pubs real ale

All Change for Bristol Beer

The Barley Mow, Bristol.

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.

Maui Brewing Co Lemongrass Saison.

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.

Gents toilets at the Royal Navy Volunteer, Bristol.
Gents toilets at the Royal Navy Volunteer, Bristol.

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’.)

Beer Emporium, Bristol.

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.

9 replies on “All Change for Bristol Beer”

Having been part of the aforementioned CAMRGB, I must say I was rather taken with the Barley Mow and the beer I had there, though short of flat or off, I have the perception skills of a wombat when it comes to judging freshness.

I was seriously impressed with the Volley, which is going to have to become a new regular Bristol haunt for me, felt nice, open, light and airy, was like night and day having come there from the Beer Emporium, beer choice was more interesting too, magic rock highwire being a definite highlight. However I went back to the Emporium on Sunday lunch time for some of their ‘British tapas’ the sticky ribs and chips were both very nice, and with some natural light coming down into the bar, the place was greatly improved.

You’ve already read my thoughts! Hopefully get to the volley for a quick one next weekend but factoberfest is main event

Glad I’m not the only one falling in lover with the Maui beers. Bikini Blonde Lager is currently a staple in my fridge, perfect after a long, hot day at work and always perfectly fresh. Maybe there is something to this canning idea.

We did think about getting in touch, but we were having a sort of quality-time birthday weekend away thing, so, apart from seeing my brother a couple of times, weren’t very sociable at all.

The grain barge didn’t open this year. It says on their website that it opened in 2007. Unless I am missing something here? The barley mow has been there for ages to.

There was a stray word in that sentence, now removed. Thanks for pointing it out.

The Barge used to be their ‘brewery tap’, but they no longer run it, though their beers are still sold there. They took over the Barley Mow earlier this year, as we understand it.

I believe they always did own it, but hadn’t done all that much with it but refurbished it this year.

Grain Barge was sold to concentrate on “traditional pubs” and free up some cash for their much needed expansion!

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