Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Craven Arms, Birmingham

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.



Thursday, 3 November 2016

Meet The Elusive Brewer

Another Meet the Brewer event at the fabulous Craven Arms, Birmingham was held on Monday evening.  The star of the show was Andy Parker, brewer and owner of Elusive Brewing based in Finchampstead, Berkshire.  They are close enough to Siren Craft, that they can smell each others hops and it sounds like they have been a great help to Andy too along the way.  In fact they have done many collaborations prior to Andy getting his own brewery operational, particularly with Siren's 'Dinner For' series of beers.
It seems that Andy's fame and stature was already legendary when Elusive began.  It is hard to believe he only began home brewing in 2012 and within two years he had been crowned National Homebrew Champion netting himself a £5000 prize.  Since then he has made numerous collaborations notably with Weird Beard and Siren before embarking on his own brewery, a 6 bbl set-up which produced beer number one in April.  He says he is risk averse and it was his wife who gave him the kick up the butt to give up the day-job.  And, of course, the thing he misses most about his job is the salary!!!  The brewery is now a true family affair with his recently-retired parents helping out.

Many questions were asked and one which always comes up at any MTB is where did the name come from.  Andy is into gaming and he wanted his gaming tag to be Elusive.  As is often the way with these things the name he wanted was already taken.  In the end he looked at words for Elusive in foreign languages.  His gaming tag became tabamatu which is Elusive in Estonian.  That also became his Twitter id so when he was seeking a name for his brewery it had to be Elusive (Tabamatu wouldn't have worked quite so well I think).

The bar at the Craven Arms was loaded with Elusive beers.  The first one I tried was Level Up (Level 3: Colombus & T'n'T) - 5.0% ABV.  I love good hoppy reds and this is one of them.  This was the beer which won him the National Homebrew Champion crown (albeit with different hops).  Andy was keen to point out that he is keen on marrying malt and hops in a way which provides excellent balance and that is certainly the case because the flavours of both shine through in all of his beers. 

The second beer I tried was Carve'n Yams (5.2% ABV).  The name was a clever play on the name of the pub of course as this was the only cask of this beer available anywhere and, although it is a pumpkin beer, I particularly enjoyed this one.  It was a pumpkin porter with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg but ultimately it was a smooth porter full of flavour and character.

There were three evil keg beers alongside the six casks and it was time I dabbled in one of those.  Spectres' Lair was a fabulous 4.9% ABV APA with lovely grapefruit notes coming through.  That was it for the evil keg though for the night as far as I was concerned.  The next beer was a full pint of Brimful of Masha (7.2% ABV), a beer that was only available on cask here tonight.  This is a beer that has appeared in all the Brewdog bars recently in keg and Andy told me how different it was here tonight.  I absolutely loved it.  My favourite beer of the evening.  It is another American red ale and it had so many flavours combining to give a beer of perfect balance.

My final beer was Ultrahops Vienna (4.8% ABV).  This was a pale ale that I should really have had earlier in the evening because it was a beer with plenty of lighter tones but the quality still shone through.  It is rare to go through such a range of beers from a brewery that is still so new but that was the reality of the evening I experienced here.  Every beer was superb and I cannot wait to see what gems Andy will come up with in the future (something special for Yapton Beerex hopefully !!)

Thank you once again to Chris and Sharon, the wonderful hosts at the Craven Arms, along with Tim Rowe, the events organiser for this wonderful pub.  Sadly I cannot make the next event (Lost & Grounded on Monday November 7th) but I will definitely be along later in the week to sample some of their beers if any are left.  I know that Tim is only interested in inviting quality brewers to these events so the beer will definitely be first class.