As someone once said we live in interesting times and this applies to our little Birmingham beer bubble as well as the wider world. As we ponder what to expect from the various Taps, and try to figure out what to make of Sourgate at Tilt a new bar has hit the ground running in the centre of town.
You probably don’t need many guesses to realise we are talking about Pint Shop on Bennetts Hill because you will no doubt have seen many social media posts from them and about them already, most of the latter pretty positive. And on Tuesday Oct 16th we were lucky enough to be invited to a tasting lunch to hear a bit about the Pint Shop story from co-owners Rich and Benny. Full disclosure at this point, all the food and drink were gratis but I don’t think this has clouded our judgement of what we thought of the place.
Firstly we learned that the guys originally met when they were both working for Leon in London but after a few years they both independently decided they wanted to do something different but remain in the hospitality trade. So in 2010 they spent a year refining a pitch for investors but on the first one they were asked what was going to make their place unique…so off they went for a rethink.
They liked the idea of giving the new venture a nostalgic feel and went back to the 1830’s when new legislation led to the introduction of what were known as beer houses.
(read more here - https://www.beeradvocate.com/articles/14589/the-rise-and-fall-of-beer-houses/). And so they found an old office building in Cambridge in early 2013 and decorated it in a mix of industrial and utilitarian styles to give a timeless feel and opened later that year. They wanted to give a 50/50 emphasis to both the beer and the food, but with the rise of gin, and it’s versatility, there is now a 3 way split although they do have a list that includes other spirits, wines and soft drinks. From the beginning they decided to focus as much as possible on smaller, independent UK breweries, although due to a connection in Cambridge they have become good friends with De Molen in Holland which has led to them doing 4 or 5 collaboration brews with them, and showcasing their beers.
A branch in Oxford followed in 2016 before this year’s development of another office building from the mid 19th century on Bennetts Hill.
Once again the emphasis is placed on good quality beer and food with the bar area on the ground floor having a mix of decors and little nooks and crannies giving it a nice homely, snug feel. On the second floor is a separate restaurant with an open plan kitchen so you can watch the magic happening.
Whilst there on the Tuesday we had a taster menu and I have to say all the food was very good. The onion bhaji scotch eggs that Head Chef Mark Walsh has created have already caused a stir on social media but the crispy pork bites and roasted beets and roots were equally has good…but I won’t go on (although thumbs up to the flatbreads as well), and apologies for the food photos but Deb did a nice job with them, and we all know what a glass of beer looks like. In the bar the snacks are quite drinks lead and made to pair well with beer, plus there is a small selection of more substantial dishes served between 12 and 5. The restaurant upstairs will have a seasonally changing primarily British menu, but with a few outside influences to “spice” things up. As for the beer…well they have already got into the local scene by doing collaborations with Birmingham Brewery, Burning Soul and Dig Brew, and hopefully there will be more to come.
The board has 28 taps, 6 for cask and 22 for keg, and Rich said around 6 of them will be kept reasonably fixed but for the rest they aim to get plenty of fresh beers and limited releases in so that they have a good balanced board. I think they have done a good job in their first couple of weeks of soft and proper openings. The couple of cask have been well kept and the rest of the selection has been pretty varied. I read that someone had said the board was a bit “safe”, but I’m not sure I’d class a lime, lemon and coffee Berliner Weisse as safe. On the day I had Kazan from Twisted Barrel in Coventry, a 6% American Pale Ale on keg, and then on cask Release The Chimps, a 4.4% session ipa from the Nene Valley Brewery who are based close to the Cambridge bar, and with whom they have done some collaborations.
A sneaky half of Irascible the Flamingo by Yeastie Boys, a 7 % Belgian IPA followed since I’ve always liked this style, before we finished off by sharing what I would call a couple of big guns. These were Binkie Claws, an 11.2% BA Almond Barleywine by Brouwerij de Molen in collaboration with Hair of the Dog Brewing Company and and CGBW, an 11% TIPA from the DEYA Brewing Company and friends. These were both pretty awesome and a nice end to a lovely lunch, and all the beers were ones that I
could quite happily drink again. Now I don’t know if this has always been the case but sometimes something as easy as having a beer can be made to seem quite hard. Do we, as drinkers, want to go in a bar where every time we go they have a whole new range of beers to try, or do we want to go somewhere and find a beer or beers that we have had before, liked, and just drink them?, With the amount of choice out there both options are possible, and I realise that to some people the choice can be overwhelming, but sometimes people act as if they have never been in a pub or bar before. I suppose it is somewhat similar to when you go into a coffee shop and all you want is “a coffee”, but I do feel that sometimes in our little “craft” bubble we tend to forget that all most people want is a nice drink in pleasant surroundings. And that is what you get at the Pint Shop with the added bonus of great good, oh and also decent music at just the right volume so it is not too intrusive.
So add our voice to the chorus of customers saying this looks like a great addition to the Birmingham “scene”, and we wish it every success, but I guess time will tell, both for the owners of the bar and the drinkers of Birmingham.