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.

News, nuggets and longreads 5 October 2019: sessionability, Spam, the seventies

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related reading we’ve found especially illuminating or enjoyable in the past week, from Monty Python to pensions.

When you’ve been at this game for a while, you start to see the same con­ver­sa­tions cycle round. This week, it’s time to talk about what ‘ses­sion­able’ means again. First, for Vine­PairLily Waite argues that it’s impos­si­ble to pin down

The most com­mon use of ‘ses­sion” in beer con­texts is as a qual­i­fi­er. It means the beer in ques­tion con­tains low enough amounts of alco­hol that sev­er­al, or even many, can be con­sumed in one drink­ing ‘ses­sion.’ The term ‘ses­sion­able’ is com­mon­ly used to sug­gest some­thing is eas­i­ly drink­able, light, refresh­ing, or any com­bi­na­tion of the three… But even those airy def­i­n­i­tions leave a lot open to inter­pre­ta­tion. As all beer drinkers are dif­fer­ent, with indi­vid­ual sizes, appetites, tol­er­ances, and pref­er­ences, how can we say what ‘ses­sion” or ‘ses­sion­able’ even means?

In response, Mar­tyn Cor­nell, who Waite cites in her arti­cle, says, no, actu­al­ly – it’s not dif­fi­cult at all:

I saw a tweet yes­ter­day from some­one talk­ing about “a ses­sion­able 5.5 per cent smoked oat­meal stout”, and the world swam and dis­solved before me as I plunged scream­ing and twist­ing into a hell­ish, tor­ment­ed pit of dark despair… Let me make this as clear as I can. This is an egre­gious and unfor­giv­able total fail­ure to under­stand what the expres­sion ‘ses­sion­able’ means, is meant to mean, and was coined for. A 5.5 per cent alco­hol beer is not, and can­not be, ‘ses­sion­able’. A smoked oat­meal stout, while I am sure it can be love­ly, is not and can­not be ‘ses­sion­able’. Nobody ever spent all evening drink­ing four or five, or six, pints of smoked oat­meal stout.

Stella Artois
SOURCE: Brus­sels Beer City.

One of our favourite blog posts of last year was Eoghan Wal­sh’s lit­er­ary pub crawl around Brus­sels. Now he’s back with Part Two:

Nobody exem­pli­fied the writer liv­ing unhap­pi­ly in Brus­sels bet­ter than French­man and ser­i­al flâneur Charles Baude­laire… Leav­ing behind Vic­tor Hugo and the Chaloupe D’Or café on Brus­sels’ Grand Place, my walk fol­lows the well-worn tourist path out of the square and into the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. These glass-ceil­ing shop­ping arcades were a first in Europe when they were built in 1847 and imme­di­ate­ly they became a meet­ing place not only for the city’s bour­geoisie but also for its writ­ers and artists. It was here that the Lumière broth­ers showed off their ciné­matographe for the first time out­side of Paris, in March 1896. Vic­tor Hugo’s mis­tress, Juli­ette Drou­et – Juju – has an apart­ment above what is now the fran­coph­o­ne Tro­pismes book­shop. French poet Paul Ver­laine once pur­chased a revolver here with his moth­er. And, liv­ing a cou­ple of streets away while escap­ing debts and debtors back in Paris, Charles Baude­laire was a fre­quent vis­i­tor.

Bass logo.

Roger Protz has writ­ten a por­trait of a Lon­don pub famous for its Bass, as it has been since 1921:

The Express Tav­ern on Kew Bridge Road is that rar­i­ty – a Lon­don pub that reg­u­lar­ly serves Draught Bass. The Bass red tri­an­gle trade­mark adorns the exte­ri­or and the famous tri­an­gle also declares itself on a pump clip on the bar… Two reg­u­lars seat­ed at the bar nod­ded in salu­ta­tion when I asked for a pint. “You’ve come to the right place for Bass,” they said. “That’s what we’re drink­ing.”


Dave at Brew­ing in a Bed­sit­ter offers a brief rein­ven­tion of a famous moment from Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus:

Wait­ress: Evening!

Man: Well, what’ve you got?

Wait­ress: Well, there’s IPA with mosa­ic and sim­coe; IPA with mosa­ic and cen­ten­ni­al; IPA with mosa­ic and cit­ra; IPA with mosa­ic, sim­coe and cit­ra; IPA with mosa­ic, sim­coe, cen­ten­ni­al and cit­ra; IPA with cit­ra, sim­coe, cen­ten­ni­al and cit­ra; IPA with cit­ra, mosa­ic, cit­ra, cit­ra, sim­coe and cit­ra, IPA with cit­ra, vic secret, cit­ra, cit­ra, mosa­ic, cit­ra, cen­ten­ni­al and cit­ra;

Hip­sters (start­ing to chant): Cit­ra cit­ra cit­ra cit­ra…

Homebrew beer mat.

John Har­ry has been intern­ing at the Nation­al  Muse­um of Amer­i­can His­to­ry and as part of an ini­tia­tive to record US brew­ing his­to­ry has researched and writ­ten about the birth of the mod­ern home-brew­ing move­ment:

After grad­u­at­ing from col­lege in 1972, [Char­lie] Papaz­ian moved to Boul­der, Col­orado, to try to fig­ure out his life plans. Some peo­ple there dis­cov­ered that he knew how to brew beer and asked him to teach a class on home­brew­ing at the local com­mu­ni­ty free school. The class­es were incred­i­bly pop­u­lar and attract­ed many curi­ous local res­i­dents… As word spread through news­pa­per arti­cles, admin­is­tra­tors grew con­cerned that the class­es might be attract­ing the wrong type of atten­tion. “After about the third year…those class­es became noto­ri­ous,” Papaz­ian recount­ed. “One time at reg­is­tra­tion for the class, the admin­is­tra­tion con­tact­ed me, and said, ‘You know… there’s a guy, who’s reg­is­ter­ing for this class. He may be from the ATF.’” The ATF is the Bureau of Alco­hol, Tobac­co, and Firearms—the law enforce­ment agency in charge of reg­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties such as home­brew­ing. As Papaz­ian start­ed the class, a man walked in wear­ing a dark pair of slacks, a white shirt, and a skin­ny black tie. Papaz­ian sus­pect­ed he was the ATF agent right away.

The Cask Report.

The lat­est edi­tion of Cask Mar­que’s Cask Report is out, edit­ed by Matt Eley and with con­tri­bu­tions from peo­ple like Pete Brown and Adri­an Tier­ney-Jones. We haven’t had chance to digest yet but the key mes­sage is that cask ale could be about to have a moment if it can rein­vent itself as a spe­cial­ist, pre­mi­um prod­uct:

The whole indus­try has to work togeth­er to improve the con­sis­ten­cy and qual­i­ty of cask. This will enable it to be posi­tioned in a more pre­mi­um man­ner on the bar, reignite wider inter­est and ulti­mate­ly bring cask back to growth. It might not quite be cask’s moment yet, but it feels like it’s com­ing and pubs should be ful­ly pre­pared by embrac­ing it now.

The cast of We Anchor in Hope.
SOURCE: The Bunker The­atre.

We Anchor in Hope, a play set in a pub – a ful­ly-func­tion­al pub recon­struct­ed in a the­atre – sounds inter­est­ing:

The two have thought a lot about the pub that the Bunker is becom­ing: a quiz every Tues­day, karaoke on Thurs­days and a dis­co on the week­end. The space will be open an hour before the show for peo­ple to get a drink, with Son­nex him­self pulling pints along­side his gen­er­al man­ag­er, Lee. In the world of the play, the pints in the Anchor pub will be pulled by Pearl, the play’s only woman. “In the cur­rent cli­mate, and right­ful­ly so, you should be look­ing at the ratio of men to women and mak­ing sure there are real­ly good oppor­tu­ni­ties for female actors,” Jor­dan tells me. But in order to stay true to the pubs she spent time in, which were “over­whelm­ing­ly male spaces”, We Anchor in Hope has “one female char­ac­ter and four male char­ac­ters – which is some­thing we both thought about and talked about”.

Final­ly, here’s a nugget from Twit­ter:

For more links and news, check out Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­days and Alan McLeod on Thurs­days.

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 are gen­er­al­ly a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of qual­i­ty beer and also reflect 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?

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.

The Black Cat, Weston-super-Mare: micropub or craft beer bar?

We’d be wanting to visit The Black Cat, Weston’s year-old micropub, for ages and then, with the promise of glorious sun the weekend before last, a trip to the seaside became irresistible.

Even as we approached The Black Cat, we got a sense of what it was about: quirky, some­where between hip and Goth­ic.

Inside, the first thing that struck us was the mid­night vibe: indi­go walls, black porce­lain cats, and a mur­al that seemed to hint at The Rat & Raven.

Then we noticed the craft beer bar trap­pings: tealights, posh pick­led eggs, £2‑a-bag crisps, a com­pli­cat­ed menu of beers in dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories, bare wood and bare brick – well, sort of: it was actu­al­ly, odd­ly, brick-pat­terned wall­pa­per.

Outside the Black Cat.

This strange hybrid is a thing we’ve seen a few times, now, in towns appar­ent­ly not quite big enough or hip enough to sup­port both a microp­ub (real ale, con­ser­vatism) and a craft beer bar (keg beer, trend-chas­ing). Son­der in Truro springs to mind as anoth­er exam­ple.

It sounds a bit chaot­ic but we imme­di­ate­ly felt quite at home, as appar­ent­ly did the cus­tomers: a hand­ful of old­er men grum­bling about foot­ball and a young cou­ple with see-through frames on their specs grum­bling, in plum­mi­er voic­es, about the dif­fi­cul­ty of mak­ing a career in The Arts.

Details from the Black Cat.

We strug­gled, in truth, to land on a beer that we real­ly loved, which hap­pens some­times in pubs with rotat­ing beer ranges. But­combe Under­fall Lager (think Cam­den Hells) was very wel­come giv­en the heat, though, and Wylam Gala­tia (a 3.9% pale ale) was cer­tain­ly good enough to war­rant a ‘same again’.

The main sell­ing point was the atmos­phere and the chap behind the bar, Rich, who could not have done any more to make us feel wel­come, help us nav­i­gate the menu, or accom­mo­date off-menu requests for (a) cups of tea; (b) instant cof­fee; © a sur­face on which to play cards.

Ray’s dad, who is fussy about pubs, left with a loy­al­ty card in his pock­et and plans to come back.

It’s not the kind of pub we want to drink in every time but it’s cer­tain­ly a good addi­tion to West­on’s beer cul­ture.