Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Arena of Dreams

I'm back! My apologies for the prolonged absence from these pages. It's been a very busy year since my last update during which time I've been on my stag do, got married and been on honeymoon, amongst many other things. It's been time and money consuming but I'm hoping to be able to provide regular updates on a semi regular basis if not monthly at the very least.
It's apt that my return from the relative wilderness is to bring you an update from this year's Robin Hood Beer & Cider Festival. This year's event saw a change from the usual scenery. With Nottingham Castle closed for much needed refurbishment until 2020, this year marked the first of at least 3 years in which the festival took place at a new location, namely the Nottingham Motorpoint Arena, location of many a live gig as well as the home of Nottingham's own ice hockey team, the Panthers.

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The arena is part of the National Ice Centre which was constructed on the site of the former Nottingham Ice Stadium. The ice stadium opened in 1939 and was showing its age, so, in September 1995, plans were announced to replace the Ice Stadium. Plans for the new ice rink, supported by the British Olympic Association, were unveiled in October 1996. In mid-1997 Nottingham City Council voted to adapt the plans of the new centre to incorporate a sport arena.
Several buildings were demolished to make way for the new ice centre; This included an Art Deco warehouse and "The Old Cricket Players" pub, which was initially planned to be spared. The former Ice Stadium closed in March 2000, and by May 2000 was described as "nearly demolished", with four skip loads of demolition rubble being removed from the site every day.
During excavation for the new building in July 1998 a rare 1,100-year-old Saxon jug was found, which is on display at the Nottingham Castle Museum. A 19th-century graveyard was also found under the car park, from which the bodies were then exhumed.
On 1 April 2000, the National Ice Centre was officially opened by Olympic gold medalist Jayne Torvill. The second phase of the project — the family rink — was scheduled to be completed by May–June 2001, but opened early on 7 April 2001. The National Ice Centre was the first twin Olympic-sized ice rink in the UK. The final cost of the project was £43million. The arena was inaugurated by English band, Simply Red on 29 April 2000. 
By 2002, the arena was not as popular as planned. The venue posted an operating loss of £1 million in its first year. Concert promoters would often have acts skip Nottingham in favour of Sheffield and Birmingham. In July, the arena booked Rod Stewart and the concert helped place Nottingham on the map. The arena was able to book many big name artists such as: Elton John, Diana Ross, Kylie Minogue, Barry Manilow, Westlife, Usher, Green Day, Iron Maiden, Kasabian, Metallica, Muse and The Killers. 
HM The Queen visited the National Ice Centre and Arena on 31 July 2002. 
In 2007, former radio station, Trent FM purchased naming rights for four years, becoming the Trent FM Arena Nottingham. When Trent FM was bought by Global Radio, the naming rights were assigned to Capital FM, and the Arena now became known as Capital FM Arena Nottingham. 
In 2011, the arena installed a draping system, reducing the capacity to 4,000 for intimate shows. The arena's overall capacity was also expanded from 9,000 to 10,000.
Despite the average event ticket price rising almost £5 from the year before (to £37.22), in the 2012–13 season the arena made a £200,000 "operating deficit", with a 9% drop in attendance at the Arena, and a 6% fall in the number events held.

The arena is multi-use. Metallica holds the record for the largest concert at the arena, with an audience of 10,337. The Killers' 2009 concert was the fastest selling show, selling 9,661 tickets in one hour. Westlife has performed the most at the arena, with 20 shows between 2001–2012. As of 2014 the arena has hosted artists and events including Whitney Houston, Katy Perry, Elton John, Lady Gaga, The X Factor Tour and We Will Rock You, as well as conferences, galas and balls, including Nottingham Trent University’s Graduation Ball. Kylie Minogue performed here as part of her Kiss Me Once Tour in October 2014 and again in September 2018 with her Golden Tour. The Who performed there in December 2014 and Iron Maiden have performed here three times (in 2003, 2011 and 2017). On 8 May 2007, Diana Ross brought her I Love You Tour to the arena. In 2014, it was announced that Kasabian would be playing at the arena in November 2014, with an extra date added at the arena due to the first date nearly selling out in under an hour. 
On 29 September 2012, it played host to UFC on Fuel TV: Struve vs. Miocic, the first ever UFC event to be held there. On 17 November 2012 the arena hosted the fight between Nottingham boxer Carl Froch and Yusaf Mack, with Froch retaining his world title as IBF super-middleweight. On Saturday 10 December 2011, it played host to BAMMA 8.
Since 2007, it has played host to the Premier League Darts. 
My companions for this year festival shenanigans were my now wife Amy and Matt, who had made the journey up from the West Country, having missed the festival last year. We were also scheduled to meet George at some point during the day (more on him later). We arrived at the arena slightly before the scheduled opening time of 11am but were allowed in straight away which mean we were able to quickly begin to explore the new layout. Whereas the Castle site consisted of a large tent, a small tent and a number of brewery bars spread around the bandstand, the Arena layout was markedly different. The main arena floor housed the majority of the ale bars and several brewery bars and a single 'Cider Barn' containing all of the ciders and perries on offer. The area behind where the arena stage would be had been converted into a backstage village consisting of a small stage, several food vans and some brewery bars whilst Bolero Square, in front of the main entrance, also housed brewery bars food stalls and an acoustic stage. The first hour or so of our visit would consist of adjusting to the new venue, which we'd all visited before for various gigs but never under the pretence of drinking copious amounts of ale. 
We decided that we'd start by exploring the backstage village and, armed with our souvenir glasses and beer tokens, we headed out. It was time for the first beer of the day and we procured this from one of the brewery bars, namely that of Ilkeston based Thorley & Son. My first beer of the festival was their Pale Ale (4.2%), a delicious pale beer packed with Chinook hops for a fruity flavour and soft hints of pineapple. It was a very good place to start and we took a seat at a nearby picnic bench to discuss our surroundings and acclimatise. We also took time discussing next year's potential music festival headliners which led to us finding out that Scorpions are headlining Bloodstock, something which Matt was very excited about!
More beer was soon required and I felt that it was only fair to show my face at the Magpie Brewery bar, seeing as I've worked in one of their pubs for almost a year. This was almost opposite where we sitting so it didn't take long at all for us to have our glasses refilled. Amy and I opted for a seasonal ale, namely Eight for a Wish (4.2%), a pumpkin spiced amber ale in keeping with the time of the year, although the weather was unseasonably balmy. I was familiar with this particular beer from work I knew what to expect from its faintly warming pumpkin flavours. Amy also enjoyed her first taste of this beer and with that we decided to head back inside to further explore the main area. Matt and Amy decided to peruse the cider barn whilst I finished my beer. After much perusal and recommendations from the very helpful staff they had both selected a cider that they were happy with. I had something else in mind for my next beverage. Heading back onto the arena floor, I headed to the bar operated by York based Brew York, hosting their own bar at the festival for the first time. I was instantly drawn to X-Panda (4.5%), a delicious session IPA which went down far too easily and basically only lasted for as long as it took us to walk to Bolero Square to explore that side of the site. Having bumped into an old work colleague of mine, Trish, who was working on one of the food stalls, and 2 regulars from one of my old workplaces, we headed over to a festival stalwart (and festival sponsor), Castle Rock, to see what they had on offer this year. I was struggling to decide between Flying Trapeze and Pinball Wizard until I was told that Pinball Wizard was being discontinued and this was my last chance to try it. Problem solved! Pinball Wizard (4.4%), is a dry-hopped pale ale with subtle flavours of fruit and some piney characters. It was an excellent decision and made me a little bit sad that this will be my last chance to drink this delicious brew. 
Suitably lubricated, we once again made our way back inside where Matt and I quickly identified a beer name in the program that jumped out at us. Rivington in Anderton, Lancashire have brewed Average Guy, Exceptional Hair (5%), a pale ale with stone fruit flavours, hopped with Citra, Amarillo and Azacca for lots of New World hop flavours. By this stage, we'd finally heard from George who, in traditional George fashion, had left things late to find out if he physically needed his ticket printed to enter the festival or if having it displayed on his phone was enough. We left him to figure things out and promised to meet him once (if) he got inside. For now, we resolved to explore some of the brewery bars (and replenish our stock of tokens) on the main arena floor. The first of these was the ever-reliable Blue Monkey where I was quick to select Blubarb and Custard (4.8%). This is a pale wheat beer that utilises local fresh rhubarb and added vanilla for a taste that certainly lives up to its name! Whilst we were deciding what our next move would, we again heard from George, who was about to join the queue to enter the arena. There was plenty of time for another beer or 2 before he arrived. To that end, we headed over to the Thornbridge bar. Another of my favourite breweries, they had plenty of excellent beers on offer. I was in the mood for something darker so I went for the Strawberry Lucaria (4.5%), a very very tasty strawberry ice cream porter. It's dark and sweet with all the flavours of strawberry ice cream. It's wonderful and odd all at the same time. Speaking of which, George quickly joined us. His arrival coincided with the need for another beer so I made the decision to work along the bars adjacent to the Thornbridge bar, largely to cut down on walking time. Next up was a local favourite brewery in the form of Black Iris, out of Basford. Amongst their wide variety of weird and wonderful options, Drain the Blood jumped out. At 5.2%, this is a blood orange tea infused wheat beer with banana and clove aromas, citrus flavours and a dry finish. It's another absolute belter of a beer!
With George now here, we further absorbed ourselves in conversation. George was flitting back and forth between us and a larger group of friends and he headed off to them now but we would catch up with him later. Another local brewery took my fancy now in the shape of Totally Brewed. Their Biscuit Break (5.5%) took my fancy. This is an amber ale brewed with a variety of biscuit malts and the slightest hint of coffee. The best description is that it's very much like drinking biscuits but in a thoroughly good way! We wandered outside to the backstage village now to see what was happening on the stage, where a male guitarist and female drummer were rattling through a few cover versions including decent versions of both 'Ace of Spades' and 'The Passenger'. More beer soon beckoned so we decided to make our way back to Bolero Square. I collected another beverage on the way, specifically Sleepless (5.4%) from Macclesfield's Redwillow Brewery. This is a hoppy American style amber ale made with red rye. It certainly made the walk to the other side of the arena more pleasurable. Bolero Square was considerably busier than our first visit as the acoustic stage was in full swing, filling the air with the sounds of many different covers including standard singalongs like '500 Miles' and 'Wonderwall'. We located a good spot to stand and chat whilst we enjoyed the atmosphere that only good beer and good music can provide. It seemed as good a time as any to further investigate the brewery bars at this level. Next up, the Shipstone's bar. Their IPA (5.5%) is a full-bodied beer with a floral aroma and a smooth, hop finish. It's certainly a cracking example of the style and it's good to see that one of Nottingham's old brewing names is back and going strong. 
Nearby, my old employers and recent award winners, Navigation Brewery had their bar so it only seemed fair that I pop over, say hello and have a beer as well. Having had a chat with Dom, the Navigation head brewer earlier in the day, I knew what beer I would be having so I dived straight in to their Bakewell Tart Ale (4.8%). This did exactly what it said on the pump clip with cherry and almond flavours and an overall sweetness. It really was like drinking a pudding! Amy took the opportunity to grab some food and we hung around by the acoustic stage until the set ended or before we'd run out of beer, whichever happened first. My next brew was one from the nearby Bateman's tent. The wonderfully named Skull & Hammers (4%) is a uniquely blended amber ale, packed with flavour and hints of citrus. This was perfect sustenance for the walk back to the main floor of the arena where we were reunited with George and an assorted group of mutual friends. This happened conveniently close to one of the stillage bars which easy access to beer as well as conversation. I was intrigued by a brewery from Guernsey called White Rock so I decided that I needed to see what they had to offer. I was not disappointed. Lost Tourist (5.3%), is a very hoppy IPA that went down very well indeed and before I knew it, my glass was empty. I hate it when that happens!
Amy had had enough by this stage and was feeling tired and so decided to make her way home. Matt and I continued our stay for a while longer as there were still many beers that we wanted to try. The next of these that I'd focused on sounded very intriguing. From Colyton in Devon, Darkplace have produced On the Beach (5.5%), a beetroot saison. A stark but delicious combination of beetroot and orange, this is a very fruity and dry beer that tastes a lot weaker than it is. Matt and I were feeling a tad intoxicated by this stage but vowed to soldier on until our supply of vouchers was exhausted. My next beer came from Jaw Brewing, out of Glasgow. I was drawn to the Capsize (5.7%), a peach golden ale with floral and toffee flavours and a very sweet, fruity finish. I can definitely recommend checking out their stuff if you get the chance! Another big hitting IPA was my next choice, namely The Snake from Manchester's Soul Brewing. Coming in at 5.6%, this is brewed with Chinook, Ahtanum and Centennial hops. This was another that went down very swiftly! By this stage, we'd taken up a position roughly between the backstage village and the main arena floor in front of the aforementioned stage where another cover band were making their way through a rock and roll themed set. I decided that now was a good time to get some food so I headed for a nearby burger van that did just the job.
Another Scottish brewery drew my attention next and I wandered over to the bar where I located the offerings of St. Andrews from Edinburgh. Yippie IPA (6%) is infused with tropical fruits and delivers a crisp, refreshing bitter finish. Scotland knows what it's doing where beer is concerned! Having temporarily lost Matt, he soon re-emerged in need of further alcohol. Luckily I was in the same boat so we decided to give the Nene Valley Brewery bar a look. Persuaded by a rather tipsy gentleman, we both opted for Big Bang Theory (5.3%). I'm fairly certain that I also had this beer last year and I remember why. It's excellent! It's a pale ale with huge hop aromas, malty sweetness and a bitter finish. Big bang indeed! We still had a few vouchers left so the decision was now what to use them on. First to earn some of the remaining vouchers was Well Drawn Brewery from Caerphilly. Their 2nd Breakfast IPA (5.1%) is a pale, session ale brewed with Target and Fuggles but also flavoured with elderflower which adds a very interesting flavour and sweetness to the whole thing. By now, the rock cover band had given way to a punk band who mixed cover versions with their own material and whose singer kept randomly wearing a Donald Trump mask. Because reasons. 
Beer-wise, I went local again for my next beer, immersing myself in Phoenix (4.5%) from Lenton Lane brewery. This is a strong ruby mild with lots of full, malty flavours. This marked a departure for me as I'm not normally a fan of mild but this one was worth the effort. I'd been hearing a lot of chatter about fabled green beer this year and I finally found it in my next beer. Located in the backstage village was the excellent Funfair Brewery bar and their Frowner (5.1%). This is a traditional ginger beer, green in colour with a twist of lime and, despite how it sounds, was very good indeed! I was glad that I'd been able to find this particular beer so late in the day but it was very much worth the wait. I had enough vouchers and lingering sobriety left for 2 more beers and I sensed that Matt was flagging as well. Josh had also joined us after work along with a couple of my formal work colleagues to add to see the ensemble. My penultimate beer choice was another big hoppy number, this time originating from Brew Monster in Cwmbran. Mephisto IPA is a traditional style IPA that comes in at 5.6% and carries hints of spice and a floral aroma. Once again, I can only recommend Welsh breweries for the quality and range of beers available. One beer to go before it was acceptable to leave and I made my decision for the hilarious pun alone. Another Welsh brewery, this time Vale of Glamorgan, and their Miami Weiss (4.5%), a deliberately cloudy, pale, American-style wheat beer. It was a perfect example of one of my favourite styles and perfectly wrapped up the day's beer consumption. 
With that, it was time to make our departure. It had been a whirlwind of a day, in great company and drinking great beers. The obvious question is, has the festival stood up to scrutiny in the wake of its move to a new venue? 100% yes! The layout is simple and it's as easy, if not easier, to find your way around. The use of the 2 outside areas has added something different and allowed for more live music to help enhance the atmosphere. The brewery bars are as good and as varied as ever and the range and quality of beers is second to none! I've always been a huge fan of the Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival since my first visit in 2012 and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon. Without a shadow of a doubt, despite the misgivings of many, this year's festival was a roaring success. Bring on next year!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Bristol Beerfest!

Following on from our day out in Bradford on Avon, the next 2 days of this year's Bristolian excursion would focus on pubs in Bristol itself, some of which I was visiting for the first time, whereas others were old favourites or pubs that we felt deserved a revisit. 
The first of these trips, on what was Matt's 28th birthday, would see us making our way to the suburb of Cotham and working our way down the hill with the intention of finishing the evening with a pub quiz, recruiting Jess along the way. We headed out relatively early, getting a bus into the centre before walking, via a mildly circuitous route, uphill to our first destination. Our day of drinking would begin at The Penny. 

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On the edge of Clifton and across the road from Clifton Down shopping centre, this is a pub in a former bank which still hosts the old bank vault downstairs. Formerly known as the Penny Farthing, this is a Wadworth owned premises with a modern, comfortable feel, painted woodwork, beer themed wallpaper and Wadworth paraphernalia. The bar is large and situated to the right of the room with seating consisting of tables and booths. As you'd expect the beer choice is Wadworth with 5 of the 6 handpulls in use during our visit. The choice is between Horizon, Dirty Rucker, 6X, IPA and Flyin' Try. I opted for a pint of the Horizon (4%), a pale gold-coloured beer with zesty citrus and hop aromas and a crisp, tangy finish on the palate. It's a nice and refreshing way to start the day and I feel like we've earned a pint after the walk. The weather had settled down considerably from the previous day and there was a much more pleasant feel in the air throughout the day. We had a loose route planned that would take us back downhill towards the centre of town. The Penny had certainly been a good place to start off the day and our next destination was a short walk away. Leaving the pub through the opposite door through which we entered, we emerged on Cotham Hill.

A short walk to the right brought us to our next stop, somewhere we'd visited on a previous occasion. It was time for a revisit of Brewhouse & Kitchen. 
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Part of the now nationwide chain, the pub has gone by many names in the past including the Hill, Cotham Hill, Crockers and Finnegan's Wake and is built on the site of the 18th century Whiteladies Tavern. Situated 100 yards from Clifton Down station, the pub reopened in March 2015, following an extensive refurbishment. As with other pubs in the chain, the beer is brewed onsite and named after local historical figures or stories. The brewery is located at one end of the long bar, which takes up the majority of the rear wall. The rest of the space is given over to a variety of seating and quirky features including hollowed out suitcases used as picture frames and an upright piano decorated with the lyrics to Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer'. The pub is also Good Beer Guide listed, a testament to the quality of the beers. Speaking of the beers, they occupy 6 handpulls on the bar, 5 of which were in use during our visit. Our options were strictly B&K beers namely, Yankee Cabot, Crockers, Down the Hatch and Hornigold. The 5th handpull was occupied by Orchard Pig Chilli & Ginger cider. A few of the available beers were a bit on the strong side for this time of day so I opted instead for the Hornigold (3.9%). This is a dry and refreshing very pale ale, named after Benjamin Hornigold, mentor to the infamous pirate Blackbeard. Despite the low ABV, it's a very delicious beer indeed! 

We headed further down the hill for our next stop, which stood in a cluster of pubs not far from the local university. Next up, we crossed the road and made our way to the Highbury Vaults. 
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Listed on CAMRA's regional inventory of historic interiors, this pub has been in the same hands for many years. Popular with staff from both the university and nearby hospital, it dates from the mid 19th century. The interior is dark and dimly lit with a small front snug that used to be the entirety of the original pub, a main drinking area, bar billiards table and a working train set that connects the bars. There is a large, heated patio outside and a garden with impressive floral arrangements. The pub also has a bit of a grim history. The gallows used to stand on the nearby roundabout and this pub was often the last stop for the condemned, with their bodies being stored in the vaults under the pub before burial. The walls are decorated with all sorts of bric-a-brac including funny newspaper headlines. The bar features 8 handpulls offering doubled up Young's Bitter and London Gold, as well as Teignworthy Mad Hatters, Butcombe Gold, Tribute and Bath Gem. I decided on the Butcombe Gold (4.4%), a golden ale with a light aroma of fruit and hops, leading to well-balanced flavours of malt, pale fruit and hops, leading to a bitter aftertaste. We took our pints and headed out into the pleasant garden where conversation, as it often does with me and Matt, turned to music, specifically how Matt knows the cousin of a member of Tool. I thoroughly enjoyed the Highbury Vaults and I'd definitely like to visit again. It's an unusual and very pleasant place for a pint. 

We had not far to go at all for our next stop as it is located opposite. We now made our way to Beerd. 
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This is a sleek, modern bar, originally opened by Bath Ales in 2011 and refurbished in the summer of 2017. As well as 4 handpulls, there are also a number of craft keg beers, located on a bar surrounded by a mixture of furnishings consisting of high and low tables, chairs, sofas and armchairs. The aforementioned handpulls appear to be repurposed bike handlebars although they may just have been decorated to appear this way. The beers on offer are Bath Gem, St. Austell Tribute, St. Austell Proper Job and Wild Beer Co. Bibble. Having really enjoyed Bibble when I've had it in the past, it didn't take me long to decide to have it again. At 4.2%, Bibble has a moreish bitterness complimented by tropical fruit flavours from Mosaic and Amarillo hops. The name is a local Somerset word meaning to drink regularly. It's certainly a delicious beer and this venue in general is very interesting. I enjoyed the quirkiness of it and I enjoyed the pint I had so it ticks all the boxes in that respect!

Just next door to Beerd, lay our next destination. We now made our way to the Cotham Arms.

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Formerly known under a variety of names such as the Royal Fort, Bar @ 155, Howlin' Wolf and Chin Chin, the pub reopened under its new name on 3rd August 2017, following a refurbishment. It is a Grade II listed building that was built between 1861 and 1871, when it was known as the Highbury Park Tavern. Its first recorded landlord was John Dando and it stayed within the family until 1883. It was once a popular cider house in the Cotham district. Nowadays, there is a contemporary feel with two main rooms. The light and airy front bar is furnished with a variety of tables and chairs. The pub is now operated by Bermondsey Pub Co, a subsidiary of Enterprise Inns. As well as ales, there is also a large selection of gins. 2 of the 3 available handpulls are in use on our visit, offering a choice between Doom Bar and Milk Street The Usual. It was to the latter that we turned our attention. The Usual (4.4%) has a well-rounded fruitiness with hints of caramel in the taste. The slight sweetness is balanced by a bitter, grainy finish with hints of raspberry. It's an unusual concoction but delicious all the same. It's even more enjoyable in the surroundings in which we find ourselves, under the gaze of the mural of a gin-loving octopus.

Our next stop was a slightly further walk away and a little bit more downhill, although not by much. Next up was the White Bear.
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With its namesake proudly standing outside, this pub dates all the way back to 1752 when it was a coaching inn for those looking to trade from the docks at the bottom of the hill. Downstairs features a comfortable lounge to the rear and a more traditional area at the front. Upstairs has a small performance space that accommodates about 50. Three handpulls occupy the bar and at the time of our trip these feature Wickwar B.O.B, Bristol Beer Factory Independence and Bristol Beer Factory Fortitude. Matt and I had a pint of both the Fortitude and Independence respectively. Independence (4.6%), has a strong, hoppy flavour and initial aroma followed by sweet fruitiness leading to a bitter hoppy finish. Overall, it's well balanced with impressive flavour for its strength. The White Bear is a very nice place and we were able to find some free stools upon which to perch at the bar and admire the place fully. One of the things I love about Bristol is how different the pubs are whilst still maintaining a homely and welcoming atmosphere. It's one of the reasons that I enjoy coming back so often. 

This feeling was very much in evidence in our next location which would be our rendezvous point with Jess when she finished work. Back across the road and slightly further down the hill is the Colston Arms. 
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Formerly known as Micawber's Ale House, the earliest known licensee served customers here as long ago as 1816. Whilst informal, this is a very welcoming little place with a nice garden to the rear and a table football table. Legend has it that condemned men were allowed their last pint before the gallows here, a claim it shares with the aforementioned Highbury Vaults. The small bar here is visible through the window and boasts 5 handpulls one of which advertises 2 beers. The 6 total choices were. Doom Bar, Bombardier, Wye Valley Hereford Pale, Prescott Hill Climb and Titanic Plum Porter. I needed a moment to decide here as I was sorely tempted by the Plum Porter. In the end though, I decided on the Hereford Pale. This is a pale, hoppy, malty brew with a hint of sweetness before a dry finish, all at just 4%. Jess had arrived just before we ordered and with us all together for the evening, we plotted our next move. 

Next, we decided to make yet another trip to what is my favourite pub in Bristol. It's a haven, not just for beer, but also for rock and metal music. I do, of course, speak of The Gryphon.
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Following a brief stop for pizza at nearby Zero Degrees, we arrived at The Gryphon full and in good spirits. Triangular in shape due to its corner plot and just a few yards up the hill from Colston Hall, The Gryphon has a reputation for live music and excellent beers. This is very much a metal shrine with lots of band posters and pump clips all over the walls. 4 of the 6 available handpulls were in use during this particular visit offering Bristol Beer Factory El Choco, Vibrant Forest Flying Saucer, Milestone Hoptimism and Old Sawley Plummeth the Hour. It was an interesting experience seeing beers from the Nottingham area available this far afield but I went for something a bit different, in the shape of Flying Saucer from Lymington's Vibrant Forest brewery. Flying Saucer (4.3%) is a full flavoured golden ale with fruity, floral and citrus-like flavours. It's fresh and hoppy with a long, bitter finish and was very nice indeed. We spent a fair amount of time here, enjoying the music and Matt somehow managed to knock his beer all over Jess without getting any on himself. Jess was less than impressed and I get the feeling that this isn't the first time it's happened. 

We were about to move on to our final destination now. It was again another pub we'd visited on more than one occasion, largely due to the large amount of cats on the premises. It was finally time for the Bag O Nails. 

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This is a small gas-lit terraced free house dating from the 1860s that has built an excellent reputation for a great change of cask ales and a large number of very friendly cats roaming free inside. It has a list of 'house rules' covering one pillar some of which are fairly eccentric and the interior also features terracotta colours and portholes in the floor. We had arrived here to get involved with the weekly pub quiz which I'd been positive was on Thursday nights. It turns out that I'd somehow got my wires crossed and we were 48 hours late. Still, at least we'd know for next time and we were here now so it would be rude not to have a pint or 2. 6 of the handpulls were in use, providing a choice of Butts Barbus Barbus, Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout, Bristol Beer Factory Bow Street, Bristol Beer Factory Nova, Dark Star Pale Ale and Tapstone Kush Kingdom. After a moment's deliberation, I went for the Kush Kingdom (5%). A heady mix of 7 malts and 8 hops are used to make this big hitting orange coloured beer. Dank citrus and fruit flavours combine into a complex and uplifting resiny mouthfeel. I was unfamiliar with Tapstone Brewery but further research has revealed that they're based in Chard in Somerset. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of their beers after this as this is an excellent beer. 

Following our beers and some friendly cat interaction, the decision was made to head home and so we wound our weary way back to the bus stop for the return journey to Hanham. As with the previous evening, Matt and I had sobered up significantly to the point where we felt like another pint or 2. After dropping Jess at home, we headed down the road to the pub that sits right by the bus stop. We had time for a quick one at The Maypole. 

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This is a Grade II listed pub on Hanham high street, operated by Greene King, with a reputation for showing live sport. The interior has a split level layout, with a lower lounge area to the front and a pool room and bar at entrance level. 2 of the 3 handpulls here were in use offering a choice between Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen. The Abbot was in fantastic condition. We'd arrived at The Maypole around 10.30pm and we were 2 of the 3 customers in the building which was clearly in the process of closing up for the night. It's a comfortable enough pub though and again it's somewhere we've been to on more than one occasion. 

Upon leaving The Maypole, we decided to head over to the local Spoons which is about 3 doors down from Matt's flat. Again this was the subject of a return visit. Our final pint of the night would be at The Jolly Sailor. 

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The pub is situated on the main road through Hanham which follows the route of the old Roman road through Bath. It's name is a link to the nearby river Avon and the earliest recorded landlord is Charles Coole who was in charge during 1853-74. He was followed by Joseph Bateman whose relative conducted a service on board the Titanic as it sank. There are a good selection of beers on offer at the time we're there but, with it being late, I'd somehow forgotten to write any of them down. The best I can offer is that I had a very delicious pint of Exmoor Bitter which went down very well indeed. 
It had been a very good day with lots of positives to take from it. I'd thoroughly enjoyed exploring new pubs and revisiting some old favourites. It had been a long and tiring day and it was time to get some sleep.

The 3rd and final day of my trip took place at a more leisurely pace than the previous 2. This time accompanied by Jess from the outset, we went out around lunchtime and began with a trip to Atomic Burger, possibly the best themed burger restaurant I've even seen, decorated as it is with all sorts of geeky memorabilia. In a nutshell, it's what the inside of my head looks like on a regular basis. From there, suitably stuffed, we headed down the road to a pub we'd skipped when I was last down with Amy. Day 3 took us to the Pipe & Slippers. 

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Formerly known as the Berkeley Castle, this is a locals pub with high ceilings, dark wood furnishings and regular live music and DJ nights. We appear to be the only customers as we wander in from the cold, still struggling with how full we are from our burgers. The bar hosts 4 handpulls, 2 of which offer Ashridge Cider and Orchard Pig Chilli & Ginger cider whilst the others offer Purity Mad Goose and Otter Amber. I went for the Amber (4%) which is light, refreshing and mellow with hints of citrus hoppiness. It's creamy and delicate with flavours of hops and fruit. It's a nice start to the day and it's nice to be doing things a bit more slowly after 2 solid days of alcohol. Thankfully, I don't get hangovers so my only symptom was a bit of tiredness. 

Our next pub took some finding, tucked away as it is on the edge of a housing estate in the back streets off Gloucester Road. Once we got our bearings, we finally managed to locate The Bell. 
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This is a pleasant, eclectic, two-roomed pub, popular with local DJs and drinkers on their way to local clubs on Friday evenings. There is a pleasant, heated patio area to the rear and local art on the wood-panelled walls adds a bohemian feel to the proceedings. The bar features 4 handpulls which, on the day in question, offer Butcombe Adam Henson's Rare Breed, Butcombe Original, Butcome Gold and Fullers London Pride. For no reason other than the novelty of seeing it here, I went for the London Pride which was excellent and tasted just as it should. We sat outside, with the majority of the other customers, all regulars and enjoyed the dialled back ambience. There was an amusing moment when a regular's dog kicked off at a local cat that was perched on the smoking shelter roof, largely indifferent to the canine onslaught. 

Our next pub would be the last as we were scheduled to meet with Pete, Matt's sister and her boyfriend and a couple of others as part of Matt's birthday celebrations. I can think of no better place to end my most recent trip to Bristol than The Volunteer.
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Tucked away in a side street but extremely close to Cabot Circus shops. Dating from 1670 and listed, it reopened in 2011 after being closed for 6 months. It has quickly become a popular fixture on the local scene and features a fully enclosed and heated beer garden. Dog friendly, it was voted Bristol & District CAMRA Pub of the Year 2016. The bar is small and occupies one end of a long room with the rest of the space given over to furniture for both drinking and dining. The outside area is equipped with long benches and heat lamps to ensure everyone is comfortable. The 6 handpulls offer a decent range of beers and, during our visit, included the following: Plain Ales Inntrigue, Tiny Rebel Cwtch, Gloucester Dockside Dark, Gloucester Session Pale, Tex's Secret and Electric Bear Above the Clouds. I initially intended to begin on the Cwtch. This however failed to clear when poured and it turned out to be the end of the barrel. Instead, I swapped to Tex's Secret, a very sweet, very tasty IPA with big top notes of citrus and fruit. I rejoined the others outside and we were soon joined by Becca & Rich, Pete and his girlfriend Wendy, Kenny from Matt's band and his friend Tom and Jess's friends David & Andrea. What followed was an evening of fun conversation, laughs, jokes and excellent beer. Becca pointed out that, until that night, she'd never seen me sober. She has a point but at least she knows I can actually be sober. 

So, how does this trip to Bristol compare to previous visits? As usual, it was excellent. Bristol will continue to be one of my favourite places and has some of my favourite pubs. I'll never get bored of coming down. There's always more to discover and I intend to go and explore it as often as I can. It's just an incredible place and I always have an amazing time. Bristol, you've done it again!