Discovering the New World
The key to being an explorer is getting somewhere before anyone else. Or at least being the first outsider to discover a primitive civilisation and to escape to tell the tale without being boiled alive.
Six years ago a few of us set on an expedition to attempt the Bermondsey Beer Mile. By the time we got there, we were about two years too late, and every man, woman and their dog seemed to be there that day. The niche, quirky, nerdy nature of the experience had been wiped away by mass participation and huge queues. We had a good time, but we felt anything but pioneers.
As beer miles go, Stirchley Beer Mile is a bit less on people’s radar than some of the London trips, at least to those outside of Birmingham. For, good people, that is where Stirchley is: a suburb south of the city centre on the Pershore Road, a popular student area due to the proximity of the city’s university, home to an old-fashioned high street where the shops pile the pavements high with their wares, and now home to a number of craft breweries and craft beer bars. The Stirchley Beer Mile, which incidentally is almost exactly a mile, has only come to the fore over the past year or so, and with the interruption of Covid I was confident this time I would be a Christopher Columbus rather than a Johnny-come-lately.
The plan to get to Stirchley from Oxfordshire was remarkably complicated in order to achieve affordability, necessitating changes of train at Worcester and Bromsgrove to arrive near the chocolate factory at Bourneville. Six trains, four connections. We made just one. And that only just as the Flying Scotsman was chuffing along ten minutes behind us and had led to people thronging alongside the track, which meant a speed restriction. On arrival at Bromsgrove, every train was cancelled. In desperation we went in search of help, or a bus, and found the latter in the form of a rail replacement coach which would take us to Longbridge. So we went to Longbridge.
There was a time during our ordeal when I feared I would be two years too late to this beer mile too, but a service bus from Longbridge took us along the Pershore Road and we arrived at the start of the mile only 45 minutes behind schedule. Which, everything considered, was something of a result.
We’d done the honourable thing and cancelled our booked table at the first bar, Wildcat, whilst we’d been on the rail replacement coach, fearful we might never make it. When we did get there, we decided to have a look to see if we could get a table and found a totally empty establishment with a barman who seemed to be more interested in his unnecessarily loud music rather than his customers. That’s not to say it was a bad place; two cask beers and a cider, eight keg lines and a fridge full of interesting bottles and cans could have kept us interested for a while, but we limited ourselves to just two to make up time. I stuck to the cask – Beowulf Beorma – a brewery I knew well many years ago but have not encountered much of late. The smoked porter from Chapter Brewery was a winner amongst those that tried it.
Literally two doors away is the Cork and Cage, a small shop conversion that was quieter (noise-wise) and busier (customer-wise) than its near neighbour. Some ceramic tiling suggest that this was once occupied by a food retailer; it is a narrow shop with a bar at the rear and seating down both sides. Twelve keg lines offered beers from local brewers Attic, which we would visit later, and Halton Turner, which we wouldn’t, amongst other craft giants such as Lervig, Northern Monk, The Kernel (one we missed on our Bermonsdey trip), Full Circle and Wild Beer. My Halton Turner Pennine Bronco was excellent, as was our taster of Full Circle’s Black Forest gateau imperial stout that went under the unusual name of All Hail the Mighty Squeaker. Really. I like this place, would visit again.
If I do visit again, I would probably go to the only “proper” pub on the trip, the British Oak, as we had to miss it out this time to get to our booked table at the Birmingham Brewing Co. This is off the main street on an industrial estate, and though spacious, pleasant and welcoming with a lot of outdoor seating, the beers were a little disappointing, the “Belgian” of our choices being the best.
Attic was out next brewery and was much better. Not only was it incredibly busy, it deserved to be. Tucked away in an industrial unit opposite Bourneville station, it has a garden with a secluded feel and a large indoor seating space with a bar, which, of course, we sadly couldn’t prop ourselves up against. We sat inside for a bit before searching some fresh air and sunshine in the garden. The “Gallery” New England IPA was juicy and refreshing, which was just as well as the day had become something of a scorcher. The food offering was good too. Another one to return to.
From here we walked along the Worcester and Birmingham canal to the Glass House Beer Co, a journey that had looked a simple one on the map, but turned into an anxiety dream-like experience, where you can see your destination but can never get there… we had to walk past a locked gate with the brewery clearly visible behind it and walk for a further ten minutes through the industrial estate to get back to the other side of the locked gate and to some beer. I don’t recall what I drank here, but it was pale and hoppy and refreshing, but I couldn’t tell you what it was called. Not that we weren’t enjoying ourselves, but by this time the conversation and concentration had turned (briefly) to our plan for getting home, which wasn’t going to be as booked. The conclusion was to go via Birmingham New Street, which gave us some extra drinking time but would involve the continuation of our number 47 bus ride from Cotteridge into central Birmingham.
This delay gave us time to visit Cotteridge Wines, a well-stocked craft beer off-licence, where we obtained some refreshment for the train journey home. In the centre of Cotteridge village is Redbeer’d, a micro pub which had been on our radar should time permit and had been recommended by a bus passenger earlier in the day. Time fortunately did permit, and we enjoyed a pleasant half an hour or so chatting to the same fellow from the bus and his friend, who gave us the lowdown on the history and development of Stirchley’s beer renaissance. I had another Halton Turner beer, another NEIPA called Beverley Hills Hop (6%), which I could have drunk all night. As I write this, Halton Turner have just opened a taproom in the back streets off Digbeth, so that’s somewhere I must visit sometime. I thoroughly recommend Redbeer’d; great beer, service and conversation.
So ended our story and our adventures for the day. Almost. We departed the Stirchley Beer mile on the 47 for the slow ride into Birmingham, and after a fruitless attempt to find a seat in a city centre pub for a swift one, we retired to the dingy depths of New Street station to await our train. The beer bought for the train journey proved to be a wise investment, and a twenty minute delay to our already forty minute wait at Oxford due to a couple of brawling piss-heads seemed a fitting and inevitable end to our disrupted travelling day.
I’ve every respect now for those great explorers, Magellan and Raleigh and the like. Can’t have been easy doing all that discovering, especially if the suffered as many train cancellations as we did.
Thanks to Douglas for his research, and Keith for some of the pictures