Bristol is a cider city, everybody knows that. However, in the last couple of years, craft beer has been giving our favourite apple-based tipple a run for its money, with a number of brilliant microbreweries, artisan brewers and specialist bars opening their doors in and around town. So, if you're bored of bog-standard lager and fancy a change from the flagoons of cider on offer in Bristol's bars and pubs, head to one of these.
RECOMMENDED: Time Out's guide to some of Bristol's best craft beers
Bristol craft beer bars
There are literally hundreds of varieties of beer on offer in the ‘Emp’. Don’t be fooled by the small bottle shop on street level – three vaulted cellars downstairs play host to more beer than anywhere else in Bristol. An ever-changing selection comes from around the globe, but local breweries – including Wiper & True, Ashley Down and Towles from Easton – are well represented too.
Breathing new life into a familiar venue is fraught with danger, but the reinvention of live music venue The Croft as The Crofters Rights is a perfect example of how to do it properly. The team behind the now thriving Stokes Croft bar had previous in this regard, helping to spearhead London’s craft beer revolution with the trailblazing Euston Tap.
The Cornubia has been given a new lease of life since award-winning landlords Phil and Jakki took over in 2010. While the pub has been a fixture on Bristol’s real ale scene for decades, it’s taken the CAMRA award-winning duo to restore it to its former glory. The Cornubia should now be considered something of a hidden gem, in part due to its curious, off-the-beaten-track location. It’s worth seeking out, though, and not just for the quality and range of beer on offer.
For first-timers, finding The Volunteer Tavern – tucked away on a back street behind Cabot Circus, and a stone’s throw from the Trinity Centre – can be a little tricky. It’s worth seeking out, though, because its’ historic nature, homely feel, high quality food and revolving real ale range add up to something rather special.
Perched high on a hill between Stokes Croft and Cotham in Kingsdown, The Hillgrove has been a feature of Bristol’s real ale scene for longer than anyone can remember. Before the craft beer boom swept through Bristol, the Hillgrove boasted one of the most impressive real ale ranges in the city, with up to twelve cask and keg choices.The range is still impressive.
The Bag Of Nails has long been regarded as one of Bristol’s best real ale establishments. It is, without doubt, also one of the city’s most eccentric pubs. Much of this eccentricity stems from landlord Luke Daniels, a self-proclaimed “opinionite [sic], non-conformist and cat-fancier” whose dedication to real ale is notorious. There are “rules” displayed on big boards throughout the pub’s intimate, wood-paneled interior, and anyone asking if he stocks lager will be shown the door.
Before it was taken over and re-branded by experienced landlord Stephen Wallace – most famous for turning the Golden Guinea into one of Bristol’s best-loved establishments – the pub now known as The Steam Crane was one of Bedminster’s most notorious watering holes. Since re-opening in early 2014, Wallace has turned around the venue’s fortunes, largely through a dedication to great drinks, and a tasty food menu.
The Hare proudly boasts that it’s “Bristol’s best public house”. While that’s undoubtedly a bold claim, it’s certainly one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Its strongest selling point, for those keen on decent beer, at least, is that it doesn’t try to do too many things. It revels in its’ status as a “proper pub”, focusing on drinks and atmosphere rather than food and other 21st century gimmicks.
These days, Southville residents are pretty well off for quality drinking options, with The Hare, The Steam Crane and The Tobacco Factory making North Street one of Bristol’s better stretches for craft beer enthusiasts. Even so, The North St Standard has managed to make its’ mark in a crowded marketplace by offering something a little different.
A quirk of the licensing laws means it's table service only at the Strawberry Thief, so wait to be shown to your spot by a waitress in a crisp linen shirt and navy blue apron. Such formality makes for a slightly sterile atmosphere, but then the beers are the stars of the show here. Belgian bottles dominate the drinks list, with prices averaging around £5 for a 330ml bottle. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, check out the sizeable selection of fruit beers.
Given that it was CAMRA Bristol’s Pub of the Year in 2012, it would be inaccurate to say that The Three Tuns is one of Bristol’s best-kept secrets. Tied to fast-rising local brewers Arbor Ales – one of the directors also works for the Easton-based company – The Three Tuns has a similar to feel to its one-time sister pub, The Old Stillage in Redfield.
Look above the bar at Small Bar and after the list of IPAs, stouts, blonde beers and the like, you’ll see an extra category: crazy shit. Don’t expect beers of any less than ten percent ABV here, and be thankful that you can choose to drink whatever unusual delight you have ordered in a bespoke one-third glass.
Since opening at the tail end of 2013, the diminutive Aviator Bar in Redland has earned a decent reputation for the quality of its’ craft ales and hearty, unfussy food. Certainly, it’s well worth deviating from Whiteladies Road or Gloucester Road to try some of the 13 draught beers they have on offer. Their impeccable craft beer offering – think both ales and lagers, with better-known brands joined by obscure international brews – is particularly attractive.
Owned by a Canadian ex-pat with close ties to the Arbor Ales microbrewery – now re-located to larger premises in Kingswood, but originally based down the road in Lawrence Hill – “the Stillage” is a decent community pub with a refreshingly mixed clientele. Whenever you call in, the range of Arbor Ales on tap are well worth trying. Naturally, new Arbor brews are trialed in the Stillage first, so regular visits are recommended.
Having conquered the world of real ale, Bath Ales decision to muscle into to the American style craft beer market with the Beerd range a few years back was undoubtedly a smart move. The brand’s namesake venue on St Michael’s Hill, close to the BRI and Bristol University, has also impressed since opening its doors.
In truth, decent pubs are a little thin on the ground in Bristol city centre. In this regard, The Christmas Steps is something of an island in a sea of mediocrity. Nestled at the bottom of Christmas Steps – a historic thoroughfare lined by a succession of curious independent boutiques – the pub is fast becoming a must-visit watering hole.
Collaboration is the name of the game at the Urban Standard, a bar that brings together the teams behind the former Urban Wood on Colston Street and Moreish on Chandos Road. The result is a bar set in an old amusement arcade. It’s now just as fun, swapping Pac Man and Asteroids for Wiper & True beer – the gold standard for Bristol breweries and a firm indicator that a bar knows what it's doing.
During the summer months, there are few better places to sit and while away a few hours than on the top deck of The Grain Barge, Bristol Beer Factory’s most distinctive venue. As its name suggests, the converted barge has been in position beside Mardyke Wharf in Hotwells since 2007, and offers genuinely unique views of Bristol Harbour.