I’ve been visiting a few of the pubs new to the Beer Guide on a trip to Bristol. I’m more convinced than ever that beer quality is being sacrificed in the name of choice and variety, and that this will have bad consequences for real ale in the long run.
Firstly, Bristol is an increasingly great place to visit. The many cultural developments of the last decade (@Bristol, M-Shed, Spike) are accompanied by suburbs that reward aimless exploration. Clifton and Stokes Croft are well known to me, but Bedminster revealed the best street art in the country, several art galleries, and the sort of hipster pubs found in Hackney and Chorlton, as well as some good hills and parks.
It’s the colour that stands out in Bristol, from the harbourside houses and elaborate painting on the side of many buildings to the pubs. Most of Bristol’s healthy allocation of Beer Guide pubs just look inviting, with characterful interiors, quirky features, and interesting beer ranges. They remind me a lot of the Cambridge pubs around Mill Lane. This has been a feature of Bristol pubs since I first visited in the early 90s, when Smile beers and pubs were the standouts.
I was particularly taken with the Steam Crane, a newish self-styled craft beer bar at the east end of North Street in Bedminster, and not just because of the cutlery in a 90s John Smiths can. I had an excellent 3% table beer and Greek salad, and surprised to be the only customer on Saturday lunchtime, perhaps reflecting the pub’s location. Other pubs closer to Ashton Gate were heaving.
That’s the positives. I have to say that in several other pubs, I was disappointed by beer quality. Most pubs have 6-8 cask pumps, as well as craft keg lines, generally from respected smaller local breweries. What they often didn’t have was sufficient sales of the cask to make real ale seem a better option than the keg or bottled beers. In one of the newer bars, I asked which beer from 8 was selling quickest, which I often do now. The Milk Street Funky Monkey, a beer enjoyed in Frome, was the fastest sellerbut barely drinkable (2 on NBSS). I wonder what Milk Street, Arbor etc think of their potentially excellent beers being drunk below par.