The beers were flowing, the food was flying and the music was banging as the kids say. So what was this? Was it a traditional beer festival? Or was it a regular street food party? Well in fact, it was both of these things combined but with the volume ramped right up to the max. An eclectic soundtrack which included a mixture of club and pop tunes delivered in part by a variety of DJ’s and a rather extraordinary accompaniment but extremely popular brass band. And all of this housed within Birmingham’s Custard Factory in the heart of Digbeth. A truly unique experience to be in such a stunning setting where you can clearly witness what was, what is now and be happy in the knowledge of what could be in this unique venue. So was this your everyday thing? I would definitely say not.
TAPS festival was a two day event spread over a Friday and Saturday and was a combination of those behind Digbeth Dining Club and Craft Beer Rising. A recipe for success right away surely? Well to find out, I went down to the final session on the Saturday night with a few friends to see what it was all about. I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive as although I have been to similar festivals before and often enjoy what the beer world currently has to offer, my friends hadn’t and for their sake, I was hoping they would embrace their surroundings and have a good time.
A stroll down Gibb Street and directly opposite to one of my favorite bars in Birmingham, Clink, was the entrance to the Custard Factory and indeed TAPS festival. Collect your glasses at the entrance and we were given a map of the layout. I had a slight criticism here I must admit at least for festival goers. Upon the purchase of our glasses of £3 each we were told that they were non refundable as they were a souvenir because they had been specially made for the festival. This didn’t bother me in the slightest as I always like a souvenir glass, however, I do think the refundable option upon the return of a glass like some similar festivals should have been made available for those who may not have wanted the souvenir. I ended up coming away with all my friends glasses, purely my choice of course but throughout the night, I noticed abandoned glasses adorning the many seating areas and bars.
Walk in and for me it was almost like walking into a rave venue. Wander past the DJ booth, music was pumping and the low lights gave it a very welcoming atmosphere. So where to begin? We had brief look around at the varying bars which included breweries and local bars all showcasing varying styles of beer. Nice to see soon to be open The Pint Shop have a bar here. They were showcasing some of their recent collaborations with well known breweries, a sign of things to come when they open their establishment on Bennetts Hill. I certainly will be checking these guys out when they are open.
One of my friends made a beeline for the Jameson house who were one of festival sponsors. Ever tried Jameson whisky and IPA? Well now I have and I am happy to report that it works very well indeed. Well, at least a couple of us thought so. We were greeted here by some welcome free shots of whisky and a modified version of beer pong of sorts. Thrust into our hands were some juggling balls and we forced to stand on the oche and attempt to get the balls into the cups placed on a wooden stand in the corner of the room. We were all miserable at doing this, however, the event staff were extremely friendly and although the game was a bit of fun, we had a good laugh and the shots of whisky kept on coming. A great start to our night.
On our way round, we stopped off at the Fierce brewery bar which proved to be our favorite as the night went on. A tangerine sour for myself and a Pina Colada ice cream beer for my mate. A beer which he continually raved about all night and possibly in his mind, nothing else will ever come close? That’s a challenge set right there for any future beers.
There was plenty of space to walk round which is always a good sign at any event I feel. The middle area where the bars were facing each other could get a little crowded and difficult to walk through but this was no major concern. What I did like was how easy it was to interact with the staff on the bars who would advise you what was on offer.
We all had our drinks so we decided to step outside and see what food was on offer here. As I mentioned this was certainly a cool setting and immediately reminded me of being in similar places such as Shoreditch in London where there are street food markets dotted everywhere among the cool street art. Great to see local representation with Original Patty Men who are always favorites and extremely popular at these types of events. Other vendors included Wingmans as well as Only Jerkin who have become massively popular in London and I hear a whisper, they are gaining a residency in Birmingham at some point in the near future? I guess we shall wait and see.
So we had had a look around and seen what was on offer and thankfully for me, my mates were enjoying their beers and in fact ciders. It was good to see that away from beer, other options included cider from the likes of Thistly Cross Cider, Gin from Gin & Fizz and even wine from nearby Kings Heath business Grace & James. Some of the beers that my mates were enjoying they potentially may not have gone for or even considered previously up until this point. I was happy to at least demonstrate a small portion of what Birmingham really has to offer away from potentially more commercial surroundings or everyday run of the mill locations. Thankfully, the rain had held off whilst we were there as a trip outside was very welcome.
Now from here is where one of my mates made a rookie mistake for those that are seasoned veterans of beer drinking. We had a walk over to the Pint Shop bar to see what was on offer. Now slightly against my advice at trying it so early on into the night, my mate decided to go for the collaboration beer called Us & Them between the Pint Shop and Holland’s Brouwerij De Molen, a 12% barrel aged imperial stout. I am very familiar with this dutch brewery and they make some fantastic beers in my opinion and this collaboration was equally up there with many of the best that they had done previously. A rich and sweet beer with some nice chocolate and boozy notes, hints of liquorice and toffee. He had to go back for some more later didn’t he? Of course he did and quite rightly so.
We moved on from here onto definitely one of my favorite beers of the festival with a play on words with its name. The beer? It was by Mondo Brewery and was called Figgie Smalls. An 8.9% (why not just 9%?) Belgian strong ale conditioned on figs & plums. A nicely sweet and smooth beer that went down very easily, leaving a backing of subtle boozy bitterness from the alcohol but a lasting flavour of fig and plum. Well that’s what I thought of it anyway. One of my mates decided to pull out his party trick and swallow a half of this beer within 2 seconds flat. When asked about it, he couldn’t decide on any flavour notes and had to return to the bar and try again. I think it was at this point I was told off by a member in our group to stop sniffing beer and just drink it. Someone was possibly missing the point still?
Once again we headed outside as the night was drawing in, sadly not a lot of light out here. All the light was coming from the food vendors. I have to say putting portaloos near to the food vendors, good idea? Possibly not but it didn’t worry us too much. Having had a few beers by now it was time for some food and we plumped for some Chicken nuggets and fries with coleslaw covered in jerk gravy from Only Jerkin. These were very moorish indeed and went down a treat. A nice spicy kick to the covered fries along with the gravy added to which the slightly increasing levels of intoxication kept us nice and warm. I didn’t get the greatest photo of my food (sorry guys) as I was enjoying it too much but believe me, it was definitely really good food, tasted a lot better than it looks and therefore, the photo does not do it justice.
As the light was fading the Heavy Beat Brass Band made an appearance I believe in an effort to get people to the main stage back inside. They played some songs outside and then continued to do so as people followed them in. We all agreed that they were actually really good and really got the crowd going and in the mood for more. A selection of known songs from down the years played through brass instruments? Yes please! I am sure I even heard them play the theme tune to the original film version of On The Buses, or was that just me?
They made two appearances if my memory serves me correct right at the front by the DJ booth, they were encouraging the crowd to dance along and get closer to them for a more intimate feel. It certainly worked as people were shaking all over the place and they had formed quite a crowd.
At this point we ventured back into the Jameson hut, not just for shots and beer pong this time but for some very welcome retro gaming via a Super Nintendo. Remember playing Street Fighter and Mario Kart? This proved very popular with people as whilst we were there, people were always playing the selection of games as juggling balls would whizz past you. I am pleased to say, there were a lot better people at this than we were. I have never been much of a gamer down the years despite owning various consoles, however I was happy to come away with some wins on both Street Fighter and Mario Kart. More shots? Yes please!
I noticed that we didn’t really sit down for any period longer than 2 minutes throughout the whole night. We didn’t take advantage of the soft cushion covered beer barrels that were offered as seats.
As the night continued I managed to get in a sour beer from the local guys that are Purity and a blueberry milkshake IPA from Dig Brew. Further beers included sours from Brewdog and London’s Brick Brewery respectively. My mates took the opportunity of a couple of cans of Elvis Juice from Brewdog which they seemed to favour.
It was at this point that a brief game of beer mat throwing in the main bar area broke out between the staff on the bars. They were encouraging punters to join in and it was done in very high spirits. A final walk outside for some welcome night air to gather our thoughts of what we wanted to finish on. We had a very good idea of what we wanted.
So as the night was drawing to a close, a couple of our group had thrown the towel in early. More fool them for they missed Daddy G of Massive Attack fame grace the decks towards the end. Suddenly we were no longer at a beer festival or street food festival or whatever you want to call it. Now it truly felt we were simply in a night club. We had the setting, the time and even the beer. Let the bass kick! Very enjoyable sounds ranging from early 90s house to modern day pop? RnB? Not too sure, I am not down with the modern day popular club sounds. I am more of your underground raver shall we say. Either way, the music really got quite a lot of the crowd going and the ‘dance floor’ was filling nicely. You could almost be forgiven for wanting to still experiment with your beer now it may have been more of a case I am simply here to dance. I guess it was a shame this had to end at midnight. Possibly could have went on until the early hours for that true night club experience? I would have welcomed it but I guess logistically, this would be extremely difficult to pull off.
We ended the night almost as we began by chatting to the guys from Fierce brewery. They had some very enjoyable beers available and my mate returned to his Pina Colada ale that if memory serves me, ran out? Personally I was thoroughly enjoying their spiced 5% pale ale Fuego Feroz made with Habaneros.
It was very kind of the staff to offer us a can of their Cranachan Killer which they mixed up with another beer (sorry I cannot remember which). We made the most of this and knocked them back over a great laugh with the guys behind the bar. I have always enjoyed their beers and my mates have now equally become fans. If you haven’t tried their beers I highly recommend you do so. The guys topped our night so again we say thank you very much for ending our night with a great laugh.
So that was that. A plethora of beer, add in some great street food, throw in a cool soundtrack to create a vibrant atmosphere, mix it up with some party games, have a very welcoming bunch of people and set it all in a cool venue. I am very pleased that my mates all left extremely happy and would welcome the opportunity to do it again. TAPS festival, from our point of view, we very much enjoyed what you had to offer and would welcome you back with open arms. A great night was had all round. What a night!