Sunday, December 25

Hub Marketing 2016: Christmas

Deepest December means it's time once again for Charles Pemberton Rowbottom the Third, elder statesman of the Hub Marketing Board, to be resurrected for our annual awards ceremony. The Hub Christmas Caper as always comes laden with calendars and the silly song chart rundown whereby Wolverhampton, Essington and Short Heath are on standby to be our 2016 seasonal stocking fillers...

- The Calendar Presentation -
Our Monday medley of festive formalities begins in Wolverhampton city centre where the Chairman pays out a cob penalty due to his late arrival at the Lych Gate Tavern. The upstairs function room has streamers and stout to make members feel very much at home, although the calendar handover is saved until we proceed to the Royal London for Hobgoblin amid the pool tables. Mr D9 can then eagerly peruse the year's pictorial highlights including appearances from Mickey Mouse, Barney the purple dinosaur and the Coventry quiff.

- Wrapped up well for some D9 driving -
With that opening brace of boozers under our belts we catch the 59 towards Ashmore Park, the Chairman being appropriately dressed for his latest driving duty - perhaps a wrapping paper 'skirt' will become 2017's must-have fashion accessory? The top deck of the bus soon resounds to the tune of Nat King Cole's jolly ditty 'The Happiest Christmas Tree' so we alight on Griffiths Drive to avoid torturing our fellow passengers any more than is absolutely necessary.

- Missing the Minerva -
DJ D9 Hub-burn's top twenty countdown is underway as we wander into Staffordshire, a path from Kitchen Lane connecting the edges of the Ashmore Park estate with the South Staffs mining village of Essington. Sadly the Minerva isn't open as yet so we console ourselves with views of the scenic pools off Brownshore Lane. Larchmere Drive cul-de-sacs are subjected to songs about onions, sparrows and trout before the Old Mitre (on Bursnips Road beside the M6) mirrors the Minerva in thwarting our thirst. 

- Tuning in for Jeremy Kyle -
That Essington ferret had still proven fruitful with reminders of former mineral railways, but for further refreshment we needed to return to West Midlands territory and the environs of New Invention. The Milestone is a modern Marston's corporate pub serving the residents of Coppice Farm and Allens Rough; our Banks's Bitter is traditional enough albeit daisy lawn table tops and Jeremy Kyle television booths are less so. A few legs of closely-fought darts then precede the conclusion of the silly songs chart as our 2016 number one is revealed: in the year of Brexit there is really only one candidate for top spot as Bruce Forsyth takes the crown with 'I'm Backing Britain'. Hurrah!

- Duke of Cambridge -
To Short Heath next, dodging along dusky alleyways from New Invention Square to Coltham Road. The homely Duke of Cambridge pub deserves an extended moment in the hub spotlight, a Black Country Ales establishment with a three room layout (separate bar, lounge and games rooms) plus plenty of yuletide atmosphere. It is here that Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III makes his arrival, admiring a cottage teapot collection while announcing our award winners and dozing off at regular intervals. Among the accolades this year are the Kings Oak in Kings Norton (Sleeve of the Year), Stapenhill Cemetery (Closet of the Year) and the Hearty Carty Karaoke (Random Event of the Year).

- A Seasonal Secretary Shot -
Secretary WME had already retained his Pub Games Champion title but rubber stamps this by completing a Duke darting victory by 8 legs to 6 (a double 17 checkout at the end sealing the deal). Members then have two more calling points to contend with on the way home - the Avery Unionist Club offers Mansfield Smooth and the Merseyside derby before the final honour goes to the Manhattan in Heath Town, a place the Chairman has long had his heart set on visiting. With that we're all done for the year, see you again in 2017.
Merry Christmas from the Hub Marketing Board!

Monday, December 19

Banbury Crossed!

With Christmas just around the corner, our highwayman hero Nick Turpin is flushed out of hiding as he embarks on another 'Festive Forage'. Aided and abetted by my good self, our 2016 yuletide excursion sees us banished to Banbury in search of a fine lady upon a white horse...

- Banbury Station -
Friday 16th December and the day begins not with a ride on a cock horse (spoilsports!) but rather a journey in a Chiltern Railways carriage as our Oxfordshire-bound outlaws join forces aboard the train down from Birmingham. Banbury Station seems keen to promote its fast and frequent links to both the Second City and London although as a building it isn't much of a looker - the glazed modern entrance foyer is nice enough but the platforms could probably do with a lick of paint.

- Forage Found? -
Banbury Town now awaits as the River Cherwell almost apologetically sidles past the station. Nick Turpin leads the way, primarily in pursuit of pubs plus any other landmarks that may entice our collective eye. The Town Hall certainly stands out at one end of Market Place while a former supplies store seems to have gone the extra mile in advance of our arrival, emblazoning itself with FORAGE in large letters (albeit if I'm absolutely honest it was the word CAKE that first really captured my attention).

- The Lady is Located -
Parsons Street is a particularly photogenic thoroughfare with blue and white bunting strung out on high, then we must pay a visit to the famous Banbury Cross, a prominent junction immortalised in nursery rhyme. It is only right and proper that we should pay homage to the fabled fine lady as she sits astride her steed, Nick thankfully resisting the temptation to saddle up next to the music-making maiden.

- Ye Olde Reine Deer -
Having got our Banbury bearings we must now avail ourselves of ale, and given this is a Christmas trip there is only one place to start. Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn is a classic Hook Norton pub with a protruding sign that hangs invitingly above the middle of Parsons Street. The inn reputedly served as an operational base for Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War (Banbury Castle being a Royalist garrison was besieged by parliamentary forces), and it's even possible that the future Lord Protector planned battle strategies in the pub's historic Globe Room (a glorious panelled gem that is well worth seeing). A half each of the rich and fruity Twelve Days winter brew keeps our thirsty foragers very much contented.

- Black Sheep Beckons -
More seasonal supping is possible in the Exchange, a Wetherspoons pub on Banbury High Street where we try out the festive menu. Black Sheep's powerful Riggwelter chestnut-toned concoction is paired with either a turkey pie or a bacon and breaded brie burger for a well-earned lunch. We follow this with two Good Beer Guide pubs in close proximity - the White Horse has relaxing armchairs with owl cushions where a somewhat Shakespearean Nick Turpin comes over all Dashingly Dark, then the thatched roofed Three Pigeons proffers some Purity Pure Gold.

- A Historical Character (or two) -
Banbury's Civil War connections are our topic of discussion as we investigate a short stretch of the Oxford Canal from Spiceball Park to the town's bus station; along the way we pass Tooley's Boatyard and meet a military character crafted out of wicker. Our closing pub is back past the railway station on the Grimsbury side of the tracks - the Bell on Middleton Road providing some attempted darts and a half of Wychwood's 12 Drummers (complete with flashing pumpclip). We're all done and dusted in time for the 17:24 train and another terrific year of Turpin tours is complete. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 14

Hub Marketing 2016: Burton-upon-Trent

Whenever the Hub Marketing Board have done a December double-header in the past, tradition dictates that the first of the two trips should be a Staffordshire special. Uttoxeter and Tamworth have risen to the challenge as December destinations in previous years, meaning our 2016 selection Burton-upon-Trent has much to live up to when taking its turn in the seasonal spotlight...

- Station Starkness -
Burton of course is a place renowned for its brewing heritage so Board Members brace themselves for a beer bonanza when catching the 11:19 Nottingham train up from Birmingham New Street. The journey takes a shade under half an hour before we alight to savour the undoubted ugliness of Burton railway station, the functional flat frontage of which really does not do the town justice. 

- Brewery Infrastructure -
It's difficult to avoid evidence of Burton's principal industry as bits of brewery seem to be everywhere. For example, Station Street offers glimpses of the extensive Molsen Coors plant with its metallic towers and concrete footbridge forming the backdrop to a belated breakfast at Rumble Tums Cafe. Our Full Montys here come complete with a "Hello duck" greeting straight out of the East Midlands phrasebook, then just around the corner on Cross Street is the wonderful Coopers Tavern with its array of Joules and Bass memorabilia. 

- Stapenhill Cemetery Closet -
Fortified by some No. 6 Winter Warmer ale, we breeze along Burton High Street then cross the stately Trent Bridge to explore the other side of the river. The community of Stapenhill clings to the opposite bank as we swiftly get stuck into some prime exploration. Stapenhill Cemetery offers a treat for the Chairman when we discover a closet within the bowels of a chapel building (Mr D9 hopes that his blast on the hand drier didn't disrupt a funeral service too much), while the neighbouring Elms Inn has some evocative painted Bass signage to accompany a draught pint of Burton's most famous brew.

- The Stapenhill Swan -
Further Stapenhill landmarks include St Peter's Church (standing on high above the river) and the parklands of Stapenhill Gardens where a large swan sculpture is considerably less vicious than its real life counterparts - perhaps it was the sight of the bald spot that started them hissing? Mr D9 racks his brains trying to remember a village near Drakelow Power Station that he once drove around, whereas the Secretary is busy spotting a couple of pubs ahead on Main Street - the Barley and the New Inn.

- Secretary meets Snowman -
The second of those pubs provides the setting for the day's darts as a giant inflatable snowman referees over the now-inevitable WME Whirlwind victory. We're not sure if Frosty is partial to a drop of Marston's Pedigree but he did a good job of keeping score and making sure that D9 Destroyer did not overstep the oche. The Secretary is now 99% assured of retaining his Hub Games Champion of the Year title barring a minor miracle taking place during our awards presentation trip later this month.

- Baldness on Baron Burton's Bridge -
Stapenhill and Burton were once connected by a passenger ferry boat service which was replaced in 1889 by the construction of Ferry Bridge, an elegant semi-suspended structure that was gifted to the town by Michael Arthur Bass (Baron Burton). The bridge has been subject to a recent refurbishment project and was ceremonially reopened a few weeks ago (Friday 21st October to be precise) following a year-long closure - it's fair to say the bald spot was impressed by the end result! 

- Burton Bridge Inn -
Ferry Bridge links us neatly to Lichfield Street where the Leopard has a rather fine facade that includes some impressive carved lettering for Charrington's Fine Ales. Just down the road is the Dog Inn, one of the newer additions to the Black Country Ales estate where the Bosun's Mocha Stout is very much to the Secretary's taste. The Fuggle & Nugget is of interest as an example of the micropub trend (the Ashover Milk Stout here also rates highly), but it's the Burton Bridge Inn that steals the show with some Bramble Stout, an inquisitive dog and a whopping great chimney breast which divides the cosy bar in two.

- A Burton Bah Humbug! -
Passing the National Brewery Centre (where D9 spies a cast iron urinal on the courtyard), we take Horninglow Street over the railway to reach our final trio of taverns. The Derby Inn is on the main Derby Road towards the edge of town; some Timothy Taylor's Boltmaker is a nice tipple here as we make the acquaintance of our second dog in quick succession. The Loaf & Cheese then bestows us with more Draught Bass before a closing Pedigree call at the Duke of York, a backstreet corner local tucked away among the terraces of Victoria Street. Despite the presence of a Bah Humbug hat there is no sign of any scrooge-like behaviour and the train journey home is a very happy one indeed. Cheers!

Monday, November 21

Waterways Walks: Galton Valley

With my lingering photographic itch needing to be scratched once more, a Saturday stroll in sunny Smethwick sounded just about ideal for whiling away a spare morning. The ensuing circular walk around Galton Valley made the most of the fine weather whilst also satisfying some canal cravings...

- Galton Bridge -
I haven't done that many waterways wanderings of late so I was eager to take to the towpaths once more, picking out a Smethwick circuit for closer investigation. I'd covered some of the loop before in various stages but there were gaps I needed to attend to, hence my starting point is Thomas Telford's historic Galton Bridge (built in 1829) once I'd alighted my train at the adjacent railway station. 

- Hartley Bridge -
Galton Bridge spans the New Birmingham Main Line Canal as I descend onto the towpath and head initially towards Oldbury. I quickly pass beneath the railway platforms and bear down on Spon Lane Bridge, one of two such named structures along the course of my route. The canal then flanks the derelict Chance Brothers glassworks, the factory having been derelict for as long as I can remember although in its heyday the firm produced lighthouse equipment, cathode ray tubes and rolled-plate glass. The scale of the old works site is probably better discerned from the train but the canal angle does allow an appreciation of Chance Bridge and Hartley Bridge in close combination.

- Spon Lane (Old Main Line) -
The concrete columns supporting the M5 motorway now take centre stage as I reach the Stewart (or Steward) Aqueduct which carries the Old Main Line above its later counterpart. Here I switch onto Brindley's original canal which is notable for a more meandering nature dictated by land contours during its C18th construction. Modern life impinges on the scene these days of course, meaning Spon Lane Junction is a very bleak place almost buried in the bowels of the motorway. The second Spon Lane Bridge is close at hand beside the carriageway underbelly.

- Summit Tunnel -
Thankfully the M5 soon veers off to grace West Bromwich and normal daylight service resumes - there's even the occasional heron to add an unexpected grace to proceedings. Summit Bridge is my next landmark with some impressively imposing brickwork that is somewhat offset by the intrusion of Summit Tunnel's more austere appearance. Beyond the tunnel, Brasshouse Lane beckons with a hint of a nature trail and the unmistakable prospect of a pump house chimney to admire. The chimney is a defining feature of Smethwick's New Pumping Station which currently houses the Galton Valley Heritage Centre, a great place to find out more about the area's engineering endeavours.

- Engine Arm Aqueduct -
After Brasshouse Lane I'm keen to track down the Engine Arm, a feeder branch that supplies the main canals with water from Edgbaston Reservoir. The arm leaves the Old Main Line at a little stone roving bridge and immediately crosses the New Main Line on an elegant aqueduct - the structure is another example of Thomas Telford's construction prowess and is a designated Scheduled Ancient Monument.

- Engine Bridge -
Although I'd photographed the aqueduct a few years ago I hadn't walked the Engine Arm itself before. The branch runs parallel to both the Old and New Main Lines with Bridge Street crossing all three canals within a very short distance. Atmospheric industrial buildings provide a backdrop as I approach Engine Bridge, after which the towpath is gated off while the arm becomes a private mooring basin stretching through to Rabone Lane.

- Smethwick Locks -
Retracing my steps back across the aqueduct, I rejoin the Old Main Line for a look at Smethwick Locks. Sadly the octagonal toll hut has suffered fire damage with its roof timbers exposed to the elements but the locks themselves make for some good photography. There are three locks in all, leading me down to Pope Bridge where my old photo friend the New Navigation pub looks as disused as ever. 

- Smethwick Junction -
With Pope Bridge accounted for, the familiar sight of Smethwick Junction greets me complete with two Horseley turnover bridges and some rusty factory architecture. This is where the separate main lines join forces once more to offer a united route into Birmingham, although my circuit requires me to take the New Main Line back through to Galton Bridge. Rolfe Bridge is a boring modern example as the middle of the Bridge Street three bridges sequence.

- Galton Tunnel -
Brasshouse Lane soon makes its presence felt again, the New Main Line passing through at a lower level with the pump station chimney towering overhead. I'm almost back where I started but there's one final feature to contend with, Galton Tunnel being very similar to Summit Tunnel in burrowing beneath Telford Way and offering little in the way of aesthetic embellishment. The loop is then complete as I troop back up to Galton Bridge station for my train home, the walk having taken just over two hours in total - a fascinating stroll which I would definitely recommend!

Sunday, November 13

Hub Marketing 2016 - Coventry

Friday 11th November 2016 and the time is counting down to quiff o'clock as the Hub Marketing Board prepare to embark on their annual Coventry pub pilgrimage. Our visits to Godiva's fair city traditionally come with a teddy boy theme, so this year the dancefloor is primed for a Holbrooks hop, some Rock 'n' Roll Radford and a Stoke Aldermoor stomp - let the party commence...

- 13 bus at Whitmore Park -
With Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran programmed into the jukebox, Chairman D9 and Secretary WME arrive into Coventry at 08:30 ready to inspect the improved boulevard outside the railway station (much better than the grotty subway it replaced). Smithford Way seems quiet as we wander among the shopping precincts before catching the 13 to Whitmore Park. The ride involves the ceremonial unveiling of the 2016 quiff, a laminated black effort with a misbehaving elastic band, while the route in general allows a look at Cheveral Avenue, Jubilee Crescent and Nunts Lane.

- Trolley time with the 2016 Quiff Design -
Whitmore Park terminus is virtually on the city boundary at Wheelwright Lane where the Hub pub requires some repeat marketing action. A breakfast call at the Hungry Haven cafe satisfies our craving for bacon, hash browns and black pudding, fortifying us for a Holbrooks hike round past the John Shelton Primary School. Lythalls Lane has a scattering of leaves as we locate the Cherry Tree private members club and the Hey Machine Tools workshop - interesting finds in a corner of Coventry we haven't visited before.

- Brookville Cinema -
Holbrook Lane is home to the Hollybush (a large M&B pub turned balti emporium) and the former Brookville Picture House (now masquerading as a Karpet Kingdom showroom). Both are fine landmarks even if they've seen better days, and together they precede a stroll around St Paul's Cemetery where we pause for some Armistice Day reflection at the allotted hour - the sacrifices of war should never be forgotten regardless of time's constant passage.

- The Pilot encounters bald spot turbulence -
Onwards we go and Burnaby Road soon has us bearing down on the Pilot, a sprawling Radford roadhouse on the corner with Catesby Road. This really is a massive pub that simply demands we take a closer look, hence we partake of pint and darts in a games room bedecked with library bookshelf wallpaper (sadly such surroundings did not inspire the Secretary to any sporting success). With D9 taking an early lead, we continue to nearby Jubilee Crescent to survey the elegant shopping parades as arranged looking out over the oval green. The neighbourhood facilities include a branch library although the adjacent public toilets have closed, much to D9's predictable dismay.

- Peugeot Works Regeneration -
Something in our memories was now stirring with thoughts of Stoke Aldermoor, scene of a brief 'Keeping up Appearances' visit back in 2011. Keen to see Onslow and Daisy's fictional residence once more, we combine the 13 with the 16 (via Terry Road) to reach The Moorfield. Michell Close is the street where Hyacinth Bucket would grudgingly visit her relatives although we make sure to do a wider tour of the area courtesy of Barley Lea and Pinley Fields. Besides that nugget of television history, Stoke Aldermoor also has some automotive heritage with the Humber-Hillman (latterly Peugeot Talbot) car plant being located between Humber Road and Aldermoor Lane. The factory site has been widely redeveloped in recent years with new housing springing up where the offices once stood.

- Poppy Ale in the Humber Hotel -
The Stoke Green area tempts us for a trio of pubs, starting with the New Inn on Bulls Head Lane where we retake to the oche and resume darts hostilities. Aided by some shamrock-styled flights, WME Whirlwind plots his now-customary comeback to claim a narrow 5-4 victory thanks to a deciding leg double 16 checkout (not bad after being 4-0 behind). The Bulls Head is just at the end of the road for a standard Sizzler experience but it's the Humber Hotel that really captures our collective imagination. The building has plenty of Edwardian-era detail plus a rare bagatelle table so we arm ourselves with some Otter Poppy ale (a special remembrance beer) and enjoy a Gene Vincent singalong. Be Bop A Lula!

- Greetings from the Gosford Hub -
From the Humber it is but a short walk to eclectic Far Gosford Street, passing the Gosford Community Hub for a surprise photocall along the way. Fargo Village is a quirky creative enclave showcasing vintage clothing stores, street art, tin man sculptures and the Twisted Barrel brewery. The bar here is in the 2017 Good Beer Guide but we're a little too early for the 5 o'clock opening time, hence the 16A bus steps into the breach and transports us back across Coventry for a thrash up the Radford Road. The journey heralds the return of Chairman D9's bladder botherations, the situation almost assuming critical proportions until the Wallace comes to his rescue. 

- Coundon Cheers with the Chairman -
Three more pubs will now round off proceedings just nicely, starting with the Grapes for good old Guinness and some classic craic. Flags of Irish provinces decorate the bar room walls as we listen to a Bob Brolly-style soundtrack of ballads and tunes from the Emerald Isle, wonderful stuff! Hewitt Avenue has the task of leading us to the Coundon Hotel for some dusky Doom Bar, then the final Coventry curtain falls courtesy of Black Cherry Stout at the Town Crier on Corporation Street. With that we catch the 19:22 train home to Wolverhampton after another day of very happy hubbing - cheers!

Monday, November 7

Ales in Albrighton

Chip Foundation Chronicles No. 45 and a trip otherwise known as the 'Beardsmore Birthday Bash' sees Nick, Stephen, Dad and myself set our sights on Shropshire to partake of an Albrighton pubcrawl...

- Station Temptation -
Saturday 5th November and despite it being Bonfire Night later on we're aiming to keep any fireworks to a minimum with a relaxing roam around Albrighton. The village is only ten minutes or so on the train out of Wolverhampton but feels altogether more sedate than its urban near-neighbour. Albrighton's railway station has proven photographically enticing over the years (especially the Grade II listed footbridge and main station house) but its allure has recently been enhanced by the opening of a new micropub - more about that later...

- This way to the pub! -
A Shaw Lane stroll has us on target for our opening pub, passing St Mary's primary school and then the Albrighton medical centre. The walk allows for some in-depth engineering conversation whereby the term 'versatility matrix' makes its first appearance in the Chip Foundation lexicon. We are belatedly celebrating Stephen's birthday today (decorum dictates that I won't declare his precise age but he is not too far off Joe Root's test match batting average) so many happy returns Mr B!

- A Harp Hotel half -
Pub 1: The Harp Hotel has the honour of opening our ale account on this occasion, the pub being situated on Albrighton High Street overlooking the leafy green and a sequence of local shops. We actually came here during our Wellington outing last year so this revisit sees us reclaim our adopted corner with the wicker coffee table and stapled frieze of brewing pictures. The Harp operates as an outlet for Wiltshire's Hop Back Brewery so it's only appropriate to try some of their Entire Stout and very nice it was too, malty and deep. Three Tuns XXX and Clerics Cure were also available as we learned the finer points of engine manufacture from Mr WME Senior.

- The Crown awaits -
Pub 2: Our second stop is an upmarket Marston's experience courtesy of the Crown, a landmark inn situated at the main village crossroads. A half of Thwaites Lancaster Bomber is our choice of tipple here, picking up on the aviation theme whereby the pub makes reference to nearby RAF Cosford - it's not too often you find a vintage ordnance survey map reproduced on a ceiling! Attention quickly turns to dissecting the food menu as we ponder the merits or otherwise of "BBQ Brisket Burnt Ends", a delicacy that somehow didn't appeal to us although it must be presumably popular among folk who have a gluten intolerance.

- The Old Bush -
Pub 3: Just the other side of the afore-mentioned crossroads lurks the Old Bush, a basic Banks's boozer in some ways but with some impressive traditional detailing (give me a couple of etched windows and some bits of old stained glass and I'm instantly a fan). This pub could almost have been transplanted straight out of the Black Country and would look equally at home in a Bilston or a Cradley Heath say, but it serves as a pleasing counterpoint to the food-focused approach elsewhere. The Wainwright is the obvious ale choice here as we watch a bit of rugby action and discuss the forthcoming American presidential election.

- The Shrewsbury Arms -
Pub 4: I am only prepared to let Donald Trump intrude so far into proceedings so we soon make tracks for the top end of the High Street where the Shrewsbury Arms stands opposite the Church of St Mary Magdalene. Both are handsome buildings, the pub being half-timbered in places with beams and sandstone elements. There are some interesting artefacts waiting to be discovered inside including a mounted gun that Nick soon takes a shine to.

- Deep in Discussion -
We set up base by a hearth with a spinning wheel where Stephen takes us through his pictures from a recent visit to the Swiss city of Basel. Our selected beer is Sadler's Worcester Sorcerer, a golden Best Bitter that goes down nicely when admiring several shots of the River Rhine. We're into the evening now and the illuminated village clock shimmers in the encroaching darkness as we wander on down Station Road to our final port of call.

- Platform Ale House once more - 
Pub 5: and so we've come full circle back to the railway station where we succumb to the temptations of the Platform Ale House. The micropub has brought the station's disused former booking hall back to life, a development that definitely deserves to be celebrated as we also raise a closing toast to Stephen's birthday. Some Little Fox from Newbridge (a Bilston-based microbrewery) accompanies a flickering coal fire while Nick takes a bite out of a Vampire Rye Ale. This is an ideal place to while away the time until your train is due, and as 18:21 approaches it's a simple case of switching platforms for our homeward connection. The stopper service from Shrewsbury arrives right on cue, thus concluding another chapter from the Chip Foundation Chronicles. Cheers!

Monday, October 31

Birmingham Beer Festival 2016

My October musings are not done yet as I still have the small matter of the Birmingham Beer Festival to report back on, whereby Nick and I made tracks for the New Bingley Hall to sample the tempting liquid treats awaiting us at the Second City's real ale showcase...

- Warstone Lane Cemetery -
Our established custom when attending this particular event has been to meet at Jewellery Quarter station around about the 11 o'clock mark and this year is no different. We can then enjoy a gentle wander down Warstone Lane towards Hockley, passing the local cemetery with its well-weathered noticeboard and the telltale scattering of autumn leaf-fall. Ford Street marks our approach to the New Bingley Hall where a Birmingham City Transport crest is evidence of the building's previous life as a bus depot.

- Championing the Vanilla Stout -
Entering the hall in a most eager fashion, we quickly procure the requisite programme-token-glass combination and survey the various bars which once again are named after Birmingham luminaries from the worlds of music, entertainment and literature. The Jeff Lynne section is our first port of call so that I can make the acquaintance of Burton Town's Modwena (a very appetising oatmeal stout) while Nick arms himself with Bingham's Vanilla Stout, the reigning Champion Beer of Britain no less! 

- A Loose Cannon perchance? -
We've started as we mean to go on so darker ales will be our theme for the day. There are plenty of stouts and porters to choose from in among the 300+ total ales on offer, hence between us we account for the likes of Old Rasputin, Purdy Peculiar, Centwealial Milk Stout and Milestone Honey Porter. I also avail myself of a Loose Cannon Porter (hailing from Suffolk) although I should emphasise that I am most definitely on my best behaviour, even when my attempts to track down a Tibetan-style lager are ultimately thwarted.

- Another Cuddly Chum -
A festival on such a scale requires a suitable finale so a couple of the slightly stronger ales should suffice. Lymestone's Stone Dead (at 6.66% ABV) certainly packs a punch although the Thornbridge Cocoa Wonderland just trumps it for luxurious chocatelyness - very nice indeed. Nick at this point gets grappling with a Kopek Stout as we chat to Mike from Solihull about business trips to Finland and (nearly) Brunei - Winston the charity cuddly toy seems rather less well-travelled by comparison!

- 1000 Trades, Frederick Street -
The festival has lived up to the excellence we have come to expect from it but with tokens spent we must alas bid the place farewell until next year. There's no need to be downhearted though for there are bars beckoning on the way back into Birmingham. The Jewellery Quarter has overseen something of a boom in such establishments with one recent addition being the 1000 Trades on Frederick Street. Stopping off for a half here is an interesting if expensive experience - some nice nods to community involvement and a relaxing ambience but a distinct sense that the craft philosophy carries a price tag. It all goes to show that the WME wallet does occasionally incur collateral damage in the name of pub collecting!

- A stork and a shade? -
That collection is boosted by two further entries as evening draws in. The Rectory on St Paul's Square supplies Wye Valley HPA and a novelty line in animal-inspired table lamps, whereas Edmunds Brewhouse saw us take momentary residence in the library room with bookshelf wallpaper and country club armchairs for a setting that suited us just grand. All that remains is a Snow Hill shuffle for our respective connections home, and that's that for Birmingham Beer Festival 2016. Cheers!