Around a year ago The British Oak in Stirchley came into new hands. The landlord of the much loved Prince of Wales (Moseley) took over the place with big plans to revitalise this beautiful 1920s pub.
The first time I stumbled into The British Oak was around 4 years ago. It was a rainy afternoon and I was looking for somewhere to shelter (and maybe grab a half) before a nearby meeting. Now there aren't many pubs in this neck of the woods, which I've always put down to Bournville's Quaker heritage, so I wasn't left with much choice. The imposing but rather down at heal looking Oak was all there was for me. Inside felt as unloved as the outside. The man behind the bar offered me a friendly welcome and I bought a half of something branded and unremarkable and sat awkwardly in the corner. The only person in the bar. Even then, the high ceilings and original stained glass meant you could see the beauty behind the drab. However, the sheer scale of the place meant this would need someone with a full wallet to bring it up to muster.
Keith Marsden appears to have been the right man for the job. On my next visit to The British Oak the shine was back on this building. Marsden has used a similar method to he used in The Prince of Wales to make this one pub with many faces. Areas of the pub feel like a beautifully presented old-man-pub, while others seem like a cocktail bar for 20 somethings with money to burn, while round the back in the garden in built for families with plenty of space for kids to play on the grass. Added to that, there is a restaurant area with waiter service.
The risk with this style is becoming Jack of all trades but master of none. Now the British Oak is definitley not master of all it surveys but it is most definitely the master of an afternoon drink in a sunny beer garden!
Now last weekend we found ourselves kicking our heels and wondering where to sit to enjoy the sunshine. So we took our books (and our coats- it's still March!) and trundled on down to Birmingham's premier beer garden. With my loyal readers in mind (and it being mid afternoon) I decided on sticking to halves so I could describe all they had to offer.
Hooked by the fluffy mustachioed pump clip, I had to start with the Magnum IPA from Robinson's brewery. It was worth my curiosity. Sweet and fruity up front with a bitterness that goes on and on, so much so it stopped me from tasting much when I tried my girlfriend's drink. Maybe not one for food matching, unless you're matching with vindaloo. The fruity flavours are of an exotic ilk and you can imagine the man himself suping a pint.
Half pint down I headed to the bar, positive I would find something else interesting. I was disappointed. Doombar, Ubu, Brooklyn larger were all on pump, nothing wrong with any of these brews, regular readers will know I am a big fan of Ubu, but together they make an uninspiring line up. One of the beauties of real ale drinking is the fact that a trip to the pub can be an adventure of new tastes. The British Oak let me down...I had another half of Magnum IPA.
All in all I like the British Oak. It's new lease of life is to be celebrated and it is clearly becoming part of the local community. But Keith if you're listening, let mix up the beers, we're not all cocktail drinker.