I was very excited to hear of the opening of a brand new brewery and taphouse in Walsall – New Invention Brewery & Tap Room Bar – so of course I had to go along and see what it was all about. This was purely for your benefit, of course, dear reader, as you know I’m not much of a drinker myself…
I bounced out of bed at 8am (I was thirsty) and after singing my heart out to Buckcherry in the shower (drying out my throat still further), I was readier than ever to face the day. I pulled on my Fierce Beer shirt (always looking to spread the word about my absolute favourite brewery of all time) and skipped down the road to the bus stop. Now National Express West Midlands have tweaked a few bus services recently and today I was boarding the new number 8 service, which I’d never heard of. I sometimes quite like the mystery element of boarding a random bus (the most exciting one being the one that just said ‘Merry Christmas’ on the front, which I was hoping would take me to Lapland, but that’s another blog). To be honest I couldn’t tell you the route this bus took, as this morning I had my head firmly stuck in my book (‘You’ by Caroline Kepnes). What with football and the OU, I haven’t had nearly enough time for reading of late, but now I have a bit of time off I am going to make up for that. This particular book has been adapted into a series on Netflix, which I would recommend (I binged on the whole series over a couple of days).
I somehow ended up in Walsall and skipped across town to my hairdressers (Vito, as recommended to me by my friend with nice hair, when prompted). I was looking forward to my annual haircut (well it’s expensive and I need my winter coat to keep me warm at football in the colder months!) and a nice cup of tea. I was greeted by a young mute assistant who signalled for me to remove my jacket and proceeded to dress me in a robe. She beckoned me towards the sinks, placed a towel around my shoulders and pointed to the seat. I leaned back and closed my eyes as she massaged shampoo into my scalp. This is my favourite part of visiting the hairdressers and perhaps I should come more often. As I was completely relaxed and drifting off, I thought I was dreaming when I heard the man in the seat next to me asking for a perm.
‘Do you have conditioner?’
Don’t start talking now, girl – I’m trying to figure out if that man really did ask for a perm!
Having been led across the room to the hairdresser’s chair in front of the mirror, I was now in the hands of the hairdresser, letting her get on with whatever she suggested in the usual manner (largely because I don’t understand her questions half the time: ‘What do you want on it?’ ‘What are my options?’ ‘Mousse, oil…’ ‘Ooh oil please. I’ve not tried that before.’), I spent ages trying to figure out who she reminded me of. This is a relatively new hairdressers for me, you see, as the Turkish man (Jacques) who used to cut it has retired; and, as mentioned above, I really don’t do to the hairdressers as often as I probably should. After about 20 minutes I realised my hairdresser reminded me very much of my favourite sitcom character Kelly from Mum – and promptly spent the rest of the haircut chuckling.
Whilst I was pleased with my haircut, I had been waiting in vain for that cup of tea I had been thirsting for all morning and (after paying £40 for my haircut) found myself bordering on cross by the time I found myself back on the streets of Walsall. This needed dealing with post haste, so I headed directly for my favourite caff – Jack and Ada’s – to put things right. Now I normally visit this particular caff with my friend Evo, ahead of pub crawl / beer festival missions. However, what with me being on my own, coupled with my new haircut, I think Jack (a Saddler) failed to quite place me. He started a vague conversation about football and I wasn’t quite sure what team he was talking about, nor whether he was sure what team I supported:
‘So how do you think they’re going to get on next season then?’
‘Well it’s got to be better than last season, hasn’t it?” (figuring this could apply to Walsall, Chasetown or Blackpool).
He then made some reference to playing in the Midland League next season, which threw me completely. Is it only me that has vague half/non-conversations like that sometimes? Honestly we normally chat for ages but frankly I was still too cross about not having had a cup of tea. I ordered a brew and a vegan breakfast (I’m not a vegan, just not a fan of bacon or sausage) and took a seat at a table in the window so I could watch the buses go by. The music in this caff is great and my foot soon started tapping along to ‘We Love to Boogie’ by T-Rex. When my breakfast came, I was disappointed to see there were no eggs on there. I hadn’t really thought that one through, had I? I love a good egg. Still, you live and learn. I tucked in anyway to my plate of what was quite frankly mainly mushrooms and it did the job of lining my stomach for the afternoon ahead.
Now I still had 90 minutes to kill before it would be time to head to the new brewery so what should I do next? I decided on shopping for some summer garb to match my haircut. Now I very seldom go shopping in Walsall, mainly because (a) I work in Birmingham and (b) I don’t like shopping. With the benefit of hindsight, dear reader, I probably ought to have taken you to the Walsall Art Gallery, Jerome K Jerome Birthplace Museum or Leather Museum (the latter has always intrigued me). Instead I’m going to take you to Primark. Now you know I’m a Marks & Spencer kind of girl (not least because they do short leg trousers/jeans and I am a titch); however Walsall’s M&S has closed and I didn’t know where else to go. Primark is an imposing building and was calling me in. I gave in. And wow! It’s like M&S but CHEAP! I loved it! I’d been looking for a little purse and had baulked at the price of £16 in Claire’s Accessories – but here was a little bright tangerine purse for £3. Oh this place suited my new cost-cutting regime like a dream! I headed back to the bus station with a bag full of stuff and started my June expenditure spreadsheet. Hmm. What with the haircut, the breakfast, the shopping and the bottle of Diet Dr Pepper I’d just bought, I estimated this was going to be a £100 day. Oops!
Exiting Primark and heading back into the centre of town (the voice on my shoulder screaming ‘keep away from the Black Country Arms – you’ll never get out!’), I spied a familiar figure. Now if you’ve ever lived in Walsall, you ought to be aware of a tall black man with a basketball, who sings to passers-by. He sang to me on the train once, many years ago: a song about a girl who travels around the country. I used to see him often, either in Walsall town centre or in the Pallisades (RIP) in Birmingham, bouncing his basketball and talking and singing to passers-by. He is a local legend. Today he addressed a man:
‘I know you! You’re not a guitar player – you’re a basketballer!’
Dear reader I was so tempted to loiter here for your benefit – so I could draw an even better picture of this man for you – but I just smiled and carried on my merry way. I was on a different mission today and must not be distracted from it. I strolled to the recently-revamped Walsall Bus Station and decided to sit on one of the new benches there for a while, pretending to wait for an imminent bus but really to kill a bit of time and not spend any money (well for the next half hour at least). I returned to my book (research for my own novel – always working!) and relaxed.
Now when I first lived on my own in Walsall (2007/8) I joined a couple of local organisations to help me meet people and get to know the town a little better. As I had just discovered the delights of real ale around that time, I joined Walsall CAMRA and The Friends of Highgate Brewery (my flat was so close to the brewery I could smell it and it was divine). Just as I was thinking about boarding the bus to Bloxwich to this brand new brewery for 2019 (New Invention Brewery), I was greeted by a number of familiar faces from the Walsall beer scene. Of course they were heading to the same place I was, so we all boarded the bus together for the short hop to Bloxwich. This would also save me having to study the map to locate the brewery, as I would just follow these guys. Result!
New Invention Brewery & Tap Room Bar is situated on Pinfold Industrial Estate behind the Wheatsheaf pub. As we entered the estate, we saw some benches outside one of the units and our eyes looked up to see the signage confirming that this was the place we sought to quench our thirst. Yes! This is what we had been waiting for – what Walsall has been waiting for ever since the closure of Highgate Brewery. Oh the good times we had in there! And the Highgate Dark Mild! Those were the days. But this was the dawn of a new day and a new era for Walsall brewing. Finally Walsall was getting its very own craft beer brewery. And boy were we excited!
The bar was opening at 1pm and we had arrived 15 minutes too early in our excitement but were soon invited up to check out the bar by our welcoming host. Heading into the unit, there was a small table underneath the stairs, with a cool decoration of an empty beer bottle with lights in it. Straight ahead opened up into another room with seating, with the toilets on the left hand side. Up the stairs was the bar and more seating. There were six beers on tap as well as a well-stocked fridge. The beers on tap at the time of my visit were New Invention’s own brews Make Haste (pale ale), Prodigy (hazy IPA), Aurora (blonde ale), Half The World Away (passion fruit wheat) and Liquid Silk (vanilla coffee session stout). There was also a guest beer, Boot Valhalla Helles Lager. Whilst I am partial to the darker beers, I started with the Make Haste and this was a lovely drop to enjoy on a warm day in a beer garden with the crossword, which is exactly what we did. I later moved on to the Liquid Silk, a 2.9% stout that was packed with flavour and so good I went back for more.
Even before visiting and sampling these fine ales, I had been impressed with the professional way New Invention had gone about setting up this place. They had run a successful social media campaign to promote the brewery and whet our appetites, they opened when they said they were going to open, the bar was ready and looked great – really ready and polished, with some lovely touches, like the table decorations and the Exotic Bazaar Wild Rose & Saffron air freshener in the toilets (unisex, naturally – this was a hipster brewery, after all). There was free food for anyone buying a drink (sandwiches and samosas), the staff were well-presented and happy to assist and answer any questions we had. There were also some very tempting locally made jerk scratchings on the bar (Claudias Kitchen, if you’re interested). I was really tempted to buy these but the little voice on my shoulder reminded me that I really don’t like scratchings (one local delicacy I have never warmed to) and I realised I really needed to listen on this occasion. New Invention had announced that they had been working with their friends at other good pedigree local breweries Fixed Wheel, Twisted Barrel, Burning Soul and Boot. Taking all of this into account, this brewery was always going to be good and frankly I could only have been more impressed if their Dark Intentions morello cherry stout had been on at the time of my visit. Still, that gives me a fine excuse to pay a return visit!
I believe that New Invention Brewery & Tap Room bar intends to open to the public on Saturdays and I would urge you to keep an eye on what they have in store going forward – and get yourselves down there:
On reluctantly leaving this fine place (which had filled up very nicely during our time there), we decided to head to Tinky’s (the Turf Tavern). This is the quirkiest little pub that none of us had been to for ages, but we knew it to be well worth a visit. When we got there we were reminded why we hadn’t been for ages, as it was just closing (it was 2.30pm). Dear reader, if you ever do happen to happen across this place when it’s open, be sure to pop in. I’ll keep trying on my return visits to Bloxwich, which are bound to be more frequent now New Invention are in town.
Instead we headed to trust Spoons, The Bloxwich Showman. Love them or loathe them (I love their beer and, of course, their prices, but loathe the politics they ram down the throats of innocent drinkers), you certainly know where you are with Wetherspoons. We were thrilled to see Kelham Island Pale Rider in here and all ordered a half of this (I was going to order a pint, to be honest, but when all the boys were having halves I decided I’d better not). Standing at the bar patiently waiting to be served – and feeling great with my new haircut and and some great beer in my belly – I had a contented smile on my face as a man in front of me at the bar turned around (with his beer now in hand) and said on seeing me:
‘What a treat to see a lovely face, as opposed to the big brutes we normally get in here.’
Aw shucks. Well I’m all for spreading smiles (for they are infectious). Back at the table we tackled the Wetherspoons magazine crossword, which was really hard! But we managed it (I say ‘we’, but I wasn’t much help, if any at all!).
Next we headed back into Walsall, calling in at the Pretty Bricks (real name The New Inn, but I had to look that up just, because no-one calls it that!). This is a Black Country Ales pub and today there were nine on the beer board: Black Country Ales’ own Bradley’s Finest Golden (BFG), Fireside and Pig on the Wall, Lilleys Cherries & Berries cider, Downton Honey Blonde, Farmhouse Scumpy, Woods Born & Bred, Downton Dragon IPA and Swan Brewery’s Swan on the Rye. As I had my blogging goggles (or ‘bloggles’, if you like) on for you today, I was more observant than usual and for the first time I spotted a cross-stitched map of Staffordshire in the fireplace. I’m a big fan of wall art (or fireplace art!) in pubs – there really is some great stuff.
The next and final port of call was, of course, the finest hostelry in Walsall: The Black Country Arms. No visit to Walsall is complete without a visit here. It’s quite simply an ace pub. The service is ace, the food is ace, the ambience is ace. And the beer board? Well judge this for yourselves: Fownes Troll Hunter, Salopian Golden Thread, Furnace Cascade, Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose, Salopian Firewall, Fownes Story Teller, Salopian Oracle, Salopian Flash Point, Black Country Ales Pig on the Wall, Black Country Ales BFG, Black Country Ales Fireside, Furnace Fun Sponge, Coastal St Pirans Porter, Salopian Lemon Dream, Furnace The Power of Now, Salopian Shropshire Gold, Lelleys Pineapple, Broadoak Moonshine Crisp, Gwynt y Ddraig Farmhouse Scrumpy and Broadoak Pear & Chilli. I settled in the corner with a Dark Side of the Moose and reflected on what had been a most enjoyable day in my adopted home town.
So, dear reader, that’s what I do with my Saturdays when there’s no football. Not a bad day out, eh? I have lots more adventures planned over the coming weeks – and you can be sure I will back here telling you all about them, so stay tuned!