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.
So we've moved to the country, the black country! And it turns out there's the odd nice place for a pint round here.
Yesterday we popped down to the Green Duck tap house in Stourbridge for, perhaps the best combo ever, a beer festival and the final day of the six nations! Rugby, beer and atmosphere were top notch and this place is definitley going to become a regular haunt of ours.
On a normal night the selection is good enough, a wide range of cask, keg and 'beer machine' beers from around the country, as well as their own range brewed on site in the brewing room that can be seen through a glass partition. Giving the feel that you are right in the heart of the brewing process.
Added to this, yesterday there were 25 casks racked in the brewing room overlooked by the imposing stainless steal brewing vessels.
My beers were all winners (unlike the Welsh rugby team, unfortunately). I started with a Welsh pint to support team. On keg was Peaches and Cream, a new brew from a favourite brewery of mine, the Newport based Tiny Rebel. A sweet and bitter pint. Smooth in the mouth and fruity as hell. Packing a new world hop punch at the end. A bit on the strong side for the day time drinking though at 5.6%.
But the rugby was on so I moved on to another strong one. Still at 5.6% the more local Walsall based Backyard Brewhouse served up a stunning surprise with the Antipodean Pale Ale. The name led me to expect a new world hop bomb, pale on the eye and fruity on the pallet. But a copper coloured, treacle flavoured, roasted malt was what I got. Earthy and intense, it was a much more interesting pint than I initially expected. I will be trying more of these local brews and suggest you do the same.
In line with the festival feel The Green Duck provided street food from The Pork Society. Now as a veggie, seeing the food on offer was disappointing. However, the veggie nachos they offered were amazing. Cheese sauce, salsa and spice were exactly what we needed four pints and two rugby matches down! But for their next festival it would be brilliant if they broadened their range for vegetarian beer lovers like myself.
Now beer festival or not this place is well worth a try! It's walking distance from Stourbridge station so even if you're not local it's worth a try. If I haven't tempted you already- you can get four pints for £10!
Like The Eagle and Ball, The Woodman is a traditional Birmingham pub that has been gutted and completely remodelled. But unlike The Eagle and Ball, The Woodman has kept hold of all it's original charm: stripped wood floors, frosted windows, tiled walls, somewhere to hang your coat and ten brass rimmed hand pumps. But with modern craft beers and bar staff that are less Bet Linch and more Brody Dalle The Woodman is a local for the twenty-first century.
You won't find a John Smiths or a Tetley's at The Woodman. The ten ever changing hand pumps are rotate with a broad range of interesting beers. They don't shy away from more experimental beers and they can miss the mark but with the range they have I've never struggled for a good pint....and sometimes an experiment pays off and you get a surprisingly nice beer.
Last night I went for a Dark Star Hophead. Part of the slew of trendy modern craft breweries (opened in 1994), Brighton based Dark Star never fails to please. A brilliantly refreshing brew. I found the name slightly miss leading because although it has a clearly hopped flavour it is missing that soapiness of many heavily american hopped beers. Instead it is the citrus and floral flavours that are front and central.
Second drink of the evening was an Urban Huntsman, Outlaw Pale Ale. This brewery was new to me but I'm always up for trying something new. It's a West Midlands brewery, this is something else The Woodman do well, supporting local breweries. This was a more traditional hopped beer. American hops, leave a clean taste in the mouth and the grapefruit taste means its got high bitter notes. It's not the most original drink but it does the job.
Like most of the pubs on the Eastside, The Woodman is a mixed bunch. Lecturers who are avoiding the students up in the Eagle and Ball frequent The Woodman in the afternoon and evenings. Later on you find Camra members after something new to try and groups of twenty somethings livening up the joint. You can sit outside on a summers evening and watch the skateboarder on the Eastside Park.
The only downside is the food. With beer this good I feel the food should match. Traditional pub style food is available and in my experience it's average at best. Although they do do an excellent bar snack.
Pick up your game on food Woodman and you might be damn near perfect.
The Eagle and Ball can be found on Gospal Street on Birmingham's Eastside. It's a surprising find tucked down the side of the extensive building works going on around the Birmingham City University campus. The Eagle and Ball is one of Birmingham's fine historic public houses. It's been there in various guises since 1840 but was reborn in 2015, fully refurbished with a modern(ish) look. It's now the student union bar for Birmingham City University but don't let that put you off....
Unlike the faceless, Fosters fuelled and nightclub-esque student pubs I knew in my University days, The Eagle and Ball is a proper pub with cask and keg ales are on offer, as well as a plethora of bottled beers. Now the range is not as extensive as some of the pubs in Birmingham and there is your normal student fair, but the ale they have is good.
Sadler's (an excellent Black Country brewery) makes up most of the menu, with a full range of bottles and Peaky Blinder on tap. Peaky Blinder, named after Birmingham's early 20th century criminal underbelly, is an excellent brew. Perfectly named, it is dark and smokey while it's full bodied sweetness coats the mouth.
The crowd is an interesting one. The first time I went I didn't realise is was a student pub and I wouldn't have known. It was a Saturday afternoon in summer and the students must all have been at home. But go on a Thursday night when there's a club night and it's very clearly student central. Last night it was a real mix with groups of young people in their twenties, as well as older groups of real ale aficionados. We even bumped into Brian- know to many as the purveyor of fine cheeses at the Wellington's fine Cheese Night (Last one of the year on the 26th of October- see you there!)
I think The Eagle and Ball is the best student pub I've ever been to. Hats off to Birmingham City University for seeing it's potential and creating a real ale pub loved by students and the rest of us alike!
Highly recommend if you are after a pint (or a quick go on a quiz machine) on the Eastside.
We popped out for a few pints to The Midland last night. It's in Bearwood, which involves jumping in an Uber but it's well worth the trip.
It's one of three real ale pubs in Brum run by the Black Country Brewery, including The Wellington in the city centre and The Craven Arms near the Mailbox. In my opinion it's the best. Unlike it's, perhaps better known, sister in town I've never struggled for a seat in The Midland. While The Welly can be unmanageably busy on on a Friday evening The Midland is bustling but breathable, with a real mix of young and old, couples and groups and old fellas propping up the bar (on bar stools none the less) striking up conversation with anyone who'll listen. The one thing everyone has in common is enthusiasm for a proper drink! Real ales and ciders are plentiful and ales are rotated regularly- you can try something new every time you go (last nights ale list can be seen above). And these guys know how to take care of their beers, I've never had a bad pint. They'll also do you a paddle of three schooners so you can taste a wider range before buying a full pint.
Last night we went for two paddles between the two of us, which covered about half of the ales on offer. The staff were really helpful in making sure we knew which drinks were which and giving us a wide range. My particular favourite was the 4 T's Pale Ale. I tend to love a hoppy or citrusy pale ale but this was unusually fruity, almost like blackcurrants.
The Midland does have regular beers from the Black Country Brewery. We had three of these on our paddles: The BFG, Pig on The Wall and Fireside. These aren't really for me. They're very mild in flavour and lacking in the punch I normally look for in my beer. My partner described them as "different shades of water". I actually don't think they're bad beers they are just very traditional, concentrating on barley malt roast for flavour rather than hops or different choices of malts and if you're a fan of a mild or traditional bitter they'll be right up your street.
My best pint of the night was the Watneys Pale. Beautifully hoppy and citrus in flavour, poured to perfection.
If you're not an ale drinker but love a nice pub I would still recommend The Midland. It's in a restored Midland Bank with amazing high ceilings with ornate trimmings. It still maintains some of the old featured, like the vault door and the vault is now the cellar and has a glass window so you can see the barrels and workings of the pub, I find this fascinating to see. In the winter there's a lovely open fire as well!
The Midland, like all of the Black Country pubs doesn't do meals, so don't go in expecting a pub meal. They do have pork pies and sandwiches as well as crisps and nuts. I can't comment on the quality though as a veggie, their veggie option are thin on the ground. They do offer plates and cutlery if you want to bring your own food, which I always think is a brilliant touch.
I'd really recommend a night in The Midland, even if it involves travelling across town. It's a brilliant real ale pub with an excellent atmosphere and some brilliant ales!