The days of sipping warm beer on the village green are well gone – nowadays it’s a more sophisticated picture. Melissa Blease investigates how the craft beer revolution has changed the brewing landscape in Bath
Readers of a certain, erm, vintage will easily remember the days when beer was just – well, beer: something that men (and for years it was pretty much always men) drank too much of, and a tipple that only very, very few people (that’ll be the real ale connoisseurs, then) really understood much about. But oh, how times have changed. These days, there are as many tasting note superlatives attached to beers, lagers and ales as there are to wine; it’s not unusual to see ‘sophisticated descriptors’ such as creamy, comforting, aromatic, hazy or juicy on a label or tap handle, while all the coolest food menus offer suggested beer flights alongside the traditional grape-based accompaniments.
And so it’s come to pass that, despite all the gloomy news about pub closures and the dominance of massive, commercial breweries, the UK’s most recent Craft Beer Revolution (established roughly circa 2002 when then-chancellor Gordon Brown introduced Progressive Beer Duty, offering tax breaks to brewers below a certain production threshold) reinvigorated traditions, perceptions and drinking habits. According to a recent report from the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), we Brits sank 500-million pints of indie brews last year, while craft beer sales increased at double the growth rate reported by the wider market.The microbrewery at Bath Ale’s Graze restaurant in Bath
Tap rooms attached to small independent breweries have become hip’n’happening, family-friendly hangouts and eclectic neighbourhood bottle rooms have swooped into long since vacated corner shops and newsagents. According to recent statistics from the Campaign for Real Ale, 39% of women choose to drink beer over wine on a regular basis, and increasing numbers of beer company founders and independent brewers are female. Meanwhile, an ever-evolving menu of gluten-free, organic, vegetarian and vegan beers challenged perceptions and conceptions of beer being unhealthy, unethical or downright intolerable. But in Bath, this trend began a very long time ago…
The history of brewing on our doorstep dates back to the time of Ralph Allen, one of the founding fathers of the city, who owned the Bath stone quarries at Combe Down. Allen established a large brewery at Widcombe in 1736; up until that point most of the beer consumed in the inns and alehouses came from small brewhouses in their backyards. A number of further large breweries began to spring up throughout Bath during the course of the 18th century and, by the end of the Victorian era, Bath had become heavily industrialised and beer was brewed on an industrial scale.The Star Inn, owned by Abbey Ales
Although we can’t be sure exactly which of Bath’s many traditional pubs is the oldest, the Old Green Tree (Green Street) was built around 1716 on the site of a tree that shaded a bowling green, and The Star Inn (The Vineyards, The Paragon) has 1760s origins. But whether you choose to sup in a historic haven or a cool, contemporary chill-out zone, many of Bath pubs and bars boast a buoyant range of locally brewed real ales, ciders and craft beers, creating plenty of opportunity for both traditionalists and those who crave new brews alike to raise a glass to Bath’s brewing brouhaha together – and the best of those brews are produced right on our doorstep.
In the summer of 2016, the independent, family-owned St Austell Brewery bought Bath Ales, which was originally established in Warmley (twixt Bristol and Bath) in 1995. “We’re eager to make a long-term investment into the Bath Ales brand, pub estate, brewing facilities and people, all of whom share our passion for creating great beer and providing excellent customer service,” said St Austell chief executive James Staughton at the time of the acquisition. “We’re also committed to bringing the Bath Ales brands to the forefront of the south west market through our free trade business.” Two years on, and Staughton has more than made good on his promise.In May of this year, Bath Ales’ brand new, totally revamped, super-sophisticated Hare Brewery (on the original Warmley site) was unveiled, incorporating an all-important tap room and shop alongside a dazzling, state-of-the-art brewery HQ. Needless to say, Bath Ales’ core range of beers – including the company flagship brews such as Gem and both the Wild and Golden Hares – continue to flow. But the four-vessel brew house features 12 new fermenting vessels, has the capacity to produce more than 14.5 million pints a year and has introduced a wider variety of beer styles to the Bath Ales portfolio, including the 5% abv Lansdown IPA, described as “a west coast IPA made with five varieties of hops” and Sulis: “the ultimate English lager.”
Bath Ales’ brews continue to dominate the supping selection at the company’s contemporary flagship venture Graze Bath, which is also home to an in-house micro brewery that produces the company’s unique Platform 3 beer as well as small, one-off runs of specialist craft beers and ales. Want more BA? Visit The Salamander (John Street), The Hop Pole (Upper Bristol Road) or The Swan in Swineford – each of them uniquely characterful watering holes that serve Bath Ales’ brews to their very best advantage.
Abbey Ales is Bath’s very own brewery, founded in 1997. Many of the finest pubs in the region stock their award-winning flagship brew Bellringer Bitter, and the company itself owns The Star, The Trinity (James Street West), the Assembly Inn (Alfred Street), and Bath’s smallest pub, the Coeur De Lion on Northumberland Place.
ELECTRIC BEAR BREWING CO.
Establishing a craft brewery and tap room in August 2015, the Electric Bear Brewing Co have reinvigorated the site of a former maltings on Brassmill Lane. It’s estimated that they have produced over 250,000 pints of beer (from a range of more than 25 labels), many of which have won a clutch of prestigious local, national and international beer awards. Find Electric Bear Co’s imaginatively named brews including Cherry Blackout chocolate-cherry stout, Elemental crystal rye IPA and their very own Jane Austen tribute Persuasion behind many of the best bars in Bath.
BOX STEAM BREWERY
Established in Trowbridge (around 13 miles south west of Bath) in 2004, Box Steam Brewery is a family-owned micro-brewery passionate about producing characteristic and distinctive beers. Named after the magnificent Box Tunnel, the work of 19th-century engineer Brunel, his influence is evident in their ales – in the brewery’s own words, “Brunel was famous for his visions, passion and dedication to quality; values we aim to match every time we brew.” To experience the unique Box Steam Brewery taste, look out for the company’s distinctive labels and tap handles, keeping an eye out in particular for their well-rounded, traditional Tunnel Vision or their spicy and exotic Dark & Handsome.
SHOP FOR YOUR HOPS
Bath’s finest emporium of grown-up tipples is the adult version of the most enticing sweet shop you’ve ever visited – and home to Bath’s biggest range of craft beer from producers right on our doorstep and across the globe. Super-friendly, super-informed, super-personal service makes shopping here a super-treat.
7 Terrace Walk, Bath BA1 1LN; independentspiritofbath.co.uk
The brainchild of young entrepreneur George White (who already operates a similar outlet in Frome), this tiny little tap bar only opened in July of this year but has already attracted a cult following and earned a big reputation for the array of 70+ craft beers and artisan ciders available to drink in or take away.
Cork Street, Bath BA1 5BX
BEERCRAFT OF BATH
Browse from a selection of 600+ beers, ales, lagers etc or sip a sample from the ‘On Tap’ range of the week.
3 Argyle Street, Pulteney Bridge, Bath, BA2 4BA; beercraftbath.com