Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bathed in Beers

The 2nd day of our annual West Country visit was a Saturday, which meant we had a full day to carry out our planned excursion. Following a much-needed breakfast at Matt's local Spoons, we once again made good use of public transport and hopped onto a bus for a rainy but not too long journey to the historic city of Bath. I had been to Bath once before, with Matt, just over 6 years ago so was looking forward to visiting some old favourites and discovering some new pubs. Amy had never been to Bath so was eager to see what it was like as she'd heard some very good things about it, not least from me. We arrived in Bath just before 12.30pm with a loose plan in mind that would take us in a rough loop around the centre, taking in a few, very different, pubs along the way. It was set to be a fun few hours.

The morning's weather had been relatively unsettled with a few showers here and there but things were already starting to improve by the time we disembarked on James Street. Our first location was a literal stone's throw away, just over the road. It was time to be immersed in the beers of Bath and there was no better place to begin than Bath Brew House.
Image result for bath brew house

Formerly the Midland Hotel and then the Metropolitan, the whole building underwent a major refurbishment in September 2013 by the City Pub Company. It is now a Good Beer Guide listed brewpub serving beers from the onsite James Street Brewery. The main entrance leads through to the L-shaped bar, behind which and almost opposite the door, are the brewery vessels, behind glass but clearly visible. A dining area takes up the room behind the bar with an open kitchen which features a rotisserie and a smokehouse. A very large garden and patio are to the rear, enclosed by a heated marquee in the colder months. An upstairs room, the Tank Room, shows live sport and hosts quizzes, movie and comedy nights and also features its own bar. I was instantly entranced by this place. I'm becoming a massive fan of brewpubs and this is a perfect example of one. The bar features 7 handpulls, 6 of which were in use on the day, providing (unsurprisingly) beers from the in-house range. The beers available were Gladiator, Emperor, Boudicca, Carpe Noctem, Mother Rucker and Spartacus. I opted for the Emperor (4.4%), a hazy and unfined pale ale. This is a very flavourful beer, crisp and clean and with big citrus notes from the use of British, European and American hops. It's an excellent first choice for the day! Matt opted for the Gladiator and Amy went for a kegged sour IPA. We took our beers over to a snug like area to one side of the entrance, right next to the brewery equipment and sat on stools made from repurposed casks. The decor here is modern, comfortable and quirky with empty beer bottles and hop flowers displayed throughout. This is a cracking place and we were all glad that we started the day out here. As tempting as it was to have a second pint here, the other beers in Bath weren't going to drink themselves so we decided to move on.

We made our way towards the famous abbey area of Bath, near the natural springs that give the city it's name. Tucked away on a small square, in sight of the abbey itself, was our next stop, Crystal Palace.
Image result for crystal palace bath

Located on Abbey Green, Crystal Palace is one of 2 Fuller's pubs that we would visit on our trip. Refurbished by Fuller's in 2014, it's yellow stone exterior gives way to a cosy bar space with lots of seating throughout. A central bar serves two rooms and to the rear is a well-appointed garden with covered seating. The pub is very busy when we arrive (it is Saturday lunchtime after all) but it gives us time to peruse our beer choices. 4 handpulls sit on the bar and our options were Fuller's ESB, Fuller's London Pride, Wild Beer Bibble and Moor Beer Handley's Heroes. I'm a big fan of everything Wild Beer have done so was instantly swayed by the Bibble, as was Matt. Amy went for a Wild Beer lager which was very nice. We decided that our best hopes of finding a table lay in the garden and we were proven correct so we sat outside whilst we enjoyed our beers. The Bibble was in excellent condition. At 4.2%, it is another hazy and unfined pale ale with flavours of tropical fruit and mango for a delicious zesty character. We whiled away our time here discussing upcoming films and trying not to discuss the only big news story that's been happening for weeks. This is a very pleasant pub with its modern feel belying its historic appearance. That history still lingers on the fringes though, as a transparent, ghostly monk has been seen in the pub whenever refurbishment work is carried out. Clearly some of the city's old monastic inhabitants are not in favour of change. 

It was time for a change for us now though. It's always nice to find somewhere unexpected and that would be the case for our next pub which we stumbled across by accident whilst looking for something else. It would have been rude to just walk past so we decided to try the Ale House.
Image result for ale house bath

Situated on a corner plot at a road junction, this small premises has a micropub feel about it with a small bar serving a small room with tables around the perimeter and a few stools at the bar itself. The pub is Cask Marque accredited and is run by a landlord who is an enthusiastic close-up magician. He holds free magic shows in the cellar bar on Friday and Saturday evenings. The aforementioned bar, though small, is very well stocked and features 4 handpulls, 3 of which were available for us to choose from. Our options here were Fuller's London Pride, Bath Gem and Sharp's Atlantic. Matt and I both went for the Atlantic and Amy swapped back to cider as she noticed that Aspalls was on sale. The tables were all occupied but luckily there were 3 stools available at the bar and so we perched on these. The Atlantic was very well kept so I was very happy with my choice. I was less happy with the BBC News coverage that was on in the pub but my mood was lightened when a very old dog that was sat in the corner thoroughly enjoyed being given a piece of sandwich from a nearby table. The Ale House is certainly worth a visit for its service and beer quality and the food looked amazing! We had accidentally discovered a gem!

Leaving the Ale House, we headed down the main road, stopping briefly to look into an amazing bottle shop that was packed with bottles and cans of beer, gins, rums and an entire room full of whiskies. We managed to drag ourselves away before our wallets felt the impact. Continuing our journey we were soon walking parallel to the Avon and then reached the famous Pulteney Bridge. This is one of only 4 bridges in the world to have shops built along its full span on both sides, another of which is Florence's Ponte Vecchio. Crossing the bridge, we took a set of steps down to the riverside, emerging in sight of the weir, itself the scene of Javert's suicide in the film version of Les Miserables. Turning left, we reached our next destination by way of it's outside seating area. We had now arrived at The Boater.
Image result for the boater bath

The second Fuller's pub of the day is accessible from 2 entrances. The main entrance is at street level on Argyle Street with a rear entrance accessible from the beer garden and riverside, through we which we entered, to the sounds of Aerosmith's I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing playing over the pub speakers. The pub is split over 2 levels, both with its own bar although the lower bar is only open at busier times. The lower level is a low, cavern-like space with subdued lighting and alcoves for seating. A small corridor behind this leads to the toilets and also the staircase to the main room which occupies a more traditional space with a long bar serving a room filled with tables and chairs. The bar features 6 handpulls, with mostly beers from the Fuller's range. Greeting us on the day was a choice between Fuller's Grove Glider, Butcombe Adam Henson's Rare Breed, Fuller's London Pride (doubled up), Electric Bear Werrrd and Fuller's Swing Low. Matt and I both opted for the Grove Glider (4.8%) and Amy for a cider and we decided to head outside to the very large beer garden that overlooks both the river and the nearby Bath rugby club. The Grove Glider is a very tasty seasonal beer. It's a hop-forward blood orange pale ale, combining zesty fruit aromas with citrus hops and a nice, smooth finish. It certainly went down very well as we discussed musical things such as the geographical origin of Scouting for Girls and the short-lived chart career of Charles & Eddie.

Before long, it was time to move on again. We decided to leave The Boater via the street level entrance and continued our journey out of the city centre towards the edge of the city. Our next destination was actually Matt and I's first stop on our last visit to Bath. After a few minutes walk, we arrived at the Pulteney Arms.
Image result for pulteney arms bath

Located on the corner of Daniel Street and Sutton Street, this Good Beer Guide listed pub has been open since 1792. There are five original gas light fittings still in situ above the bar although these have now sadly been condemned. The pub is relatively small, with a single central bar serving a lounge style room with an emphasis on rugby themed decor. To the rear is a quieter snug and there is a small function room upstairs. The main room also houses a wood-burning stove. The pub is dog friendly, as evidenced by the presence of 2 dachshunds, a mixed breed terrier and the pub's own dog, a cute black labrador. The pub name comes from the name of a prominent local family who once owned the land and whose coat of arms is referenced by a cat on the pub's sign. The bar features 6 handpulls, with 5 available at the time of our visit. Our choices here were Exmoor Ale, Bath Gem, Fuller's London Pride, Wye Valley HPA and Timothy Taylor Landlord. Matt went for the Exmoor, I went for the Gem, Amy went for cider and we took a seat at a table under the side windows of the pub, between a family with the terrier-type dog and a man who was wearing round sunglasses inside, clearly thinking he looked like Liam Gallagher. To be honest, he looked more like Frank Gallagher but I'm not here to judge. But what of the beer? The Gem was very good indeed and as good as you'd expect from a local brewery. I was thoroughly impressed. The pub itself is also impressive. It's like stepping back in time when you enter. And by that I mean stepping back to the 18th century and not to the release of Definitely Maybe.

It was 'definitely' time for another pub now and this was also one that Matt and I had visited previously. Making our way out of the Pulteney Arms, we looped around and made our way back over the river, eventually reaching Walcot Street where we turned left. Next stop, The Bell.
Image result for the bell bath

Another Good Beer Guide listed venue, The Bell was local CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year in 2014 following a buyout by 536 members of the local community in 2013. The building itself was originally an 18th century coaching inn and is Grade II listed. The interior consists of a long main bar with a number of seating areas with the wall space occupied by posters advertising local events. The Bell has a thriving live music reputation with bands 3 times a week as well as an open mic night. Other features include bar billiards, pool, table football, board games and even a tiny launderette. At the back is the Back Bar which acts as a separate function room and there is a walled garden to the rear with covered seating. 8 handpulls occupy the long bar with a wide variety of choices. For our next decision we had to choose between Abbey Bellringer, Box Golden Bolt, Hop Back Summer Lightning, Butcombe Adam Henson's Rare Breed, Otter Ale, Palmers Copper, Great Western Moose River and Kettlesmith Belgian IPA. Which such choice, it took a while to decide but I eventually went for the Moose River (5%) from Great Western brewery based in Hambrook, near Bristol. This is a golden coloured ale brewed with American hops, providing flavours of citrus and aromas of tropical fruit. A tasty beer indeed! The Bell was also rather busy but we were able to find a table on a raised area to the left of the bar where a man on the neighbouring table had a puppy. Needless to say we positioned ourselves so that the dog had to come and say hello. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this pub from last time and I was very glad that we'd made the effort to return.

Our next location was something of a change of pace again. Slightly retracing our steps, we returned to a place that we'd passed on the way to The Bell. Also located on Walcot Street is a relative newcomer to the Bath beer scene: Brewed Boy.
Image result for brewed boy bath

Opened in summer 2018, Brewed Boy specialises more in craft beer than real ale but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a visit. In fact, far from it! This small pub features a small bar at the back, almost like a shop counter and a small number of tables and chairs in front. The back wall features keg beer taps, 10 in total dispensing a range of different styles and strengths with boards displaying names and descriptions above the respective taps. An eclectic, brightly coloured mural occupies one of the walls. When we entered, not really knowing what to expect, we were immediately impressed by the amount of beer available. One of the lines was out of use, which still left us with 9 to choose from. Amongst these were 2 ciders from Miliwhites, namely Up to no Good and Hug Hug Kiss Kiss. The 7 remaining options were all beers specifically, Crafty Devil Oh Sweet Nuthin', Imaginary Friends Nightmares are Real, Pressure Drop Pig's Ears, Imaginary Friends Jake Pimped my Ride, Wild Card Pale Ale, Apex DDH Pale and Odyssey Little Something. As soon as I saw Pressure Drop, my mind was made up. Pig's Ears (5.5%) is an excellent example of a DDH Pale. This means it's hazy, sweet and juicy with big citrus flavours and a subtle underlying bitterness on the backbone. It only came in 2/3 which is nothing like enough.

Following the unexpected success of Brewed Boy, it was on to something more tried and tested and another pub that Matt and I had experienced previously. A locally famous heritage pub with an historically important interior as recognised by CAMRA, it was on now to The Star.
Image result for the star bath

This Good Beer Guide listed venue was first licensed as a pub in 1759 with the historic interior fitted out by Gaskill and Chambers in 1928. One bar sits to one side and the rest of the pub is effectively made up four small rooms with the smallest, known as 'Death Row' consisting of a single bench and usually occupied by the pubs older customers. Several historic features remain in place here including bell pushes, original upholstered bench seating, 'bat wing' doors that lead to the ladies toilets, an old 1920s telephone, tins of snuff for sale, an old drop-down shove ha'penny board, an old stone fireplace and an unusually positioned bar back which sits at 90 degrees from the bar counter and features leaded windows, bevelled mirror panels, two cigar cupboards and a clock. There are also original cellar doors through landlords would transfer casks from the cellar to the bar using a lift. In addition to this, The Star prides itself on being the only pub in the south-west, and only one of a handful in the country, to serve beer from stillage into a glass jug and then into your glass. This is a truly great example of a surviving heritage pub. We arrived to find the pub quite full but managed to find a place to stand at the bar. The bar hosts 5 handpulls, one of which was given over to a cider in the form of Thatcher's Cheddar Valley. The remaining 4 featured Abbey Bellringer, Fuller's HSB, Wye Valley HPA, Abbey Maximus IPA. Bass was also available direct from the cask via the method described above. I was sorely tempted to go for the traditionally served Bass but in the end I went for Maximus IPA (5%) from Abbey Ales. This is effectively a stronger version of their normal Bellringer but with the big flavours of an IPA and a suitably bitter finish. It certainly went down much more easily than it's ABV would suggest! We enjoyed our time spent at The Star which I think may be my favourite pub in Bath. Let's hope that the current circumstances blow over so that everyone can appreciate this fantastic traditional pub.

It was decided that we would try one more pub before journeying back to Bristol and it seemed fitting to finish on yet another pub that was getting a return visit. Making our way back towards the centre of the city, we located John Street where sits The Salamander.
 Image result for salamander bath

This 18th century building opened as a coffee house in 1957 and received a pub license 5 years later. Taken over by St. Austell in 2017 following their acquisition of Bath Ales, the pub is now run by 2 partners under the Prangell & King Pub Co. It certainly retains the feel of a building that is over a century old with wooden floorboards, wood panelling, subdued lighting and a nice ambience on the ground floor bar area which has been created from several small rooms. An upstairs restaurant uses local ales in the food. The historical feel is somewhat enhanced by tales of a resident poltergeist that throws glasses around, creates disembodied footsteps and manifests mysterious cold spots. It's again standing room only as we enter the pub and eye up the beer options offered to us by 5 of the 7 hand pumps. One of these is Thatcher's Big Apple cider with the other 4 options being from the Bath Ales range in the shape of Prophecy, March Hare, Lansdown IPA and Gem. Matt and I both decided on the Lansdown (5%). This is a hop-forward IPA with light malt notes balancing citrus, pine and grassy notes that lead to a satisfying bitter finish. We managed to find a spot to lean thanks to a drinking shelf near the main entrance as we drank our beers and pondered our next move. It was ultimately decided that we would get an Uber back to Bristol and sate our hunger with takeaway pizza. A perfect Saturday night! We left Bath feeling happy and tired. It had been a good day. I'd thoroughly enjoyed returning to a city that is up there with one of my favourites and Amy was very impressed with Bath as a whole. It's definitely somewhere that we would both like to visit again. The pubs and beers were excellent, the city is lovely and there are still so many places we haven't been too yet!

If I'd known at the time of the visit how much things would change in the following days, I would have definitely paid much more attention. As of Friday just gone, all pubs in the UK are closed for the foreseeable future in the battle to contain and beat the outbreak of COVID-19. 3 days later (last night for me), the UK government has restricted all movement unless it is essential, due largely to the fact that people can't follow basic instructions to stay home. The country is on lockdown. These truly are strange times. Given the circumstances, I have no idea how long it will be until I can publish again. I know that it won't last forever and things will eventually get back to normal but until then, fear and uncertainty stalk the land. I will be back, I have no doubt about that. And when I am, it will likely feel like nothing has changed. Until then, I wish you all the best. Stay safe, look after yourselves and each other. We'll beat this together. See you on the other side!