As promised last week, I’m now taking us up the hill in Bishop’s Castle from the Six Bells pub and brewery to the Three Tuns pub and brewery. I called the Three Tuns brewery ‘legendary’ in the last blog, and so it is. During the 1970s, when beer drinkers were faced with a torrent of foul keg beer infecting every corner of the country, only four pubs remained that brewed their own beer. The Three Tuns was one of these, and dedicated beer-drinkers would make a pilgrimage to Bishop’s Castle and camp out to have the opportunity of drinking some proper real ale.
The brewery was first licensed in 1642. The current building is largely a tower brewery erected in the 1880s, but the owners say that as part of the building does indeed date back to the seventeenth century, then it is valid to claim that the Three Tuns Brewery is the oldest working brewery in Britain.
Next door is the impressive Three Tuns Inn. It’s a large, old building with a small front bar and a larger bar at the back. There are several distinct areas including a new large conservatory for eating in. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.
So what of the beers? During my (three) visits to the pub, there were four Three Tuns beers on offer. As is my wont, I’ll go through them in increasing ABV.
First, then, we have Three Tuns 1642, an orange/amber coloured bitter that starts the ball rolling at a comfortable 3.8%. The overall impression is of maltiness. The mouthfeel is fairly smooth. There are hints of cream in the midtaste, with some husky nuttiness. The flavour develops a hoppy bitterness at the end and finishes with a long lasting bitter aftertaste.
Next is Three Tuns XXX, made from a recipe that’s well over a hundred years old. It’s a light orange colour and the ABV is 4.3%. Very interesting taste, this one. It’s smooth and sweetish but the taste has a jagged edge to it. I’m not sure what causes the jag, but it had citrus and floral notes. Hops can be tasted throughout and again there is a tiny hint of cream. This is a very bright tasting beer, a great flavour experience.
Moving over to the dark side now (where I like to be), we move on to Three Tuns Stout. 4.4% ABV and virtually black. It presents a fine, brown head. It is very smooth and has a dark roasted malt taste. Strong black coffee is in there with a slight but welcome chocolate undertaste. A strong trail of bitterness runs through from start to finish. The beer is remarkably full-bodied and luscious. Quite superb. This beer was the ‘beer of the trip’ for my visit to Shropshire and the Welsh borders.
The last offering on the bar was the 5.0% IPA Three Tuns Cleric’s Cure. A mid-orange in colour with a fine head, the beer presents well in the glass. It is very smooth, with a slightly thickish mouthfeel. This is one of those ‘warming’ beers – you can feel the warming effect from the first sip. There’s a sweet orange flavour with hoppy bitterness surrounding it towards the end. Also discernible at the end is a touch of citrus pithiness. Quite complex and quite delicious.
Although that’s all the beers that were on offer on the bar, I did manage to get hold of a couple of bottles of Three Tuns Old Scrooge, a well-known dark red 6.5% barley wine. This beer is dark, thick and smooth. I found it quite spicy, with hints of ginger. The label says ‘fiery’, and that’s about right, it’s certainly warming. The finish has a pleasing dry edge to it.
So then, if you’re planning a trip to Bishop’s Castle, which pub are you to visit? I should at this point reveal that there is a third Good Beer Guide pub in Bishop’s Castle – the Crown and Anchor Vaults (known locally simply as the ‘Vaults’), on the hill in between the Six Bells and the Three Tuns. I didn’t visit it because on the occasions we went past it, it seemed very noisy – it’s a noted venue for live music, so we shouldn’t really be surprised at that, I just like a bit of peace with my pint, that’s all.
The answer, of course, is to visit all three. Chatting with locals, I found a pretty even split between the Six Bells and the Three Tuns as favourite. I expect my results would have been three-way if I’d visited the Vaults. Certainly the Bells and the Tuns are different types of pub, each providing its own experience. For myself, I preferred the Three Tuns, but if I lived locally, I would be glad of the choice, and would probably split my time 70:30 or so in the Tuns’ favour.
Bishop’s Castle is in the middle of some of the finest walking country in the land. If you’re looking for a truly rural break with beautiful views, interesting places to visit and the promise of a good selection of fine ales for the evenings, then you couldn’t do much better than a trip to Bishop’s Castle.
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