Ah - the first beer festival of the year - it heralds the coming of spring, the end of short days etc..., well perhaps not quite, but it's still a more than welcome event! For me this is normally this is the Larbert/Alloa Beer Festival in March, but this year it would be the return of the Behind the Wall Beer Festival in Falkirk after an absence of a few years.
I had been to Behind the Wall a few times last year (blogged here) and was still a bit confused about which (if any) beers were being brewed in-house, but I'd seen a blog about a coffee infused porter that Barney's Beers were producing for the Festival, so I thought it might be possible that I would get a few answers this time. On my various train journeys into central Scotland I'd also noted that the Station Hotel in Larbert was displaying a 'big sign' with 'Real Ales' writ large, so a visit to there and a walk to Behind the Wall seemed like a good afternoon's outing.
View Behind the Wall in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen St to Larbert (18 & 48 on the hour - slow train)
The Station Hotel is large whitewashed building which I believe has been around as long as the railway has been going through Larbert. It's about as close to the railway track as it's possible to be (apart from some of the on-platform pubs), so it was really just a matter of picking out the correct door (right hand side) to the lounge bar.
It was fairly quiet inside the large bar with a number of Rangers supporters waiting for the train to Glasgow and a few other people supping beer. They were giving the barman a good natured hard time for not having the heating on - he eventually relented after about 5 minutes of this. I liked the large Larbert railway sign at one end of the bar, the mirrors behind the optics & whisky bottles and the large pool room out the back (with all areas being displayed on in-house CCTV equipment). On hand-pull were Spitfire, Deuchars and Over the Bar, Caledonian's rugby ale - a sort of watered down 80/-, not really to my taste. Unfortunately the kitchen was being renovated so there was no food on at all (not even soup), so it was a packet of Mini Cheddars for me. All told a bit of a disappointing visit - I'll perhaps try there again if I go to the Larbert Real Ale Festival at the end of March.
Now I had to make a decision about which way to get to Falkirk. I could either take the main road through Stenhousemuir, pretty boring, or try to find my way there via a few paths along the River Carron. The possible problem here was that I wasn't 100% sure that all the paths were walkable and from Google Maps, it seemed there might be gates on some of the paths close to a industrial complex. Anyway I'd always rather walk along a river than a road so I decided to give it a go. First off I had to get to the River Carron and that was accomplished by walking down Carronvale Road past Carronvale House, a former mansion, now the Headquarters of the Boys Brigade in Scotland (and a grade A listed building, although deserted today and looking a bit like something the gang from Scooby Doo would investigate).
The end of Carronvale Road led me to the River Carron and I then followed a well sign-posted path (the Mill Lade path) along some marshy ground for about 20-30 minutes until a filled-in quarry and a huge industrial plant of some sorts. This is where I was worried that there might be an impassable gate, security, dogs etc..., but thankfully there was not - just a low anti-vehicle gate. I came out on Stenhouse Road at the site of the old Carron Works - a demolished Iron Works (history here). All that remains of the old works is an archway called the Grahamston Gate made for the Edinburgh International Festival of 1886...
... and also a Clock Tower with 2 cannons in the base.
The reason for the cannons is that the Carron Works were famous for developing a new type of longer range canon called the Carronade, and local brewery Tryst have named their IPA after this.
Just down from the old works past the crossing over the River Carron is the Carronbridge Inn (right next to a church - coincidence ?).
From the outside there wasn't much of a clue what the place would be like, but it seemed well maintained so I went in for a look around. I've already blogged about some 'rules' when going into these types of places, but there's another - let the person in front of you get served first. I was quite happy to do this, asking the elderly gentleman in front of me if he had been served once, twice, then a third time. It was then that someone across the bar said - 'it doesn't matter what you say - you'd have to jump up and down in front of him to get a reply' - at which point I noticed the flesh coloured hearing aids in each ear, felt myself go a nice shade of red, and the bar erupted in laughter, including the guy in front of me and myself - a classic moment. Eventually I did get served - for a Stella Artois 4 (cringe), but I was more interested in looking around the place - noting that the door to the Gents was only about 5 foot 6 high and all the fishing & pool trophies above the optics (there must be a pool table somewhere but I didn't go searching for it). The place is known as 'The Soo Hoose' - I asked about this and it seems to be a pig farming (as in Sow) reference, but no-one could be absolutely sure.
After this it was a straight walk down through Grahamston to the Falkirk inner ring road - actually I take that back - I did have to stop for some sustenance - a couple of the local sausage rolls, healthy perhaps not, but tasty - definitely. Behind The Wall is conveniently situated just across from Falrirk Grahamston railway station and I was sure the Beer Festival would be in the upstairs 'Ale and Whisky Bar' so as before, went in through the entrance in the back alley-way.
The beers were setup in the main bar - only 8 at a time (I guess I could live with that!), and they weren't applying the £3 charge for a souvenir glass (hooray - I didn't need another one). They had chosen a good mixture of Scottish (Barneys, Border, Highland, Fyne, Tempest,Tryst & Houston) and English (Butcombe, Bue Monkey, Coniston, Crouch Vale, Dancing Duck, Dark Star, Dent, Thornbridge & Straithes) beers - someone definitely has very good taste! On this afternoon were Tempest Citra (I had a pint of this, a pleasant mistake), Barney's Papua Coffee Porter, Crouch Vale Yakima Gold, Houston Killellan, Blue Monkey PG Sips, Fyne Ales Avalanche, Ey Up from Dancing Duck and Boulby Dark by The Straithes Brewery (completely new to me). Standouts for me were the Tempest Citra (a lot more alcohol than the similarly all citra Fyne Ales Jarl, but just as good) and Barney's Coffee Porter which had a lot of strong coffee upfront & in the initial taste, but wasn't at all overpowering, leaving a great malty, chocolatey after-taste.
The place was fairly quiet when I first went in (although it had supposedly been really busy on Friday evening) so I was able to have a wander about the large adjoining room with the projection TV (where the bands would play later in the evening) and also managed to spy some of the brewing kit. I asked a couple of people what the situation was with the in-house brew plant and was told that both the Eglesbrech beers (Ochil Mist, Jubilation Ale) and Barney's Beers were being brewed on it by ex-Heriot Watt graduate Andrew (Barney) Barnett - good to find out.
I then spent a most pleasant hour or so having a few halves of beer, watching the FA Cup games and chatting on & off with the knowledgeable barman (who was also due to play in one of the bands in the evening) before hauling myself away for the short walk across to the train station.
Train: Falkirk Grahamston to Glasgow Queen St (43 on the hour - an even slower train)