Alpha: a craft beer bar without the hard edges

Alpha Bottle Shop & Tap opened in Bedminster, south Bristol, back in May and has been on our to-visit list ever since. Yesterday, we finally made it – and liked it quite a bit.

Bedminster is made up of multiple neighbourhoods, from the theatre and coffee shop gentrification of Southville to the betting shops and greasy spoon caffs of East Street. The pubs there tend to be either (a) busy and down-to-earth, with stern warnings to shoplifters in the windows; or (b) shut.

The borders, though, have fuzzy edges and are porous and, as you might expect, the gentrification is leaking. There are now vegan delicatessens and houseplant emporiums alongside branches of Gregg’s and Poundland.

Alpha occupies a retail unit in a 1980s red-brick shopping arcade, across from a kebab house and next door to a charity shop. It feels out of place, for now – but probably won’t in five years’ time.

It’s a small establishment, about the size of most micropubs, with two full-size tables, a couple of smaller ones, and a ledge in the window lined with stools.

The opposite wall is taken up with fridges presenting a wall of colourful canned craft beers, with a handful of German and Belgian classics studded among them.

Newbarns Stout.

Behind a small bar, there are five taps for draught beer.

The menu suggests measures of one-third, half or two-thirds of a pint, and beers come served in modern tumblers or delicate stemmed glasses.

The selection struck as well thought through:

  • Donzoko Northern Helles | 4.2% | £3.80 ⅔
  • Beak Brewery Feathers pale ale | 4.5% | £3.95
  • Newbarns Stout | 5.0% | £3.95 ⅔ (we think, fuzzy photo)
  • Kernel Mosaic IPA | 6.9% | £4 something (fuzzy) for ⅔
  • Pilton Murmuration cider | 5% | £3.50 ⅔

Newbarns Stout was the standout draught beer, being one of those straight-up better-than-Guinness stouts we’re always pleased to encounter.

Donzoko Northern Helles slightly confused us, resembling lager very little. As a lemony pale ale, however, it worked well enough.

As a special Christmas treat, we paid £17 for a 750ml bottle of Burning Sky and Beak Brewery Bière Piquette at 5.9%. They’re good, Burning Sky, aren’t they? You could relabel this pink, tastefully tart beer as Cantillon and nobody would bat an eyelid.

As with a lot of ‘contemporary spaces’, the acoustics were a problem: we could hear people on the other side of the room more clearly than we could hear each other. Those dangling mufflers they have at The Good Measure and The Drapers Arms would come in handy here.

It’s also the kind of place which attracts the owners of small dogs. If you like dogs, that’ll be a selling point. We only tripped over them once or twice. It was fine.

Nitpicking aside, the fact is, we felt warm towards Alpha. Bare brick and low light made it cosy and continental, rather than clinically austere.

Compared to, say, Small Bar in the city centre, it felt owned, not managed, and distinctly grown up.

It certainly deserves to be on the trail, despite being out of the city centre, and will be going into our Bristol pub guide when we revise it.

At the same time, Bedminster currently has something for everyone and we hope it stays that way.

One or two craft beer bars are a welcome addition but there has to be space for The Barley Mow and The White Hart, too.

london pubs

Exploring craft beer in the age of track and trace

Is it fair to judge a bar or pub under current circumstances? Until recently, we’d have said a firm no but after a week in London we find ourselves thinking that if they can handle this, they can handle anything.

We were staying at Westfield in Stratford, East London, on the edge of the site of the 2012 Olympic Games, primarily for family and work reasons, but also because it’s a part of the city we find fascinating.

When Jess was growing up, and when Ray moved to London in 2000, there wasn’t much here at all – railways lines, flyovers, canals, marshes, overgrown woodland, relics of industry. You could spend hours trying to get from A to B in the absence of bridges or footpaths.

Then the Olympics came and it was transformed into a sort of Teletubbyland European Exposcape, followed by a phase of residential building designed to create several new ‘quarters’. The so-called East Village, the one that’s progressed the furthest, was right on our doorstep and is where we ended up spending a lot of time.


News, nuggets and longreads 25 May 2019: Hyperlocal, Global, Superfresh

Here’s all the beer and pub writing from the past week that made us pause to think, with something of a common thread emerging.

For Ferment, the magazine published by beer subscription service Beer52, Katie Mather has written about the beer-drinker’s equivalent to the book group:

What’s especially grand about these hyperlocal communities is that they’ve all grown out of necessity and pure enthusiasm. Even large groups like Craft Beer Newcastle, Ladies That Beer and the long-running Twitter community Craft Beer Hour started off as ideas sparked by pub conversations between beer lovers who wanted to hang out more. Now, most areas have at least one super-small community for you to take part in, whether they’re local CAMRA groups or self-started clubs like Beer Merseyside, Glasgow Beer, Midlands Beer Blog, South Dublin Brewers, North Coast Bottle Share, Leeds Beer Bulletin or CRAP (Cumbria Real Ale Postings).

Oompah band at the Hofbrauhaus.

There are four First Class Beer Countries, argues Ed, where the beer and drinking culture is just better than anywhere else:

1. Britain

A well kept pint of cask ale is indeed the greatest beer in the world. It has only been when drinking cask beer that I’ve felt the magic come and angels dance on my tongue. Served as god intended without artificial carbonation, there is no better beer. And to back it up it will be found in pubs, the greatest places that can be found to drink beer, where you can relax and unwind in a comfortable and cosy environment.

Barcelona in 2007.

Now, segueing well, here’s a month-old article that barely mentions beer: Rebecca Mead writing for the New Yorker on Airbnb and its impact on European cities. The apartment rental service, she argues, is driving the homogenisation of culture as part of ‘a global trend in urban gentrification’, focusing on Barcelona as a prime example:

We crossed the Ronda de Sant Pau, a boulevard that separates the Raval from its more middle-class neighbor Sant Antoni. Quaglieri wanted to show me a café, Federal, which Australian expats had opened a few years ago. We might as well have been in Hackney or the Mission District or anywhere else that hipsters gather: signs, in English, requested that visitors with laptops confine themselves to a large common table, every seat of which was occupied by a young person using the Internet. We ordered drinks: a warm ginger infusion for me, a turmeric latte for Quaglieri.

Dom Cook.
Source: The Takeout/Tiesha Cook.

And another segue: what are the alternatives to generic, cosmopolitan white hipster culture? For The Takeout Kate Bernot has interviewed Dom Cook, author of This Ain’t the Beer That You’re Used To:

Dom “Doochie” Cook is also not the beer writer that you’re used to. I’ve read a lot of beer books, and I’ve never seen proper beer and food pairing described as “like Jadakiss and Styles P going back and forth on a Swizz track in the early 2000s.” Cook and his Beer Kulture collective have set out to change the way urban black America thinks about beer, and vice versa. They’re out to deliver a wake-up call.

Jaipur can
SOURCE: Thornbridge.

This one is about global or local beer culture… Or is it? Josh Farrington at Beer and Present Danger was moved to come out of a year-long blogging hiatus by a can of Thornbridge Jaipur from his local supermarket which made him rethink his attitude to freshness:

Cracking it open ready to enjoy a simple glugging beer, I was stopped in my tracks, even before I took a swig – the aroma leapt out of the tin, a tuft of fruit salad chewiness, and the taste was perfect, part Nordic Fir and part marmalade shred, decidedly bitter but without being harsh or drying. It was sublime, a platonically good beer, and a perfect revelation when I’d expected merely fine. I checked the can – and discovered it was three days old.

And finally, an interesting looking book with a great title:


For more of this kind of thing check out Alan McLeod’s round-up on Thursday; Stan Hieronymus’s Monday links are on hold.

News pubs

News, nuggets and longreads 20 April 2019: Pub Crawling, Carlsberg, Craftonia

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from Leeds to low alcohol beer.

For the Guardian Dave Simpson writes about the development of the post-punk scene in Leeds in the late 1970s, which took place in pubs, with the Yorkshire Ripper as a dark background presence:

Today, with its wood and tiles and punk soundtrack, [the Fenton] is almost as it was; Gill observes that the jukebox has moved rooms. “Pre-mobile phones, you’d have to go where you knew people would be,” Mekons singer Tom Greenhalgh explains, remembering “intense political debates and insane hedonism”, and legendary scene characters such as Barry the Badge. “A huge gay guy covered in badges from Armley Socialist Worker’s party. He was rock-hard, but then he could just grab you, snog you and stick his tongue down your throat.”

Roger Protz has been writing about lager in Britain for 40 years so his commentary on where the new ‘Danish Pilsner’ Carlsberg has just launched in the UK fits in was bound to be interesting. Where others have been cautiously positive, Mr Protz essentially dismisses the beer as more the same:

I was asked for my views by Carlsberg’s London-based PR company, who sent me some samples. The bottled version said it was brewed in the UK – presumably this means the Northampton factory – while the can says “brewed in the EU”. I said this made a mockery of the new beer being called “Danish Pilsner”… I added that 3.8 per cent ABV was too low to merit being called Pilsner: the classic Pilsner Urquell is 4.4 per cent and all claims to be a Pilsner should be judged against it. I found the Carlsberg beer to be thin and lacking in aroma and flavour.

A footnote from us: we were asked to take part in market research by Heineken earlier this week, which leads us to suspect some similar post-Camden reinvention is in the pipeline there, too.

News pubs

News, Nuggets & Longreads, 1 July 2017: Smoking, Civil War, Global Chic

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related writing we’ve most enjoyed in the past week, and all the news that’s struck us as important.

First, a small thing that might not be: two chains of upmarket London pubs have effectively merged with the takeover by Draft House of Grand Union. So what? Well, from where we’re sitting, this looks like another step towards Draft House becoming a national chain. It’s a strong brand, ‘well craft’ without being too obnoxious about it, and we can well imagine a branch in every town and city.

A counter from the BA website: 883 breweries have adopted the seal.

Meanwhile, in the US, shot have been fired: the Brewers’ Association, which represents craft breweries as defined here, has announced a new badge to help consumers identify beer from independent breweries. This is intended to counter AB-InBev’s strategy of acquiring smaller local brewers which the BA apparently believes is leaving consumers confused. In retaliation, AB’s High End division, which ties together the craft breweries it has acquired over the past few years, has released a video saying, essentially, ‘The logo looks bad and doesn’t mean anything and we should be banding together to fight wine and spirits anyway and and and…’

For commentary on this we endorse the always thoughtful Jeff Allworth at Beervana: post 1 | post 2.

A no smoking sign on a pub door.

It’s been ten years since the ban on smoking in pubs and other enclosed workplaces came into force and the BBC’s Nick Triggle has attempted an objective assessment of the impact:

With all these factors happening at the same time, BBPA spokesman Neil Williams says it is ‘pretty impossible’ to unpick exactly what the individual impact of the ban has been.

And of course, many pubs have thrived since the smoking ban, changing to focus more on high-quality food and trying to attract families – including those with young children – who would previously have avoided smoky atmospheres.

‘Pubs have had to adapt. We’ve seen those that can invest in food and they’ve made a very good job of it.

‘But some pubs – the traditional street-corner boozer – simply haven’t had the space to do that. They are the ones that have suffered.’

We’ve attempted to address this in our forthcoming book, 20th Century Pub, and reached much the same conclusion: it probably has been bad news for a certain type of booze-led working class pub.

Inside In de Wildeman, Amsterdam.

Reporting from the Carnival Brettanomyces in Amsterdam Martyn Cornell gives us, as you might expect, a bit more than a blow-by-blow wot he dun on his holidays post, taking the opportunity to highlight the historic role of Brettanomyces in brewing, among other points:

[One problem is that] the events themselves cost upwards of €11 each to get into, with the three beer-and-food dinners €60 a plate. That quickly makes a probably already expensive trip to Hamster Jam even more wallet-bending. But hey, you’re getting to try beers that will sometimes be once-in-a-lifetime experiences… Certainly, for me, the punch in the overdraft was utterly worth it: I’ve not enjoyed a beery gathering so much for a long time, lots of great conversations with eager, enthusiastic, experienced, knowledgeable, people…

Illustration: Monocle magazine.
SOURCE: New Republic

Here’s something a bit tangential, but thought-provoking, from New RepublicKyle Chayka‘s reflections on globalist luxury chic as embodied by Monocle magazine. It doesn’t mention beer once, and we’ve never read Monocle, but, gosh, some of it rings great big bells:

It’s as easy to be charmed by Monocle as it is to hate it. Who doesn’t like a good Japanese leather origami bag? But if nationalists have a point in decrying the ‘global citizenship’ that Monocle epitomizes, it lies in the magazine’s subtle approach to cultural homogenization. [Editor Tyler] Brûlé’s stylistic vision has reproduced itself to the point of banality: Whether due to his own efforts or to the changing tide of taste, Danish furniture, clean cafés, shared offices, and artisanal food and clothing can now be found everywhere, attracting a floating tribe of international consumers the way flowers attract bees. The magazine’s worst offense may be that it is boring.

(via Aaron Gilbreath/Longreads.)

If you want some pure blogging to read, as opposed to longreads and news, we’ll take this opportunity to remind you to catch up with Martin Taylor‘s ongoing Good Beer Guide pub crawl. As we’ve said before, there’s rarely any one post that warrants a fanfare, but as an ongoing project themes emerge and incidents accumulate until something like an argument begins to form. This week, we were particularly struck by a Wetherspoon’s moment:

The Thumper tasted a bid odd to me. I said so to the Spoons barmaid, who, unbelievably;

1. Seemed interested in my £1.99 pint

2. Tasted it herself  ‘Just tastes fruity, like it should do’

3. Popped down the cellar to check whether it was the bottom of the barrel (it wasn’t)

And, finally, those who enjoy being appalled at the antics of those wacky craft brewers will enjoy this intel from Joe Stange: