Posts tagged ‘craft’

January 20, 2012

Where’s the Birmingham Tap?

Maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but it strikes me that Birmingham is missing out on the wave of craft bars (by which I mean those who sell “craft” beer whether it is in keg, cask or bottle) that are readily establishing themselves in lots of other places.  Don’t get me wrong, Birmingham has some great pubs and bars, and there are plenty of places to find a decent cask ale (some of which may or may not be craft depending on your stance in that debate!) both in the centre and further out, but where are the likes of the Euston / Sheffield / York Taps, the Brewdogs that are springing up north and south of the border, the various other craft beer outlets that I’ve seen or at least heard of in London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds, York, Sheffield, Bristol, Nottingham even (and apologies if there are others I’ve missed).  Why has the “second city” (putting aside any other claims Manchester may make to that title!) not caught up with this exciting wave of new beer?

Is the Birmingham population not interested enough, or at least perceived to be interested, in quality beer?  I find this hard to believe.  Quality and variety in cask ales isn’t really hard to find.  Within a few minutes walk of New St Station, my preferred catchment area as it allows a quick stopover between trains, there is the vast range to be had at the Wellington, the newly opened Post Office Vaults, the Shakespeare, Bennetts, Old Joint Stock and several others.  They all have their own charms and flaws, but they all serve a good selection of cask and generally serve it well.  Some also have a good bottled range, but this tends to be European beers rather than the current UK stars.  Move northwards out of the centre and the Jewellery Quarter is establishing itself as another good beer destination, or head south of the Bull Ring and you can stumble upon some real gems too.  So we’re not short of places to find a decent pint.

So is there another reason why Birmingham is slow on the uptake?  One thought that occurs about the list of cities above, is that they are all big student centres.  Is that part of what fuels the spread of craft bars in these cities?  But Birmingham has universities too, so what’s different?  Comparing individual universities, the University of Birmingham has the 10th largest student population but is behind 2 institutions in Manchester and one in each of Sheffield, Leeds and Nottingham – all of who appeared in my list of craft bar cities.  Moreover, once you start combining all the universities in each city London leaps right up the list but Birmingham still struggles to make the top five.

Now, I don’t for one minute think that the only factor involved here is student populations, but there does seem to be some correlation between that and the emergence of craft bars.  And to be honest, Birmingham never seems to me to have the same student vibe as say Manchester or Nottingham.  So maybe Birmingham just isn’t demographically quite right to be at the forefront of this new wave.  To be honest, when I think back to the opening of the Wellington over ten years ago, it seemed to be a turning point for the widespread availability of good cask ales in the city.  What I don’t know is how the rest of the country was faring – I certainly didn’t have the same awareness of the beer scene nationally that I do now.  It seemed like a revolutionary change in Birmingham, but maybe it was actually just catching up with other more lively cities then too.

Whatever the reasons, I guess Birmingham may just have to wait a bit longer before it catches the bug.  On the other hand maybe someone is planning something right now, and change may be just around the corner.  I look forward to the day when I can jump off a train at New St and see both cask and keg beers from the likes of Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Hardknott, Camden and lots of others, across the bar, and fridges stocked full of the best UK bottled beer as well as international ones.  In the meantime I’ll keep enjoying the good cask ales I can find there and get the rest of my “craft” fix where I can.

Or maybe you know where in Birmingham I’m failing to look hard enough, and point me in the right direction?