Thursday, 24 November 2011

Loch Lomond Brewery and Cameron House Hotel: 26th November 2011

It's always great to have a new microbrewery open in the local area. Glasgow doesn't really have too many - Kelburn Brewery, The Clockwork brewpub, WEST Beer and Houston Brewery (and I think that's it). But now there's another - Loch Lomond Brewery situated in Alexandria, just south of Balloch on the River Leven at the edge of Loch Lomond.
Their beers have only recently started to appear in pubs in Glasgow and beyond (Bon Accord, Ben Nevis, Pot Still, Arrochar Village Inn) and they've now also opened a shop in the brewery building selling bottles and providing the odd sample.
I had thought it would be a good idea to combine a visit to the shop with a walk over the Carman Muir to Cardross and the Coach House Inn, a pub I've been to quite a few times and which I like a lot, however the atrocious weather on Saturday stopped any possibility of that. And with the Balloch trains being delayed or cancelled I couldn't even be sure that I'd be able to get back to Glasgow at a sensible time, so it was definitely going to have to be a car journey this Saturday.

View Loch Lomond in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Car from Glasgow: A82, B537 through Renton and turn at Alexandria Outlet Mall

The brewery premises are in the midst of an industrial estate, but a couple of signs helpfully pointed out the way (and the great smell was also a definite give-away).

Fiona the brewster and her husband Euan welcomed me when I entered the shop and I also bumped into the Alesela guys - always good to see them.

Fiona was in the midst of brewing Kessog Dark Ale (and looking after the kids), so Euan gave me a really informative look around the brewery and talked about their test brews, use of English and American hops, malt types, Scottish Enterprise help and how their plans had all come together in the last year or so - I could probably have stayed and chatted until they closed for the day.

The equipment's all brand-new and made especially for them.
Mash tun and copper.

Fermenting vessels and Conditioning Tanks

I then had to be really persuaded by Euan to try a couple of samples of the beer - not!

They obviously have had to start with a core set of beers which must appeal to the widest range of customers. The Bonnie'n'Bitter is a light bitter but still pretty hoppy, the West Highland Way somewhat less hoppy, the Ale of Leven a more dark bitter, perhaps heading to 70/- territory, the Bonnie'n'Blond a golden ale, bearing comparison with perhaps Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted or Fyne Ales Avalanche, and the Kessog a darker, more porter-like ale. It's a really good initial range of beers (with some really great names and pump-clip images as well, including a styleised reference to the Luss fleur-de-lys). Euan's palette tends to more intense hopping, with Fiona trying to keep him in check, but perhaps Euan will win out with some more 'experimental' beers in the New Year.

They've had some issues with the Loch Lomond name, in particular with the European trademark of Loch Lomond by the Loch Lomond Distillery, just down the road in the industrial estate, but Fiona's been able to broker an agreement with them.
This is great - hopefully we might be seeing a whisky-cask aged beer from Loch Lomond at some time in the future!

There's no doubt it's difficult to get a microbrewery up and running - Fiona's working in the brewery full time, Euan at weekeneds, but probably only 20% of their time is taken up by brewing, the majority of the rest is sales related. Getting past the existing brewery/distributor tie in pubs is a problem - I guess one thing the 'beer enthusiasts' amongst us can do is ask in our local pubs why they haven't at least tried a beer from the newest local brewery - word of mouth is pretty powerful sometimes. But it's great to see the enthusiasm and resourcefullness that they've brought to the brewery so far - hopefully it'll have a long and prosperous future.

Having torn myself away from brewery with my selection of bottles, I'd hoped to at least be able to make the short walk from Loch Lomond Shores to either Duck Bay or Cameron House, but it just didn't make sense in the unrelenting rain. I therefore decided to drive straight to the Cameron House Hotel for something to eat. I'd checked out the web-site beforehand and decided that the Great Scots Bar was the place I wanted to go. After sluicing the water from my jacket, I was directed to the bar along a very long, narrow set of corridors - and a most impressive sight it was.
Away from the bar there were a number of comfortable low-slung tables with sepia pictures of historical figures and modern sportsmen/women - a bit strange!

When I asked for an 'interesting' beer, the Maitre D' sent a barman over to my table to talk to me - no pressure then! I was worried they might only have Bud, Peroni etc..., but thankfully there was a cask ale called Cameron House Ale, brewed by Harviestoun - good news! It seemed to be very similar to Bitter & Twisted, perhaps with a tad more bitterness, but it was certainly a decent enough beer (which it should have been for £4.95). I did mention the Loch Lomond Brewery, but it seems the De Vere chain is tied into a particular distribution group, but no harm in trying.
The food was tasty and well presented, the Arran Ham and Mustard sandwiches were really good.
There's no doubt it's an expensive place, but I must admit the service was extremely good - up there with some of the hotels I've been to on business in Europe and the 'States.

On the way out I stopped to take in the view across Loch Lomond. This was at ~3:15pm down at the lochside - a great West Coast afternoon!


  1. I think the smell is more likely to be the distillery than the brewery. It was certainly very noticeable when I was there.