The occasion of Solihull CAMRA's 18th annual beer festival gave Nick and I ample justification for attempting another ale adventure. The main event is being held at the Royal British Legion Club so we would combine our attendance there with some micropub magic and a visit to Knowle...
- Beer this way! -
Meeting outside Solihull Station come quarter to twelve, we make immediate strides to Union Road ready to exchange tenners for tokens (plus glass and programme of course). The festival is making a welcome return to the British Legion after a couple of years away (in 2016 the event didn't take place at all), so we settle in the lounge and eye up the tasting notes, especially Nick's favourite 'to be treated with caution' section. Moonraker's Mild was my tasty opener from Huddersfield's Empire Brewery whereas Nick went local, Silhill's Pure Star alluringly described as "liquid copper with a body to die for".
- Coffee and Doughnut Stout -
One ale that definitely required close examination was the Salvation #5 Coffee and Doughnut Stout, whereby Abbeydale infuse the ale with real actual doughnuts supplied by a Sheffield bakery. The result is a powerful brew that is certainly very moreish. Likewise enjoyable is the Waterloo Sunset from Kelham Island, a smooth porter with a savoury bite to it. Nick is very taken with his Havelock IPA, named after Sir Henry Havelock, a hero from the Battle of Lucknow who has otherwise faded into obscurity. While at the festival, we are delighted to meet up with Mike and his partner to chat about library cataloguing systems and horror fiction.
- Champion stuff in the Ale Rooms -
With tasting notes ticked and tokens all spent, we bid the festival a fond farewell and catch the 88 Balsall Common bus through to Knowle High Street. Awaiting us there in a former undertakers premises is the Ale Rooms, a compact little bar that opened last December. Church End ales are our choices here: I opt for Boston Fat Boy (very pale with a canine pumpclip) but for Nick it has to be Goats Milk, recently crowned as the Champion Beer of Britain - it certainly gets his seal of approval!
- Poised at the Vaults -
A visit to Knowle never seems complete without a call into the Vaults, a Good Beer Guide regular with one of the most unpromising pub frontages in the West Midlands (it looks something akin to an adult bookshop). The plain white doorway leads through into a simple interior populated by happy drinkers and mounted fish. A combination of Wadworth 6X and Purity Pure Gold confirms that the beer here is up to its usual high standard.
- Knowle & Dorridge Cricket Club -
From a GBG mainstay to a new entry, Knowle & Dorridge Cricket Club having secured a prized place in the 2018 edition. The club is situated by the Station Road/Grove Road roundabout and proves both welcoming and comfortably furnished. We partake of Wadworth IPA and Bombardier Burning Gold while perusing pictures of successful playing squads down the ages. The cricket connection means this might be a place Stephen needs to sample in due course.
- All you need for an excellent evening -
Our final task is to travel back across Solihull to Hatchford Brook, Olton in order to pay our first ever visit to Solihull CAMRA's 2017 Pub of the Year. The Pup & Duckling micropub has quickly established itself among the area's upper ale echelons with the Berry family at the helm. Any place that serves pork scratchings in a dimpled half-pint glass is a winner as far as I'm concerned, but add in jovial conversation and some Tuck porter (Lincoln Green Brewery) and we were very impressed - and that's before we got embroiled in a fiendish word game. One of Nick's Coventry acquaintances dropped in for a chat too, taking us deeper into the evening than anticipated but we didn't want to leave. Exit we must for a madcap dash onto the X2 (once we'd figured out which direction we needed to travel in), then Solihull Station supplies our respective trains home. Cheers!