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    Drinks, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Beer and burgers with Byron

    Recently I went cycling for the first time since I were a kid and I’m pretty sure the only reason I made it home was because we stopped for burgers before heading back.  Thus reinforcing my idea that burgers are life.  And if burgers are life, then beer is burger’s natural life partner.

    So when Byron were like, come check out our new craft beer menu and tell us how you’d pair the burgers, I was all over this.  Anyone that followed my Melbourne food adventures will know that I have a soft spot for bacon cheeseburgers, and BBQ sauce is my favourite of the sauces (although garlic mayo comes a close second).  So naturally I was going to go for their Smoky burger: mature cheddar, streaky bacon, crispy onions, lettuce, pickles and smoked chilli BBQ sauce.  Now, that’s a lot going on in that burger, so I wanted a beer that wasn’t going to weigh me down, partly because I was going to the cinema after, but also because the rain outside was biblical and if Birmingham was going to end up undersea I wanted to stand a fighting chance of floating.

    I’ve been in to Byron before and even then it was pretty obvious then that they understood the bond of beer and burgers, as they’ve been collaborating with Camden Town Brewery since 2010 to produce their Byron Lager and Byron Pale Ale.  But Byron’s craft beer menu surprised me; the new craft beer menu is, in my mind, unashamedly pitched at beers that will compliment burgers, rather than being an extensive beer menu covering all styles.  And that’s a wise move; I got surprised with a super sour beer and burger accidental pairing in Oz and it just made me sad because it didn’t work at all.

    The beers are typically lagers, pale ales and IPAs and aiming for something middling will keep most people happy, particularly given the range of brewers.  I was pleased to see a couple of Beavertown’s beers on the list, as well as the, now fairly standard, Brewdog offerings and the Bristolian Moor Revival.  Whilst most of these are fairly commonplace names amongst the craft beer lot, there is also Peroni for people who want a name they know.  Birmingham’s branch has five taps, two are reserved for Camden Hells and Byron Pale, and the others are given over to guest beers – Magic Rock’s Hire Wire, which I have a total soft spot for, was on when I was there.  They’re all good burger beers, which is essentially what I want from a burger joint.

    So, to go with the Smoky burger, I went for Beaverton’s Neck Oil.  I really like Neck Oil, it’s a beer I’ll often pick if I see it on the menu because it’s juicy, crisp and not too heavy.  The guys at Beaverton call it a Session IPA, meaning that if you’re ‘On it’ this is a good one to go for because it’s not heavy and filling, and has a relatively low ABV…so you know, you can drink responsibly folks.  I like it for all those reasons, but because it’s light and not too heavy or gassy, it works really well with something filling like a burger, and the juiciness of it makes it really refreshing against the Smoky’s smoked chilli BBQ sauce, which has a really nice kick to it.  The flavours of the beer and burger don’t wrestle, but compliment each other. Individually the Smoky burger and Neck Oil beer are good, together they’re a great pair.  And in the interests of science, my friend Rob (who writes wonderfully, but mainly about SCFC) had the Smoky with the Byron Lager and this worked well too.  That’s the benefit to Byron’s new craft beer menu, it’s a sort of mix and match approach with their burgers which means you shouldn’t get a bad result.

    https://www.byronhamburgers.com/drinks/
    Disclaimer: This post was in collaboration with Byron, but seriously how difficult do you think it was for me to write about beer and burgers? And we all know how serious I am about burgers, all my own overthought views, as per.

    Bar reviews, Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Indian Brewery Snowhill, Jewellery Quarter

    indian_brewery_company

    I’ll accept a lot of things in the name of good food and drink, after all we’re only human we all have crap days, but it’s kind of hard to forgive a place built for beer that does it badly.  Anyone familiar with the Taj Mahal will be aware that an emperor built a palace in memory of his favourite wife he loved her that much.  In my head, this is the kind of thinking that goes into building a tap house; a brewery is so proud of their beers they build a living shrine to it.  You’ve lovingly crafted this liquid nectar, it’s going to be super fresh and if anyone is going to treat it right, baby it’s you.

    Sadly not.

    Recently, I went to the Indian Brewery Company’s tap house, newly housed in the old Brewsmith’s building.  It was a Thursday night, and understandably busy, but the place cramped and the music felt intrusively loud; there is very little space to stand if the lines of bench-style seating are taken, and the place full of men in suits.  I’m not complaining about the suits, having already attracted the locals is a good thing, but cramming up by the door because there’s nowhere to stand isn’t fun.

    Understandably, the bar takes up one side of the venue and Indian Brewery Snowhill’s beers make up the bulk of the offerings, with cans of Birmingham Lager used to decorate; a nice touch without looking too gimmicky.  There are several shelves of spirits and I saw a few people drinking wine; nice to see they’re catering for the non-beer drinkers too.  On my visit, there were lone cans of beer from Magic Rock and Evil Twin, on a shelf which would’ve been fine except they were served straight from that shelf, and unlikely to be at the correct temperature.  Call me dramatic, but that feels to me like a disrespectful way to treat other breweries beers, in somewhere that ought to know better.

    chicken_tikka_roti

    I’d like to be able to tell you that the can debacle was just a mistake, but when I was given a glass of Peacock, their take on an English style bitter, things just seem to get worse.  To me, and the two people with me, it did not smell right and it didn’t taste much better either.  The aroma was what caused me to google “why does my beer smell like pond water” because I could smell sulphur, and that’s not what I want to smell in my beer if it puts me off drinking. The reaction I got from the member of staff I complained to was a lesson in how not to do customer service and when he grudgingly replaced it, I realised the IPA he’d given me didn’t feel like it was being served at the right temperature either. My third drink there was a Diet Coke.

    And of the food. My chicken tikka roti was nice, the chicken tender and flavoursome but nothing particularly special, disappointing in a city like Birmingham where Indian food is ten-a-penny.  My masala fries arrived cold, and had to be sent back, replaced, this time, without much hassle.  As far as fries go they were alright, but I suspect others might find the heat of rather generous masala seasoning a bit overkill, as did one of my dining companions.  The fish and chips, and chicken wings enjoyed by my friends well received, the sauce on the chicken wings in particular, and something I’d be keen to try.

    fish_and_fries

    I really wanted to like the Indian Brewery Snowhill; a quirky little independent rising from the ashes of another fallen indie café, pushing forward the Birmingham beer scene and giving us somewhere exciting to go for food and drink.  This wasn’t my experience, but rather than leave me disappointed, I was angry.  I can forgive one mistake, but I had beer that didn’t taste right, poor customer service and cold fries.  I guess bad things do come in threes.

    I might go back for food, those wings looked good, but I won’t be back for beer. I’d rather go down the road or visit some of the cities award winning bottle shops and head for the Balti Triangle.  I can only hope that I witnessed a blip, but frankly there’s enough places selling better beer that finding out is likely to be low on my list.

    Indian Brewery Snowhill, 214 Livery St, Birmingham B3 1EU. http://www.indianbrewery.com/snowhill

    Disclosure: I paid for this myself. Well except one beer, which a friend bought, and reminds me, I owe him a drink.

    Restaurant reviews, Reviews

    Review: Bryon burgers finally bounce into Birmingham

    byron_proper_hamburgersMy first Byron experience was in 2013 on one of my many trips to London, which I claimed was about seeing friends, but was really about going to go eat burgers.  So, shame on Byron for taking this long to get to Birmingham.  Salisbury has one and it only has a population of 45,000; York, Harrogate, Exeter and Camberley all have ones.  Manchester’s got three Byron’s…but, you know, no Michelin stars, so we’re clearly still winning in that respect.  I can only imagine that with a Birmingham-born burger chain already here, they figured they’d come back to us later.

    So what of the Birmingham one?  Located on New Street, the fact that it means that lovely old building is no longer some sort of gambling-machine arcade is major plus points.  Inside the space is well used; there’s an open kitchen it doesn’t feel forced into being the centre of attention and there’s enough interior design that it doesn’t feel like a canteen.  Apparently they’ve gone for a Cuban-inspired ‘Havana Good Time’; I’ve no idea quite what that is supposed to mean but the warm, tropical colours are used well. The exposed brickwork and relics of the old cinema knocking about if you know where to look too.  It feels like a nice space to be in, warm and inviting, not too gimmicky.

    Byron's smoky burger with Byron sauceFood wise it’s all about the burgers.  Okay sure there are some wings and chicken nuggets and things for starters, but this about the burger.  It’s a simple menu, with a regularly-changing special, but there’s enough to keep you interested and back to try different things.  And my mum will be pleased because they already specify that you can order a burger without the bun, or a salad if you really must.

    I’m re-evaluating my friendship with Jo-ann after she ordered the Smoky burger and swapped the smoked chilli BBQ sauce for Byron sauce…because seriously, BBQ sauce.  She did say it was really good although did feel there might’ve been a bit too many crispy onions, but I think that’s just because for once I wasn’t the one who made the biggest mess.

    Byron burger from Birmingham with friesI had the Byron burger because I’d hope that if you’re going to put your name on something it should be good; dry-cure bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and Byron sauce, cooked medium in what they call a squishy bun, with a pickle on the side and then I added some fries.  The fries managed to survive being left to go a bit cold as I took photos and didn’t seem to suffer, still holding a crunch.  I liked the burger, it is simple but a nice mix of flavours and was cooked medium as standard, which makes me happy.  But, I wasn’t blown away by it, and maybe that’s my fault for ordering what’s akin to the house burger. And I’ve been spoiled for burgers.

    Drinks wise, there’s something for everyone with milkshakes and soft drinks, as well as beers, wines and cider.  They have a couple of own-brand beers, made specially for them by Camden Town brewery, and I thought I ordered a Byron pale ale, but I’m pretty sure what arrived was a lager. I didn’t mention it to the staff because it was actually quite drinkable, even though I don’t often choose lager, which I think is a positive sign.

    byron_beer

    I’ve warmed to Byron since 2013, largely because I stopped expecting them to be the best burgers in town.  Instead, I realised that what they do well is providing somewhere you can go for dinner, that does simple burgers, but feels like going for dinner.  Over the years I’ve had some amazing burgers, but they’ve nearly all been in places where it’s all about the burger, and less about the experience.  Byron is where I could meet non-food-obsessed friends for dinner and a catch up and not be disappointed, but I doubt I’d convince them to trek to a sketchy part of town, queue for ages and then try and balance a beer and burger, no matter how out-of-this-world that burger is. Byron is about satisfyingly simple comfort food that’s burger-shaped, and I think there’s room for that in Birmingham.

    Byron burgers, 92 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4BA

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Cotteridge Wines 21st Birthday

    beer_burgerOkay, so this actually happened last month, but I popped into Cotteridge Wines at the weekend and ended up joining in with a conversation about their twenty-first birthday, and made me realise I hadn’t posted this yet.  I know, I know.

    Now for some reason Cotteridge Wines does not get the recognition it deserves in Birmingham.  I mean on one hand I think this is a good thing because it means I can pop in and wander round and pick up some excellent beer, but on the other hand every time I hear about how their biggest fanbase is mainly London-located it makes me sad for Brum.  Beer people of Birmingham, you are sorely missing out; Rate Beer have awarded them the UK’s Best Bottle Shop for three consecutive years running.  My journey to get into beer has been massively improved by them; I am always impressed by how well they remember what I’ve bought before, how they’ll save you beers if you tweet them nicely and the recommendations they make when you pop in are fab.  I mean really, they’re great.

    And if that’s not enough to convince you, then the beers on tap for their 21st Birthday should.  You see it’s not just their customers that think they’re awesome, some well respected breweries in the country do too, a testament to the relationship Jaz and Kal have built up with them.  So to celebrate their 21st Birthday, a bunch of breweries offered to make some special beers to mark the occasion and Cotteridge Wines threw open the doors to their tasting room to let their customers in on the fun – and Original Patty Men were around to make sure there was something to eat.

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    I was lucky enough to bagsy a space on the Saturday evening session and above is a quick photo of the tap list for the night.  I’m still relatively new to this whole drinking beer thing but even I knew that was an impressive array.  Sadly I didn’t get to try all of them, but I started the night with Tropical Cannonball, a passionfruit IPA, by Magic Rock Brewing.  A personal favourite of the evening for me was Figgy Bastard by Mad Hatter Brewing Company, as even though this was the middle of summer the almond and fig flavours created the taste of Christmas – all I needed was a mince pie to go with it.  The Mango Lassi by Northern Alchemy was, to me, deceptively non-beery and thusly dangerously drinkable with sweet mango and cardamom flavours coming through.  I also tried Deep Breath by Cloudwater Brew Co, 21st Breakfast by Steel City Brewing and Yam Yam by Beavertown, all of which I enjoyed too.

    As well as some excellent beers, Original Patty Men were there to make sure we could get something to mop up the alcohol.  I bought a bacon cheese burger and it was glorious, as always.  Beers and burgers, what a great pairing right?

    That evening, I managed to bump into Bob (and Sarah) and Dave from the Midlands Beer Blog Collective who have written a really lovely write up of the Cotteridge Wines story to mark their 21st Birthday, so I shan’t regurgitate it here, but it’s worth a read.

    Happy (belated) 21st Birthday Cotteridge Wines, here’s to many more birthdays!

    Disclosure: I managed to bag an invite to the birthday celebrations but bought all my own beers (and burger). Any wildly improper comments about how the beers tasted are all my own, sorry.

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Meet the brewer with Magic Rock Brewery at Tilt

    tilt_beer_birmingham

    Back in a past life, when I controlled a pub’s social media accounts, we announced that we were going to get some Magic Rock Brewery beers in as guest ales and the online enthusiasm was palpable.  I remember harassing the poor bar staff on site to tell me, and photograph, when the beer was in, racked, tapped etc.  Back then beer wasn’t something I had any interest in, but I am a sucker for nerdy enthusiasm and this was like Christmas.

    It’s largely the reason I have a bit of a soft spot for Magic Rock, and when Tilt mentioned they were doing a tap take over and meet the brewer session, I figured that my newly acquired desire to get into beer should probably go along and find out what the fuss was about.  Turns out that nerdy enthusiasm I witnessed online years ago, yeah I got to see that in real life and it was great.

    magic-rock-brew_rich_talk_tiltRichard from Magic Rock spoke about the brewery, the beers and Birmingham, but mainly answered a lot of questions.  They might be based in Huddersfield, but it was clear there was a lot of love for Magic Rock in Birmingham; people asked a lot of questions about the beers, Magic Rock’s history (they started back in 2011) and what to expect in the future.  To be honest I should probably be able to recall more of the talk, but I was mainly interested in how what had previously felt a bit like a noisy common room had gone deadly silent to listen to Richard talk.  I guess that shows how much respect people have for the brewery – and why RateBeer named they second best new brewery in the world 2012, after only being open a year.

    magic_rock_beers_tilt

    This is a terrible write up of the night because I failed to pay attention to how many beers were available, mainly because I was still a bit cautious about the whole ‘getting into beer’, but I think there were about seven.  Given my propensity to forget names, the fact that I’d remember two of the beers that everyone raved about years ago was pretty impressive and so I mainly stuck to the core range, namely the Cannonball IPA and High Wire – Magic Rock’s tribute to the pale ales of the West Coast of America.  Both a bit fruity, but fresh and delicious.  I also tried the Bearded Lady, Magic Rock’s Imperial Stout which was rich and heavy; I tasted notes of chocolate and coffee, maybe some darker fruits too, which made it feel like if you were looking for a two-in-one dessert and after-dinner drink, this would hit the spot.

    magic-rock-brew_bearded_lady_tilt Disclosure: All beer paid for either by myself or a friend (and by this I don’t mean the venue or brewery)

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    So you want to be a beer blogger? With Matthew Curtis

    brewdog_beers_line_glasses

    At the risk of becoming one of those bloggers that blog about blogging (which I avoid, at least on here anyway), I’ve been mulling over this event for something stupid like six months.  Which I realise, even for me, is a ridiculously long time to leave to finish a blog post, but I’m still thinking over some of the things that were said – and more interestingly, seeing some of the cool stuff that has come from it.  But basically last year Matthew Curtis from Total Ales came to Brewdog in Birmingham to talk beer blogging, in a sort of talking about beer, and blogging, and blogging about beer.

    Neil, previously of Brewdog and now at the excellent Tilt in City Arcade, introduced the talk and what the afternoon was about – mainly about getting enthusiastic people to hear about and hopefully talk/write more about beer, and hopefully about beer in Birmingham.  And it’s totally worked – more on that later.

    Talking about blogging to non-bloggers can be really dull, I am well aware, but Matthew managed a talk which appealed to bloggers, non-bloggers and wannabe bloggers alike, which is much harder to do than you’d think.  In as much as you’re allowed to have a life-long interest in beer, he talked about where his enthusiasm for beer was really sparked, and where that journey has taken him since.  And if that sounds pretentious then it’s not meant to, but there’s so much beer stuff happening that it’s hard to see it as anything other than a journey.

    Neil_brewdog

    He also talked about the start of his blog, how it began as a space for his own beer musings but also how it has become part of the wider beer community, and how it led him to co-authoring beer books, writing for beer magazines, hosting beer tastings, photographing beery things and speaking and consulting.And more importantly, talked about everything it had led him to, whilst still retaining a passion for what he started doing.  And being sat in a room full of beer geeks the talk fell into a discussion about lots of exciting beers being brewed, breweries and the emerging beer scene in Birmingham.
    So why has it taken me six months to write this up?  Well there were lots of blogging related ideas that I kept coming back to, but I want to keep this blog about food and drink and Birmingham or a mix of the three and not blogging about blogging.  But if you’re a beer fan, a blogger about anything but in particular beer blogging, then I’d really recommend going to listen to Matthew speak.

    matthew_curtis_beer_writerOne of the things it did make me do was start paying more attention the beer scene in Birmingham.  I’ll readily admit that I’m more of a spirits drinker, cocktails preferably, and whilst I’ve tasted and written about beer before it was something that I knew I needed to look more at more.  Since, I have written about a beer tasting, I’ve not done much else other than pay more attention to what’s going on, but one of the things Matthew’s talk did do, was introduce me to the team behind Midlands Beer Blog, who, quite frankly, are doing a stellar job talking about the beer scene in the city – and beyond.  And sure, like a lot of things food and drink wise, Birmingham is pretty far behind other cities when it comes to beer, but things really seem to be ramping up; the aforementioned Tilt in City Arcade is awesome, the Craven Arms is also great (and not just for the name), the Birmingham Beer Bash is beer heaven, and Wildcat Tap has just opened in Stirchley.  And that’s not mentioning some of the beer stalwarts like Cotteridge Wines (brilliant, and award-winning), the Wellington, Post Office Vaults etc etc…  I’m always banging on about evolving and exciting Birmingham’s food and drinks scene is, the Birmingham beer scene feels like a massive part of that, and something well worth raising a glass to.

    Disclosure; bought my own ticket. And even if they knew I was blogging about it, they probably didn’t expect it would take this long.

    Bar reviews, Drinks, Reviews

    Botanist ale tasting

    botanist_beer_menu

    I’m a total sucker for a pretty drinks menu, so when I sat down at the table to hear about the new ales at the Botanist on Temple St I was already curious, and that was just because of some snazzy stationery.  Usually if I got to The Botanist, or anywhere really, I’ll stick to sprits and preferably in cocktail form.  It’s nothing personal, I’ve just never really spent the same amount of time learning about beer and which ones I like.  But then I got an invite to a tutored tasting from Kieran Hartley, one of the beer gurus at New World Trading Company, Botanist’s parent company, to hear about the 13 need beers and cider on the menu.  So I figured what the hell…

    beer_tutorial

    As one of the early birds, I ended up chatting beforehand with Bob and Sarah from Midlands Beer Blog, which is frankly a much better guide to beer drinking in the city.  For some reason we ended up discussing a Millionaire by Wild Beer Co.  On hearing our conversation, Kieran swapped out one of the beers to let us try this and I’m so glad he did, because it was so different from other ales I’ve tried.  Using lactose, which yeast can’t process so remains in the beer, it was designed to mimic salted caramel millionaire shortbread and did a pretty good job with an immediate salt hit, developing into dark chocolate.  Personally I’m not sure I could finish a whole bottle of the stuff, but I’d be willing to give it a try – or share it with a friend for a liquid pudding.

    botanist_beer_notes

    I really enjoyed the variety of beers we tried, which suggested that there was something for everyone.  The Camden Town Brewery’s Gentleman’s Wit is an award-winning Belgian style white beer made with slow-roasted lemons and bergamot.  It was a light, almost summery beer with not much aftertaste but very drinkable and would be good with dinner.  The Goose Island Honker’s Ale is an American take on English bitter, with dominant hops and a malty backbone whereas Thwaites Crafty Dan 13 Guns is an English take on an American style IPA – confused yet?

    I should probably point out that we were trying sample sizes of the beers along with hearing some history of the production of beer.  I’m a sucker for a good story so I always enjoy hearing the folklore surrounding drinks and there are plenty around beer.  The story Kieran told about the possible origins of India Pale Ale which accompanied us trying the Vedett IPA was entertaining, as was hearing that the samples of wheat grains that were passed round to get us to understand the history of beer had accidentally been eaten as a snack by another group!

    guinness_porter_botanistHonestly I couldn’t tell you what state The Botanist’s beer menu was before the new addition, but it now feels like a fairly comprehensive menu which had a wide variety of styles from IPAs to Belgian white beer, dark porters and a few oddballs.  Birmingham is quickly becoming a bit of a haven for beer drinkers and the Botanist’s new beer menu certainly makes it feel like it should be included on any ale trail.

    http://thebotanist.uk.com/location/birmingham

    Disclosure: I was invited to the tasting and drinks were complimentary, but that didn’t mean I had to be. One day I’ll get better at remembering names and I might remember what styles of beer I like.