Review: Beerd, St Michael’s Hill, Bristol

Brit visits a new ‘craft beer bar’ slap-bang in the middle of Bristol’s Studentsville, and wonders if, despite everything, the world has become a better, more civilised place…

You may not credit it, but I have not always been the suave, immaculately-attired, dashingly handsome Brit familiar to millions of Dabbler readers. Once I was a disgusting Philosophy undergraduate, a scraggy-haired Trot: gangling, skint and with a wardrobe consisting almost entirely of unforgivable jumpers. Think Sideshow Bob crossed with Paul McGann in Withnail before he has a shave at the end.

And at this time I lived, along with another equally revolting product of the British schooling system, in The Worst Flat in the World. I defy all comers purporting to challenge that title with their own stories of student hovels. This was worse. It was in a damp Victorian basement that had seen neither a ray of sunlight nor a cleaning product of any sort in the latter half of the twentieth century. The chutzpah of the landlord in advertising it as a ‘two-bedroom apartment’ was, with hindsight, impressive: the sole washbasin was in my bedroom, the shower was a hose under the stairs and the toilet was an outside porch infested with a variety of slug that I can only assume had been genetically modified to withstand extremes of cold. So freezing was the flat at night that in the winter I would go to bed wearing socks, trousers, all my unforgivable jumpers and a beanie hat. Sir Ranulph Fiennes has lost fingers in warmer climes.

You will understand, then, that I spent as little time as possible in this flat, preferring to take myself off to the snug nooks of the library, the Union, or, better yet, the pubs of St Michael’s Hill. I spent many a Happy Hour in the White Bear and the Highbury Vaults, sipping the cheapest lagers available. We were scruffy, studenty types and these were scruffy, studenty pubs. I’ve scarcely been back to the area in last fifteen years, but I did the other night and I can tell you that, like me and the world, it has changed.

I went at the invitation of Bath Ales (with whom The Dabbler has been on good terms ever since this  tribute to Gem, the finest beer in the world) for the launch of their latest venture Beerd, a slightly awkwardly-named little slice of drinkers’ heaven. I have nothing but admiration for Bath Ales. Their Swan at Swineford is my favourite pub. They are bold and innovative. Pubs are dying all around us, yet Bath Ales are expanding, launching chophouses and loyalty cards, and everything they do is distinctive, impeccably tasteful and lavished with loving care.

It is obvious that great pains have been taken over Beerd’s design. Retro beermat wallpaper, exposed brickwork, floorboards,  coloured furniture – all beautifully done. The ambience is cool, but somehow seeming like it’s always been there. There are plenty of café-bars opening up around the country aiming for this feel, but Beerd’s selling point is to be built explicitly around the beer, capitalising on the explosion in popularity of craft microbreweries and general beer connoisseurship/snobbery. In other words, it’s like a wine bar for beer. The grub is designed for soaking up ale: freshly-made stone-baked pizzas and upmarket bar snacks, including massive pork scratchings advertised, with German-like bluntness, as ‘crispy pig skins’.

The choice of beers is vast – there are taps built into the back wall of the bar for nine guest keg ales, plus lots of cask and bottled beers from around the world. To help you get through a few of these without falling over, Beerd sells the stuff in one-third and two-third pint measures. You can choose from a menu (my one modest suggestion: the menu could be enhanced if each selection carried a little description of the taste, rather than just price and strength) or you can peruse a specials-style blackboard, and it was while doing just this that I noticed the price for a pint of an American ale with the delightful name of Raging Bitch. It was £9.00! True, Raging Bitch is 8.3%… but £9.00? That’s more expensive than the pizzas. Never could I have imagined, back in those Happy Hour lager years, that I would one day return to Studentsville to sip nine-quid beer from a dinky little one-third pint glass.

But Studentsville, as I said, has changed. There were always rich kids at Bristol University but they operated in an entirely different sphere to the normals. We used to call them ‘sloanes’: the boys were named Rupert and wore pink shirts; the girls had blonde ponytails, puffy black bodywarmers and drove VW Golfs. These days they’re all scruffy-chic and drive Minis, or so I’ve been told, I wouldn’t know. Are there are even more rich students now, to whom these infamous tuition fees are an irrelevance? I wouldn’t know that either. Perhaps it’s just that St Michael’s Hill has become a destination, in the way that areas unexpectedly do sometimes.

After leaving Beerd I wandered nostalgically around the neighbourhood. The manky old Somerfield is now a Co-op, but even the Co-op is posh these days, all organic this and free-trade that. The White Bear, once reliably grungey, is now lovely-looking. I don’t regret any of this because the place still has soul and character, and it’s a good thing that these nice places thrive and that landlords put some effort into attracting people for a night out. Beerd is a triumph: different and upmarket without being ostentatious. I will return and if you’re within striking distance you should definitely check it out.

On the way home I passed a bloody great fox. Bristol once had possibly the highest density of urban foxes in the world but then they were wiped out by mange in 1995. They’ve staged a comeback since, and this survivor was waiting politely to cross the road, like a guide dog. Perhaps this is how we – students, pubs, foxes – must survive these brutal times: by becoming more civilised.

Beerd – Craft Beer & Pizza. 157-159 St Michaels Hill, Cotham, Bristol BS2 8DB. www.beerdbristol.com  Twitter: @beerdbristol

Photographs by Frances Taylor
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About Author Profile: Brit

'Brit' is the blogging name of Andrew Nixon, a writer and publisher who lives in Bristol. He is the editor and co-founder of The Dabbler.

8 thoughts on “Review: Beerd, St Michael’s Hill, Bristol

  1. russellworks@gmail.com'
    ian russell
    January 23, 2012 at 09:03

    It looks like it’s been fitted out by Rico Daniels.

    I hope they didn’t play loud music.

  2. Worm
    January 23, 2012 at 09:29

    Knowing how good Bath Ales are, I pray for the day that they open one of these up near me!

    Not so keen on the name though – I take it that some marketing chap in black rimmed specs somewhere thought that it would be ‘well ironic’ to poke fun at real ales’ beardy image. Of course the word ‘beard’ also applies in slang form to a person who serves to camouflage another’s sexual orientation.

    • Worm
      January 23, 2012 at 11:41

      just wanted to confirm that I am not defending real ales beardy image! All credit to Bath Ales for trying to bring proper beer back into the realm of normal people

      • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
        January 23, 2012 at 13:26

        Yes I’m not wild about the name either, but I don’t think they were that cynical, I think it’s just a play on ‘beer’. Also I’ve met all their marketing people and they’re all very nice and not remotely London hipster divvies.

        • Worm
          January 23, 2012 at 13:52

          so it looks like it’s just me who is the cynical marketer! I’ve got some black rimmed specs on order

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      malty
      January 23, 2012 at 15:24

      So, as we know, when Sebastian paraded Catherine (Liz Taylor) around the town she was bait, a sprat to catch a mackerel and as Violet (Catherine Hepburn) descended in the lift what she was actually saying was“Sebastian, Sebastian, it was the beard wot done it”

  3. Gaw
    January 23, 2012 at 09:35

    In my much younger days strong specialty beer meant adding a barley wine top to your pint of fizzy keg bitter. Truly revolting but we knew no better. Thank the Lord for progress.

  4. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    January 23, 2012 at 11:18

    What a Monday morning full of realism, the Cathy Come Home of blogshire, kitchen sinkish it its earthy hue, needed a shower after reading it. Student pecking order must be a liberal arts thing, not so the built environment and I challenge the most hovelish digs crown, a veritable black midden, Coventry, Mr Jamal’s renter, a man who seemed to own the entire joint, a terraced house, wrong side of the tracks, a mixture of sprogs from the well-to-do, nearly-well-to-do and ne’er-well-to-do.
    The borrowed TV sitting atop a large cardboard box (sharp kick of the box, telly drops inside, post detector van appearance) trails of snail slime across the windows, Dickensian figure in corner eating potatoes, what appears to be a female Peter Pan materialises talking in a deep southern drawl as she brushes teeth, I walk across room to say hello, fall over carpet of beer cans and pizza boxes, “I can’t tell his mum about this” I thought and I didn’t, not until years later.

    The young chap in the corner eating spuds today designed the Aston that you have just bought, Peter Pan is a Detroit big cheese.

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