In this age of pub closures it is always good to hear of one opening. Trains to Birmingham from Stratford-on-Avon are not exactly convenient for a night out but I managed to work it out so I had a couple of hours in England's second city. Despite being brought up in the East Midlands, Birmingham is totally unkonwn to me. I've ventured into the city for the occasional football match and I remember visiting the Bull Ring once. When it comes to where to drink I am totally clueless.
Thanks to Twitter I was aware of the imminent opening of The Craven Arms a couple of months ago. It isn't far from any of the three city centre railway stations although it is a little bit off the main drag. Once you find the towering Radisson Hotel you are are just a short hop away. The pub looks imposing from the outside, a beacon of light in a street devoid of life. Upon entering you immediately feel at home. It has a single central bar with seating areas surrounding it on three sides with wooden partitions sectioning off some areas. Newspapers are available to read as well as the latest What's Brewing.
The barman was friendly and welcoming and he gave me time to survey the dazzling array of handpumps. There were three house beers from Black Country Ales along with six constantly changing guest ales. When I visited those available included Coach House Cheshire Gold (4.1% ABV), Muirhouse Magnum Mild (4.5% ABV), Dukeries Baronet (3.8% ABV), Slaters Retro Red (5.7% ABV) and Great Heck Porter (4.5% ABV). In addition to the beers there is a draught cider and perry available too. I decided to start with the Muirhouse Magnum Mild. It was a strong, smooth, black mild with lovely roast malt flavours and it was served in perfect condition. I sat at a vacant table near the fire and settled down for a relaxing evening.
It was quiet when I visited which may have been due to the big Champions League game on elsewhere but for those wanting an escape from that, this place was perfect. With no distractions from loud machines or TVs it was nice to just relax and enjoy the background music that was at just the right level. It was a mix of Beatles classics when I visited.
For my second pint I chose one from Black Country Ales. Pig on the Wall (4.3% ABV) is a traditional black country mild. I'm used to my milds being black but this beer was very similar to the black country classic Bathams Mild which I tried last year. It is lightly hopped with a subtle sweetness and it was extremely pleasant.
Before leaving I had time for one more beer. Dukeries is a very new Nottinghamshire brewery which I was yet to try anything from so I went for their Baronet. It is a chestnut coloured traditional session bitter. It had a floral, fruity taste with a gentle bitter finish. A pleasing pint.
The Craven Arms has only been open for a few weeks but they seem to have done everything right. An ever changing beer selection served in perfect condition within a traditional pub setting. They have already introduced a 100 club for customers wanting to take up the challenge of sampling 100 different pints with, thankfully, no set time limit. I'm sure they will get plenty of people through the door and I, for one, will be back whenever I am in Birmingham. This pub is highly recommended.