A few weeks have now passed since the first Lock & Key Midlands Beer Convention. The dust has well and truly settled and the team of organisers behind the festival have had chance to reflect on their hard work and start looking forward to the possibility of the event taking place again next year. Having volunteered at Lock & Key on the Saturday and Sunday of the three-day festival, I’ve also had plenty of time reflect (and attend the London Craft Beer Festival in the meantime), so now is the perfect time to share my thoughts on #LnK18.
With the beer scene in the West Midlands in a very healthy place at the start of the year, I was really excited when the first Lock & Key Midlands Beer Convention was announced a few months ago. With so many great bars in and around Birmingham and a collection of great breweries in the city and scattered around the West Midlands, it was about time that a new summer craft beer festival came along to take the place of the Birmingham Beer Bash (which finished in 2016) and mark the birth of an exciting new era.
Luckily, the proactive people at Cherry Reds, The Wolf and the Midlands Beer Blog, with support from a number of other Midlands businesses, took it upon themselves to make an event to put the second city back on the UK beer festival map.
Here’s my breakdown of the first Lock & Key Beer Con.
Arriving at the Festival site in Digbeth part way through the Saturday day-time session, my first impressions were what a fantastic and unique setting The Bond Company complex provided. Whilst the majority of the brewery bars were located in the large Gate House building or smaller Club House and Lounge rooms, the large courtyard and canal basin provided a picturesque space to sit or stand in the abnormally hot and sunny Birmingham weather, hinting at both Birmingham’s industrial past and the creative centre of Digbeth today.
The layout of the bars placed the fantastic array of brewers in close quarters, sewing the seeds for new friendships and potential future collaborations. It was great to see brewers from around the UK and further afield interacting and sharing beers throughout the weekend.
As a Midlands beer convention, there was a wide choice of beers available from brewers from across the West and East Midlands, showcasing the strength of brewing talent in this chunk of the country. However, it was also fantastic that the festival hosted bars for UK breweries from Manchester, Yorkshire, London, Berkshire and more, as well as Duvel and Brasserie De La Senne from Belgium and Lervig from Norway. From speaking to a few of the brewers that had travelled a distance to Brum and from reactions on twitter, I think they enjoyed our West Midlands brand of hospitality.
Given the calibre of breweries that attended, it stands to reason that the beer list for the weekend was special. Although I was volunteering at the festival, I was able to keep my glass respectably full during the Saturday and Sunday sessions. I spent some time pouring at the Fixed Wheel Brewery bar and their Pope of Dope lemon and hibiscus saison was in high demand. Sharp lemon flavours, balanced with berries and a subtle floweriness, it’s dry finish made it a perfect beer for a hot day, so I’m not surprised that it was the beer I served the most.
Whenever I see Kitchen Sink, the decadent imperial stout from Stourbridge’s Green Duck and Birmingham’s GlassHouse, it’s an obvious choice, so as soon as I found out that the bourbon barrel aged version would be at the festival, I earmarked this as a Saturday night must. For its 10% ABV, it goes down smooth and easy and another seems like a genius idea.
In terms of non-midlands brewed beers, three in particular stand out in my memory. Brew York’s Rhubarbra Streisand rhubarb pale ale was like rhubarb and custard sweets in a glass and I loved it. Unfortunately for anyone that attended the Sunday session, they missed out on this beaut as it sold out Saturday night.
Up until Lock & Key, the only beers I had tried from Wild Weather Ales had been variations on pale ale. To my memory, they had all been pretty good, but didn’t especially scream out for attention amongst a vast sea of hoppy pale ales in the UK market. In contrast, Wild Weather’s Blank Space, a lime and samphire gose, and Beyond Obsidian, an imperial blueberry stout, will stay at the front of my mind for a while, I’m sure of it.
Aside from the beer, the other key ingredient to Lock & Key Beer Con was the people – organisers, volunteers, brewers, fringe event speakers and happy drinkers. Working on the front gate for the start of the Saturday evening session, I saw first hand the varied demographic of people attending the festival, which I thought was really cool. In my experience, there’s no better way to make friend than over a few beers.
I was able to share the Lock & Key experience with one of my best friends and Stockport’s finest Karl Pilkington lookalike, Mr. Tom Whitehead. Back for the summer from teaching in China, there was no better way to show my buddy just how far the Brum beer scene has come along since he was last here.
As well as old friends, it was also great to speak to tonnes of new people and bump into some familiar faces from twitter. For a shy person like me, it’s awesome to have a couple of schooners of Dutch courage and be able to chat with fellow Beer Tweeters.
My message to the excellent people that put Lock & Key Beer Con together is simple – #LnK19 needs to happen! In my view, this year’s event was a win for Birmingham and the West Midlands and next year will be better. The feedback on Twitter and has been really positive and constructive in many cases. This year’s people will be back, they’ll bring their friends and the social media buzz will be much bigger in the lead up to the festival.
Let’s get those plans for a sequel in gear! #LnK19 is sure to be more Empire Strikes Back than Grease 2, for sure.
Let me know how I can help make this happen, friends.