In all the stories of doom and gloom, with pub closures a running theme, it’s always good to relate a success story. Emma and Mike at Chapter 1 have taken a pub that looked as though it was dying and turned it into a community asset.
Readers of this blog will know that Chapter 1 has almost become our local – although it’s the other side of the River Avon, a quick jaunt down to the canal, over Folly Footbridge, under the GWR and over the Avon then through Kensington Meadows and we’re there. It’s become such an institution with the London Road crowd that it seems hardly possible it’s only been there a year. The weekend of 20th May incredibly saw the first birthday of the pub in its new guise.
Enjoying the incredible cheese birthday cake were, among other guests, Chris Scullion of Independent Spirit and Harry Speller of Albion Brewing Company, not to mention regular visitor Bertie the Cockapoo. Among the beers was the innovative Cream Soda from another small brewery, Hubris Id, whose beers can often be found on the list.
The owners Mike and Emma also got into the spirit of the election, offering a free beer to newly registered voters. Local issues were also discussed at Campfire Conversations, on May 28th. Organised by Pete Lawrence, it’s a new initiative being held at places like Hay on Wye, Lewes, Brighton, Malvern and Frome. Among the speakers were Erica Seo from Vegmead, Emma Adams from Meadows Alliance and Luke Emmett from Theatre Bus. The Green candidate Eleanor Field and the Labour candidate Joe Rayment also dropped by. As might be expected, the discussion got a bit heated at times, but Pete Lawrence was a firm chairman, and it all ended amicably.
It’s not all political discussion (although Johnny Clayton of Hubris Id wittily brewed Covfefe, an APA, at the end of May). Throughout the summer there will be a rare chance to see the paintings and prints by PHIL KELLY 1950-2010, in an exhibition called From The London Road to Mexico and back.
Phil lived in Bath in the early 1970s, in a flat just up the street from The Britannia – now Chapter One.
He moved to Mexico in 1980 and was a very successful, exhibiting at The Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City and in many prestigious galleries. His work is a distinctive feature in Rick Stein’s Seafood Cafe in Padstow and his paintings are in many significant private collections.
The Spanish conversation group Todo el Mundo has already held one event there, and look to be planning more, while from time to time, local bands can be found playing there. There are plenty of other drinks from choose from if you’re not keen on beer – they have been known to turn their hands to cocktails.
What you won’t find are tv screens but you will find board games and newspapers. Emma and Mike are collecting some rave reviews from visitors and many local people are now dropping in. Chapter 1 is turning into a real hub for the rather diverse community on the London Road – and that’s what pubs should be all about!
The London Road in Bath has lost more than its fair share of pubs over the last decade. Some of them, to be fair, seemed well past their sell-by date. Having said that, even pubs that seems to have reached the point of no return can still make a spectacular comeback. Take the King William at the bottom of Thomas Street, for instance – the first pub on the London Road you come to as you head out of town. Opened as a beerhouse in the 1830s, this was the sort of tiny street-corner boozer that – according to industry analysts – should have disappeared years ago, and when it closed in 2002 few people thought it would ever reopen. It was an archetypal local’s pubs, with card players, a thick fug of tobacco smoke and curtains drawn against the outside world even on the sunniest day.
But instead of being snapped up by a developer and converted to flats, it was acquired by Charlie and Amanda Digney who cleaned it up, preserving as many of the original features as they could, and reopened it as a combination of local boozer and gastropub that hit the mark from day one – and continues to do so well over a decade later. Superb food, superb beer, and a place where a loyal band of regulars are joined by a constant stream of newcomers who almost invariably vow to return. It’s got no parking, still has its old two-room layout, and is well out of the city centre – yet with all that it is one of the most inspiring success stories of the Bath pub trade in the 21st century.
Carry on along the London Road, though, and the story is less cheerful. A little further on was the Long Acre Tavern, a 1960s rebuild of another nineteenth-century pub which now houses Domino’s Pizzas. Across the road was the Porter Butt, which had a hall at the back – known as the Walcot Palais – which was one of the best small music venues in the city. It was – or at any rate had been – a very well-appointed pub, some 200 years old, but with lots of fittings dating from an extensive refit in the 1920s or 1930s, and was crying out for some serious investment to realise its potential. In this case, unfortunately, however, its decline led to its conversion to a branch of Richer Sounds.
And so we come to what was the Piccadilly Ale House on the corner of Hanover Street. Built around 1805, this was originally an upmarket hostelry called the Britannia. Masonic lodges and the local militia held their meetings here, and it was a focal point for local political groups. In the mid-twentieth century it was renamed the Piccadilly after the terrace it stood in, but, as the world moved on, it stayed just as it was – which would have been OK, if there had been sufficient investment to keep it up to scratch. But there wasn’t, and its slow spiral of decline ended with closure, followed by a short-lived reopening as the Hive – part family-friendly cafe, part music venue, part-pub. When that closed and the building was placed, on the market its conversion to flats, offices or a retail unit seemed unavoidable.
Step forward Michael and Emma Heap, with a new spin on what a pub should be, and the determination to make it work. In the case of the Piccadilly, that meant an enormous amount of hard graft, reversing the effect of years of neglect and creating a venue that looked to the future with confidence rather than muddling along in a time-worn timewarp. Dingy old fittings and decades of encrustation were stripped away – to reveal a light and airy space which, while harking back to its origins as a Georgian tavern, could accommodate the cutting edge of interior design.
After months of hard graft, Chapter One finally opened its doors in May this year, a new and very welcome addition to Bath’s pub scene. The emphasis is very much on beer, with up to five craft ales on tap at any one time. Cask ales are not offer at the moment, because of the logistics of serving them in a pub which is currently only open four days a week. Plans are in hand, however, to open on other days, and lines for cask ale (the pipes that will bring it up from the cellar) have already been installed. So, as soon as opening hours are extended, pumps will appear on the bar and cask ale will flow.
Michael and Emma are passionate about beer, and eager to introduce locals to as many small independent brewers as possible. So far, the list has included Kernel, Cloudwater, Ilkley, Siren, 5 Points, Arbor, Burning Sky, Bristol Beer Factory, Wylam, Beavertown, Saltaire, Wild Beer, Dark
Star, Wiper & True, Moor, Tiny Rebel, Thornbridge, Left Handed Giant – and many others. There have already been two tap takeovers – Good Chemistry from Bristol on 23 July and, more recently, Kettlesmith from Bradford on Avon on 8 October.
In line with their policy of supporting small independent producers, especially from the local area, Michael and Emma also serve Handmade Cider and Somerset Cider Brandy, as well as a carefully chosen range of wines and spirits. A range of Scotch eggs – made in Bath – are also available should you feel peckish.
Chapter One has already attracted a loyal band of regular customers, who come to enjoy its laid-back atmosphere, relax over a beer or two and maybe play one of the many board and card games on offer. And, although it is a fair step from the town centre, word is getting around that, for those keen on trying craft beers from an ever-changing range of cutting-edge brewers, it is well worth the effort of getting to know.
Chapter One is open from 5pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
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.
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.
I’ve been meaning for some time to write about the craft beer bars opened in Bristol over the past year. Every time I decide to do something about it, though, it seems that another one’s opening up – another one that needs to be included, and of course to be visited and checked out.
Enough excuses. With apologies to anyone au fait with the craft beer scene in Bristol, what follows is a lightning tour of what’s happened over the last year.
It hardly seems possible that a little over twelve months ago, craft beer was largely unknown in Bristol – unless, that is, you include Zero Degrees, but more of that in a later blog.
To all intents and purposes, it was the opening of the BrewDog pub in the old Sceptre Inn on the corner of Baldwin Street that kicked everything off. There’s been a pub on this site for a very long time. In the 1750s it was known as the Ship, before it was rebuilt and renamed the Sceptre in the late nineteenth century. It had been a sandwich bar or some such for several years before being revamped in grand style with ‘Welcome to the Craft Beer Revolution’ writ large on its plate-glass windows. When it threw open its doors, it was busy from the off, with many seasoned drinkers suddenly confronted with something new and exciting. Bristol’s drinkers, it seemed, couldn’t get enough of it.
And, on the basis of ‘if they can do it, so can we’, others took up the challenge. Among the first were two of the best established cask ale pubs in the city. Both, as it happened, were taps for local breweries – the Barley Mow on Barton Road in the Dings for Bristol Beer Factory and the Three Tuns on St George’s Road for Arbor Ales. Both breweries and pubs were (and still are) very much at the top of their game, innovative, exciting, award-winning and all the rest. That’s why they decided not to stand still and do what they’d done in the past but to embrace the craft beer revolution, while maintaining a commitment to cask beer. It’s really all about quality, and about offering increasingly sophisticated drinkers what they want – even if they may not know what they want until they get it. Traditionalists – and anyone who likes decent pubs – will be pleased to learn, however, that both the Barley Mow and the Three Tuns are very much in the mould of the traditional welcoming backstreet pub.
Up at the top of St Michael’s Hill, meanwhile, Bath Ales went for something a little different, opening Beeerd, a craft beer and pizza joint opposite the Highbury Vaults, and launching a splendid new microbrewery – also called Beerd – to brew for it.
The next three craft beer bars to open were somewhat larger. Up on Stokes Croft, the
owners of the Euston Tap in London, who’d already been serving craft beer alongside the bowling alleys at the Lanes in Nelson Street, took on the Croft. They renamed it Crofter’s Rights, stripped this fascinating old building – once an eighteenth-century coaching inn called the Swan – back to basics, turning it into a high-vaulted gothic fantasy of an ancient beer hall in an obscure Hanseatic fiefdom, adorned with little more than a gleaming row of beer taps.
Down on King Street, opposite the Theatre Royal, meanwhile, the Royal Naval Volunteer (or Volly as it’s more usually known) had a subtle renaming to the Royal Navy Volunteer, along with a thoroughgoing revamp and a similarly stunning choice of kegs and cask beers. Others may like the decor, the comfy chairs or the dim lighting, but for my money what really stands out – apart from the beerof course – is the splendid way the beers are listed on a couple of boards – no more jostling at a long and crowded bar trying in vain to see what’s on the pump clips and eventually opting for something you recognise nearby.
Right next door to the Volly (and downstairs, so don’t be put off by the deserted range of seats and tables around the closed mini-bar on the ground floor) is the Beer Emporium – in the vaults to be precise. Anyone familiar with bars and clubs in vaulted premises in Bath and indeed in other parts of Bristol may now be thinking ‘cosy’ at this stage. Well, welcoming, friendly and awesomely arrayed the Beer Emporium may be, but these are vaults on an industrial scale – with a range of beers to match. The beer menu alone is a thing of multi-leaved beauty – hardly surprising when you consider that a fridge the length of one of the longest bars in Bristol is stocked full of obscure and wonderful things.
And, as if all that was not enough, last week the old Bunch of Grapes across the road –
more recently known as the Sublime Bar – opened as the Small Bar (a reference to the big bars across the road, perchance?) Small – although not actually that small – but perfectly formed, with more beers on offer than you’ll find in most medium-sized towns. And a minimalist makeover that makes the most of the building’s eighteenth-century pedigree.Plus a one-barrel brewery at the back which local microbrewers will be invited to collaborate to brew wondrous concoctions for the pub.
And last weekend, if you’d chanced along King Street, you’d have found a beer festival in a marquee in the middle of the street – free entry, with a superb selection of beers straight from the barrel – all courtesy of the Beer Emporium.
To call all this a revolution hardly seems an exaggeration. As far as King Street goes, its rather lacklustre reputation beerwise has been well and truly trounced. If there is,
anywhere in the world, a better selection of world-class beers in a compass comparable to that of the King Street Triangle – Volly, Emporium and Small Bar – then I’d like to hear about it.
And then there are all the other bars and bars who’ve signed up for the revolution – the Portcullis in Clifton with a couple of craft beer taps, the Colston Yard, the selection of bottled beers at the Bag O Nails and (so I am told) at the Hophouse – and no doubt several others I’ve not come across yet.
And, with all that happening in just over a year, who knows what 2014 holds. These are exciting times, not just for craft beer, but for all beer, and for all drinkers. Today King Street – tomorrow the world!
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.
The 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.