Monthly Archives: November 2013

New Beer Book Launched in Bath

andy hamilton bookAt 8pm next Thursday (5 December) in Toppings Bookshop on the Paragon in Bath, Andy Hamilton will be launching Brewing Britain: The Quest for the Perfect Pint, a compendious and entertaining guide to beer styles, breweries, home brewing, and a good deal more. Priced at £12.99 – a bargain for a 400+ page hardback – it is eminently readable and suitable both for those new to the subject as well as more as more seasoned – or indeed saisoned – readers. The chapters on the basic ingredients of beer – hops, malt, yeast and water – are packed with interesting information, and the chapters on beer styles include detailed tasting notes on a range of different beers, some familiar, some tantalisingly unfamiliar.

This is bound to be a great night, and you’re advised to book early. Tickets are redeemable against purchase of the book, and beer will be supplied by Bath Ales. Details of the event can be found at Toppings website and more information on the book can be found at Andy Hamilton’s website.

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Two Bath Pubs Reopen

The King's Arms gets a makeover ready for its reopening on 2 December
The King’s Arms gets a makeover ready for its reopening on 2 December

Two Bath pubs that closed suddenly over six months ago are to reopen – revamped and revived – in December. Given the number of recent closures that have quickly become permanent, there were fears that the loss of the Green Park Tavern on the Lower Bristol Road and the King’s Arms in Monmouth Place – both owned by Enterprise Inns – would become permanent too. Happily, this was not to be the case. The King’s Arms has had a thorough makeover, its opening party was last night (29 November) and it opens for business on 2 December. As befits one of Bath’s top music pubs, live music will once again be high on the agenda and punters will doubtless be impressed at how the old place has been transformed. The Green Park Tavern, set to reopen later in December, is to re-emerge in a somewhat different form, as the GPT Smokehouse & Bar, courtesy of the former owners of Banglo, the bar and restaurant next door which was badly damaged in an arson attack in May. The Green Park Tavern was also one of the city’s top music venues – the gigs lined up there for the Bath Folk Festival had to be hurriedly rescheduled at the nearby Belvoir Castle pub when it closed – and live music will be once again be on the menu at the renamed GPT.

All of which is very good news, with two of the Bath pubs that closed in 1913 up and running again – and with enthusiastic new owners rather than holding companies. Unfortunately, there is still no news on the fate of the Wadworth-owned Olde Farmhouse on Lansdown Road, once the city’s top jazz venue but now sadly silent. There were once plenty of pubs in this part of town – one of the last was the Belvedere Wine Vaults across the road which closed in 2012 – but, apart from the Rising Sun on Camden, all have now closed. We can only hope that, like the King’s Arms and the GPT, the Old Farmhouse soon finds a saviour – especially as it lies in one of the most sought-after residential areas in Bath.

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The Mystery of the Golden Lion

QUERY GOLDEN LIONThis photograph is the first in a series of ‘mystery pubs’, which we’ll be posting in the hope that someone will be able to identify them. Over the years we have come across a fair number of photos of pubs with no indication of where they are. Many of them we’ve managed to track down, but some of have eluded all attempts at identification. This one, despite providing plenty of clues, has proved a particularly tough nut to crack. The photo dates – we think – from the 1940s, although someone who knows about cars and car registrations might be able to be a little more specific. What we do know is that the car has a Somerset registration, which suggests that it is likely to be Somerset. It was a George’s house, which indicates that it was probably in Somerset or Gloucestershire – although there were George’s houses in nearby counties, as well as some in South Wales. The licensee was Thomas W Leonard, and it was a beerhouse. A trawl though Kelly’s directories for the 40s and 50s for the relevant counties would probably come up with a result but unfortunately we have not been able to get our hands on them. It may be still open, it may have changed its name, it may have become a house, it may even have been pulled down. We’ve no idea, but if you can suggest any leads we’d be delighted to hear from you.

Islay’s Guide to Five of the Best in Somerset

#dogLet’s get a few things straight to start off with. When it comes to pubs, I realise that what I look for in a good pub is a bit different to what most of you are looking for. One thing we can be agreed on, of course, is the importance of a decent drop of real ale – although it has to be said that the measly amounts I get served up my little bowl are a disgrace. Anyway, having got that off my chest, what else am I looking for in a good pub? Well, to start off with, biscuits. I don’t suppose many of you put the quality of dog biscuits that high on your agenda, but this can make or break a pub as far as I’m concerned. As can the range and quality of the chips and other dropped morsels I can forage off the floor – messy eaters, I hear you cry – benefactors of the canine kind, as far as I’m concerned. The only problem is I’m not allowed to wander off that far in search of them – or to follow enticing smells – and why is it that the most tempting smells always seem to come from the one place I’m never allowed to go – behind the bar! Life’s a real bark sometimes. Anyway, enough moaning. Other things that count as far as I’m concerned are a nice cool floor to crash out on, lots of people to make a fuss of me, friendly dogs for a meet and sniff session, and decent helpings of food, so that my owners aren’t tempted to trough it all themselves and plenty of treats find their way down to me. And it goes without saying that there has to be plenty of open country nearby for a good run. So here is the first of what I hope will be a regular series of updates on my favourite pubs, starting with Somerset.            

1#FOX AND BADGERTHE FOX & BADGER, WELLOW:  I’m becoming something a regular here now that that nice lady Jo from the White Hart in Widcombe has taken it over – and there’s always a biscuit or two ready when I walk in as well. I’m also partial to a drop of Butcombe, which is kept very nicely here, and as lots of other people bring their dogs here it’s a sociable sort of place. It’s particularly good in summer because there’s a ford at the bottom of the hill where I can go for a good swim. Food-wise the chips and bits of fish that make their way my way are especially good – the problem is my owners think so too, so I never seem to get enough.

Lots of fantastic places to explore just up the road from the Hunter's Lodge

HUNTER’S LODGE, PRIDDY:  Another proper country pub, in the middle of nowhere – or to be more precise with some fantastic walks just up the road – woods, lakes, old mine workings, just the thing for working up a decent thirst. Jolly good beer in barrels behind the bar, hearty platefuls of food accompanied by thick wedges of bread – and I’m always partial to a bit of bread. Interesting people, interesting smells and a nice fire in winter.

3#crownCROWN, CHURCHILL:  Like all the best pubs, this has fantastic walks on the doorstep – in this case to the top of Dolebury Warren, a great place for a run. I heard that it was called a warren because there were rabbits up there, but I haven’t seen any, more’s the pity! This is another proper country pub with barrels behind the bar – lots of them – and splendid food at lunchtime – big helpings too, which means that I don’t go hungry. All that running around builds up quite an appetite.

The view from Dolebury Warren - but not a rabbit to be seen!
The view from Dolebury Warren – but not a rabbit to be seen!

OAKHILL INN:  This is another great country pub, with lots of room to stretch out and wander around, and it’s kept by those nice people that run the Garrick’s Head and King William in Bath – both excellent dog pubs, although the Oakhill has the advantage of great walks nearby – some terrific woods for tearing about in and rooting out all sorts of odorous delights.  

Woodland walks near Oakhill
Woodland walks near Oakhill

5#INN AT FRESHFORDINN AT FRESHFORD:  Another top recommendation, and as it’s just down the road from Bath I’m becoming quite a regular here as well. Good dog biscuits, lots of people to make a fuss of me, and a fantastic field just across the road where I can go for a really good run.

            

Craft Beer comes to Bath

It’s astonishing how quickly the Craft Beer revolution has hit Bath – astonishing too that a city which at the start of the year only boasted one brewery now has three.

In March, Independent Spirit opened on Terrace Walk. Despite its name, this independent off-licence not only sells spirits, but wine and beer as well. The underlying principle, though, is that all the tipples on offer are ones you’ll be unlikely to find elsewhere in Bath. Its fantastic range of craft beers from around the world, including many from local brewers, fills the shelves on both sides of the entrance, and new arrivals are appearing constantly. There could be no finer introduction to the craft beer scene, and, for those who are unsure what they might like, Chris Scullion and Christian Morrish are more than happy to share their considerable expertise in recommended suitable brews.

In May a pop-up bar from the Wild Beer Company opened in the old Octagon Chapel in Milsom Street during the Bath Festival. The Wild Beer Company share premises with the Westcombe Cheese Company at Evercreech in Somerset, and platters of Westcombe were on offer as well. Despite being based in deepest Somerset, this is one of the most ground-breaking breweries in the country. It was set up in 2012 by Andrew Cooper, one of the UK’s few beer sommeliers, and Brett Ellis from California, where craft beer has been going strong for years.

As is the habit with pop-up bars, it sadly popped down again after a couple of months. By now, though, Bath’s drinkers were starting to acquire a taste for craft beers, and since then three permanent craft beer outlets have opened. Two were revamps of long-established pubs that were starting to look a little tired – the Porter on George Street and the Metropolitan (formerly the Midland) on James Street West – the third was brand new.

The Metropolitan, now reborn as the Bath Brew House, complete with its own six-barrel brewery, generally has four craft beers on offer from the likes of the Wild Beer Co, Tiny Rebel and Magic Rock, along with six cask ales – three brewed on the premises.

porterThe craft beer bar at the Porter, meanwhile, generally has nine or ten craft beers available. On a recent visit there were keg beers from Tiny Rebel, Kernel, Arbor, Williams, Moor, the Wild Beer Co and Buxton, along with bottles from Wiper & True and elsewhere. If you remember the old Porter, the revamp will come as a bit of a shock. The ground floor, where the main bar used to be, is now a Michelin star restaurant that seems to be the new place to be seen – the Bath Chronicle recently featured a front page report that Ricky Gervais had been seen having lunch there wearing dark glasses. The craft beer bar – which doubles as a cocktail bar – is on the first floor, and is open all day. There is also a cellar bar serving cask ale, which seems to open in the evenings only, with dancing, DJs and live music as the night wears on. The only problem is that, from the street, the Porter just looks like a restaurant, with little indication that lots of great craft beer is available on the first floor – but just walk in, head upstairs and take a look at what’s on offer.

The other craft beer outlet is down by the station. Bath Ales opened their Graze bar in a newly-built retail complex just under twelve months ago, and since then it has acquired its own microbrewery. It is pleasing to report that Shane O’Beirne, the brewer in charge, has not gone for a safe, middle-of-the road, lowish-ABV option. Graze’s flagship brew is a potent 5.7 ABV IPA, with real body, and reminiscent of Thornbridge Jaipur. Called Platform 3 it is available on cask and keg, so you can contrast and compare. One a recent visit Bath Ales Dark Side was also available on keg, with Gem and Spa on cask.

Finally, for those in search of unusual craft beers, especially from local microbreweries, it is worth calling into Raisin Wines at the top of Walcot Street. Among the breweries represented here on a recent visit were Wiper & True, Muddy Wellies from Cirencester, Stroud, North Cotswold, Cotswold Brewing Company and Rocket Science from Yate.  

That’s it for now – unless anyone knows different (and if so, get in touch). Given the speed at which craft beer has hit Bath, and the success it’s enjoyed, it’s unlikely to stay like this for long, though. And who knows which of the city’s established cask ale pubs will be the first to join the craft beer revolution? Our local, the Star, on the Paragon, has already started stocking bottles of Brew Dog Punk IPA … Watch this space.

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Introducing Islay – and I don’t mean whisky.

pic for compIt’s time to meet the third member of the Swift family who has an interest in pubs – Islay, known on Twitter as #Islaythewestie.  Islay first visited a pub quite early in her life, when our good friend Jase Clarke, who then ran the White Horse at Shophouse Road, told us to bring her in. If there were any … er … accidents, he said, he wouldn’t mind.  It was a very exciting experience for her, and we learnt as much about taking a dog to a pub as she did.  This includes making sure she is empty before we take her in – carpet is one thing, but a stone-flagged floor may confuse a dog into thinking it’s still outside. We also take a pub bag with us, which has a chewy ring to keep her occupied and a few treats. Oh yes, and her little bowl – and not just for water.  Islay is a fan of real ale too, though we ensure her intake is very limited.

Many city pubs (and I don’t just mean Bath) don’t want dogs in and sometimes you can see why.  So if you’re going to visit one of those that do, remember – dogs are welcome if they’re well-behaved, but unwelcome if they’re not.  As you can tell, we try to make sure Islay is greeted with a smile and not a frown.

So here are several dog-friendly pubs in Bath itself or within a reasonable walk from the city centre, where the beer is up to the standard required by all members of the Swift family.

First up is the Star.  Not only do the bar staff make a fuss of her, but they keep a supply of doggie biscuits and treats for their canine visitors. It must be one of Bath’s most dog-friendly pubs, much to the disgust of Kernow, the resident cat.

Another firm favourite is the Barley Mow in Bathwick Street, run by Nick Etheridge. This is also a very dog friendly pub, with a good supply of fresh water for those dogs which have been having a run in the nearby parks.  We have a job to get Islay past it, perhaps because Nick always gives her such a warm welcome.

In the centre of town, Tim, the landlord of the Old Green Tree allows well-behaved dogs in, but not at lunchtime. Owners may also be asked to take the dog into a particular room, but by and large, there’s no problem.

At Widcombe, the White Hart has always been relaxed about dogs, and on a sunny summer’s day the garden is the ideal place for a little hot dog to chill out in the shade.

It will come as no surprise that the Bell is dog friendly, and at busy times, it too has the garden for you and your dog to escape to, but in their case, it’s covered, and has heaters so is available at all times.

If you’re hoping for a restaurant type meal for yourselves,  to which you can take your canine friend, the King William on the London Road and the Garrick’s Head both allow well-behaved dogs, though you will be asked to sit in the bar rather than the restaurant.

Two we haven’t taken her in yet, but which are also dog-friendly are the Rising Sun in Grove Street (typical pub food for humans, and a slightly limited but well-kept couple of beers on) and the newly opened Bath Brew House.  Finally, slightly further from the centre of town, there’s the Rising Sun, Camden – not one Islay has been to yet, but she’s had a personal invitation from the new management, so we’ll be going taking her quite soon.

Islay’s choice of country pubs in the neighbourhood will be coming up soon.

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At quiet times, there's plenty of room for your dog, but busy or quiet, dogs always get a friendly welcome.
At quiet times, there’s plenty of room for your dog in the Star, but busy or quiet, dogs always get a friendly welcome.
2 barley mow
The Barley Mow in Bathwick Street where fresh water is on hand for thirsty dogs.
3 OLD GREEN tree
The Old Green Tree in Green Street – but please don’t take your dog in during lunchtime.
4 WHITE HART widcombe
From the outside, the White Hart today looks almost as it did back in the 1950s when this picture was taken – it’s very different today inside but well behaved dogs are still very welcome.
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A chilly dog warms himself by the fire in the Bell.
6 king william 2
Despite its gastropub reputation – its food is deservedly award-winning – The King William serves excellent beer, and is dog friendly.
7 garrick's head
And the same goes for its sister pub, the Garrick’s Head.

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The three awaiting a visit from Islay – the Rising Sun, Grove St (left) the Bath Brewhouse (centre) and the Rising Sun Camden Rd (right.)