Bristol's Best Pubs
Spend your evening in Bristol's one of the many top-notch pubs.
Bristol is one of Britain’s most charismatic cities, but it doesn’t offer up its choicest cuts without the visitor having to do a little effort. The city centre - not unusually in the UK, it must be said - suffered both during and after the war, and stepping out of Temple Meads station can be a confusing experience. The city does not spread itself out before you like, say, Edinburgh - but it has plenty of rich cultural interest just beneath the surface.
That’s particularly true if you like beer. This city of 460,000 souls is deep within the cider country, but it has a longstanding brewing tradition. Its history stretches back into the great era of Porter and beyond, and, more recently, was home to a large Courage brewery (closed 1999) and Smiles, one of the UK’s pioneering microbreweries until its own closure in 2005.
Since then, though, the beer scene has improved year after year. The Bristol Beer Factory has been joined by Arbor, Moor, Lost & Grounded, and Wiper & True, amongst others: it’s a diverse bunch which between them make some of the best stout, lager, cask ale and IPA that you’ll find in the UK. This variety is reflected in Bristol’s drinking venues, which takes in cat-filled pubs, floating bars and a growing number of brewery taprooms, alongside some more classically-inclined places. Here’s five of the best:
Not far to the north-east of the station, this is a very handsome, traditional pub with an untraditional line-up. Owned by Bristol Beer Factory, it offers eight cask ales and 10 keg beers, much of it drawn from the city’s own breweries, and hearty food. Bristol Beer Factory was founded in 2004, making it a relative old-timer by the standards of the city, and some of their beers have achieved almost iconic status: perhaps the best is their Milk Stout, and where better to sample it than in the simple, wood-heavy interior of the Barley Mow?
A short walk east of the Barley Mow is perhaps the best of Bristol’s taprooms. Moor was founded in the Somerset Levels - a flat area of land to the south of Bristol - but its modern incarnation really began when owner Justin Hawke took over in 2007 and then moved to Bristol in 2014 to capitalise on the city’s burgeoning beer scene. Moor is one of the best breweries in the UK: Hawke, a Californian whose passion for beer began whilst he was stationed in Europe with the US army, says he aims to combine the best of British (cask ale), German (unfiltered beers) and American (bold hop character, open-mindedness) in his beers. Few would say he doesn’t achieve that. You can find out for yourself at the brewery tap from Wednesday to Saturday.
If Bristol has a craft-beer epicentre, this is probably it. Opened in King Street in 2013, Small Bar has a huge variety of beer on offer, with 31 taps pouring at any one time. It’s good stuff too: the best from Bristol is complemented by some really interesting ales and lagers from the world’s best producers. It’s a surprisingly large place (the small in the name refers to the brewers, not the venue itself) but don’t expect big servings: beer is not served in pints. 2/3s is the biggest measure, ostensibly so customers can try a variety of beers without getting too drunk. Ho-hum. The welcoming but unpolished interior is a fair reflection of the city itself.
It may be named after the famous William Morris pattern, a classic of English design, but this city-centre bar takes its inspiration from Belgium. There are more than 50 Belgian beers available at any time, on tap and in the bottle, including classics like Boon Kriek and De Dolle Arabier. The interior is a mixture of Morris and Belgium, with patterned wallpaper and brown wooden furniture. Strawberry Thief is also a good place to pick up some excellent local beer: Lost and Grounded’s Keller Pils, which may be Britain’s best lager, is often available.
The Green Man
Lots of pubs have closed in the past 30 years, particularly small backstreet places like The Green Man. You have to be really good to exist in the current culture, and The Green Man is: good food, well-kept cask ales (including Dawkins, the brewery that owns the pub), keg beers from the best of the local breweries, lots and lots of gin, and an atmosphere that evokes the best traditions of British pubs.
About The Author:
The article is contributed by Will Hawkes. He is a freelance journalist specialising in beer and travel. He is an author of Craft Beer London, a guide to the city's burgeoning beer culture and a regular contributor to a host of publications including The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post and Beer Advocate.