After more than a year, we have come to the conclusion that, despite widespread acclaim, Bristol’s Arbor Ales just don’t do it for us.
Their ‘brand’ has always appealed — adventurous-sounding beers in a wide range of styles, often with experimental hops or other strange ingredients, and modern-looking design. Very ‘craft’, if you like. We were predisposed to be fans, and perhaps that set us up for disappointment.
Wanting to try the widest range of their beer in the best possible nick, we visited their own brewery tap, the Three Tuns, for the first time in November 2012. Bristol is now over-stuffed with ‘craft beer’ bars, but the Tuns was one of the first, and several people recommended it to us. We came away, unfortunately, without finding a beer — cask, keg or bottle — that we really enjoyed, and feeling that Bristol had better places to drink.
But everyone else loved Arbor and the Tuns, and we’d only visited once, so we doubted our judgement and didn’t write about it.
We tried more throughout the year but, still, no magic struck. (A bottled Dr Rudi IPA was a notable disappointment.)
This week, we returned to Bristol wanting to have our minds changed. We really wanted a transcendent experience that would allow us to say something like this, but it was not to be.
Motueka, a single-hopped pale ale at 3.8% ABV, was barely drinkable: there was no fruitiness from either hops or yeast; a savoury, stock-like note with something of bay leaves; and (probably the pub’s fault) a lack of condition which only emphasised the rather thin body.
Alechemy, a 7.3% ‘Red Oz IPA’ brewed as an ‘anti-Christmas’, had some depth and complexity, and reminded us somewhat of Blue Anchor Spingo Special — big and sticky. It was, however, rather too raw, with an eventually over-powering flavour that reminded us of a beer brewed with chestnuts. Again, it was let down by poor condition. (UPDATE: this beer was a collaboration with Alechemy and is actually called, we think, ‘Anti-Christ-Mas’.)
We abandoned both, unfinished.
Now, we know the post-Christmas lull is not a great time for pubs, and we’ve been told that both managers at the Tuns were on their post-Christmas break. But if you can’t get a brewery’s beers in good condition at its tap, then isn’t something wrong? And if a pub doesn’t have the necessary staff or turnover to serve good beer in the week after Christmas, should it really be open?
There was one little glimmer of hope, however: at the Crofter’s Rights (a trendy barn-like junk-shop of a craft beer bar in Stoke’s Croft) we found kegged Arbor Breakfast Stout (7.4%) not only drinkable, but rather enjoyable. A deep tan head and unctuous body made it resemble a cafetière of coffee before plunging. That oily chestnut character was present again, but drowned out by much more pleasant intense cherry-cocoa flavours.
So, not for us, but not yet completely written-off.
We were planning to write this post anyway but it happens to fit conveniently into the theme of this month’s beer blogging Session #83, hosted by Bake & Brew which asks ‘what beer do you say “no thanks” to that everyone can’t get enough of?’