Tag Archives: Bristol Beer Factory

Coffee beers for UK Coffee Week


This week, amongst other things, is UK Coffee Week. Running until Sunday, it’s a celebration of all things jitterbean-related, and acts as a platform for Project Waterfall – a scheme, run in partnership with Water Aid, which aims to bring clean drinking water to some of the poorest coffee-growing regions of Africa. I only started drinking coffee a couple of years ago; I was convinced, for years, that I didn’t actually like it. Incorrectly, as it turned out; my tastes had changed since that distant, shuddering experience. Predictably, when I actually tried coffee again (a Sardinian espresso, no less – deep end), I loved it.

The amusing thing is that throughout this coffee prohibition, I discovered – and enjoyed – other coffee-flavour products. Coffee cake was a struggle, but I got there eventually – even if it did seem like a waste of icing or buttercream, tainted by the evil bean. Coffee chocolate was an easier sell – although I still draw the line at coffee Revels; but then, doesn’t everyone? They taste like several other people have eaten them before you. Actual coffee, though, I merely thought I didn’t like. How wrong can you be? What a waste of all those years. Still, there was always coffee beer.

Yes, before I rediscovered the capillary-widening flash of caffeine-fuelling, I was drinking coffee beer. I admit, this is pretty daft. Still, that’s me. Coffee works so well in beer – particularly (but not limited to) darker beers; as a beer writer I would have been even dafterer to not try them, despite my dislike. The flavours complement other ingredients beautifully as well – things like chocolate, coconut, vanilla. Who knows? Drinking coffee beers may well have been my gateway back into the real thing. Anyway, in the spirit of UK Coffee Week, here are a few of the UK’s best coffee beers. If you’d like to donate to Project Waterfall, you can do so here.

Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA (6.5%)
I last tried this beer on March the 26th, 2011, as part of the prep for this blogpost on a Coffee IPA battle between the Kernel and Mikkeller (a similar idea was had by a fresh-faced Hopzine Rob). At the time, I bought two bottles of the Ethiopian-laced Suke Quto – or rather, a bottle of each of the two batches – and still have one in the cupboard. Produced in collaboration with Square Mile Roasters, and featuring a Best Before of 01/12/2012 – how would it fare, all dusty and three years down the rails?

Pretty well, as it turns out. There’s a welcoming hiss when the grubby cap is popped, and a puff of foam from the bottle neck. As the foamy head layers up in the glass, there’s a palpable whiff of US caramel malt-style sweetness, alongside a touch of the cold cafetiere. Tastewise, things have faded around the edges – I remember, fresh, the IPA flavours charged out from the off, before the coffee arrived (unlike the Mikkeller, which went Coffee>Hops). But the dull flatness is rescued by the hop tinges that do remain, and by the coffee bitterness that has lasted for these three years, pulling through from the finish.

Summer Wine Barista (4.8%)
Barista was one of the first coffee beers I ever tried, I think, pretty much around the time I was experimenting with coffee IPA’s. A very different beast, this espresso stout pours blacker than a Pennine night, and has roasty coffee aroma from the off. As the flavours follow on in a similar fashion, they are joined by an ashy quality that really adds to the dryness. Leather, tobacco, all these bitter flavours wait their turn before arriving, and working beautifully.

Cromarty Brewed Awakening (4.7%)
Speaking of firsts, aside from the eponymous Happy Chappy, Brewed Awakening (coffee beers have great names) was probably one of the first I tried from the more remote of the Black Isle’s two producers. Locally ground Arabica beans result in a real deep roastiness, giving a fantastic backbone. There’s even a bit of caramel sweetness, before the mildly bitter coffee finish. A one-off cask with added sarsaparilla root passed swiftly into Edinburgh folklore when it appeared at the Stockbridge Tap.

Bristol Beer Factory Mocha (4.5%)
Produced as part of 2012’s ’12 Stouts of Christmas’ range, I pushed the boat out a little to include this one – it didn’t hang around for long. Brewed in collaboration with Extract Coffee Roasters, BBF Mocha featured Tanzanian Hope Project Peaberry Espresso, blended with Bristol’s base stout. The main talking-point was how much body it had, despite being ‘only’ 4.5%. The chocolate provided a bittersweet edge, which – of course – worked wonderfully with the big coffee roast. Great stuff.

BrewDog Dead Metaphor (6.4%)
Oh, how did this one get in here? I…er…

Elixir Cool Beans (5.0%)
Ending this list as it began – with a coffee IPA – unlike Kernel/Mikkeller the coffee was omnipresent, rather than merely the opening or closing half. In contrast to the ashen dryness of Barista, or the soft roastiness of Brewed Awakening, Cool Beans comes over more as a green, unripe, almost biting bitterness. If there’s a coffee equivalent of a raspberry, yet to ripen, this is it. Combined with the resinous hop element there too, it’s as different as all the others – proving how unusual and versatile this most magic of beans can be.

The best IPA in Britain


This is, in truth, a post I’ve wanted to write for a long while. A list – my list – of the best IPA’s in Britain. The problem is, every time I sit down and riffle through the selection of names, there are more to consider. Another one arrives seemingly every week. The demand for India Pale Ale on this, rightful, side of the Atlantic is growing at a pace comparable to the other side. Well, almost; the US craft beer scene is the standard-bearer for hop-forward IPA’s, and probably always will be. But, we’re catching up here in the UK, fittingly churning out more of our beloved style.

That s-word is one that leads to a whole host of blind alleys, each one containing a different beer expert, slowly pounding a cudgel against an open palm. This post is by no means intended to be a definitive list of IPA’s – heck, some might not even be true India Pale Ales. I’m no style expert. Nor do I enjoy constraining beers into rigid pigeonholes. However, I have used a few simple rules. These are beers I (or RateBeer/Beer Advocate) consider IPA’s – so therefore I have excluded Double/Imperials as a result. No Moor JJJ, Fyne Ales Superior IPA or Magic Rock Human Cannonball here.*

*That’s pretty much the start of the next list, I think…

Also, I’m going with fairly golden, reasonably standard IPA’s – so, likewise, there’s no place on this list for India Pale Ales that are black (Hardknott Code Black), red (Brodies Hackney Red) or those that have other grains in (Tempest RyePA) or unusual adjuncts (Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA). Speaking of the Bermondsey powerhouse, to stop a brewery having too many hits in the list, I’ve also taken the hard, hard step of only considering each brewery once. This prevents over-Kernalisation (something to be welcomed, on any other day).

Originally, I was just going for ten – but came up with so many alternatives I broadened the scope to twenty. In truth, I could probably have piled in even more. You may notice that the list reflects a certain style of IPA – feel free to comment on that if you’re a fan of Deuchars IPA or Sam Smith’s India Ale. I go for strong, hoppy, fresh-tasting IPA’s that make my tastebuds tingle. This list reflects that. Please feel free to disagree in the comments, or (as is inevitable) mention any that I have forgotten or neglected to include. Cheers!


RajIPA20. Tryst Raj IPA (5.5%)
From one of Scotland’s most under-rated brewers; one of Scotland’s most under-rated beers. When it came out around five years ago, Raj IPA announced a step change for John McGarva – until that point, session ales were his thing, either dark or light. This was his first beefy number, and on cask it still has the power to surprise, even today. Alongside the lemon and orange flavours, there’s more than a hint of earthy backbone about it – on cask, there are few IPA’s from north of the border that can match it.




MarbleLagonda19. Marble Lagonda (5.0%)
Here we have the first application of ‘the Kernel rule’ – with Marble’s Lagonda IPA. The Manchester concern have long dispensed golden hop bombs to the lucky locals of the Marble Arch – and there are few better beers than Lagonda to enjoy as the glowing sun filters through the windows there. Utility IPA could also be on this list, quite frankly – and if I was allowing adjuncts, Earl Grey IPA would be too (very near the top). As it is, one brewer, one IPA, and we can more than make do with the brilliant Lagonda.




WilliamsJoker18. Williams Brothers Joker (5.0%)
Joker is in this list for one simple reason – I was reminded recently just how good it can be. Having drunk more than my fair share of Williams Brothers’ IPA in the past, it had been registered, logged and mentally filed away. A great beer – also under-rated in Scotland – one of the best ‘no-thinkum’ beers you can stack the fridge with. However, a visit to Leith’s Vintage the other week – a charbar* part-owned by the Alloa brewers, and a pint of Joker brought back all those memories – and more. In short, it was superb. You can fly through this, nuzzled by citrus as you go.

*charbar being the modern, charcuterie-forward version of a gastropub, of course.




RadicalRoad17. Stewart Radical Road (6.4%)
Loanhead’s Stewart Brewing have been quietly upping the ante over the last year or so – beers such as No3 and Copper Cascade making way for black IPA’s, Belgian-style tripels, and the beer that arguably started it all – Radical Road. Brewed as a one-off, it has swiftly moved into the ‘regular’ folder for Stewart – based largely on public opinion. As their new brewery is taking shape, complete with public brewkit and growler station, their honeysuckle-edged Radical Road definitely seems to have marked the crossover point.




Cannonball16. Magic Rock Cannonball (7.4%)
Huddersfield’s finest were one of the easiest to include on this list – as a series of beers, their ‘Cannonball run’ has blasted into the hearts of hop-loving drinkers all over the UK. The original may have been overtaken on the geekblogs by the walloping double IPA Human Cannonball (itself surpassed by the upcoming Un-human Cannonball), but the debut India Pale Ale is one of their very best beers (and talking about Magic Rock, that’s not an easy assumption to make). But an abundance of tropical fruit and resin – what’s not to like?




HoxtonSpecial15. Brodies Hoxton Special IPA (6.6%)
San Diego or Portland may consider themselves IPA towns, but London is the place for our favoured beer style. Brodies are one of the city’s most prolific brewers, churning our dozens of different cask beers from their base in Walthamstow. A full-on blast of California sunshine, Hoxton Special sings out of the glass with every mouthful. Passion fruit, grapefruit, papaya and mango – as good as any hop-forward C-bomb from the Pacific Coast.




MeantimeIPA14. Meantime India Pale Ale (7.5%)
Staying in London for our next pick, Meantime claim to be ‘Britain’s only producer of authentic India Pale Ale’. Whether that means they are the only ones to pack Goldings and Fuggles into a beer like this, or they send it to bottle shops via Kolkata, I don’t know. But it’s a great beer – and a fantastic IPA. Greenwich’s finest have put out a lot of different lines since their India Pale Ale came out, but few better.




LotusIPA13. Ilkley Lotus IPA (5.6%)
Another cracker from another seriously under-rated brewery. Ilkley hit the jackpot with Lotus IPA – a fantastic mix of Cascade and Summit hops – giving a sweet, pineapple and peach flavour to the beer. Lotus is a prime example of a cask-led, session-strength brewery turning everything up, just a little, and really coming good. Of all the IPA’s on this list, Lotus is the one that would catch up with you the quickest, being supremely quaffable at 5.6%.




HarbourIPA12. Harbour IPA (5.0%)
Cornwall – pounding surf, pasties and fishermen with impenetrable, fixed-distance stares. As they stand, rigid, on the decks of surging trawlers, maybe they are thinking about the one that got away. Or, they could be rapt with attention on the beers they’ll be knocking back once they beach the boat and stumble up the shingle. Harbour IPA – again, since enveloped by doubles of different hoppage, is a cracking beer in cask or bottle.




SummitIPA11. Acorn Summit IPA (5.0%)
Barnsley’s finest knocked one halfway to Leeds with their single-hop Summit IPA, brewed (as far as I can tell) just the once. I was trying to avoid hard to find, unusual beers such as this (otherwise Rooster’s Serlo de Burgh would have to be in this list), but had to make an exception for Acorn’s Summit. I only ever saw this once, in Edinburgh on cask, and it was fabulous. Like standing on a Caribbean beach at sunrise (only with rain battering on the windows).




SWBDiablo10. Summer Wine Diablo (6.0%)
There can’t be a harder working pair in British brewing than Andy and James from Holmfirth’s Summer Wine. They seem to be permanently at work, double brewdays throughout the week, travelling to all ends of the country (even Scotland) for their craft. Hard work only gets you so far, of course, but the SWB guys really back it up with their creative take on modern styles. As pretentious as that sentence sounds, it’s absolutely true of Diablo – the first Summer Wine beer I ever had. I can still remember reeling in Mr Foleys, Leeds, from the grapefruit-laced right hook it delivered.




SouthvilleHop9. Bristol Beer Factory Southville Hop (6.5%)
Modern, hop-forward IPA’s are all about the fruit flavours, and how they interplay with the other components of the beer. The sweeter malt notes, or the punchy, bitter resin. Southville Hop (to my taste buds, at least) combines two of the most complementary of those fruit flavours – pineapple and grapefruit. Yes, it sounds like a Lilt advert – but if any brewer in the UK would be advised to release an Alco-Lilt, it would be BBF. Southville Hop is a stunner, and deservedly in the top 10 British IPA’s.




69IPA8. Lovibonds 69 IPA (6.9%)
Speaking of two complementary elements, the next IPA on the list features the easy marriage of Centennial and Columbus. Lovibonds 69 IPA blends the two C-hops almost perfectly, and gives a beer that would not be out of place in any Pacific hop-den – which was pretty much the intention. Lovibonds’ beers are as outspoken as their creator, Jeff Rosenmeier; 69 IPA walks the walk, and strides boldly into the resinous territory of the puckering tastebud. A revelation.




Halcyon7. Thornbridge Halcyon (7.7%)
So, back to the ‘Kernel rule’ and representing Thornbridge – who, had to be in this list somewhere – is the jaw-trembling Halcyon. Jaipur probably has more fans – or, it certainly used to – but Halcyon is simply stunning. It may verge into the double IPA category, but when a beer is this good, styles go out of the window (as do morning meetings the next day). Prepare that shaky-sounding phone call to the boss, and crack open another.




BraveNewWorld6. Tempest Brave New World (7.0%)
With India Pale Ales, I get the impression that some are made by breweries because they feel obliged – the kind of ‘oh, well, people like them so we should put one out’ mentality. Without exception, those kinds of beers become middling, and unbalanced. It’s almost as if that attitude becomes reflected in the final beer. Thankfully, there are IPA’s where you drink them and think ‘You know what? I bet this beer is the first thing this brewery wanted to make’ – Brave New World is just such a beer – I’ll wager any amount you care to mention that it’s the favourite beer of the guys in Kelso. It certainly shows in the final product.




GreenDevil5. Oakham Green Devil (6.0%)
Peterborough’s Oakham produce some spellbinding golden, hoppy cask beer – such as the (almost) peerless Oakham Citra. The cheerfully menacing scaly hop peers out from that pump clip, just as his horned counterpart does for Oakham Green Devil. This is one of those beers that if you ever see it on at a pub, it’s time to count the blessings and order it. Doesn’t matter what else is there – dance with that green devil and forget everything else. Without doubt, one of the best beers in the UK.




AKA4. Cromarty AKA IPA (6.7%)
From here on in, these beers are pretty much interchangeable depending on which I have sampled the most recently. Cromarty AKA is (in my opinion) the best IPA in Scotland, and getting on the way to taking over the whole country. Made by the most charmingly affable brewer you could ever hope to meet, in a brewery that looks out over the wind-churned whitecaps of the Cromarty Firth, AKA is the real deal. It shows exactly what the modern IPA should be about – that blend of citrus and resin on the flavour is pretty much as good as it gets. If you haven’t heard of this beer yet, you will – it’ll make Craig Middleton a household name in brewing circles.




GreatEastern3. Redchurch Great Eastern India Pale Ale (7.4%)
Drinking beer is (amongst other things) about discovery. Hearing about new breweries, stumbling across new pubs, and trying new beers. I remember trying Redchurch’s Great Eastern IPA for the first time, in the Holyrood 9A in Edinburgh. It reminded me of a distilled sweet shop – honeysuckle, pear drop, pithy orange zest. For such a new brewery, it’s a quite astonishing achievement. London is awash with new breweries – which is great, of course – but as the other capital’s legion of drinkers nose around, looking out these new drinking options, they need only head to Hackney for the very best.




KernelIPACitra2. Kernel India Pale Ale Citra (7.2%)
Well, Hackney and Bermondsey. The Kernel are unstoppable – since moving into larger premises they have continued almost unabated. The freedom they have from brewing whatever they want, with whatever hops or malt they can get hold of, is infectious. People in the food industry talk about seasonality. The Kernel do this with brewing – small batch, no fuss, get it out fresh, simple and effective. They’re the brewery BrewDog wish they could be, but never will. Evin’s original IPA Citra is still one of the beers that truly affirmed my love of modern, well-made British beer. Some bigger IPA’s have Citra piled in to such an extent, it gives a leading edge of astringency – but not this classic.




axe_edge2709101. Buxton Axe Edge (6.8%)
So, here we are. The best India Pale Ale in Britain comes from the Peak District – Buxton’s Axe Edge. This, to me, could be the perfect beer. High strength, to give the alcohol body, but not monstrously high that you can’t have at least a few. The mix of Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin and Citra that point to every part of the hop compass – sweet orange, vinous lime, juicy pineapple. For me, it’s mango that always seems to come out first (the most moreish of all hop flavours), building to a rich, sweet pine and caramel finish. It’s sublime, and works on cask, keg or bottle. Soon to be brewed by the newly arriving Colin Stronge – no pressure, Col – it remains the IPA by which all others should be judged. Oh, and I know the label says Double IPA, but I couldn’t put this list together without Axe Edge, pride of place at the very top.

Denis at Buxton confirmed to me this morning that Axe Edge has not been referred to as a ‘Double IPA’ for a while – they class it as a regular India Pale Ale…

BeerCast #69 – Spa IPA

We’re back with another BeerCast heralding the majesty of British beer (as we’ll be doing throughout all of our podcasts in 2012). This time, we turn our attention to four highly promising IPA’s. The style we gave to the world has developed in every possible way since it soothed the palates of thirsty ex-pats – but today we concentrate on the ‘modern British IPA’. These days more than a few brewers are piling in the hops, which is something we tend to agree with. On the podcast today – Ilkley Lotus IPA (5.7%), Bristol Beer Factory Southville Hop (6.5%), Roosters Serlo de Burgh (6.0%) and Buxton Axe Edge Double IPA (6.8%). Three of these originate in famous English spa towns, conveniently giving us a podcast title. On the panel this time – Richard, Shovels, Grooben and Stu.

1. Lotus IPA
Ilkley Brewery, Ilkley, West Yorkshire.
500ml glass bottle

The first working production facility in the town for almost a hundred years, the Ilkley Brewery began in 2009 on an industrial estate in the Yorkshire spa town. It’s precursor had become one of the largest in the county, supplying their trademark ‘Olicana’ brand beer (named after the old Roman name for Ilkley). It was taken over by Hammond’s in 1923 – but the modern-day version has restored a beery presence to the town, which is famed for the folk song “On Ikla Moor Baht ‘at”. Native Yorkshireman Shovels conveniently has forgotten how this song goes.

What They Say
“A gold coloured genuine India Pale Ale with hoppy, lemon and citrus aromas. This ale is complex, but well balanced and full of flavour.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Lemon and lots of apricot, biscuit at the end 8
Shovels – Peachy on the nose, it’s an absolute cracker 8
Grooben – Not as bitterly hopped as some but none the worse for it
Stu – A nice fruity session IPA

2. Southville Hop
Bristol Beer Factory, Bristol.
500ml glass bottle

Another historic tradition revived, the Bristol Beer Factory operate inside the city’s Ashton Gate Brewery – which had closed in 1933 following nearly two hundred years of production. The labour of love of George Ferguson, the BBF emerged in 2005 and were getting their beer onto local markets within six month of opening (trading then as the Bristol Brewing Co). With a ten-barrel plant, they own an old grain barge in Bristol dock which has been converted to a brewery tap (we paid it a visit back in 2009). Bristol may not be a spa town, but is a short train journey from arguably the UK’s most famous example – Bath.

What They Say
“Inspired by the amazing hoppy beers being brewed by American craft brewers this beer is heavily hopped, packing it with tropical fruit flavours and aromas.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Smells like a Kernel beer, classic grapefruit bitterness 7
Shovels – The citrusy hops really come though 7
Grooben – Aggressive bitterness, needs sweetness to balance it 7
Stu – It’s a good beer but a bit too harsh for my liking 7

3. Serlo de Burgh
Roosters Brewery, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.
500ml glass bottle

There can’t be too many breweries named after characters from Westerns. Sean Franklin once said he named his new Knaresborough business (in part) after Rooster Cogburn from True Grit. Sean – who has since retired – was one of the vanguards of Yorkshire brewing, having established Franklin’s Brewery in the 1960’s – delivering the beer himself in a taxi he drove as a second job. In April 2011 he sold up to Knaresborough businessman Ian Fozard – and Rooster’s is currently run by Ian’s sons Oliver and Tom. Serlo de Burgh was the first Lord (or ‘Honour’) of Knaresborough, and commissioned the building of the [spa] town’s castle. The beer brewed in his name is amazingly rare, as only 57 bottles were ever produced (would that I had known that when I placed my order).

What They Say
“A big presence with a cornucopia of fruit flavoursharnessed from a blend of American, Australian, New Zealand and Slovenian hops. Serlo de Burgh is sure to conquer your tastebuds and leave a long lasting impression.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Awesomely balanced, light hoppy beer. I think it’s amazing
Richard – We talk about balance – this has it, it’s lovely 9
Stu – That’s a grand cup
Grooben – Classic tropical fruit smell and flavour 8

4. Axe Edge Double IPA
Buxton Brewery, Buxton, Derbyshire.
500ml glass bottle

Our final spa town is Buxton in Derbyshire – which boasts a geothermal spring bubbling up at a constant 28°C. In the summer of 2009, Buxton brewery began, using the equipment of Derby’s Wild Walker. They then moved the equipment to their new home, and began putting out their own range of Buxton beer. Their head brewer is former Thornbridge man James Kemp (Bakewell being only a dozen miles away) – and recently their beers have become much more prominent, with (and this must only be a co-incidence) a series of strong hoppy numbers and a mighty 9.5% imperial stout – the very highly rated Buxton Tsar. Today we taste their double IPA Axe Edge

What They Say
“Hopped with Amarillo, Citra and Nelson Sauvin, this beer has a pale straw-amber body, and pours with a full creamy head. Its complex flavours include mandarin orange, schnapps, pineapple, and juicy tropical fruits. It is warmingly alcoholic with a dry finish.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Passion fruit, mango and orange – a great DIPA
Shovels – It would maybe sit on you a bit after a while 8
Grooben – Very nice, although the flavour doesn’t back up the smell 8
Stu – Again, I like it but it’s maybe a bit sweet and a tad heavy

– (clockwise from top left) Richard, Shovels, Stuart, Grooben

BeerCast panel verdict
Roosters Serlo de Burgh 35/40
Buxton Axe Edge Double IPA 32/40
Ilkley Lotus IPA 31/40
Bristol Beer Factory Southville Hop 28/40

  • Listen to the episode on Soundcloud here:

Please keep those comments and emails coming in, and check back in a couple of weeks for our next podcast. BeerCaster MrB returns from several weeks working in New England, and if he manages to bring something back we may stray – just slightly – from our British theme for the next episode. Otherwise, I’ve got a cupboard brimming with homegrown Black IPA’s to get through…

Autumnal Ales

The concept of seasonality is now one of the hallmarks of modern cooking, pushed to the general public by the ranks of TV chefs and foodie magazines. Everything has a ‘time of year’, whether it’s the British asparagus, salty samphire, or humble mackerel (as one BeerCaster asked for in a fancy Edinburgh fishmonger’s, only to be embarrassed in front of a queue of shoppers when told there were none in the sea at that time of year). But can this approach be transferred to beer? Hops are seasonal, certainly, but after the harvest they can be dried and used at any time. It’s down to the styles and types of beer that can be varied depending on what the calendar says.

Now that Autumn is on us, it’s time to change the attitude and go for something different. The long summer (or in our case, short summer) is over, so the time for light hoppy pale ales is over. No need for urgent, tingling refreshment on a hot day now the clocks have gone back (or forward, as I put mine by mistake). Autumn brings crunchy leaves, darker nights, cool windy afternoons – and should be celebrated by the glorious British bitter. There can’t be another brewing nation on earth that can put out a finer nutty, foaming brown ale than us Brits – and now’s the time to partake.

So until the winter arrives and we all move on to warming stouts and porters, and then Christmas beers with alcohol and spice (before celebrating the return of Spring with zesty golden ales), take time out for a fruity, toffee-ish best bitter. Let the rich mouthfeel and malt characteristics reward you after that long Autumnal walk, or spot of Christmas Shopping (it’s never to early – and most breweries have online stores). Here are five choice Scottish beers for the season – Bitters, Ruby Ales, ESB’s, Amber Ales – all styles are well suited to this time of year. As we head towards November – have a seasonal beer on us.

1. Maverick (4.2%abv)
Fyne Ales, Cairndow, Argyll.
Classic fruity mahogany ale from BeerCast favourites Fyne Ales.

2. Red Kite (4.2%abv)
Black Isle Brewery, Munlochy, Black Isle.
Technically an amber ale, organically brewed north of Inverness.

3. Red Squirrel (3.9%abv)
Arran Brewery, Brodick, Isle of Arran.
Nutty, malty beer that donates to Red Squirrel charities on Arran.

4. St Magnus Ale (4.5%abv)
Highland Brewing Company, Swannay, Orkney.
Another nutty one, but with more roast than the Red Squirrel.

5. Red MacGregor (4.0%abv)
Sinclair Orkney Brewery, Quoyloo, Orkney.
Fruity ruby ale, current silver medal Champion Beer of Scotland.

(looking slightly further afield, five English beers that would go down very well on an Autumn evening are Bath Ales Barnstormer, York’s Yorkshire Terrier, Bristol Beer Factory No.7, Fuller’s ESB, and Daleside Old Leg Over).

In praise of…The Grain Barge, Bristol

Pubs come in many shapes and sizes, and are to be found in many unusual and varied locations. I’ve been to several great pubs near water, but never actually visited one on water before – until I set foot aboard the Grain Barge in Bristol, that is. As the name suggests, it used to ply a trade ferrying barley and wheat from Bristol to Cardiff across the Severn Estuary – being towed, as a ‘dumb’ barge it had no engine of its own. Built in 1936, it used to be moored in the Hotwells area of the city adjacent to a more famous rival – Brunel’s SS Great Britain. In 2007 the derelict hulk was bought by the Bristol Beer Factory and converted into a floating pub, with a dining bar above and a function room below. Nudged over to the other bank to a permanent mooring, it now overlooks Brunel’s marine masterpiece.

The Grain Barge is no gimmick; it was voted best bar in Bristol within a year of opening. The real ales on offer are all supplied by the Bristol Beer Factory, who are based in nearby Ashton. They began life in 2003 when a local architect bought the 100-year-old Ashton Gate Brewery and decided to resurrect production on the site. They have five core beers with a few seasonals, one of which (a 5.2% ESB called Exhibition) was on the night I visited the barge. Their regulars are Bristol Gold, Bristol Red, Milk Stout, No7, and Sunrise. The Milk Stout is multi-award-winning, but sadly wasn’t around when I was (although their Bristol Stout was) – with a tough choice I went for the Autumnal flavours of the No7 bitter and then the Bristol Red.

No7 (4.2%) is a premium best bitter – surely the most British of beer styles, and one which is perfect for a slightly chilly October evening. The BBF website states it goes brilliantly with food – and the £7 ‘pie and a pint’ deal was too good to pass up. Unfortunately the No7 was poured totally flat, the lovely dark chestnut colour untroubled by any trace of a head. That said, it was quite fantastic – the classic Fuggles aroma paired very well with the Challenger hops on the palate, and with the slight traces of ripe fruit, vanilla and toffee in the aftertaste, it was seriously drinkable, at a perfect session strength.

Bristol Red – or just Red (3.8%) was, as expected, darker ruby in colour than the bitter, and a bit spicier. Personally, I usually prefer bitters to red ales – and these two were no exception – but the Red was also very drinkable (and unlike the previous beer retained a decent head). It was sweet and caramelly, but with none of the cloying edges that some 80/- beers from up here in Scotland sometimes contain. Bramling Cross give the aroma to this one, instead of Fuggles, and I think impart a nicer smell as a result. Sadly after this second beer, it was time to leave – but if I ever find myself back in Bristol I’ll re-board the barge to try some more.

The Grain Barge, Bristol
Bristol Beer Factory