Our final visit to the South West of England (Somersetshire) and penultimate county, a county of great contrasts. The north is bordered by the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel, there are the rolling hills of the Blackdown Hills, Mendips, Quantocks and Exmoor but also the flat lands of the Somerset Levels. It is one of the earliest counties recognised and the borders have changed very little since, apart from losing Bath for a while.
The caves at Cheddar Gorge produced the oldest complete skeleton in the country known as Cheddar Man. The Romans discovered hot springs in the county founding the city of Bath. Somerset was part of the Kingdom of Wessex in Anglo Saxon England.
While Taunton is the county town but there are 2 cities within the borders in Bath and Wells. Other large towns are Weston-Super-Mare, Yeovil, Bridgwater and Frome.
On Ratebeer we have 58 Breweries listed in total, 33 currently active and 25 closed. There are 5 Client / Commissioner Brewers in these numbers. The brewery with the largest range was Cottage Brewery of Castle Cary (Est 1993, closed 2017) with 321 beers.
The oldest brewery we have for Somerset is Butcombe Brewery of Wrington (Est 1978). Initially based in the village of Butcombe, moving to Wrington in 2005. In 2015 the Brewery and growing Pub Estate was taken over by Liberation Group of Jersey who continue to operate both breweries. There is an interesting long gone brewery that was based in Shepton Mallet in the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery (Est 1864, closed 1920!, I wonder why!) it is believed to be the first lager brewery in the UK by some distance.
The 2020 Ratebeer award for Best Brewer for Somerset went to Wild Beer and Best Beer to their Wild Beer B.A.B.S. There was no award made for New Brewer.
The Top 10 Beers of Somerset are –
- Wild Beer B.A.B.S
- Wild Beer Wildebeest
- Wild Beer Billionaire
- Wild Beer B.A.B.S II/2
- Burrow Hill Ice Cider
- Wild Beer Wineybeest
- Wild Beer Beyond Modus III R
- Wild Beer B.A.B.S III/3
- Wild Beer B*Wildered
- Wild Beer Beyond Modus IV R
The Top Bars/Pubs in Somerset are –
- Royal Oak Bath, Twerton
- Raven, Bath
- Beercraft, Bath
- Old Green Tree, Bath
- Star Inn (Abbey Ales), Bath
There is also a highly rated Beer Store in the County –
- Independent Spirit, Bath
The Top 5 Raters of beers from Somerset are –
You will require a rather healthy 112 beers from Somerset to find yourself in the Top 50
The Top Rater who resides in the County is –
@Cheeseboard who I am happy to say is still rating on here.
I have had the good fortune to visit Somerset on many occasions, as I have said in the intro piece it is a county of much variety. Bath is a lovely city to wander round, some interesting pubs to visit, it makes a really good day out. We used to go to Minehead Beer Festival every year until it was evicted from the Railway Platform. Exmoor, Blackdown Hills and Cheddar Gorge are all gorgeous walking areas. Following Warwickshire to Somerset was always a dodgy day, never seeming to get out of the cider tent at the Taunton ground. As with most counties it has its low points too, literally in this case, the Levels were really boring to walk across and Weston Super Mud is less than inviting, apart from the wonderful Sand Sculptures.
Having visited the county so many times I suppose being 2nd in the ratings isn’t that surprising, particularly with the number of festivals.
I have had 576 beers to rate from Somerset, my 9th highest presently. It averages just 3.08 unfortunately, most likely due to the Cottage Brewery rep being a stunner and getting the beers into our favourite local at the time, the Landlord never being able to resist the weekly rebadge. My 41 Breweries puts me on top of that particular list.
The Breweries I have had most beers from are –
- Cottage Brewing (Closed) – 85
- Wild Beer – 70
- Cotleigh Brewery (Closed) – 35
- Butcombe Brewery – 30
- RCH Brewery (Closed) – 25
- Electric Bear Brewing – 23
I have rated 25 beers with a 4 or over, the best being –
- Wild Beer Madness IPA (2012 – 2020) – 4.5
- Exmoor Beast (Cask) – 4.4
- Wild Beer Fresh – 4.3
- Wild Beer Billionaire – 4.3
- Tapstone Soma – 4.2
- Wild Beer Jambo – 4.2
The Best Brewery averages for Breweries from Somerset are –
- Tapstone Brewing – 3.744
- Cheddar Ales – 3.467
- Glastonbury Brewing – 3.433
- Yonder Brewing – 3.436
- Wild Beer Co. – 3.407
I have reviewed 29 places in Somerset, the best being –
- Raven, Bath – 84
- Royal Oak, Twerton – 82
- Bath Brew House, Bath – 76
- Kildare Lodge, Minehead – 64
- Star Inn, Bath – 64
I expect another visit to Bath is on the cards soon plus we should be getting over to Exmoor sometime in 2022. Can’t wait.
A modest 57 ales sampled from Somerset and were it not for Wild, it would be far fewer. I seem drawn to the brand as my top ten demonstrates.
|Wild Beer Wildebeest|4.2|
|Wild Beer B*Wildered|3.9|
|Wild Beer Brettbrett (2017)|3.8|
|Wild Beer Rooting Around - Autumn|3.7|
|Wild Beer / Loverbeer Ceresa|3.7|
|Wild Beer Millionaire|3.6|
|Wild Beer Puritan|3.6|
|Wild Beer / Budvar Saaz Trek|3.6|
|Wild Beer Madness IPA (2012 - 2020)|3.5|
|Wild Beer Jambo!|3.5|
Electric Bear have some good stuff as well. Sad and surprised to learn that Cotleigh have closed, although like Butcombe and Exmoor, their output was more solid than regularly outstanding.
I used to visit Bath once a year and always liked it (despite the traffic). And Wells is one of my favourite cathedral cities. And I belong to a generation who hear the name “Bishop of Bath & Wells” and recall the Black Adder episode in which he makes a glorious appearance!
Yes, if a mini-break is on the cards this autumn winter it might well be an overdue trip to Somerset although based on recent weather history, not to the Levels. But as is obvious, it is a county with something for everyone!
The penultimate English County; cheers Glen for running this series of topics each week.
Somerset is another county that I drive through without really bothering with, or so I thought. One of my uncles (RIP) did his Vicar training in Wells and I actually stayed in Vicars Close, sleeping in the attic with the ghosts of Vicars passed as a young boy. I’ve also been back to Wells on MOD Management Courses and visited Bath drinking on a few occasions too. Otherwise it’s non-stop the M5 in each direction, with the Bridgwater Services being the worst on any British Motorway, please don’t stop there!
I’ve carried out 167 rates for the county, at an average score of 3.23. 30 of which are Ciders, the remaining 137 all beers. This total puts be a respectable equal 30th on the leader board and is my personal 10th highest English county. 18 Breweries sampled, 4 sadly closed; 10 different Cideries taken.
Cotleigh 17 (closed)
Cottage 13 (closed)
Only two place reviews, both from pubs in Bath, must try harder; been in plenty more while crawling around the city, obviously got target fixation on the beer!
Never seen Grimsby Town play down in Somerset, although that might change now we are in the same league as Yeovil again.
Just Rutland left!
And there was me thinking Cheddar Man was a bloke made from cheese! I’m destroyed. I’ve amassed a majestic 9 rates from Somerset (2 of those added from the backlog today to bulk out my numbers!): 3 from Wild, 2 each from Butcombe & Electric Bear, 1 from Quantock and a dodgy, sickly cider from Brothers. Nothing scores 4 or above, but Wild Sleeping Lemons came close at 3.9. Have to agree that Bridgwater Services are awful - but there’s another one further North that comes close to competing for the worst ever, can’t remember which one (probably not in Somerset)! Visits to the county have been few and far between, a weekend in Bath many years ago was pleasant enough, and a holiday in Burnham-on-Sea was memorable - if only for it being the windiest place outside of Chicago I’ve ever been, cricket on the beach was very tricky, there being no leg-side effectively (for right handers) and bowling round corners became a skill. And I remember having a Sixpoint beer at Wetherspoons. No plans to revisit currently, nothing jumps out as being a must-see, so I’ll have to continue drinking their beers on foreign soil (none of the 9 have been drunk in-county).
My home county though I didn’t drink there much being as I moved away at 13! Had over 200 Moor beers when they were brewed in Somerset though
474 ratings from Somerset for me. My highest rated at 4.1 are both from Pilton:
Pilton Didgeridoo and Pilton Fox Dog Cat
Somerset and specifically Bristol is a place I’ve really enjoyed visiting - afew times before lockdown (day trip for a cider pub crawl & the first Cider Salon, and an afternoon cider pub crawl in between trains on a work trip) and twice during lockdown for family holidays which have taken in cider festivals for me - Scrumpy Pumpy Festival at Orchard Box back in August last year (a trip that also included a visit to Thatchers and Cheddar Gorge’s Leg Bender Cider Shop) and then again to Cider Salon this time at Trinity Church in August this year. Cider Salon is such a great event - a hall full of cider producers pouring ciders and chatting, try as much as you can get thru for £30 entry, I managed to record 37 ratings each from 750ml bottles that would normally cost £10-£15 a bottle. Highly recommended.
Somerset has a whopping 91 active cideries (compared to 33 breweries), and the most prolific is Thatchers with 63 listed.
The top 5 for Somerset cider and cidery ratings lists are:
I have consumed Wild Beer products in Canada, England, Scotland, and Wales, but not Somerset. I had several Wild Bibble while watching Japan v South Africa in the Rugby World Cup from The City Arms, Cardiff.
Same here - well, I grew up there at least. I first drank Moor when Holly was brewing it on her dad’s farm, long before Justin bought and moved the brewkit. Hardly ever get the chance to drink much down there now, as when we’re visiting it’s always brief and en familie.
I brewed there 1998-2000, Richard took over from me, Holly took over c2001/2 IIRC. When she went to uni Arthur (owner) hired Justin. They didn’t exactly see eye to eye over the direction of the brewery, Justin having ideas of world domination and Arthur wanting to just carry on as they were, in the end Justin bought the whole outfit from Arthur, and we all know the rest
Ah, the home of fermented fruit juice. Somerset is my 7th most-rated county with 81 rates - I’m well outside the top 50 as normal. My average score given for the county is 3.08, which is pretty much in line with my average.
My top 5 rates are as follows - one of two counties (along with Herefordshire) topped by a perry:
My 71 rates come from 15 breweries, 9 cideries and 1 meadery. My most rated producers are Wild (15) and Butcombe (8), whilst my highest rated producers (5+ rates) are Butcombe (3.39) and Wild (3.36). I’m fairly astonished that Butcombe comes out above Wild (and for that matter Electric Bear). Thatchers is my 5th lowest rated producer anywhere (5+ rates) with a score of just 2.5, which does feel a little harsh - sorry Thatchers!
I’ve rated 2 places, the highest was West Country Ales in Cheddar - sad to see that’s closed, it was a nice little shop with a very friendly owner. The other one was Bath Ales’ Graze Bar in Bath, which I thought was pretty awful.
I’ve been to Somerset many times, not least as it’s my Mum & Dad’s neighbouring county and had the nearest bit of coast when I was growing up. It’s a great county, really varied and generally very attractive - I wouldn’t mind living there if I’m honest! Aside from the more obvious tourist attractions, there’s quite a few things that stick in my mind:
- the bijou Nunney Castle, with its little moat.
- Brean Down on a sunny day - a gorgeous ridge sticking out into the Bristol Channel.
- Home-made wortleberry jam in a B&B in Porlock, along with some amazing home-made cider in the local pub (pre-RB days)
- The Frome Independent Market
- The buskers of Bath (don’t know if they’re still going, but The Sidney Shattock Experience were fantastic!).
- Racing my brother up Glastonbury Tor on a rare occasion when there was no-one else up there at all.
Walking wise, I’ve done the bits of the Cotswold Way and the South West Coast Path that lie in the county (both stunning walks), along with plenty of the hills there. The highest point of the county is Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor, at 519m. It’s a pretty easy stroll up from the nearby car park, and it’s well worth it for the views. It was so windy when we were there that I had to cling on to the (huge) summit cairn with both arms. Then my glasses blew away - fortunately after a lengthy chase downhill I managed to retrieve them undamaged!
I do love Somerset and its friendly people - I’ve no specific plans to go back at present, but I doubt it will be too long before I’m there again. Quite fancy a bit of cider ticking down there if I’m honest.
Oops, I am really late with this one! Well better late than never, as they say.
Somerset is surprisingly in my top 10 by quantity, even though I’ve not got any connection to the county (I lived in neighbouring Devon previously but that was before I started rating). I have 117 Somerset beers/ciders, which puts me in the top 50 (I think… my RB Premium has expired so I’m in between free years). There have been some lovely ones, too, including on overall top 10.
Quantity-wise, I’ve tried 15 breweries (12 still active) and 8 cideries, with the most-rated being Wild Beer (34), Electric Bear (19), Lilley’s (13), Cottage (11) and Butcombe (8). Some stories/observations on these:
Electric Bear helped get me through the first part of the pandemic as they offered really cheap mixed cases. I think I had 12 beers for £30 or £35, including postage, all new to me and almost all good.
Lilley’s are such a cheap, easy rate. All the studenty pubs seem to have them on and they do every fruit under the sun. I’m waiting for them to do a durian one, which sounds more enticing than their cola cider (which I just couldn’t try). And Cottage were always easy to find although the beer wasn’t great, never one of my favourite breweries.
I once won a case of Butcombe bitter after coming second in an online contest.
Places are limited to one evening in Bath, and we didn’t have much time so we didn’t explore all the best places. My rates are as follows:
Wouldn’t mind going back and getting stuck into a few places, maybe see more of the countryside but also check out more places in the Bath area.
A cider is my #1 rate here - Burrow Hill Ice Cider @ 4.0.
Otherwise 63 ticks.
The mother-in-law’s family settled in Burnham-on-Sea after having lived all over the world - must have been a let down after Helsinki, Singapore and Tel Aviv. Never met my wife’s grandfather but apprently he spent all his free time in pubs. I went to a carvery near there prior to joining RB. Otherwise we have been planning to visit her great uncle for about 6 years so may get a rate out there at some point.
Those service are indeed miserable.
Yeah, that fits - it would have been about 2002. They were running a bar in a marquee at an event we attended.
My adopted home county. I’ve been here since 2010 although I lived here between 1999-2001 also. I live in Bridgwater where the fare is poor, so I do most of my ‘local’ drinking an hour or so away by train up in Bristol where there is far more choice.
I’ve rated 105 Somerset beers/ciders, with a 3.19 average overall. I’ll sneak into the top 50 raters for the county soon. It’s my 2nd highest number of ratings by county after Gloucestershire.
My highest rated beers are unsurprisingly dominated by Wild Beer:
- Wild Beer B.A.B.S 4.2
- Electric Bear Exodus 4.0
- Wild Beer/Cascade Overture 4.0
- Wild Beer Wildebeest 4.0
- Wild Beer Amuse Strawberry 3.9
Brews from 24 breweries (5 closed) and 9 cideries have been sampled & rated. Wild Beer miles in front with 37 ratings with Yonder & Quantock in joint 2nd place with 8 rates each.
I’ve reviewed 20 places in Somerset, the highest being:
- Independent Spirit, Bath 84
- Beercraft, Bath 80
- Halfway House, Pitney 76
- Ring of Bells, Bath 74
- Brewed Boy, Bath 72
The penultimate county, so almost there! It’ll soon be time to start doing countries. I have been through Somerset on the way from Shropshire to Devon, but never stopped there - although traffic around Taunton meant we were actually stopped at some points. I think we stopped for lunch in Gloucestershire both on the way there and on the way back. From the comments above, Somerset does sound lovely.
Somerset is my 13th highest rated county with 172 ratings. I think Somerset was somewhere in the middle band when it came to getting onto the top 50 list. The 172 rates puts me 30th on the top 50 list - I’m miles from the top raters but comfortably above the bottom zone so there’s no particular to seek out Somerset beers - this means, I can just pick up those I happen upon or those that I really fancy. And Somerset has many breweries that I’m happy to try, in fact, I have tried the followiing which I deemed worth a 4 or more!
Wild Beer Fruitbooter 4.2
Wild Beer Beyond Modus VI 4.1
Wild Beer B.A.B.S II / 2 4.1
Wild Beer Ninkasi Rose 4.1
Wild Beer Millionaire 4
Wild Beer Wildebeest 4
Electric Bear 48 Hours And Counting 4
Wild Beer Mixed Fermentation IPA 4
I would love to visit Somerset in the future.