“You can’t get a pint of normal bitter these days!”
This isn’t a problem we have in Bristol. From The Swan With Two necks to The Sandringham, there’s one available in most pubs we visit.
Bristol Beer Factory Fortitude, for example, or Butcombe, or Bass, or Young’s Ordinary, or…
Maybe what people mean, though, is that this isn’t where the excitement lies.
Just being able to drink bitter isn’t enough.
One won’t do.
They demand a choice, in even the hippest bars, and expect brewery research and development teams to be pushing the envelope.
But it’s bitter, and that’s not how it works, is it? It’s been perfected. There’s plenty of room for variation, but not for innovation.
When we saw A Bitter This A Bitter That by Electric Bear Brewing on the bar at The Barley Mow near Bristol Temple Meads station we ignored it at first.
There were more exciting and interesting beers on offer, not least a couple of lagers, and we tend to default to lager when we want an uncomplicated beer to drink while we chat, rather than to think about.
But we had been talking about Bath brewery Electric Bear only the weekend before, when a friend told us that it had got new owners in April 2022 – news we missed at the time.
In this incarnation, the branding has become plainer and cleaner. Less circus bus chic, more organised fun.
Wondering if their beer was still decent, in general, we ordered a pint, for curiosity’s sake.
And we’ll be blowed if it’s not an excitingly good, totally trad, brand new best bitter.
Perhaps being served with a sparkler helped. It looked and tasted like something we might have been encountered in a pub in Sheffield or Leeds.
Some craft brewery takes on bitter can be too full of crystal malt, too dark, and too chewy. This was between gold and brown with a pleasing dryness and lightnes – and perfectly clear.
There was some funk there, too. A touch of nail polish. A bite of apple. Just as you might find in beers from, say, Theakston’s. Complex in its own small way.
It was too good to have just one, so we stopped for another.
During the second round, looking at the pumps, it also occurred to us that, based on recent experience, it might well be possible to turn up at The Barley Mow and find on the bar:
- this straight-up bitter
- Left Handed Giant’s straight-up dark mild
- Moor’s straight-up stout
An opportunity to party like it’s 1929, half-and-half and all.