Bristol has long been a worthwhile destination for a beery weekend but these days, it’s in another league.
When we first went to the Capital of the West Country with beer on our minds, back in 2009, we found just about enough to keep us stimulated. Last weekend, however, we found that an explosion of new beer-focused pubs and bars meant that a weekend wasn’t long enough. We did, however, make it to three new venues targeting the beer geek market.
The Bristol Beer Factory abandoned ship at the Grain Barge earlier this year and their flagship pub is now the Barley Mow. Sitting in the middle of a eerily quiet industrial estate near Temple Meads, its location does not seem promising, but it is certainly worth the detour.
The now-obligatory back wall keg taps were dispensing beers from the Sierra Nevada and Maisel, and we just missed Schnoodlepip, the Wild Beer Company’s collaboration with Mark C. ‘Formerly of Dark Star’ Tranter and Kelly Ryan. (CAMRGB had drunk it all, perhaps, having passed through mere hours before us, leaving a trail of beer mats behind them.)
The seven cask beers were a good mix of pale’n'hoppy, brown’n'sweet and black’n'roasty, though perhaps not in absolutely tip-top condition, with Moor Radiance in particular seeming a little tired.
The beer that really knocked our socks off was from a can — Maui’s Lemongrass Saison (5% ABV). It couldn’t have tasted any fresher and the pleasure of it was its simplicity: more like a mildly grapefruity lager than a funky Belgian barnyard beast.
The pub’s interior is perhaps a little lacking in character, but that will come with time.
Elsewhere in town, we enjoyed the just re-opened, freshly-painted, entirely reinvented Royal Navy Volunteer. Like the Barley Mow, it needs ‘wearing in’, but it certainly had interesting beer, from both from keg and cask. The highlight was Siren Soundwave American Pale Ale (5.6%), an excellent example of the type of beer most breweries In That Other Beer Market Category have at the heart of their range. (The new ‘boring brown bitter’.)
Almost next door, we did not find much to enjoy at the Bristol Beer Emporium. The setting has huge potential — a vaulted cellar with exposed brickwork which reminded us of being in Germany — but something about the fixtures and fittings made it feel like a chain pub or hotel bar. After a long wait, we were v e r y s l o w l y served expensive, lifeless Sierra Nevada Torpedo in half pint tumblers, because all the nice glasses were dirty. We did not have a good time, but perhaps we caught it on an off-day.
If you’d like to go and investigate Bristol’s beer scene yourself, you might want to time your visit to coincide with Bristol Beer Week, which runs from 3 to 9 October this year.