoons function of providing a pint and a quick meal. It even goes one step further and offers rooms to sleep in as this is a Wetherspoons Lodge. The ale selection was pretty decent and the Titanic Full Steam Ahead was in good nick. My steak and kidney pudding had been reheated professionally and promptly and went down a treat. As it was a Friday night the bar was packed but the place is massive and we managed to snag a table at the back. It was a low key end to a pleasant if low key mini pub crawl.

Next week I'll be talking about the Prince of Wales in the "upmarket" (for Birmingham) suburb of Moseley and The Old Contemptibles back in the town centre. I also had the pleasure of visiting the Cronx Brewery open day this weekend so I'll probably write a few words about that. There will even be pictures! That's something to look forward to.

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