Beer and pubs are an important part of Black Country life. There are many historical and highly praised breweries, even though they are not often heard of outside of the West Midlands area. In this article, I am going to describe/review some of the more famous ales from the Black Country and where they are brewed (they are all in pubs).
The name ‘Black Country’ comes from the time of the industrial revolution, when the West Midlands was the factory of the world. It is called the Black Country because all the fumes from the factories and coal mines made the air appear black, which in turn left buildings darker than natural. The Black Country historically includes: Dudley, Netherton, West Bromwich, Oldbury, Tipton, Walsall, Halesowen and Brierley Hill. It doesn’t include Wolverhampton, Stourbridge or Smethwick and definitely not Birmingham.
Beer was drunk back in the industrial revolution because it was safer than water because the brewing of the beer killed of the germs when boiling in the kettle. It was also drunk as escapism to get away from the miserable aspects of the life of long, hard work in factories and coal mines.
Anyway, enough of the history and geography lesson, let’s move onto the beer!
Batham’s brewery was founded in 1877 by Daniel Batham . The beer is brewed at a pub known as the Bull and Bladder in Brierley Hill. They have tried to expand it in recent years due to overwhelming demand, as well as opening more pubs but they cannot due to it being on the edge of a housing estate. The Bull and Bladder as it is still known as locally is officially called The Vine Inn. It was called the Bull and Bladder due to it originally being a slaughterhouse where they obviously slaughtered cows. Batham’s currently have 14 pubs and is still owned by the Batham family.
Bitter – 4.2%
The main beer which is sold by Batham’s. This is their flagship beer so to speak. It is a very popular beer, so much so that the landlord at my local pub can only get one barrel a month, which inevitably sells out within a day. It is a straw coloured beer with a creamy head. The taste is sweet yet bitter, with a strong body yet drinkable. The smell is fairly sweet but malty at the same time. This is what you would call a typical Black Country bitter.
Mild – 3.5%
Batham’s other beer which is sold throughout the year. The mild is an easy drinking beer with tastes of malt and gentle hops. The colour is a dark brown and hasn’t got any overwhelming smells. This beer is an easy drinking mild typical of many Black Country milds of the past, which were drunk by factory workers and miners as you can drink many without getting overly drunk.
XXX – 6.3%
This beer is only around during December in the run up to Christmas. This is brewed in limited quantities so once it’s gone, it’s gone. It is a strong winter ale designed to warm your cockles during the long dark winter nights. The colour is dark, smells strong and has tastes of whisky along with a heavy malty body. If you are into stronger, malty beers this beer will be to your taste.
Pardoe’s beer is brewed at a pub in Netherton called the Old Swan Inn. The brewery dates back to the 1860s and the pub is a grade 2 listed building, which was built around about 1835. The pub and brewery were run by Doris Pardoe, who was known as Ma Pardoe, which was how the pub got its nickname- Ma Pardoe’s. When CAMRA was launched, Ma Pardoe’s was one of only four brewpubs around at the time, giving it semi famous status. Mrs Pardoe passed away in 1984 and passed the business on to her daughter. In the years after, the pub expanded, which cost them dearly and it went through a succession of owners, leading to the brewery part of the operation closing for over a decade. This was relaunched in 2000 using some of the original equipment and is still going today.
Original – 3.5%
Pardoe’s main beer is a light mild with a slight bitter taste. It is a light coloured beer without much overpowering flavours and is the kind of beer you can easily drinks lots of throughout the summer days and nights.
Dark Swan – 4.2%
This beer is a dark mild. The colour is black with slight red tinges running through it when held up to the light. The smell and taste are slightly smokey and has a thick body, similar to a stout. This is my favourite beer from Pardoe’s and is a nice drink to drink in the winter.
Entire – 4.4%
Pardoe’s equivalent of a Black Country bitter, at 4.4% it has some flavour but not being a strong beer makes it easier to drink. It is a bitter, sharp beer with an amber colour and not too much smell. If you like bitter beers, this is the one to go for, if not I would suggest the Dark Swan.
Bumblehole – 5.2%
A strong bitter with a sweet, peppery taste with hints of cinnamon throughout. This golden straw coloured beer has its own unique flavour. Similar to Batham’s bitter but sweeter and spicier, this is an acquired taste. I personally can only drink one as I find having too many drinks with a sweet taste too much.
To give it it’s full name, the Netherton Pale Ale is Pardoe’s version of a pale ale. It is a slightly bitter beer with a hoppy favouring full of English hops, like old English IPAs although less intense and nothing like craft beer full of American hops.
Originally founded in 1921 by Sarah Hughes at the Beacon Hotel in Sedgley, it was set up by Mrs Hughes after her husband’s death. She used the money she inherited from her deceased husband to buy the Beacon Hotel. Unfortunately the brewery closed in 1957 but was reopened 30 years later in 1987 by her grandson and has been brewing at the Beacon Hotel ever since.
Pale Amber – 4%
This bitter is a light, yellow coloured beer with a bitter taste. It may taste strange at first but once you get into drinking it, you will get used to it. This is a basic, easy drinking bitter, also similar to many bitters around England.
Surprise – 5%
The Sedgley Surprise to give it it’s full name, is an ESB or an extra special bitter. It is basically a stronger and sweeter version of bitter. The surprise is an Amber coloured beer with a bittersweet taste similar to Bathams bitter but stronger. There is a slight sweet smell with a gentle hoppy taste, which you can drink all year round.
Dark Ruby Mild – 6%
This beer is one of my favourite beers. It is a strong mild, although easy to drink, has bags of flavour and is not watery or weak at all. The flavour is extremely malty yet sweet and rich. It is definitely an autumnal or winter beer as it has certainly warmed me up the last couple of winters! The colour is a beautiful dark ruby red, hence the name of the beer. Like many milds there is no overpowering smell but for this drink it doesn’t really matter as the flavour is strong and sweet.
So if any of you ever visit the Black Country , I hope this selection of beers will help you decide where to drink and what to drink. Cheers!
© Churchills Shark 2018