We often lament about the Birmingham beer scene compared to London, Leeds or Manchester, hoping for more bars and pubs to sell quality beer, and no doubt there is some more work to be done for Birmingham to reach its potential, but one area we do lead the way in is our fantastic bottle shops. Birmingham has two of the UK’s best bottle shops, according to RateBeer (and us) in Stirchley Wines & Cotteridge Wines, and both along the same road. With Cotteridge Wines approaching its 21st birthday they want to celebrate with their friends and customers, and they want to celebrate big. We wanted to know more about the two brothers, their 21 year history, and how they became RateBeers No.1 bottle shop in the UK.
But what makes Cotteridge Wines different?
From the outside of the building it seems like any normal off-licence, until you take a closer look and see the names of the breweries they feature. Once you step inside you notice two things, firstly it’s no frills layout, and then you see the beers, the vast lines of bottles organised by brewery, and what an amazing selection to choose from (it can be a little intimidating on first visit). So it’s kind of hard to imagine now when you walk in and see this to think that there was a time when they were just a regular neighbourhood off-licence selling Carling, Fosters and Lambrini. But 21 years ago that’s how Hari Kandola with his sons Kal and Jaz began on the Pershore Road in Birmingham, and for the vast majority of the stores history that was the status quo.
About 5 years ago Hari retired allowing the brothers to take full control, and they set about putting their own individual stamp on the store. They had begun to do a few more world beers such as Singha and Dab, and slowly added a selection of Belgian and German beers as well as bottle conditioned British beers such as Hobgoblin. This change coincided with the first stirrings of the “craft” beer movement in the UK and with a combination of customers asking and doing their own research they began to stock breweries such as Kernel, Brodies and Buxton. They also got to know a relatively local lad, called Logan Plant who had set up a brewery in London called Beavertown.
So, with the help of social media they began pushing what they were doing and championing all of these new breweries, both of them sharing the passion and commitment of what these brewers were doing. The first 6 months of this change in approach were slow, but gradually word of mouth began to build and so the customer base began to expand. At the same time, by travelling to the breweries to pick up the beers they began to build a special relationship built on mutual respect and this has borne fruit, so to speak, especially with regards to their 21st birthday celebration in July, but more on that below.
Jaz and Kal’s approach to business, mirrors the shop in their no-nonsense and straightforward ethic. They have focused on building relationships and friendships with brewers, and in some cases not taking no for an answer. They said that one of the main contributors to their success was starting to supply Mikkeller, and this mainly came through the involvement of James Brodie, who pretty much vouched for them and what a great job they were doing. This led to Mikkel telling his brother Jeppe who runs Evil Twin, quickly followed by To Øl supplying them. Once these highly respected breweries began selling in the store, more breweries followed at a steady pace, all adding to the vast selection available in store and, as you can see from the beer board on the day we were there, meant they are able to put on some really great beers.
The beer board came about during another change in late 2014 with the introduction of the tasting bar and growler filling station. I remember when I bought mine that the guys said they had done considerable research into getting the growlers just right. Mine has seen a lot of use, both at the shop, and at my local brewery, Green Duck (read about them here).
As well as the bar there is also a small room and an outside area with chairs and tables so you can enjoy a chat and a few beers when the weather is fine. This has also meant they have organised tasting sessions and meet the brewer events, which are really enjoyable, including one I attended, hosted by Evin O’Riordan of Kernel Brewery (read about that here).
Another notch on their bow, so to speak, has been the collaborative beers that they have done such as Bish’s APA with Brodies, named after a customer, one Tom Bishop (thanks to Simon Williams of CAMRGB for providing this info here ), and No. 11 with Beavertown. For their 20th birthday both Steel City (Maple & Vanilla Porridge Stout) and Siren (Cotteridge Wines Anniversary Blend) produced special beers to celebrate. Siren especially has been one the breweries that they have built a very strong friendship with. Both Jaz and Kal told us that Ryan Witter, the ex-head brewer, had been a really big help in their development and they still keep in touch with him and his family since his move to Hill Farmstead.
The brothers told us that the last 5 years have been their best, as they have really enjoyed getting to know and chatting about beer with their customers, built friendships and a community. I have to say both Bob and I were surprised when they said that they reckon about 90% of that customer base comes from outside Birmingham. I’m not sure if that is a testament to how good the shop is, or whether it says something about Birmingham drinkers, probably a bit of both (perhaps something we will explore in the future). Whatever the reason, their range and customer service helped them win RateBeer’s award of UK’s best beer bottle shop for 3 years running.
So what can we expect on July 8th and 9th at their 21st birthday… Well, a lot of breweries offered to make some special beers, so they had to make sure they didn’t end up with all the same style, but here are just a few of the beers they told us about:
- Kernel – London Sour Victoria Plum
- Northern Alchemy – Mango Lassi with pepper and cardamom
- Elusive Brewing – barrel aged Lord Nelson
- 40ft Brewing – Rose’s Melon Drop Pale
- Weird Beard – special Little Things That Kill blend
- Wiper & True – Mosaic Saison
- Magic Rock – special version of Cannonball
- Dark Horse – 5 C’s High
- Steel City – Grapefruit IPA
- Siren – Pineapple, Mint, Lime & Chili
They will also be selling the 20th Anniversary bottles at £10, plus they have some specialties from Brasserie Fantôme, De Struise Brouwers, To Øl & Mikkeller. Follow the store on Twitter for more information and new updates.
Oh, and let’s not forget that very soon the online site will be launching.
So let’s raise a glass or two, Pilsner for Kal and something hoppy for Jaz, and wish the guys a very Happy 21st birthday!