It was a pretty successful weekend for us: we visited our 151st unique Bristol pub since arriving here last summer, walked to Wales across the Severn Bridge, and found a few very good beers during our explorations.
Our favourite new discovery on the pub front is The Phoenix. It's a real survivor, part of a terrace that we guess is early Victorian, surrounded by post-war housing and the intimidating bulk of Cabot Circus shopping centre and its attached car park. We'd walked past it a few times and gained the impression it was a gin-n-cocktails party joint and so were delighted to discover three cask ales, two interesting keg craft beers, and all the usual mainstream suspects, too. It's aiming for hip but still feels like a ‘proper pub’, not least because of the friendly pub dog roaming around making friends, and all the dark corners. It's been added to our list of regular city centre stops.
Moving on to beer, the highlight at The Phoenix was Butcombe Hop Eye, at 4.2%, billed a ‘very hoppy golden beer’. It was just our kind of thing -- distinctly bitter, assertively floral, but fairly well balanced by nutty malt. It wouldn't stop a galloping northerner -- beer like this is bread-n-butter in Sheffield -- but still counts as notable in the South West.
(An overall observation: these days, though we still have a lot of time for Bristol Beer Factory, Butcombe is consistently scoring direct hits with us, from last week's spot-on keg stout to the above pale-n-hoppy.)
Another beer in the same territory is GWB Hambrook Pale Ale at 4% which we'd encountered previously and found underwhelming. At the Three Tuns in Chepstow, though, despite a slightly less than perfectly clean glass, it tasted glorious, expressing (we're guessing) Cascade (or one of its relatives) in all its glory. It took us back to Settle. Old school in the best sense.
A flying visit to BrewDog Bristol gave us chance to try Clockwork Tangerine -- a fun beer at 4.5% that made us laugh. It looked and tasted like a decent American IPA (golden syrup, raspberry jam, Christmas trees) but in the aftertaste a pop art, psychedelic, orange oil aroma took over, filling the nose and throat like some sort of magic trick. It does exactly what is advertised and reminded us of how much fun the sillier end of craft beer can be.
Finally, at the bargain end of the scale, canned Budvar was a surprise and a delight. We haven't been avoiding Budvar so much as not feeling the need to buy it in recent years, and recalled it as a golden beer that was often skunked, a little too sweet, and frequently buttery. The beer in these cans was a more delicate yellow, lighter bodied and much more crisp. At £5 for six 330ml cans, it's a bit of a bargain, too.