“Brief Beer Break in Blighty"

My wife and I were due for a break after months of
preparations (mostly hers) for my son’s wedding and
immediately thereafter having our two year old and four
year old grandsons visit for a week. My preparations for
the wedding consisted mainly of selecting the beers to
be served at the rehearsal dinner hosted by us at a
venue selected by me, the Mohawk House in Sparta. Not
all of my suggestions go unheeded. The Mohawk House
serves a huge variety of craft brews and was a perfect
setting in which to relax and hoist a few after the
frenzied final few weeks before the Big Day.

My wife suggested Birmingham, UK for the brief getaway
because of my passion for British beer, because the
United Air Lines flights to the “Venice of Britain” looked
pretty open for standby traveling, and Stratford upon
Avon was only a short train ride away.

We were to depart Newark (NJ) in 100 degree
temperatures and the weather report promised
Birmingham to be in the 60’s, but the oppressive heat
and humidity got in a last lick when they couldn’t get
the plane’s cabin cooled down to livable conditions. It
had been sitting at the gate in the blazing sun since
9:00 am for a 7:00 pm departure, so we had to wait a
couple of hours for a replacement aircraft. But not to
worry. Having “made” first class seating for the flight we
repaired to the first class lounge for some gratis Miller
Genuine Drafts with a gentleman we had met while
waiting at the gate. Meeting this man was probably a
sign that this was to be a beery good trip because as it
turned out, he was a buyer for Miller-Coors  who travels
the world on business, as he put it, “buying stuff with
somebody else’s money”. We soon found out that he
was also a craft beer lover who also keeps a “beer log”
on his I-phone at the website “Untappd”.

Eventually the flight , which was made more comfortable
by United’s serving of Goose Island IPA in first class, left
and after our arrival in Birmingham the next morning, a
short train ride brought us to our hotel where we
freshened up before walking to the canal district of the
city. In contrast to the horrendously hot and humid
weather we left in New Jersey, it was invigorating to walk
along the canals with a jacket on and even more
invigorating to pop into a pub for a pint of cask
conditioned real ale.

Our first stop was at The Malt House, a large
pub/restaurant which had ROBINSON’S TROOPER on
cask, my first British beer of the trip. Another hour of
walking ended at The Tap & Spile which had outdoor
seating right alongside a canal. Watching the canal
boats disappear around a bend was almost as much fun
as watching pints of TIMOTHY TAYLOR’S LANDLORD
BITTER (three time champ at the Great British Beer
Festival) and THEAKSTON’S OLD PECULIAR disappear
down my throat.

Fish and chips (what else?) and a few more
ROBINSON'S TROOPERS at The Malt House gave me
an opportunity to observe some British bathroom
etiquette. I decided to hit the “loo” before we left and
was amazed to see almost a dozen urinals with only one
in use. The door opened again, a man came in and said
to the other guy “hey mate, you’ve pinched my favorite
Ur-Y-nal!”,to which the peeing man replied “Oops,
sorry”. Whether this was a serious exchange or just
some witty men’s room repartee I didn’t know, but from
then on I always opted for the urinal farthest from the
door, lest I accidentally took someone else’s “favorite”.

An evening stroll before heading back to the hotel
allowed me to try a GREENE KING IPA at The Brass
House. The next morning we took a train to Stratford
upon Avon, home of Shakespeare. An early afternoon
stop at The Garrick Inn, Stratford’s oldest pub,
provided my two favorite beers of the trip, GARRICK’S
ALE, both worthy of four stars on my rating system.

A short time later a brief rain shower found us luckily in
front The Queen’s Head Pub where a cask conditioned
FULLER”S LONDON PRIDE lasted conveniently just as
long as the shower. The sun shining brightly again, we
headed for the Stratford Alehouse which  was exactly
just that: no food, no bar, no TV, just 8 or 9 high top
tables and racks of firkins from which the proprietor
dispensed pints and halves which you paid for and
carried back to your table.

Even though virtually all cask beers in England are
under 5% (many being between 3 and 4%) I decided on
halves since I wished to try as many as my very patient
wife would allow. The Alehouse also serves wine, which
helped make her even more patient with my beer
ALE Ale (5%) were added to my beer log.

A wonderful dinner back at The Garrick Inn found us
sitting next to two girls from Montclair who were
shepherding a contingent of folks from Fairleigh
Dickinson. They gave us two extra gratis tickets to a
play, Voltare, they were all attending at the Swan
Theater, for which we were very thankful. Thankful, that
is, until the show started. It was possibly my worst life’s
experience since my introduction to the Marine Corps at
Parris Island.

Words cannot describe how bored we were for the first
hour and a half. (The was only the first act). Suffice to
say that sitting on the hard wooden benches caused
both my legs and my rear end to fall asleep. The only
thing that was keeping ME from falling asleep was the
frothy pint of Abbot Ale that kept bobbing into my line
of vision only to magically disappear when I reached for

Not returning for the second act (I hope that for those
crazy enough to return it was the second and LAST
act), we ran for the train back to Birmingham, where we
bought a four pack of JOHN SMITH’S EXTRA SMOOTH
YORKSHIRE ALE in nitro cans and a bottle of white wine
to enjoy in our hotel room while trying to blot that hour
and a half out of our memory. But in spite of that it was
a wonderful, if brief, visit to Blighty and now that United
has direct flights to Newcastle it won’t be too long
before we return.


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