Beer in Bath: the Crafty Insider’s Guide
From historic havens to contemporary chill-out zones, Bath’s brewing scene — with its local ales, ciders and craft beers — keeps both traditionalists and experimenters happy.
The history of brewing in Bath 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. He established a large brewery at Widcombe in 1736 – until that point most of the beer consumed in the alehouses came from small brewhouses in their backyards. A further number of large breweries also began to spring up throughout Bath during the course of the eighteenth century.
By the end of the Victorian era, Bath had become heavily industrialised and beer was brewed on an industrial scale. The Northgate Brewery (located where Waitrose is today) was the largest in the West of England by 1850 and other smaller breweries mushroomed around it, often attached to public houses. Keen to find out more? The Museum of Bath at Work tells the story of Bath in its industrial heyday.
There has been much debate about which is the oldest pub in Bath and the answer still remains inconclusive to this day. Although we can’t be sure, it’s a fact that The Old Green Tree in Green Street, built around 1716 on the site of a tree that shaded the bowling green, and The Star Inn, dating from the 1760’s, are both listed in CAMRA’s (Campaign for Real Ale) guide as Pubs of Outstanding Heritage Interest.
But what to drink at your pub of choice? Take our whistle-stop tour of the best Bath breweries for some inspiration…
Bath Ales’ first beer was called Barnstormer, after the former Bath and Bristol rugby player Stuart Barnes. Distinctive, high-quality ales include The Dark Side (smooth stout), Forest Hare (a hoppy autumn ale) and the legendary Gem (an exceptional bitter, by anybody’s standards). In the mood for cider? Bounders – lovingly crafted from local Somerset apples – offers a true taste of the West. Now flourishing under the ownership of the St Austell Brewery, Bath Ales’ brews continue to dominate the supping selection at the company’s elegant, contemporary flagship venture Graze Bath, and can also be enjoyed at The Hop Pole and The Salamander. All three pubs have developed a strong reputation for fine ales, tasty food and welcoming atmospheres.
Abbey Ales is Bath’s very own brewery, founded in 1997. Many of the finest pubs in the region stock their award-winning brew Bellringer Bitter, and the company itself owns The Star in the Vineyards (regarded by many as a national treasure, built around 1760 by the architect for the Paragon, one of Bath’s finest terraces). The Trinity, The Assembly Inn and Bath’s smallest pub, the Coeur De Lion (tucked away on Northumberland Place) are also owned by Abbey Ales.
Box Steam Brewery
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 nineteenth-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. Meanwhile, if you fancy a peek behind the scenes, brewery tours are available by appointment.
Electric Bear Brewing Co.
Since totally reinvigorating the site of a former Maltings on Brassmill Lane in August 2015 by establishing a craft brewery and tap room, Electric Bear Brewing Co. have been busy. They’ve produced over 250,000 pints of beer (from a range of more than 25 labels), employed several full-time staff, hosted multiple regular events and won a clutch of prestigious beer awards. Find Electric Bear Co.’s imaginatively-named brews including ‘Cherry Blackout’ chocolate-cherry stout and their very own Jane Austen tribute, ‘Persuasion’, behind many of the best bars in Bath; visit their website for news of regular events, news and new brews.
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Hunter & Sons
Okay, so we’re not strictly on brewery territory here. What Hunter & Sons do offer, however, is a seriously wild selection of contemporary craft beers sourced from the UK and around the globe in 1/3, 1/2 or 2/3 of a pint from six rotating taps. Their bottle list, meanwhile, is extensive to say the least, and includes a selection of rare, hard-to-find beers in styles that epitomise the craft beer scene today. Customers are encouraged to taste what’s on tap free of charge, which helps the friendly staff to talk about the beer fluently whilst tasting it as it is supposed to be served: fresh from the taps. Food and speciality coffees are available throughout the day and into the evening, all served in a uniquely sculpted space that acts as a perfect environment in which to take a journey through the world of modern beer.
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