With the wider region now home to some of the best breweries around, and top-notch ale flourishing in pubs, restaurants and shops throughout the city, Birmingham Beer Bash director David Shipman serves up his guide to the best ale havens to visit in Brum.
Pubs with plenty of beer options
A personal favourite is the Craven Arms, which has gone from strength to strength since it reopened under new ownership and new management. It’s a traditional looking pub, with a good range of cask ales and an increasing amount of really good keg and bottled beers too.
The Wellington has for a long time had one of the largest selections of cask ales in Birmingham; the Post Office Vaults has a sound cask ale and cider selection but a massive range of bottles; and the gorgeous Bartons Arms is great – particularly for its range of Oakham beers and authentic Thai food. To the south of the centre there’s the Anchor, which also has a lot of variety.
Less traditional but offering really interesting beer selections you of course have Brewdog, and the new Pure Bar & Kitchen too. These are just some highlights from the centre of the city. Obviously Birmingham covers a much larger area, and there are loads of good pubs dotted around.
Craven Arms, Upper Gough Street, B1 1JG
The Wellington, 37 Bennett’s Hill, B2 5SN (0121 200 3115)
Post Office Vaults, 84 New St, B2 4BA (0121 643 7354)
Bartons Arms, 144 High St, Aston, B6 4UP (0121 333 5988)
Anchor Inn, 308 Bradford St, B5 6ET (0121 622 4516)
Brewdog, 81-87 John Bright St, B1 1BL (0121 616 1339)
Pure Bar & Kitchen, 30 Waterloo St, B2 5TJ (0121 237 5666)
Breweries in and around Birmingham
For such a big city Birmingham itself still seems to be have a relatively small number of breweries, though the wider area has seen a few new developments in recent years. As an amateur-turning-occasional-cuckoo-brewer it is also interesting to visit other breweries of all shapes and sizes, and Birmingham and the Black Country certainly have them all. From the tiny Fownes Brewery at the back of a pub to the sprawling Banks’s in Wolverhampton, there’s certainly some variety.
Fownes Brewery, 25 Clarence St, Dudley, West Midlands, DY3 1UL (contact)
Sarah Hughes Brewery, Beacon Hotel, 129 Bilston Street, Sedgley, Dudley, DY3 1JE (01902 883381)
Banks’s Brewery, Brewery Road, Wolverhampton, WV1 4JT (01902 329 653)
Restaurants that excel with their beer offerings
To be fair, I think this is an area where Birmingham is only just starting to wake up to the possibilities of beer and food. But there are some great restaurants around and beer is starting to feature more. Local chefs are starting to get interested in the possibilities around matching beer with their food – we featured two of them at last year’s Beer Bash, with chefs from both Carters and Simpsons providing five-course meals matched with a selection of beers. This is an area that is only going to get better and better in Birmingham.
Carters, 2c Wake Green Road, Moseley, B13 9EZ (0121 449 8885)
Simpsons, 20 Highfield Rd, Edgbaston, B15 3DU (0121 454 3434)
Shops with the best range of beers
To the south of the city people are spoilt with the twin delights of Cotteridge Wines and Stirchley Wines & Spirits within a mile or so of each other on the Pershore Road. Both have built up a huge following for their great beer ranges. One or two city centre shops are beginning to build up ranges of beer, but for a serious dent in your wallet restocking the beer cupboard it’s Cotteridge and Stirchley you’ll probably want to head to.
Cotteridge Wines, 1825 Pershore Rd, Cotteridge, B30 3DN (0121 458 2839)
Stirchley Wines & Spirits, 1535-1537 Pershore Rd, Birmingham, West Midlands B30 2JH (0121 459 9936)
Essential Birmingham beer events
Obviously there’s the annual Birmingham Beer Bash and CAMRA-run Birmingham Beer and Cider Festival in October. There are a few other events around the city where beer is starting to make an appearance, not least because we’re hoping to be popping up with a bar of our own, so watch out for the Beer Bash bar at more events soon!
A number of pubs have great beer festivals from time to time too. Some of those mentioned above, particularly the Craven Arms, Bartons Arms and Anchor all have festivals at points through the year which are well worth seeking out.
24 hours in Birmingham for beer lovers
I’m biased of course, but if I wasn’t already involved in it I’d certainly want to head to the Birmingham Beer Bash on Saturday afternoon, staying on for the evening session to take part in the beer and food matched dinner. Then to round it off I’d head into the centre of town for some nightcaps at Brewdog.
Trouble is, that misses out so many other delights, so I’d probably have to make a long weekend of it and spend the next day visiting some of the other great pubs we’ve already mentioned, and paying a first-time visit to a few new pubs along the way. A wander around the Jewellery Quarter is always going to provide beery interest too. That could easily fill another day, as could a crawl around the pubs of Harborne…
Hidden gems for beer fans
The Bartons Arms is a bit further out and therefore not automatically part of a city centre stroll between pubs. It’s well worth hopping on a bus too though – a fabulous building, serving great beers, and with good food too. Or if you really want to step back in time, there’s the Lamp Tavern in Digbeth. It’s a bit like walking into someone’s living room, if you know anyone with a bar in their living room…
Lamp Tavern, 157 Barfield Street, Highgate, B5 6AH (0121 622 2599)
Find these Birmingham beer destinations on our map:
A quick Q&A with David Shipman
What’s your all-time favourite tipple?
“I probably couldn’t say all-time because of the way in which my tastes have developed, even just over the last couple of years. There are styles of beer I drink now that I wouldn’t have entertained a few years ago. But one beer I maintain a real soft spot for is Thornbridge Jaipur – especially a well-kept cask of it. If I was being forced to put together my desert island list, Jaipur would be at the top.”
Which beers or breweries have impressed you recently?
Have you got any tips for home brewers?
“Hygiene is all important. Don’t be afraid to experiment but remember to get the basics right first. Don’t forget hygiene. If you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity, try and experience brewing in a commercial setting if only for a day. Oh, and did I mention hygiene?”
Craft beer: future or fad?
“The use of craft beer as a term? I think that’s a bit of a fad. Partly because of the way in which it has been so hard to define, and jumped on by a lot of people who want to be part of the latest big thing. And when the next big thing comes along, the term will quietly disappear – I think we’ve even begun to see that already, as some of those who were using the term years ago are quietly dropping it because it no longer seems to mean what they thought it did.
“On the other hand, the breadth and depth in brewing that has developed over the last few years, which you would probably describe some or all of as craft beer, I think is going to be around for quite some time. Some of the brewers will come and go – less successful brewers will undoubtedly fail, some more successful ones may grow, develop or get swallowed up, and others will just happily plod on doing what they do, but that’s all natural. No doubt the landscape will change over time, but the popularity of great beer from small, independent breweries isn’t going to fade overnight in the same way that the term it is labelled with might.”
Birmingham Beer Bash
July 24-26, 2014; more info
“Like any good story should, it started over a pint. Well, OK, several. Back in 2012 a few like-minded people who’d been making connections through social media, particularly Twitter, got together to share a few real beers instead of virtual ones. A good enough time was had by all that we got together again, and conversations turned to all the exciting beery developments that were going on in London and the North, and – as always – seemed to be bypassing the Midlands completely.
“Exciting ranges of beer in new, progressive bars that were popping up everywhere but Birmingham, and rumours of curious new festival formats to the north and to the south of us. The answer was obvious – Birmingham needed some of this too. We were being teased with the prospect of new bars, particularly the much rumoured Brewdog, but it also needed a modern beer festival, focussing on the best quality beer without being tied to a particular method of serving. We could wait. Someone would do it. But would they do it how we wanted? Would it be all we thought it should? Maybe not. So why not do it ourselves? So we did…
“The first Birmingham Beer Bash took place at the end of July 2013 over two sessions. The reaction was amazing. We turned countless people away at the door on both days as we sold out the few remaining tickets within minutes of opening. Split across three bars we had a selection of some of the best beers we could lay our hands on – cask and keg from UK brewers and some great overseas beers too. It was about more than just turning up and drinking beer though – we had some fabulous local street food on offer, a Michelin-starred dinner with beer matched to each course, and a host of tutored tastings and talks to educate and inform.
“This year it is all about more of the same. We’ve got bigger bars, more beers, a whole new cider bar, extra fringe events going on and more food choices.”
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Main image: Bartons Arms