Bristol Beer Factory
The craft beer 'revolution' at the turn of the decade kinda passed me by, mainly because I was still deep into my wine obsession and only really interested in Cru Beaujolais, but also because I tended to avoid crap beer anyway so didn't need to be revolutionised. I'd been introduced to Chimay and La Chouffe during my time at Oddbins, so had very little disappointment when I wanted to drink beer.
But two things drew me in. The first was meeting Andrew and Brett of the Wild Beer Company when I started working with Westcombe Dairy in early 2013. They'd recently launched and kindly gave a batch of their beers to taste (read my take here). Then, a year later, I found myself sitting next to the M&S beer buyer having joined the company's drinks team. He regularly passed on exotic brews from around the world that I'd pore over on the train back west. Those Lagunitas, Fying Dogs, Omnipollos, Coedos, et al. really woke me up to the good things afoot.
So by the time I moved to Bristol in late 2015, I had little resistance left. Which is just as well, as this city is full of young breweries making fantastically good beer. The one closest to where I live in Ashton is Bristol Beer Factory (so close I can regularly smell their malty mashes in the air), so I thought I'd do a tasting of their most readily available bottled beers. And funnily enough, Bristol Beer Factory is where Andrew and Brett of the Wild Beer Company met, so there's a nice continuity to this being my first beer writing revisit.
INDEPENDENCE (4.6% ABV) is Bristol Beer Factory's US-style Pale Ale, a powerfully hopped golden beer with punchy aromas of green tropical fruits, dried apricots and roasted coriander seed. In the mouth it's well balanced, buoyed on a malty, Tango-sweet backbone that carries the complex hit of herbal American hops. All in all, a well made aperitif beer that really gets the tastebuds going.
HEFE (4.8% ABV) is dubbed a 'German style wheat beer', a cloudy, amber-gold number with inviting aromas of clove, coriander leaf and citrus. The palate is bold and tangy, hitting big with lemongrass and kiwi flavours, then some nice lime-zest bitterness over a richer malty/wheaty backnote. Clean, refreshing and food-friendly, this is a really appetising beer, crafted with balance.
FORTITUDE (4% ABV) is a classic amber ale and one of BBF's most recent launches. I remember thinking when this beer came out (last year I think) that it was an odd product to release, a bit of a ‘boring’ old-school beer. But I get it now. Anyone can make something dynamic and showy, but it probably takes more skill to make a classic style beer that satisfies both modern and traditional tastes. And Fortitude is very satisfying, with a nice hint of scented geranium/orange blossom on the nose and a subtle hit of mango juice on the palate, which balances the slight bitterness. It's not mind-blowing, but let's face facts, it’s exhausting having your mind blown all the time.
SOUTHVILLE HOP (6.5% ABV) is BBF's American IPA, a hefty, muscular beer that comes out swinging. Quite frankly, it’s a humdinger. Deep amber in colour, rich and malty on the nose, it's got notes of burnt orange peel, dried apricots and ripe tropical fruits. There's a lovely spicy hit on the palate, which marries both malty complexity and hoppy intensity, both unifying over the refreshing finish. It's a bold but surprisingly nimble beer. A great partner for a decent curry.
To me, Bristol Beer Factory occupies an interesting place in the modern Bristol brewery firmament. They may not be the hippest kid on the block with the coolest branding, but their lineup of beers is diverse and appealing and their history gives them solidity. I see them as the more traditional side of modern craft brewing, interesting and dependable rather than wild and inconsistent. What's more, their prices are far more realistic than a lot of their competitors, which, coupled with their proximity to my front door, will keep me loyal.