If you hadn't noticed that I was in Birmingham last weekend you're really not paying proper attention. I was in Birmingham last weekend. That's nice and clear, isn't it?
I was there for the Birmingham Beer Bash, one of the new style beer festivals, where cask rub shoulders with keg, bellies with tattoos and beards with, er, beards. I had a couple of very good reasons for attending. First, I was giving a talk. Pretty essential you turn up for something like that. Second, half a dozen recipes from my book, The Home Brewers Guide to Vintage Beer had been made for the festival. Or rather, a mini-festival within a festival. No way I was going to miss the chance to drink those.
The original plan was for Lexxie to tag along with me and Dolores, snapping pictures and filming film to document the event. He didn't really fancy it, so we left him with a set of keys to the flat and 30 quid to spend. He's used to pottering around the centre of Amsterdam either by himself or with his mates. No reason he couldn't do the same in Brum.
Talking of the flat we rented, it was handily central, right next to the Bull Ring markets. Rather too close to the markets, as it overlooked the wholesale part. The din form lorries unloading started about 3 am and finished, er, about 7 pm. Just as well I'm a heavy sleeper. Sadly, Dolores isn't. She didn't have the greatest night's sleep. Lexxie, being young, slept soundly through all the racket.
The Bond, venue for the festival, was a leasurely 15-minute stroll away. The walk sort of summed up Birmingham. The first part was along a bit of innner-city dual carriageway, the second down a street of dead factories. Dolores has come to judge the prosperity of British towns by the number of buildings with trees growing out of them. By this simple method of scoring Birmingham comes between Liverpool and Glasgow.
We arrived just after kick off, at 11:15. I'm a bit paranoid and wanted to have plenty of time to make sure all the equipment for my talk was working correctly. Plus have time for a few pints before showtime. My experiences at the American Home Brewers Conference have taught me that I perform better after a few pints. Or is it the audience who needs the beer?
After being shown around by organiser David Shipman, I made straight for the vintage beers. They were all neatly lined up together at one end of the cask bar. Where to start? Sarah Hughes 1929 Russell XXX seemed a good place. I was a bit surprised when it poured a pale gold. It's a Burton Ale and should really be dark. Though admittedly it would be easy to miss that from the recipe, as all the colour comes from sugar. Very tasty, despite the dodgy colour. It reminded me of a 1970's Light Mild. Not sure why, but that's what popped into my head.
I was just getting stuck into Thornbridge 1933 Whitbread DB when I noticed John Clarke standing next to me. What was he doing here? He told me at the Brettanomyces Festival a couple of weeks ago that he had a ticket for Friday. Turns out he had the dates confused.
I'm starting to grow fond of Whitbread Double Brown. It's a beer that intrigued from the first time I spotted it in Whitbread's brewing records. Why? Because it didn't fit with any modern beer sold as Brown Ale: too strong for one type, too dark for the other. And with a grist all of its own - quite a rarity at Whitbread where pretty well everything was parti-gyled with something else. I got well stuck into Pretty Things take on the 1955 version when I was in Boston in March. Thornbridge's version of an earlier iteration was similar, but subtly different. No real surprise there.
Titanic 1839 Reid IPA was pleasant, but not as scorchingly and persistently bitter as other versions I've had. Atom 1918 Courage Double Stout was stronger than I expected, but I'm not going to complain about that. Rich and roasty would be my aliterative description. Ashover 1910 Fullers Porter was much as I expected: black and burnt. It's a beer that's proved popular with home brewers and I've had a couple of their versions before. Ashover proved what a cracking little recipe it is.
What about Two Towers 1853 Younger XP, I hear you ask? It wasn't on. At least not then. I got to try it later, during my talk. A little cloudy, but pleasantly dry and bitter.
I was due on at 13:30, but went to check on the room and its kit at noon. No point in taking any risks. Just as well, as it turned out. I've only used a projector and screen until now. This time the display was a large flat-screen TV. I got my little flip-flop connected up to it OK. And an image was appearing on the screen. Actually two images: the current slide and the next slide. Really not what I wanted.
Luckily, I had my IT support engineer with me. Dolores is good at this sort of stuff. Especially as my flipflop runs Linux. Knowing how much she likes to be watched while she fiddles, I sloped off to fetch some more beer.
When I got back the building's caretaker was there helping her. Still two slides on the screen at once. When I returned from a second beer run, it was finally sorted and a single slide illuminated the screen. Phew. It had taken the best part of 45 minutes.
I'm getting to know my Brettanomyces talk backwards. Which makes it a lot more relaxing to present. Maybe I should try telling it backwards, just to add an element of challenge. I got a few decent laughs, which tells me something went right. Boak and Bailey were in the audience and we had time for a bit of a chat after I'd finished. Which was later than I expected as I went off on several tangents, totally unconnected with the topic in hand. That's what happens when I've to time limit.
I also briefly bumped into Gazza Prescott, someone I've corresponded with for years, but never met.
Time to sell a few books and then I was off. There was family stuff to do. I'm not a total monster, you know.
This is the full line up of historic beers:
1839 Reid IPA (Titanic)
1853 Younger XP (Two Towers)
1910 Fullers Porter (Ashover)
1918 Courage Double Stout (Atom)
1929 Russell XXX (Sarah Hughes)
1933 Whitbread DB (Thornbridge)
I'm sure you've not forgotten, but this is my book:
The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.
Advice for Pub Staff, 1965, Pt.1 — the Beer - The 1965 book Bar Service offers a snapshot of what was going on in pubs at the time and contains lots of interesting, often amusing, details. It was wri...
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