beer reviews pubs real ale

QUICK ONE: An Unexpected Beer in an Unexpected Pub

The Beaufort Arms, off Durdham Down.

Trying to visit every pub in Bristol takes us out of our way sometimes, as on Saturday when the mission nudged us up a side street towards The Beaufort Arms.

It’s on a steep, narrow lane called, oddly, High Street, which feels more like part of some windswept coastal village than somewhere two minutes walk from Whiteladies Road. Backstreet pubs are an endangered species in general which made this one seem all the more noteworthy.

“It’ll be poshed up,” we thought, but as we approached we saw plastic patio chairs lined up on the pavement outside, signalling otherwise. A young man was sat on one of them eating a Miss Millie’s fried chicken meal from a box nesting in a carrier bag, swigging from a can of energy drink.

Inside we found a single large room psychically divided into public bar vs. games-room/deadzone. Everything was brown and warm, dim and well-worn, the walls covered in nick-nacks and in-jokes, photographs cut from newspapers and holiday postcards from regulars. The accents were West Country, not west London. Most people seemed to be drinking cider, including cans of Natch, the availability of which divides a certain type of serious, old-fashioned Bristol boozer from the designer-gin and craft-beer lifestyle exhibitions.

In this context we were rather startled to see Theakston Vanilla Stout on offer. No, scratch that: we rather startled to discover the existence of Theakston Vanilla Stout, and even more startled to find it here. Not as startled as the woman behind the bar seemed when we ordered a pint of it, though, along with a half of St Austell Tribute as a safe fallback.

Our astonishment intensified further when it turned out not only to be in good condition, but also a quite brilliant beer. We (Jessica especially) have been fascinated by Tiny Rebel’s Stay Puft Marshmallow Porter for the past few months, half-repelled by its kitsch, artificial character, but unable to stop dipping back in. This Theakston beer was in remarkably similar territory, loaded high with sickly candy-bar flavouring, but somehow also irresistible — full of beans if you like, ho ho. But also cleaner than the Tiny Rebel beer, and without any pretence of being hoppy. If Young’s Double Chocolate is to your taste, or those Saltaire beers that seem like they’ve had Nesquik syrup squirted into them, then you’ll enjoy this one, too.

That’s two impressive “cask craft” (their phrase, not ours) beers from Theakston in the past year, for those who are keeping count. And another pub for our growing list of The Proper Pubs of Bristol.

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Mild (and more) at the Museum


The Museum Tavern, opposite the British Museum, is one of those rare beasts – a decent pub in a tourist trap location. It’s always amusing to sit/stand at the bar and watch a succession of bewildered visitors cope with concepts like mushy peas (“They’re peas, but they’re mushy”, as the barmaid helpfully explained).

In fact, it’s often quite heartening. People usually want to try something British, and the bar staff are pretty friendly and willing to recommend one of the six ales on tap, which are kept in great condition.

We popped in specifically for some Old Peculier,  but were distracted by Cain’s dark mild.  This packs a huge amount of flavour for a beer that is barely alcoholic (3.2%).  Coffee and caramel, in an extremely potable form.

Another sub-4% cracker was on offer, “GMT” from Stockport’s 3 Rivers brewery. This was the first time we’ve tried any of their stuff, and we’ll be looking out for them in the future. GMT (which stands for the three rivers in question — Goyt, Mersey & Thame) is a lovely crisp session beer with hints of orange.

Finally, the Old Peculier.  This is such a marvellous beer from the cask — extremely fruity, a little sour, with a butterscotch aftertaste.  It’s almost Belgian in its richness. You could certainly serve it in a la-di-da chalice glass and fool a few people if you were so minded. The bottled version really doesn’t compete.

Jeff recommended this place months back when we were after Old Peculier on tap in London, so thanks to him for the tip.

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The Beer Rep Cometh

Some cornershop beers
Some cornershop beers

A band of aggressive beer salesmen seems to have passed through our neck of the woods, or maybe a new cash-and-carry has opened?

At any rate, the range of beers available at fairly ordinary corner shops and grocers near our house has expanded massively in recent weeks.

Here’s a partial list of bottled beers we can buy on the way home from work without going near a supermarket:

  • Grolsch Weizen (big thumbs up from Bailey, Boak not so excited)
  • Jennings Cocker Hoop, Cumberland and Sneck Lifter
  • Bateman’s Combined Harvest and Victory
  • All the Badgers, including unseasonal Pumpkin
  • Young’s Bitter (bottle conditioned), Special London and Chocolate Stout
  • Wychwood Hobgoblin, Wychcraft, Black Wych, Circle Master and Goliath
  • Hen’s Tooth
  • Cooper’s Sparkling Pale Ale
  • Theakston’s Old Peculier
  • Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay, Spitfire, Bishop’s Finger, Master Brew and 1698
  • Fuller’s London Pride, ESB, Golden Pride, Honey Dew and 1845
  • Svyturys Ekstra, Gintarinis and Baltas
  • Baltika porter, wheat beer, dark lager and helles
  • Pilsner Urquell
  • Budvar and Budvar Dark
  • Pitfield Red Ale, Stock Ale and EKG
  • Gulpener Rose (eugh!)
  • Paulaner Helles
  • Brakspear Organic and Triple
  • St Austell Proper Job and Tribute
  • Baltika porter, dark lager and wheat beer
  • Usher’s Founders Ale.

That covers a great many of our day-to-day needs, but it would be nice to see more porters and stouts; more Belgian beer; and the return of Brooklyn Lager, which has disappeared from our local off licence.

And, of course, there is a bit of an illusion of choice here, because many of these beers are very similar in taste and appearance and, in some cases, are made and owned by a handful of umbrella companies.

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Can you bring up your kids to like good beer?

Stonch’s recent post on under-age drinking has reminded me to post on a topic I almost wrote about a while ago. Is it possible to bring up your kids to drink responsibly and appreciate good beer?

My parents liked quality booze and believed in sharing it. They’d drink a pint of ale with Saturday lunch (usually something like Theakston‘s Old Peculiar) and a bottle of wine on Sunday, and from the age of around 12 upwards, they’d let me have a bit of both. Growing up in the eighties, kids were still banned from most pubs, but I have happy memories of running around pub gardens where my parents and their friends were relaxed and happy; I don’t ever remember them being drunk.

So, I had a classic slow introduction to good quality alcohol and responsible drinking. It’s probably what I would do with my kids, were I to have any.

Trouble is, I didn’t then start drinking “good” alcohol responsibly. When I went out as a teenager, my poison of choice was whatever was cheapest and whatever my friends were drinking. Snakebite and black, alcopops, quarter bottles of Teachers’ Whisky. As a student, I graduated to Guinness when I wanted to be cool but mostly drank keg Tetley’s because it was cheap. So what happened?

I reckon there were at least four reasons why my parents’ admirable attempts failed;

(1) Pure economics. Even if I’d wanted to drink fine wine, Strongbow was cheaper.

(2) Contrariness. Teenagers don’t want to do what their parents do, so will drink what their friends do regardless of how they’ve been brought up.

(3) Immature tastebuds. The fact is, I didn’t really enjoy the taste of ale until I hit my twenties. Ditto wine. I still haven’t really got whisky (how uncool am I?) This leads me to conclude that no matter how much your early exposure, it’s not going to “take” until your tastebuds are ready.

(4) Immature mind. A common theme from reading the session posts is that most people’s early drinking experiences are about getting hammered. I think it’s just a stage you go through. Particularly in Britain, where for whatever reasons, our bingeing culture has been with us for a long time.

Did I really learn nothing from early exposure to responsible drinking? Thinking about it some more, I guess it familiarised me with the concept of ale (or at least, beer that was brown, bitter and had flavour) – – even if I didn’t really like it for years, it wasn’t alien to me.

Secondly, parental influence may not have taught me to drink responsibly, but it did teach me to live responsibly. Even if the primary aim of having a drink for me was to get wasted, I knew that it wasn’t a good idea to go out and get pissed every night.