Until last Saturday I’d not been to Bristol for twenty years.
I arrived at the beautiful Temple Meads station in warm afternoon sunshine, dropped my bag across town at the Travelodge and made my way to the first pub of the day.
I’d organised the day after talking to Jon of Arbor Ales who had wanted to brew another ridiculous beer and thought it would be nice to launch it in his own pub to a group of CAMRGB members.
But that was to come at the end of the night.
We started at 3pm in the Barley Mow and I arrived to find Paul, the other brewer at Arbor Ales, waiting outside.
Having said hello we went inside to find a group of people already settled in.
The Barley Mow is a Bristol Beer Factory pub nestled away amongst houses and not too easy to find if you don’t know the area (or haven’t got Google Maps with you, as I had).
It’s a small beautifully laid out pub that boasts an equal amount of cask and keg beers.
I opted for a Bristol Beer Factory Bitter Kiwi (5%) which was a fine, crisp and refreshing way to start proceedings, and introduced Paul to the people who were already there.
There was Justin (@1970sBOY) and his wife, David (@rdgmartin), Ian (@thebeercolonel) and Richard (@beerfortheyear), who were joined shortly afterwards by Andrew (@revolutionsbrew) from Revolutions Brewing.
Over the course of the next thirty minutes or so more and more friendly faces started arriving, and as I drank a nicely resinous American Pale Ale (4.8%) by Long Man Brewery, John and Becky of Art Brew (@ArtBrew) turned up, along with Fergus (@FergusMcIver) and Andy (@andyandybee123) with a couple of their friends, and my old college friend Dan who I’d not seen for over ten years.
I’d been a little bit nervous about the event on my journey down.
What if nobody came?
What if the event was pants?
I shouldn’t have worried, and my fears were calmed as I stole a sip of Justin’s Wild Beer Schnoodlepip and listened to the warm friendly chatter around me.
We left just before five o’clock, some walking, others by taxi, for our next port of call.
I opted to walk with Dan and his friend so that we could catch up on a decade of news and gossip and we arrived across town at The Hare On The Hill in a quarter of an hour.
I immediately liked The Hare.
I liked it’s beautiful green tiling outside and its updated but by no means modernised interior.
I even forgave it its TV in the corner with the cricket on.
As I ordered a glass of Beerd’s Phantom Pilsner (5.3%) and took a big refreshing glug, a face I knew very well though I’d never met in real life popped up in front of me.
I’d gotten to know Alf (@alfaguru) back in 2003 when we both blogged on LiveJournal, had done a bit of graphic design work for him, become electronic friends over the years but never got around to being in the same place at the same time.
I thought he lived in Devon.
It turns out he’d moved to Bristol a year or so ago.
We slipped into easy conversation and, as our delicious burgers arrived I grabbed a glass of Magic Rock Rapture (4.6%) and quickly followed it with a Tiny Rebel Billabong (4.6%).
By the time we left The Hare the group had grown by another two or three people, including Jack, the Hare’s bar manager.
We wandered the streets of Bristol, a small beery army stretched out along the pavement, and dropped in on BrewDog Bristol.
Now, I had told BrewDog we were coming and we ordered a not insignificant amount of drinks – I started by introducing Alf to Tactical Nuclear Penguin (38%) before choosing a Hardcore IPA (9.2%), and Justin and his wife bought a couple of rather expensive bottles.
We sat down at a table and I handed out a few CAMRGB beer mats around the pub only to have an angry member of staff come round and remove them all and replace them with BrewDog beer mats.
Should I have asked if it was OK to give out beer mats?
Maybe I should, but they were only beer mats, the place knew we were coming and I thought BrewDog was all about freedom and enjoying beer and being all, you know, Punk and edgy.
It turns out they’re a big corporate machine who allow nothing but their own branding.
The result was that, though they could have taken a great deal more money from us, we left after one drink and headed over to Beer Emporium.
Mind you, we didn’t stay in Beer Emporium either.
Not because there was anything wrong with the place, it’s a beautifully laid out subterranean drinking den.
But next door is a new place called The Navy Volunteer.
It’s a gorgeous pub, comfortable to be in and with a beer list that needs to be seen to be believed.
While enjoying a lovely glass of Wild Beer’s Epic Saison (5%) we were at last joined by Jon of Arbor Ales (@ArborAles) who was as friendly, funny and warm as I hoped he’d be.
He bought me a glass of Siren Brew’s Undercurrent (4.5%) and I embarrassed him by telling him how Arbor Ales are right at the heart and soul of CAMRGB – without his support and his, put simply, getting it, I’d have probably packed it in over a year ago.
Then John Art Brew came over to tell me that the bar manager had asked for a bunch of CAMRGB beer mats to give out to customers.
Finally we made our way over to The Three Tuns.
It’s the Arbor Ales brew tap and we had a special beer waiting for us.
The Three Tuns is, quite simply, a lovely pub, it’s small bar crammed with Arbor beers and several guests.
But what I wanted was a glass of Down Deeperest (13%).
It’s the final instalment in the trilogy of silly beers dreamed up by Jon especially for CAMRGB with a pump clip that I had designed.
Down Deeperest is an Imperial Black Saison.
Yes you read that right.
It’s big and rich and very Porty and overwhelmingly, boozily delicious.
I coupled it with a glass of Down Deeperer (12%), the Black Barley Wine made a few months before and after that my memory gets a bit sketchy.
I remember making a Deeper/Deeperest cocktail and forcing it on everyone I could, and I remember eating some very nice home made beef jerky.
I only hope I didn’t do anything too stupid.
I woke the next morning to a slightly wonky head and set out to wander around Bristol.
It’s a lovely city and easily walkable.
I wandered past the cathedral and out to Clifton, then swung a wide arc to take me back to the centre of town.
From there I went up to Stokes Croft to see the street art and the street drinkers before heading back over to the Cathedral to meet up with Becky and a slightly hungover John for breakfast.
We ate a lovely fry up at the Sour Dough Café, a street place in one of the covered markets, talked beer and politics and family before walking towards the station and saying our goodbyes.
On the train back I didn’t get much chance to think or to rest as I was alongside an old chap from Birmingham who struck up a conversation with me that lasted the whole journey.
He was very nice, and we had a laugh, but my brains were frazzled and by the time I got on to the connection to Leicester I was pretty much spent.
Thanks to everyone who came to the Bristol event.
Especially to Jon at Arbor Ales and the pubs that invited us in so warmly.
Bristol is a fantastic city packed with good beer and friendly pubs and I urge you to visit if you get the chance.
Oh, and Ian wears A Nice Pair Of Brogues.