Although many associate England with warm and flat beer, the country is quickly progressing through the world's craft beer scene. With a range of bars now supporting local and international microbreweries, it's easy to get your fix of craft favourites.
Birmingham is one of the UK destinations to feature multiple quality craft beer establishments. All around this West Midland city it's possible to find a pub with delicious ales, lagers, fruity beers and more from various countries.
Here's our collection of the 10 best pubs for finding craft beer.
This pub is a five-minute bus journey from town towards Aston, but well worth the detour (you could walk, but New Town Row is hardly scenic). “One of the most beautiful pub interiors in the country,” claims the website, and that is no idle boast.
The Barton Arms is a Victorian temple in carved wood, gleaming tile work, stained glass and wrought iron. Every square centimetre was designed for maximum aesthetic impact.
As this is an Oakham Ales pub, the beer is equally special. A craft pioneer, Peterborough-based Oakham was one of the first UK breweries to use big, powerful American hops and its beers, such as JHB, Inferno and the legendary Citra, still pack a mighty punch.
There are a handful of guest beers on, too, and Hammerton’s Islington steam lager in bottles, but really this is all about those Oakham’s beers and that extraordinary interior.
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Purecraft Bar & Kitchen
Pub purists may wrinkle their noses at this stark, post-industrial space. With its open kitchen and sections of tables laid with cutlery, it is as much a restaurant as a bar.
However, plenty of seating is set aside for drinkers and there is no faulting the beer quality. Purecraft is owned by Warwickshire brewery Purity and its beers feature prominently (Longhorn IPA, Mad Goose), but across 24 cask/keg taps you can find everything from dunkel and dark Czech lagers to exceptional US IPAs, such as Victory Brewing’s 8.7 per cent Dirtwolf, which is made with whole rather than pelletised hops.
The enthusiastic, clued-up staff are keen for you to taste their more recherche beers and, if you can’t find anything you like on tap, Purecraft carries around 60 Belgian, US and UK bottled beers.
Post Office Vaults
It may be a cliche to describe a menu as being as thick as a telephone directory but in this case it is the only comparison hefty enough. This basic basement bolt-hole – rudimentarily decorated with hanging hops, old bottles and beer signs – stocks more than 350 bottled beers across a menu so comprehensive it opens in Austria … When did you last drink an Austrian beer?
The Post Office’s nine cask pumps run the gamut from ultra-traditional beers, such as Hobson’s mild (the West Midlands is a doughty mild stronghold), to new wave ales from, for instance, Mad Hatter, Alechemy and Left-Handed Giant. It also has one guest keg tap which dispenses only the most cutting-edge craft beers – on this fly-past from the fantastic new Manchester brewery Cloudwater. This tart, refreshing, slightly salty German beer style is currently enjoying a revival in craft beer circles after decades of almost total obscurity.
When visiting a city with friends less militant in their drinking, it always pays, for the craft beer fan, to have one venue on standby that does more than just great beer. That way, if your companions start demanding cocktails or wine, you have an immediate suggestion – rather than getting dragged into somewhere random.
Part of a small northern chain, the Botanist is that trump card. A swanky bar and restaurant (the decor is what I can only describe as 'Victorian potting shed chic'), it does some unusually interesting things in beer.
Its two house beers, Pacific Pale Ale and Passionate Blonde, are brewed by Freedom and Cloudwater respectively and, on this look-see, its four cask ales included one from Birmingham’s Two Towers. A 95-bottle world beer menu contains a significant amount of dull chaff, but also many first-rate US and European craft beers (Orval, Snake Dog, Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout, Paulaner Hefe-Weizen).
Talking of small chains doing novel things in craft beer, the nearby coffee shop and cafe Boston Tea Party (190 Corporation Street), carries a seasonally varying amber ale from Bristol craft whizz-kids Wiper & True, as well as a couple of Meantime and Bristol Beer Factory bottles.
This is very much a boho cafe-bar rather than a boozer – all retro furniture and Arctic Monkeys on the stereo – but to complement its food menu Cherry Reds also goes big on beer. Its idiosyncratic bottled menu takes in connoisseur’s choices from Italy (Brewfist), Norway (Nogne O), the US and London (Beavertown, Brew By Numbers), but also finds space for local beers from Wolverhampton’s Sacre Brew and Fixed Wheel in Halesowen.
Its cask pumps are usually occupied by vibrant, modern beers (from Atom, Offbeat and Walsall’s Backyard Brewhouse on this visit) and you will find the odd gem on keg, too. Note that the Birmingham branch of Brewdog (81-87 John Bright Street) is just over the road.
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Ostensibly, this looks like the most traditional of pubs. Its historic, glazed tiled exterior gives way to an immaculate interior of busy carpets, etched windows and old-school banquette seating. It is a beautiful period piece.
Yet, the Craven Arms may also be the most exciting craft beer bar in Birmingham. Scan its six keg taps and its fridges, and you will spot many of the hottest names in European brewing, with a particular focus on London (Brodie’s, Anspach & Hobday, Brew By Numbers) and Scandinavia (Mikkeller, To OL).
Moreover, the Craven Arms does not just carry the mainline beers from those breweries, but often weird and wonderful limited-edition collaborations. Its 11 real ales are less outlandish but good quality.
Black Country Ales, which owns the Craven Arms, also owns Birmingham’s Wellington (37 Bennetts Hill), a brilliant 18-pump real ale pub, but one where there is less emphasis on craft beer.
The design of this lively corner pub, which includes a club/gig space upstairs, is trying a little too hard. One room has an eccentric Victoriana thing going on, with lots of tasselled lamps and gothic anthropomorphic animal portraits. In another, a glitterball hovers over huge tattoo artworks. It is all a bit too self-consciously trendy.
None of which will bother you, however, once you get a load of the Victoria’s beer selection. Outside of its one permanent ale, Wye Valley’s Butty Bach, its five cask pumps dispense good, modish stuff from the likes of Leeds’ Northern Monk and Blackjack. Three of the Victoria’s keg taps are, likewise, given over to contemporary craft beers – on this occasion Magic Rock’s High Wire, Longhorn IPA and a new Thornbridge creation, American Sister.
The predominantly UK-focused, bottled beer menu is unusually extensive for a non-specialist pub, and also very discerning. You will find the usual headline names on there (Beavertown, Kernel, Weird Beard) as well as less well known beers from Manchester’s Shindigger, Celt Experience and the mighty Redchurch. Whoever put that list together clearly knows their saisons, pils and stouts.
The Lamp Tavern
Hidden amid industrial units in Digbeth, about 10 minutes’ walk from the city centre, this one-room, street corner local feels like a lone survivor from another era. It’s full of curious knick-knacks and fading memorabilia and has not, I imagine, changed a jot since its jovial landlord, Eddie Fitzpatrick (“Is this your first time in? Oh, we’ll make an exception then. That’s £2.90 for half.”), was awarded that certificate above the bar for serving a perfect pint of Boddies in 1997. Everyone appears to know one another in the Lamp, and you probably will too before you leave.
In one important respect, however, it is blazing a trail. Last year, the Rock and Roll Brewhouse started making beer on the roof, and two of its beers are usually served among the Lamp’s standard offer of Everards’ Tiger and Stanway’s bitter. Easy to spot – given their pump clips are decorated with bright yellow flowers – Rock and Roll’s beers, such as Mott The Hop Pole and Telstar Mild (“3.5 per cent ... allegedly”, warns a bloke at the bar), are lovingly crafted, full-flavoured ales. Brew Springsteen, an American pale ale, was all sweet melon and almost bubblegum, tropical fruit flavours.
The Lamp is not the only place in Birmingham that you can drink beer brewed on-site. The Two Towers brewery in the Jewellery Quarter in Hockley (Unit 1, Mott Street Industrial Estate) opens its brewtap every Friday. In the business district, meanwhile, Edmunds, has just reopened as Edmunds Brewhouse (106-110 Edmund Street), with a nine-gallon (34-litre) brewkit in the cellar.
Its sharp, limey pale ale is already a refreshing drop but, for me, it lacked the elegance and depth of flavour that it will hopefully acquire as the brewery beds in. The overall beer range, which includes a small selection of predictable craft bottles – Brooklyn lager, Sierra Nevada, Goose Island IPA – needs expanding if they are to turn this into a genuine destination
The second Digbeth pub on our list is this Victorian, Grade II-listed old barn of a boozer with great, chatty staff and a highly impressive choice of beers. The cask pumps deliver a variety of traditional and hop-forward ales, many from tiny English breweries that were new names to me, such as Shiny, Coastal, Exit 33 and Tapstone (whose profoundly bitter, tropically fruity Voodoo Juice is a fine pint).
The Anchor’s keg taps usually include a couple of notable beers – for instance, Clouded Minds’ Dolce Vita IPA and Sacre Brew’s Leopard Stout – and there are also several shelves of Sam Smith’s and assorted Belgian beers to go at. Perhaps most tantalising for beer geeks, the Anchor also has a small collection of beers from Irish microbreweries, such as Dungarvan, Hilden and Eight Degrees.
Think of the Spotted Dog as an interface between old and new Digbeth. Historically, this area was home to a large Irish community, hence the traditional music nights and rugby and Gaelic football paraphernalia that are still a key feature of this handsome pub. Yet, out back, there is a huge bizarre patio area – dismembered mannequins, huge plastic penguins smoking cigarettes, antique furniture … oh, and the odd leprechaun – that is much more in keeping with the arty, creative types who are, slowly, colonising this former industrial enclave.
Beer-wise, the cask ales at the Spotted Dog are pretty old fashioned, although it did have Anarchy’s terrific Citra Star on as a guest. The key attraction is a small but very high quality selection of bottled beers, that includes brews from Flying Dog and Nogne O, as well as select Belgian and German beers (Viven Imperial IPA; De Kazematten’s Wipers Times; that super-dry pils, Jever; and the revered Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock). Work through those and you would have a very fun night, followed by a quite devastating morning after.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Tony Naylor from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.