Destination pubs. Many cities are lucky enough to have one. Bristol has the Barley Mow, Norwich has the Fat Cat, Portsmouth has the Hole In The Wall, Brighton has the Evening Star, Manchester has the Marble Arch and Birmingham HAD the Craven Arms. There are many others too I'm sure but I'm just listing pubs I know well here. To me a destination pub is your first port of call when you go somewhere. It is a pub you know will have a fantastic range of beer in a relaxing environment. A modern range of beers too. Most cities have some excellent pubs but these pubs go above and beyond the excellent.
This brings me back to the Craven Arms. I was fortunate to be working in Stratford-upon-Avon when Chris and Sharon Sherratt took this pub on back in early 2013 and I reviewed it here. Well worth the arduous train ride into Birmingham. When I was sent back to Stratford this year the train times to Birmingham were more convenient and the Craven Arms has become a weekly trip. It even got a second review from me here.
During one of these visits I got to know Tim Rowe who had plans for some Meet The Brewer events at the Craven and I was lucky enough to see the pub host James Kemp from Marble and Andy Parker from Elusive. That's the thing about the Craven. Only the best is good enough on their bar. Well there is one exception to this I guess and therein lies the problem. The Craven Arms is owned by Black Country Ales and three handpumps here have always been wasted on their efforts. Despite this though there was a constantly changing range of cask and evil keg for the beer aficionado to enjoy in this wonderful pub.
So what do Black Country Ales do? They make it impossible for Chris and Sharon to continue. I don't know the full story but it seems BCA want to bring it in line with their other pubs by offering a range of exceedingly average (cheap?) beers. If you want to see an example of this in action then visit their flagship pub in Birmingham, The Wellington. A massive list of cask ales from which you will struggle to find one that stands out from the crowd. Quality not quantity is what the beer lover wants Black Country Ales !! Chris and Sharon left last week and most of their excellent staff have since left too and this evening I visited the pub and could not bring myself to stay for more than a pint. Birmingham's one and only destination pub has been wiped off the map and I am extremely pissed off about it.
So all you beer lovers out there looking for places to drink in Birmingham please strike this from your list. It's a hard climb up Gough Street to this pub and you really should save yourself all that effort and avoid it. If you like bland, boring beer than it might be the place for you because it is still a fabulous building but I'm sure BCA will do their worst with it. I will probably pay it a visit in a few months to see how it has changed. In the meantime I really hope Chris and Sharon get the pub they deserve. They have a lot of friends and followers who will be beating a path to their door on opening night. In the meantime, I will try and find a new pub to frequent in this fine city. I am told it might not be an easy task though.