Late to the party, as this is its second year, here are my thoughts on Birmingham Beer Bash (BBB) which started on Thursday (24th July) and continue(d) Friday and Saturday. This is part one of my ‘review’. Look out for a follow up featuring the beers I sampled and a few further thoughts!
Part of the new breed of beer festivals – which host keg as well as cask (real ale) and bottle bars – the team behind BBB were pipped to the post by Indy Man Beer Con in setting up a festival which offered beer-lovers the chance to venture beyond cask ales. But that’s not to say it shouldn’t be thought of as a pioneer of modern mixed-dispense festivals.
Where Indy Man Beer Con trades heavily on its architecturally dramatic venue BBB is in an understated – albeit historic – event space called The Bond Co right next to the canal. Close to the shopping mecca of The Bull Ring it’s easily walkable from New Street Station, off a side street just beyond Digbeth – which can sometimes feel a little bit like walking into the back of beyond but also has an air of Brooklyn about it!
This year The Bash offers a number of keg bars, a cask bar, a cider bar and a sours bar all in the main space just behind where you’ll pick up your glass and programme. Food stalls occupy a covered courtyard beyond which, through a door in the left hand corner, you’ll find the token stand and the International Bar.
The benefits of a small event like this are that it makes for a publike atmosphere and you don’t have to trek miles to get the beer you want.
Do not think for one moment though that small means not much beer. There is a fantastic selection including all the usual suspects (meant in a good way!) – Brewdog, Thornbridge, Magic Rock, Siren, Wild Beer Co, Weird Beard et al – along with plenty of less well sung heroes and heroines of the craft/modern beer era.
As I just popped in for the Friday afternoon trade session (and was heartily welcomed and invited to stay on for the evening in exchange for a small, but reasonable fee rather than booted out the door by security staff at 4.30pm sharp as per Craft Beer Rising) I’m missing out on the beer and food matched ‘fine dining’ on offer – which I’m incredibly sad about! Two very food-oriented breweries – Wild Beer Co and Compass Brewery – feature(d) on, respectively, Friday and Saturday nights, their beers paired to some six courses of some tasty looking grub prepared by Chef Nathan Eades.
It is this sort of thing that the new beer festivals are going out of their way to include and it does leave many of the CAMRA festivals standing (do correct me if I’m wrong – I’m not a wanton CAMRA-basher).
A ‘fringe events’ programme of talks and tastings and – new this year – live music on Saturday night from a local Celtic Hard Rock trio Torous completes the line-up. I will confess that music at beer festivals has started to get my goat a bit as I’d rather be able to talk to people than have to shout above a band so I’m glad to hear it’s only a Saturday night set! Not that I don’t like a good gig (many will know of my love for New Model Army) – it’s just that although I’m happy to have a beer with my music I’m not so keen on it being the other way round.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Birmingham Beer Bash. I liked its atmosphere, its friendly staff, its simplicity and its beer list – which was extensive enough to be exciting and include something for all tastes but not so huge as to be overwhelming and thus delay getting stuck into the beer while spending half an hour trying to work out what to have first.
Given this is a festival thought up and run by people who could be considered amateurs (but no longer are in my opinion!) they need to be heartily congratulated for what they have achieved and the ‘professionals’ should take a look at Birmingham Beer Bash to see what sort of event is created when it’s born out of genuine love of beer rather than a drive to make money.
I’ve already written about my beer-related trips to Birmingham - which has many more places to get great beer than when I first wrote about it (including Brewdog and Pure Bar & Kitchen) – and now the Birmingham Beer Bash exists I consider it even more of must visit destination.
At the time of writing – tickets for the remaining sessions of BBB have completely sold out. My advice? Book early for next year as soon as dates are announced.