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beer reviews Beer styles bristol

Barley wine sweep #1: two sort-ofs and a definite

Barley wines round one.

Wednesday night offered a brief window for hunting barley wines (or old ales, or strong ales – BWOASA from now on).

We found two quite similar beers that offered considerable food for thought: Oakham Hawse Buckler and Moor Old Freddy Walker.

We came across the former on cask at the Drapers Arms, our local. At 5.6%, just at the lower end of our ‘strong ale’ bracket, it’s billed as a ‘black beer’, but doesn’t half look like a stout. Obviously. On first tasting, as prickly, sticky hops poked their way through a fairly dry body, we remembered the craze for black IPA of a decade ago.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, it didn’t immediately meet any of our expectations of BWOASA. But the more we drank, the more we noticed a morello cherry, fortified wine character.

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Old Freddy Walker (7.3%) is a beer we’ve known in one form or another for years, now. It’s one of the few relics of when Moor was an old school Somerset real ale brewery rather than the urban craft beer outfit it is today.

It was the only BWOASA we could find on offer at our local speciality beer shop, Bottles & Books, where, frankly, we had hoped to come across at least a few examples. It cost £3.80 for 330ml. It was at this point we began to get mildly anxious: what if there just aren’t any in Bristol right now, as blossom appears on trees and students get their shorts out of storage?

Old Old Freddy was in the Spingo Special style – intensely boozy, syrupy sweet, very brown. The current incarnation, though it takes the name, is black, much drier, and much more evidently hoppy. Grassy and herbal, even.

A bit like Hawse Buckler, in fact.

If OFW is an old ale (that’s how it’s badged) then HB can be one too – especially as HB seemed more luscious, despite the lower ABV.

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Then finally, last night, we found a definite barley wine, also from Moor: Benny Havens, 9.5% in a 330ml can, at £4.25 from Brewer’s Droop on Gloucester Road.

The feller behind the counter was astonished and appalled to realise it was the only barley wine or old ale he had in stock. He pointed to imperial stouts and double IPAs, and had any number of obscure German and Belgian beers, but this particular style… Well, it’s just the wrong time of year, isn’t it?

We bought the one can there was and drank it at home, paired with On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1970.

It really looked the part, this one – golden, bright, with a generous white foam. Instinctively, we thought it tasted right, too, more or less how we always want Gold Label to be. That is, sweet, heavy, smooth, but also with a solid underlying bitterness, perfectly in balance, just up very high. There was maybe a smoky, grainy edge to it, but only faint, and not unappealing. The hops were perhaps a bit rough and rowdy but that would no doubt pass with age. (But… can you age cans?) There were aromas of peach and grape, wrapped up in soothing boozy fug.

Yes, definitely a barley wine, and very decent, too.

But then, a final doubt… didn’t double IPA also taste like this once? In around 2008?

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breweries bristol

The Distributed Brewery: Simon G and Zero Degrees

Simon Gueneau is a Parisian trained in Belgium, based in Bristol, and brewing Continental-style beer on Italian kit – how could we fail to be intrigued?

We’ve long been fascinated by Zero Degrees, the brewpub chain that predates the craft beer craze of the mid-2000s, with bars that never quite click for our taste. Since moving to Bristol, though, we’ve come to really appreciate the beer, which, if you can ignore the context, is clean, classical and balanced across the board.

We had questions, naturally: who devises the recipes? Is the beer identical on every site? And so on.

When veteran beer writer Tim Webb, who lives in Bristol, mentioned that the brewer at Zero Degrees was a protege of Yvan de Baets of Brasserie de la Senne, our curiosity boiled over: we had to know more.

Simon met us at the bar after his shift, wiping down the final surfaces and pouring himself a beer before joining us on tottering stools in the main posing arena.

He has a dry manner, signalling jokes only with a slight twitch of the eyebrows. He shrugs and purrs, waves fingers that surely ought to have a cigarette between them, and occasionally curls a lip, or pouts. You should see the quiet disdain with which he says the word ‘Prosecco’.

The Q&A that follows is lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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And we’ll take a quick pause here to thank Patreon supporters such as Nathan Hamer and John Bristle whose generous backing makes it seem less daft for us to spend our evenings and weekends working on this kind of longer post. Please do consider signing up.

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B&B: Let’s start with the biography – where are you from, and how did you end up brewing in Bristol?

I did a lot of science at uni. I did molecular biology. I studied immunology, went for a masters in immunology, didn’t like it so much in the end, so I applied for a food engineering course. Which was strange.

It was specialising in fermentation – wine, beer and cheese. Wine in Burgundy, I did that for three, four months; beer in Belgium; cheese in the north of Italy. There was an internship so I did it at Cantillon.

Then a big science project at the end which I did at Brasserie de la Senne.

B&B: We heard that Yvan de Baets was in Bristol and came to see you recently.

Yes, it was nice. I hadn’t seen him in, like, three years. I spent six months as an intern at de la Senne, with my project to reduce the yeast deposit in bottle-conditioning, four days at the brewery and one day at the lab, every week. I wasn’t doing everything – just cleaning fermenters, bottling, you know… It was a very small team at the time, in around 2012. They’ve got much bigger since. Yvan and Bernard were still brewing back then.

B&B: Are you a fan of de le Senne beers?

Oh, yes, but I can’t find them much round here.

B&B: At the Strawberry Thief, maybe?

Well, yes, but last time I was there it was four months old. I’m not paying £8 a bottle for old beer. If it’s fresh, of course I don’t mind.

B&B: We’ve really enjoyed the banana milkshake IPA here recently.

Ah, I didn’t make it! The special beers, we swap them. The five core beers, every site makes them. Each site makes on special every month. I keep, say, two thirds of it. The last third, I keg it, and a driver takes it to all the four Zero Degrees. That’s what I did today, I kegged the Fruit Picking at Dusk, a, black cherry porter and Thursday, it’s going to be in Cardiff, London and Reading, and I’ll receive theirs.

For February, it’s black cherry porter; in March, English IPA…

B&B: How often do the brewers from the four sites get together?

Every two or three months we have a brewer’s meeting, usually in Reading. The boss, Nick [Desai], lives in West London.

B&B: The core beers – are those the same at every site? Is there a spec you work to, or is there some room for creative interpretation?

There’s a recipe, which we agree at our meetings. There’s original and final gravity targets, ABVs, and stuff like that. If you don’t treat your water, Cardiff lager is going to be better. Welsh spring water! Well, not spring water, but it’s softer, is what I mean.

But then you’ve got the touch of the brewer. And how much they respect the recipes… [shrug]

B&B: It’s the same malt and hops bill?

Yeah, technically.

The beers are all pretty similar now. The beers ought to the same on all four sites these days.

Three kits are the same – Cardiff, Reading and Bristol are really, really similar. London is very different. Our kit is Velo-Biering, so a blend of German and Italian, mostly Italian. It’s computer controlled but the automation doesn’t work anymore.

The brewing kit at Zero Degrees in Bristol

B&B: Do you have an assistant, or do you do everything yourself?

Yeah, everything. Five days a week, eight, nine, ten hours a day.

B&B: If we came in on a Wednesday lunchtime, we’d see you working, would we?

Yes. You get the odd person looking in. But the brewing is not extremely obvious, it’s well contained – the odd bit of steam, some of the smell, it doesn’t make much noise. I’ve found the odd kid trying to get into the brewery as well. It’s not great, huh? Barrels of chemicals… [shrug]

B&B: As you know, we particularly liked the Vienna Lager you brewed last year.

Ah, yes! I brewed it with Marc [Muraz-Dulaurier] from Lost & Grounded. He’s French, too, but he’s left now. He wanted to brew a beer on my kit. It was a good beer. Vienna malt, and then just German aromatic hops.

B&B: Despite being dry-hopped, it seemed a pretty classical, well-balanced take on the style.

Well, the crowd here is pretty normal, let’s say. So if you do a double-dry-hopped 9% IPA, it’s never gonna work.

B&B: The Bohemian… If you’re not interested in beer, it’s lager. If you are, it’s a good example of the style, the Czech style–

Well, I wouldn’t call it Czech. They want to call it Czech. To me, it’s German. It’s a little too bitter. I drink Pils. Or pale ale, it depends… Never the mango.

B&B: If they phoned you up tomorrow and said they wanted to scrap the mango beer, you wouldn’t object?

I’d be happy. But it makes money, it’s a business, I need my wages. It’s a pale ale base with natural mango extract. It sells quite big. It was the second biggest seller but now the American pale ale has overtaken it. Pils, golden lager, is always going to be the bestseller.

B&B: By a significant amount? Twice as much?

Yes.

B&B: What’s your local here in Bristol?

Usually the Old Stillage in St George’s, more for the mood than the choice of beers, but they’ve got Moor on tap usually. Or, well, I don’t mind, I drink Carlsberg or whatever they’ve got. It doesn’t kill anyone, it doesn’t taste of very much, but it’s fine. The Dark Horse is good, too. Open fires, dogs, cider.

B&B: Do you plan to open your own brewery one day?

No! No. I won’t be opening any brewery. I am just happy to offer my professional services to anyone who’s interested.

B&B: Is there enough creativity in it?

As long as the costing is not completely crazy, anything I come up with gets accepted. I could put plenty of hops in a beer if I wanted, but beers are pretty cheap here, £3 in happy hour, so… [shrug]

B&B: Do you use different yeasts for different beers?

Yes, two: lager yeast for the dark lager, the lager and the Vienna; American ale yeast for everything else. Dried yeast, but I harvest and repitch. I use a keg with connections on it so I can sanitise, harvest, refrigerate. I introduced that last year because we were using a lot of dried yeast – like, 200 pounds for a batch of lager. We were trying to save money by reducing a little bit here, changing this or that, and I said, no, no, malt is peanuts – let’s be more efficient with our yeast.

I need a microscope. I know how to do it, but where would I put a lab where I wouldn’t find peanuts or slices of pizza? With the deck across the top, people get drunk and drop glasses, ashtrays…

Cost control is very important. It was a tough couple of years, but we have contracts for all the big American hops. The American pale ale has new American hops, because two years ago we were still using Cascade, Chinook, Centennial. Now, revolution! We’ve got Mosaic, Citra, Amarillo. Still old fashioned, maybe.

B&B: A final question – what would be your three desert island beers?

Orval. Yeah, that’s it.

Three? This is difficult.

Maybe de la Senne Taras Boulba.

Is there water? If not, Budweiser.

I can’t choose three Belgian beers… Oh, why not, something dark, Rochefort 10. Or maybe a pilsner like Flensburger. It’s well-made, it’s bitter, and not skunked like Jever in the green glass.

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With all this information, we paid a return visit to Zero Degrees in Bristol to see if it changed our perception of the beer. It did not, except that we realised that part of its appeal to us might simply be it’s relative conservatism, and the fact that the recipes are a year or two behind the curve. We are, after all, children of the Cascade generation.

Simon is on Twitter @Simonggggg. Zero Degrees Bristol is at 53 Colston Street, BS1 5BA.

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bristol pubs

Bristol Pub Guide: Our Advice on Where to Drink

First published 07.06.2018; updated 07.02.2019

Bristol has a huge number of pubs and bars and an ever-growing number of breweries. If you’re in town for a few days or hours, where should you go to drink?

We’ve been asked a few times for advice on this and so decided that, rather than keep typing up the advice in emails and DMs, we’d risk public humiliation, and the fury of local beer geeks and publicans, by giving it a sort-of permanent home here.

We haven’t been to every pub in Bristol – in fact we’re 203 down with, we think, about another 150-200 to go – but we’ve visited most of those in the city centre, and most several times.

In general, Bristol pubs are pretty easy to find, and fairly easy to read – chain pubs look like chain pubs, craft bars look like craft bars, and so on – so you won’t go too far wrong following your instincts. There are lots of hidden gems in the suburbs and up side streets, too, so do explore.

And if you want to keep things loose there are some decent crawls: St Michael’s Hill, Gloucester Road and King Street all have runs of varied and interesting pubs close together, one after the other.

Before we get down to business we must once again thank Patreon supporters like Jonathan Tucker, Peter Allen and Andrew Brunton who justified us spending a bit too much time putting this together. If you find this post useful please do consider signing up or at least buying us a pint via Ko-Fi.

Categories
bristol pubs

The Distant Gleam of a Backstreet Pub

There’s something Narnia-magical about looking along a silent terraced street at night and seeing a corner pub throwing its light out over wet asphalt.

You know the feeling – walking up the centre of the road because there’s no traffic, TV light flickering behind curtains here and there, and the sound of your boots crunching and echoing in the quiet.

It’s special, too, because by our reckoning, after pubs on housing estates, this is the most endangered species.

Last Saturday we made a concerted effort to ‘tick’ a few pubs for our #EveryPubInBristol mission and so ended up in Totterdown, across the river from Temple Meads, wandering among rows of humble Victorian houses.

Sign: "Booze, food, tables & chairs".

Our first target was The Shakespeare, a pub we gathered from the 1975 guide was once a bit naughty…

The pub that one of us came very close to being beaten up at… [but] pub guide writers can run faster than nice young men with Nazi badges!

It looked mysterious and inviting, like one of those West London mews pubs, hidden from casual punters. To find it, you’ve got to live in the neighbourhood, or be hunting for it, or be a bit of an explorer.

Inside, it’s all scrubbed wood and mild gastro tendencies, but by no means pretentious: “Unfined? We don’t sell that hazy shit here.”

Less than a minute’s walk away, deeper into the maze, there’s the curiously named New Found Out – another corner, another spill of yellow, but also an air of mischief.

It was plain, bright, and lively in that way which makes it hard to quite relax. But, still, there was a bloke reading Brian Aldiss between puffs on his asthma inhaler, and everyone seemed friendly enough, even if we did feel as if we were drawing a few stares.

The Oxford in half darkness.

Our final pub, The Oxford, wasn’t quite on a backstreet, but was hardly on the main road either. We felt like Goldilocks here: if the first pub was too posh, and the second too rough-and-ready, The Oxford was just right.

It sat in the sweet spot between scuzzy and characterful, with a ska band, a lot of Spaniards, and a bloke in a pork pie hat who looked as though he’d been sat in the same seat since 1968.

Categories
bristol marketing News pubs

News, Nuggets & Longreads 16 June 2018: Football, Motorbikes, Public Toilets

Here’s everything about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Russia to New York City.

This is a local story for us: for Bristol Cable Maff Tucker writes about The Banjo, as the council estate at Cadbury Heath in east Bristol is affectionately known, and the pub around which life there is centred:

There’s a wall of pictures in the Lamb that remembers the regulars that have passed away. Les points at a framed bikers jacket: “Jamie England, he was abandoned when he was a kid, his nan took him in and brought him up, along with me and my brothers and sisters because our dad worked days and our mum worked nights.”


Plastic footballs.

At Lady Sinks the Booze Kirst Walker offers advice for discerning beer drinkers on how to go about watching the World Cup, which is now underway:

30 minutes before kick-off – get two drinks

At 38 minutes, get two drinks (studies** have shown that most people will attempt to avoid the half time rush at 40 minutes, by which time you’re already at the bar like a genius).

If you need a further drink before 90 minutes, or if there may be significant extra time because Gary Cahill has straight up murdered someone, the time to go is on 67 minutes when statistically a goal is unlikely to be scored.

Related: this seems like a good time to remind everyone of the existence of the craft beer and football map at Beer Frontiers which lists pubs with interesting beer that also have TVs. It’s also worth noting that some chains (BrewDog, Craft Beer Co) that don’t normally show football are making an exception for the World Cup.