25 June 2008

Taking it Up the Brum

Upon being offered a thirteen quid return to Birmingham from Peterborough with the only condition being that the day was to be spent in various drinking establishments I developed a rather broad grin. You see I am not built as other women; and although the shiny plate glass windows of Selfridges hold much allure they cannot compete with a tour of those fine midlands pubs which I hold in my heart so dear.

And so it was; off I went with a provisional list of watering holes composed from the GBG and various websites of up and coming delights coupled with a fire in my loins that only the promise of good ale can ignite…

Once we had fought our way out of the concrete horror that is New Street Station we emerged into glorious sunshine which only served to increase our by now mad thirst, and it was decided that the first port of call had to be the recently refurbished Lord Cliften in the Jewellery Quarter.

Now I have only heard amazingly good things said about this place, and the way it shot directly into the top five on Beer In The Evening got my senses prickling but I was rather suspicious about how genuine some of these reviews actually were. The only way to clarify how hot this pub actually is was to give it a shot which we duly did, and boy was it worth seeing.

The tone is set right from the outset – modern artworks mixed with faux pub tradition – large solid wooden tables sit alongside small coppertops, stools are upholstered in alternative patterns of tapestry and cowhide, and above the bar in the larger second room are shelves heaving with assorted vinyl records. The works displayed on the walls (and floor!) are as political and thought provoking as you’d expect, and time does really need to be taken to appreciate the whole venue.

On our visit it was nice and bustling, not too packed and seats were readily available to our party. More importantly we had four handpumps giving us the selection of Wye Valley Butty Bach, HPA, Rapid Ale and Bathams Best Bitter.

I heartily supped down two pints of the Rapid and found the condition to be absolutely superb, coupled with friendly smiling staff whom proffered copies of their CAMRA publication Out Inn Brum and upon our time to depart helpfully called us a taxi which arrived in minutes.

It appears that everything being said about this place is spot on – I really cannot think of a single fault to bring them down in my opinion. All in all an absolute must do for anybody imbibing in the city, trust me!

Next on our itinerary was a pub I have had the good fortune to visit on several previous occasions, and a well known tickers paradise – The Anchor Inn, Digbeth.

A ten minute cab ride took us to this National Inventory pub which had just finished what appeared to be a rather fabulous beer festival two weeks ago. After perusing the list and checking out what I had missed I settled on two halves – Great Newsome Anniversary Ale and Ironbridge Coracle Bitter, the latter brewery I believe to be quite a new edition to the micro scene.

Although this is a lovely traditional boozer in every sense, I have to admit I wasn’t all too convinced on the condition of some of the ales sampled during our visit; one of mine was just a little tired and was almost certainly past its best, and hazy glasses and clumpy heads were a bit of a recurrence unfortunately.

I’m guessing that we were literally clearing up the dregs left from the fest – checking the beer menu against the blackboard seemed to confirm this – but that said, the atmosphere and beer selection was agreeable enough to keep us here for well over an hour and a half, and once more a taxi arrived promptly after a swift call from a member of the bar staff.

Overall I’m pretty certain that we just hit this place at the wrong time and that the problems we encountered were only a minor blip in what I believe to be a proper ale house. Worth adding to your list.

At this point my belly was beginning to develop that full-of-liquid sloshy feeling and seeking out food became the order of the hour. Needless to say the cheapest, most effective way for us to get some nosh on board and continue our sampling was to hit the nearest McSpoons for some carb-based ballast, hence our next stop off point – The Briar Rose, city centre.

I don’t intend to dwell too much on this place as it is just your usual basic JD Wetherspoon affair; always heaving, tables being cleared at a snails pace and a three mile trek upstairs/downstairs to visit the toilets.

Maybe the competition from the Welly a few doors up had influenced the ale range a little (a tadge more adventurous than the usual nationals/token local micro setup), but really the sort of pub you can experience in any town or city up and down the country.

I tried the Original Plum brewed by Browar Namyslow, Poland.

By this point I was seriously slowing up on the consumption front and the last Brum pub for the day lay a few steps up the hill ahead of me…

Ah, The Wellington; I have a confession to make - I really dislike this place. I just don’t get it. Nice stone exterior – good. Basic internal d├ęcor combined with ample seating – average. Fifteen handpumps and beers available clearly displayed on a flatscreen above the bar area – genius….. So why do I feel nothing but gloomy when I enter this public house?

I think it’s a combination of the fact that unless you are a proper bona fide regular you will be served in the most cold icy manner possible, coupled with ordering your beer by number (conveyor belt imbibing, anyone?) and the overall unfriendliness that hangs in the air. Even the bloody cat was aloof and ignored me!

We stood uncomfortably for almost an hour watching the suits pile in for their first pints of the weekend as we supped our halves and made our scratchy notes. I avoided the Fullers London Pride (!) and needless to say opted for beers by Derby Brewing Co. and Tower instead.

At this point our time in the big city was coming to an end and we shipped out and weaved our way through the shoppers and office workers back to the concrete confusion of the station and our East Midlands tiny train.

Chatter en route home revealed that all in all everyone in our party had had an exceedingly enjoyable jaunt out; and on the whole the beers had proved exceptional. I just wish we had done the crawl the opposite way around – we did visit the best pub first, and the Welly was a bit of a soul sapping experience to end on I have to say.

I still love Birmingham; always have done, always will…

Beer Monster

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