Wednesday, November 1

Birmingham Beer Festival 2017

After a few years at the New Bingley Hall in Hockley, Birmingham CAMRA's real ale showcase has relocated to the regionally renowned Custard Factory - Nick, D9 and I therefore made Digbeth our destination for an afternoon of big-hitting brews and curious cultural discoveries...

- A Breakfast Mugshot -
Friday 27th October and the autumn morning mists burn off just in time for me to test the robustness of the Wolverhampton to West Bromwich 79 bus timetable. Mr D9 taunts me with threats of cob penalties but I arrive with moments to spare so the balding one is denied a free breakfast. Our pre-festival nosh comes courtesy of the Great Western Cafe on West Brom High Street, a former pub turned greasy spoon where the bargain prices certainly attract a lot of custom. £3.25 for the Full Breakfast is excellent value, the proper bacon being the star of the show.

- JFK Mosaic -
The plan now should have been to catch the Metro into Birmingham but a lengthy phone call delays Mr D9 at West Bromwich while I forge ahead to the festival. Along the way I can gather some bonus Digbeth photos focusing on the police station (an imposing landmark in Portland stone), the Kerryman pub and the Digbeth Institute (originally opening in 1908 as a congregational chapel but now an O2 music venue). My favourite find however is the mosaic memorial to John F. Kennedy that occupies one corner of Floodgate Street - the inscription reads 'A man may die, nations may rise and fall but an idea lives on'.

- Plenty to choose from -
To the Custard Factory I go, the building so-named as it was here that Alfred Bird & Sons produced their famed brand of custard powder; the family name remains revered by fans of traditional British puddings to this very day. Entering the festival, I quickly gather glass and tokens then see Nick waiting to greet me eagerly clutching some Outstanding Stout. My opening tipple is some Platform 5 Antelope, although I soon progress through a Lucid Dream (a delicious cookie cream stout) and Northern Whisper's Beltie Stout (also very satisfying). 

- Beer Festival Baldness -
Mr D9 finally makes his delayed arrival and is 'rewarded' with a Slap in the Face (a Totally Brewed hoppy blonde ale). Before we know it, D9 is availing himself of the strongest beers in the programme including Burton Bridge's Thomas Sykes and Kinver's Full Centurion - no wonder his bald spot was parading around in full view! Nick's festival favourites comprised Thousand Trades Hazelnut Porter and Anarchy Sublime Chaos whereas I heeded the warning to Never Swim With Piranhas.

- In the Clink! -
Three hours of indulgent imbibing fairly whizz by and the last traces of our tokens are ceremonially scribbled out. I spend up with Stocky Oatmeal Porter (Thirst Class), Nick extracts some Fixed Wheel Blackheath Stout and D9 ends up as a Confused Brummie (no explanation needed). Our festival fun is followed immediately by more beery business literally across the street, Clink being a bottle shop and taproom on the Custard Factory's doorstep. Craft keg is to the fore here with premium pricing to match; saying that, the Celery Sour was most definitely a taste sensation unlike anything I'd ever drunk before.

- Digbeth Street Art -
The modern-day Custard Factory is a hive of activity at the heart of Birmingham's creative quarter, the industrial setting being re-purposed for digital businesses and independent retail outlets. The sheer energy of the location is evidenced by vibrant street art as we wander beyond Gibb Street - some of the designs are beautiful, some thought provoking and some frankly disturbing. A wall of crushed car parts gets the D9 seal of approval while there are celestial ladies, skeletal fish and alien monsters awaiting our admiring glances.

- Dig Brew -
River Street is our next calling point as we seek out a very recent addition to Birmingham's brewing contingent. Dig Brew have turned a converted backstreet unit into a bar and street food operation so we are only too happy to drop in for respective samples of Bitter and Burning Gold - first impressions are extremely favourable! Another place to watch over the coming months is The Ruin on Floodgate Street, newly opened and rather quirky in style. We happen across it completely by accident but quickly begin to appreciate the shabby decor and courtyard murals, not to mention the Two Towers Complete Muppetry real ale.

- The Final Tilt -
Evening is upon us once more as Nick exits stage left by catching his homeward train from Moor Street. D9 and I decide a cheeky nightcap is in order, and having developed a taste for craft we pay our first ever visit to Tilt on City Arcade. A tap takeover by Norway's Amundsen Brewery is underway, allowing us to revel in speciality selections with a non-conformist edge. I thereby partake of 'Lush', a kettle sour Berliner-inspired concoction involving sour raspberry and lime, whereas D9 succumbed to the promise of 'Hoptropolis' Double IPA. Pinball machines are a prominent feature here (Tilt hosts a monthly Monday night league) but we resist any ball bearing battles because the Midland Metro must be caught, bringing to a close a drinking adventure with a difference. Cheers!

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