Why do beer festivals seem to be the sole reserve of the provinces? Forgive me for sounding overtly metropolitan (I am) but almost every advert I see or flyer I receive promoting a beer/ale/cider festival appears to be in some remote hinterland (usually near Wales). A successful jaunt to one of these also seems to require a pair of wellies and a Land Rover which means some poor soul would have to endure the ignominy of going to a beer festival, barely drinking any of the extraordinary amount of beer available and having to drive their merry friends back home.
Thankfully the concept of the beer festival in the city is growing and was brought to Birmingham this weekend at the Custard Factory in Digbeth for TAPS, an outstanding collaboration between Craft Beer Rising and Digbeth Dining Club, the biggest street food event outside of London.
Crammed into a large space inside the Custard Factory, TAPS featured stalls for over 25 different breweries from Britain and around the world to go alongside a graffiti-laden outdoors courtyard area for the street food vendors. Music was provided by a selection of DJ’s (including Daddy G of Massive Attack) and the surprisingly boisterous 8-piece Heavy Beat Brass Band who really got the crowd going as the Saturday night wore on with covers of popular songs (and one obscure Gwen Stefani song).
I was intrigued by a brewery stall named Little Creatures, chiefly because of the large Australian flag draped over some of the signage and also because the barman looked like he’d just been whisked away straight from Bondi Beach to Birmingham. Despite the backwards baseball cap, the long brown hair down to his chest and the Tom Selleck moustache his accent indicated he was actually from Wales which was a slight disappointment. The beer however was far from disappointing and in my excitement I messaged a friend of mine who lives near Fremantle in Western Australia (where it’s brewed) to ask if he knew of it (he did and confirmed its excellence).
The long-haired barman then explained the brewing process to me and it dawned on me rather quickly how little I knew about beer and, crucially, hops. I had an embarrassing epiphany when he revealed to me that just because a beer claims to be “fruity” it doesn’t mean that there’s any actual fruit in it. I felt a little bit like one of those people you see on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire who gets one of the questions wrong before they reach £1000. I refuse to use the word ‘hoppy’ in beer conversation now until I’ve actually clarified what it means and have come to a water-tight conclusion.
After 3 or 4 samples of fine beers (including the wonderfully named Slurpasaurus, as seen above) the familiar smells of the Digbeth Dining Club were calling from the courtyard and although not as considerable in size as it usually is for its standalone events, the street food stalls still covered many bases including chicken wings, burgers, pizzas and vegan junk food. I was drawn to Wingmans as they were providing Buffalo Wings (with the celery and blue cheese sauce), a rarely seen option in these parts. I had seen earlier some people wearing disposable plastic see-through gloves to eat their wings and, whilst practical due to the fiery sauce, I thought these people looked foolish. I don’t declare myself to be purveyor of wings or a purist however I do know when something looks absurd. The guy behind the stall agreed with me as I handed over my money and grabbed enough napkins to choke a rhinoceros.
Judging by the crowds and the atmosphere TAPS 2018 was a great success and hopefully it spurs on more city-based beer festivals for us urban ale fans who would rather not trek out to the countryside for our fix. Also I’m confident by TAPS 2019 I’ll be able to explain what hops are.