Birmingham Beer Bash reviewed (Pt 1)

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!

The outside area at Birmingham Beer Bash

The outside area at Birmingham Beer Bash

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.

Inside the main bar area

Inside the main bar area

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.

The veridct

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.

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Beer is the new sex…

Sex sells – so we’re told. Put the word ‘sex’ on the front of a book or magazine and it’ll sell more copies. Don’t even get me started on the objectification and exploitation of women and women’s sexuality to sell, sell, sell – this is my beer blog after all.

The reason I mention that sex sells is because marketers are well known for using it to sell products completely unrelated to sex, but now it seems they’ve turned to beer instead.

Does this mean beer is now desirable and influential within the mainstream? Or is it just a cynical ploy to get mostly female shoppers to buy apparently beer-related goods because the ‘menfolk will like them’ – thus adhering to the tired old stereotype that beer is a man’s drink (my lord!).

You may be thinking, ‘What about bierwurst?’ – that’s been in the supermarkets for ages! But it hasn’t actually got any beer in it. Rather, it’s a great example of beer and food matching as it’s said to taste best with a glass of beer.

For me, the whole thing began with a relatively innocuous packet of Morrison’s sausages. Part of their ‘M’ range these ‘thick pork and dark ale sausages’ took my fancy because of the dark ale part of the name. I bought them for Beer Husband (stereotype behaviour!) because I knew I’d be able to blag one without the risk I might scoff the lot in one sitting. They turned out to be pretty, rich and tasty – so they went on the shopping list again but I thought no more of it.

Then last week I was on the way back from visiting my best pal in Wales. I always call in at the Tesco next to Talbot Green - close to Junction 34 of the M4 – because it has a pretty impressive selection of beer. Plus it’s currently my only reliable source of Brains Dark (with the exception of buying online).

As I browsed the aisles for something with which to assemble a lunchtime roll I spotted this:

Cashing in on beer's reputation?

Cashing in on beer’s reputation?

Not long after my eyes alighted on this:

Think Ronseal...

Think Ronseal…

I was intrigued and bought a packet of each. Alas the results did not live up to intrigue.

The Kentish Ale Roast Ham purports to be, “Hand trimmed, cured and marinated in ale, then roasted in spiced sugar for a tender texture and delicious flavour.” Beer is clearly listed among the ingredients but it doesn’t specify what sort of beer.

This ham does taste of beer, but the flavour quickly disintegrates into a mish-mash of salty sweetness that led me to ‘accidentally’ drop most of it on the floor and request the dog take care of it. I imagine the decision to literally sugarcoat this ham might have been for fear that a hoppy Kentish ale could turn the meat quite bitter – but it backfired.

Next up the Belgian Beer Ham. This was a much better effort and had a much more genuine feel about it. Not so much beer is the new sex, more beer is cool let’s eat it as well as drinking it.

I would like to know exactly which Belgian beer was used to marinate this ham – which according to the packaging is actually produced in Belgium. If I had to take a punt I’d guess at some variety of brown ale. It tasted, well, satisfyingly hammy! It possessed a natural porky sweetness, (unlike the sugar coated horror of its Kent counterpart), a moist and juicy texture and was a delightful bacon substitute with my breakfast fried egg and a slither of cheese (Maasdam since you ask) I had with it in a vaguely Dutch style. The beer flavours come through in much the same way as tangy hops in a pint.

A quick search on some supermarket websites turned up the usual suspects in terms of steak and ale pies – which I appreciate have been around for donkey’s years – Tesco also offers ‘Lunch Club World Flavours Ale Ham’ and ‘Melton Red Ale’ sausages – another descriptor naming the type of beer used as per the Morrison’s sausages.

There’s also a collaboration between an award-winning butcher and the splendid Dorset-based Sixpenny Brewery to make IPA sausages (which I’ve yet to sample). These have a ring of authenticity and integrity about them though which the supermarket products lack – hence my assertion that beer is the new sex.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for further evidence to make my case – and am also interested to hear your examples to assist!

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Beer and pubs: holiday make or break…

It’s no exaggeration to say the right pub(s) can make or break a holiday – and I’m talking UK hols here. After a recent long weekend away in Sheringham, Norfolk here are my thoughts on what pubs can do to measure up to the holiday spirit.

I want local beer – and a variety of it. Only stocking best-sellers from big regional brewers that can also be found in every other pub throughout Britain doesn’t cut it. See my previous post about holidaying in Cornwall. Of course the beer-tie often puts pay to this as it shackles publicans in more ways than one.

I want to feel like it’s my local – but I appreciate there’s a balancing act between me and your regulars. I’d like to opportunity to get some grub no matter what time of day it is – and not just a packet of crisps. I’ll stick around if there’s something to keep Beer Husband and I amused – a pool table or a stack of board games offers a great way to pass a relaxing few hours.                                                                                                                             

With this in mind our pub of the weekend had to be The Village Inn, West Runton.

 

Holidays call for great session beers, like Grain Brewery Oak.

Holidays call for great session beers, like Grain Brewery Oak.

Although it doesn’t serve food all day (it serves at lunchtime and then again in the evening) the beer was marvellous, the service friendly and there were board games. We arrived at around half three and played Chess and Scrabble over pints of Grain Brewery’s Oak (3.8%), a flavour-packed hoppy session ale, and Beeston’s On the Huh (5%) a strong, dark bitter with a noticeable chocolatey flavour and munched on a packet of pork scratchings until evening food service started at 6pm. The pub is fab inside and out – owing to an impressive mock-Tudor building and a large garden with more than 70 tables. The food was top notch too.

 

The Lobster Inn, Sheringham... also serves crab!

The Lobster Inn, Sheringham… also serves crab!

Runners-up were The Lobster Inn, Sheringham – which had a decent selection of ales (but not much to mark it out from other local pubs), friendly staff, good food and a classic seaside pub interior with plenty of fishing memorabilia and pictures of the Sheringham Lifeboat – and The George Hotel, Cley which offered four cask ales including quite well-kept (it was somewhat too cool) Woodforde’s Wherry (3.8%) a golden ale, citrussy and refreshing with a dry finish great for a hot day and Yetman’s Beer (3.8%) a coppery, chestnut brown brew with pleasant marmaladey flavour. I found the atmosphere in The George a little lacking but spotting its bird-related decor and a huge tome called The Bird Bible in bird sightings may be recorded (Cley is a renowned birdwatching location) had me making plans to give it a second chance.

There were two ‘also rans’ of the weekend. Although we stayed at The Two Lifeboats, Sheringham, we were uninspired by its menu and even though there were two beers from Wolf Brewery on the bar (along with Wherry and Adnams Ghost Ship which we spotted in many if not most of the other local pubs) there was something missing which meant it was our last night before we had a drink here. It might be down to the fact that being a sea front pub it was inevitably a tourist trap – which makes me run a mile – or perhaps my great beery expectations are just too high. In its defence – it is in a FANTASTIC location, has friendly staff (especially the marvellous chap who carried my gigantic, heavy suitcase up and down the stairs for me when I arrived/departed) and there was plenty to choose from on the menu – it just wasn’t ‘our place’ on this trip.

The other also ran was The Windham Arms. Here I found a variety of interesting, well-kept cask beers (all local) – I opted for Humpty Dumpty’s tasty Broadland Sunrise (4.2%) while Beer Husband went for Moongazer’s Ruby Ale (4.5%) – and we also had a fantastic dinner, but first impressions last. With both of us at the bar we asked for tasters but one of us didn’t like our first choice so asked for a taste of something else. The surly barman gave me a look and said, “I normally only give two tasters,” before grudgingly handing over the third and saying, “but I’m feeling pretty generous.” 

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by other pubs not minding if we taste a few beers in order to select the right one, but even so we didn’t return to this pub – for fear of being treated like the world’s biggest blaggers for asking for an eggcup’s worth of beer before committing to spending £3.55 on a pint. Had the bartender been more welcoming we’d have bought more than a few and I’d probably be writing it up as pub of the weekend…

Pub of the holiday weekend: The Village Inn, West Runton.

Pub of the holiday weekend: The Village Inn, West Runton.

Nevertheless… we had a fantastic trip to north Norfolk and I’m looking forward to going back – especially to The Village Inn at West Runton.

Many pubs with accommodation are listed on the Stay in a Pub website.

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