News & views
Craft beer bars in Bristol
When I heard earlier this year that four craft beer bars were due to open in Bristol by the end of the year I was more than a touch sceptical. Now it seems my home town has been invaded by them.
In King Street alone there are now three within spitting distance - the Royal Navy Volunteer, the Beer Emporium and, as of this week, The Small Bar which is apparently run by the team behind the recent Bristol Beer Festival..
A few paces away in Baldwin Street - making a craft beer crawl more like a stumble from one bar to the next - is Brewdog which although it now seems like part of the establishment is still a good place to drink.
And up in Stokes Croft you can find the Crofters Rights which apparently is backed by the team behind the Euston Tap. I haven't made it there yet but have heard good reports.
So what distinguishes the new breed of bars from a pub? Obviously the styles of beer which I always think of as equating to new world wine compared to the classic wine regions. With the odd exception (like Kernel’s Table Beer) craft beers are relatively high in alcohol, big in flavour, sweeter and less bitter than traditional beers and with all sorts of exciting flavours.
There’s far more choice than in a standard pub with every encouragement from the bar staff to experiment from a free taste to small glasses. You go into a craft beer bar to try new stuff not to have your regular pint. There are also no holds barred when it comes to how the beers are made (keg is not a dirty word in craft beer world). Wild yeasts, barrel-aged beers, weird and wonderful malts and hops - there's usually a section on the board for 'crazy shit'.
It's also about the look and feel of these places which are much more like bars than a pub.
The Small Bar which, incidentally, is not small at all but sprawls over several rooms is typical - squashy armchairs, candles (not on the armchairs obviously), bookshelves and a cool soundtrack which makes for a congenial place to hang out for people (often women) who haven’t previously been attracted by beer.
Two girlfiends and I tried out the local Wild Beer Co’s Sourdough (made with Herbert's Bakery's sourdough starter) and Siren Broken Dream Simcoe*, a powerful coffee stout that actually managed to penetrate my heavy cold then exchanged tweets about how we were into sours. Unthinkable even a couple of years ago.
The craft beer craze has already spilled over into traditional pubs such as The Three Tuns which has Arbor Ales on tap and gigantic porky sandwiches from in-residence street food vendor Meat & Bread. The Barley Mow in Barton Road - not far from Temple Meads station - is another Bristol pub that’s had a craft beer makeover.
Bristol also has a couple of new breweries including Wiper & True and the New Bristol Brewery as well as the established Bristol Beer Factory. Seems wherever you go in the city these days you can drink craft beer.
Any bars I've left out? Do add your favourites.
* Simcoe is the hop. Siren, which is based in Berkshire, is the brewery. Here's a good article I stumbled across on Google in my search for Simcoe on how to identify hops in your beer.
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