Generalisations about beer culture pubs

Bristol Tap Needed Urgently

Waiting for a train to Keynsham at Bristol Temple Meads station this weekend, we found ourselves wishing that someone would roll the Sheffield Tap concept out across the country.

As it is, we went without a pint, not much fancying a light lager or keg bitter in a in plasticky pub/cafe/newsagent, with an atmosphere of oppressive gloom.

Opening a decent pub on the platform at Bristol would be easier said than done, though. Unlike Sheffield, where you can wander onto platform one without a ticket, Temple Meads is locked down tighter than Checkpoint Charlie. They’d have to redesign the whole station around the pub, which, we suspect, is not going to happen.
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Brilliant Beer on a Boat in Bristol

A pint of Bristol Beer Factory ale aboard the Grain Barge

The Grain Barge is the brewery tap of the Bristol Beer Factory. First key fact: it’s a pub on a boat, bobbing about just across the harbour from the SS Great Britain. Second key fact: the beer is bloody marvellous.

The bitter is thirst-quenchingly good (brown, but certainly not boring) while the Red is a little sweeter and maltier. Sunrise is a wonderfully fresh golden ale. All three are dry but also full-bodied, and reminded us strongly of JW Lees beers. Do they both use sugar in the brewing process? Could it be that? We’re trying to get our heads round this issue more generally at the moment.

There were also two stouts on offer. The cask version (simply called ‘Stout’) is smoky and coffee like. The much lauded Milk Stout, only available in bottles, is quite different — sweet, smooth and chocolatey, with a beautiful pale brown head.

This is exactly the kind of place we wish we’d thought to open.

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Traps for drunk people

The fruit machine at the White Lion Hotel, Bristol. WTF?

The White Lion Hotel in the centre of Bristol is an outlet for Gloucestershire’s Wickwar Brewing, which is what lured us in.

The pub itself is very strange. It has a tiny public bar and, when we were there, the clientele comprised hard blokes, mad northern ladies in hats, and French labourers drinking Grolsch. And (surely this is more trouble than it’s worth?) there is a rickety, wobbling, narrow spiral staircase leading to the gents toilet downstairs. It nearly did for Bailey and we can’t help but wonder how many people have died happy clattering drunkenly down it over the years.

As for the beer,the award-winning Station Porter was the standout — intensely fruity, with a sour blackcurrant flavour. Like Fuller’s London Porter, it seems to be a beer that ripens when it’s been in the cask for a while. We’d say it was on the very edge of being off, but we think we caught it just at its peak. It’s also just nice to see a porter on offfer on the pumps in a more-or-less normal pub.

Banker’s Draft is the one they’re really pushing with posters all over the place. ‘Wacky’ topical name aside (it’s not their worst) it probably deserves the hoo-ha, being a very drinkable, somewhat interesting pale, fruity, sweet ale with an elderflower-like hop flavour.

Wickwar are clearly a sort-of OK brewery who’ll we’ll look out for in future.

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Where's me pilsner to, my luvver?


It may seem odd to go all the way to Bristol and then make Zero Degrees our first stop, given we have a branch of the same brewpub in London. The shameful truth is, though, that we’ve never been to the one in Blackheath,  despite hearing great things about the beer from bloggers and friends.

On this occasion, the decision was made for us when we’d dragged ourselves up the charming, Dickensian Christmas Steps and spotted that the place was opposite, just as we started to feel peckish and thirsty.

Despite the late-90s trendy warehouse look and aspirational dance-jazz soundtrack, the first thing that struck us was how many families were in, contributing to a German brauhaus atmosphere. The staff were extremely friendly, too, although that seems to be true of Bristolians more generally. We got a smile on approaching the bar; a “be with you in a minute”; a bit of banter during service; and some apparent expertise when it came to the flavour and manufacture of the beer. Impressive stuff.

We started out with the pilsner and one of the specials, continental blonde. The pilsner was bang on, if mainstream — something like tankova Urquell.

The continental blonde was fascinating and delicious. Despite the colour, we think it was actually a clone of a Belgian pale ale, but much fresher tasting than any example of the real thing we’ve had. It was spicy with hints of banana — an absolute treat.

The wheat ale was Belgian style and utterly delicious. Again, the freshness and condition was outstanding. The dark lager was also of a superior quality, as good as the wonderful Bernard Dark, with a besutiful balance of treacle and bitterness. It might almost be as good as U Fleku.

The prices, as Jeff has noted of the London branch, were very competitive for such an apparently swanky place, with regulars at £2.60 specials at £2.90.

A minor quibble, though: does the name refer to the temperature of the bar? Brrrrrr….