Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Craven Arms and the power of Twitter or Things to do in Birmingham when you aren't dead.

Hello again, nice to see you.  Here's some advice, which you can apply generally in life and more specifically in Birmingham (UK).

While I'm out and about doing stuff for my day job, I occasionally get the odd evening to myself in a strange place.  There aren't many stranger places than Birmingham, and I found myself there this week attending a conference at Aston University.  Technically, Birmingham is the UK's second city, but arguably there are others ahead of it in the queue - but I had to go, so what did I do?

It did require an overnight stay, so that left me with a few options.

Option 1 - The Conference Dinner

Frankly, any invitation that says 'dress to impress' gets short shrift from me, so that was right out.  Plus who wants to see a whole bunch of people getting tipsy on 'champagne' (poor quality sparkling white) and then getting leathered on whatever rubbish, overpriced booze is in the hotel bar before shuffling off to each others rooms for some kind of tragic, and largely ugly, nasty shag-fest.

Option 2 - Try and meet up with old chums

Whilst you are younger, there is a strong possibility you might get to do this, in fact I managed to do this last time I went to Manchester (I'll write about that another time), but the sad fact is that when it's 15 years since you left Uni, trying to get your diary to fit with your chums is almost impossible, especially when stuff like finding babysitters comes into play.  No chums available in Birmingham.  Not an option really.

Option 3 - Sit in my hotel room and watch telly

Come on, you don't seriously think I was going to do this did you?  Shame on you.

Option 4 - *This is the option to choose*

So, if you find yourself in the same boat (and this applies to any city), make use of social media.  I'm lucky that I've got quite a few other bloggers who subscribe to my twitter feed (and I to theirs).  One quick tweet just asking "Decent pubs in Birmingham?  Or a decent bottle shop?  Going this afternooon to our third(?) city" was all it took.

Within minutes, I had recommendations from two excellent (and more prolific) bloggers (Matthew Curtis and Andy Parker , they were swiftly backed up by some other people with whom I am less familiar - and then by the actual pub that was leading the recommendation list. (and they flashed a few indicative beers at me by the way of temptation - Evil Twin and Brodies)  The pub was The Craven Arms in Birmingham.


This, this my friends, is what a boozer should look like.

So, after actually attending the conference, I made my way into central Birmingham.  It's slightly off the beaten track, but only about half a mile from New Street Station, Upper Gough Street B1 1JG if you need to set your navigation tool.  If you are visiting Birmingham, even if it isn't for a conference, I can highly recommend this place.

It's not a huge pub inside, but the place is set up so that it sort of feels bigger than it is.  There are shielded areas with tables so you can pop yourself into a corner if need be.  There's even a nice little section for the solo traveller with a selection of books, left there on a take one/leave one basis.  I opted for the bar, I wanted to scout out what beer they did have on...and boy did they have some beer on.

Salopian Sentinel for starters on cask!  8.4% of superbly conditioned beer.  I had a half of one of these poured before I even clocked the abv or indeed anything else in the bar.  It was totally worth it.

This is tasting notes done right

Whilst sipping on my first drink, I took the liberty of writing down (actually, tapping into my phone so that I didn't look too much like the anorak I clearly am) some of the fancier beers I could see behind the bar, here is a non-exhaustive list:

Buxton, Summer Wine, Brew by Numbers, Siren, Hopped Duvel, Orvel, Schneider Weisse, De Molen, Weird Beard, Magic Rock, Le Chouffe, St Bernardus...the list could go on.  Sadly I'd already eaten, but they also had some locally sourced pork pie that looked so good it made my mouth start watering.

What a joy it was to see was that this pub is clearly celebrating good beer in whatever form it comes. Bottle, keg, cask, there were even some cans in the mix.  The brewery that owns the place deserves some of the kudos for this, so well done Black Country Ales for having the confidence to allow their pub to be expertly managed by Chris and Sharron Sherratt.

The owning brewery - pumps front and centre and keeping the more traditional crowd happy

I was lucky enough to spend an hour or so with Chris and Sharron who explained to me some of their background and how they came to be running a pub in central Birmingham.   Making the shift from being a pair of teachers, they have clearly turned to drink (I can't imagine a profession that would make me more likely to do the same) in a positive way, turning a love for good beer into creating the kind of pub that any discerning drinker would be pleased to have on their doorstep.  Their enthusiasm is the infectious sort - and they are creating something special.

They've only had the place 18 months and they've already starting winning awards...they'll probably never win round the die hard CAMRA people, but I think their philosophy of the beer having to be good, rather than being tied to a method of storing beer is the one that will eventually win the game.  Although, I would note that Chris personally does an expert job looking after the beer that needs looking after - I didn't have a single off note all evening.  The population of the pub was a healthy mix of old and new, seasoned and unseasoned, unkempt beards did not abound.

Whilst we were talking, I got my gums around the Stardust by Tigertops Brewery, the Not Too Robust Bob by the 4T's brewery, the Mosaic Plus by Hopcraft and the Pale Ale by The Kernel.  Every drop was delicious, I didn't dare tackle the 13% IIPA from Evil Twin brewing although I wanted to - I had stuff to do the next day.

Chris and Sharron are very friendly and even consented to a photo!  Thanks guys for the warm welcome.

Chris and Sharron - Landlord and Landlady extraordinaire

So - in conclusion, if you are at a loose end in Birmingham, you should dash in here.  If you are at a works conference, option 4 is the only way.

As a post-script, I should note what I observed on my way back to the hotel.  The last of the conference dwellers were in the bar, and I spotted what could only be described as a beast of a swamp donkey dragging an incoherent bloke towards her room.  I shuddered, chuckled, and silently congratulated myself on making a great decision then went upstairs to sleep the sleep of the slightly tipsy yet righteous.  

Thanks for reading - and remember, harness social media for your pub recommendations.  You know it makes sense.

Until next time.

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