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Trail talk: a (sort of) Birmingham Beer Trail

The 2022 CAMRA Winter Beer Festival in Birmingham failed to take place due to worries over Covid restrictions. However Three Points of the Compass has a pretty good knowledge of some decent pubs in the city. I put together a tour of some of the best, rang my brother and booked a hotel. In February, John and I met up for a two-day’ish pub crawl. Life can be hard sometimes, someone has to make the effort!

Our beer trail was an ambling wandering senseless route that took in our chosen halts for beer, food and hotel of choice (not shown here). There is a map showing the first part here with the first six pubs but the route can easily be adapted and halts added or excluded. Another link for our following day and continued beer trail and a further six pubs is shown later. A final link for a final halt is included at the end. Thirteen pubs in all, ranging from historic to modern, boozer to trendy, specialist to gastro.

The Anchor tells it as it is

I live in the South East of England and my brother in East Anglia. Birmingham is well fed with transport links and boasts more railway stations than most self-respecting cities should so it was a simple matter to arrange to meet in a decent ‘first halt’ close to Birmingham’s New Street railway station. We each travelled light, just a small bag each with the essentials. I added in a journal with scribbled notes on which establishments we were visiting. This wasn’t a shopping trip, nor was it to explore much in the way of cultural delights, history or extraneous architecture, this trail was a pub crawl, pure and simple.

The Bacchus Bar, [Stephenson Street], Burlington Arcade, New Street, B2 4JH, is a Nicholson’s pub in what used to be the old Midland Hotel. Hidden below ground, it could easily be missed. It is not far from the entrance to the railway station, the ideal place to meet fellow travellers and where Three Points of the Compass sat with an eagerly anticipated first beer while waiting for John to arrive.

Nicholson’s is part of the Mitchells and Butlers brand and most of their pubs have dark cosy interiors but the Bacchus Bar has to be one of their most hedonistic in appearance. Brick and stone lined arched roofs accent the cavernous interior. There is an odd mix of styles, faux roman statues abound, a headless suit of armour, many of the rooms have a theme, e.g. Egyptian, French or Medieval.

Entrance to the Bacchus Bar is tucked away downstairs beneath the Burlington Hotel
Entrance to the Bacchus Bar is tucked away downstairs beneath the Burlington Hotel
What hedonistic delights await…

More importantly, they keep a fairly good range of well kept real ales which always includes their own Nicholson Pale Ale, brewed by St. Austell since 2012, who also make one of my favourite bottled beers- Proper Job. My pint of golden Wainwright Ale, 4.1% ABV (£4.55), was too cold when first pulled but gradually warmed up, allowing flavour to develop. A second pint, this time Purity Pure UBU, 4.5% ABV (£4.55) was likewise too cold when served and needed time for the taste to emerge in this amber ale. What is it with establishments that feel the need to chill beer to lager temperatures? Too cold and the flavour is more difficult to appreciate, which explains why many indifferent lagers are served so cold. Wainwright is billed as – “the UK’s No.1 Golden Cask Ale“, that may be so. But it certainly isn’t the same animal that it was when I first drank it years ago in Thwaites days. Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company produce this lightly flavoured beer, brewed at Banks’s Brewery in Wolverhampton, intended to tempt lager drinkers as well. It was perfect to commence a bit of a session with. And after all, this blog is primarily outdoor walking and activity so commencing a pub crawl with a beer named in honour of famous fell walker and author Alfred Wainwright seemed apt somehow.

Six cask beers found in the Bacchus Bar
Sly Old Fox is next door to the Dragon Inn ‘Spoons
Eponymous choice of glazing

From the Bacchus Bar it is a 0.4 mile walk to the Sly Old Fox, 54-56 Hurst Street, B5 4TD. Built 1891 and known as The Theatre Bar, it is located between the gay and Chinese Quarters. This is a smart looking pub due to the owners taking time out during Covid to complete a refurb in 2021. Stained glass windows were to be a recurring theme for many of the Birmingham pubs to follow. The Victorian two-roomed interior has a fairly large central bar that packs in a lot of visitors from the nearby Theatre and Clubs but we had the place to ourselves.

There was a bit of a treat in the Sly Old Fox. There was no need to settle for the ubiquitous and average Doom Bar on offer. While John enjoyed his glass of Butty Bach 4.5% ABV, I had a pint of Enville Ale from the Enville Brewery, 4.5% ABV (£4.60). This traditional smooth ‘beekeepers ale’ is golden in colour with a well rounded taste. The beer has a hint of sweetness from added honey and summery bouquet, nothing too extravagant, just enough to make it rather moreish. I should have stayed for another but instead we moved on to our next halt. We didn’t have far to walk, it was just a few feet to the pub next door.

Superb beer through to indifferent choice on right
Superb beer through to indifferent choice on right, at the Sly Old Fox

The Sly Old Fox was immediately next door to our next halt, The Dragon Inn, 21 Hurst Street, B5 4TD. This is a J D Wetherspoons pub, also in the Chinese Quarter. The décor is typically Wetherspoons, as was the clientele at the time of our visit. People whiling away the hours with competitively priced beer and food. Many people seem to take great delight at sneering at ‘Spoons. Referring to an erroneously perceived buy-it-cheap-sell-it-cheap-to-the-lowest-form-of-life image in disparaging manner, but pub chain owner Tim Martin has done more to preserve the real ale scene in the UK than most. I remain thankful that ‘Spoons remain a constant presence on our streets and they have also saved a good number of historic buildings that would otherwise have been ‘developed’. I will continue to visit them on a regular basis. That said, despite my having enjoyed good beers in The Dragon Inn in the past, we failed to find anything particularly appealing on this visit, settling for pints of Wychwood Hobgoblin, 4.4% ABV (£1.99) to drink with ham, egg and chips, again eschewing Doom Bar. This ruby beer, another from the Marstons conglomerate, was simply ‘OK’ and as always, showed how a decent ale can be corrupted as it becomes ever more popular. It was originally brewed at 6.5% ABV, then reduced to 5.6%, then 5.0%, then dropped in ABV again. As to the pub, I fail to see how the plentiful local competition hasn’t dragged the pub’s management up to offering a better selection of beers. I remain a fan of the chain however and would always stop in to a ‘Spoons to see what is on offer. Leaving this third pub we called in to our hotel to drop off bags etc. and were back out in the darkened evening to resume our trail.

It is then a bit of walk of 1.4 miles from The Dragon to work off initial beers with a move back through town up to the Jewellery Quarter to our furthest destination. Originally called the Lord Clifden, the Clifden, 34 Great Hampton Street, B18 6AA, looked a tad dodgy from the outside and if it were not for a favourable reputation we may have kept walking, particularly as we were unsure if it was even open. The colour glazed windows sat in the murk of a darkened street with no lights within. Venture in we did though and as it was, we were pleased to experience the place. The welcome was genuine, the music choice faultless and interior ‘quirky’.

The Clifden
Little choice of draught beer at The Clifden

The Clifden had recently reopened in February 2020 after a refurb by new owners Laine. It has become a bit of a destination pub for the younger crowd and while John and I didn’t quite qualify as ‘young’, we preceded the early evening rush so were happy to pretend we did. There were a number of craft ales on offer but I was attempting to stay mostly with draught real ales new to me where I could so (again) eschewed the Doom Bar for the triple hopped Bitter Brummie from the Birmingham Brewing Co. 4.1% ABV (£4.80). Disappointingly, there was something not quite right with my pint. Despite being an ‘easy sipping beer’, it had slight sour overnotes only slightly softened by an improved finish on the palate. I suspect I suffered a stale offering and the local brewery and management need to keep an eye on how their beers are being served. That, however, is the nature of real ale and what makes getting a superb pint all the more special. There is a taste for every drinker and what I find unpalatable may suit another. John was looking for something different and the helpful bar staff pointed him at a 330ml bottle of Days Pale Ale (£3.55) which he enjoyed but was surprised to find was a ‘0%’ ABV offering. It was only later, checking my receipt, that I found I had been charged for a more expensive offering, naughty

It is just a 350 feet walk back down the hill toward the towns centre to The Church, 22 Great Hampton Street, B18 6AQ. The mess of contractor works immediately outside was easily forgotten when we entered the bright, gaily painted interior with wall art, yet more stained glass windows and plenty of seating. This is a much larger place than you might think and deserves a bit of a wander round. I did go up onto their rooftop terrace but it was too cold at this time of year so I was more than pleased to settle at the bar and select from their small but carefully chosen range of beers.

The Church
The Church

Two of their three pumps were on and I chose a beer new to me. This was Baby Ghost IPA from the Silver Brewhouse, 3.9% ABV (£4). It isn’t an IPA of course, the ABV is far too low. What it is, is a session version of their Grey Ghost IPA. It was a gorgeous straw coloured beer that I noted as the best pint I had enjoyed since arriving in Birmingham. I was tempted to try the Cider also on draught but this was a Birmingham beer trip. Commitment to the cause was required. Extremely reluctant to move on to something different, it was an easy decision to have a second pint. Silver Brewhouse, formerly the Raw Brewery, also do a dark version of this beer that I must keep an eye out for as it sounds intriguing. Everard’s ales are always available at The Church so John chose one from their range, this was their Sunchaser Golden Ale, 4% ABV (£4) which he pronounced excellent and it was with some reluctance that the two of us moved on from this welcoming location.

The Church
Mulled Cider sits alongside well kept beers at The Church

From The Church it is a 1.2 mile walk to the next pub- The Victoria, however John and I were stopping off for an evening meal en route so had a 0.6 mile walk down in to town, past groups of sozzled girls out on the razz, all with the appearance of their carrying on until the small hours, to The Milan, our Indian restaurant of choice and amongst the best to be found in Birmingham. My Nalli Nihari was one of the best Indian dishes I have had, but do note that there are plenty of other places to eat. After eating, it was on to our last halt of the evening.

The Victoria
The Victoria

We arrived fairly late in the evening at The Victoria, 48 Bright Street, B1 1BN, and were dismayed to find that we had little time in which to enjoy their well kept Cappucino Stout, 4.5% ABV (£4.15) from Staffordshire brewers Titanic.

Cappuccino Stout from the Titanic Brewery
Cappuccino Stout is more a session stout than the better known stronger stouts and porters but we agreed that this was the best beer sampled all day, by far.

The Victoria sits on a corner right next door to a theatre so not only attracts many visitors from there, but naturally also has a quirky thespian air with art on the walls and ceilings. I loved the place, a mixture of old and new, and the lovely staff were as wacky as the interior design. The bar sits in the centre of the pub with various drinking ‘dens’ radiating out from it. Locally brewed beers are always on offer as well as keg and craft beers from further afield.

Cappuccino Stout from the Titanic brewery

The Victoria’s Tuesday ‘Tappy Days’ promotion offered fantastic pints of Titanic Cappucino Stout at £2.50 each instead of the usual £4.15. We could easily have stayed for two or three pints of this, but the pub shut pretty early.

Unbelievably, when this photo was taken, we were well into 'Tappy Days'- a Tuesday promotion offering fantastic Titanic Cappucino Stout as £2.50 a pint

The Victoria is another place where the exterior belies the amount of space inside. I found time to wander around a little and would dearly like to return for one of their regular Thursday music nights. As it was, leaving a crowd of arriving thirsty drinkers, who were going to be disappointed, we had just over a half mile walk back to our hotel. A good day.

Three Points of the Compass and brother round off a day in the hotel bar with one of the finest of the original lagers- Budweiser Budvar from the Czech Republic, the real stuff!
Three Points of the Compass and brother round off a day in a hotel bar with one of the finest of the original lagers- Budweiser Budvar from the Czech Republic, the real stuff!

Breakfast was at the Dragon Inn as Wetherspoons can normally be relied on for providing a perfectly adequate well-priced breakfast. The price may have been OK but the food was below par and served cold. As on our previous visit, the beers on offer were still unappealing and we stuck to tea and coffee instead. I do hope that this is simply a momentary lapse in quality this pub is going through as I have found it better in the past. After a leisurely breakfast we left, to immediately see a far more inviting café opposite. I’ll know for next time!

If you were walking from the Victoria to the next halt on this beer trail it would have been a 0.6 mile walk, however not only had we broken off for a halt overnight, our planned first pub wasn’t open so we had to reorganise our route. A map to the next six pubs can be seen here.

The Anchor, 308 Bradford Street, B5 6ET was formerly known as the Anchor Inn and was four times winner of Birmingham CAMRA’s Pub of the Year. The large pub was built in 1902 for the Ansells brewery. Local architects James and Lister Lea being responsible for the red brick and terracotta exterior with art nouveau style in upper windows and geometric patterned glass in the lower. It is a Grade II listed building and appears on CAMRAs national pub inventory. The Anchor supports local breweries and we were pleased to find an excellent offering from the close by Halton Turner brewery. Primo, 4.5% ABV (£4.25). This is their popular Best Bitter and uses just English hops. It is a classic English style beer with mostly unobtrusive bitterness balancing the maltiness. I found that the sweetness became more pronounced with my second pint, and even more so with my third. We were also pleased to enjoy a 25p/pint discount for CAMRA members, without asking.

The Anchor
Beautifully kept Halton Turner Primo at The Anchor
Beautifully kept Halton Turner Primo beer at The Anchor. Only minutes away from where it was brewed

The Anchor is a pub in which to while away the hours and we spent quite some time chatting to the Manager, Charlotte. Subject matter was wide- local beers (obviously), Marvel films, cancel culture and the Birmingham pub bombings, for which there remains an undercurrent of local resentment as to the lack of justice for the 21 lives lost. Charlotte provided tasters of some of the craft beer offerings- added pineapple was enough to dissuade me from straying on this occasion, the Primo was simply too good.

Corridor wall tiling at The Anchor
Corridor wall tiling at The Anchor
View through the old 'off-sales' serving window to the Saloon Bar, divided by a wood and glass screen
View through the old ‘off-sales’ serving window to the Saloon Bar, divided by a wood and glass screen
Main Saloon bar at The Anchor
Main Saloon bar at The Anchor

Reluctantly the two of us tore ourselves away from The Anchor as it was time to move along to our next pub, and one with a chequered history too. It is only 0.1 miles to The White Swan, 276 Bradford St, B12 0QY . This is another Victorian pub and also on the CAMRA National Inventory. Architects, again, were James and Lister Lea who designed the red brick and terracotta building in 1899-1900 for the Ansells Brewery however in more recent times it fell out of favour, closed and suffered years of neglect, graffiti, broken windows and casual vandalism. It may have gone the way of so many others in similar straits- vandalism followed by arson, arson followed by destruction, an open plot destined for some non-descript modern building. Scheduled for destruction, remarkably it was saved by and leased to Nigel Barker and Will Young who took on the immense task of restoration. Despite much of the original stained glazing, Minton tiling and features such as wood balustrade above the bar surviving, much of the pub was damaged and it took two years of expensive work before reopening in September 2021. I made a point of exploring the pub. It is fantastic and a credit to the craftsmen and women who saved it.

The two of us settled down to drinks, accompanied by excellent pork pies with English mustard. We were drinking Wheelie Pale, 4.1% ABV, (£4.00) from the Fixed Wheel Brewery but also sampled the well kept and well hopped amber coloured Hobsons Best Bitter, 3.8% ABV (£4.00) which was Hobsons first beer brewed when they were formed in 1993 and it remains their best seller. Hobsons have always had an eye on their footprint and their beers utilise nearby Worcestershire hops and water from the River Severn. Needless to say, the Wheelie Pale was a Pale Ale. While this made a change from the Golden Ales we had found so prevalent in Birmingham, the malt was well hopped with the expected Citra, as well as Blanc, Magnum and Cardinal hops. It really was excellent and a second pint slipped down just as easily as the first. The introduction of American hops to this country, with their fruity zesty overtones has appealed to a whole new tranche of beer drinkers, those whom the traditional bitterness of classic style English ale, often with floral overtones from dry hopping, can take too much work getting used to. There is room for all styles of beer but I do hope that the classic style is not excluded as so many brewers leap onboard the present trend.

Wheelie Pale ale at the White Swan
Pulling pints of Wheelie Pale ale at the White Swan
Minton tiles in corridor

“my back passage is a sight to behold”

Owner Nigel Barker, thankfully talking about the original Minton tiling in the side corridor of the White Swan
Pork Pie with plenty of English mustard at the White Swan. All the food groups covered
Pork Pie with plenty of English mustard at the White Swan. All the food groups covered
Following two years of vandalism and neglect, owner Nigel Barker has pulled off a remarkable restoration at the White Swan
Following two years of vandalism and neglect, new owner Nigel Barker has pulled off a remarkable restoration of the White Swan

I returned to the bar and fell into conversation with a new arrival. I was delighted to find I was chatting to the self-styled ‘Beer Czar of Birmingham‘ Nigel Barker. Sometimes alone, sometimes in partnership, he has been responsible for the management, rescue, development and success of some of the best known of Birmingham pubs. As well as a reputation built while he attempted to turn around The Barton Arms in Aston 1995-97, he has managed the Wellington for 17 years and is joint owner of the Woodman, Post Office Vaults, The Bull and The White Swan. The man simply loves pubs and was justly proud at what had been achieved with the pub we were sitting and drinking in.

Darts anyone?
Rear bar
Tiled corridor
Minton tiles in corridor
Minton tiles in White Swan

Moving on, it was a 0.4 mile walk to The Lamp Tavern, 157 Barfold Street, B5 6AH. John and I had attempted to visit the Lamp Tavern earlier in the day after breakfast. Advertised as opening at eleven on some websites and midday on others, we hung around outside. Eventually some old boy, that we later found out to be the Landlord, wandered out with a bag of rubbish. “I’ve got some errands to run, I’ll be opening around one-thirty“. Apparently Eddie’s loose appreciation of opening hours extends to closing early sometimes and we had wondered if he would actually be open on our return. He was.

The Lamp Tavern

The Lamp Tavern is in the Irish Quarter of Birmingham though we were informed that it is now very much diluted these days as many of the Irish have moved on, escaping the seemingly never ending redevelopment. Much of the area is struggling, run-down, rebuilt or being rebuilt. There had been a murder “down the road” the previous week and as one local put it, the local hoods- “will cut your throat as much as look at you“. Which may have been coming on a bit strong as the area didn’t look that dodgy and with new-build all around, may actually be on the up. But perhaps it is an area for daylight visits only methinks.

The Bounder, from the Leatherbritches Brewery
The Bounder, from the Leatherbritches Brewery

The Lamp Tavern has the outward appearance of an average back street boozer but is far more than that. Landlord Eddie has run the place for decades and hasn’t permitted standards to slip. This is evidenced by his establishment being voted Pub of the Year Gold Award for 2019/2020/2021, Silver Award in 2013/2014 and again in 2017/2018 by Birmingham CAMRA members. Just remember to take cash though as payment by card isn’t accepted. I got the impression that prices varied from round to round and may reflect whatever mood Eddie was in at the time.

Twisted Spire, from Hobsons

Beers from the Hobsons range are usually on offer. I first tried their Twisted Spire, a blonde ale and yet again, another with prominent citrus notes. But different hops this time- Hersbruker from Germany and English Fuggles and First Gold Hops. Then I tried The Bounder from Leatherbritches Brewery, 3.8% ABV and had no need to look further.

Eddie Fitzpatrick has run The Lamp Tavern for over thirty years
Eddie Fitzpatrick has run The Lamp Tavern for over thirty years

While this was another pale golden ale, the slight grapefruit aroma also has hints of spice with a bitter finish on the palate. We were both fortunate that The Bounder had a pretty low ABV as it is an excellent session beer and we were heading toward double figures with another three pints each. There were two separate groups of drinkers, most seemed to be CAMRA members and we engaged in conversation with local member Sofi, though her shotgun speech and Brummie vowels became ever more unintelligible as the pints sank, her pal Colin silently nodding sagely to every turn of the conversation. That was the end of the morning/afternoon session for the two of us and it was just a 0.8 mile walk to our hotel where a ‘disco nap’ was required before resuming the trail in the evening.

Our early evening pub was back in the town centre, 0.9 miles from The Lamp Tavern and not far from New Street Railway Station. The Post Office Vaults, 34, New Street, B2 4BA, has an unprepossessing entrance. Street level doors in either New Street or Pinfold Street lead to the simple interior of the subterranean bar. There is always a good range of hand pulled beer available as well as up to 13 ciders and perries. In addition, the enthusiastic pub management specialises in bottled beers from around the globe. Due to Covid they had to reduce the choice, but are again sourcing beers and the choice is increasing. The aim is to have a different one for each day of the year, 365 different beers! The Post Office Vaults has a heck of a reputation amongst real ale lovers and was Birmingham CAMRA Pub of the Year Finalist in 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20.

Post Office Vaults
Post Office Vaults
Eight real ales are regularly found at the Post Office Vaults
Eight real ales are regularly found at the Post Office Vaults including one from Birmingham brewer Green Duck on our visit

I again stuck to the real ale and chose a pint of Session IPA 4.0% ABV from the Green Duck Beer Company. At just 4% it isn’t an IPA at all, just a really decent fruity zesty beer, probably better described as a Session Blond. John always goes for a dark beer if it is offered so drank The Champion, 3.2%.ABV. This was a dark nutty mild from Hobsons that belies its low ABV. It is a great location to escape to. The pub was quiet and barman Andrew had time to chat amiably with us about the range of beers. We enjoyed a relaxing time, sipping a couple of pints and talking about all things beer, in isolated detachment from whatever was going on up above at street level.

A simple basement interior lends itself to conversation. Quiet today, this place gets rammed at times, especially at weekday midday when people bring in their own take-away food to enjoy with a pint

After the Post Office Vaults it was time for an evening meal so it had been an easy choice of next venue. From the New Street exit it is less than 250 feet between the two pubs and they couldn’t be any different. The Purecraft Bar & Kitchen, 30 Waterloo Street, B2 5TJ was the first of the chain to open. The exterior is stark ‘purity’ white while the interior is more industrial with exposed brickwork and metal ducting. ‘Modern art’ adorns the walls and a wander downstairs showed a large cellar bar, unused on this visit. There are up to eight cask (four on our visit) and up to sixteen craft beer lines on offer plus draught ciders and umpteen bottled international craft beers. It is not difficult to find something to suit an individual’s palate as not only do they have informative tasting notes but the staff are well trained and well informed. Tutored beer tastings are offered to groups. Handily, for those wanting to taste a number of beers, many can be ordered in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 and pint quantities.

Purecraft Bar and Kitchen

Perhaps showing the way things are headed, the Purecraft Bar and Kitchen is a cashless venue. As indicated by the name above the door, food is held in as much regard as the well kept beers. The kitchen is open to view and the waiting staff again well informed on the ‘gourmet’ food menu that is matched to the beer menu. John and I are simple folk however and just went for the excellent Lawless beer battered cod, hand cut fries, mushy peas and tartare sauce, with side order of crispy onion rings, this was the perfect compliment to the well kept and clean tasting Purity beers on offer. Not a cheap fish and chips by any means but tasty and very well cooked. I have had their fish finger sandwiches in the past and those are just as good.

Well cooked fare is as good as the Purity Beers on offer at the Purecraft Bar and Kitchen

Unable to work my way through every beer on offer, I drank pints of their golden ale Purity Pure Gold, 3.8% ABV (£4.40) that I was already familiar with and also Purity Jimbo, 4% ABV (£4.30). This Best Bitter was new to me and now a new favourite too. It is a lovely beer made with familiar hops Pilgrim, Fuggles and Goldings, plus another I have never heard of- Emperor. That may be responsible for the fruit and apple aroma. This is another well-balanced beer with quite low bitterness. There is the added attraction that a percentage of the proceeds is donated to research into pancreatic cancer.

Birmingham’s Purecraft Bar and Kitchen was the first of the chain to open and their own range of beer is consistently clean tasting though seldom extravagant as regards bitterness units. Purity beers are accompanied by offerings from other brewers

We were made really welcome on our arrival and after eating I chatted to the manager Tom at length about their beers, he really knew his stuff and I tried a number of the craft ales on offer, sadly failing to take any notes at all on what I tried or thought of them. For some reason, my memory is hazy too. Our welcome and experience in the Purecraft Bar and Kitchen mean this is a definite place to return to. However it was time to move on to one final halt that night. It was less than 500 feet to walk to one of the best known of Birmingham’s real ale pubs.

If there was one pub that was always going to appear on my beer trail of Birmingham, it was the ‘Welly’. I had met Nigel Barker earlier in the day and the success of the Wellington, 37 Bennetts Hill, B2 5SN, is down to him and his long association with the owner- Black Country Ales. The specialist real ale Wellington has 27 hand pumps, including seven in the upstairs bar. There are so many pumps that you have to look at the listing shown on the always updating Beer Board screen and order by the pump number. They also have a reputation for the wide range of Whisky on offer and by the look of it, they are building their selection of Gins too. The Wellington has been winning awards ever since it opened and having won Gold a decade ago, most recently they were Birmingham CAMRA Pub of the Year Bronze in 2015/16, Finalists 2017/18, Silver in 2018/19 and Finalists again in 2019/20. This pub is a reminder of how fortunate we are that many, but not all, of these cultural institutions have managed to survive two years of Covid turmoil. With the introduction of a national lockdown, The Wellington had to throw away 21 000 pints of beer.

The Wellington

It was now late evening and there were few customers and a tired looking and slightly grumpy barman. It was too cold to venture out on to their rooftop terrace so we remained downstairs in the comfortable main bar with its leather seating. During refurb false ceilings were removed and the original ceilings and coving revealed. The pub is inviting, comfortable, popular and I have been here in the past when the only place to stand was on the stairs. I drank Kinver Noble 4.5% ABV (£4.20) which was pleasant enough but simply yet another golden ale made with Citra hops. Much as I can enjoy these beers with their grapefruity citrusy notes, they can be very similar, not all are good and I am getting a bit fed up with every other brewery churning out a beer with this trendy hop variety. John is even more jaded than I with this type of beer and unsurprisingly drank an Oatmeal Stout from Castle Rock , 4.6% ABV (£4.60) which he pronounced to be an excellent smooth dark ale. I should have gone for this beer myself as I later found out is was a Gold Winner of the SIBA Independent Beer Awards 2021 in the British Dark Beer category. Unfortunately we had arrived at this Birmingham institution too late in the evening to stay long. A return to the hotel was required before ending our trail the following morning with one final new location.

It is not difficult to see why The Wellington is a 'must visit' inclusion on any Birmingham ale trail
It is not difficult to see why The Wellington is a ‘must visit’ inclusion on any Birmingham ale trail

Our two day exploration of some of the finest pubs in Birmingham was just about over but there was one final treat in store. Easing our way back in to the day and prior to travelling home, a decent breakfast was required and I had chosen Cherry Reds, 88-92 John Bright Street, B1 1BN. This stylish café bar attempts to combine the best that a pub or café can offer and is just a 0.3 mile walk from the Wellington. It was supposed to be open when we arrived from our hotel but wasn’t. We hung around outside, waiting for the Closed sign to be turned around, eventually we tentatively poked our heads inside the door where the staff then professed to have forgotten to turn the notice. This independent venue has been open since 2013 and they specialise not only in a wide choice of craft beers and local beers on draught, but also freshly cooked food that focuses on local produce and seasonality. It seems quite small when you enter but wander upstairs and a great deal more seating is found, as well as another bar. A breakfast oasis indeed.

Cherry Reds

After one of the best Full English breakfasts I have enjoyed in a long time, plus large mugs of strong tea, it was time to sample the beers that Cherry Reds also offer. Two easy drinking beers to start the day. Well, it was only a little past ten in the morning! I had the Babyface Pale Ale from the local Halton Turner brewery, 3/8% ABV (£4.00). Some might call this yet another blond or golden ale but it is more a pale ale due to the colour and slight maltiness. John had a Galactic Milk Stout (£3.00/330ml can) from the Big Drop Brewery Co. This is called an alcohol free beer but is actually 0.5%.ABV. I don’t know how they do it, but this sweet and velvet smooth beer is packed with flavour, no doubt partly due to the added cocoa nibs, and it is not surprising that it has won a lot of awards.

Halton Turner Babyface Golden Ale
Two Pale Ales and a Blonde on draught at Cherry Reds
A bewildering choice of styles at Cherry Reds
A bewildering choice of beer styles at Cherry Reds. A carefully chosen range of quality bottled beers are on offer as well as draught
The 'Big Red Breakfast' at Cherry Reds
The ‘Big Red Breakfast’ at Cherry Reds

Leaving Cherry Reds, we each then had an hour or so wait for our respective trains so our last halt was a return to our first stop on this trail, the Bacchus Bar where, despite my professed weariness for Citra hops, I chose the always good Oakham Citra from Oakham Ales 4.2% ABV (£4.95). Should we thank the brewery, or curse them? The Brewing Director first encountered this then new hop variety on his annual hop sourcing visit (is there such a thing!) to the US in 2009 and Oakham Ales were one of the few independent brewers prepared to experiment with American hops and put the resultant beers in front of a fickle UK drinker. They claim to be the first UK brewery to brew a beer with 100% Citra hops and the beer went on to win numerous awards including Gold in Champion Beer of Britain, Golden Ales, in 2014 and 2019. That is the reason I had sampled so many beers hopped with Citra on my trail. Brewers are simply following in Oakham’s wake. One final pint, this time a Purity Pure UBU, 4.5% ABV (£4.55), finishing where I started, then it was time to catch my train home.

Appropriate disdain from The Anchor for modern interlopers

The route and pubs shown here are not exclusive nor definitive. There are a great many more establishments than those we visited. However the pubs and trail here gives a good flavour of what is to be found. You could spend a couple of weeks in Birmingham and not visit every establishment. Also, the beers we found will change with season, year and general availability. Some are almost a constant offering but other beers from the same brewery or others make frequent appearance. This pub trail is close to that followed by ourselves and forms a rough loop to be dipped into- visited, joined, left and re-joined as it suits. Or adapt it to your own needs or available time. It is important to eat as well as drink and the two of us fortified ourselves regularly. Not all of the places offer food though many do and there are alternative outlets between many of the pubs mentioned here. There is also a wide choice of budget accommodation at which to pause overnight, regroup and recover. Do not attempt to visit all those mentioned here in one day, you will fail, horribly.

Three Points of the Compass has previously written on another beer trail, the Shepherd Neame City of London beer trail can be read here.

9 replies »

  1. I was getting slightly worried that you were going to visit Birmingham and I would not have been to any of the pubs! The revamped Wellington looks good will have to pop in. Sad to say as a local the town centre has become a place to avoid.
    You missed the chance to have the best pint of Guinness outside of Dublin in the Irish Centre in Digbeth. The problem with that part of the centre is they where supposed to be doing a massive development so bought out a lot of people and we are still waiting for it to happen.
    A good place to try on a Saturday is Digbeth Dining Club which is a group of pop up restaurants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • While I will happily drink a pint of Guinness, it is pretty far removed from ‘Real Ale’, unless looking at some of the bottle conditioned options. As to Birmingham on a Saturday night! Not going to happen soon methinks

      Liked by 1 person

      • You would be ok as the Post Office Vaults was the closest you got to Brummie Madness ville.
        There was a really nice Micro-Brewery between the Jewellery quater and Colmore Row however for the life of me cannot remember its name.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Will do. I have to make a visit at some point in the near-ish future to use my Brew Dog discount.
        On the Irish Centre point apparently they have knocked it down so they must be getting serous about the development finally.

        Liked by 1 person

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