Good times at Bristol Beer Factory

Enjoying the sun at the Grain Barge

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to look around the Bristol Beer Factory. Always glad of the excuse for a trip to Bristol, particularly in glorious sunshine, we set out early in the day so we could have a little wander before the tour. After we had checked in to our hotel, the first stop was the Bristol Beer Factory’s Grain Barge where we had hoped to get some lunch. Unfortunately, they had stopped serving food by the time we got there! Since it was such a gorgeous day we still stopped for a little drink; I enjoyed one of my favorite beers, the Milk Stout and the OH went for a refreshing Southville Hop. There aren’t many better places to soak up the sun in Bristol than the Grain Barge with beautiful views (you can see the SS Great Britain) and good beer. What more could you want! We still needed to eat though, and against the better advice of the Twitter hive-mind we ended up at the intimidatingly huge hyper-buffet, Zaza Bazaar. Although not exceptional, I have never seen so much variety at a buffet and it was not nearly as bad as the average all-you-can eat. There is always a danger of not knowing when to stop when presented with so much food so it’s maybe a good thing that there’s an hour time limit! I’m sure we worked some of it off with a brisk walk uphill to Corks of Cotham where we stocked up on a few beers to take home. Then, by the time we got our spoils back to the hotel it was time to set out on another brisk walk to the factory of beer!

Waiting for the tour to start!

Having just started home-brewing, I was very excited to see how it’s done on a larger scale. The only other tour I have been on was York Brewery which was many years ago. Having hurried over, convinced we were running late, we were actually amongst the first to arrive, which gave me time to survey the many empty casks outside, seeing how many of my favorite breweries I could spot. I was also discretely observing the gathering crowds, trying to guess which one could be the writer of the Beer For The Weekend blog without looking like a weirdo. Thank goodness he introduced himself!

Walking in to the brewery, I was pleased to note that it smelled pretty similar to the cupboard where my homebrew sits so I must be doing OK. We were met and shown into the brewery by Simon Bartlett, the Managing Director, who issued us with our very own Bristol Beer Factory branded pint glasses and invited to help ourselves to West Coast Red, Southville Hop and the rather exciting brand new collaboration with Dark Star, Southern Conspiracy (6.3%ABV)! Having followed the brew day on Twitter which was happening the same weekend as Grillstock, I was keen to try it and it was well worth the wait. If you love beers made with the tropical, mango and pineapple hops from New Zealand, this is amongst the best and you really must track it down. Although I had a drop of the other two beers on offer, I kept coming back for more of that sunshine stuff which, at 6.3%, made for a merry evening.Somewhere in the brewery there’s a couple of white wine casks with Southern Conspiracy ageing on fresh gooseberries which may just take it to the next level.

With Mr. Beer for the Weekend

Since the Beer Factory’s bottles can be found at so many retailers now, I was surprised at how small the brewery was and even more impressed considering how much high quality ales come out of there. The talk by Simon was pretty informative; he started by telling us about the brewing process, their equipment and the ingedients they used and passed around glasses containing hops and malts for us to smell and taste. It was fascinating to learn about the history of the Old Brewery which, many years ago, was home to the Ashton Gate Brewery. Ashton was most famous for it’s MIlk Stout which was the inspiration for the Beer Factory’s ale which is so popular today. Since Ashton Gate was bought by Georges’ and closed down in the early 30s, it went through a variety of changes of use until it was bought by local architect George Ferguson and restored to it’s former use. Simon also gave us the opportunity to ask any questions we wanted to.

Mmmmm…could this be the last bottle of Chocolate Orange…?

After the talk and Q&As, we were allowed to have a little look round and it was great to mingle with fellow beer-lovers. Rather than the stereotypical beerdy old men, the crowd was a good mix of young and old, men and women which really demonstrates the wide-reaching appeal this brewery has. It was great to be able to have a chat with Simon about all the amazing stuff they have planned, including the next 12 Stouts of Christmas, but I have been sworn to secrecy on any more detail than that. I think everyone had a pretty good time and it ended up like a pretty beery social gathering. It was pretty well-pitched for seasoned beer-drinkers and newcomers alike and everyone went away with a lovely bottle to enjoy at home. A great evening! Just hope I wasn’t too tipsy by the end!

On the train again…

Earlier this week, I took a little trip to Bristol to have a look around the Bristol Beer Factory. As is now the tradition, we began our train journey with a lovely coffee, this time courtesy of Sweedish brewers Nils Oscar. Opening their Coffee Stout (6%ABV), I knew it was the right decision for a morning wake-up drink from the aroma of strong espresso with a hint of malt. Like anything poured into rubbish plastic glasses, it bubbled enthusiastically which made it look more carbonated than it was. Holding it to the light it was slightly thin in appearance and a cloudy black-brown, but the flavour was a lot more impressive. As a coffee enthusiast, I have done bad things with coffee in the name of experimentation. Ever wondered whether  iced black coffee carbonated through a soda stream would be any good? Don’t – it’s just bitter weirdness. Black coffee freeze-pops? Not a good idea when all the flavour seems to gravitate to the center. Save your effort and try this Coffee Stout instead; somehow it brings back all the best bits of those intense coffee flavours through rose-tinted glasses. Big on immense bitter coffee with a touch of red berry and slight sourness to balance. A nice little morning cuppa.

Moving on, the next ‘sharpener’ for the morning was a Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (7.2%ABV) and why not on a sunny day off from work! I can be a little daft sometimes and rarely look properly at supermarket beers, dismissing them as dull as something I have had before and have no further interest in. Wrong and foolishly ignorant. I almost missed this one as Sierra Nevada is so widely available I rarely give it a second glance. My OH had to point this one out, despite the bright and summery green and yellow label. It’s from all the way over in California where they probably know a thing or two about sunshine beer and they seem to have poured a few rays into this joyful golden IPA which shimmers with lively bubbles and a tiny amount of froth. The hop aroma was herbal, reminiscent of the forest in the rain and the flavour was a lucious bitter herbal and citrus bouquet, a little like a beer version of Riccola sweets. The end was long and dry with a waft of pineapple. A perfect refreshment to set us up for the day in Bristol!

Classic Twoo!

The blog posts haven’t been that regular of late since I’ve been working on the home brew which is going pretty well. It’s mainly been the OH getting all the details right and doing the precision work so I’ve been more of a ‘creative guide.’ Seriously, if you want to understand beer, get brewing. Don’t think you need a massive shed or garage to have a go. We live in a flat so we’ve been doing small batches using the BIAB method which means we’ve been able to mash our own grain; the incredible aromas mean this is my favorite part. I’ll do a proper post soon about our adventures.

All this experimentation is thirsty work and sometimes you need something classic. Kiuchi Brewery Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale (JCA) (7.5%ABV) is a ‘Recreation of the first Japanese beer made in the Edo period…Aged in cedar barrels like the old IPA style method from England.’ I love this brewery just for their super-cute owl mascot but I’m  pleased to say everything I’ve hd from them so far has been impressive. This one is a really gorgeous hazy sunset colour with the scent of apples and wood and a tang of lime, playing alongside honey and plump juicy fruits. Despite the downpours of our Great British Summer, I can imagine the warm sun rays as I enjoy the sweet, fruity orchard fruit flavour with a warm alcoholic fruit liquor taste at the back. The juicy, full flavour becomes dry at the end with a little citrus on the tongue. I can’t wait to try more from this charming range – which one should I try next…?

Tweet twoo

Port & cheese on a rainy day in July

Some of you who follow my Twitter or Untappd feeds might have noticed my mini obsession with Arbor recently and last week I was lucky enough to find their Port Stout (5.7%ABV) waiting in my stash at the end of a typical cold rainy day in July. Summer pale ales, you’ve had your time. July is the month for curling up with a big glass of stout and listening to the rain beating against the window. Not warm yet? Shall we take it to the next level? How’s about some port? Now when Arbor say Port, they’re messing around with anything so fancy as barrel aging. This is a stronger version of their oyster stout with ‘several liters of ruby port added late in the fermentation.’ After a day of getting soaked in the rain this is the perfect medicine. It tastes of luxury and deserves to be enjoyed in front of a roaring fire possibly in a smoking jacket. The deep, opaque blackness invites you to inhale its dark chocolate malts and treacle-like coffee. It coats the mouth in a smooth black cloak of bitter dark chocolate and red berries with woody flavors smouldering through the finish, lifted by a slight tang of dried cranberry. I’ve never been a port drinker but Arbor now has me intrigued. All I really know so far is people drink it with cheese. I didn’t have any Stilton around but it was pretty good at bringing out the sweetness of my not-so-snooty Bavarian smoked cheese from M&S.

I am now slightly concerned that beer may be leading me astray. First, Bristol Beer Factory’s Glenlivet Stout made me rush out to buy my first Whiskey. Now I think I need to try Port. Is beer the gateway drug..? Whatever it is, I like it!

Yo ho hop


Bierebelle has a new brewery to add to the list of favorites.OK, the label might not be terribly glamorous but my goodness they make an amazing IPA. I’m talking about Arbor Ales, yet another exceptional Bristol brewery. I was hooked the moment I tried the Yakima Valley IPA. Looking at the list on Rate Beer, I was dismayed to see how much I’ve missed already. Apart from one of the most extensive back-catalogues of single-hop beers in the history of brewing, they also produce special limited ‘Freestyle Friday’ editions which is just whatever they dreamt up at the Friday meeting. I wish all Friday meetings were like that.

When I saw Albion (6.7%) on the shelf I was intrigued – surely a rum belongs in a darker style right? Wrong. Dark rum + IPA = genius. It pours a really gorgeous cloudy gold with a big, generous head as foamy as the seas. The typical IPA aroma carries just a hint of raisin and biscuit and the flavour is really very bitter and an alcoholic burn at the back. The wave of big, dry citrus hops carries the warming, woody dark fruit of a navy style rum. I’m guessing I wouldn’t have cared much for the rum on its own; I prefer the smooth, light Venezuelan and Panamanian styles but blending a robust navy style with an ipa was a master-stroke.

I’m now very excited about trying more from Arbor and the good news is that they seem to be getting easier to find. This one came from Corks but I was delighted the other day to see a wide range in Bitter Virtue which is just round the corner from me. The problem is deciding which one to try next…

Bristol barbeque time!

After our beery afternoon at the Volunteer Arms, we headed over to Cotham in search of food and more beer. The last time the OH had been to Bristol, he had stumbled upon a rather excellent little off-licence stocking some of the finest beer of the region. Corks of Cotham looks from the outside like the average wine and spirit merchant, but if you venture to the back you will find an absolute treasure trove of Bristish ale as well as a well-picked selection of American and Continental beer. I originally planned to call in for another bottle of the Bristol Collaboration but was seduced by the selection and came away with a couple of Hardknotts and very special Arbor Ales bottles, both of which are impossible to get where I live.

The haul from Corks!

Since we were in Cotham, we decided to call in at Beerd, Bath Ales’ new concept craft beer and pizza joint. Although the bottle menu was a bit run-of-the-mill, the taps boasted a prettty nice selection of local ales as well as some keg from further afield. They have resident beers as well as guests so make sure you scan the bar or ask somebody before you order! I went for a pint of Bristol Beer Factory No7 (4.2%ABV), their Best Bitter which was a fairly pleasant, biscuity bitter with a citrusy hop. Unchallenging and a pretty good choice to go with my exceptionally delieious anchovy pizza!

Well-fed, we went for a night-cap with our friends who had just joined us from London at the lovely Colston Yard which had one of my favorite Bristol Beer Factory regulars on, their rather delectable Milk Stout (4.5%). A pretty drinkable sweet stout; just right to unwind for the meatfest ahead! We were up super-refreshed and ready for the mighty Grillstock the next morning. The moment we were got through the gate we were handed tokens for free Jeremiah Weed which was the only thing stopping me from making beer the first drink of the day. The main event at Grillstock is the King of the Grill competition which sees the international superstars of barbecue and amateur teams battle it out to be the Grand Champion and win the opportunity to compete in the American Royal Invitational in Kansas City. The judging panel is an impressive mix of award-winning experts including Dr.BBQ, who has been involved in cook-offs as long as I’ve been alive, and guests from the world of food and food writing. Throughout the weekend, they are presented with entries from each of the teams for seven rounds including brisket, ribs and desserts. As well as the competition, there’s a rather punishing chilli-eating contest, stalls where you can buy high quality goodies to cook with at home and live bands all day.

Wandering around the cooking village with a free Jeremiah Weed in hand, the day was

Dr.BBQ serving up in the Chef’s Choice round

already off to a good start when I was offered fresh-off-the-barbeque lamb ribs which were just astounding – you must try them! One of the things that makes this event so awesome is that, alongside the competition entries, the teams cook all manner of juicy meat-stuffs through the day to offer to the happy crowds and will happily talk about what they are doing and offer useful tips. The highlight had to be from the Bad Byron team member known on Twitter as @racksofruin who had created an extravagant beast from cheese and veg, encased in meat and all rolled up in bacon. Sweet! There’s also rich pickings hanging at the judging tent since once the judges have taken what they want the rest is offered to spectators! I managed to score an absolutely immense beef rib from Dr.BBQ himself as well as pulled pork and lots of pit beans.

The BBQ village where all the magic happens

The official beer supplier, Bristol Beer Factory, brought a nice selection to wash it all down which included Milk Stout, the mighty Southville Hop, Acer and Bitter Californian. Although the sun didn’t make much of an appearance, the hoppy delight of Southville more than made up for it. I was slightly disappointed on day 2 when a large amount of the beer had run out including my favorites. Lucky for us, the new Bristol Farm Shop were selling a lovely selection of local produce including beer so the day was saved. Of course, we were reminded that it was not meant for consumption at the festival and we did spend a lot of time trying to hide it like kids whenever we saw security! I was particularly taken with the Arbor Yakima Valley IPA (7%ABV) which was a joyful explosion of hoppy candy sunshine. Arbor’s dark ruby old ale, Old Knobbley  (4.5%ABV), also proved to be a pretty good choice. I found the burnt woody taste slightly unusual since it gave a bitterness quite unlike the IPA I’d had previously!

Another fabulous weekend in Bristol then. Admittedly I came away a lot heavier but full of ideas for cooking and even found a couple of new favorite breweries to add to the list. I’ll definetly be back soon – very soon indeed for the Beer Factory tour. I can hardly wait!

A lesson in beer at the Volunteer Tavern

After our train beers, there was just enough time to perk ourselves up with a non-beery coffee before checking into our residence for the next few days, the Future Inn. Lucky for us, we spied an intriguing chalk-board propped up outside our hotel. Beer Festival at the Volunteer Tavern you say? 24 beers? But where!? Thirsty from our travels we were puzzled by the lack of directions on the sign but these are the times GPS was invented for. Unfortunately, Google Maps navigation literally took me through the middle of a ghetto in a sweeping circle to get to the Volunteer Arms. It was 2pm and the po-po were already out making rounds of arrests! After my OH nervously told me to get my phone away and hold my handbag close, we finally stumbled upon the lovely little village-pub oasis of beer we had been seeking. We cut through the pub, noting the admirable selection on the handpumps (which includes a dark all-year round!) to the festival in the beer garden. What a lovely beer-garden too, with plenty of mis-matched furniture to go around and high walls.Since it was East Midlands themed, I was delighted to see a selection from breweries not normally seen in our neck of the woods. I was particularly amused at the inclusion of Blue Bee from Sheffield since, being from North Yorkshire, I do regularly mock a Sheffield friend for not being a proper Northerner. Childish, but he is fiercly proud of his Northern roots!

I started with a Mr Grundy’s 1914 (5%). Being a nerd I appreciate a brewery with a historical theme and gave myself a pat on the back for immediately picking up the WW1 theme. Other beers include Passchendaele & Lord Kitchener. 1914 was a rather deliciously dark stout with a chocolate and blackcurrant aroma. Drinkable, smooth and unchallenging, the hint of hedgerow blackberries and short bitter finish made it just right to savour in the rare warmth of the day. Entertainment, as is sadly often the case, came from two old-school CAMRA relics. I tried not to choke on my beer with laughter as I heard them tutting and moaning about the imminent arrival of Brewdog‘s new Bristol pub. ‘Well I’ve been to the one in Edinburgh’ one proudly bellowed to the other, ‘and all they sell is keg. I ended up leaving.’ It’s apparently all the fault of this silly American ‘craft beer’ fad. All they want to do is make easy-to-store and easy-to-serve beer with no character. It takes no skill to do this silly ‘craft’ beer. So that’s me told then! Real beer, they went on to decide, is Real Ale from a cask. Apart from the Europeans. They’re allowed to do what they want. Thank goodness for that. So Mikkeller, Evil Twin, you’re cool. Brewdog, Magic Rock, go back to school you talentless upstarts!

Taking a break from my lesson in beer, I headed back to the bar to grab me some of that Oyster Stout (4.6%) from local brewer Arbor Ales. I now love Arbor and you will be hearing a lot more about them from me. Wow – if somebody asked me to close my eyes and imagine an Oyster Stout, this would be it. It was the classic little-black-dress of an Oyster Stout – smooth and opaque with a thick, foamy white head and a sweet mocha aroma. A full chocolate malt flavour giving way to silky smooth black coffee and a bitter finish makes this feel so indulgent.Unlike Marston’s, Arbor throw some real Oysters into the boil near the end which I guess almost makes this a meal in a glass?

The richness of the Arbor Oyster set my beery expectations high which was unfortunate for the next one. I’d heard a few people talking about Muirhouse Jurgens Jungle Juice (4%) already but in hindsight maybe it”s just because of the fun name because the actual beer was slightly…forgettable? A golden sessiony bitter with a little biscuit and yawn……. In my boredom I was jealously eyeing up the OH’s selection, Tiny Rebel Fubar (4.4%) which has got me rather excited about this new kid on the Newport Brewing scene. They might be tiny (there’s only two bottles in the range at the moment) but I expect massive things from this brewery. At only 4.4%ABV, Fubar packs more of a punch than other stronger beers in its class. It’s a pale ale with buckets of tangy lemon and honey hoppiness and distinctly bitter and just damned gorgeous. The astounding citrus hop aroma was reminiscent of sherbert lemons at the moment you break the hard candy and it starts to fizz on your tongue. I absolutely cannot wait to see more from the Tiny Rebel. Oh and their marketing’s cute too.

After I’d guzzled the last of the poor boy’s tasty Fubar and he finished the dregs of Jungle Juice, we left through the back gate of the beer garden and realised that we were literally two minutes from the door of our hotel and civilisation. Thanks Google Maps.

A rogue coffee for the train…

YEAH at last and about time! The meatilicious weekend I’ve been waiting for! Grillstock, celebration of all things barbeque in the sweet-smoked baby-back Bristol-town. I’ll take any excuse for a long weekend in a lovely hotel in one of my favorite towns in the South of England. After a long four day week at work I nestled into my seat in the ever-crowded cattle-class on the Great South Western and breathed a sigh of relief. A booked seat was especially important since there was a breakfast beer waiting and I wasn’t prepared to swig from the bottle in the aisle like an animal!

To accompany my pulled-pork breakfast burrito, there was a Rogue Ales Mocha Porter I was anxious to get open (around 5%ABV – I lost interest trying to convert from 13 Plato). I appreciate that in keeping with the meaty yankie theme of the weekend, their Bacon Maple ale would have been more fitting but I still haven’t found one and coffee beer is now a train-journey tradition. Prizing off the lid, the aroma of bready, yeasty, overripe banana aromas was unleashed on the unsuspecting passengers but rather than looks of jealousy there were just the usual confused, disappointed faces glancing suspiciously. It’s mine anyway – I’ll share with the OH and that’s it. Oh and that friendly-looking chap on the bottle? He looks like somebody you might share a beer with too. Poured out into my no-expense-spared Poundland picnic goblets, it was a muddy, deep, dark cloudy brown with a foamy crema any barista would admire. The light carbonation opened up the flavour to a woody, roasted, malty, bitter-sweet smoothness. Subtle hops play in the background as the coffee is gradually dialled up to a warming after-taste with a slight sharpness.

What a lovely little wake-up drink to send me on my way for a jolly fun weekend. Train journeys are always made delightful with a tasty beer and besides, the OH is a Geordie so train-drinking is part of his culture. So we arrive in Bristol refreshed and ready for a weekend of food, drink, good friends and good times… See what we got up to later this week!