Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Bitten by the Dog

Last Saturday, I organised a pub tour of central Birmingham for members of the Beer and Pubs Forum. It may not seem the most likely of destinations, but it has the advantage of being easily reached by train from all directions, and people travelled from the four points of the compass, the furthest away being Frome in Somerset. In fact, Birmingham is underrated as a beer and pub destination, and it was a very enjoyable day. It was good to meet both old and new faces.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow description, but the general consensus was that the pub of the day was Black Country Ales’ Craven Arms just outside the Inner Ring Road near the Mailbox shopping complex. It’s a classic old-fashioned street-corner pub with an attractive tiled exterior and a cosy, welcoming interior with a good choice of beers.

This was actually the last pub on the itinerary, but, given that it was on the way back to New Street Station, a few of us decided to pop in to the BrewDog bar on John Bright Street. While I certainly have no ideological objection to drinking keg beer, this was actually my first visit to one.

It’s not really my cup of tea of course, but you can’t knock its success, and early evening on a Saturday it was packed out with a noticeably younger crowd than any of the pubs we had visited earlier. You do have to wonder, though, how many are really interested in the beer as opposed to just seeing it as a cool place to go.

All four of us plumped for two-thirds of the 6.5% Elvis Juice. This was the first time I have ever drunk a two-thirds measure in a pub and, at £4.95 (equivalent to £7.42 a pint), it was also the most expensive draught beer I had ever had. Described as a “grapefruit-infused IPA”, it was quite overpoweringly citrusy, with to my palate notes of apricot in there as well. I compared it with a particularly pungent Islay malt whisky, where you can appreciate the quality and distinctiveness, but wouldn’t really want to have more than one. I also couldn’t help wondering what it would be like in cask form.

The beer board could be rather more informative. It doesn’t help that prices for different beers are quoted in different volumes, so it’s hard to make a comparison, and it would benefit from at least a brief indication of beer style. To be fair, there may have been more information in the menu booklets on the tables. (The image above is just a stock picture and not taken on the day). It’s also worth noting that, unlike many of their craft competitors, BrewDog’s beers tend to be crystal clear rather than murky.

An interesting experience, but not really a place where I’d become a regular visitor. And I think it will be a long time before they open a branch in Stockport...

29 comments:

  1. at £4.95 (equivalent to £7.42 a pint), it was also the most expensive draught beer I had ever had

    You'll get letters!

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  2. "you can appreciate the quality and distinctiveness, but wouldn’t really want to have more than one." - should be the stock answer when the "What Is Craft Beer?" question arises.

    I think the matter of having differing serving sizes is a good solution to the 'problem' of having a wide price range for the beers on offer. If each 'drink' costs roughly the same it makes buying a round more simple as you can go for the pricier beers with a clear conscience when someone else is in the chair.

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    1. Oh, I'm not against different serving sizes, and in fact I'd like to see two-thirds measures more widely adopted in mainstream pubs. The point is more that showing them on the price list in different measures makes it difficult to make comparisons. I've seen beer boards which show the price per half, two-thirds and pint for each beer, which OK takes up more room, but is much more informative.

      And they're legally obliged to sell you a half of anything anyway.

      I think a pint of Punk IPA was £4.95, which is probably on a par with the likes of Peroni in nearby bars.

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    2. They should sell beers like they sell petrol - by value. Then when you went on a crawl you could agree the price and everyone could choose any beer without worrying about what it costs

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  3. Oh dear not another ghastly grapefruity beer, vastly overpriced in a hipster paradise !

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  4. Not sure that this is serious – how would a pub measure out £2 worth of a £3.45 pint, about 5/8ths?
    What really prompted me to post was the photo, which I assume is the Craven Arms. It looks to be a pub in a light industrial area: so no local residents and little passing trade even if it is near a shopping complex. How does it survive? This is the sort of pub you would have expected to go under.

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    1. It was my first visit there, it was reasonably well attended, I assume it survives by reputation,which on my visit was upheld.

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    2. my impression from when I visited Brum last year, is its just a very good pub, and has a good reputation for quality beer so yeah it survives by doing the right things, and its not quite as off the beaten track as it might seem,they were building plenty more flats around it at the time I went,much of the city seems to be a construction site, but its not far from a couple of key main roads, and the canal which links in with alot of the music venues and areas of nightlife, hotels, so its not necessarily a walk pass pub, but not as obscure to find as some can be.

      strangely I didnt visit the Brewdog, in that Ive nothing much against Brewdogs been in a few, but strange in that I must have walked right past it to/from the station as well, but didnt consider it. Ive tended to find the premise is the staff are supposed to fill in the details of the beer if you look perplexed enough, so thats why you get less details on the beer board,but it seems to be hit & miss whether they actually do strike up that conversation

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    3. The Inner Ring Road in Birmingham is drawn a lot more tightly than in many other cities, so a pub in the equivalent location in Manchester would be inside it. The Craven Arms is only maybe seven (admittedly mostly uphill) minutes' walk from New Street station, so not really out on a limb.

      The Gunmakers Arms, which we also visited, on the north side of the city centre, is considerably more isolated.

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    4. A few years ago I visited a bar in Seville which had beer taps at the tables. You poured your own and paid for the volume you'd poured. I've no idea how it worked and the beer was mediocre anyway. And if you have concerns about the hygiene of Autovac, this would send you catatonic.

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    5. If petrol pumps can do it, then so could beer pumps. The obstacle is legislation, not technology.

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  5. I would happily had another two thirds on the evening, it was my favorite beer of the day, however time did not permit. With regards to the different measures, they are a really good Idea in bars like this where you may encounter something stronger than you may find in a regular pub, the option of trying a third helps greatly.

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  6. My recollection (I was there,the bloke from Somerset) is that the beer was very good, and significantly nicer than the Elvis Juice which is knocked out in my local Asda for £1.50 a can. I wonder if it's the same product and I'm imagining the difference? The clientele was more studenty than hipstery, although I did wonder about the couple with the designer puppy on the next table... Good day out anyway, thanks for setting it up PC.

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  7. Brum is getting better and better...long overdue but got some excellent places now for a drink...how does it compare to Stockport??!!

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    1. Chalk and cheese, really, as Stockport is a much smaller place. A problem with Brum is that most of the good pubs are out on one side or other of the city centre, in Digbeth or the Jewellery Quarter, so hard to fit within a feasible pub crawl. There's not really a lot we didn't do actually within the IRR, and certainly nothing to compare with the cluster of excellent pubs on or near to Stockport Market Place.

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  8. 2/3rd pint measures are actually an Australian thing - surprising to see it pop up in the UK but it's certainly on its way over!

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    1. They were made legal in the UK in, I think, 2011, and have become popular in the craft sector, but have never taken off in mainstream pubs such as Wetherspoon's.

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    1. What is, Stockport? If you've never been drinking in Stockport you've missed out on one of Britain's great beery delights :-)

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  10. Mudgie, if you've really never had a beer costing more than £7.50/pint, then you have almost certainly missed out on some truly wonderful, mind-blowing, awesome beers. In a sense you are, to borrow one of your preferred phrases, in your own 'beer bubble'.

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    1. That's like saying if you've never driven a car costing more than £40k you live in a "car bubble". What proportion of beer drinkers in the UK have ever drunk a draught beer costing more than £7.50 a pint? Half of one percent, or less, I'd say.

      It's a common misconception of bubble-dwellers that their rarefied experience is in any way normal or representative.

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    2. I don't think that I could find a draught beer costing that much in my normal travels!

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    3. You would have to go into central Manchester to their BrewDog or somewhere like the Port Street Beer House or Café Beermoth. There might be an occasional mega-strong craft keg offering in the Magnet in Stockport.

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    4. Mudgie, I'd hazard that a substantial proportion would've paid ~£5.95 for a 330ml bottle of Peroni etc. in a restaurant, effectively paying the premium price without getting either a premium or rare product. To me that is far more of a rip off than £9 for a pint of an 11% barrel aged baltic porter from a one-off cask - and, yes, in my case I'm far, far more likely to buy the uber expensive beer if it's cask, not keg.

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    5. And, yes, most drivers do exist in a car bubble. People who only go on package holidays to Spain exist in a travel bubble. Nothing intrinsically wrong with either, just as there is nothing wrong with drinking mainstream lager. But a Fiesta-driving, Ibiza-holidaying, Stella-drinking, Man Utd-supporting, McDonalds-eating sort of person typically doesn't have the experience to profess expertise on any of these topics, nor would they usually claim to do so.

      95% or more of the beer I drink is competitively priced cask. I'm sat in Wetherspoons right now. If I drank exclusively here, it would be a bubble, just as much as if I exclusively drank £9 pints of craft keg in hipster bars. Wrestling with our own bubbles and comfort zones affects us all. Nobody is truly cosmopolitan, and those who purport to be are the most inwardly scared that they are not.

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  11. Punk IPA at less than a fiver is a bargain. It takes twice as long to drink as a pint of Pride or Wherry in our local. And it goes well with scratchings.

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    1. I paid over a tenner for a round of five Fullers' halves in the Old Joint Stock, none of which was much over 4%, so £4.95 for a 5.6% beer is entirely reasonable. BrewDog of course is a very successful example of premium pricing in action.

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  12. A scotch egg in the Old Joint Stock is £5.95! I'll stick with nipping into the Post Office Vaults with a Greggs.

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