Bristol Bars & Beer/Cocktail Week


I’m on holiday! For my little 5 and a half day getaway, I could have booked many things to do. I could have gone to music festivals, I could have gone bird watching or camping, but no, I decided to go drinking. A busman’s (or boozeman’s) holiday.

My first stop was to go down and visit a friend in Bristol, because I hadn’t seen her in a while, and I find Bristol to be a really nice, chilled out kind of place. Plenty of art, plenty of water, good food, and as I have been discovering, great pubs, bars, ales, ciders and cocktails. First stop when I got away from the airport, was Colston Yard, which is a cracking real ale pub, set up by Somerset’s Butcombe Brewery. They have a huge selection of local brews, German brews and American brews, plus a very happy atmosphere. I had a couple of the Butcombe brews, which were both not bad, although a bit mild (my tastebuds have been warped by mountains of hops recently, it is a struggle to enjoy a nice simple English bitter).

On Saturday, we decided to have a little wander into town and have a little look at some art galleries, where we saw weird poems about trees, a concrete football, and a load of pictures of waste management staff in New York in the 1970′s. Oh and I discovered a pound coin behind one of the sculptures, which I wasn’t supposed to find…You have to love modern art just for the fact it’s bizarre. We then went to the Bristol Museum, where a chap was making Dinosaurs out of different materials (the dinosaur wasn’t as big as I was expecting, which can be a common complaint). After a little shuffle around Bristol Museum, it was time for a pub lunch. The pub we chose was the Grain Barge, which is affiliated with the Bristol Beer Factory, and is the spot to be having lunch in on a sunny day. The food had been thought out (I had a fancy pie and mash, Katherine had a good risotto) and I had my best beer of the trip so far; The Bitter Kiwi (I hope that’s not a reference to the America’s Cup loss) by Bristol Beer factory. Balanced, fruit driven, hoppy. With a view over the water, and the sun beating down, it was a very good lunch. If I was being picky (which I can be) the music was a bit hit or miss, and it was really loud. I could have done with no music, but maybe it’s just me getting old.

We decided to pop back into town, as we were going to meet a bartender, historian and snappy dresser who was going to tell us a bit about Bristol Cocktail Week (more about him later) but first we went to Brewdog Bar, where we had one of their experimental IPA’s, which had been brewed with tea! It was nice, although it was maybe hard to perceive the tea notes. While we were enjoying the tea P A, we spotted a bit of paper that said it was National Badger Day and that we should draw badgers. Now, I try to steer firmly away from politics in this blog, so I won’t say what my feelings are about Badgers and the whole badger issue just now (why would you want to read my uninformed ramblings about politics?), but I do quite like drawing, particularly when I have had a few…

We then went to meet our Cocktail guide, Gent James. He is the new general manager of Copper Jacks, which is a bar he is rebranding to be a Beer, Cocktails and Bourbon bar. He told us a bit about some really interesting cocktail bars, and the whole feel of the cocktail scene in Bristol. As we were talking, we got thirsty, so he made us one of his signature cocktails. Just to say, Copper Jacks has a really good cocktail list, and as it is quite new, we got a seat on a Saturday night. It also has a good selection of beer, so worth heading down before it gets too busy. Their official opening night is Wednesday, 9th of October, so head down if you have a mo. Now on to the Cocktail:

The Spruce Juice

This drink is for me, a great illustration of why it’s great to know cocktail bartenders. They put so much effort, and invest so much of themselves in each drink, that it becomes really interesting to hear them explain it and even more interesting to drink it. Here is a bit of history of the drink, explained by the Gent himself from his blog:

  • Gent James was entering a El Dorado Rum “Swizzle Cocktail” competition, and as such did alot of research into the Swizzle Cocktail. He found that one of the original references to a Swizzle contained Spruce Beer
  • The Native Americans had known of the beneficial properties of Spruce, and its ability when ingested to help fight off scurvy. When the British Navy found this out, it made their travels across North America/Canada more successful.
  • By the 18th century, much of the Navy was brewing Spruce Beer for use on long journeys. References to Captain Cooks Journeys show that his crew would have taken Spruce Beer.
  • He also came across a reference to the use of this Spruce Beer, with the addition of both rum and sugar, by a British Army regiment in 1760. They had formed a “Swizzle Club” during the capture of Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in what is now upstate New York.
  • With all this information, Gent went and developed a beer with the Bristol Beer Factory to use in his cocktail:  With Jonny “5.2” Mills who is a Heriot-Watt graduate so you know the boy can brew! Having never actually brewed my own beer I also called in the help of Lee Williams, co-organiser of Bristol Beer Week alongside Stephen Powell. I hadn’t met either yet but Lee had recently returned to Bristol after spending over a decade eating, drinking and writing his way across America and had written a book entitled “Beer Lovers Colorado”. We set about researching recipes and found an amazing resource in Colorado called Spruce on Tap. They had several tried and tested recipes posted on their site which we then narrowed down to one we thought most promising. We had also come across a recipe written into the first American cookbook by Amelia Simmons and published in 1796. We wanted to make this beer as historically accurate as possible so we adapted the recipe slightly to include Black Spruce Essence and Black Treacle as the molasses of that time was far less refined than it is today. Cascade Hops were chosen and a mixture of both Pale and Crystal Malts.
With this effort put into the Beer, Gent was ready to create his cocktail. I was lucky enough to taste the beer and taste the cocktail. Again, you have to admire the sheer amount of energy, research and effort that went into making it:
The Spruce Juice Cocktail
Ingredients: El Dorado 5 Year Old, Fresh lime, demerera simple syrup and Bristol Beer Factory Spruce Beer
Thoughts: Before we tasted the cocktail, we tried the beer on it’s own. It had such a heavy element of pine, spruce, mint and a floral note, that we really weren’t sure if it would work in the drink. We were wrong. The Pine and hoppy notes added a freshness and an interesting finish to this rum cocktail. The two combined to give a nice ginger note and a sweetness, as well as herbal notes. A very drinkable, tasty libation.
Red Light Bar
As we were leaving, Gent recommended a couple of secret bars to us. A secret bar is taking that speakeasy bar style to the next level, where, like the A team, you have to know where to find them. Since it’s a secret, all I’ll say is that if you spot a doorway in Bristol, lit up by a red light and there is a phone, you may be on the right lines. The drinks? Strong and sherried.
Final bar in Bristol
On Sunday, after getting up late, going for a walk to clear the slightly fuzzy  head, looking at Brunel’s bridge, nearly getting trapped in a wasp filled cave and enjoying a Sunday Roast, we went to the last pub of my visit. Victoria’s in Clifton. If you want a pub with an old school feel, that’s a bit off the beaten track, and has a brilliant selection of brews, head here. They had local beer, and a great selection of Belgian beer including Delirium Tremens on tap!
I had a green hopped beer that was done for Bristol Beer week, and an IPA from Dawkins brewery. Both good, although I thought the Dawkins IPA was better.
Overall: Next year, head to Bristol for beer and Cocktail week. The bars are brilliant, the drinks are cracking and the atmosphere is chilled.
In the next post, I hit London Cocktail week and the TWE Whisky Show.
Chris Hoban

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