Pint to pint: The Orchard Inn, Bristol

Date:22-05-2013 07:58:06 read:7

Pint to pint: The Orchard Inn, Bristol

Our guide to the Britain's best pubs. This week: The Orchard Inn, Bristol.

Pint of beer
Not just for beer lovers: the Orchard Inn serves 23 different ciders Photo: Alamy

Hanging on the wall of The Orchard Inn is a photograph of the pub as it was in 1851: a small, unprepossessing, box-shaped building, the last in a terrace which ends rather abruptly.

It's the kind of place which might long ago have been bulldozed to the ground. Yet apart from the fact it used to be called The White Horse, the pub looks practically the same as it did 160 years ago.

The change of name is, however, significant. For what makes the Orchard stand out from its more comely counterparts is the fact that it serves not just one, not just two, but 23 different ciders.

Yes, there's no question what drink most appeals to the Orchard's core clientele. Just reading the chalked list is like taking a tour of the West Country, each with its own potted biography, plus wooziness rating (between 6% and 7% abv).

There are board games in the bookcase (Monopoly, Mid-Life Crisis, Trivial Pursuit), and cheery characters at the bar; among them, white-bearded Mick the Boat.

"Have the Surfin' Turnips," he suggests. "That's my favourite cider."

"Pay no attention," says Des the barmaid. "Have what you like."

And that turns out to be four half-pints, hand-picked by Des for a cross-section of flavours. The Ashridge (from Totnes) comes out top of the tree in terms of sheer amplified appleyness; but it is just pipped by the Black Dragon (from Wales), so rich and full-flavoured, it dips a clawed toe into the realms of sherry.

There's no steamed sea bass on the menu, but there are three types of roll on the counter: ham salad, cheese salad, Stilton and red onion. Plus a free plate of toasted French bread and hot beef dripping.

"Help yourself," says Des, while Mick (he lives in the next-door marina) tells the tale of the Japanese girl who tried to drink her way from top to bottom of the cider list.

"Got more than half way, she did," he says approvingly. "She didn't exactly pass out, just subsided gracefully onto the floor. We helped her friends carry her back to Legoland."

Which is how the locals refer to the new apartments going up in this Harbourside part of town. Not that there's any antipathy towards the newcomers. At weekends, boatfolk and flat-dwellers mix with the crowd from the Spike Island arts centre, cider oiling the shoulder-rubbing.

That the pub's roots go deep into the community is borne out by the busy blackboards, announcing everything from jazz nights to forthcoming ciders to quiz nights (£1 per person, winner takes all).

And of course, there are always new ciders to try. Even when you've had four, there are still 19 to go.

The Orchard Inn, Hanover Place, Bristol (0117 926 2678)

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