Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Out In Brum

OK I confess I stole the title of this post from the excellent Birmingham CAMRA branch newsletter I picked up on my way round the centre of Birmingham last night.  I certainly didn't pick it up from my first stop though.  Brewdog (Birmingham) is located close to New Street Station in John Bright Street.  It was opened late last year and it has a very industrial look.  It has a full glass frontage and inside there's lots of steel and bare brick.  Very trendy.  The music blaring out was too loud if you were looking for a quiet drink but at least it was decent.

What to drink was my first problem.  I was fully aware that cask ale would not be on the menu as Brewdog only produce keg beer.  The menu listed their beers with eye-watering prices alongside.  I fancied a strong IPA but at £7.00 for a pint of 6.9% ABV beer I decided I would probably rather have a lower strength one.  Punk IPA (5.4% ABV) was quite cheap in comparison at only £4.25.  You can't fault Brewdog for what they have achieved through clever marketing or even for their beers which are full of flavour.  I probably don't fit the profile of their target market though and for that I am probably thankful.       

Now would  be a good time to give my thoughts on the craft (keg) beer revolution.  I have spent time living in the USA as well as travelling around on numerous holidays.  Drinking a cold but hoppy IPA in Boston or Austin when the temperature outside is in the 80s or more is wonderfully refreshing and there are many brewpubs and micro breweries offering excellent beers.  When the alternative is a  Budweiser or a Michelob or something similar it is easy to see why craft beers have taken off in such a big way in the US.  In the UK it is a totally different ballgame.  Punk IPA compares very favourably to anything I have tried in the US (and I have tried lots of American craft beers) but in Birmingham when the temperature outside is near to freezing it wasn't what I wanted.  It was too cold and too fizzy and this was the overriding character of what was actually a very pleasant taste.  So why would I drink this by choice when the country is awash with fabulous cask ales?  The answer is quite simply I wouldn't.

After leaving the Brewdog bar I headed back towards New Street station, burping every few yards, and it wasn't very far to my next stop, the Post Office Vaults.  I was still feeling full of gas and quite cold but I quickly revived upon seeing the fantastic array of handpumps at the bar.  The pub only opened towards the end of 2011.  It is small and cosy with hops hanging from the ceiling.  Just past the bar there was a bar billiards table.  I haven't seen one of these for years although I loved the game in my younger days.  The pub was busy with a surprisingly young clientele and it had a lovely friendly feel to it.  I instantly liked it.  It was traditional with a modern twist. 

I forgot to note the full list of beers available but I think there was a Salopian and Hobsons beer alongside five or six others.  In addition to the ever changing cask beers the pub has a massive bottled beer selection from all around the world.  A superb choice.  I was drawn to a beer from the Fernandes Brewery.  The description was a bit bizarre so I asked for a taste before ordering a pint.  It wasn't for me.  It tasted like Terrys chocolate orange.  I fancied a dark beer though so I chose Dark Raven (4.5% ABV) from the Beowulf Brewing Co of Staffordshire.  It was an extremely smooth jet black beer.  It was slightly sweet with a gentle burnt caramel flavour ending with a little bitterness.  It was a magnificent beer.

My final stop was the Shakespeare Inn on Lower Temple Street.  This is a Nicholsons freehouse.  My only prior experience of a Nicholsons pub was visiting The Falcon near Clapham Junction station twice in the past couple of years.  I was very impressed with both the quality of food as well as the beer selection so I was looking forward to visiting this pub.  I wasn't disappointed by the beer.  The pub itself is fairly small and it had live music when I visited which you couldn't really get away from.  There was a nice cosy room at the back where people were eating but it wouldn't have been my choice of venue for a quiet meal.  However, it was a lovely grand building and without the live music it would be an excellent city centre pub.  Oxfordshire Ales Finest was available but I was drawn to the Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (5.9% ABV).  I have only tried the bottled version of this lovely beer so I was delighted to see it available.  Thornbridge is a modern craft brewery that produces both cask and keg beers which should keep everyone happy.  The beer has a lovely citrussy hoppy aroma and taste but it is not overpowering and it has a delicious bittersweet aftertaste.  A superb pint to bring my journey to a close.

So an interesting evening.  I ventured into the Brewdog experience, visited a modern freehouse and finished up at a traditional city centre pub.  All three beers were good in their own way but I will continue to only choose keg craft beers when I venture across the Atlantic.  Cask beers will always be my choice and no country can compete with the UK for the diversity and quality of this amazing beverage.  I'll keep drinking to that.

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