Sunday, 31 August 2014

BRAPA - Birmingham City Centre to a finish!

Talk to most visitors about real ale in Birmingham and they'd have you believe that you've got to visit the  Wellington on Bennett's Hill and such is their amazing beer range, you don't need to know anything else!

So it was with low expectations that I embarked on Saturday's BRAPA trip (thanks Europa league for ruining my life for a FINAL time) looking to tick off the remaining 4 pubs in the city centre having already done Wellington, Post Office Vaults, Old Joint Stock and the like on previous football days out.

However, what I discovered were some absolute gems that left me wondering why I'd never been to them before and whether these were pubs designed for the more discerning local Brummie ale drinkers.

515 - Prince of Wales - With father Bernard in tow before his afternoon of 'culture & shopping', we found this lovely old skool traditional West Midlands pub just to the west of centre amongst the many conference centres that dominated the skyline.  The beer range was a little bit lacking with many standard real ales on and a couple of pumps turned around,  but I enjoyed a first-out-of-the-barrel honey based Enville Ale made to a 200 year old recipe, handed down to the current brewery from their great great aunt.  The atmosphere was quiet and relaxed, the barman quiet but friendly, the toilets were quirky and the walls clad with previous Princes of Wales.  

Top lampshade action at Prince of Wales

516 - Victoria - As we parted our separate ways, it suddenly started to feel like a proper BRAPA day as I lurked around outside an old theatre entrance waiting for the historic and haunted Victoria to open.  Trying not to look too desperate, I sauntered in to find an amazing Victorian style pub, both stylish and quirky in equal measures with pictures of pigeons with boobs and animals in suits for example!  Part of me felt it was trying to appeal to the young and trendy too (the music dampened the hubbub a bit) but I enjoyed a Wye Valley Butty Bach served by a friendly Irish guy who reminded me of Chris O'Dowd.  Things took a turn for the worse as a woman totally kicked off when he got her order wrong, she couldn't have dairy so changed the order and there was some mis-communication.  Having a vegan sister, I sympathised but she could have been nicer and it made for an uneasy atmos so I drank up quickly and left! 

Pigeon with boobs in the Victoria - quirky.

517 - Lamp, Highgate - I always find it interesting in Birmingham how the gay and Irish quarters seem to be in pretty much the same errm quarter, so after an entertaining 15 minute walk south, I found myself in the Highgate area at a lovely little pub called the Lamp, which seemed unspoilt in decades despite everything going on around it.  The landlord (another friendly Irish chap, but this one more along the Brendan O'Carroll lines) was hoovering and had temporarily locked the pub, possibly not expecting me, first customer of the day, despite it being after 1pm.  He told me about their Rock n Roll brewery (on the roof) so it felt only right to have a pint of Brew Springsteen.  It was not incredible, but nicer than most pubs own brewed stuff I've tried in the past.  Really relaxing little place to have a pint and read the paper, off the beaten track but not a long walk so probably the perfect pub location.

Rock & Roll ales brewed in-house at the Lamp
518 - Square Peg - After the calm of the Lamp, it was a culture shock to walk back into the city and enter the huge, bustling Wetherspoons which seemed to take up an entire street.  At 82.5 feet, it has the longest bar in Birmingham and needed about 20 staff all working hard to serve the huge number of people present.  I can't say I found my pint of Dorset Knob anything other than typical Wethers fare, but I appreciate it's been given a place in the GBG for continued improvement.  After about a mile walk with my pint behind a woman on a shopmobility scooter, I finally perched on a stool and read about local canals built by Thomas Telford and James Brindley (I'd done it for history GCSE so that's why I found it interesting, okay!)  An old man (Irish, obviously) saw me and started bemoaning modern technology and getting back to basics for what seemed like hours.  Just when I wondered how to get rid of him, I explained by BRAPA challenge and he hastily decided he was late to meet a friend and strode off! 

Old Contemptibles, my final August 2014 tick!
519 - Old Contemptibles - From Wetherspoons to Nicholson's (can you see why I saved these two for last?), Dad was already there, texting me the instructions, "follow signs for Snow Hill and you'll stumble upon it" and that's exactly how it happened!  This was a grand old pub with massive ceiling height and some lovely old features and whilst I only stayed for a half of a not too hoppy American pale, I decided that whilst it had that Nicholson's feel, it was probably better than all the ones in York.  There seems to be a certain feel to old corner pubs in the West Midlands which is hard to define, but I really notice it, whether in Brum, Cov, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich or wherever.  It's almost Yorkshire-esque, really down to earth, good humoured, proper basic boozers.  


And if the day had finished there, it would have been a resounding success.  But we HAD to go to the wonderful Barton's Arms, have a quick half at the afore mentioned Wellington, watch our train get cancelled, go to the underground Post Office Vaults, lose my bag, have a painful journey home, coffee in Leeds, feel totally monged, but can't complain on the whole.  Still a wonderful day.  25 pubs done in August, well ahead of schedule.

The breathtaking Bartons Arms, does a better pub exist?

Of the 25 done, it's very hard to pinpoint the best.  My fave Brum pub was probably the Lamp.  It would be up against Bradford's Corn Dolly, Heptonstall's White Lion, Keighley's Brown Cow and the New Inn of Appletreewick.  Overall winner?  Arggghh, don't make me choose.


So what does September bring?  Well, Histon (Red Lion beer fest) and Cambridge on Saturday 6th is a good start, I think I will hold off on the midweek West Yorkshire BRAPA for now.  I may receive the new GBG as early as this week which will mean a lot of "book-work" (to use a Tom Irvin phrase).

Saturday 13th sees a trip to Oxford, September is feeling like a top university face off!  I'll be trying to do Abingdon on the same day as you know by now, I like my letter "A" places.

Saturday 20th is a bit of a write off cos I am at Newcastle away but I'll be looking to hijack the Welly gang's plans with some pub ticks of my own (I still have 4 central pubs to do at the time of writing).

Saturday 27th will probably be my much planned and long awaited trip to Askrigg, Aysgarth, Hawes etc but if any of these pubs aren't in the new guide, I'll be revising my entire plan.

Happy pubbing, Si


  1. Bookwork is a Prof (not Dr) Charles Taylor line that various people over the years have purloined.

    Which train were you booked back on? I shall have a look on the system for delay claim purposes.

    I will happily support plans for Newcastle pub ticks, but I don't think Ben will allow not using the Bodega at some point. See what remains in the guide and then plan.

  2. thanks Tom, Prof Charles Taylor is the name I will remember when the 2015 Guide finally plops on my doormat and bookwork is required. I will need to ask Dad re the cancelled train but think it was approx 6:15pm.

  3. I see the 18:30 was cancelled. Presuming you ended up on the 19:03, and my information is correct, I make that a 1 hour 7 minute delay. Fill out the form on the link for the two of you and send your tickets off with it and you should get a full refund in the form of green vouchers for that one.