The year of our lord twenty sixteen. It’s been a pig of a year. First Bowie dying, followed by Prince popping his clogs, then the final indignities of Brexit and Trump, it’s been a pretty trying old year. Imagine my horror when, after recovering from the shock of an actual honest-to-God fascist being elected as the de facto leader of the free world, that I then discover that the landlord of one of my favourite Birmingham pubs is being turfed out.
The Craven Arms has been a favourite of mine for some years now. Whenever anyone from out of town asks me where to go for a drink, my almost pavlovian response has been The Craven. It’s an unassuming little place, tucked behind former Royal Mail sorting office, turned weird upscale shopping centre, The Mailbox. To the untrained eye, The Craven looks like a bog standard backstreet boozer. It’s only when you get inside, that it reveals its true delights.
The landlord and landlady of the Craven, Chris and Sharon Sherratt, were no ordinary pub managers. They were (and are) true craft aficionados, and worked hard to provide the regulars of the Craven with a great selection of craft beers, not only on #evilkeg (as Chris always likes to term it), but also, uniquely for Birmingham, on cask. Combine this with a real passion for good cellarmanship, as well as regular meet the brewer events from the likes of Siren, Cloudwater and Lost and Grounded, The Craven was a true craft lover’s delight.
It wasn’t just the craft that I loved the Craven for, it was a truly democratic space. As well as a fine selection of beers from a wide range of craft breweries, it also had a decent selection of traditional ales, as well as (shock horror!) Carling and Guinness. This meant that it was a great spot to take your dad, your tight uncle who won’t spend more than £3 on a pint, or your lager loving mates, without fear of alienating them. There were even cobs behind the bar, which is sadly a dying trend round these parts.
It was this combination of great beer, a traditional pub environment, and a varied beer range that made for a wide range of clientele. From office workers, through to old CAMRA types, as well as craft beer geeks, all human life was there, and that’s what made the Craven unique.
Now, all this has gone. The rumour mill is churning and it looks like the Craven’s owners, Black Country Ales, are wanting to focus on knocking out cheap lowest common denominator beers. Reports from former members of staff aren’t sounding encouraging either, with tales of the interim managers already taking shortcuts in the cellar.
With all the political upheaval of 2016, we’re constantly being told we need to get out of our filter bubbles and embrace (or at least listen to) the viewpoints of other people. Now, with Black Country Ales seemingly wanting to push out craft beer, we’re being forced down into the city centre into our temples of brushed steel and concrete.
The Craven has gone. There was nowhere else like it. I hope Chris and Sharon find somewhere else to practice their passion. And when they do, I hope it has cobs.