Month: April 2016

Stourbridge Beer Festival 2016

      20160426_135037_resizedAs Spring slowly tries to rear its head towards the end of April, thoughts turn to paying our annual visit to the Stourbridge Beer festival at the Town Hall. Much has been said about CAMRA recently, and I myself have reservations about the organisation and its aims, but the local Stourbridge and Halesowen branch seems to be doing a decent job, including introducing a selection of key kegs to the festival. Deb and I went down on Wednesday, which is the CAMRA members night and hence a bit quieter, and being the sad beer drinking git that I am I’d printed off the beer list to note a few I wanted to try. As is sometimes the case on opening night not all the beers were ready but with memories of our recent trip up North we chose 2 pale ales from Yorkshire breweries to start with, both of which were decent, Deb had Azzaca from Blue Bee and I plumped for Mallinson Deutsche pale, a very reliable brewery to my mind. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I was gassing and not paying attention, I got served the wrong beer on my next visit to the bar, but being the polite English couple we are rather than returning it Deb decided to drink it, a dark ale called Bullet from Mr Grundy’s in Derby, described as a “Devilish dark ale”, but even though it was quite mild at 4.3% she seemed to take her time getting through the half pint. I went back and got what i wanted this time, the Lagonda IPA from Marble, a brewery whose beers don’t seem to make it down to Birmingham very often in my limited experience. According to Matt Merrick, who was responsible, along with Roberto Ross, for compiling the list and ordering the beers, this was a late addition to the list but what a great one- a very tasty hoppy bitter ipa. I went dark for the next round and tried another from one of my favourite breweries, Tiny Rebel in Wales, a fairly new one for them, Stay Puft, a marshmallow porter… don’t know if any actual marshmallows were harmed in the making of this beer, but it didn’t disappoint-a lovely creamy porter with a hint of chocolate. Deb stuck with Blue Bee and had Mango Number 5, although she reckoned she only got the mango taste because it was suggested by the name. A bit boring next because I went for one of Gazza’s beers because when you want that hop hit you can’t beat Hopcraft, and Citra Plus does what it says on the tin…nuff said. Time was moving on so let’s up the game and the abv and head to a brewery named after a great song by The Jam, Burning Sky. The 7.2% Devil’s Rest was very good, as described in the programme quite a deep orange colour and with a mild resinous and piney taste.P1000105 To end the night we had to have some keg since they had been so good to put it on, and as I said to Matt as far as I’m concerned good beer is good beer no matter what the dispense method is. We chose beers from Twisted Barrel, the 5.5% I Am The Muffin and 9.4% Wake Up Juice, both of which were very good, each having a Belgian twist that worked very well, really pleased to see these guys from Coventry doing such top notch beers.

      I had a brief chat with Roberto Ross towards the end of the night to see how he thought things had gone, especially with key kegs being a new innovation to the festival. He said he kind of expected the worst, and there had been some dispense issues because keg isn’t necessarily easy, but he hadn’t heard any negative feedback about it. Like many beer drinkers he had been an active member of CAMRA, even becoming one of the youngest chairmen, but after helping organise the 2012 Stourbridge Beer festival (one I remember fondly for the great selection of beers) he felt a bit worn out and took a step back. But with the chance to showcase some really great breweries and beers on cask and keg he was tempted back, and I have to say I think he and Matt did a great job…

      P1000108Since the Wednesday evening had flown by, and Deb had struggled through her half of Bullet (hey, she did say it was a bit like treacle) we decided to make a return visit on Friday, just for a couple of hours ie 4! We enjoyed some great beers from Vocation, Siren, the Mercian Alliance of Brewers, Blue Bee, Raw and Fernandes, but there were some that stood out. Deb had the Lagonda from Marble and agreed that it was pretty impressive, the latest Pilot series brew from Sadlers, a chilli stout called Midnight Oil was very good, as was Scott Povey’s 5.5% Mild Concussion, which came as no surprise. But the stand out could well have been Neopolitan by Northern Monk Brewery (who were the subject of a previous blog) which somehow managed to combine the flavours vanilla, strawberries and chocolate into a pale ale.  So all in all a pretty decent festival, and I was hoping the beer drinkers of Stourbridge concur that the introduction of key keg was well worth it,  The subsequent news that Fixed Wheel had won beer of the festival for their keg offering Spartacus, a Belgian IPA that I’ve had on cask and keg, maybe bore that out, but it is an excellent beer, quite easy drinking for its 6.5% abv, fruity with a hint of spice. So well done to the organisers and volunteers for another successful festival.

The boring decline of a beer blogger

Hello beer fans and bloggers of the Midlands.

I used to be you.

I used to run Mediocre Beer Adventures, which kicked off in 2012 and lasted for about 18 months. Mediocre Beer Adventures was a slightly ironic, but slightly accurate portrayal of a life spent in Birmingham, hunting craft beer*****. In 2012 it was not an easy job, and as such, I was very excited indeed by little discoveries and small advances. Back then, Birmingham had no craft keg beer that I could see, but it had craft beer fans and I wanted to reach out to them.

Blogging led me to build some lovely friendships with a fistful of likeminded beer simpletons – and this was the higgledy-piggledy group from which first thrust Birmingham Beer Bash. Now, my internal narrative voice (the one who is always doing prep for my upcoming internal autobiography) seemed to think that BBB was a milestone for beer in Birmingham; a turning point for a movement and a neat semi-colon personally. But it was tiring and it gobbled my beer-chat-energy, consequently, exhaustion wrestled away my blogging urge and I subsided.

My blogging life, therefore, has been limited; an intense, prolific burst during 2012/13, since when I have slunk back into the shadows. I liked being a blogger: it gave my life meaning*. However, working on the Birmingham Beer Bash sort of left me spent – too much of a good thing and so forth. I also became a family man and discovered the exciting world of work-based stress. So that was that.

I’ve now been tempted back for a brief guest stint here, by the infectious enthusiasm of this blog. This virtual Midlands place seems to represent a new breed of beer fan in west heart of England: hungry for beer experiences and a passionate advocate of the local scene.

The youthful vigour of the craft beer, makes me wish to be young once more, but being an old git has genuinely ‘set in’. Youth (or even relative youth) often provides moments when you are not just on top of ‘your’ game, but where you feel you are on top of a ‘the’ game too. Back in 2012, on any given day, I knew every beer on tap, in each of the city’s top beer destinations. I worked my patch and sniffed out developments. As the months slipped by, I stuck my finger into the Fray Bentos pie of Birmingham and felt the temperature {and the flaky pastry} rise, as the desire for proper craft beer hotted up. In my mind, I located myself at the very centre of a miniature craft beer monsoon, as we were drip-dripped into a burgeoning world of better beer options. Better off licences, more pubs, keg beer, the promise of new breweries – it was all on the way. But inevitably, keeping on top of things takes time, energy and money: all of which have receded through 2014 and 2015. I still have the same beer love now, but I no longer convince myself that I’m numero uno; the bold beer pioneer of Birmingham**. The sadness it takes to admit that is, very probably, the more fundamental sadness of getting older. Mortality ever more keenly presses it’s meatless finger into my shoulders. You want it, you briefly have it, then you lose it. Having lost it, where do you go?

A small Birmingham beer scene then, is a much bigger Birmingham beer scene now. We aren’t there yet as a city – we still lag behind a few cities, but we’ve come on leaps and bounds. A gaze over Twitter reveals a richer supply of beer experiences in the city and a broader cross section of beer fans. Both of those things are marvellous of course. But where am I? After all, as a dreadful egotist, that’s my primary concern. Nowadays, I’m not so much in the pub physically, instead, I often reside their spiritually. I perch like a mangy jackdaw, living vicariously through the beer excitement of others. I love to know about the tap offerings at Cotteridge Wines, the Saturdays at Twisted Spire***, the MTB events at the Craven and the homebrew meets at Sadlers Brewhouse. I applaud the openings of Tilt and Brewhouse and Kitchen in Sutton Coldfield, and my chops moisten with every streetfood event at the Gunmakers Arms. At the same time, I’m a bit green with envy as I sip my subsidised Bengali Tiger in Perry Barr, on a Tuesday evening, in between buses. The revolution hasn’t quite reached Perry Barr yet.

The thin whinges above all mean that I also struggle to keep on top of the blossoming craft beer scene nationally. Who are all of these new brewers? Which of the beautifully designed cans is the tastiest? I know enough to know that Buxton, Kernel and Siren**** are still firing on a selection of cylinders, but I’m also keen to grab some Cloudwater, Vocation and err the others. Happily there are now more locations dotted around, to enable me to easily pick these chaps up.

So that’s not too bad really is it? Well done Birmingham. But don’t get slack. Give us more places like the Euston Tap and Craft Beer Co. Come on.

I must go now. Nice to speak to you.


*in addition to my wife, children, job, friends, Leicester City et al
** which I never really was anyway.
***this is a Midlands blog, so I’m claiming them
****adopted Brummies now, in their OPM home
*****plus Polish canned lagers and other oddities