Interesting article on the craft beer revolution in the Guardian today, very balanced and not taken in by the hype. It also addressed the issues of big brewers jumping onto the bandwagon and of artificially inflated prices for anything that can be labelled craft beer. Among those interviewed was Pete Brown who ‘railed at the opportunism – generally third-party distributors, bars and restaurants adding unreasonable mark-ups – that means even average craft beer can increasingly cost £5 a print.’ The article’s balance even extended to CAMRA, represented by an affable spokesperson who, while admitted that CAMRA would ‘always promote cask beer … anything attracting new drinkers to the joys of beer has got to be a good thing’. The CAMRA types I tend to come across, however, seem to regard craft beer either as a return to the bad old days of Watney Red or as overpriced novelty juice appealing to those whose lack of beer knowledge is matched by a willingness to fritter away money.
CAMRA also figures largely in a splendid book I’ve just finished reading called Brew Britannia by those indefatigable bloggers Boak and Bailey. It looks at how brewing in this country – and indeed elsewhere – has changed from the days before CAMRA came on the scene to now. It is a story that has been told many times before, but rarely as well and never as comprehensively. Not only have they carried out loads of new research, they have interviewed many of the key players from way back as well as many of the new kids on the block. There are also some fascinating brewery family trees at the end, showing how new ideas and techniques have been disseminated through the industry by innovative brewers training others who have gone on to put them into practice elsewhere.
For local drinkers, the book has the added appeal of an introductory chapter set in the Small Bar in Bristol, which, although the authors don’t actually say so, seems to stand for the best of today’s cutting-edge beer culture – and that’s something I’ll certainly drink to.
Another Bath pub joins the craft beer revolution. The King William on Thomas Street, long a standard bearer for cask beer, as well as one of the top places to eat in Bath, now has a range of three craft beers on keg. A visit today found three keg crafts on offer, including Wiper & True’s Amber, plus Wiper & True Mosaic on cask. The lunch – £15 for three courses – was superb as well, and a quick visit to the Bell in Walcot Street afterwards was rewarded with a pint of one of Bristol Beer Factory’s Independence. Would that all Monday lunchtimes could be like this – our excuse, Kirsten’s birthday.
A visit to Bristol a week or so ago coincided with ‘IPA Day’. I have no idea whether this was a local or national initiative but it gave me the chance to try some interesting brews. Supernatural from the New Bristol Brewery was one I had been hearing about for some time – not least from Noel the brewer – and I am glad to say it lived up to expectations. A splendid beer – richly-flavoured, amber-coloured and well-balanced – that lets you know it weighs in at a hefty 7%. Definitely one worth seeking out. Somewhat more challenging was Arbor’s collaboration with Indy-Man Brewhouse, a Lemon and Lime IPA that weighed in at 8.2%. Given its name – and its pedigree – it is hardly surprising that the ‘citrus notes’ so beloved of beer bloggers were to the fore here. Verdict – not a session beer (obviously) and maybe not something I’d want to drink regularly, but certainly interesting enough to want to try again if they get round to another collaboration.
The same evening, I decided, largely because it came on to rain rather heavily, to call into the White Lion on the Centre. This Wickwar brewery pub was one I called into quite regularly when Les (most recently at the Vittoria on Whiteladies Road) was the landlord, but after he left my visits grew more infrequent as the quality of beer grew more unpredictable, and I had not been in for about three years. I am very pleased to report that, under Martin, the current landlord, the White Lion has returned to form, and the selection of Wickwar beers was on top form.
Craft beer continues to make inroads into Bath. When I last reported on the craft beer scene in the city, back in November, there were three bars serving craft beer, all relative newcomers – the Bath Brew House, the Porter and Graze. Since then the Greene King owned Westgate in Westgate Street has had the latest in what seems like a never-ending series of makeovers, acquiring five craft beer taps in the process. One or two of them serve craft beer from Greene King, Brewdog Punk IPA is a regular fixture on another, but local breweries such as Glastonbury and the Wild Beer Company also feature.
Another brewery making its presence felt in the city is Fullers, who have taken and refurbished the Crystal Palace, the Huntsman and the Boater – all traditional pubs in prime sites, with high tourist footfall. The Boater – the latest to reopen – was serving Beerd from Bath Ales on a recent visit, and also had a good range of bottled beers – although being served a bottle from Kernel in a half-pint mug, with sediment poured out (against the advice on the label) suggests that presentation needs a little tweaking.
Finally comes Culture & Cure. This, until recently, was the Grappa bar, a pizza, wine and cocktail joint which opened in 2002 in the former Beehive pub on Belvedere. The new name reflects the food on offer – high-quality cheese and charcuterie, primarily sourced from local producers. It also has an excellent wine list, a tempting range of gins – and ten craft beer taps serving brews from the likes of Wiper & True, Moor, Kernel, Bristol Beer Factory, Thornbridge and the Wild Beer Company. There is also an excellent selection of bottle beers and a refreshing refusal to play it safe, with some challenging beers featuring alongside the more popular beer styles. It is open from 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, is closed Sunday and Monday, and, although out of the city centre, is only about five minutes walk up Lansdown Road from the top of George Street, and about three minutes walk up Guinea Lane from the Star. Well worth a visit.
We return after long absence, due (almost) entirely due to other commitments, such as working on a couple of books (of which more anon) and of course visits to some outstanding pubs. We also ran a one-off Georgian pub crawl in the Bath Literature Festival, starting off in authentically early Georgian setting of the cellar of the splendid Independent Spirit, and kicking off with tastings of Bliss, a traditional saison-style brew from the Wild Beer Company. Numbers were strictly limited on the Georgian Pub Crawl, so, for all those who did not get to find out how they liked to get hammered in the eighteenth century, a version of it will shortly be appearing on the blog. We have also discovered some excellent new pubs, especially in Gloucestershire, but also in Cornwall, and we have made return trips to some Somerset pub s we hadn’t visited for a long while. Needless to say, they were all dog friendly, and Islay gave them all the thumbs – or at least the paws – up.
Local news is sadly that planners gave the go ahead for the Farmhouse to be converted from a pub to a ‘health hub’ – so much for safeguarding local amenities. Two other Bath pubs have had a complete makeover and change of name. The Grappa Bar on Lansdown Road (still remembered by many as Bath’s last true cider house) has been reinvented as Comfort & Cure, featuring charcuterie, cheese and craft ale, while the Piccadilly on the London Road, unchanged since who knows when, has become the Hive, a community-based enterprise run as a cafe during the day and a bar with live music, etc, in the evening. All this is purely hearsay, as neither has yet been visited, an omission which will be put right asap. One that has been visited is the Westgate pub in Westgate Street, which since its latest makeover has around five craft beers on keg, including Brewdog Punk IPA and offerings from the likes of the Wild Beer Co, along with a good selection of cask ales and ciders.
Over in Bristol, things are finally happening at the Lamplighters, which after having got into an appalling state closing several years ago, is set to be refurbed for an opening later in the year.
Over in St Werburghs, meanwhile, one of Bristol’s most striking pubs, the Duke of York, has been given a facelift in the form of a new mural.
Independent Spirit in Bath (see above) goes from strength to strength – and we are not just talking ABV here. Chris and Christian continue to source superb beers from around the UK – and the world – that have simply not cropped up on the radar before, so many in fact that it is impossible to keep up with them. We also managed to get to a terrific rum tasting evening there as well as a ‘meet the brewer’ session with Shane O’Beirne from Beerd. This was something of a revelation, for, although I was familiar with Shane’s keynote ‘new wave’ style brews using American, Australian and New Zealand hops, his Scottish 80 shilling and a mild – Mildy Cyrus – brewed in collaboration with the Bristol Beer Factory were superb examples of more traditional beer styles. My favourite of the seven beers of the evening, however, was Convict, a cheekily-monikered offering using Australian hops – mainly Galaxy, but with a sprinkling of Ella. This should be appearing in selected Bath Ales pubs and other outlets soon.
Since the Bell changed hands last year, to become Bath’s first community-owned pub, work has been going on to smarten it up a bit, and a magnificent new sign – in the shape of a bell – has been mounted on the wall. Much of this work, including the sign, has been done by Stephen Bushell, who late last year uncovered some old lettering under the paintwork. Although too fragmentary and far gone to be restored, he took a couple of photos which he kindly let me have – along with one of the sign – to post on the blog.
Which prompted me to dig around in our archive for some old pics of the Bell, which I’ve resurrected and posted below, along with some snippets from old newspapers – some courtesy of Paul De’Ath – which supplement the information on the Bell in Bath Pubs.
A sad day indeed for Bath drinkers, this, and for anyone who cares even a jot about Bath’s historic pubs. After months of being boarded up and with rumours flying thick and fast, a notice has been posted saying that someone called Miranda Matthews wants to turn Ye Old Farmhouse into a health clinic (shouldn’t that be health farm? – ed).
If permission to convert it from a pub is not granted, however, then there will have to be a rethink. The more people object to the proposal, the more likely the council will be take the loss of this community asset seriously. The B&NES planning website is at www.bathnes.gov.uk. The application reference is 14/00512/FUL. Comments have to be in by 20 March.
For those who weren’t lucky enough to visit the Farmhouse in its glory days, it was a seriously good pub not that long ago and could be so again. Long-time landlord John Bradshaw was a jazz fan and top-class jazz played on most nights of the week, with some first-rate performers turning up. What follows are some cuttings from newspaper articles and adverts relating to the Old Farmhouse, followed by a gallery of random shots taken in the pub over the years. Let us hope that, even at the eleventh hour, it is not only memories of Ye Old Farmhouse that are left.
If I’m honest, I have to admit it’s been ready for nearly a fortnight, but I don’t like to comment on a beer on its first tasting. I’d been waiting with great anticipation for the beer to be ready, so when I tweeted the Bath Brewhouse and they said it was on, i replied; ‘I’m on my way!’ I enjoyed it, though, knowing how much chocolate went in it, I’m surprised it wasn’t more chocolatey. Some people were trying it, and when i asked one chap for his opinion, he said at first, that he ‘thought’ he liked it. SInce he went on to have two more pints, it seems he was completely won over.
I’ve tried it twice since – it’s very drinkable and not too malty. Nor is it as heavy as some stouts. However, I think it’s a beer that improves the longer it sits in the barrel. It seems to be getting more flavour as time goes on. Sadly, Bath Brewhouse doesn’t have the room to store casks for long. This is a shame, as I think keeping one cask for a year might result in a very interesting beer.
The brew was a one-off, so I advise people to get down there and try it before it goes.
It was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I went along to the Project Venus meeting at Bath Brewhouse, on January 11th. the full name is Project Venus UK and Eire and it was established in 2011 by a small group of brewsters (women brewers) to promote and further educate women in brewing and beer. It was inspired by the Pink Boots Society in America, which was created to empower women beer professionals to advance their careers in the beer industry through education.
Strictly speaking, none of this should be necessary. In the Middle Ages, many ale-houses were kept by women – hence the expression ale-wife – and this led them into brewing. Brewing was regarded as women’s work – indeed, the inventor of beer back in the dim and distant past was almost certainly a woman. It was only with the rise of big brewing companies in the late eighteenth century that brewing was taken over by men. However, the unstoppable rise of microbreweries has given women the chance to break back into what was their traditional territory and, as I was to learn, many have seized the chance.
I arrived bright and early, but Anna Schwäble, resident brewer at James Street Brewery, the in-house brewery at Bath Brewhouse, was already busy preparing the mash and consulting with Kathy Britton (Managing Partner, Oldershaw Brewery, Grantham), Claire Monk (Head Brewer, Welbeck Abbey Brewery) and Fiona MacEachern, (Brewster , Loch Lomond Brewery.) They told me some suggested brews were sent to the host brewster, and Anna had opted for a chocolate stout. Not only did the mash include both chocolate and caramel malts, they would be adding chocolate powder, and, later on, chocolate nibs (tiny fragments of chocolate) mixed into chocolate husks. Meanwhile, more brewers were arriving as well as a couple of researchers from the University of Lincoln. In all, there were fifteen brewers and two researchers, plus myself and a brewster’s friend who had come along for the ride (literally.) There were soon discussions going on about ingredients, techniques, equipment, and the problems of improving premises. Sue Hayward, of Waen Brewery had a number of unique problems. Living in a small Welsh town, Llanidloes, it is sometimes difficult to get some of her ingredients. Without the internet, she said, she would find it difficult. The chilli flakes for their wildly successful Chilli Plum Porter were a good example. So successful had this beer been, along with their award-winning Blackberry Stout, that they have had to install new equipment which will take them from a 5 barrel plant to an 18 barrel plant, though she does not intend to leap straight from one to other.
I had a long chat with Emma Turner from the Mighty Hop Brewery, based in Lyme Regis. We had mutual friends – John and Becky Whinnerah of Art Brew. Becky, unfortunately, was not well enough to come. Emma is a lively, feisty lady, but she gave me an insight into some of the prejudice that brewsters face. She was giving a tour to a CAMRA group when one of the men turned round and told her she had no right to call herself a brewer. ‘Let’s admit it,’ he said, ‘you’re just doing what your boss tells you. You’re just a dogsbody. That’s not being a brewer.’ If this sort of thing is coming from CAMRA members who ought to know better, we should not be surprised if prejudice comes from others too.
I also talked to Jaime Clowes who now works at Sambrook’s Brewery. She got bored with her office job, and as she was already an experienced home brewer, she worked part time at Sambrook’s before being taken on. I asked her what she thought she would get out of these Project Venus meetings. She said it was good to meet like-minded people, and that many of the top brewsters were role models for her. It was clear there was a happy interchange of ideas going on, and she said that was a benefit to her, but above all, it gave a sense of community, important if you’re in a minority.
I could see what she meant by role models. Top of the list among the attendees must be the formidable Sara Barton, founder of Project Venus and winner of Brewer of the Year from the Guild of Beer Writers in 2012. She makes a virtue of being a woman – her business is called Brewster’s Brewery, and one of her ranges is named after Wicked Women. Michelle Kelsall, of the Offbeat Brewery of Crewe, proudly declares on all her pump clips that her beer is ’brewed by a chick’. It hasn’t stopped her winning several awards. Amanda Seddon and her friend Kathryn Harrison, united by their love of good beer which they discovered after Amanda’s husband took them off to beer festivals, finally started up their own brewery. It’s called Wilson Potter, based in Manchester, and its beers are already attracting praise.
Sara Carter is Head Brewer at the long established Triple fff brewery. She joined in 2008, and in 2012 took the top job when Graham Trott retired. Another attendee was Angela Würges, from Zerodegrees in Reading. And then there was the unforgettable Lizzie Ellis. Her sister is Victoria Ellis of Lincoln University, who came with a fellow researcher, Agnieszka Rydzik, as they are working on a project about women in brewing. The sisters had been educated in Australia, but when they came home, Lizzie was told her qualifications would not be recognised. For a time, as she admitted, she drifted. The sisters had dreams of making the big time with their band the Almaboobies, in which Lizzie is a talented bass guitarist and vocalist. They soon decided life on the road was not for them, although the band is still together. Their parents were, by now, running a pub in Horncastle, Old Nick’s Tavern, and her mother was invited on a brewery tour. Lizzie went along and it was love at first sight. She knew this was what she wanted to do. She worked her way up in a small local brewery, including working for nothing for five months as she learnt the trade from top to bottom, doing sales as well as brewing. However, due to ill-health, the owners felt they had to cut back – but Lizzie is not out of work. Her father is now opening a small microbrewery behind the pub, and Lizzie will be head brewer.
There must be something about brewing that draws people. The appropriately named Sarah Hughes now works for S A Brains as a lab technician, checking quality. Like Jaime, she had been in a desk job, but, after taking a brewing course, had been employed as a brewer for two years, but had moved. She is desperate to get back to brewing.
The last attendee was Jane Peyton. Jane not only writes about beer, she’s a beer sommelier, brewer, and gives tutored tastings. She also knows about whisky. She was wearing a T-shirt with a superb design by her sister Helen – a pint of beer labelled ‘Perfection.’ She‘s a mine of information as there’s not much about alcohol and its history that she doesn’t know. She is planning a fruity porter with one of the brewers, and there was much discussion over flavours.
It was a fascinating day, if very intensive. I felt really tired at the end – and it wasn’t just beer I’d drunk. I had learnt a lot, not least how keen brewsters are to co-operate with each other. I learnt that the wort used to be called ‘brewer’s breakfast’ and that an egg would be added to a glass of it. (It’s unbelievably sweet as I discovered when I tasted it.) I found out why Oyster Stout is so called. Back in the days when oysters were a poor man’s food, the shells were often used as a cheap way of clearing beer. Then, as beer was made more nutritious, by adding other ingredients such as milk, it was decided to add whole oysters. I listened to a discussion about whether it was better to have short hair which could be put under a cap or long hair which could be clipped back.
Finally, we decided on the name of the beer. It’s to be called Venus Velvet, and it should be ready by about the end of January. Now all we need are more women to enjoy it – and some to decide that brewing is the career for them. As the brewsters readily admitted, it’s hard, physical work, but it allows you to be practical and creative at the same time. And Project Venus and its members are there to help anyone who wants to go down this path.
Nothing illustrates more graphically the plight of so many of our pubs than the sad fate of the Kings Arms on Little Paul Street in Kingsdown. Not that well known a boozer perhaps, set as it was off the beaten track in the middle of a housing estate. Many people – even dedicated pub crawlers – may not have come across it. But, if you are struggled to locate it, It lies roughly midway between two of the best-known pubs in Bristol – the Highbury Vaults on St Michael’s Hill (now with Bath Ales Beerd across the road) and the Green Man on Alfred Place, the Dawkins’ Ales pub known until about five years ago as the Bell. The Kings Arms had been there since the 1820s and could, given the right level of support, been as successful and popular as either of those aforementioned pubs. It was certainly a handsome and commodious building, with plenty of space to host all manner of events – but in this case ‘was’ is the appropriate word, for, after closing in 2010, an application to convert it to student accommodation was submitted. An initial refusal was overturned on appeal, and within the last week, the building – all except for its facade – was bulldozed to create ‘student cluster flats with an office and letting agency’. The first two pictures show it as it looked in June this year, the last three were taken yesterday (7 January). Not perhaps the more cheerful note to start the New Year on, but have a good one anyway.