Friday, 11 September 2015

Brizzle in the Drizzle

Before my recent career change, I hadn't worked on a Monday for nearly a decade. For every bad point about my old job all I had to think about was that smug Sunday evening feeling, when I'd be cracking open that second bottle of wine with glee, and it would all seem worth it.

Now I've joined the rat race, I may have got all my weekends back but I also only get to experience the dizzy joy of a bank holiday half a dozen or so times a year. Garfield's right; Mondays do suck. On the upside it means I can plan to make more of them, and for the late 'summer' (I use that word advisedly) bank holiday, the office drone's last free pass until Christmas, I dragged the Ewing down to the South West to Banksy's Dismaland; a satisfyingly dismal day out. But before our miserable adventure, we found ourselves with a day to spare, and where better to spend it than one of my favourite cities, the beautiful Brizzle.

Our first stop was the recently relocated Moor Brewery, who were hosting a beery barbecue for the Bank Holiday with some of their West country friends; the previously blogged about, Ethicurean; newcomers, No Man's Grace; and ex-butchers and bakers, Birch. All very alliterative.

It may have been a drab day but the pop of colour from the gazebo at the front - that the weather-hardened drinkers had already begun to congregate under - standing out against the grey roof and the even greyer sky was a cheering sight. And by the time we left a multicolored tangle of bikes had also been propped up against the wooden fence outside. A very Bristolian scene.

Moor originally began in 1996, making their beers on a five barrel plant based in Pitney, on the Somerset Levels. Nearly two decades and much success later and they can now be found brewing on a shiny new twenty barrel brew kit about ten minutes walk from Temple Mead station.

Their beers are all unfined, meaning they don't use isinglass - derived from fish swim bladders - or any other finings to settle the brew. This leaves their beers naturally hazy, although most will settle naturally, or drop bright if you want to get technical, over time. 

Like 'cask vs keg', 'London Murky' is a beery bone of contention. Opaque brews that can sometimes look more like tomato soup are going to be a hard sell for some drinkers, and may give the impression of being 'off', even if they are designed to be drunk that way. But Moor, and many others - think of German wheat beers or hoppy West Coast IPAs - believe that fining free will produce a more natural product with a better flavour and aroma.

I'm a big fan of Moor beers, but clearly we were here to put more to the test. From their keg selection we started with Claudia, a hoppy wheat ale that's a California/German mash-up between an IPA and hefeweizen; all the cloves and bubblegum you'd expect from the wheat with an added mango and grapefruit funkiness from the hops.

We also sampled their Dark Alliance, a rich smoky stout brewed with the addition of coffee from the nearby Clifton Coffee Company, Finally I got stuck into the Return of the Empire, a IPA brewed with new English jester hops, and big enough to stand up to the West Coast hop bombs. It was so good I had a couple.

Blur may have sung 'barbecue is cooking, sausages and chicken' in their paean to an English bank holiday, but the menu for this long weekend grillfest promised something a little more. Who wouldn't be up for sampling such delights as pig skin crisps, grilled corn with crab butter and duck breast with burnt orange; even if it did mean standing in a rather cramped and smoky queue. At least we had plenty of beer to keep us lubricated.

First up was a grilled oyster with burnt cucumber from Birch. It's pretty hard to make your grub look good on paper plates, but these bivalves, served perched on a bed of sea salt, certainly looked the part. As an avowed oyster avoider (alongside my nemesis, the egg) the Ewing reported them excellent.

Next was the Ethicurean's beef rib, a bijou piece of sublime bovine served with a smoky aubergine puree and smoked cherry tomatoes - anything that can improve upon a cherry tomato (still one of my favourites of all foods) is a good thing indeed. If there were a criticism, I might have preferred to gnaw my rib off the bone, but I am a neanderthal. 

Another great dish, which I have failed to do justice to with my picture, was No Man's Grace's offering of cured hake, charred lettuce and red wine tartare sauce. Smoky, salty, tangy and the second dish in a row that proved hot salad can be a very good thing.

It wouldn't have been a barbecue without something in a bun and the offering from Birch of welsh black flank beef with grilled onions and mustard may certainly hit the spot. Maybe my savoury dish of the day; maybe. The only down side was having to share with the Ewing (I will remember that - TE).

For pudding we had the battle of the marshmallows. A curious sea salt, onion and aniseed incarnation from the Ethicurean was far more delicious, and far less scary, than it first sounded. We also scarfed a a very good slab of sticky toffee apple cake that just missed a crowning dollop of cream.

The Birch raspberry marshmallow and chocolate biscuit s'more was truly a brilliant thing. The berry-infused toasted confection being complimented by the slightly bitter cocoa note of the biscuit. If I'd have had the patience, and wasn't in the grip of a crazed sugar rush, I'd have queued for another (and a third).

Luckily I had one more sweet distraction to occupy me, a waffle cone of beer flavoured ice cream from No Man's Grace. From the three ices they had created - the others being based on wheat beer, Claudia and barrel aged old ale, Fusion - I chose the BMoor, made with the stout of the same name that Moor describe as 'a big hit of blueberry chocolate cheesecake'. I'm sure you're bored of superlatives, but you can see from the half-eaten evidence that this frozen desert was not long for this world. 

Not quite done for the day we walked up Welsh Back - the mooring place of the Apple Cider Barge, scene of a few drunken birthday shenanigans last time we were in town - to King Street's Beermuda Triangle; a row of three watering holes; the Beer Emporium, The Famous Royal Naval Volunteer and Small Bar.

Sadly the FRNV was closed for a private party (although a photo did exist of me from my last visit here, but I made the Ewing take it down from Twitter, so you're all spared). Happily the other two were open for business, so we started at the subterranean Beer Emporium, a split level shop and bar with a few streetside tables above ground

Our final port of call was Small Bar, confusingly, a rather large space that is so named because of its dedication to small batch beers. Their web site cites the 'things we have', including 25 taps pouring great beer produced in the South West and beyond; food in collaboration with some of the best local independents and beards (some of us…). And the 'things we don't' including pint glasses; shot Glasses; TV’s and Stella on tap. Which is the kind of divisive thing you will either find refreshing or not, depending on your opinion on 568ml measures of wife beater.

Luckily, with such a great looking bar list, it was easy to forget about Belgium's most infamous libation and get stuck in to some of the South West's finest brews. This time two more sour beers, both from Somerset's Wild Beer Co. The first was my Sleeping Lemons, a gose (German-style sour wheat beer) made with salted, preserved lemons. Despite the rather alarming aroma of Fairy Liquid it made the perfect, zesty summer tipple.

The Ewing also enjoyed her Somerset Wild, a spontaneously fermented berlinner weisse-inspired bretted brew described as 'the Yakult of beers' and made with wild apple starter. Dry, acidic and a touch fruity, rather like its imbiber.

They also have a food menu featuring all the usual beer food suspects including burgers, dogs and club sandwiches on Hobbs House bread. As a stop gap we went for the deep fried platter; a light snackette of battered dill pickles, jalapenos and onion rings with homemade fry sauce. Oh, and buried somewhere under all that ballast, a deep fried Mars Bar.

The reason for having just a little morsel? The fact that KFC was opposite our hotel and (as has become customary every time we stay here) I was already planning the best way to attack a two piece variety meal - the hot wings and mini fillet strip made a good pre-breakfast the following morning - with fries and extra gravy. Not a refined spread, but it would be a lie to say I didn't enjoy this about as much as anything else I'd eaten all weekend.

I've realised that more than one of my blogs have ended with drunken feasts of fried chicken and gravy; and while that is no bad thing, I'm going to leave this one on a slightly more refined note with a bijou Bristol beer haul. The Old Freddy Walker is going in my stocking, ready for Christmas, the Ready Made 2, brewed with porridge, made a very nice brunch tipple, and the Wiper and True Milkshake may not have bought all the boys to the yard, but boy it was a tasty stout.

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