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!