Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Birmingham Pubs

Saturdays without football are precious. Today was the third and final one during the World Cup break and I was heading down to Birmingham for beers with the girls (Wendy and Karina).

I made a point of travelling light today, which meant no flask of overnight oats and no flask of tea. I still managed to food optimise on my journey though.

SlimmingWorld encourages ‘swaps’ of healthier foodstuffs and drinks. Once upon a time I’d have had Creme Eggs in my handbag but now I have hard boiled eggs (and a small food bag to house the shell prior to disposal). The Alpen Light bar was pudding and I washed these down with an Earl Grey I bought at the station.

I boarded the 0954 at Blackpool North which was direct to Birmingham New Street. I do love a direct train so I can settle down and relax for the duration of the journey.

I had no book or Kindle today, since I was travelling light, so I read on my phone, completing The Jealousy Man by Jo Nesbo. It’s a good selection of short stories, although I had to skip one as it was taking more than it was giving. Stephen King taught me that. Life’s too short to read stories you aren’t enjoying.

There was some drama on the train, as the woman across the aisle – who was rushing down to visit her new grandchild – was running out of charge on her phone. Unlike the sexy Northern trains that I’m more used to, non-table seats on these trains don’t have charging points, so I offered her the use of the one on the other side of my table, which didn’t seem to be working for some reason.

Anyway I arrived in Birmingham on time at 1205, all set to dart across town to our rendezvous point. Ooh the trams were running again! The city was rammed and it proved tricky to cross New Street on foot, it was so chock-full of Christmas shoppers heading to the German market. But I bustled my way through and was soon at the Pub of Choice for lunch with the ladies.

The Bull

If you read my West Brom blog you’ll know exactly why I’m here.

Church End Gravediggers is my all time favourite mild. I could drink it all day. Being a session beer, this is quite possible. Indeed, I had a great New Year’s Eve sesh on it in Katz in Walsall a few years back, which ended up with us playing Cards Against Humanity with random strangers. That was the best New Year’s Eve ever.

As I placed my pint on the table where Wendy and Karina were already enjoying their Gravediggers, Wendy piped up:

‘Were you asked if you knew it was a mild when you ordered it?’

‘Er no. Nige knows it’s my favourite.’

It was nice to feel like a local in a pub 125 miles from home – although I did work in Birmingham for 18 years.

There were some other beers on today but of course that’s by the by.

Karina surprised me with a couple of Christmas presents. Having been gifted with beer and Thornbridge Jaipur BBQ Sauce (very nice BTW) by Bob and Evo on my last visit to the WM, I’m feeling much loved and welcomed on these visits.

‘You can keep that one for Christmas but you’ve got to open that one now.’

I was intrigued. I unwrapped the urgent gift. Ooh what was this? A deck of cards? I opened the box, considered the contents and looked at Karina, puzzled.

‘I like to pick up random things from charity shops. I saw this and thought of you.’

Dear reader, it was a set of Cliff Richard coasters.

Cliff with my chilli.

‘I can’t wait to read this blog,’ said Wendy.

Dammit. I hadn’t been planning to blog today but (a) people were clearly expecting it; and (b) how could I NOT blog about these Cliff coasters?!

Cliff proved to be a great companion for the duration of the crawl, as we utilised the coasters in lieu of beermats everywhere we went.

The chilli was really tasty, BTW, with a warm afterburn.

Martin Collinge (who I knew from my Birmingham CAMRA days) arrived for CAMRA magazine delivering duty. As Karina flicked through the magazine she spotted a new micropub bang in the city centre that none of us had been aware of. But more of that later.

Martin was quite insistent on buying me a pint that he’d previously promised me (I think on my aborted visit after that horrific St Andrews experience last year).

Despite trying to stick to my plan of one drink in every pub (halves everywhere else but a pint here obvs), how could I resist a free pint of Gravediggers? Of course I couldn’t.

I also remembered to photograph the pubcat, Ellie, for you on this visit.

This pub really is very hard to leave. But there were other pubs I wanted to visit on this day trip – with three new pubs now on the itinerary – so leave we must.

Onwards to the Jewellery Quarter!

Rock n Roll Brewhouse

I’d not been to Rock n Roll since they’d relocated and I was keen to visit today. I’d loved the old place. Could this be anywhere near as good?

This was a good start.

We climbed the stairs into the new brewhouse. And it was certainly true to the original, with dim lighting, snug seating areas, little caves and welcoming brewster.

These were the beers that greeted us.

Mild for me obvs.

We took a seat on the comfy sofas at the front of the brewhouse. I like that it’s called a brewhouse as opposed to a brewpub or brewery tap. It has such a homely feel that brewhouse seems most appropriate.

Ooh they have live music on here.

Fleetwood Mac was playing today, following the recent passing of Christine McVie.

There was a pile of music magazines – Melody Maker and the like – on the shelves to the side of our sofas. We flicked through these and marvelled how Michael Stipe hadn’t aged.

Karina informed me that the Church End Brewery guy was in here (he had an odd nickname – possibly an insect – that I can’t remember). I should have gone over to tell him how much I loved Gravediggers but I was too comfy in my sofa.

Karina insisted I visit the toilets before we left. I wasn’t disappointed.

There was also a good selection of lady products, which always gets bonus points.

Loved this place and didn’t want to leave here either BUT we had a brand new place to visit.

North Taproom: Snow Hill

Despite only opening this week, North Taproom was rammed already. All of the tables – out front and inside – were occupied.

Here’s the beer board.

Ooh I’d had that North X Bundobust one in Bundobust in Manchester two weeks ago. So a different one today, then. I went for the Full Fathom 5 Coffee & Coconut Porter.

Note the name Taproom here, as opposed to Brewhouse. It indicates a colder, more clinical, less homely environment.

Karina managed to locate her friends, who had room on their table for the three of us, so happily we got to sit down. This also provided a new audience for the Cliff coasters, as they were dished out amongst Karina’s friends.

There was a food counter here offering the following.

In here Karina (also a SlimmingWorld member) provided a top toastie tip.

I ordered one of these immediately for use crimping toasties to go in my new air fryer (hugely recommended to do toasties this way – I make pizza toasties with cheese, tomato purée, Henderson’s Relish and pizza seasoning).

Cooked in the air fryer.

On the way out I was surprised to see Rich (formerly of Tilt fame) behind the bar. It was lovely to see yet another familiar friendly face.

Next up we tried to go to Head of Steam for our tea but there was a queue out the door so we continued on to our next port of call.

The Colmore

It was rammed in here so I didn’t get anywhere near the pump clips to photograph them for you. But Untappd tells me I had a Kirkstall Brewery Dexter, a beer I knew I’d enjoyed before.

We managed to find a free table in an internal room in the middle of the pub. It was so loud in here – and the group at the next table had clearly been having a good day on the pop.

There was pizza on the menu here. This wasn’t SlimmingWorld friendly but, had I been in a pizza frame of mind, I’d have gone for The Brummie.

We quickly moved on from the hubbub to check out the new micropub that none of us had heard of.

Dig Brew’s Clubhouse Micro Bar

This is at the back entrance to Piccadilly Arcade, opposite the back entrance to New Street Station. It was therefore slap bang in the middle of the German market carnage. And it was a quiet tiny oasis. And it was wonderful.

Milk stout obvs.

Karina’s pals joined us in here, too – followed shortly afterwards by another group of their friends and all of a sudden we were filling the place. There was an upstairs, too, but we didn’t venture up there.

Toilet-wise, we had to ask for access to the toilet unit next door (unremarkable).

Food-wise, we’d made an emergency pit-stop at Tesco, so (after asking permission) had a little picnic at our table. I had some sort of cooked meat, cherry tomatoes and grapes as well as the second egg and Alpen Light bar I had in my handbag.

This was a belting little find – and very handy for the station for my train home. The train I’d booked had been cancelled, so I headed for the one an hour earlier, as I’d had enough to drink.

The journey home seemed much longer, as I couldn’t get last night’s Corrie loaded to watch and I’d had too much to drink to absorb a book; hence I stuck some tunes on and wished myself home.

Finally back in Blackpool (and Lee being out working), I jumped in a cab to take me home.

What a lovely adventure that had been. It was great to catch up with friends and pubs alike. But now it’s back to the football misery…

Next Up: Hull City v Blackpool.

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