Archive for January, 2013

January 29, 2013

Shaken, not stirred: the Birmingham Beer Bash finds a home

A significant sum of money has just changed hands. When I say significant, I mean that in a number of ways, and I don’t use it lightly. It is certainly significant in terms of the amount involved. More importantly, it is significant in what it represents. It is a deposit. A commitment.

This deposit was paid to secure the venue for the Birmingham Beer Bash, a celebration of beer and brewing which, as I’m sure you’ll already know, will take place on 26th and 27th July 2013. For those of us involved in organising this event it is a huge milestone. Finally we have a site on which to put together an event that has been on the cards for more than six months now. Without a venue nothing else could really be done. And by paying a deposit suddenly everything changes. For a start, that deposit is non-refundable, so there really is no looking back. We can no longer afford (quite literally) for this event not to actually happen. We now need to sell enough tickets to cover the costs, as well as to make a little extra for the charity we’ve chosen to support through this event, and so we need to deliver on our commitment to bring some great beer to Birmingham in order to make those tickets an attractive proposition. We’re working on that, and there are some great names being lined up already. We’ll be announcing details as and when we can over the coming weeks and months so keep following our Twitter account (@birminghamcubed), our Facebook page (BirminghamBeerBash) and watch out for the new website coming soon (birminghambeerbash.co.uk).

Of course you all have a part to play too – make sure you have the dates in your diary, keep watching out on Twitter for news of when the tickets will go on sale, and encourage everyone you know who loves great beer to come along.

Want to get involved? Once the website is up you’ll be able to register to become a Beer Bash volunteer. Volunteers are going to be key to the successful running of the event, all the organisers are volunteers too but there simply aren’t enough of us to do everything particularly in the final week as we set up and then operate the event. Watch out for full details on the website.

So where is it going to be then? This has been the question on our own minds for quite some time. Many sites have been considered, and rejected for various reasons. Finally, we settled on The Bond Co, a former canal warehouse on Fazeley Street in the Eastside area of Birmingham, near to Digbeth. It is well situated, probably no more than 20 minutes walk from all three of the main train stations, and only a few minutes from the coach station in Digbeth. Several bus routes are not far away, and a taxi from the city centre is not too costly either. So, it is reasonably accessible, which was a major factor in its selection. It also has some interesting spaces for us to use for the event, and the connection with the canals, such a major feature of the Birmingham landscape, seemed appropriate too. We like it. I hope you do too. See you in July?

January 9, 2013

Another one bites the dust

Given the rate at which pubs up and down the country continue to close, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see the final demise of The Railway Tavern in Penkridge in the past few weeks, or to hear the news that apparently it is to be converted to become a dentist’s surgery. After all there are still 7 more pubs in what is a moderately-sized village.

I can’t lay claim to it as a regular, or even irregular drinking spot, although I have used it in the past on occasions. In recent years it has gone steadily downhill, and some short-lived tenancies in recent years have each added to the woe with issues of environmental health and licence revocations due to breaches. Beer selection was not to my tastes, and nor as I recall was it in great condition on the more recent occasions I visited. But it st some history, apparently gaining its name from the railway navvies of some 175 years ago who were not welcomed at other pubs in the area, and as a local village pub some amount of charm, despite its run-down appearance. Sad then, but clearly not viable. Or was it?

It’s been niggling me for a while now, particularly since finding out about its supposed fate. It’s recent history has certainly been one of decline, but has this been a natural process? Or a planned outcome to enable the sale of the building for other uses. Why would anyone even want to do that?

Let’s look a bit deeper. A quick check of the local licensing database confirmed my understanding that the Railway was owned by Punch. And wait, because a few hundreds yards down the road there are two more pubs also owned by Punch. So I could envisage a desire to offload one of those three, and I can see the business sense in it, especially for a company as debt-laden as Punch. Now the value is really in the building, and if it is sold to another pub operator (whether a group or individual) there is a chance they will make a success of it, increasing competition on the two other pubs still retained in an area where there are a further three pubs within a very short distance. So if you were thinking purely about your own profit, I guess you’d want to make sure no-one else wants to take it on as a pub, just in case. A few problems with licensing wouldn’t hurt that plan, along with a lack of investment and unsuitable tenants with little or no support. I’m being very cynical here, and I’m not saying this did happen, but it seems plausible.

Now, as has already been noted, Penkridge is still well-populated with pubs, although there’s little to get hugely excited about (the recent introduction of some interesting bottled beers at one of them being an exception to that). So the loss of one is perhaps inevitable. But what does that mean to the consumer? It certainly hasn’t provided an opportunity for someone to open up the local beer market to a bit more variety. Maybe it has maintained the viability of the remaining pubs, which isn’t bad in itself, but does it instead limit competition?

So a cynical viewpoint perhaps, and we’ll never truly know. in this case the impact is relatively low, but if this is the behaviour in other locations it could have a much more significant impact in communities with less choice to start with.

What do you think? Is this an unfortunate effect of market forces or a active mismanagement to force a fire sale and remove another pub from the market altogether? Another failure of the lax planning situation that allows this to happen so easily, or a welcome reprieve for other pubs in the area that will presumably pick up a little extra trade?

January 3, 2013

So long, 2012

Well here we are, at the start of a new year, and for me that also (roughly) marks the start of my second year of this blog. A perfect opportunity perhaps, to take a look back on the past year, and forward to the next.

I actually started this blog on Dec 23rd 2011 with a little pre-Christmas warm up, but blogging proper began in January first with a look at local pubs, and then I asked the question that led to my most popular post (based on number of views, anyway) of the whole year – where is the Birmingham Tap? So, almost a year later, do we have the answer? Well, things have certainly started to change. December saw the long-awaited opening of the new Brewdog bar in Birmingham, which was quite ironic timing for me – two weeks before it opened a change of job caused me to be London-based almost every day and travelling a route that avoids Birmingham, rather then being in London for just part of the week and travelling through New St to get home even on those days. Of course, one of the inspirations for that post was what is perhaps my truest “local” – the Euston Tap, so there’s still a silver lining…

But is Brewdog Birmingham the answer? Well, no, and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful by that. Brewdog bars are great, and when I have the chance I’ll be a regular visitor, but they still lack for me the full breadth that places like Euston and Sheffield Taps or the Craft chain provide. So Brewdog is a start, but only that. Fortunately there is more to come! Further new bars are expected to open in the area later this year that should be the perfect compliment to the Brewdog offering and finally bring the breadth of choice that Birmingham hopefully deserves. It has even been hinted at that the operators of the Euston and Sheffield (and other) Taps have been looking for premises. Whether or not there is a “Birmingham Tap”, there should soon be a great range of beer on offer that finally puts Birmingham on a par with other cities.

As I’ve gone through this first year of writing, I’ve perhaps inevitably been trying my hand, and searching our both a style and a purpose in what I write about. Subject matter has included observations on drinking and the bar scene in Birmingham especially, my own brewing endeavours, beer festivals, and various other subjects as they came up. Naturally I hoped that I could look back at the popularity of various posts and determine what worked best for me in order to focus in the future. Well, that didn’t work. My second most popular post was of a completely different subject to the Birmingham Tap – the Saison brewday that recently took place – while in third place was a review of the inaugural Twissup in Birmingham. Three completely different posts on completely different subjects. I guess I’ll have to find other ways of deciding what to focus on in my blogging for the coming year, or just keep up the random approach I’ve had so far…

Going back to that Twissup post, this was a big event in the past year. It brought together a number of bloggers and tweeters in the region, and as a result I’ve got a number of new friends, more than just acquaintances. Saison a’Trois wouldn’t have happened without that initial meeting, and hopefully 2013 will see further developments that can be traced back to that first meeting. Since then, over the Christmas break, the second Birmingham Twissup attracted an even bigger crowd and I’m sure the next one won’t be far away. Twissup wasn’t the only event I attended in the year, and the European Beer Bloggers Convention was another great opportunity to meet more fellow bloggers, drink some great beers, and learn a bit more about this blogging lark.

The autumn saw one of the real highlights of the year drinking-wise with IndyManBeerCon somewhat redefining the beer festival. Is it too soon to be eagerly anticipating this year’s event which will no doubt be bigger and better? Something to aspire to in the Midlands perhaps? We’ll have to see what can be done…

On the home front, brewing progress has finally picked up following a slightly difficult time as new and larger equipment was put together (a task that is far from complete although now advanced enough to be reaping benefits). An exciting possibility of a commercial opportunity arose part way through the year, although all is quiet on that at the moment. It is still potentially on the cards though, and in the meantime I’m focusing on getting the beers I make right, and keeping an eye out for the right opportunities if they should come up.

So that’s the highlights for me. But what of the year to come? Well I have a few plans and ideas. Firstly on the blogging side of things I know I have to get writing more regularly. It has been tricky this year – work often eats up all the available time and the new job gives no respite from that. Although I’ve averaged about two posts every three weeks there have been some big gaps, and even if I don’t write a greater number of posts I’d like to keep more of a steady momentum. I’ve got to keep up with reading other people’s blogs too – there’s been so much good stuff lately and I know I’m missing more than I’m getting to see.

This year the brewing is going to step up a gear too. I think I’m starting to hit my stride now – I just need to get all those irritating little jobs around the place done to make each brewday go that much easier, and now I’ve made the dual steps to fully temperature-controlled fermentation and liquid yeasts I’ll be expanded the beer repertoire accordingly. I’d like to take the opportunity, if opportunities can be found, to get some hands on experience of a commercial brewday (all offers gratefully considered!), but the real challenge I’ve set myself is to get a recipe made commercially, somehow (again all offers considered!) – both of those should give some fantastic experience as well as valuable blogging material!

It’ll be tough to deliver on the challenges I’ve set myself, but it should be fun trying. Hopefully at least some of you will drop by to keep an eye on progress, and thanks for reading during this past year. Here’s to a fabulous 2013!