In their own words: the development of the Leeds beer scene

A while ago some­one on Twit­ter said they’d like to read a his­to­ry of the Leeds beer scene. We want­ed to read one, too, but didn’t feel it was our place to write it. Then we recalled the suc­cess of a cou­ple of pieces we’d writ­ten ‘in their own words’ and decid­ed that at least we could facil­i­tate.

What fol­lows is based on emails and inter­views, some dat­ing as far back as 2013 (John Gyn­gell and Chris­t­ian Towns­ley), oth­ers from the past month or so, with light edit­ing for sense and clar­i­ty.

We’ve also used a quote from Richard Coldwell’s blog because we get the impres­sion he wouldn’t want the mere fact that he sad­ly died in July stop him con­tribut­ing on a sub­ject about which he was so pas­sion­ate.

Ian Gar­rett Drinker and CAMRA activist
I first drank in Leeds in the ear­ly 1970s, when I was a stu­dent in Brad­ford and vis­it­ed the city to go to gigs at the Uni­ver­si­ty. The only pubs that beer lovers talked about were The Vic­to­ria Fam­i­ly and Com­mer­cial Hotel, and The White­locks. Leeds was awash with Tet­ley pubs and I remem­ber when doing a PGCE in Leeds the won­der­ful aro­mas waft­ing over the city cen­tre as they mashed in. I guess the ‘beer scene’ in Leeds had a few fal­ter­ing starts. There was the CAMRA owned pub The Eagle which always seemed to be strug­gling when­ev­er I ven­tured there. Then, in the 1980s, The Fox & Newt brew­pub opened and, of course, The Felon & Firkin where Dave Sanders first plied his trade.

Bar­rie Pep­per Beer writer and vet­er­an CAMRA activist
Leeds had a beer explo­sion came around the turn of the cen­tu­ry. I think Ian Fozard – now the Chair­man of SIBA – had quite a bit to do with it. The amaz­ing suc­cess of his Mar­ket Town Tav­erns com­pa­ny, which he start­ed in the mid-1990s with the Long Boat in Skip­ton, like Top­sy, just grew and grew. His pol­i­cy was to sell a good selec­tion of cask beer in pleas­ant sur­round­ings to accom­pa­ny good food. There were also con­ti­nen­tal beers and a fine wine list. The estate grew to ten pubs – all in York­shire, five in Leeds – and by the issue of the 2008 Good Beer Guide, every one of the ten pubs was in it. There were some oth­er fac­tors of course. Tetley’s opened a few brew pubs and was devel­op­ing its Feast group and some Fes­ti­val pubs which had guest beers on their bars. Oth­er brew­eries fol­lowed suit. A cou­ple of small brew­eries locat­ed at pubs opened with prize-win­ning ales. The city’s drinkers had an impres­sive choice.

Having fun behind the bar.
Chris­t­ian Towns­ley (left) and John Gyn­gell at North Bar c.1997.

Zak Avery Beer writer and retail­er
John Gyn­gell and Chris­t­ian Towns­ley from North Bar were pio­neers, doing the beer thing before craft beer exist­ed.

John Gyn­gell Co-founder of North Bar
Peo­ple thought we were mak­ing a mis­take open­ing a bar on Brig­gate. This was kebab alley. I remem­ber dri­ving past here with my Mum and show­ing her the site and she just said: “What the hell are you doing?”

Chris­t­ian Towns­ley Co-founder of North Bar
I was 22 when we opened on 26 June 1997; John was a bit old­er. It was real­ly qui­et for the first six months, or some­thing like that. At first, the beer was­n’t any­thing spe­cial, large­ly because of the brew­ery loan from John Smith’s. Back then, that was real­ly the only way to finance some­thing like this, if you did­n’t have a rich mum­my and dad­dy.

John Gyn­gell
I can’t remem­ber if we approached James Clay or they approached us, but that’s how we start­ed get­ting more inter­est­ing beer. We’ve always had a great rela­tion­ship with them, and we became more-or-less their brew­ery tap. Brook­lyn, Goose Island, that kind of thing.

Chris­t­ian Towns­ley
Erdinger Weiss­bier was an ear­ly one. We were the first place in the UK to sell it and I guess we’re a bit proud of that. In bot­tles, we had the Chi­mays, Duv­el and Anchor Lib­er­ty, when they were pret­ty hard to find. We’d been drink­ing Lib­er­ty at the Atlantic and at Mash. That was a real land­mark beer – prob­a­bly where, for me, some­thing clicked.

North Bar

Matt Gorec­ki Own­er of Zap­a­to brew­ery, indus­try ‘face’
The first Bel­gian beer I had was a Hoe­gaar­den in some ter­ri­ble pub down low­er Brig­gate and I almost smashed a tooth on the huge glass. The same night I was intro­duced to North Bar by a friend and mar­velled at the freely flow­ing pints of Erdinger. When I start­ed work­ing at The Cross Keys [part of the North chain] I was edu­cat­ed by Mr Chris­t­ian Towns­ley in the beau­ty and sub­tle­ty of some of the import­ed US, Bel­gian and Ger­man beers that were avail­able at the time from James Clay. Leeds at that point had a few stand-out venues but inter­est­ing cask ale was only real­ly just start­ing to take hold. My first ever beer pur­chase as man­ag­er was casks of Mar­ble Gin­ger – the first time over the Pen­nines!

Ian Gar­rett
Spe­cial men­tion must go to the orig­i­nal Beer­Ritz which was a whole­sale-retail ware­house where it was pos­si­ble to pick up some great Bel­gian beers by the bot­tle or case.

Zak Avery
After uni­ver­si­ty, I was work­ing on a PhD with the Open Uni­ver­si­ty and also writ­ing music. I was liv­ing in Head­in­g­ley just round the cor­ner from Beer­Ritz and one day in 2000 they put up a sign adver­tis­ing for a part time shop assis­tant. Eigh­teen months in, I was man­ag­ing the shop and a cou­ple of years after that had launched thebeerboy.co.uk to host beer tast­ings as cor­po­rate events. The shop went from strength to strength – best inde­pen­dent beer retail­er 2003 – and I start­ed writ­ing beer-relat­ed web­site con­tent. In my mind, it was before blog­ging was real­ly a thing, but I might be wrong about that. From 2008, I start­ed doing video beer reviews – I’ve been blamed for the whole phe­nom­e­non by var­i­ous peo­ple – and get cho­sen as Beer Writer of the Year by The British Guild of Beer Writ­ers. 2009 saw the blog Are You Tast­ing The Pith? launch and in 2011 my busi­ness part­ner and I bought out Beer Par­adise and Beer­Ritz.

Neil Walk­er Blog­ger, lat­er employed by CAMRA and now SIBA
Dean at Mr Foley’s was the guy that dragged Mr Foley’s into the 21st cen­tu­ry, got good keg beers on the bar and mod­ernised what they were all about. It was always a good ale bar but 2011 was when it start­ed to get real­ly inter­est­ing.

Dean Pugh Head of Euro­pean bar oper­a­tions for Brew­Dog
I moved to Leeds for uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and was work­ing part time at Wether­spoons. I had a shift man­ag­er there who taught me every­thing about cask ales and cel­lar man­age­ment. I moved into man­age­ment and dif­fer­ent Wether­spoon loca­tions in Leeds, always tak­ing on the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the cel­lar and organ­is­ing real ale fes­ti­vals. I had a friend who was run­ning the tap room at York Brew­ery and they were pur­chas­ing a bar on the Head­row called Dr Okells. I joined as gen­er­al man­ag­er and the bar was rebrand­ed as Mr Foley’s, open­ing in 2007. My ini­tial aim when open­ing Foley’s was to become the best cask ale pub in the city, and we were named Leeds CAMRA pub of the year in 2008. Around the same time I joined Foley’s in 2007 I was also dis­cov­er­ing Amer­i­can craft beer, most­ly through vis­its to North Bar. I remem­ber Brook­lyn Choco­late Stout being one of the first beers that real­ly grabbed my atten­tion and showed me a dif­fer­ent side to beer. I brought this back to Foley’s, begin­ning with an extend­ed bot­tle list, but soon con­vinced my boss­es to hand over that draft lines too.

Neil Walk­er
Mr Foley’s felt like the com­mon room for the Leeds beer scene. Its ample space and rel­a­tive cheap­ness made it ide­al for events and beer-gath­er­ings – bot­tle-shares, beer launch­es and so on. We even had a beer din­ner there with Gar­rett Oliv­er [of Brook­lyn Brew­ery] pour­ing Ghost bot­tles of wine-lees aged sai­son paired with buf­fa­lo chick­en wings and pulled pork pre­pared by Tyler Kiley.

Dean Pugh
I think towards the end of my time at Foley’s we had around six to eight rotat­ing taps for craft beer, two Brew­Dog taps, ten cask ales, bag-in-a-box real cider and prob­a­bly up to a hun­dred bot­tled and canned beers.

Neil Walk­er
One of the ear­ly, key moments for me was IPA­Day in 2011. It felt like an impor­tant moment – every­one seemed to be there and every­one remem­bers it. As well as the inter­na­tion­al beer list there were some great offer­ings from British brew­ers and I remem­ber Zak Avery and Dave from Hard­knott mak­ing impas­sioned and semi-incom­pre­hen­si­ble speech­es on the style. My first mem­o­ry of feel­ing like I was in a beer scene was the Brew­dog IPA is Dead launch at North Bar. There were just so many blog­gers there and at that time it felt a lit­tle bit com­pet­i­tive, albeit in a friend­ly way, and I remem­ber writ­ing up my tast­ing notes at about 6 am the next morn­ing to make sure I was first to press.

Zak Avery
I was shit broke in 2010, real­ly strug­gling to make ends meet, man­ag­ing the shop, try­ing to go free­lance, a new par­ent. I was sell­ing things to meet mort­gage pay­ments. I wrote a real­ly well-paid adver­to­r­i­al for Guin­ness. It was­n’t all totes craft amaze­balls, you know?

Tetley's sign on a pub.

Mike Hamp­shire For­mer local CAMRA chair, own­er of Mike’s Tap Room
The sin­gle key turn­ing point in Leeds beer has been the clo­sure of Tetley’s Brew­ery in 2011. As sad and dif­fi­cult as it was, it effec­tive­ly hit the reset but­ton on the Leeds beer scene. The US craft rev­o­lu­tion was well under­way and lots of micro-brew­eries start­ed pop­ping up, see­ing the huge gap in the Leeds mar­ket for tra­di­tion­al ales and US-influ­enced mod­ern styles.

Ian Gar­rett
In its hey­day, Tetley’s was one of the biggest brew­eries in the UK, Tetley’s Bit­ter was the best sell­ing beer in the UK, Leeds drinkers knew what to expect from a good pint of Tetley’s, and they drank it by the gal­lon.

Leigh Lin­ley Retired blog­ger, author of Great York­shire Beer
The buzz around the first Leeds Inter­na­tion­al Beer Fes­ti­val in 2012 was fan­tas­tic. A real inde­pen­dent beer fes­ti­val in Leeds, a shift toward keg being not only accept­ed but expect­ed.

Maria Estibal­iz Organ­is­er of the Leeds Inter­na­tion­al Beer Fes­ti­val
We want­ed to cre­ate a fes­ti­val that cel­e­brat­ed and embraced the inde­pen­dent craft scene in the UK as exist­ing beer events weren’t real­ly recog­nis­ing the amaz­ing things that were going on in the indus­try and a lot of new, great brew­eries were being over­looked. We also want­ed to cre­ate some­thing that was a lot more acces­si­ble and inclu­sive for younger audi­ences, par­tic­u­lar­ly women in this age group, as the indus­try and fes­ti­vals at the time were incred­i­bly male dom­i­nat­ed. We also want­ed the brew­ers them­selves to attend the fes­ti­val, meet audi­ences and talk about their beer – and at the same time we encour­aged audi­ences not be afraid to ask the brew­ers ques­tions.

Leigh Lin­ley
I recall sit­ting behind my desk at work eaves­drop­ping on a group of col­leagues who had no pri­or inter­est in beer who had got tick­ets for the Fes­ti­val excit­ing­ly detail­ing what beers they were going to try. That felt dif­fer­ent, for sure.

Leeds town hall

Zak Avery
The first LIBF, held in the city cen­tre at the glo­ri­ous town hall, marked a point where the scene start­ed to prop­er­ly cross over into the main­stream.

Leigh Lin­ley
Leeds host­ed the Euro­pean Beer Blog­gers Con­fer­ence in 2012 – an event that prob­a­bly passed a lot of non-blog­gers by but the impor­tance of hav­ing that many jour­nal­ists, blog­gers, writ­ers and retail­ers in the city can’t be over­stat­ed. I think a lot of influ­en­tial writ­ers went away rethink­ing what Leeds was about. We did the city proud.

Friends of Ham

Gareth Pettman Blog­ger
Friends of Ham open­ing in 2012 was the game chang­er for me – one of those ideas that a lot of us had dreams of, but not the abil­i­ty to exe­cute. Tyler Kiley took over as head beer buy­er there and under the Kitch­ings it was unbe­liev­ably rammed almost every night of the week.

Leigh Lin­ley
Here was a bar that embraced beer cul­ture but offered some­thing total­ly dif­fer­ent. It was a tiny, well-put-togeth­er bar with good beer but also more than that. It bridged the gap between beer and food (although it real­ly was­n’t beer­centric – it sold plen­ty of wine and sher­ry, too) in a way that real­ly shook up the bar scene. And it did it in a rat­ty part of Leeds that’s thriv­ing now, due to key­stone busi­ness­es like FoH.

Richard Brown­hill Lit­tle Leeds Beer House, Brown­hill & Co
Claire and [Antho­ny ‘Kitch’ Kitch­ing] real­ly raised the bar in terms of qual­i­ty in Leeds when they opened. It coin­cid­ed with my move to Leeds and their focus on ser­vice and the orig­i­nal­i­ty of their con­cept was a real scene-set­ter at the time.

Zak Avery
Even though Friends of Ham has been through ‘finan­cial restruc­tur­ing’ which left a bad taste in a lot of mouths (metaphor­i­cal­ly rather than lit­er­al­ly, of course) I don’t think their impor­tance can be over­stat­ed in chang­ing the Leeds beer scene. It was qual­i­ta­tive­ly dif­fer­ent from any­thing that had gone before, and set the blue­print for much that fol­lowed

Richard Brown­hill
It was a real shame what hap­pened with Friends Of Ham. I think their strug­gles just show the fragili­ty of small inde­pen­dent busi­ness­es, regard­less of rep­u­ta­tion or stand­ing in the indus­try. It’s an ever crowd­ed mar­ket out there and it’s very easy for offer­ings to become dilut­ed. It’s great that they man­aged to strike a deal to stay oper­at­ing, and it’s start­ing to get back to it’s best – they have some great new peo­ple in there who have a real pas­sion for the prod­uct.

Gareth Pettman
I arrived quite late to the scene itself and with­out friends who shared my bur­geon­ing inter­est in beer, it wasn’t until Simon Girt, AKA ‘Leeds Beer Wolf’, organ­ised a Twissup in 2014 that I actu­al­ly made an effort to get to know peo­ple in Leeds and beyond. So for me, per­son­al­ly, the peri­od between 2014–2016 was when the scene was at its peak, with reg­u­lar bot­tle­shares, most­ly organ­ised by Rob Der­byshire, AKA Hopzine, and held at Lit­tle Leeds Beer House or North­ern Monk. The open­ing of North­ern Monk was the next big leap for­ward in itself – with­out a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of brew­eries in Leeds this was prob­a­bly the kick up the arse that oth­ers need­ed.

Rus­sell Bis­set North­ern Monk Brew Co.
I start­ed North­ern Monk in a parent’s cel­lar in 2013, launch­ing at The Spar­row in Brad­ford the sum­mer of that year. Orig­i­nal­ly oper­at­ing as a cuck­oo brew­ery, we built our own brew­ery in a list­ed mill just out­side the cen­tre of Leeds, which launched in Octo­ber 2014.

Matt Gorec­ki
North­ern Monk are absolute­ly up there and their rate of growth and mas­tery of the mar­ket has been aston­ish­ing. Their beers have helped put the UK on the map across the rest of the world and espe­cial­ly in the US. Kirkstall’s cask offer­ing and extreme­ly sol­id expand­ing range of beers has been qui­et­ly win­ning hearts all over the place. Kirk­stall have also breathed life into two pubs that had gone to the dogs and man­aged the impor­ta­tion of so many of the gate­way brands and excit­ing US beers – the entire scene owes a lot to Steve Holt and Dave Sanders. There are also scene lead­ers and crossover suc­cess­es like Bun­do­bust, Lit­tle Leeds Beer­house and the team behind White­locks – Ed Mason of Five Points and Ash Kol­lakows­ki – who’ve put this ven­er­a­ble pub back at the heart of the scene.

Beer at Bundobust.

Richard Brown­hill
Leeds Beer Week was start­ed by myself, Matt Gorec­ki and James Ock­elford from Refold Design in 2016 – both to com­ple­ment the very pop­u­lar Leeds Inter­na­tion­al Beer Fes­ti­val but also to have a week where the many venues of Leeds were all under one umbrel­la and in the spot­light. I had found as both as man­ag­er of Tapped Leeds in 2014 and at the fledg­ling Lit­tle Leeds Beer­house in 2015 that although LIBF brought many peo­ple to the fes­ti­val at the town hall, the impact was quite insu­lar. The first cou­ple of years were tough but we’ve now expand­ed the team to include more than ten peo­ple and it is 100% inde­pen­dent­ly fund­ed. We have so many amaz­ing venues in Leeds who spon­sor the week finan­cial­ly every year, and James pro­duces world class design for our year­ly guide which pro­motes all venues, big or small. I am par­tic­u­lar­ly proud that we have built a mod­el which is not for prof­it – we are paid a lit­tle for our time each year, and we pay our com­mit­ted team, but every oth­er pen­ny from spon­sor­ship, adver­tis­ing and mer­chan­dise goes back into the fes­ti­val to help it grow each year. Which is a good job as Matt’s bunting fetish knows no bounds.

Ian Gar­rett
Today’s scene, for me, is over­crowd­ed as all the new bars try to entice the same hand­ful of peo­ple. I tend to stick to a hand­ful where I know there’s either excel­lent cask, well-kept, or a decent choice. Too many have eight vari­eties of IPA but that seems a com­mon prac­tice. It still looks like a healthy beer scene and new bars still appear, Brown­hill & Co being a recent addi­tion try­ing to do some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.

Richard Brown­hill
Brown­hill & Co is a blue­print for every­thing Bry­ony and I love about the drink­ing expe­ri­ence and is focused on pro­vid­ing relaxed, sim­ple table ser­vice in a chilled envi­ron­ment. Ten taps of qual­i­ty, no filler, and bal­anced with all sorts of styles – a rotat­ing lager line and rotat­ing cask beers. Many years of vis­it­ing Bel­gium had us won­der­ing why the UK is aller­gic to table ser­vice in pubs and bars. I per­son­al­ly can’t think of any­thing bet­ter than not mov­ing all day while a nice, friend­ly, knowl­edge­able per­son brings me lots of beer. We’re delight­ed to have been select­ed to host this year’s Can­til­lon Zwanze Day.

Leigh Lin­ley
Leeds is still Leeds – there’s still a pub for all tastes with­in walk­ing dis­tance and the major­i­ty of the clas­sic places are still there, doing well. There’s even more choice and it’s hard to not encounter ‘craft’ in most places now, like in any major city. At the risk of sound­ing like an old man, it’s get­ting increas­ing­ly expen­sive to drink in the city cen­tre, but the scene itself is thriv­ing – beer is main­stream, there’s no need to guide peo­ple any­more. There’s a new gen­er­a­tion of drinkers dis­cov­er­ing beer and enjoy­ing some incred­i­ble venues that we’d have been over the moon to have enjoyed back in the ear­ly 2000s.

Richard Cold­well Blog­ger
There’s no doubt in my mind that Leeds is one of the pre­mier beer cities in the UK and that includes mak­ing the stuff as well as con­sum­ing it. We just need to shout out and make our mark. I often think Leeds is a bit slow to catch on to self pro­mo­tion. (2016.)

Matt Gorec­ki
There’s always some­thing going on and a num­ber of qual­i­ty brew­eries are com­ing through, push­ing things for­ward. Venues are high­er qual­i­ty and you’re start­ing to see some real­ly good qual­i­ty and curat­ed selec­tions rather than just a list of ques­tion­able hype beers that taste rough­ly sim­i­lar. Leeds is at its peak right now.


Pho­to cred­its: All ours except the one based on ‘Leeds Town Hall at Night’ by Enchu­fla Con Clave via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons and the pic­ture of John Gyn­gell and Chris­t­ian Towns­ley which they kind­ly sup­plied to us in 2013.


We’re very grate­ful to every­one who found time to respond to our ques­tions so ful­ly and frankly, but espe­cial­ly Zak Avery and Leigh Lin­ley. This post was sup­port­ed by Patre­on sub­scribers like Will Jor­dan and Peter Sid­well. Please con­sid­er sign­ing up, or just buy us a one-off pint via Ko-Fi. Alter­na­tive­ly, you can give us a boost by buy­ing one of our books, or just by shar­ing some­thing we’ve writ­ten on social media. Cheers! Ray & Jess. 

Two years, two hundred pubs

We’ve now been in Bristol for two years and have logged every single official Pub Visit since arriving.

We start­ed doing this most­ly to remind our­selves where we’d been for the sake of #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol, but also decid­ed to log sub­se­quent vis­its to each pub, pro­vid­ing us with an inter­est­ing data set reveal­ing our habits and favourites.

Our def­i­n­i­tion of a Pub Vis­it for this pur­pose is that it has to be a pub, both of us have to be there, and at least one of us has to have an alco­holic drink.

(We’ll return to the sub­ject of what makes a pub in a sep­a­rate blog post, as this exer­cise has giv­en us a real impe­tus to define it bet­ter.)

We have cho­sen to define Bris­tol as the uni­tary author­i­ty of Bris­tol, plus any bits that join up to it with­out a break. So the pubs of Kingswood and Fil­ton (tech­ni­cal­ly South Glouces­ter­shire) are in, where­as the won­der­ful Angel Inn at Long Ash­ton isn’t because there is, for now, at least one open field in between the vil­lage and the ever-increas­ing spread of South Bris­tol.

Overall stats

We have logged 516 pub vis­its in total.

Almost 30% of these were to our local, The Drap­ers Arms.

We have vis­it­ed 216 dif­fer­ent pubs.

Our pace of vis­it­ing new pubs has slowed: we went to our first 100 in six months; our sec­ond 100 took a year; and we’ve only added 16 in the last six months.

This is part­ly because of geog­ra­phy – the pubs we haven’t yet vis­it­ed are hard­er to get to and more spread out – but also because we’ve come across so many pubs that we like and want to revis­it, rather than tick­ing new ones.

Here’s a list of all the pubs we’ve vis­it­ed more than once.

Drap­ers Arms | 150
Welling­ton Arms | 16
High­bury Vaults | 16
Bar­ley Mow | 15
Zero Degrees | 14
Brew­dog | 13
Small Bar | 11
Inn On The Green | 10
Grain Barge | 10
Hill­grove Porter Stores | 9
The Old Fish Mar­ket | 7
Bot­tles And Books | 7
Mer­chants Arms | 6
The Vol­un­teer Tav­ern | 6
The Orchard | 6
The Annexe | 6
The Bank | 5
Bris­tol Fly­er | 4
Straw­ber­ry Thief | 4
The Good Mea­sure | 4
Gold­en Lion | 3
Roy­al Oak | 3
Com­mer­cial Rooms | 3
The Can­teen (Hamil­ton House) | 3
The Old Duke | 3
Snuffy Jacks | 3
Hob­gob­lin | 3
The Hare / The Lev­eret Cask House | 3
Col­ston Arms | 3
The Grace | 3
The Vic­to­ria | 3
Christ­mas Steps | 3
Cor­ner 33 | 3
The Cot­tage Inn | 2
Nova Sco­tia | 2
The Bridge | 2
Pump House | 2
Mardyke | 2
Hare On The Hill | 2
White Lion | 2
Robin Hood | 2
The White Bear | 2
Beerd | 2
The Sid­ings | 2
Glouces­ter Road Ale House | 2
Kings­down Vaults | 2
The Knights Tem­plar (Spoons) | 2
The V Shed | 2
The Roy­al Naval Vol­un­teer | 2
Bris­tol Brew­ery Tap | 2
St George’s Hall | 2
The Gryphon | 2
The Green­bank Tav­ern | 2
The Oxford | 2

Are they really your top pubs?

Most­ly, yes.

Our top 10 includes two pubs that are there sim­ply because they are close to our house – The Welling­ton and The Inn on the Green.

The Welling­ton scored par­tic­u­lar­ly high­ly dur­ing last summer’s heat­wave, because it has Sulis, Korev and reli­able Prophe­cy. The oth­ers are all clear favourites of ours and appear in our guide to the best pubs in Bris­tol.

Porter
A pint of porter at The Good Mea­sure.
If you’ve visited more than once, does that mean it’s good?

Not always. We’ve had one acci­den­tal sec­ond vis­it, to St George’s Hall, a soon-to-be-clos­ing Wether­spoons, hav­ing for­got­ten we’d already been.

Some­times a sec­ond vis­it might be to check out a change in own­er­ship or offer.

It might also reflect con­ve­nience. The Knights Tem­plar, AKA Hell­spoons, is right by Tem­ple Meads sta­tion and so a con­ve­nient stop before catch­ing a train. Now the bridge to The Bar­ley Mow has reopened, and The Sid­ings has decent Har­vey’s Sus­sex Best, we don’t expect to need to go there again.

But three or more vis­its and it’s prob­a­bly safe to say we like it. (Although we’ve fall­en out with the Hare in Bed­min­ster now it’s the Lev­eret Cask House.)

Not quite science

Of course the keep­ing of this infor­ma­tion dis­torts our behav­iour from time to time.

If we’ve got a choice between two pubs, we’ll some­times pick the one we think ‘deserves’ to be high­er up the rank­ings. And we occa­sion­al­ly give a pub a swerve because it feels as if it’s com­ing high­er up the charts than it ought to.

It’s still an expres­sion of pref­er­ence but… Well, it’s com­pli­cat­ed.

Wishful thinking

There are cer­tain­ly some pubs that would be high­er up the list if they were eas­i­er for us to get to.

The thing is, your local is your local. Part of the mag­ic of pubs like The Oxford in Tot­ter­down or The Plough at Eas­t­on is that they reflect and serve the com­mu­ni­ties they’re in.

We’ll drop in if we’re in the area, and some­times day­dream about how nice it would be if we did live near­by, but it would be daft for us to schlep across town to go there every week because… We’ve got a local. One that’s, you know, local.

We would­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly expect these pubs to creep up the rank­ings in the next year, even though they are excel­lent.

Pubs such as The Good Mea­sure, on the oth­er hand, prob­a­bly will, because they offer some­thing dis­tinct we can’t get close to home.

(And in that par­tic­u­lar case, it’s rea­son­ably handy for the High­bury Vaults so makes a good end to a St Michael’s Hill crawl).

Some thoughts on Bristol pubs

In gen­er­al, Bris­tol pubs are good.

They tend to be friend­ly, even if they don’t always look it.

They’re extreme­ly var­ied – hip­py hang­outs, old boys booz­ers, gas­trop­ubs, craft beer exhi­bi­tions, back­street gems, fam­i­ly hang­outs, and so on.

They most­ly have real ale, even those that might not if they were in any oth­er city. We reck­on we’ve count­ed three (four if you think Brew­Dog is a pub) that did­n’t have any­thing at all on offer.

They’re loy­al to local beer, even if there’s no sin­gle dom­i­nant his­toric city brew­ery.

Your chances of find­ing Bass, Courage Best, But­combe or some oth­er clas­sic bit­ter are very high. The like­li­hood of find­ing mild is almost zero. Hop­py beers tend to be hazy, soft and sweet. (Not that we’re grum­bling but we do some­times crave paler, dri­er beers of the north­ern vari­ety.)

And we’re still find­ing good pubs: we only vis­it­ed The Annexe for the first time late last year; The Coro­na­tion in Bed­min­ster we dis­cov­ered for the first time a cou­ple of months back. No doubt in the final hun­dred or so there will be a few more crack­ers.

We’re not as sci­en­tif­ic about cat­a­logu­ing pub open­ings and clo­sures as the local CAMRA team in the excel­lent Pints West mag­a­zine but our feel­ing is that pubs are not clos­ing as fast as they were and that more pubs or oth­er drink­ing estab­lish­ments are emerg­ing.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, reflect­ing nation­al trends, pubs are more at risk in poor­er areas, and are (re) open­ing in wealth­i­er or ‘up and com­ing’ parts of the city.

Final thoughts

This has made us think hard about what makes pubs attrac­tive to us – although grant­ed, we’re not nec­es­sar­i­ly typ­i­cal cus­tomers.

Yes, it’s impor­tant for pubs to have a unique sell­ing point to stand out (that’s the pub with the heavy met­al, or eight types of cider, or amaz­ing cheese rolls) but, when it comes down to it, our drink­ing habits are pri­mar­i­ly influ­enced by con­ve­nience.

We sus­pect that’s fair­ly uni­ver­sal.

Scotland #1: Glimpses of Glasgow

We were in Scot­land for ten days. It was Ray’s first ever vis­it and the first Jess has made for plea­sure rather than work. We took a list of pubs rec­om­mend­ed by the Good Beer Guide and social media but oth­er­wise, as usu­al, let instincts and the advice of friends guide us. What fol­lows are some impres­sions – snip­pets and moments – and we apol­o­gise in advance if we’ve put our feet in it cul­tur­al­ly speak­ing.

Our train arrived in Glasgow towards the end of Friday night, and Glasgow, it turns out, goes big on going out.

Con­voys of young women and scrums of young men stum­bled by, all gym-buffed and con­toured, dressed for Los Ange­les rather than driz­zle; par­ties of police offi­cers stood by, detached and dour, with vans ready to be filled.

The tang of vine­gar on hot chips, ice­berg shreds scat­tered like con­fet­ti from kebabs, chick­en nuggets straight from the sack, and Buck­fast from the bot­tle in an alley­way, by the bins.

Laugh­ter, most­ly, and yelled into the night heck­les, propo­si­tions and instruc­tions from the nightlife brigadiers who keep their gangs on course from pub to club to bar.

Indoors, bolts shot, we drift­ed off to the late-stage of the par­ty, the lul­la­by of smash­ing glass, dis­tant four-four kicks drum loops, sirens and final kerb­side mur­mur­ings.

The next morn­ing, under tweed-grey cloud and seag­ull bom­bard­ment, the streets were silent, but here and there were lost shoes, dis­gorged din­ners and shards of green glass.

This is going to be fun, we thought.

Glasgow Bars.

Wan­der­ing about, we got the dis­tinct feel­ing we’d missed our oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore the tra­di­tion­al Glas­gow bar.

It’s as alien to us as the Tabac – anoth­er culture’s way of drink­ing that’s a cousin to the Eng­lish pub but absolute­ly dis­tinct.

Inso­far as we know them at all, it’s from Scott Graham’s blog, Old Glas­gow Pubs and the odd bit of research we’ve done into, for exam­ple, Alex Ferguson’s brief career as a pub­li­can. And, of course, from por­tray­als on TV.

Here’s pub his­to­ri­an Michael Slaugh­ter on what dis­tin­guish­es Scot­tish pubs, from the 2007 edi­tion of Scotland’s True Her­itage Pubs:

One of the most dis­tinc­tive exte­ri­or fea­tures of thou­sands of Scot­tish pubs and also the most notice­able dif­fer­ence between them and pub in oth­er parts of the UK is that they occu­py the ground floors of ten­e­ment blocks of flats along­side a vari­ety of shops… This means that many Scot­tish pubs are often lit­tle dif­fer­ent from adja­cent shop-fronts, while pubs in oth­er parts of the UK tend to be the only build­ing on the plot, whether free­stand­ing or part of a ter­race. In Scot­land, most pubs do not have liv­ing accom­mo­da­tion for licensees, due to ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry leg­is­la­tion that made Sun­day open­ing ille­gal. As a result, pubs were known as lock-ups.

And that’s what we saw in Glas­gow beyond the city cen­tre: flat-faced, blank, for­ti­fied bunkers that gave lit­tle indi­ca­tion from out­side as to whether they were still trad­ing.

Some­times, it seemed, the build­ings into which the bars had once been inte­grat­ed had dis­ap­peared, leav­ing only the bar, one-storey high, flat-roofed and dimin­ished.

John’s Bar and the Empire Bar cap­ti­vat­ed us in their roman­tic dere­lic­tion but the clos­est we got to drink­ing any­where like this was the sanc­ti­fied, cer­ti­fied-safe Lau­rieston.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Scot­land #1: Glimpses of Glas­gow”

Snapshot: Guinness in Nigeria

In 1962, Guinness opened a brewery at Ikeja in Nigeria. The management was made up largely of British and Irish migrants, such as Alan Coxon, who went to Nigeria in 1966 to work as plant technical director.

We know this because his daugh­ter, Fiona Gudge, is the own­er of the large col­lec­tion of Guin­ness papers we’ve sort­ing through and cat­a­logu­ing for the past six months.

What fol­lows, with Fiona’s input, is a brief snap­shot of the emer­gence of a new kind of colo­nial­ism that emerged in the wake of Nigeria’s inde­pen­dence in 1960, and the strange dom­i­nance of Irish stout in West Africa.

Timeline

1958 | Britain agrees to grant Nigeria independence
1959 | Guinness Nigeria founded
1960 | Nigerian independence
1962 | Guinness opens brewery in Nigeria
1963 | Federal Republic of Nigeria declared
1965 | Guinness Nigeria listed on Nigerian stock exchange
1966 | Two military coups
1966 | Alan Coxon begins working at Ikeja
1967 | Beginning of the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War)
1970 | End of Nigerian Civil War
1970 | Second National Development Plan, 1970-74
1971 | Coxon family leaves Nigeria
1972 | Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree (Indigenisation Decree)
1974 | NEPD into effect
1984 | Notice given of ban on import into Nigeria of barley
1998 | Stout production ceases at Ikeja

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Snap­shot: Guin­ness in Nige­ria”

Australian drinking culture in London, 1966–1970

One of the perks of having been blogging for as long as we have is that people find us via Google and send us interesting things without us having to make the slightest effort.

At the begin­ning of Feb­ru­ary, Sal­ly Mays emailed us ask­ing for help track­ing down infor­ma­tion about a pub she remem­bered vis­it­ing years ago, the Sur­rey, just of the Strand in Lon­don:

I went there a num­ber of times with my boyfriend when I was a very young woman, around 1970. We were plan­ning to trav­el to Aus­tralia as Ten Pound Poms and Aus­tralia House (where we were inter­viewed) was just around the cor­ner from the Sur­rey – well, actu­al­ly on the oth­er side of the Strand, on a cor­ner oppo­site Sur­rey Street.

I’m not sure quite how we became aware of the pub but it was main­ly fre­quent­ed by Aussies and New Zealan­ders and served most­ly (per­haps only) Fos­ter’s beer (or lager, I should say). I think it was the only peri­od of my life where I imbibed the amber nec­tar.

It did­n’t look much like a pub – it was housed in one of the build­ings on the right hand side of Sur­rey Street, as you walk down it towards the Embank­ment. Its décor was very basic – plain, I seem to remem­ber, with lots of beer spilled onto the floor, and a rau­cous ambi­ence.

Those were days when it was still pos­si­ble for [incom­ing] trav­ellers to park their Com­bi vans down by the Thames for the pur­pos­es of sell­ing [them on to out­go­ers].

[The pub] was a very male-dom­i­nat­ed place – the sort that wore shorts and flip flops no mat­ter what the weath­er!

Sal­ly also point­ed us to one of the few sources she’d been able to find – a 1966 diary by a young Aus­tralian trav­eller in Lon­don shared on a blog – but we think it’s now been hid­den from pub­lic view.

The good news is that the first book we reached out for, Green and White’s 1968 Guide to Lon­don Pubs, had a detailed entry on the Sur­rey that con­firmed Sal­ly’s mem­o­ries:

The Sur­rey, just off the Strand, is the first vis­it­ing-place of the new­ly arrived Aus­tralian; though they don’t actu­al­ly serve schooners of beer, you can get two home-brewed vari­eties: Swan’s Lager on draught and Fos­ter’s in the bot­tle. The present house dates back to the turn of the cen­tu­ry and had, until a recent fire, a fine col­lec­tion of Aus­traliana; this was reduced to a cou­ple of boomerangs and pho­tographs of vis­it­ing crick­eters. It is the sort of place in which the lone Pom­mie, towards clos­ing time, feels rather uncom­fort­able; there is a lot of back-slap­ping and singing and rather too much noise. Oth­er­wise, it is a per­fect­ly nor­mal pub, serv­ing lunch and snacks all day. The upstairs bar is a tri­fle small, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it gets crowd­ed at lunch-time, but there is plen­ty of room down­stairs, and even a dart­board. A vis­it­ing Cana­di­an pro­fes­sor once refused to buy his pub­lish­er a box of match­es here, but the staff oblig­ing­ly accept­ed a 2d cheque, which must prove some­thing. Being handy for Aus­tralia House, the prospec­tive migrant, har­ried by bad weath­er, hous­ing and tax­es, might well take a drink in the Sur­rey to see how the natives dis­port them­selves.

Since Jan­u­ary, we’ve also man­aged to find our copy of The New Lon­don Spy, edit­ed by Hunter Davies and pub­lished in 1966. Its sec­tion on ‘Aus­tralian Lon­don’ men­tions the Sur­rey repeat­ed­ly as some­thing of a cen­tre of Aus­tralian life in Lon­don:

Here, on a Fri­day night, elbow to elbow, sur­round­ed by boomerangs and famil­iar accents, Lon­don’s Aus­tralians sip their Fos­ters (Mel­bourne) and Swan (Perth)… and com­plain about jobs (‘lousy bloody sev­en quid a week’), food (‘I haven’t had a decent steak since I got here’ and the weath­er (‘How can you ever get a tan in this place?’).

The pace of drink­ing is, by British stan­dards, express-like, but even so it is unlike­ly you will see that well-known Aus­tralian sight, rare in Britain, the-face-on-the-bar-room-floor. (You can, by the way, pick out the old Aus­tralian from the new­ly-arrived. The sea­soned man drinks iced Eng­lish beer instead of iced Aus­tralian.)

This book, though, also lists oth­er notable Aus­tralian pubs: the Zambe­si Club and the Ifield, both in Earls Court, then known as ‘Kan­ga­roo Val­ley’ because of its sup­posed pop­u­la­tion of 50,000 row­dy Aussies.

An arti­cle by Rod­ney Burbeck in Tatler for 7 May 1966, avail­able in full via to sub­scribers to the British News­pa­per Archive, puts this influx down to the open­ing of the Over­seas Vis­i­tors Cen­tre (OVS) in Earls Court in 1955. It also has notes on the cul­ture clash between British drinkers and Aus­tralians:

Bill Robert­son, 28-year- old farmer, strolling along Earls Court Road on his sec­ond night in Lon­don [said] ‘We went to Wim­ble­don last night to see how the oth­er half live. Walked into a pub and every head turned round. We were strangers, for­eign­ers. And what’s more they did­n’t drink as quick­ly as Aus­tralians.’ In Earls Court you can walk into a pub and be the only Eng­lish­man there. Col­league John McLeod, who writes the Lon­don Life drinks col­umn, does­n’t like Aus­tralians in pubs. He thinks they are row­dy and boor­ish and drink too much. I have a friend who says you can always tell an Aus­tralian in a pub because when he has fin­ished drink­ing he falls flat on his face… One girl liv­ing in Earls Court says ‘The only Aus­tralians I have met have only been inter­est­ed in two things: rug­ger and beer.’

The 1972 film The Adven­tures of Bar­ry McKen­zie includes a scene set in an Aus­tralian pub in Lon­don, with Bar­ry dis­gust­ed by Eng­lish beer and demand­ing ‘a decent chilled Fos­ter’s’. It might be satire but it prob­a­bly cap­tures to some degree how these pubs real­ly felt. (For now, you can see it here, at 14:46.)

It feels as if there’s a lot more to be explored here. If you’re an Aus­tralian who lived in Lon­don in the 1960s-70s with mem­o­ries of pubs and of hunt­ing ‘iced beer’, do drop us a line.