During the past year Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer have made a couple of trips to the city of Bristol to visit with relatives and explore the city’s pub and brewery scene together. There is much to like about Bristol in general but we’re particularly pleased to report that the local craft beer and ale scene is exciting, growing, and well worth exploring as often as possible…
Bristol is absolutely made for exploring on foot and at its centre Temple Meads Station is the obvious place to start. We highly recommend that anyone coming to Bristol to check out the scene should travel by train and so arriving at Temple Meads will be a given. The following pub crawl, I’m sure, will not do justice to Bristol’s craft beer bars and real ale pubs but it should provide a representative sample sufficient to whet your appetite for more. It certainly has done this for Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer.
Scotland’s BrewDog are the undisputed mavericks of the UK craft beer revolution. They are very much an American style craft beer outfit – all keg – but damn they’re good. You’ll see their Punk IPA, etc. on the shelf at Sainsbury’s but to really ‘get’ what they’re about you have to visit one of their bars. In American terms they’re somewhere between Stone and Rogue – or maybe a bit of both. Scottish punk attitude in a cool west coast kinda way.
CAMRA frankly hates BrewDog: as much as Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer supports the campaign’s aims (via our subscriptions) and applaud its accomplishments over the past 40 years we find their attitude towards BrewDog to be short-sighted and pompous. To ban BrewDog from participation at the GBBF two years running achieves nothing. BrewDog is doing great with or without CAMRA.
The only reason I bring this up is there is a much bigger picture here and we’ve seen it in America’s craft beer revolution. The way they see it, and how we see it too, is that good craft beer is good craft beer regardless of whether it comes in a cask, a keg, a can or a bottle. Good craft beer that takes market share from the Big Four in what is, lets face it, a declining overall market for beer is what we should all agree is the ultimate goal. Bickering over the keg versus cask ‘real’ ale argument is pointless.
As we’ve seen in Seattle, the best brewers will produce a fantastic ale and put it in a keg and a cask. The keg is for general distribution – it’s still unfiltered and unpasteurized – but it will keep better for longer than in a cask. And for a special occasion – to show the same beer at its best – and when shelf life isn’t a concern, the same brewer will condition that same fantastic ale in a cask to devastating effect. Come on CAMRA – get over it – if you endorse UK craft brewers who produce beer in kegs think what could happen to all those Stella, Peroni, Eurofizz draft taps. The recently opened Greyfriar pub in Reading points the way: craft ale on the handpumps, craft lagers on the draft lines. Goddammit Jim, it’s the future!
In a nutshell BrewDog is great craft beer and pretty decent pub grub in a cool environment. If you’re in Bristol, and haven’t been to a BrewDog bar before, then you shouldn’t miss the opportunity.
Continuing the theme that craft ale in a keg doesn’t automatically make it less ‘real’ than in a cask, we step into a brewpub that would not be out of place in San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle. Part of the London-based chain that also has a location in Reading, Zero Degrees Bristol could easily be a Rock Bottom or Gordon Biersch outlet.
Much like the aforementioned American brewpub chains Zero Degrees has a core lineup of standard brews: usually a pale ale, a pilsner, a dark lager, and a wheat. Beyond that it’s whatever seasonals they have and these vary between locations.
Food is straight out of the California Pizza Kitchen playbook – it’s OK – not great, but the beer should be pretty decent. As for cask ale, I don’t believe the 0° plant is setup to fill firkins out of the unitanks – finished brew goes direct to a bright serving tank, and the draft lines go from there.
This tiny pub is a hidden gem. With its rock/punk theme it’s appeal pushes the same buttons as, say, a Georgetown bar in Seattle – cool but not hipster. Granted, it’s location on the wrong side of the floating harbour from Temple Meads puts it in a part of Bristol you might not want to be wandering around at night but OK in the daytime.
The pub offers four cask ales: Gem from Bath Ales, Hop Head from Dark Star, and two constantly rotating guests. Food is served weekday lunchtimes only. This is a hangout kinda place; lots of memorabilia if you’re into music, and should be a place for lively conversation. A lot like The Retreat in Reading.
Mr Fueled by Beer has taken quite a liking to the brews of Bristol Beer Factory. They’re clearly heavily influenced by American brewing styles although not as obviously as BrewDog or Zero Degrees. But what they do that is still unusual for UK craft brewers is embrace craft keg as much as cask ale, and they are not afraid to say which styles they feel suit one approach versus the other.
We first encountered Bristol Beer Factory at last year’s Reading Beer Festival, and we’ve since found them on at the Nag’s Head. Every time we’ve been wowed by how good they are. So, on any trip to Bristol, it’s a no-brainer – gotta get some Beer Factory.
The Barley Mow is the Beer Factory’s brewery tap and the pub is equipped to showcase all that’s good about this exciting microbrewery – including their philosophy regarding craft keg as a compliment to cask ales. During our visit there were ten craft keg beers – with a blackboard describing them – and then there were eight cask ales on the bar. In a word: phenomenal!
We visited on a Sunday while the Sunday roast was being served. It was a great home-cooked roast with high quality fresh ingredients and good preparation. And good value too: the place was packed with many parties including loads of kids – and dogs – both made welcome.
If you only have time for one Fueled by Beer pub when in Bristol then do yourself a favour and make it the Barley Mow.
Now we’ve whetted your apetite, another trek worth considering is Bristol’s Bath Ales pubs – there are 4 within reasonable walking distance of Temple Meads:
And the addresses:
- Graze Bristol – 63 Queen Square, BS1 4JZ
- Colston Hall (2 locations) – Colston St, BS1 5AR
- Beerd – 157 St Michael’s Hill, BS2 8DB
- Hare on the Hill – 41 Thomas St N, BS2 8LX
When speaking of Bristol’s breweries it would be remiss of me to not mention Arbor Ales. Arbor is another Bristol brewery we have encountered at beer festivals and at our local Reading CAMRA pub of the year: The Nag’s Head. And like the Bristol Beer Factory mentioned above, Arbor Ales has acquired a pub to serve as their brewery tap: The Old Stillage.
We haven’t actually visited the Old Stillage yet but we know Arbor Ales produces some amazingly good ales. They’re heavily influenced by Pacific Northwest and New Zealand styles as evidenced by their liberal use of American and Pacific hops. The pub now has an adjoining cafe serving simple home cooked food so it should be a great place to go to enjoy some of Bristol’s finest ale and get a nice meal while you’re at it.
We’ll get there eventually, and when that happens this post will be updated accordingly. Here’s map to their location:
And, finally, yet another trek: Bristol’s JD Wetherspoon pubs – I know, they’re often derided and considered uncool but you can’t fault them for supporting real ale, for their value food offer, and for serving food from opening til late. To get to the web page that lists the five pubs shown to the right click here.