It’s a common problem. Anything far away looks cooler. It’s why people spend a vast fortune heading to other countries to spend time looking at art museums, architecture and scenery, cooing all the while. These self same people oft completely ignore the museums, architecture and scenery 5 minutes walk from their house.
All of which is a somewhat round about way of saying that after going on brewery tours in Belgium and Scotland, I finally went over to the Bristol Beer Factory for a tour recently.
Now some of you may be thinking, who? Bristol Beer Factory (or BBF) is a cool microbrewery in, shockingly,Bristol. They turn out a solid main range of real ale, and do a hellishly nice set of stouts, with a good bit of experimental releases mixed in.
Now you may have seen the pretty building above, do not be fooled. That is not the way in. I say this as a public service announcement as I’m sure the poor people working there are getting sick of people doing what I did and ringing up as I couldn’t find the sodding entrance. The actual entrance is to the left, down the road opposite the church looking thing. Yes, I know it looks like a parking area with a service entrance, that really is the way in. No fancy ass visitor’s area here mate.
The no frills feel is a good way of summing up the place. It, more than any other brewery I’ve visited, feels like a living breathing distillery. You can see the whisky casks ageing beer tucked away in one room, crates stacked high as you come in. If the tour was just looking around you would feel ripped off, as frankly you can see the entire thing from one room. Thankfully, that isn’t what the tour is about.
And before anyone asks, no it isn’t about the fact they start giving you beer as soon as you turn up rather than making you wait until the end like most tours. Though I must admit it helped.
What this tour is about is the making of beer. It is that knowledge, rather than the architecture, that the tour guide will be mostly bringing you through. This incidentally is a good thing. You will be shown the different machinery used, but where this tour shine is that you are evidently being educated by someone who works with these things day in and day out.
From little background about how the brewery was started due to an ex architect wishing to save old buildings from being demolished, to an explanation of burtonisation and from that the effects of the type of water on brewing. You get a range of background on both the brewery and brewing which are normally overlooked by hired to guide staff. In fact an explanation that the sulphur elements you can get in beer coming from the ale being slightly too fresh was a new one on me and added to the odd beer trivia list in my head.
Even better is that you don’t get blank looks if you ask outside the normal boundaries. Questions on if they intended to produce a lambic/spontaneous ale got not just an answer (unfortunately no) but also an in depth explanation of why. These are people who know their craft and the ingredients that makes it.
Also mentioned was the great, and somewhat mental, news that near the end of the year they will be releasing twelve, yes twelve different takes on imperial stouts (one aged on raspberries, on in a laphoraig cask, one in another whisky cask I forgot the name of , and nine more unspecified) which I heartily look forwards to.
Add into that the fact that beer tours always seem to bring in a great scene for chatting with over the beer afterwards (in this case including home brewers, beer novices and more) which made for good camaraderie throughout.
So for ten quid you get a great hands on tour, open access to two casks of ale to drink from before and after the tour, a good selection of bottles opened to sample from afterwards, a bottle opener, pint glass and a bottle of beer to take home.
For knowledge, socialising, or value for money I can’t fault this one.