Crawling #9: Stourbridge (24.1.23)
Hello, it’s time for another pub crawl. I’m your beer-drinking host on this journey. I’m joined by my lovely wife Maria, who can’t drink very much but will tell me to go home at a suitable time. Stourbridge was never really on my beer radar until Maria suggested it. It was a bit of a struggle to find places initially as my experience of the town was the Spoons and a few places around it. But the more I looked, the more I found out about Stourbridge’s love of beers. I think you’ll be quite surprised.
Normally, I’d assault this by taking a train into Stourbridge Junction and walking from there but Maria decided to drive (I’m sure a 30 minute wait for a connecting train in Droitwich had nothing to do with it). We parked up and headed in. Here we are (top) being welcomed into the sunny town centre of a thriving metropolis. Ahead of us is the local Spoons. That’s a no from me.
PUB #1: THE ROYAL EXCHANGE (Enville Street)
As there are two Royal Exchange’s in Stourbridge, I thought I’d specify the street.
The Royal Exchange is a Batham’s pub and I’ve specifically come here to get a pint of Batham’s Mild. You can’t get it further afield, so I’ve come to the source. The Royal Exchange is the kind of pub where, back in the day, if you asked for a beer you’d get a Batham’s Bitter and bloody well like it. “Do you have beer here?” “Oh, we have both kinds; bitter and mild”. We arrive at 3pm on a Tuesday and it’s packed. What the fuck? I do these things in mid-week to avoid the crowds. We squeeze into the two remaining seats and leave the busy bar for the somewhat more sedate lounge. After being tipped off that it might be “less busy” by a bloke at the bar. Friendly bunch in here.
The beer was delicious. It’s a little fruity for a mild but wasn’t in premium condition. Something that became more obvious as it warmed up. Keeping cask beer is exceptionally hard, especially if it doesn’t sell that well. The bitter would have been an easier bet for a fine pint but I’d already had it many times before. While none of the faces were people I knew in here, I knew the type. I dubbed the one bloke “Keith” because he reminded me of the bass player in Stella II. There was another lady sat in the corner who looked very familiar. I didn’t dabble in the selection of bar snacks but cobs were available.
This was stuck up in the toilet. Appropriate! For those who aren’t familiar with the area; Stourbridge is a hotbed for West Brom fans. I didn’t quite finish the beer, and felt bad about it, and we shuffled off into the cold afternoon air. I wonder how many people talked about us afterwards? It’s the kind of pub where everyone knows everyone else, like Cheers. We were anomalies.
PUB #2: THE HOP VAULT
This was a change in gears. Only a short walk away but the other side of a main road and more central in town. It felt like half a mile and a hundred years. The Hop Vault is a modern tap room, down a side street. It has a huge array of bottles and cans available for takeout. We ended up getting some because the range was staggering. I couldn’t just leave with nothing. We couldn’t start here as they don’t open until 3pm. We arrived at 4pm and there were three staff on and only one punter.
Someone was walking out with a big bag of cans though. It was a welcoming gaff. I had a nice chat with the guy behind the bar about beer styles and trying to remember what beers I’d had before. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t like “Steady Rolling Man”. I opted for a “Big Stupid Westy”, which isn’t my style of beer preference, but the stouts were ones I’d had before. Apart from a 10%er and I’m not hitting that at 4pm.
You can see some of the crazy range in the background. I’d be in here every fucking day if I lived in Stourbridge. They even had a big bottle from Jester King. How close was I to sacking off the entire pub crawl and staying here? Very close.
PUB #3: BARBRIDGE
If you’re thinking, like me, that the window being boarded up is a sign that perhaps this place isn’t open….you’d be 100% correct. Never fear, I have an alternative. I had two sub pubs (yes, really) to slot in if things went array. One of them was the Mitre, which we’d already walked past twice. The other is the one we went with.
PUB #4: THE DOG HOUSE
We had to go into the Dog House. It looked so cute on Google Maps. As I snapped a picture of the outside the locals started getting grumpy. “It’s a famous pub innit” replied the one punter. Down a few steps we have a cloakroom, followed by the main ‘lounge’. The bar was just around the corner. The pub is across the road from the bus station and it was starting to get dark. We watched the downtrodden people of Stourbridge finish work while I enjoyed a pint of Squire’s Gold from Woodcote Brewing. They’re over in Dodford and do fine work.
This is the inside of the pub. Through the archway there is the bar. A few regulars propping it up and dancing to Madness. It felt like being invited into someone’s front room. Someone who had a lot of mates. The music was controlled by an Alexa and at one point the room was singing along to “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. I was sat on a barrel admiring the décor. Each wall seemed to have something dog related on it. I wanted to take a picture of the wallpaper but there were people sat there.
I was expecting this to be all about the beer, but it felt more like someone’s little side venture. They’d gone in with real ale, cobs (everyone loves a cob in Stourbridge) and a welcoming atmosphere. For half an hour, I felt strangely at home.
PUB #3: THE DUKE WILLIAM
Right, the number is correct. The Duke William was the replacement for the fallen Barbridge.
It looks quite unassuming from the outside. Sat on a corner, like all good pubs. From the outside it isn’t that apparent what to expect but there was a little optimism from me here. It was not misplaced. You see, I’d seen what was painted on the side…Craddocks. I’d slotted a Craddocks pub in later on the route so I didn’t really want to double up. The decision to come here, however, was a winner.
In my notes I’ve called it “absolutely perfect”. A classic bar in the centre of the room. There’s a corridor down the back of it leading to the toilets, beer garden and presumably carrying on to some secret tunnels or something. It goes on forever.
The Duke William is a wonderful mix of classic beers, welcoming dankness, dark wood décor and modern snacks. We had some jalapeno pretzel things that fucking ruled. I also snagged a pint of Craddock’s “Troll”. A banger of a beer. I even got to chat about Craddock’s with the man in the checked shirt at the bar, who knew about the Worcester version of the pub; the King Charles House. That’s also a wonderful little boozer but this might be even better. It just felt right. Of course, there were cobs available! The beer range extended beyond Craddocks and Maria used one of her beers up in here; a Hobson’s Dhustone stout. I had a bit of it, and it was sublime. I’ve been looking for that bugger all over the place too. Man, Stourbridge has some tremendous boozers.
PUB #5: THE WAGGON & HORSES
Ah, this is where it went a bit sour for me. The Waggon & Horses. It looks so welcoming from the outside. It’s had a nice lick of paint recently. On entering the bar, there were locals everywhere. It was a little tough to get an order in. Although the barman was attentive and friendly. I did feel welcomed. The reassuring Enville badge on the outside should also have been a good sign but I spotted a Purple Moose “Off the Waggon” and thought it was appropriate to have in the Waggon & Horses. I’d gotten quite hungry at this point and it’s the first pub I’ve seen offering pork pies, so I ordered one and they hadn’t got any. Hmm. No cobs either. No cobs? Have we left Stourbridge?
The pub did have a tartan carpet. Thumbs up for that. However, the beer was clearly on the turn. Far more obviously so than in the first pub. I’d had four pints and could still taste, and smell it, almost immediately. I had to leave it. I felt quite ill afterwards. Your lines might need looking at boys. What really annoyed me was the lack of soap in the toilets. Come on, we just came off a pandemic. It’s a pretty basic requirement. I’m sad because if the beer landed, there was soap and the food was there, this was a great pub. It doesn’t need much fixing. Oh well, we move. The barman earned some brownie points on our way out by saying goodbye and thanks for coming, although he didn’t need to break away from his conversation with the locals. Nice bloke.
PUB #6: THE PLOUGH & HARROW
This was the Craddock’s pub I’d always intended to visit. It didn’t have the beer range of the superior Duke William. Nor did it have the ambience. This pub was far brighter. However, the bar staff were wonderful in here. The barman chatted about ales and Craddocks and even football shirts as I was sporting a Japan manga football shirt. It was a conversation over all too quickly. The barmaid also slid into the conversation. It felt lovely and organic and welcoming. I had the Saxon Gold in here, which is not really to my tastes but was a very good beer. We sat in the corner next to the fire and had a nice time.
PUB #7: THE SHRUBBERY COTTAGE
My notes call this the “Shubbery”, so you know a few beers have been had by this point. The original plan was to head down to the Seven Stars (a Black Country Ales pub, d’oh, missed out there), which is right by where the car is parked. However, we were walking past this gaff and felt the urge to go in. Sometimes, you have to follow your instincts. Plans be damned. You can tell I’d had a few because there are no pictures of this place at all.
Thanks to Google Maps, here it is. We walked in and ordered at the bar. As I was waiting I was listening to a bloke talking. He said something about how 97% of Turkey was in Asia and one of the women at the bar was all “I did not know that”. She turns to me; “did you know that?”. I had to confess that I did, in fact, know that most of Turkey was in Asia. She seemed impressed.
The pub is a Holden’s establishment. So, I had a Holden’s Black Country Special. A beer I once purchased from Asda and said of it; “I can imagine getting a pint of this in a working man’s club”. Well, the Shrubbery Cottage was pretty close. It was dark inside and we sat at the far end of the bar. It felt like a suitable conclusion to a nice afternoon on the beers. It was closing in on 8pm and we ordered some food off JustEat and headed home for a feast of Indian food. As I now, the following day, sit and write about it, my guts are still flipping over themselves at the horrific dietary approach to my Tuesday. Literally beer, crisps and curry.
I leave you with the map, detailing our journey through Stourbridge. It was mostly fun. I’m so glad we went into the Duke William, my favourite pub in Stourbridge. The Hop Vault is also a delight. Everything else was good-acceptable, although the Waggon & Horses sadly blotted its copybook with some dubious cleanliness. If you use the train and follow our route, you can come in at Stourbridge Town and leave via Stourbridge Junction.