06 August 2018

Royal progress

No sooner was I back from Manchester than it was off again to England, this time for a work gig in Bristol. I was staying around the corner from pub-centric King Street so was well able to nip over there for such swift halves as time allowed. And it's grown! Since I was last there, in 2014, it has acquired several new premises. These were high on my list to check out.

Down at the river end sits King Street Brewhouse. It seems to have been cut from the same cloth as Dublin's Porterhouses, particularly Central, in that it's a voluminous space pitched strongly towards stand-up drinking and big-screen sports. But there is a pretty onsite brewery and it looks like it fairly turns over the cask and keg beers, judging by the prevalence of topical names.

I started with Hand of God, a session IPA on cask. This is 4.1% ABV and arrived worryingly murky looking but smelling great, with bags of juicy tangerine pouring out. The flavour was a little more muted, coupled with a slightly sad watery texture -- ever the bane of this style. An excellent finish pulled it back into my good books, with a long orangey aftertaste contrasting with a biscuit sweetness. For a World Cup one-off, on balance, it's better than most.

To balance my account I went for a keg beer next: Sqornshellous Zeta IPA; 6.2% ABV and brewed with Galaxy hops, as if that wasn't obvious. The hazy orange-beige presentation didn't bother me but the strong vanilla cream and yeast flavours did. This was simultaneously too strong and too sweet. I should have stuck with the cask as that's where they seem to have got IPA hopping right.

The array of types of pubs you get on King Street impressed me last time, and it seems it keeps up with fashion because it now has one of them arcade-bars: Kong. I didn't see it as intended, being the only customer in the dim grey space early one afternoon. The beer range was impressive and included the one at the top of my one-item West Country hit-list: Lost and Grounded Keller Pils. One whole imperial pint please.

It looked the part, being a gently hazy yellow. The texture is beautifully soft too, and the flavour... well... it has plenty. I'm on record as having frequent problems with noble hops, and the more heavily hopped a beer the worse I get it. This beer gave me that in spades: a powerfully pungent mustiness, like rotten wood, and then the harshly bitter green stalks of rocket and dandelion. I'm sure it's perfectly constructed, and everything everyone else says it is, but it really didn't suit me. I feel gypped by my own tastebuds.

I paid a very quick return visit to The Beer Emporium, for just one half of Twisted Oak's Sheriff Fatman (marketing hint: name more beers after Carter USM songs and I will buy them). It's described as an American amber ale but is gold rather than amber. A very English honey sweetness is followed by a slightly German peppery sharpness, and neither is even slightly American-tasting. The texture is thick and stodgy making me very glad I only had a small measure, one over which I didn't linger. Overall, a bit R.U.B.B.I.S.H.

The constant centre of attention on King Street tends to be Small Bar, which has come up in the world since 2014, spawning its own brewery, which eventually grew up and moved out. That brewery is Left Handed Giant and it was one of theirs I ordered when I first stepped in this time. River of Darkness was actually brewed, collaboratively, at Wild Beer. The spec promises smoke, maple and chilli but the beer doesn't really deliver this. Instead it's a simple creamy and chocolatey stout, packing in flavour at 3.9% ABV. I didn't miss any of the bells or whistles.

A second and final visit happened as I was on my way to the airport. I decided I would take advantage of the intriguing range of sour beers, and also their £8 five-beer flights.

One lager made it into the mix: Summer '18 No. 1, collaborated on by Lost & Grounded, Cloudwater and Jopen. I shouldn't have been surprised to find it's another musty one, all nettles and old straw. I will lay one technical fault on it -- it's very thin, and unbalanced in bitterness as a result. Mostly, however, it was my palate's problem with noble hops at fault. Bring on the sour!

L-R: Disco, Action, Insetto, Summer, Reuben
A Left Handed Giant offering first, called Reuben Picks Raspberries. This is 3.7% ABV and is a thick pink emulsion. It looks like yoghurt and absolutely tastes like yoghurt, with real raspberry bits and a velvet texture. Like in a yoghurt the sourness is mild and understated, and not the main feature. I would definitely have liked more of an edge and less of the sugary summer fruit.

Staying pink, next up was Disco Fizz from local brewers Good Chemistry. 4.2% ABV and this time flavoured with blackcurrant. It was the best looking of the set: a rich vermilion topped by pink foam. The watery aroma didn't help, with a grainy hint of breadcrust the only thing going on. Then the flavour proved an unpleasant mix of sweat, rubber and tannins: nothing that suggests actual fruit, and no pinch of sourness either. A beer to just look at, then. Shame.

The last two on the board came from US-based gypsy brewer Stillwater Artisanal. The first went by the unlikely name of Action Bronson's 7000 which is a sour ale of 5% ABV and brewed with Muscat grapes. It's a hazy gold colour and offers a fun but scary aroma of lemon-scented gunpowder. Strap in! Oily and lush Muscat grapes are present from the start of the flavour, finishing a little quickly, but cleanly too, making it very refreshing. There's just enough of a sour edge to balance the sweetness while still allowing all of the luxurious flavour through. The aroma is still the best feature but it's an all-round class act, really.

Insetto was the final third, bright scarlet and, although brewed with plums, having the sour cherry aroma of a classic Belgian kriek. Fruit is the main flavour, and it's cherries again, to my mind. The sourness is a mere tang on the end, and there's a seasoning of Brettanomyces funk going on. It avoids being syrupy or candylike. This is subtle and classy. I wonder if it was brewed in Belgium. It feels like it was.

I mentioned I was staying nearby so I'll throw my pint at the hotel bar in here too. That was Independence by Bristol Beer Factory, on keg. This is an intensively hopped American-style pale ale at 4.6% ABV. It mixes a punchy herbal dankness with a more fun lemon candy in a way that's accessible and balanced, yet complex enough for the fussier drinker. Or this one at least. A spicy bitterness lends it a mouthwatering finish.

There's more from Bristol Beer Factory to come in the next post, and plenty of other local beers too, when I do a bit of exploring.