King Street Revisited

Shnoodlepip from the cask.

Last Christmas, we found ourselves on King Street in Bristol, and were astonished to note that it had become home to three self-styled ‘craft beer’ outlets. We subsequently used it as a symbol of ‘the rebirth of British beer’ in the prologue of Brew Britannia.

Back then, Small Bar had only just opened, and, even though there was an excit­ing sense of com­mit­ment to ‘the cause’, it was obvi­ous­ly still find­ing its feet, serv­ing flat kegged beer, some of it poor­ly cho­sen in the first place, amidst paint fumes and an air of mild pan­ic.

Last Sun­day, we broke the jour­ney back from Birm­ing­ham and braved a night in Bris­tol to check on its progress.

While the Famous Roy­al Naval Vol­un­teer across the road was gloomy and most­ly emp­ty, Small Bar, was buzzing.

A mini-fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing the Wild Beer Co. (who also get a third of a chap­ter in Brew Bri­tan­nia…) and British sour beers more gen­er­al­ly was under­way, and the chalked-up beer list, with clear­ly-stat­ed prices, looked espe­cial­ly entic­ing.

Hav­ing missed it entire­ly last year, and at the Birm­ing­ham Beer Bash on Sat­ur­day, we start­ed off with Shnoodlepip (6.5%), WBC’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mark Tran­ter and Kel­ly Ryan, in its 2014 iter­a­tion. It was avail­able from straight-up keg and also from an oak cask, so we got a half of each to com­pare. We didn’t detect much dif­fer­ence except that the for­mer was (sur­prise!) cool­er and had bet­ter con­di­tion. The bar­man promised def­i­nite oak­i­ness, but we didn’t get it. Over­all, there was some­thing of the hedgerow wine about it. It’s taste­ful­ly done, and cer­tain­ly tasty, but not a rev­e­la­tion.

Som­er­set Wild (5%), also from WBC, was more to our taste. When we spoke to Brett Ellis and Andrew Coop­er last sum­mer, they were still work­ing up to using actu­al wild yeast as opposed to bought-in cul­tures. This pil­sner-pale, appetis­ing­ly hazy, goose­ber­ry-wine of a beer is evi­dence that whatever’s on the breeze in Som­er­set isn’t just good for fer­ment­ing scrumpy. The head dis­ap­peared quick­ly, but the beer had plen­ty of life, and felt tra­di­tion­al, like the kind of thing farm labour­ers in Thomas Hardy nov­els might have enjoyed. A con­tender for beer of the year, if we can find the oppor­tu­ni­ty to try it again.

While we were on a streak of find­ing long-cov­et­ed beers with a vague Brew Bri­tan­nia con­nec­tion, we were also pleased to encounter  Lovibond’s Sour Grapes (5.4%). (Jeff Rosen­meier of Lovibond’s is quot­ed in the book, as a pas­sion­ate and elo­quent crit­ic of cask-con­di­tion­ing.) We were expect­ing, per­haps, indi­ges­tion-induc­ing FEEL THE BURN sour­ness, so were pleased to find it a clean-but-com­plex, sum­mery beer which we could hap­pi­ly spend a long ses­sion drink­ing. “Lemon cheese­cake” reads the only note we took all after­noon.

Almost every­thing inter­est­ing was £6+ a pint, so it’s not a cheap place to drink, but staff were gen­er­ous with sam­ples, and we didn’t feel like any of the beers we bought were bad val­ue, inso­far as, scarci­ty aside, they were gen­uine­ly dif­fer­ent to any­thing on offer at any of our local pubs.

This was a fun after­noon ses­sion in a bar which is in the process of becom­ing great, and where we felt very at ease. We’ll be back.

Brett Ellis, head brew­er at WBC, also hap­pened to be there, deliv­er­ing a talk to a crowd of fans – was ever there a time when more lec­tures were giv­en in British drink­ing estab­lish­ments?

6 thoughts on “King Street Revisited”

  1. I can’t com­ment on the beer, but the chips are excel­lent.

    Real­ly good.

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