Well it has been 14 months working away from home and it has now come to an end. During my time in the West Midlands I have started this blog, tried some excellent and some not-so-excellent beers, embraced the world of Twitter and discovered some wonderful new pubs. This post is simply a look back at what I will miss the most from my time there.
It is one year since I had my one day brewing experience at Sadlers Ales. My day spent brewing JPA has ignited in me an even greater passion for beer. It kickstarted everything that has happened since. It is hard not to fall in love with a brewery where you have got to spend a day with them but I genuinely love their beers. Some of their monthly specials have not always hit the spot for me but their JPA (3.8% ABV), Hop Bomb (5.0% ABV), Red IPA (5.7% ABV) and Mud City Stout (6.6% ABV) are all simply superb. It is because of this that, of all the breweries I have discovered in the past year, I will miss Sadlers more than any.
A close second to Sadlers will be Byatts Brewery of Coventry. I have tried five different beers from this relatively new micro and I gave four of them gold awards (10/10). These are XK Dark (3.5% ABV), Coventry Bitter (3.8% ABV), Phoenix Gold (4.2% ABV) and Urban Red (4.5% ABV). It is good to know that whatever I try from this brewery will always be a delightful pint.
Church End Brewery has never failed to impress me too. I have tried five different beers from this micro in the north-east corner of Warwickshire and none of them have disappointed. The Gravediggers Ale (3.8% ABV) comes out tops with me with the Fallen Angel (5.0% ABV) a close second.
Other breweries I must mention are the Warwickshire Beer Company, the Slaughterhouse Brewery in Warwick and the Weatheroak Brewery in Studley. It's always good to see Warwickshire Beer Company beers on the bar especially the impressive Shakespeare's County (3.4% ABV) and the Darling Buds (4.0% ABV). For Slaughterhouse and Weatheroak I will say nothing more for now. Instead I will now move on to the next section which is the pubs I will miss.
I have been to some fantastic pubs in the past year and I have been amazed by the overall quality and friendliness of most of those I have visited. Some of these I have already reviewed in earlier posts so I will only cover the very best pubs here that I will miss the most.
I will begin in Stratford-on-Avon where I was staying each week. The local Wetherspoons, The Golden Bee, has transformed itself since I last worked in Stratford. The staff are excellent and the beers are superbly kept. I can honestly say I have never received a bad pint in the past year from this pub. The same can be said of The Bear at the Swan's Nest which has deservedly won the local CAMRA award for pub of the year. These two pubs were visited every week.
In Warwick, the Wild Boar became a pub I fell in love with to such an extent that I frequently caught the train over there. This brings me back to the Slaughterhouse Brewery as this pub showcases their excellent beers as well as having its own micro brewery onsite to brew specials. If I had to pick out a favourite beer of the many I have tried at this pub it would be their Starboard Porter (4.8% ABV) with the Pacific Pale Ale (4.2% ABV) a close second. If you are ever in Warwick you MUST visit this pub. In addition to the Slaughterhouse beers you will find two or three from Everards (the pub is a joint venture between them and Slaughterhouse) along with a further two or three ever changing guest beers.
More recently I have travelled up to Birmingham a few times to see what their pubs are like. From those that I visited it is safe to say I would probably be going up there on a weekly basis if I was still working there. The Wellington Arms and The Craven Arms are both Black Country Ales pubs offering a massive selection of beers alongside the three house beers. Along with the Post Office Vaults, these three pubs would keep me content for all time I think. The Wellington Arms is currently being refurbished but it is a typical city centre boozer. The Craven Arms is more your backstreet local and the Post Office Vaults has the feel of a cosy secret backroom that nobody else knows about.
Many excellent pubs I only visited once or twice due to having to drive there as well as always wanting to try new pubs. This is of course a constant problem for me. Pubs in this category are the lovely Clarendon Arms in Kenilworth, The Boars Head at Hampton Lucy, Wood Farm Brewery and the Coach and Horses at Weatheroak Hill.
Finally, I cannot leave out the Victoria Works in Studley. The Weatheroak Brewery tap was impossible to get to without driving which limited my visits but it would be wonderful to have this pub as a local. The full range of excellent beers from the Weatheroak Brewery were complimented by a couple of changing guest beers. Best of their beers is Victoria Works (4.3% ABV) with the Keystone Hops (5.0% ABV) and the St Udley (3.4% ABV) a close second.
And the rest
Top of this list is the awesome beer shop Cotteridge Wines. I have always enjoyed trying new bottled ales from both the UK and around the world. There are very few specialist shops in the south of England that I have found and even those that I know of, they don't come close to the selection available at Cotteridge Wines.
The close proximity of the East Midlands is something else I shall miss. This enabled me to visit a couple of the new micropubs that are popping up in some parts of the UK. Both Little Chester Ale House in Derby and Doctors Orders in Nottingham are offering the beer drinker something different in terms of how to enjoy excellent cask ales in a unique and friendly environment. I am sure they are pioneers in what will become a very popular trend in the coming years.
I will miss the numerous local CAMRA publications I have picked up in many of the pubs I have visited. With so many CAMRA branches in such a small geographical area it was easy to come across many different publications and each and every one was able to offer new destinations and beers to explore.
It has been an excellent year. It began with a brewing experience and after a comment from a friend that I should begin writing about beer it has taken off. Now I am back home for a while with plenty to ponder on as to my future direction as well as a renewed interest in beer which will see me exploring the beers and pubs closer to home for a while.