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Bishop’s Castle – a Tale of Two Breweries (Part 2)

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 Three Tuns Brewery

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.

The Three Tuns Inn

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.

The small front bar

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.

Three Tuns Stout – more, please!

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.

Three Tuns Old Scrooge

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.

One of Bishop’s Castle’s many attractions

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Posted by on 4 November, 2011 in Bottled Beer, Cask Ale, Pubs, Scooping

 

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Bishop’s Castle – a Tale of Two Breweries (Part 1)

Bishop’s Castle is a small town, built on a hill deep in rural Shropshire, not far from the Welsh border. It derives its name from the castle built there in the 12th century by the Bishop of Hereford.

This is a brewery town, a fact openly acknowledged by the tuns which sit proudly beneath the town boundary signs on the road sides (see above).

Despite this being really a very small town, it boasts three Good Beer Guide pubs and two breweries, one at the bottom of the hill, and one at the top. At the bottom of the hill is the Six Bells Brewery, located at the back of the Six Bells pub, and at the top of the hill is the legendary Three Tuns brewery, next door to the Three Tuns pub. I’ll return to the Three Tuns in the next instalment, but for now, I’m going to concentrate on the Six Bells.

The Six Bells Brewery was re-opened (or rather, a new brewery was opened with the same name) in 1997, after having been closed for about 90 years. The man behind this welcome move was Neville Richards, landlord of the Six Bells pub, and known universally as ‘Big Nev’.

The Six Bells, Bishop’s Castle

I visited the Six Bells on a Friday evening early in October. Faced with doors to two different bars, I randomly plumped for the left hand one (I was told later that this was the ‘posh’ bar). The bar is small and filled with tables and chairs, giving little room to move. It was full, too. This is usually a good sign for a pub so I made my way to the bar. In this, the posh side of the pub, the bar is small, but three hand pumps were available, each dispensing a Six Bells brew. I had the choice of Cloud Nine, Supper and Noggin.

I had already sampled Cloud Nine elsewhere. I had found it to be a light, gently hoppy beer. Very drinkable and at 4.2%, quite acceptable as a session ale.

I opted first for the Supper, a 3.6% bitter. This is very good. The mouthfeel is smooth, and there is a tiny hint of cream. Malty flavours are accented by a small wisp of toffee. The aftertaste is long, and the taste fades to caramel, which is always pleasing.

Next, I tried Noggin. Another bitter, stronger this time at 4.1%, the flavour is far more pronounced. Hoppy and malty notes predominate with a distinct throat rasping huskiness that makes me think of granary bread, and that this beer really should be doing me some good. Whilst I marked Noggin slightly down from Supper, I would still be happy to drink this beer at any time.

The clientele in the pub was very open and friendly. At first, Lady A and I could not find anywhere to sit, until a couple of young lads shuffled up to make room for us. They were both somewhat into their cups, but remained pleasant and cheery. ‘Everyone’s friendly here,’ said one of them to me, slurring confidentially. ‘I mean look at us! We’re friendly and we’re not even from here!’

Although I only had two beers from the Six Bells itself, I had the opportunity to sample some other Six Bells brews whilst in the area. In the Admiral Benbow in Shrewsbury, I spotted Six Bells Benbow IPA. At 3.6%, I’m not quite sure how this qualifies as an IPA, and I found it rather under-tasty. Slightly bitter, slightly hoppy, but not terribly exciting.

Also on the bar at the Admiral Benbow was Bottom, a 4.3% brew that I presumed was a golden ale, but it’s described on the pump clip as ‘A Midsummer Night’s Ale’, hence the Shakespearean reference, I guess. It’s a very pale yellow in colour, almost greenish. This beer is light and noticeably sweet, though the sweetness fades midtaste and is replaced by a hoppy finish and a good bitter aftertaste.

A few days later, I saw Six Bells Castle Bravo on the bar in the Castle Inn in Ludlow. I opted for half a pint, as I usually do when trying a beer for the first time. Castle Bravo is a 4.7% bitter, and a dark orange in colour. First impressions are that this beer is heavily spiced. I was fairly sure that the main added flavour was cinnamon, but there was something else, something green and earthy. I have tasted something similar in nettle beer. So is that what the other ingredient was? Nettles? I don’t know, all I can report is that it’s overdone, and the cinnamon and whatever-it-is do not go well together. I’m afraid Castle Bravo is fairly awful, and unusually for me, I didn’t finish it.

On the whole, then, Six Bells beers left a favourable impression on me. I don’t expect to enjoy every beer I taste, and I’m sure there are people out there who will stand in Castle Bravo’s corner and fight for it. And that’s how things should be. Next outing, I’ll walk up the hill and sample beers from the Three Tuns Brewery.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 28 October, 2011 in Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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