The streets of St Philips may still have a whiff of waste recycling, engine oil and asphalt but these days, you’re more likely to smell hops and barley in the air.
St Philips is now the brewing capital of Bristol thanks to the arrival of several independent breweries opening there, many of them with tap rooms attracting thousands of drinkers each week.
Walk around St Philips and it’s not hard to see reminders of its rich industrial past with its vast abandoned factories, railway sidings and cobbled streets.
Roads bearing names like Gas Lane and Anvil Street hark back to the days when this area of Bristol was the noisy, sweaty blue-collar hub of the city.
For those who don’t know St Philips, it’s the large area framed by Old Market, Temple Meads, Totterdown and Barton Hill.
A landscape dominated by railway bridges, car showrooms, industrial estates, waste depots and recycling plants, it’s bisected by the Feeder Canal and River Avon, giving the place an island feel.
Razor wire, guard dogs and clattering machinery still form the backdrop of much of St Philips but this is a gritty, dusty industrial area that’s changing rapidly.
The first brewery to open in the area was Moor Beer, which relocated to Days Road from the Somerset Levels in 2014.
The unit was previously used as a truck parts distribution centre with a trade counter that now forms part of the brewery’s tap room where locals can enjoy the full range of Moor Beer products on draught or in cans.
Founder Justin Hawke says it wasn’t easy being a pioneer as the first person to open a brewery in St Philips, but a lot has changed in the past six years.
“Convincing people to come to the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ for a drink certainly wasn’t easy at first but as the area slowly has changed, it is certainly becoming more desirable and a destination in its own right.”
Justin says part of the appeal of the Days Road site next to the railway was that it provided more production and warehousing space than any city centre site could offer.
“St Philips is good for that with its road links and ability to get large lorries in for collection and delivery.
“Our location is really prime, right on the corner where industrial Bristol begins, but we’re still within easy walking distance of Temple Meads, the city centre, and Old Market. We definitely paved the way for others to follow and many customers now consider our tap room to be their local.”
Left Handed Giant opened its brewery on the Wadehurst Industrial Park in St Philips Road in 2014.
Founder Bruce Gray, who worked for Brewdog in a former life, says he saw the potential of St Philips when he was cycling into work and using the network of cycle paths connecting east Bristol with the city centre.
“I kept cycling past these empty units and thinking how amazing they’d be for a brewery/tap room,” says Bruce. “These inexpensive units were so close to the city and the cycle paths and they also had a really open, leafy feel to them.
“There was also a huge footfall of people due to the location of the cycle path so when our brewing got to a point that we needed our own units it was obvious to me the place we should do it.”
Bruce says that back in 2014 there were empty units on every estate throughout St Philips, and it was only Moor Beer and Left Handed Giant that had tap rooms. A lot has changed as more breweries open there, as well as businesses such as the Cakesmiths cafe on St Philips Road and the Blind Owl Coffee Co. roastery and coffee shop on Feeder Road.
He added: “The change has been dramatic and amazing. We’ve got numerous breweries with tap rooms, along with bakeries and cafes that broaden the appeal and demographics that are drawn to the area.
“We all work together and it really does feel that we’ve built our own little community that our customers love and appreciate.”
Such has been its success that Left Handed Giant has recently moved into a larger unit on the industrial park, which is now home to new brewery Newtown Park Brewing Co, run by husband and wife Lara Light-McKelvaney and Michael McKelvaney with experienced Italian brewer Virginia Casadio.
Opened in November 2020 after Left Handed Giant moved its main brewing operation to a larger premises nearby, Newtown Park Brewing Co. has already gained a formidable reputation for imaginatively named beers such as the Everything You Can Imagine Is Real IPA and the German Weisse-style beer Rhythm Is Life Life Is Rhythm.
‘I hope it doesn’t spark too much gentrification’
Lara says: “Having moved into the area and starting a business during a pandemic, I can tell you that the craft beer community is the community you want to be in.
“Everyone wants to see you succeed and when things go wrong, everyone will try to help you out in one way or another.
“It will be exciting to have more people in and around the area and I’m sure that will bring new business and development but I hope it doesn’t spark too much gentrification of the area and that it keeps the independence that the area is so well known for.”
Also making a mark on the local beer scene is the Tapestry brewery and taproom based in the Totterdown Bridge Industrial Estate on Albert Road, close to the Bristol Dogs and Cats Home and the Fruit Market.
One of the reasons why St Philips is becoming so popular for new businesses is the forthcoming Bristol University campus, which will open on the site of the former Post Office Depot on Cattle Market Road in 2025.
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The land behind Temple Meads railway station will be transformed with 10,000 new homes, 3,000 students and 800 university staff. The new campus will also help join the city centre to the east of Bristol with new walking and cycling paths.
‘We see changes every week’
Tucked away down a cul-de-sac surrounded by car repair garages and recycling units, the Good Chemistry brewery was started in 2015 by Bob Cary and Kelly Sidgwick, who moved their ten-barrel kit to a modest unit that had previously been used by fancy-dress wholesaler and before that as storage for snooker and pool tables.
Kelly says: “We’re seeing change every week but the area is becoming less industrial. New housing developments around Old Market and soon to be along the Feeder are replacing industrial buildings at quite a rapid pace now.
“As new homes keep being built and more people move into St Philips, hopefully some of the old industrial spaces will survive and continue to offer exciting and fresh experiences.”
The newest brewery to launch in St Philips is Bunnyhop Brewing, which is due to open later this year.
Run by Ed Morgan, it occupies a converted railway arch that was previously used as a gym.
Ed says the industrial heritage of the area feels like a great fit for a craft beer business, especially with so many breweries based there already.
‘Excited about what’s to come’
“Being close to established breweries is an obvious attraction for us, but also we’re excited about what’s to come for the area in the future.
“With the university campus and more housing being built, there will be a lot more people and we expect to see a lot more diverse venues as the area develops.”
And it’s not just beer that is putting St Philips on the map. Dan Heath opened his Ciderbox cider tap room in a railway arch on Silverthorne Lane last year between lockdowns.
Next to a car mechanic and opposite a derelict Grade II-listed 19th-century warehouse, this compact cider bar only opens Fridays and Saturdays but it has been a huge success and Dan welcomes the major redevelopments around St Philips.
“We own a cider tap room so the thought of thousands of students here is music to our ears. We can’t wait for the works to start.
“Many of the buildings around here are past their intended use, so it’s time for change – it’ll be great to see the area buzzing with a new generation of St Philips residents.”
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