The Craftiest Bristol Beer Bars

Credit: Brewdog
Credit: Brewdog

Beer has a rich history in the UK. In the olden days, people would drink beer in the place of water, as the latter was likely to give you cholera or something. We could’ve had a nice civilised national drink like wine, but our damp and overcast shores have never welcomed grape cultivation. We’re also not cold enough to justify living off strong spirits like those tough Scandinavians and Russians.

Not only has there been an explosion in the amount of small breweries and independent bars opening across the UK, but home brewing, real ale and beer festivals are more popular than ever. So, what better time to get acquainted with this diverse and exciting drink? Here are my tips for where to go in Bristol.

The colourful bar at Beerd. Credit:
The colourful bar at Beerd.

Created as the crafty cousin to their more traditional pubs, Bath Ales opened this colourful and fun bar in late 2011 and preempted the craft beer revolution in Bristol. There is now a Beerd Brewery which has an exciting array of offerings, but this bar also does a great line in American beers and local tipples from breweries such as the Bristol Beer Factory and, of course, Bath Ales. Their pizzas and bar snacks are mighty good too.


Despite a rapid expansion across the UK in 2012, Brewdog have managed to keep quite a strong local feel to their bars, and the Bristol branch is no different. Doodles of the staff adorn the wall, local independent food vendors & Bristol musicians frequently set up shop to make this more than just a place to load up on some Punk IPA. As well as trying Brew Dog’s own wittily named creations, there are always guest ciders & beers on offer and some intriguing beer cocktails for the more adventurous among you. They’re also very generous with tasters and these are usually strong enough to get you going before you’ve even ordered your first proper drink, bonus!

The bright and modern bar at Brewdog

The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer
Reopened and revamped in 2013, this pub is much brighter than its earlier incarnation. One wall next to the bar runs from floor to ceiling with an ever-changing list of ales, ciders and beers on tap. The staff really know their stuff and are first rate when it comes to recommending new beers for you to try, as well as giving background on the individual beverages, their brewers and the history of different beer variations.

The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer

The Beer Emporium
Set down in the caverns below King Street and next door to the Famous Royal Naval Volunteer, the atmosphere and decor for this place are markedly different to anything else in Bristol at the moment. Their kitchen is more than just pub snacks, with an extensive and well considered menu. Just looking down the vast bar at all of the taps will leave you a bit bleary-eyed, so it’s worth asking the staff if they have any tips if you’re unsure. They’ve also got a top notch bottle shop and a loyalty card scheme for the serious beeraphiles among you!

The Beer Emporium Bristol
Cavernous glory at The Beer Emporium

The Crofter’s Rights
This place is unrecognisable from its days as rock venue The Croft and has already built a large fan base for selling plenty of local beers and ciders at some affordable prices points. The interior decor is basic, with the focus being on the extensive drinks selection, making this one of the trendier places on Stokes Croft to be seen nowadays. The bar also hosts a variety of fun events including a collage club, gigs, a blues night and a bi-monthly storytelling night from yours truly!

The Crofter's Rights
Taps galore at The Crofter’s Rights

Small Bar
The third in the trilogy in Bristol’s so-called ‘Beermuda Triangle’, this bar plays host to more fine beers than you can shake a beery stick at – the board is helpfully ordered by beer type to make choosing that bit easier (look out for the latest offerings under ‘Crazy Shit’), and the staff are always on hand to help if you’re not sure.Their food menu is small but perfectly formed, and the pub itself feels like a cross between a lumberjack’s mountain lodge and a cosy traditional bar.

Small Bar, Bristol
Small Bar – good things come in (not so small) packages.

The Volunteer Tavern
Don’t let the obscure location fool you – this is a proper treasure of a pub. Rotating ales and beers throughout the week – they get some seriously special ones on tap as well as numerous local treats. The burger and curry nights are worth a look; plus they have a nice little back garden where they host their numerous beer festivals. Also pay a visit to sister pub The Hope & Anchor on Jacobs Wells Road for more fine beer, tasty pizzas and one of my favourite beer gardens in town.

Real ale glory at The Volunteer Tavern

The Barley Mow
Tucked away behind Temple Meads, this pub has still managed to make quite the name for itself for anyone who takes their beer seriously. With 10 beers on keg at any given time as well as several more on tap at the bar and in bottles, you’ll be stumped with where to start. Again this is a pub that matches the standard of its drinks with a great menu, so you’ll have no problem lining your stomach before sampling as much as possible. Also keep an eye to their events page for the array of brilliant tap takeovers and Meet the Brewers evenings they do throughout the year.

Brisbeer fact
Top of the pumps at The Barley Mow

Other hot tips for Bristol would be The Steam Crane in Bedminster; The Three Tuns or The Bag O’Nails (cat pub!) in Hotwells – but luckily more and more bars in town are realising the benefit of stocking local and specialist beers – hurrah!

Oh and if you want to enjoy some of your favourite beers at home, some of the best stocked shops for craft beer are Corks of Cotham, Brewers Droop Grape & Grind on Gloucester Road, or Independent Spirit in Bath.

If this post has left you a bit parched, how about checking out the following:

The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer
The traditional interior at The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer

77 thoughts on “The Craftiest Bristol Beer Bars”

  1. Helpful ideas! I’m not a beer fan, but my husband loves a hoppy local ale. We’ve tried (and liked) the Barlew Mow (good food too) and the Beer Emporiam (stylish decor). We’re also fans of the Grain Barge which has mainly Bristol Beer Factory beers (and excellent food. Steak sandwichs and fab pies. Mmm…).

  2. For pure ale geek heaven you can’t go wrong with the Hillgrove between Stokes Croft and Kingsdown. I think they have 10 pumps – 3 regulars, loads of rotating guests, always a dark one or two for the porter and stout fans and a lovely old fashioned proper pub. Great Sunday roasts too – you have to call ahead and book now as they’re so popular.

    I have decidedly mixed feelings about the ‘craft beer’ revival. A lot of it seems to just be strong lager with a good marketing department behind it. Where it displaces traditional boozers which sold you an ale or two at traditional boozer prices I tend to let my inner hipster-hater triumph over any appreciation for the fact that you will actually be able to get something tasty to drink. But the important factor in getting real ale out and about and thriving are the breweries, and the more outlets they have the more beer they can produce so in the end everyone’s a winner I s’pose!

    1. It’s definitely got a bit of a Zeitgeist buzz to it, like the cider revival a couple of years ago which focused mainly on flavoured or sugary fizzy ciders rather than traditional ones, but it introduced a whole new audience to cider and now there seems to be more popularity for traditional ones too, so I presume the same will happen with beers. Also, not all are that strong; many of the pale ales are the same strength as an average ale or lager. Of course there’s a spectrum of strengths, as there is with any alcoholic drink. Price point is sometimes a problem, but I figure it’s usually justified as many breweries are small, or it’s expensive to import the American varieties. Plus being pricier should encourage people to drink in the suggested smaller measures. Will be an interesting trend to watch develop in any case. Thanks for the comment!

    1. Heya! Not enough of a turnout to justify a list, but hopefully the next one will gain a few more people and I can do one then! Next week or week after would be best for photos – when suits you?

  3. I’m not really a drinker, but I love your blogs about pubs and drinks–interesting, entertaining and very nostalgic for an ex-Bristolian.

    My wife worked briefly as a barmaid at the Naval Volunteer in the late 60s or early 70s when it was a really rough spit-and-sawdust pub (the stories she could tell!). How it has changed.

    Only local beer I remember drinking in the old days was Smiles, brewed down Colston Street by John. His then wife, Shirley-Anne, gave her name to Bell’s Diner. Smiles was the beer of choice for Montpelier trendies in the 80s. I must have been a trendy then…

    1. Glad you’re still enjoying the blog, hoping it’s of use to some readers! That’s interesting about your wife working at the Naval Volunteer too – it was still quite rough aruond the edges until earlier this year when it changed hands, but I’m liking the new look and beer selection!

  4. This is a fantastic public service blogpost. It would have taken me hundreds of trips to Bristol to discover all of these gems using my usual aimless wandering method.

    1. I’ll remove now, couldn’t fibd a credit before so thought it was owned by the bar- sorry about that. I now request images directly before publishing posts so shouldn’t happen again 🙂

  5. No leave the image on there please ! 🙂 It wasn’t a complaint … (as I gave the images to the ‘Small Bar’) … my comment might have come out wrong above. I was actually quite chuffed that it was used.
    Kind regards … Dave R.A.T.S.

  6. Check out Colonna and Hunter in Bath as well. The split the focus between specialty coffee and craft beer. Only 5 taps, but they rotate all of them very quickly, and the selection is highly vetted so it’s always great, interesting stuff.

  7. Hi, I am a Business student at UWE and also work part time at the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer (great to see it on the list 🙂

    For one of my modules I am required to produce a business plan for a business of my choice and I have decided to set up a craft beer bar in Bristol.

    I need to contact industry experts and reviewers to get a better insight into the industry. Would you be free for a quick phone interview/

    Your knowledge of the Bristol craft beer scene would be a real benefit to my work.

    I attach my email below, I look forward to hearing from you.

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