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?

Perfect Pride and the fear of the shred

Last night at our local, The Drapers Arms, we enjoyed perfect London Pride: solid foam, dry bitterness, a subtle note of leafy green, wrapped in marmalade, with a lantern glow.

Delight­ful as this was, it also trig­gered a sense of frus­tra­tion, because lots of peo­ple won’t believe us, because they don’t believe that Pride can be that good, because they’ve nev­er had a pint that isn’t half-dead.

The thing about beer, and cask ale espe­cial­ly, is that all the sub­tle vari­ables make rec­om­mend­ing or endors­ing any par­tic­u­lar prod­uct a risky busi­ness.

It’s as if you’ve told peo­ple about a great song…

…and then when they try to act on your advice and lis­ten to it they get, nine times out of ten, the shred:

Or like giv­ing a film five stars but the only ver­sion on the mar­ket is the stu­dio cut, pan-and-scan, VHS-trans­fer with burned in Dutch sub­ti­tles.

That’s why these days we tend to talk about spe­cif­ic pints or encoun­ters rather than say­ing “Pride is a great beer” or “Trib­ute is fan­tas­tic”.

Or, alter­na­tive­ly, give mild endorse­ments with mul­ti­ple caveats.

The best you can hope for, real­ly, is that a beer will more often be good than bad when peo­ple encounter it in the wild.

A foot­note: The Drap­ers had Pride’s beer miles list­ed as 6,120. It’s not as if it’s being brewed in Japan in the wake of the takeover, of course, but own­er­ship mat­ters.

Bristol, Where Headless Pints are a Feature, not a Bug

A Bass pale ale advertising lantern.
The William the Fourth, Sta­ple Hill.

Here’s a thing: the perfect Bristol pint doesn’t have foam. It comes up to the very brim, and the merest  hint of scum might draw a tut.

At least that’s what we’ve been told by sev­er­al dif­fer­ent peo­ple on sev­er­al dif­fer­ent occa­sions that this is the case, and that Bris­tol his­tor­i­cal­ly likes its pints ‘flat’.

A few months ago we had to nego­ti­ate heads on our beers with a mem­ber of staff in a pub more often fre­quent­ed by elder­ly men who angled the glass and trick­led the last inch­es with great care: “Look, I agree with you, but I’ve been work­ing here for a while and this lot have got me trained to serve it flat.”

At which point, an inter­rup­tion from a grey-hair with a sad-look­ing decap­i­tat­ed pint: “Yeah, prop­er Bris­tol style, we’re not up north now.”

To Jess, this idea does­n’t seem so alien: she recalls a gen­er­al pref­er­ence for com­plete­ly head­less pints in East Lon­don before about, say, 2005.

There, it often seemed to be tied to the ques­tion of val­ue, and a refusal to be at all influ­enced by the super­fi­cial: foam’s a mar­ket­ing trick to make mug pun­ters pay for air, innit?

In Bris­tol, we won­der if it’s a com­bi­na­tion of that, plus the influ­ence of scrumpy cider drinkers, whose pints are froth-free by default.

But we can’t say that in prac­tice we’ve encoun­tered many flat pints in Bris­tol, though, and one of the few handy sources, Fred Pearce’s 1975 guide to the pubs of Bris­tol, fea­tures plen­ty of shots of white-capped glass­es.

Maybe we’re hav­ing our legs pulled, or per­haps this is more com­plex than we’ve realised  – maybe only cer­tain brands or styles get the millpond treat­ment – but either way, it would be a bit sad if a gen­uine bit of local beer cul­ture has been lost.

Even if it’s good news for us as drinkers who very much pre­fer a bit of dress­ing around the top of the mug.

As you might have guessed, this is real­ly our way of flush­ing out more infor­ma­tion. Do com­ment below if you can tell us more.

100 WORDS: A Warning to the Curious

Generic beer pumps in photocopy style.

A busy pub in Sheffield on Saturday night, and a line of hand-pumps from here to the horizon.

We order a pint of this one, and a half of that one, then spot the oth­er one which we’ve been want­i­ng to try out of aca­d­e­m­ic curios­i­ty.

Oh, actu­al­ly, can you make it a half of [REDACTED].”

The per­son behind the bar hes­i­tates, glances, and says qui­et­ly (yet some­how audi­ble over the hub­bub):

Sure?”

Not good?”

A slight wrin­kle of the nose con­veys every­thing we need to know.

Ah, right, scratch that.”

A con­spir­a­to­r­i­al nod – good move, well done, smart choice.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 6 October 2018: Cask, Cans, Classics

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer in the past week, from cask anxiety to Berlin boozers.

The lat­est Cask Report was pub­lished (PDF, via Cask Mar­que) but for the first time in a few years we could­n’t sum­mon the ener­gy to read it, hence no men­tion in last Sat­ur­day’s round-up. But there has been plen­ty of com­men­tary in the past week and a bit which we thought it might be worth round­ing up:

Mar­tyn Cor­nell – “Why is find­ing a prop­er­ly kept pint of cask ale such an appalling lot­tery in Britain’s pubs”?

Ben Nunn – “[Are] we… head­ing for a world where real ale is, like vinyl, a niche prod­uct – not real­ly for the main­stream, sold only in spe­cial­ist out­lets and usu­al­ly restrict­ed only to cer­tain styles or gen­res?”

Pub Cur­mud­geon – “Maybe it is also time to ques­tion whether hand­pumps can be more of a hin­drance than a help.”

Steph Shut­tle­worth (Twit­ter) – “[We] don’t cur­rent­ly have any reports that are nuanced or in-depth enough for the indus­try to rely on… Cask is a sig­nif­i­cant part of many craft brew­eries e.g. Mar­ble, Mag­ic Rock, Thorn­bridge, but we can’t draw lines as to who is in which mar­ket…”

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 6 Octo­ber 2018: Cask, Cans, Clas­sics”