What a difference 3 months makes! The last time I visited The Hop Garden it was still , in name anyway, The Sportsman and had the remains of its tired furniture and sporting memorabilia and if I remember rightly Brendon was swinging a sledgehammer!
This visit could not be more different – Brendon had a cup of tea for a start rather than a demolition tool! The interior has been completely transformed with reclaimed materials such as pallets, floorboards and salvage lighting to give a cosy welcoming feel from the moment you walk in.
The first thing you see is the completely renovated bar. 5 permanent taps remain (currently serving 2 lagers, a fruit beer and a cider) however there are now 5 cask hand pulls, 7 craft beer taps and 5 cider taps (including a mulled one for the winter). It was great to see some Burning Soul beers on both cask and keg (as well as other local heroes Fownes in the well-stocked bottle fridge).
Above the bar is the electronic tap list with the scrolling Untappd check-in feature along the bottom (I for one love waiting to see my check-in appear – silly I know but sometimes it’s the simple things!). I like this set up as it keeps the tap area clear and allows the staff to keep the boards updated quickly and simply.
I sat down with Brendon on one of the sharing tables and we started off talking about the journey he’d been on with the pub over the last few months. One of the biggest challenges to get to the opening night (30th November) was the level of damp throughout the pub not least in the cellar. Brendon told me they’ve had to completely replaster that as well as a number of areas in the bar itself. In fact the damp has still been causing a few issues with the electrics causing the pub to be plunged into darkness multiple times last Saturday as the packed crowd on the Crimbo Crawl were enjoying their beers – apparently no one seemed to mind, beer makes everything bearable after all! The good news is that the electrics have now been sorted so everyone can enjoy their beer in the light from now on.
We moved on to talk about the plans for the New Year and especially the plans for the garden area. In 2 weeks’ time the plans will be finalised and sent for approval with the aim to complete the work by the end of April. There will be a 40ft communal table and a new entrance to the garden directly from the cut through next to Marks & Spencers. Access will be available to the kitchen, via a hatch, where the plan is to have different pop ups every weekend over the summer as well as a separate bar and a coffee machine. Brendon also said that there is a plan to enclose the area nearest the pub during the winter to allow ‘the outside in’ even in the colder months (with heaters of course!). Another exciting element of the garden will be the hops that will be planted in December – these will establish next year and who knows maybe even give a small harvest in September. To tie in with the opening of the garden the pub will have its first beer festival with 40 beers on both keg and cask – we’ll update the blog calendar once we get the dates!
I asked Brendon what kind of feedback he’d been getting in the few days he’d been open. He said they’ve already had a lot of 5* reviews on Facebook and that the locals had been interested to see the transformation of the pub and commented on the addition to the scene saying “Harborne is now on the map with 2 new beer houses” (The Hop Garden and Paper Duck). It was also great to see that the pub is dog friendly (as is Paper Duck) with fresh water and treats provided for your four legged companions.
We talked a little more about the future and the type of events Brendon has planned. He told me the first meet the brewer event will be on 8th February with not one but 2 breweries in attendance – Hopcraft and Waen. He said that he wants the pub to “have lots of strings to its bow” with meet the brewers, bottle tastings and shares and film nights in the garden. He also told me that they’ve set aside an area in the pub and are looking for local artists to create a piece of work to hang there. Entry for this will begin in the New Year with the requirement to have created the piece from reclaimed materials. The winner (judged by panel) will receive £200 and the pub will get a unique piece of art.
Brendon is keen for the pub to be a real hub in the community attracting not just beer aficionados but social groups and artists as well. In addition, and to support this community feel, he is looking for a local charity that the pub can support in 2018 – any ideas pop in and let him know!
My visit was quite brief this time but it was great to see the transformation that has taken place, due mainly to Brendon’s hard work and commitment. I’ll definitely be back to try out a few more beers and I’m sure in the summer the lovely garden is going to become a staple for any visit to Harborne. Pop along, enjoy the beer and support a new local gem.