Gallery: Pubs of Bristol

These are some of the inter­est­ing look­ing pubs we saw but didn’t get chance to drink in on our recent trip to Bris­tol. Pic­tures were snapped on a cam­era phone so aren’t of the high­est qual­i­ty, but you get the idea.

All Change for Bristol Beer

The Barley Mow, Bristol.

Bristol has long been a worthwhile destination for a beery weekend but these days, it’s in another league.

When we first went to the Cap­i­tal of the West Coun­try with beer on our minds, back in 2009, we found just about enough to keep us stim­u­lat­ed. Last week­end, how­ev­er, we found that an explo­sion of new beer-focused pubs and bars meant that a week­end wasn’t long enough. We did, how­ev­er, make it to three new venues tar­get­ing the beer geek mar­ket.

Maui Brewing Co Lemongrass Saison.

The Bris­tol Beer Fac­to­ry aban­doned ship at the Grain Barge ear­li­er this year and their flag­ship pub is now the Bar­ley Mow. Sit­ting in the mid­dle of a eeri­ly qui­et indus­tri­al estate near Tem­ple Meads, its loca­tion does not seem promis­ing, but it is cer­tain­ly worth the detour.

The now-oblig­a­tory back wall keg taps were dis­pens­ing beers from the Sier­ra Neva­da and Maisel, and we just missed Schnoodlepip, the Wild Beer Company’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mark C. ‘For­mer­ly of Dark Star’ Tran­ter and Kel­ly Ryan. (CAMRGB had drunk it all, per­haps, hav­ing passed through mere hours before us, leav­ing a trail of beer mats behind them.)

The sev­en cask beers were a good mix of pale’n’hoppy, brown’n’sweet and black’n’roasty, though per­haps not in absolute­ly tip-top con­di­tion, with Moor Radi­ance in par­tic­u­lar seem­ing a lit­tle tired.

The beer that real­ly knocked our socks off was from a can – Maui’s Lemon­grass Sai­son (5% ABV). It couldn’t have tast­ed any fresh­er and the plea­sure of it was its sim­plic­i­ty: more like a mild­ly grape­fruity lager than a funky Bel­gian barn­yard beast.

The pub’s inte­ri­or is per­haps a lit­tle lack­ing in char­ac­ter, but that will come with time.

Gents toilets at the Royal Navy Volunteer, Bristol.
Gents toi­lets at the Roy­al Navy Vol­un­teer, Bris­tol.

Else­where in town, we enjoyed the just re-opened, fresh­ly-paint­ed, entire­ly rein­vent­ed Roy­al Navy Vol­un­teer. Like the Bar­ley Mow, it needs ‘wear­ing in’, but it cer­tain­ly had inter­est­ing beer, from both from keg and cask. The high­light was Siren Sound­wave Amer­i­can Pale Ale (5.6%), an excel­lent exam­ple of the type of beer most brew­eries In That Oth­er Beer Mar­ket Cat­e­go­ry have at the heart of their range. (The new ‘bor­ing brown bit­ter’.)

Beer Emporium, Bristol.

Almost next door, we did not find much to enjoy at the Bris­tol Beer Empo­ri­um. The set­ting has huge poten­tial – a vault­ed cel­lar with exposed brick­work which remind­ed us of being in Ger­many – but some­thing about the fix­tures and fit­tings made it feel like a chain pub or hotel bar. After a long wait, we were   v e r y   s l o w l y   served expen­sive, life­less Sier­ra Neva­da Tor­pe­do in half pint tum­blers, because all the nice glass­es were dirty. We did not have a good time, but per­haps we caught it on an off-day.

If you’d like to go and inves­ti­gate Bristol’s beer scene your­self, you might want to time your vis­it to coin­cide with Bris­tol Beer Week, which runs from 3 to 9 Octo­ber this year.

What’s Up With Zero Degrees?

Beer pumps at Zero Degrees, Bristol, 2009.
Zero Degrees Bris­tol, 2009.

Zero Degrees is still, as far as we know, the only chain of brew­pubs in the UK. They make beer which is usu­al­ly decent and often excel­lent, on shiny kit, in nice-look­ing, spa­cious bars. But, for some rea­son, they’re just not cool.

In the last six months or so, we’ve been to both the Bris­tol and Read­ing branch­es between us. Because no-one talks about them, we assumed they must have gone off the boil but, no, the beer was excel­lent on both occa­sions, notably a very clean, pol­ished Rauch­bier in Bris­tol, and a flo­ral Pil­sner in Read­ing which we’re call­ing ‘crunchy’, because it was more than crisp.

And yet both bars were most­ly emp­ty.

Hav­ing been brew­ing since before the ‘craft beer’ craze kicked off in earnest c.2007/08, and with those love­ly city cen­tre premis­es, they ought to be rid­ing the crest of a wave. Instead, they’ve got a down­trod­den, sad-sack feel, as if they’ve run out of puff not far from the fin­ish line.

Per­haps their brand got derailed ear­ly on – more ‘style bar’ for peo­ple on the pull than beer geek des­ti­na­tion – or maybe they’re sim­ply lack­ing PR nous. Who exact­ly is behind it? We don’t know, and it’s not easy to find out. Not a prob­lem for Brew­dog, you’ll note, who are doing rather well with a per­son­al­i­ty-led brand.

Our feel­ing is that they need to re-brand (it’s all a bit cor­po­rate and very 2005) and expand, or they’ll with­er away.

Beer Review: Wiper and True

Beer from Wiper and True Brewing Company.

Wiper and True are a new ‘brew­ing com­pa­ny’ based in Bris­tol, and, for now, mak­ing their beer on the premis­es of var­i­ous friend­ly brew­eries. Their first three beers are unashamed­ly and self-con­scious­ly ‘craft’ – talk of evan­ge­lism on the web­site, rye and black­ber­ries in an amber ale and porter respec­tive­ly, beer label copy in the style of sleeve notes by Andrew Loog Old­ham c.1966, and so on.

We start­ed with the light­est and weak­est (or, rather, least strong) – ‘The Sum­mer’ pale ale at 5.4% ABV. On crack­ing the bot­tle, we were hit with a very Moor-like bloom of hop aro­ma, not unlike the effect of drop­ping sliced oranges into steam­ing hot mulled wine. With effort, we coaxed a head from it – a touch more car­bon­a­tion wouldn’t hurt – and tucked in, smack­ing our lips. Very gen­er­ous hop­ping with vari­eties we don’t know well (Galaxy and Sum­mer) hit us with apri­cot jam aro­ma up front, fol­lowed by a bit­ter­ness which devel­oped like chilli burn, build­ing in the mouth and throat.

We decid­ed, final­ly, despite the colour and the talk of trop­i­cal fruit on the label, that it remind­ed us of black­cur­rants or elder­ber­ries. We also thought of the syrup from a jar of stem gin­ger.

There was, some­where in the mid­dle of all that lus­cious­ness, a touch of some­thing stale and woody, but that we can for­give in Batch #1. (We’ve had worse from much longer estab­lished and well respect­ed ‘craft’ brew­eries.)

Win­ter Rye amber (5.6%) as, in all hon­esty, less suc­cess­ful, with some nail-pol­ish remover going on in the aro­ma; and, with­out a ton of hops, a pla­s­ticky tang had nowhere to hide.

Black­ber­ry porter (6%) was rough around the edges but ulti­mate­ly very like­able. With a malt bill includ­ing pale, brown, munich, crys­tal and black, cut across with a touch of tan­nic fruit dry­ness, it brought to mind dark choco­late with cher­ry liqueur, and puck­er­ing red wine. Again, though, a hint of some­thing ‘off’, com­ing and going, kept us on our toes.

We’d like to try The Sum­mer from cask at some point and look for­ward to try­ing lat­er batch­es, per­haps when the lin­ger­ing imper­fec­tions have been smoothed out. All in all, they go into the ‘ones to watch’ file.

A quick note on trans­paren­cy: their web­site is very clear about where each beer was brewed and what is in them (hooray!), and they’re not shy, exact­ly, but, still, we’re not one hun­dred per cent sure who is behind W&T, or its rela­tion­ship, if any, with Ash­ley Down.

These beers were free (gasp!) because Bailey’s lit­tle broth­er got them for us for Christ­mas. He said the peo­ple on the stall were ‘real­ly, real­ly nice’. If you can unpick how that might have influ­enced our review, let us know…

Epic Saison from Somerset

Detail of the Wild Beer Co logo.

We don’t know much about the Wild Beer Co. oth­er than what we’ve picked up on Twit­ter, from their web­site and from oth­er people’s blog posts, but the very idea of a brew­ery based in Som­er­set with the fol­low­ing phi­los­o­phy blows our minds:

By adding a Wild 5th ingre­di­ent or process to our beers we are giv­ing you a tru­ly mem­o­rable drink­ing expe­ri­ence… Some of our beers will be aged in oak to allow the soft vanil­la and rich tan­nins to help mature the beer, oth­ers fer­ment­ed with wild yeast strains to add lay­ers of flavour and com­plex­i­ty to the beer.

We are painful­ly aware, how­ev­er, that many new gen­er­a­tion brew­eries fail to live up to their own hype – though we’re not clever enough to entire­ly resist their allure, big ideas and nice brand­ing aren’t every­thing – and so, see­ing Wild Beer Co’s beer on offer in Bris­tol, approached with a lit­tle cau­tion.

Thank­ful­ly, Epic Sai­son (5%, keg) was a tri­umph. First, it had that very dis­tinc­tive yeast char­ac­ter (orange and lemon peel, exot­ic spices) we know from Dupont and Van Klomp, per­haps with the ‘pear drop’ chan­nel turned up a notch; fol­lowed by a sur­pris­ing, pleas­ing lev­el of dry, chalky bit­ter­ness. After sev­er­al days of ‘seri­ous’ beer drink­ing, it was like a hard reset for the palate (© Simon H John­son), reach­ing into every cor­ner to shut down the sys­tems before reboot­ing them. With steel toe-caps.

Beers like this – clean (but not too much so…), intel­li­gent­ly con­ceived, and dis­tinc­tive with­out being sil­ly – go some way to con­vinc­ing us that home­grown ‘Euro­pean-style’ beers might one day dis­place at least some of those weird­ly cheap and usu­al­ly supe­ri­or imports.

We rather liked Butcombe’s flag­ship Bris­tol ‘craft beer’ pub the Col­ston Yard, by the way: their own Rare Breed, all but poi­so­nous in bot­tles, tast­ed great there, and it was fas­ci­nat­ing to watch earnest stu­dents work­ing their way through bot­tles of Can­til­lon in a sort of invert­ed-macho drink­ing game.