Monday, 30 January 2012

Cardross and along the Helensburgh coast: 28th January 2012

One of the advantages about living on the west side of Glasgow is that it's fairly easy to get away to either the Loch Lomond area, the Trossachs or the north Clyde coast. Today I decided to go to the Clyde coast to visit Cardross and then Helensburgh and a couple of pubs along the surrounding coastline.

View Helensburgh in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Westerton to Dumbarton Central
            Dumbarton Central to Cardross
            Cardross to Craigendoran (later)

Cardross Station is almost on the coast and on leaving it I found the semblance of a beach, but it's mostly mud flats for the Inner Clyde Nature Reserve up to the River Clyde waterline.

I walked along the sodden raised beach for a few minutes and then crossed the railway line to the main Dumbarton-Helensburgh road and the Coach House Inn, a large multi-roomed old coaching inn (doh!) with a decent sized car park to help capture the passing traffic.

Inside there's a really nice relaxed-style lounge (with real fire), dining room and separate bar area (including pool table) with the main TV in the bar set in an ornate picture frame. It was really quiet today (not sure why) even with the FA Cup on, but the staff were still helpful & friendly. On hand-pull in the bar are Theakston Lightfoot and Caledonian A Man's a Man, a decent, malty 60/- (unusual to see a 60/- nowadays, only 3.4% abv). I like the place, I just hope it gets busier - there are certainly good food offers and entertainment is put on on at the weekend, but I think a lot of people take the train into Partick or Glasgow, both during the day and in the evening.

I'd checked the O/S maps and Google Maps but there didn't seem to be an obvious walking/cycle path from Cardross to Helenburgh and since this was a busy main road, the risk involved in walking along the side of the road was just too great. I therefore returned to the station, waited for the train and got off at the next station, Craigendoran. It was then a 15 minute walk past some impressive Victorian/Edwardian houses (there's money in this here town) towards Helensburgh town centre to the Argyll Bar.

This is a real locals bar, and even after years of doing this I still get vaguely apprehensive when going into such a place for the first time. However so long as you are polite, make sure you don't take someone's seat and order a pint of real ale then there's not normally a problem and there certainly wasn't today - the barmaid was more than welcoming. Actually you also have to make sure you're not in anyone's eyeline to the TV, especially when it's a Liverpool - Man Utd FA Cup tie - something I had to check for quite a few times today! The only real ale on was Deuchars IPA (sigh... I thought about trying the McEwans 70/-) but it was certainly well kept. Inside the place there's a bar area where pretty well everyone was standing or sitting today, a U-shaped seating area opposite the bar and a snug through the back. I noted lots of books & dictionaries in the bookcases and a couple of large brewery mirrors and lots of military drawings & pictures on the walls. There was no chance of any interior photographs today - maybe next time when there's no football on.
The Argyll and Southern Highlander Drum Major on the outside wall is a bit of an 'icon' for the place - until recently it was more of a plaque/sculpture but now it's been re-done as an oil painting and it's certainly very distinctive.

I continued on into the centre of Helensburgh and took a walk out onto the pier where the ferry to/from Gourock/Kilcreggan had just docked - this is the best way to get to the Kilcreggan Hotel, a great pub on the Rosneath Peninsula, but you have to be (very) careful with the ferry times.

There's decent selection of interesting, independant shops in Helensburgh - a number of cafes/ice cream parlours, bakers, picture/framing shops, a whisky shop (Clyde Whiskies) with a nice beer selection from Loch Lomond Brewery & Williams Brothers and a great butchers/deli (Callaghan of Helensburgh) selling Fyne Ales minicasks & bottles. I decided to visit some of these on the way back to the train station and so continued along the esplanade until The Commodore Hotel.

This is a Vintage Inn (another in the Mitchell's & Butler / Nicholsons group) and seems to have been given a similar sort of modern, spotlight-obsessed makeover as the Three Craws in Glasgow that I visited last week (although it doesn't have the specific left/right drinkers/dining split). It's got a great beer garden, and even today in the depths of winter there were people at the tables with their dogs, drinks & coffees. The Commodore has the best selection of real ale in Helensburgh and on today were Deuchars IPA, Harviestoun Natural Blonde and Great Yorkshire 2012 Top of the Hops. The latter was certainly interesting - made with 2012 different types of (experimental) hops it was certainly bitter, but a little unbalanced and (to be honest) a little unpleasant. It also had the first pump-clip I've seen with a QR code - I scanned it and it pointed through a QR connection hub to the Great Yorkshire web-site with all the technical beer information you could possibly want - the beer geek in me certainly likes that.

Further up the coast is the Helensburgh Sailing Club building, location of the Helensburgh and Lomond Real Ale Festival last year (and this year - 18/19th May). For some reason I've never made it there (mostly due to taking my main Summer Holiday at that time of year) - hopefully this year.

Just past the sailing club is the Ardencaple Hotel, another hostelry with tables outside which can be busy during the summertime. It's definitely been done up (outside and in) and looks far better than the last time I was there.

As well as the bar and dining room there's a large room at the side with a pool table & dart board which is always great to see, but from a beer point-of-view there was only Deuchars IPA (double sigh...) and London Pride.

Leaving the Ardencaple I walked past Rhu Marina (quiet at this time of the year) and then into Rhu itself - a small village with a lot of really nice houses, a corner shop, Post Office, a few B&Bs and the Rhu Inn.

This is another locals place with the barmaids greeting everyone who came through the door by name (except for me of course!). I eventually found out there was a Houston beer on, although since there was no pump-clip no-one could be sure which one, but I'm pretty sure it was the Killellan. The place has a multi-level bar, TVs in the back, quieter in the front, with a stained glass partition between them and also a small snug off to the side by the front door. The real fire in the front area was blazing away and warmed me up in minutes. It's a nice local pub with live music advertised in the evenings and this is meant to happen all year round.

Before heading back to Helensburgh I walked out to the spit of beach at Rhu Point between the Clyde and the Gare Loch. At the Point there would normally be a great view up the length of Gare Loch up to Garelochhead, but unfortunately that was not to be in today's slight mist and haze. Still the view across to the Rosneath Peninsula and the view back to Rhu and the Marina were pretty good.

Also at the Point is an automated coastguard radar beacon - I dread to think of the radiation that was coursing through my body!

As I walked back I heard the sound of bagpipes (a wedding ?) and also a sign for Rosslea Hall which I hadn't noted before - that's what I like to find - somewhere new for investigation the next time I'm out this way.

Return transport:-
  Train: Helensburgh Central to Dalmuir
            Dalmuir to Glasgow Westerton

Monday, 23 January 2012

A Walk around North-West Glasgow: 21st January 2012

I couldn't make it out for a long walk today so had to content myself with having a wander around some local hostelries in the North-West of Glasgow. It's perhaps not the most fashionable area of Glasgow from a beer point-of-view (compared to Partick and the Merchant City) but there are some decent pubs and also a couple of new/redeveloped ones. It's the middle of January so I wasn't expecting the places to be that busy on a fairly dreich & blustery Saturday afternoon but I thought there could always be the odd exception.

View North West Glasgow in a larger map

I started off in Milngavie, as far north as the Glasgow low-level trains reach. I've never been too sure about the place - it's nice enough but there doesn't seem to be much of an old 'centre' to it - it actually reminds me a little of some New Towns such a Stevenage or Livingston, I think due to the re-development that happened in the 1980's. In the midst of the main shopping precinct is The Talbot Arms - a one roomed, fairly old fashioned pub with some interesting window designs.

Today it was busy with the early football being screened on 4 TVs, but darts was also being played and there were papers available to read. The cheery barmaid offered me some tasters of the real ale, but I went straight for the Houston Mercury (also on were Houston Braveheart and Ayr Leezie Lundie as well as Pedigree in bottles), in really good condition.

They now do an all day breakfast, rolls, baguettes & chips (which I hadn't realised) which must be a welcoming sight for those people finishing The West Highland Way. It's a good place and easily the best pub in Milngavie.

Heading south out of Milngavie on the main road I came to The Burnbrae, now a Belhaven/GK restaurant/pub with a Premier Inn attached just up the brae.

There's a new extension round the back to allow even more diners, but I was quite happy to stay in the small bar area at the front for drinkers. Normally there's an interesting (normally English) guest ale on but today there was only Inveralmond Ossian as well as Belhaven IPA, Old Speckled Hen and Belhaven Robert Burns (which to be fair was not at all a bad 70/-) and there were also new fonts for WEST St Mungo and Munich Red which were being promoted on a blackboard. My Bearsden/Milngavie friends of a certain age all say this 'new' Burnbrae is nowhere near as good as the 'old' Burnbrae (definite rose-tinted spectacles), but I've always had a good meal when I've been in for food, and I like all the bric-a-brac, newspapaers, 1/2 pints of nuts and real fires blazing away.

I'm now pretty good at finding my way through the maze of streets from Milngavie to Bearsden and I managed to zig-zag my way to Drymen Road and then eventually to Bearsden Cross and the recently opened den (it used to be 55BC).

It's a long, narrow place with the front area used for drinking and casual dining during the day, whereas the seating at the back of the place seems a bit more formal. It's trying to be a pretty trendy place with red seats, grey benches, and silver tables, but the staff were certainly more than welcoming and chatty. I thought about having the coffee and cupcakes but decided that a draught WEST Hefeweissen (£3.85) was the better choice (St Mungo & Budvar were also available). There were quite a few people in this afternoon and I hope the place does well - it certainly is a more than welcome addition to Bearsden Cross.

Next I took a slight detour to St Germain Loch, just to the south of Bearsden. I'd recently seen a pair of swans flying north up the centre of Bearsden Road at an altitude of approx. 10 feet, an unusual and amazing sight. The swans had then veered off to to the west and I wasn't sure where. One possibility was this tiny loch surrounded by a housing estate & sheltered housing complex, and although there wasn't a completely clear view to the whole of the loch, the amount of wildlife present indicated that my guess could well be correct.

I then re-joined the main road in the direction of Anniesland Cross until the Forth-Clyde Canal and Lock 27, unsurprisingly situated alongside lockgate number 27 on the canal.

In the summer-time it's a great place to have a (cold) beer outside on the tables overlooking the canal, but in the midst of winter the lack of decent beer drove me away without trying anything.

Opposite Lock 27 are the decaying ruins of a brewpub, The Canal/Miller's Thumb Brewery, which shut down 8-9 years ago. I did go in quite a few times and although their own beers were not that great, at least they were vaguely interesting in the ocean of Tennents Lager then prevalent in that part of the city (actually - I do remember a decent, hoppy American IPA, but kegged and pretty fizzy - maybe they were just making craft beer ahead of their time!). It's a real shame to see the place like this and I'd also be interested in knowing where all the brewing equipment has gone.

From here it was a short walk down Crow Road and then through a supermarket car park to The Esquire House on Great Western Road, a Wetherspoons conversion of a local drinking establishment.

I've always thought this to be one of the better Wetherspoons in Glasgow - service is almost always efficient with the queues fairly self-policing, they have had a number of meet-the-brewer events and since you can see Anniesland station from the front windows, with the aid of WiFi and smartphone travel Apps you can judge drinking time and departures really quite well - important! Today I had a half of Stewart Cauld Reekie - a nice, sweet, warming stout with loads of alcohol heat.

Opposite The Esquire House is the old Ascot Cinema/Bingo Hall, now luxury flats, but the impressive art-deco front entrance is still present.

Finally it was a further walk south down into Jordanhill to The Three Craws, an Ember Inn (part of the Mitchell & Butlers/Nicholson's group).

It's in a bit of a strange location, between a car showroom and a petrol station, but Jordanhill station is just over the road so I'm guessing it gets a lot of after work (or after shopping) trade. I've never really thought the place was all that welcoming to the drinker, but they've recently renovated and it's a lot, lot better - good to see the improvement. Now you get hit with a distinctive sign at the front - go left for the pub, go right for dining (or else ?!) and on the left is a new large display cabinet full of beer and beer 'memorabilia' (although there's some weird choices in there) as well as a lot more tables, chairs and sofas.

On hand-pull today there was Deuchars IPA, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and a couple of guest beers - Brentwood Blonde and Worthington Red Shield. The Brentwood was an OK golden bitter, but the Red Shield was excellent - an amber ale with a great malt/bitter balance that I could probably have drunk all night - a good end to my local wander.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Brewing 101 with Robert Knops: 14th January 2012

There was something slightly different to do this weekend, thanks to a really great Christmas pressie (my beer fixation must be getting through). A basics of brewing course over Saturday afternoon with Robert Knops, owner/brewer of Knops Beer in Edinburgh. I'd tried a couple of Knops Beers previously and they'd all been great (though more hops in the IPA, please!) so I was looking forward to this. The course/tasting was being organised and held in Provenance Wines, Home Street in Edinburgh by the lovely owner Valerie.

FYI - this cost of this was £30 and included were the sandwiches and snacks provided by Valerie - pretty damn good as well.

I wasn't quite sure what the basics of brewing would entail - if it was going to be pictures of mash tuns, fermenters etc... in various breweries then I think most of the 8 people attending would have been snoring away (as would the gentle readers of this blog), but instead it was a more of a chemistry/economics how-to brew, with liberal anecdotes and (importantly) a good amount of examples (OK - samples), provided from the shelves of the shop including Augustiner Helles, Black Isle Scotch Ale, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, Goose Island 312 Wheat, Rodenbach Grand Cru and most of the Knops Beers.

Bob first of all gave a very quick run-through of his personal brewing history - brewing degree from Heriot-Watt, assistant at Castle Eden Brewery in the North of England, then jobs at some of the big brewers, Bass and Coors (he helped introduce Carling lager into Scotland - a claim to shame!), a return to Scotland with Stewart Brewing, and then the setup of Knops Beer. He did look at possible sites for his own brewery but eventually decided it was easier to start off as a 'cuckoo brewer', perform all the initial test brews on his own kit in his garage, then brew and bottle large scale quantities on the Traditional Scottish Ales (TSA) equipment in Stirling.

Bob then really just went through the main 4 brewing ingredients and described their relevant characteristics and what happens to them in the brewing process (very, very quick summary below - any brewing people reading this can skip to the end).

  Definition of mineral content and examples from various brewing cities around the world (Edinburgh, Burton, London, Pilsen, Dublin)
  Mineral calculations for reaching the correct levels for different beer types

  Malt samples - Bob had pale, chocolate and crystal to hand out (and nibble!)
  Close-up study of a barley grain (a serious close-up !)

  Calculations of malt quantity from a desired Final Gravity (FG) and abv and also approxinate beer colour from the malt used

  Hop samples - Bob had Challenger & Centennial (I think) to hand round and be rubbed - some great aromas!
  Alpha and beta acids, different essential hop oils
  Bittering, flavour and aroma timings in the boil
  Alpha acids to IBU calculation. I was surprised at the relatively small amount of hops required to give a fairly hoppy beer

  Types - ale and lager, country yeasts
  Esters and phenols from yeast types - amazing what they can bring to the beer (esp. the aroma)
  Oxygenation and yeast profile over the fermentation period
  Why Diacetyl and Acetaldehyde happen

Bob then quickly went through the entire brewing process and the equipment that was required/possible after explaining these ingredients. This all certainly made a lot more sense after knowing a bit more about all the constituent parts.

Although this might seem seem a bit technical, it was really well put over and Bob was always keen to point out that experimentation was absolutely key - always go out and try it yourself.

Bob was a most engaging and informative host, and I left with definitely more of an understanding regarding the science of brewing. There was also time to pick up a few bottles of interesting beer from Provenance Wines, including a bottle of Bob's latest beer based on an old recipe/inspiration, Black Cork.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Stirling to Bridge of Allan Brewhouse: 7th January 2012

I'd decided on a gentle first walk of 2012 - head up to Stirling and the Castle and then continue along the banks of the Forth and the Allan Water to the Bridge of Allan Brewhouse just behind what used to be the Queens Hotel (now the Adamo Hotel) on Bridge of Allan main street.

View Bridge Of Allan in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Stirling

When I got off the train at Stirling station I don't think I'd taken in the newish modern footbridge over the railways tracks before - quite impressive, and it managed to survived last week's mad weather intact!

I then successfully bypassed the majority of shoppers in Stirling city centre and walked directly up to the Castle. After the steep climb to the top of the crag The Portcullis is the closest hostelry to the main Castle entrance and as a consequence is normally packed with tourists (I didn't count myself as one this time), but today it was fairly quiet - tables were available during the entire lunch time period and I managed to blag a corner table to savor my thick mushroom soup.

I've always liked the place - it has that 'real' old fashioned look (it was an old Grammar School) which a lot of newer pubs can't possibly copy, with bare flagstones, masses of decorative whisky bottles and long bench seats in the centre of the room (not quite sure why?). On hand-pull today were Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack and Holly Daze - the latter a decent Winter Ale without all the seasonal spicy trimmings. There were a number of Polish girls operating the bar and the tables today and they were seriously efficient, but quite happy to stop and chat for a few seconds.

Just down from the Castle is Broad Street with a lot of olde worlde shops - look at this - a Bagpipe Shop - don't see many of these!

Walking down Castle Wynd hill I hoped to get a a beer at either Whistlebinkies or the Settle Inn, the oldest pub in Stirling.

However both had only 1 real ale on (Stewart Pentland IPA and Inverlamond Thrappledouser respectively) and both were really quiet so I decided to bypass both and continue down the hill (a shame - the Settle is a great olde pub). At the bottom of the hill I took the pedestrian only Old Bridge over the Forth.

After the Old Bridge I needed to cross the railway line but made a mistake and went into the new Bracken Lane housing estate - there was no way I could see to get over the high fences to the railway footbridge even though I could see it only a stone's throw away - my fault for trusting Google Maps! I had to re-trace my steps and take the next turning into Adamson Place which then allowed me to cross the railway bridge into Chisholm Avenue. At the top of this road is the Birds and the Bees

It's a large place with a separate restaurant area, bar area, 'chill-out'/family area, function rooms and outdoor seating. The bar's not large, but it does have some interesting features - cow hide (fake?) partially lining the bar top and milk churns for stools are a bit different, but there's also a decent real fire, a couple of TVs and numerous farming bits and pieces - it's all quite well done.

The house beer is (unsurprisingly) the Birds and the Bees from Williams Brothers, I assume originally brewed specifically for this place, but it can now be found in other pubs and in bottles as well - it's a very smooth golden ale which I like a lot. Also on hand-pull were Williams Red and Deuchars IPA.

Leaving the Brids and the Bees I followed the cyclepath which runs alongside the railway line to the outskirts of Bridge of Allan. On the main road into town is the Fountain of Nineveh, but unfortunately the actual fountain effect is no more - shame.

The Bridge of Allan Brewhouse (a slightly out-of-date website) is home to Tinpot Brewery and situated at the back of the Adamo Hotel (and Eva nightclub!).

The brewery is operated by Douglas Ross & Walter Dunlop and brewing here has a bit of history. The original Bridge of Allan Brewery operated for a number of years in the late 1990's/early 2000's before being removed and situated alongside the City of Stirling Brewery, now part of Traditional Scottish Ales (TSA, a VC2 joint venture) and some beers developed during that time were kept and 'mass-marketed' by TSA. Tinpot Brewery was installed in the Brewhouse a few years later and is completely separate from TSA. It's really quite small and now only brews for the Brewhouse and various beer festivals.

Behind the bar today was Kirstie, pouring the beers, washing glasses, heating the mulled wine & cider, selling bottles, shepherding the tours (today an ~15 strong Irish group) and she had helped brew all the beers on offer - an impressive young lady (but picture shy!). The place is obviously full of brewing paraphernalia with bottles, pump-clips, malt & hops, tools, newspaper articles and beer/brewing certificates everywhere - great just to browse through. There are some comfy seats to relax in and a number of additional beer barrel type tables - the only slight issue is that the place can get just a bit cold sometimes.

They've now decided to only offer their own beers on hand-pull in the Brewhouse (no TSA beers as was possible before). Some of the Tinpot beers can be quite experimental - I remember a Beetroot and Black Pepper Pot which was 'interesting' to say the least, but you have to give them a lot of credit for at least trying something different. On today were Hogmanay Wheat Beer, Double Chocolate Stout, 80/-, Hoppy 70/-, Marmalade Pot and Thai Pot.

Everything that I tried today was very good, with the Double Chocolate Stout especially so. I also bought a number of bottles (though I missed the Sage Pot and Cranberry Pot - damn!), talked to a few people who consider it their local (even though they come from Cumbernauld) and caught up with one of the organisers of the Braco Real Ale and Music Festival, so overall it was a more than acceptable way to start 2012.

Return transport:-
  Train: Bridge of Allan to Glasgow Queen St