Categories
20th Century Pub bristol pubs

Six new-to-us Bristol pubs in one day

Our #EveryPubInBristol mission had begun to stagnate a little with hardly any new ticks in weeks. Then, the Saturday before last, we managed six new pubs in one go. As ever, this concerted attack was eye-opening.

We started at The Assembly in Bedminster, a huge pub with the football on at ear-bursting volume and a sense that it was drowsing, just waiting for Saturday night to kick off. The kind of place where the woodwork has teeth-marks. Jess’s half of Doom Bar came in a dainty stem glass, though, and didn’t taste bad.

The Windmill

The contrast between this and the next pub, up Windmill Hill on the other side of the railway line, was powerful. The Windmill feels like the kind of place you might find in a middle class outer London suburb, all scrubbed wood, burgers and jazz. The couple on the table next to us seemed to be on holiday in Bristol and had apparently come out of their way to get to this particular pub – is it in a foreign travel guide, maybe? It’s for sale, we hear, which might explain the faintly gloomy mood. Overall, we liked it, even if it did seem to be looking at us down its nose, just a touch.

The Rising Sun

At the top of the hill, The Rising Sun appealed to us immediately: a Victorian orphan alongside a modernist tower block, windswept by default, it brought to mind the Cumberland at Byker. Inside, we found a lampshade pub with plush seating and kitsch details. Bluegrass music played on the stereo and the young publican told us he was a musician. Bohemian might be a good word for this pub and we can imagine detouring to get to it again.

The Brunel

Things went downhill after this, literally, as we tottered down a tatty alleyway between terraced houses to The Brunel, AKA The Engineers Arms – a huge pub extended or rebuilt in the 1920s, despite its supposed 1897 founding date. It’s a Greene King joint so you can probably picture it with 80% accuracy if you’ve ever been in another anywhere else in the country. But we liked the cheerful staff, the stained glass windows and the remains of the old multi-room structure: the real drinkers were in what was obviously the Public. It’s not our kind of place but there was certainly a buzz.

The Victoria Park

Next stop was The Victoria Park, a somewhat famous gastropub in 1990s style, with Michelin stickers and more. We didn’t expect to like it but the hillside beer garden and Edwardian exterior were hard to resist, and inside we had no trouble finding a corner to drink in. The other customers were mostly exhausted parents rocking pushchairs or bouncing babies on their chests. This one, we thought, would fit an upmarket resort in Devon or Cornwall, and the beer was mostly Devonian, as it happened.

The Star & Dove on the edge of Victoria Park has a fascinating story. Ray’s been before, with his brother, when it was a full-on gastropub with slow-cooked pork belly and so on. That venture folded, though, and in the space of a year or two, it’s reverted to being a normal, down-to-earth drinking pub with somewhat harsh lighting and the downstairs dining room locked. The internet seems generally confused about whether it is still trading (it definitely is) and whether it still has food at all – sometimes, we think? Still, not often you encounter de-gentrification these days.

There’s something about this particular approach, every pub, that really makes sense of the scene as a whole and how things fit together. Posh pubs are uphill, less fancy ones at the bottom; chains are sometimes where the action is; and there’s almost no pub that’s not OK for at least one round on a Saturday afternoon.

Categories
bristol pubs real ale

Supplementing the 2020 Good Beer Guide: some Bristol tips

It’s new CAMRA Good Beer Guide season and across the land can be heard the familiar cries of “I can’t believe X is/isn’t in!”

Most people who are into beer know that the Good Beer Guide is not the be all and end all – it doesn’t claim to be.

It’s an assessment on the quality and consistency of cask beer, so pubs without cask beer will not get in, no matter how stunning the keg selection.

Selection processes vary from district to district, as we understand it, but the Bristol branch has clearly documented processes which seem to be about as thorough and democratic as is possible to be, but obviously will still favour pubs that are popular with active CAMRA members.

We’re not really sociable enough to contribute to this sort of thing so of course we don’t get to complain if we don’t like the entries. And actually, in Bristol, there isn’t much to grumble about from our perspective.

(Unlike in Penzance where to our eternal bafflement The Cornish Crown got in year after year, sometimes as the only entry; it’s fine but we could think of three or four consistently better cask ale pubs in town.)

In the two and a bit years we’ve been here, the Bristol selections have generally been a good representation of quality beer and also reflected a range of different pubs and other drinking establishments to suit all tastes.

There are a couple whose inclusion we might question based on our visits but the main issue is the omission of some particular favourite pubs, probably down to the space allocated to some degree.

With that in mind, we’d like to suggest a couple of supplementary entries for 2020.

The Highbury Vaults
This is a veteran GBG entry but not included this year. It has a multi-room layout, including a snug and a toy train, and can’t help but be cosy. The garden, or yard rather, has an oddly good atmosphere. There are Young’s beers, including Winter Warmer in season, and a selection of bottles. It has good old-fashioned pub snacks (pork pies, baps) as well as homely homemade food.

The Good Measure
We assume this didn’t make the GBG as it only opened in December 2018. The team at Good Chemistry are behind this so their beers obviously feature but also several guests, usually from the north, which makes a refreshing change in Bristol. Timothy Taylor Landlord is often on, for example. There are keg beers, too. We particularly love the contemporary yet classic feel of the interior.

The Canteen (AKA Hamilton House)
This was in the guide in 2019 but isn’t anymore. It’s not really a pub, more a community cafe with an emphasis on all things local, which is perhaps why it’s not in our main Bristol pub guide, but regularly has four or five cask ales from Bristol Beer Factory, New Bristol and others. Being round the corner from Jess’s most recent job, it’s also somewhere she got to know well and found the beer to be in consistently good condition.

In coming up with the above list, we’ve kept to GBG criteria and haven’t included keg bars, cider houses and so on.

We’ve also left out a couple of pubs we really like but we haven’t visited enough to judge the consistency of the ale – maybe we’ll suggest them for 2021.

For more on our overall recommendations see our Bristol pub guide and also our analysis of our visits in the first two years of living here.

It would be interesting to read similar supplementary guides to other cities and regions from other bloggers. How well does the GBG represent your town, city or region?

Categories
bristol

What we’re up to in October: Cider Season

We’ve decided it’s time to make a concerted effort to get our heads round cider which is why we’re declaring it the drink for us in October.

We reached this decision at The Orchard, one of Bristol’s best cider pubs with a long menu of examples of farmhouse scrumpy.

It frustrates us to be presented with so much choice and have so little clue.

We order almost at random and sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.

So, that’s our aim for the next few weeks: to try different makers, different styles, and form some Opinions.

We could read books – and maybe we will dip into the odd one – but this isn’t about hunting down world classics, it’s about knowing which of the products we’re likely to encounter in Bristol and around are worth ordering twice.

By way of a baseline, we’re going to make an effort to try and think about some of the big brands, too.

It also gives us a great excuse to visit or revisit all of Bristol’s cider pubs and understand better their traditions, rituals and history.

And who knows, we might even finally try a tin of Natch.

Categories
Blogging and writing bristol

Pints West: a mine of information

We’ve found ourselves getting a bit excited when we find a new edition of the local CAMRA magazine, Pints West, in the display holder at The Drapers Arms, because we always learn so damned much.

The latest issue, for autumn 2019, is just out and is a good example of why we like it so much.

First, with #EveryPubInBristol in mind, there’s a comprehensive update on what’s going on with local pubs based on extensive fieldwork from the Bristol Pubs Group. It tells us which pubs have closed, reopened and changed hands, usually before we hear via social media.

We’re fascinated by the fate of The Merchant’s Arms in Stapleton which just sits there with its big, blank, boarded-up facade; Pints West always gives us an update – stalemate, apparently, with the owner determined not to re-open it as a pub despite its ACV status.

But there’s more: we don’t drive (and wouldn’t drive to the pub if we did, obviously) so the pub crawls focused on walking and public transport are always inspiring. This quarter, Vince Murray suggests a couple of trips in South Gloucestershire by bus while Duncan Shine gives a run down of all the pubs along the Bristol-Bath Railway Path. We’re already working out ways to tackle some or all of those on the list.

We were also struck by a piece in the last edition by Robin E Wild on the best value pubs in the area – a positive way to address the fraught issue of the sometimes exclusive price of beer.

In general, there’s an openness about it that shows CAMRA at its best. All breweries are covered with enthusiasm and honesty, regardless of their particular cask-ale credentials. Licensed premises of all kinds get a look in and there are heartening tales of local activism to save apparently doomed pubs.

Now, disclosure, before someone brings it up: in the past, before we moved to Bristol, we publicly rolled our eyes at one of the cartoons in the magazine. It irritated us then and looking back, it’s still irritating. But we haven’t noticed anything like that since.

Anyway, our piece said, we’re off to explore a couple of the pubs mentioned in the most recent edition – and isn’t that what a local CAMRA magazine ought to inspire?

Categories
bristol

Training Day: pull it flat

Lots of drinkers in Bristol like their pints flat. That is, completely without foam.

We’ve written about this before but in the past week got more evidence when we saw a pub manager training a new member of staff.

“No, way too much head, bit more,” said the manager. “Just give it another pull.”

“Like this?”

“No, still too much head. You might get away with that up norf but not in Bristol, mate.”

“It’s OK, we don’t mind a bit of a head on our pints,” we said and then took the opportunity to ask a couple of follow-up questions.

The manager told us that older Bristolian drinkers especially really appreciate pints where the beer is absolutely to the rim with as clear a surface as possible.

He put it down to stinginess – “They’re afraid you’re doing them out of nine pence worf of beer.” – but confirmed that it certainly was a matter of preference, not the result of poorly-conditioned beer.

In Bristol, we’re beginning to think the default flatness of the pints is a pretty good indicator of how many born-and-bred locals drink in a particular pub.

In the city centre, where incomers, commuters and daytrippers drink, it’s quite possible to be served 450ml of beer with several inches of head (“Could I get a little top up, please?”) but that’s much less likely in backstreet pubs and the more down-to-earth suburbs.

The Drapers seems to struggle sometimes, too, with bar staff getting mixed messages from traditionalist locals and beer geeks. A few weeks ago we got served beautiful pints, foam piled high, with an apology: “Sorry, it’s very lively.”

Almost anywhere else in the UK, it wouldn’t have seemed so.

The good news is that at the pub we visited last week, the new member of staff eventually got the hang of it, pulling a string of pints with a perfectly reasonable amount of foam – neither excessively northern nor too strictly Bristolian.