I still can’t believe we are the type of travelers who now seek out craft beer experiences in every city we visit, but here we are. The Bristol craft beer scene is pretty amazing. They call themselves “Britain’s First City of Beer,” for a variety of reasons. Most of this relates to the history of some of the Bristol breweries. But, there is certainly no shortage of bars in Bristol for craft beer. Welcome to beer in Bristol, UK.
In this Craft Beer in Bristol Guide, we will share options for Bristol brewery tours and tastings as well as offer recommendations for pubs in Bristol City Centre. This includes Bristol pubs that offer more traditional and classic pub experiences as well as those that specialize in craft beer. If you are looking for a specific topic, or an answer to a specific question, feel free to use the table of contents below to go right to your chosen topic. Anything we don’t cover here, just ask a question in the comments below and we will try our best to help.
Check out our comprehensive Bristol Food Guide – The Best Places to Eat in Bristol
Craft Beer Bristol Guide
Within Spain, we live in one of the primary regions for craft beer. We live in Girona, in Catalonia, which has over 100 craft beer producers. That’s amazing, particularly considering how few producers there are elsewhere in Spain. That said, it’s still hard to find proper craft beer bars in our area. There are a few, but not many.
As much as there are loads of craft beer producers in the UK, when we travel to London, I find it difficult to find proper craft beer bars. In London, I see pubs advertise “craft beers” but they end up being a collection of mass-produced, industrial beers that (perhaps) once started as artisan or craft or micro-brewed beer. In London, I see Brewdog, Goose Island, and even Sam Adams advertised as “craft beer.” This is not the case in Bristol. There are proper craft beer producers and bars specializing in local craft beers. Whether you call them craft beers, artisan beers, micro-breweries, or independent brewers, there is no shortage of them in Bristol. Bristol is nirvana for craft beer lovers.
Looking to drink more than beer in Bristol? Check out our Bristol Gin Guide – How To Go Gin Tasting in Bristol
What is Craft Beer?
Because what is craft beer? The topic is up for debate. In fact, we had the conversation a few times during our visit to Bristol. To me, it means a locally produced beer, rather small batch, produced by a company that is not owned by Diageo or a similar conglomerate. We see a lot of it in Catalonia, but it is still hard to find quality craft beer bars in Girona, where we live. This was not an issue in Bristol. We saw craft beer at every turn. Even where we didn’t see craft beer, we saw British produced cask ales or even locally produced British cider.
When we traveled to Bristol, we didn’t intend to write a Bristol Craft Beer Guide. Our schedule included one visit to one micro-brewery in Bristol. During that first visit, though, we fell in love. We went above and beyond, and drank a lot of craft beer, and did a lot of research, to provide craft beer lovers a guide to drinking craft beer in Bristol.
Where to Stay in Bristol UK
We stayed in three different hotels during our stay in Bristol. While in the city center, we stayed at the Bristol Hotel, which could not be more centrally located, right on the waterfront. Contemporary rooms and a buffet breakfast with views over the water, rooms start at around €100 a night. We also escaped to the countryside for a night and slept like royalty in a Tudor-style castle in Thornbury, a short drive from Bristol. Rooms at Thornbury Castle start at €190 a night. Because we had an early morning flight, we also spent a night at the Hampton Hotel at Bristol Airport, which was everything a newer airport hotel should be. Including a 5-minute walk to the terminal.
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Bristol Brewery Tours
There are a handful of Bristol craft beer breweries that offer tours, mostly on the weekends. In addition to the breweries that offer tours, there are a dozen more Bristol craft brewers that brew beer and distribute to some of the craft beer bars in Bristol city centre. Here, we focus on a few of the breweries that offer brewery tours, allowing travelers to go behind the scenes and learn about the beers they brew.
First a note about beer in the UK. The UK is probably most known for its cask ale, something I was unfamiliar with as an American before I started traveling to the UK. It’s taken me a lot to get used to and people who live outside of the United Kingdom have some pretty strong feelings. Cask ale is an unfiltered ale, transported in a cask, which is normally smaller than a keg. Cask ale has lower carbonation, which requires it to be hand pumped out of the cask. It’s normally served at “room temperature,” which leads many Americans to complain that it is served warm. It’s not, but it does mean that cask ale tends to have more flavor than mass-produced British and American beers.
The brewers we met in Bristol produce both keg beer and cask beer. Most of the Bristol craft beer bars serve both as well. You can see traditional keg taps as well as the hand-pumped cask ale taps on the bars. Most of the Bristol craft beer menus will say whether they are keg or cask. If you like your beer cold then stick to the keg beers rather than the cask ales.
Moor Beer Bristol
Sometimes we have unique experiences because we are travel bloggers. This normally occurs when we are introduced to a producer, someone to interview for background on our blog, and something special happens. That is exactly what happened when we arrived at Moor Brewery Bristol for their weekend brewery tour. Our schedule included the regular weekend brewery tour, but instead, we met Justin, a fellow American transplant and the current man behind Moor Beer Bristol.
We just hit it off with Justin. Not only did he tell us the story of Moor Beer, but also educated us on the Bristol craft beer and real ale scene. He spent time with us explaining the Bristol Craft Beer Map and where to drink during our stay. He is also the reason why we wrote this post. Initially, we were scheduled to visit Moor Beer and that was about it. But his passion for beer set us out on a quest to drink as much Bristol craft beer as we could during our visit.
Justin mentioned that he doesn’t like the phrase “craft beer,” perhaps because of his American roots. Instead, Justine operates a “micro-brewery” in Bristol. It’s one that is influenced both by his American background and his belief that real beer has flavor and his attempt to re-introduce unfiltered beer to the UK. At any one time, they have about a dozen Moor Beer varieties on tap, plus more in their signature cans. Everything we tasted was high-quality.
The Moor Bristol brewery tour runs most Saturdays at 1:30 pm and should be reserved ahead of time online. The Moor Beer Tap Room is open from Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 10 pm. They also have a London tap room on the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Moor Beer Bristol is located on Days Road, just a 10-minute walk from Bristol’s center. It’s located in more of an industrial area, but still worthwhile to head out there. They can help with a taxi back to town if need be. We walked there and back because we had lovely weather.
Bristol Beer Factory
We heard a lot about the Bristol Beer Factory while visiting Bristol. This is the original micro-brewery in Bristol. As much as we didn’t visit the brewery, we tasted their Bristol craft beer. If you can’t make it out to the brewery for a tour, Bristol Beer Factory operates a handful of pubs in Bristol as well, including Bristol Tap Room and the Grain Barge, a floating craft beer barge located on the river. I tried their Milk Stout, which was creamy and smooth.
The Bristol Beer Factory is located a little further outside of town at The Old Brewery on Durnford Street close to the Ashton Gate Stadium. According to their website, they operate brewery tours “every other week or so” at 7 pm, so check with them for the most up-to-date schedule.
King Street Bristol Pubs
There are a lot of good pubs in Bristol, lest I say perhaps too many. I think if we lived in Bristol we would have a lot of fun exploring them all to find our favorite (much to the chagrin of our waistlines). King Street in Bristol city centre is like a pub street, just one that’s been around since the 17th Century. We only captured a glimpse of it. I can only imagine the area in the spring or summer, with good weather.
There are all sorts of different pubs on King Street Bristol, some of which are traditional British pubs, some of which are Bristol craft beer bars. Some of them are probably more hangouts for the young. Those, we didn’t visit. We surveyed a mess of the King Street places to drink in Bristol to gauge whether they offer a good craft beer selection and whether they fit our definition of cool places to drink craft beer. Yeah, I know, it’s subjective. Most of these pubs open at noon seven days a week.
The Small Bar Bristol
We loved The Small Bar Bristol, hands down our favorite. I can’t quite say it’s one of the best pubs in Bristol, but when we mentioned it to some other craft beer aficionados in town, they seemed to love it too. I anticipated a bar that was a lot smaller because of its name, but it is a good size. But the feel is exactly what you want a craft beer bar to be and the bartenders were very knowledgeable and helped us pick the perfect beer. If we lived in Bristol, I could see us frequenting The Small Bar, and that is saying something. From the exposed brick walls and natural wood tables, there was just something about it.
The Small Bar Bristol is located at 31 King Street. They offer about 30 taps of mostly local beers, including their own brew. Although they don’t serve food regularly, they do operate a pop-up a few days a week offering Asian wings from Wing’s Diner. Somewhat famously they don’t accept cash, it’s credit cards only.
The Beer Emporium Bristol
The Beer Emporium Bristol is a craft beer shop on the ground level and an underground dungeon-style craft beer bar on the lower level. The entire bar is covered with exposed brick walls, which meant I got to see people hit their head numerous times in one doorway as they made their way to the bar. The Beer Emporium offered a pretty good selection of local Bristol craft beers, and the staff was friendly and knowledgable. I found their selection a little less to my liking than other nearby craft beer bars, but that’s based on the fact that I don’t like IPAs or super-hoppy beers. Because of its underground location, I can imagine it is lovely in the summer. It was a little cold in the winter.
The Bristol Beer Emporium King Street Bristol is located at 15 King Street. They have a TV in the back for big games and matches. They share their space with Pepenero, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria.
This is the Bristol pub with the coolest name, particularly for an American. Yes, we visited the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer bar solely based on its cool name. We heard that this used to be one of the coolest bars in Bristol until the owner passed it on to his son, which has changed the atmosphere a bit. I was thrilled at their selection of craft beer in both keg and cask. That said, we visited on a Sunday, early in the day, and most employees seemed very hungover. Now, I can’t blame them because I was probably the same when I bartended at their age in the ’90s. But, there were a bunch of people working and no one really seemed eager to serve or seemed to have knowledge of the beers on tap.
The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer Bristol is located at 17-18 King Street Bristol. I would recommend it solely because how often can you drink a beer at a British pub with a name this cool. Perhaps visit later in the day when the staff is more on-the-ball.
King Street Brewhouse Bristol
Although The Small Bar Bristol does, sort of, brew its own beer, most of the Bristol craft beer bars on King Street just serve beer, they don’t brew it. But, at the end of King Street, just along the river is the King Street Brew House. It’s a large space, with a full kitchen, and yes, they brew their own beer. They carry their own beers as well as other British ales and the bartenders are willing to help drinkers choose the perfect pint. King Street Brewhouse and Kitchen Bristol is located at 13 Welsh Back, at the end of King Street on the river.
Other Bristol Craft Beer Bars
Although there is a concentration of Bristol craft beer bars around King Street, there are a handful of other bars to mention for craft beer lovers. There is a location of Brewdog Bristol just a few blocks away from the St. Nichola Market. I know that Brewdog deserves its accolades for resurrecting the British micro-brewing industry, but I can’t call it craft beer. We didn’t visit their posh corner craft beer bar on Baldwin Street. But, I wanted to let people know that it is there.
Wild Beer Company Bristol
If you are looking for the best bars in Bristol for sour beers then Wild Beer Bristol is the place to go. We walked by Wild Beer a couple of times and never stopped in until we heard about their focus on sour beers, which I love. Unfortunately, we hit them on the tail end of our Bristo Craft Beer Tour and we were running out of time. I say unfortunately because they had so many great sours and stouts on tap that I could have spent hours there. It’s also the perfect place for a little beer tasting in Bristol because they offered us so many samples to try that I had a hard time choosing. If you like craft beer, this is a must-visit craft beer bar in Bristol.
The Wild Beer Co Bristol is located at Whapping Wharf near the collection of shops and restaurants called Cargo. It’s a cool, mixed-use space that I adored while in Bristol. Wild Beer has a good amount of outdoor seating as well, near the water. Their bartenders are very knowledgable and super friendly.
Other Cool Bars in Bristol For Craft Beer
Here are a few other options, which still feel like they only scratch the surface. I would love to go back to Bristol and spend a month exploring all of the food and drink options in the city. The Barley Mow on Baron Road is the Bristol Beer Factory’s flagship bar. Zero Degrees on Colston Street is a little more contemporary, loaded with glass and metal. We also ate at The Gallimaufry and Flour & Ash around Gloucester Road, which each offer great selections of craft beers.
More of Bristol’s Best Pubs
There are few other options to drink away the day in Bristol, no surprise there. Some of these lie off of King Street and might not be the best for craft beer, but are worth mentioning. As for King Street, We popped into King William Ale House in part because of its bright orange facade. It was a little quiet, but they had a good selection of cask ale.
Off of College Green and Park Row lies the oldest pub in Bristol, The Hatchet Inn. Now, we did not go in for a pint, in part because when we walked by it was about 10 am. That said, it looked adorable, although has a reputation for rock music and a biker clientele. It dates to 1606, but recently Butcombe Brewing Co purchased The Hatchet Inn, making it part of a British pub chain. To check out Bristol’s oldest pub, visit The Hatchet Inn on Frogmore Street. Our driver also recommended the Cornubia on Temple Street, which is known for being a traditional British pub with real ale in an adorable location surrounded by newer buildings. We tried to get over there, but just couldn’t make it happen. Next time.
Another way that locals and beer aficionados describe British pubs is to talk about the search for real ale. This generally refers to cask ale. Some of the best real ale pubs in Bristol include those “certified” by Bristol CAMRA, the Campaign For Real Ale. This was something many of the brewers and pub owners we met continued to mention, although not something I was familiar with before traveling to Bristol. There is a list of CAMRA pubs in Bristol on their website.
British Cider in Bristol
Okay, so not entirely craft beer related, but it’s impossible to travel to Southwest England without talking about cider. There are a handful of cider pubs in Bristol, but to learn about cider (something we know very little about), we visited the Bristol Cider Shop at Cargo at Whapping Wharf. They only carry ciders produced within 50 miles of Bristol, making it uber-local. They offer bottles for sale, a few tables inside, and even more tables outside for drinking cider when it’s nicer weather. We did a little tasting to educate ourselves on the different types of cider produced around Bristol. The Bristol Cider Shop runs regularly scheduled tastings, normally at 7:30 pm on Fridays.
British pubs traditionally only carried mass-produced ciders, like Thatchers. It’s getting more common, though, to find British artisan ciders around Bristol. Check out The Apple, which is a Bristol cider pub. Well, more accurately, it’s a cider barge, right on the river. There is also a Cider Festival in Bristol each winter, normally in January.
FAQs – Craft Beer and Bristol Pub Guide
- Is there a Craft Beer Festival in Bristol? We heard repeatedly about the Bristol Craft Beer Festival, which is held in early June each year. It’s a Bristol beer festival with a focus on locally produced craft beers and featuring local restaurants and chefs. It takes place in the Harbourside and looks to be a lot of fun. Learn more here. Or, check out Bristol Beer Week in September, which focuses on independent brewers. Learn more here.
- Is there a Bristol Craft Beer Shop? Yes, several. The Bristol Beer Emporium on King Street operates a shop on the ground level. We also visited one craft beer shop in Bristol in Cargo called the Beer Necessities, you can’t go wrong there just based on its name. It’s a small shop, but they also offer some seats outside to drink beer in nicer weather.
- Is there a Bristol pubs map specializing in craft beer? This is the reason why we spent so much time exploring craft beer in Bristol. While at Moor Brewing we picked up a Bristol craft beer map, which had 40 stops on it. The owner of Moor Brewing told us it is already out of date and that there are another dozen or so brewpubs and craft beer bars in Bristol that aren’t on the map. But, it’s a good start. Look for it at some of the Bristol breweries. You can also buy a copy here, but they only ship to the UK.
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Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.