What makes a great beer city?

Following on from my post about the lack of availability of British keg beers other than the normal run of the mill bar toppers. Quite a few folks mentioned that they wouldn’t like to see the decline of cask ales in favour of keg. That is exactly how I feel, I don’t want to see one replacing the other, on the contrary they compliment each other, it’s great to see how one stacks up against the other and can be a welcome distraction when all across the bar is boring, bland or even too warm for the weather.

Take Magic Rock High Wire as an example. I was lucky enough to be at one of the first launch events last year, High Wire was there on cask and was an absolute stunner. However the next time I got to taste it other than in bottled form was at the meet the brewer event at Port Street Beer House, on keg, the environment was warm and humid the beer lightly chilled with that extra kick of carbonation and it just sang. I said then that I’d like to see that on bars across the country as a real alternative to mainstream continental beers.

It extends further than keg though as even the rising brewing stars of cask seem to be largely passing us by here in the Potteries. Take Buxton Brewery as a classic example, widely regarded as one of the UK’s most exciting newish breweries, SIBA award winners and only 20 miles away. To date Stoke beer festival aside I’ve seen their beer here once and heard about it again in the singular, why?

Take a look at the Tweet below from serial beer traveller @6TownsMart, he’s talking to @kempicus, head brewer from Buxton Brewery:

It’s bonkers, Axe Edge one of if not the best beer from Buxton gracing the walls of one of London’s finest beer pubs as their beer of the year, yet I’ve never seen it personally in Staffordshire (although rumour has it that it once graced the pumps of The Congress, CAMRA Staffs pub of the year 2011).

I mentioned in my last post “forward thinking beer centric cities”, what I meant by that was a city or town that really seems to embrace new and exciting beer. Places like Craft, Mr Foleys, Port Street and The Grove exist and brewers are queuing up to showcase their new beer launches there.

Stoke does not seem to want to fall into that category and in my opinion we are as far from it as supping space beer in capsulated form at the far side of Cygnus X1.

It seems though we are not alone, even in the UK’s much debated second city things are seemingly similar as detailed in this post from Otherton Ales, “Where is the Birmingham Tap“. I’d sort of decided not to post this until I read about the similar plight in Brum. What is most annoying about that, is we are a city of beer drinkers, we have some great breweries and fantastic pubs in and around the Stoke area, with Buxton, Macclesfield, Burton, Shropshire, Stone, Cheshire etc all no more than about 30 miles away.

So I ask again why, is it the publicans, the breweries or the general supply chain, there are a few exceptions to the rule who manage to get the odd gem, so clearly it is possible?

Surely it’s not because the drinkers of Stoke are not interested in trying anything new, perhaps the local CAMRA guys can shed some light on that?

Why does one area thrive, whilst another seems happy to plod along ordering what they have always ordered because it sells, how long can that last??

I look at places like Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle Upon Tyne and am at times green with envy, meet the brewer events, home brew and bottle share meets and Leeds even bagged the European Beer Bloggers conference.. I can hear the crescendo of local voices saying “sod bloody off and live there then“, (don’t be like that). Yes it’s a whinge but I only want those things here because I’ve experienced them first hand and believe me, they are good.

The Saggar Maker Public House, Burslem by Steven Birks

Sadly, locally in the Mother Town we have seen the sad demise of many good pubs in recent years (although I hasten to add we still have some excellent ones) many have closed their doors forever and we now have perhaps only a handful of places where you are guaranteed a decent pint of cask beer in pleasant surroundings.

Sadder still is the fact that by far the busiest pub in town is The Saggar Makers, owned by the Last Orders chain and there’s not a pint of real ale to be seen.

Is that how you want your local drinking town to turn out?

I know I certainly don’t and I’ll be doing everything I possibly can to highlight anything and everything new and exciting to my local publicans. After all I want them to thrive, to grow and maybe be the catalyst to drive more folks away from supermarkets and back into the pubs of The Potteries and a city near you.

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16 thoughts on “What makes a great beer city?

  1. Nice post. Twitter is a pain and a pleasure at times: we read about all these amazing beers and yet have very little chance of seeing ten per cent of them on sale anywhere near us in Cornwall. Much as we like and respect their beer, this is largely because St Austell is so dominant and don’t have any kind of guest ale policy at their pubs, so the number of outlets for beer from up country is severely limited.

    • i hear you have 20 breweries down in that there county. we have but five here!

      @Phil…maybe its because the cities in question are fairly large, tourist attractions and large student populations

      • Steve, there has to be some merit in that argument, major cites like London, Manchester are always going to get the cream of fancy bars because of tourist footfall etc, but then why not Birmingham as a classic example? Speaking from a Potteries perspective we have local colleges and universities and a reasonably high population but not really a centre as it’s a sprawl of several towns, if I was to open a bar here even I wouldn’t know where to start. 😉

    • Thanks Bailey, we are quite lucky in the fact that no brewery really has that type of hold on us here locally, there are always worse places than yourselves somewhere. Isn’t it odd though that some really good local breweries never seem to surface, I know you suffer on that front as we’ve touched on it several times previously. Cheers

  2. I think Burslem is a superb place to drink! The Duke William, The Post Office Vaults, The Bull’s Head, The Vine, even the Leopard from time to time have superb quality varied brews from far and wide. I really enjoy bringing friends to Stoke now, and on many crawls have managed to take in three or four ‘guest pubs’ first with Burslem as the piece de resistance. Possibly a bit behind the times, but definitely on the up!

    • Hi Sally I most heartedly agree, I love Stoke and Burslem is my home town, I’m a regular in the four pubs you mention, with the Bulls Head and The Duke William being the most frequented.
      The Duke in particular is the one I mentioned having Buxton beer, they have had Magic Rock, Red Willow & Summer Wine too and are getting better at trying new things. The Bulls has a great Belgian keg range and a regular changing guest.
      In short I love the town.
      What I am trying to get across is that I’d like to see new and exciting beers given a chance, Magic Rock for example have just been voted as 2nd best new brewery in Europe, our pubs should be fighting each other to get their beers in their bars.
      Cheers for commenting, hope to see you back here regularly

  3. Good post and some good points. Don’t give up hope, though. Sheffield, now a beer paradise, was once considered quite ordinary. So perhaps Stoke will rise up to become the nation’s beer capital:)

    • Hmmm sadly I can’t ever see that happening, it would be great if we could get close though. I do think a massive part of that is drinker demand, Yorkshire has a great beer scene and it’s easy to see why its cities are chosen as locations for places like The Sheffield Tap.

  4. I totally sympathize with the frustation squelching out of this post. In Brum it drives me mad that we have pubs that serve real ales, but they stick to pedestrian breweries. I have never seen Magic Rock on at a pub in the city. Bonkers.

    • That is just criminal Dan, how can a city like Birmingham be dry of Magic Rock..!!

      Keep spreading the word mate, I’m sure Brum can’t be too far down Brewdogs master plan for beer domination 😉

  5. I wholeheartedly concur with your thoughts on the lack of both cask and keg ale(or rather that from the rising and established stars within the brewing community) in both Stoke and the wider Staffordshire area. Having been a resident of Stafford for a large part of my life before moving to Manchester two years ago; it both surprises and to a certain extent upsets me the number of blank looks I get when talking about Marble beers and all of the aforementioned brewers.

    The main problem I think is not a lack of visibility, its more that living in the shadow of such brewing heritage its easy to not have a desire to search out new enclaves of brewing and is therefore easier to stick with what is known. This combined with a lack of outlets who want to carry these products is almost a deathnail to breweries that actively try to break the status quo in this area and indeed the UK also.

    I really do long for the day when I can head back to Staffordshire and be sure I can head out anywhere and be assured of a good night out where I can choose from the cream of both the Uk craft brewing scene (to which I belong) and the wider world scene without having to jump through masses of hoops to get it. Places like Port Street Beer House in Manchester can do it in less than a year so why can’t my fellow staffordshirians?!?

    • Tim thanks for the comments, no offence to your fellow commenters but yours carries the most weight and adds credibility to the validity of the posts content. You can legitimately comment on both sides of the argument, you have seen it as a customer and a resident of the county and are now hitting the same barriers to get your beers to market. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Marble Brewery beer in the area, yet The Marble Arch etc are the first places people think of as drinking heaven as they arrive in Manchester, crazy!

      Cheers, I’ll try and hook up the next time I’m in town for a beer.

    • Definitely, more often than you could imagine. There are several places I’ve often looked at in town as potential venues, sadly I am lacking in the vital ingredient DOSH! 😉

      In all seriousness though I’d love to one day, probably not in the area though unless attitudes change around here as it would be throwing money down the drain. I’d like it to be small and quirky with an option to do a little food (cheese, meat and sausage side plates Belgian style) and with space to maybe get into brewing house beer too. DREAMS… 😉

      Cheers matey

  6. Ironic really, isn’t it, but there seems to be a theme developing that the part of the country arguably most central to brewers from all corners of the realm is the very region that seems to be missing out on some of the most exciting beers that we have been seeing at opposite ends of the country from their origins!
    Hopefully the calls for better variety in terms of brewery and method of dispense will continue growing, and eventually be heeded…

  7. You must give to recieve. I think “great” beer cities also contribute to the beery collective, as much as they bring in great beer. My city, Albany (in central New York) has an amazingly vast selection of beer bars, beer stores and beer events. However, It does not have a craft brewery—or any brewery for that matter. There’s something slightly sad about having to drink somewhere else’s brew.

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