I spent the long weekend in England's West Midlands. While trying to squeeze as much quality ale into very little time I am sorry to report that I didn't get a chance to sample Banks's: the local brew and therefore the yardstick by which all else should be measured.
My top find was Hobson's Mild, a very light and tasty ale with a gorgeous deep red hue. That was in Pennyblack's in Birmingham's Mailbox. I was drawn in by Casque Mark displayed in the window and wasn't disappointed. While there I succumbed to the power of marketing and ordered a pint of What The Fox Hat, though it wasn't the perplexing experience the name suggests, just a fairly normal pale bitter with that slightly sharp edge.
Out at Ironbridge on Sunday I sat in the sun outside The White Hart and enjoyed a couple of pints of Abbot's: slightly sharp, but still way better than most of what passes for draught ale over here in Ireland.
Two other dalliances with cask ale were in The Hill and the Briar Rose: Broadside and Castle Eden Ale respectively. Neither worthy of special comment within their surroundings, but again the sort of stuff England should be proud of.
The Briar Rose is a Wetherspoons, a chain I have a huge amount of respect for. Their corporate responsibility and general policy of common sense regarding their customers and their products is to be admired. I suspect it's one of those things the British take for granted or complain about, like the NHS and the rail network. I was disappointed I didn't get my Theakston's fix, though. Wetherspoon's can normally be relied on for Theakston's, even in Northern Ireland where it is a very strange and exotic substance indeed. But alas, in Birmingham, it was not to be.
On to the dregs, then. Went to Santa Fé in the Mailbox too. It had a fairly impressive beer list, beyond the obvious (San Miguel and Corona). I tried their own-brand organic lager which managed to taste of just about nothing. Water with yellow colouring counts as organic, right?
The first watering stop of the weekend was in a cavernous super-theme-pub. Having given up any chance of there being a cask ale on offer I examined the taps and saw that Tetley's was about the nearest thing available. Deciding not to be so gauche as to order it by name I asked for "a pint of bitter", for when in England one must do as the English do. The Australian barkid looked confused and leaned over to shout into a back room "Is Tetley's bitter?" That was bookended with a swift Worthington's at the airport last night and the reflection that the English, in terms of beer variety and quality, have things so much better than us.