I so enjoyed my first Tour-At-Home, working though Marble's beers, that it inspired me to do more in depth explorations of breweries.
I've been following the Bristol Beer Factory on Twitter for a little while, so when I stumbled across some of their bottles in Borough Market (at the excellent Utobeer stall, run by the owners of The Rake, a fantastic real ale pub just outside the Market) I grabbed one of everything they had - four different bottles, which represents round half of the brewery's bottled offerings.
As before, I've tried to arrange the beers in a reasonably sensible order, from light to dark rather than in strength order.
We start with "No. 7", a traditional English best bitter at 4.5%. Deep amber in colour, it pours with a nicely lingering, frothy head. It has a deliciously caramel or toffee nose on it which leads you into a sweet malt taste, with a tasty, lingering hoppy bitterness that balances it out perfectly. This is the only beer of the four which appears not to be bottle conditioned; there is a little fizz present, but it's well controlled and actually adds to the beer. All round, this does exactly what it says on the bottle - it's a very traditional style best bitter, and it's delicious. It's also going down at an alarming rate.
Next up, Bristol Hefe, a 4.8% German-style wheat beer. Before I get into the taste of this beer, can I just say that although I love my beer to be alive (we're now into the bottle conditioned beers), I am less enthusiastic about a beer that literally leaps out of the bottle when I try to open it. I lose a good two inches of beer in an admittedly pleasant smelling spray across the kitchen that I then have to waste time mopping up. Beer shouldn't be this lively.
Ok, rant over.
In the glass, it's a very murky pale gold; it looks rather like set honey. Wheat beers tend to be murky, and the beer explosion probably mixed in the yeast to a huge extent too. The head is little more than a smear, which considering the volume of foam I just had to wipe up is surprising. It smells exactly as a wheat beer should; yeasty and sweet - and there's something else, almost pine needles. On drinking, I'm glad to see the foam hasn't gone completely to waste and there's lots of champagne-like bubbles filling the mouth. It's tangy, with hints of citrus orange and even zest. I'm not really getting the banana notes that the bottle (and every other review!) suggests, but maybe that's just me. Even so, it's a very good example of a wheat beer - I just wish more of it had ended up in my glass and less on my floor.
On to Exhibition, a classic, strong, dark English Ale coming in at 5.2%. This sounds right up my street, but I open it very cautiously over the sink after my fun with the Hefe. It turns out my paranoia is unwarranted; the beer is virtually flat and pours with no head at all. It has a deep, dark red tone to it and smells wonderful; rich, sweet coffee and dark chocolate malt. It tastes just as good; bitter chocolate, a hint of coffee, roasted almost burnt sugar, and dark fruits. It's not as flat on the tongue as it looks in the glass either; there's some nice gentle bubbles lurking there. It's not as sweet as the nose suggests, and with a lighter body than you might expect from such a dark ale. Very tasty; I can see how it's won awards!
Lastly, Bristol Stout, at 4%. Another relatively flat pouring beer; black as a stout should be and virtually no head. A big nose of deeply roasted malts, perhaps a little less complex than the Exhibition. On tasting, it's another light body. The roast is still there but not so much else. There's a distinct bitter tail to it, but it takes some time to kick in - it's rather odd, the beer starts out with a fairly simple roasted maltiness and it's not until you've swallowed that you suddenly get this quite heavy bitterness jumping up at you. It's quite a nice beer, but it's not as heavy as I expect a stout to be and that big bitter tail is unusual.
Overall, a very interesting collection of beers; tasty and well crafted, and I'll certainly be keeping an eye open for their many other beers the next time I'm near a stockist!