Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Balerno, Currie, Livingston Cricket Club and Alechemy Brewing: 14th April 2012

I always like to go to different places (it's just natural human curiosity I guess) so I was more than happy that this weekend I could try a couple of pubs & places that were new to me in Mid/West-Lothian (Currie & Balerno) and then follow this with a new beer festival, being organised by Livingston Cricket Club and brought to my attention on Twitter by James Davies from the very new Alechemy Brewing (beer people are great!).

View Livingston in a larger map

The nearest train station to the Cricket Club is Livingston South on the Glasgow Central-Shotts-Edinburgh line, however the connection to Curriehill (for Currie & Balerno) from Glasgow Central wasn't particular good, so this meant a fast train from Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Haymarket and then a connection back out to Curriehill was the most sensible choice. Actually this worked out really well since I was able to make a quick dash to Appellation Wines for a few bottled beers and also try a new Thornbridge beer, Frank As Apollo (a nice & hoppy take on a 'traditional' bitter and winner of the Thornbridge/Nicholson's home brew challenge) in the Haymarket Bar.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Edinburgh Haymarket
            Haymarket to Curriehall (30 on the hour)
  Bus: Currie to Balerno (Lothian Buses 44)

  Train: Curriehill to Livingston South (45 on the hour)

The train station at Curriehill is no more than a halt just outside the town so to get to Balerno required a 5 minutes walk up to the main A70 Lanark Road followed by a bus which dropped me off just past Balerno High Street. A Farmer's Market was just being taken down on the pedestrianised High Street and opposite this was the well kept Grey Horse Inn (nice modern web-site).

This is a really cracking village pub - a very busy lounge (full of shoppers recuperating after the Farmer's Market) with Sky TV, a quieter bar/snug and an associated award winning Chinese restaurant next door. They were somewhat rushed off their feet this lunchtime, but still managed to make me feel welcome and chat about the beers. They have 5 hand-pulls, 2 permanent - Deuchars and Old Speckled Hen (what a pale shadow of the 5.2% beer of yore) and 3 guests, today Houston Challenger, Broughton Spring Ale and Belhaven Fruit Beer - perhaps a pretty safe choice but not at all bad. I've tried the Fruit Beer from bottle a couple of times and would have to agree with the Scottish Beer Guide in that it's not too impressive, but on cask it's far better - definitely some raspberry & blackberry flavour and a lot more body.

I ordered a baked tattie with tuna-mayo for lunch, quite OK, but the salad that came with was great - nice sharp dressing and lots of bean-sprouts gave it a definite crunchy texture. The bar/snug itself has a nice old fashioned air (cosy comes to mind) with lots of Burns pictures, books, pump-clips above the bar, a couple of small dogs wandering about and some banter back and forward between the locals and the owners. I almost (absent mindedly) managed to escape without paying (the owner said she would have had to don her speed skates to catch me) but eventually paid-up and walked the short distance from the High Street to join the Water of Leith Walkway starting just across from the Currie rugby ground.

It was a short but pleasant walk up the Walkway to Currie passing some small weirs, lots of tree cover, bridges and riverside houses - I must come back at some point and walk all the way into Edinburgh.

I left the Walkway in the centre of Currie and headed up to The Riccarton Arms on the main road (handy hint - don't try to use the 2 doors at the front as I did, they're only open in summer!).

It was proclaiming 'Under New Management' and inside there certainly seemed to have been some money spent on the place. The bar is in the centre of the main room with tables, chairs and TVs on both sidee and a separate restaurant further on into the building. The TVs were showing the FA Cup Semi-Final and I arrived just in time to see Liverpool take the lead late in the game and hold on for the win - hooray! There were only 2 hand-pulls on today with Deuchars (well this is Edinburgh) and Caledonians's latest monthly, Raspberry Fool. Since this was obviously going to be a Fruit Beer day I had to give it a go - it was certainly sweet with a berry aroma and a lot more raspberry in the taste, but I'd hoped for a bit more tartness and it wasn't there. Both this and the Belhaven Fruit beer were quite acceptable (I like Fruit Beers) but I still prefer the Williams Brothers Roisin - it's just got that hint of tartness/sourness that the other 2 don't have.

Next it was a walk down the hill to Curriehill train station for the less than 15 minute journey to Livingston South. I managed to get somewhat lost in my search for Livingston Cricket Club but only because I keyed in the wrong address (Murieston Road instead of Valley) into my GPS system, but there were so many paths between the housing estates that this only hindered my arrival by a few minutes. The Club itself looked a bit of a pre-fab construction but it was certainly busy enough with food (burgers, hot-dogs etc...) being cooked in large tents on the grounds.

I arrived during mid-afternoon and the place was packed with a good mixture of people of all ages - great to see. It was £5 for entry (with 1 pint included) and then £2 for a 'ticket' for a pint, so that would have helped getting people through the door, as would the fact that the Grand National was being shown on the TV. There must have been ~10 beers from Broughton (I missed the Dark Dunter, still to be tapped), 5-6 from Stewart (including the nice & cloudy Forth Mist wheat beer) and all of the great Knops Beers available - not a bad selection at all. James from Alechemy Brewing was working behind the bar and had brought along 2 of his own brand spanking new beers, which I had thought he might just do, and I was really, really happy to see them. The Alechemy beers were Cairnpapple IPA, an initially quite sweet golden ale with some citrus bitterness, but which perhaps needed a bit of additional aroma up-front, and Five Sisters (named after the 5 oil-shale 'bings' feature nearby), an amber ale with some malt and chocolate sweetness and then a real bitter hop kick at the end (from masses of Chinook hops) - this was really impressive. He's definitely not brewing 'brown, boring bitters' with both of his beers proving really popular & seeming likely to be among the first to run out (I came back for another Five Sisters later on).

We got chatting away and quite amazingly enough James volunteered to take me to the brewery premises, gammy leg and all (as I said - beer people are great). It's only a couple of minutes away from the Cricket Club in the midst of an industrial estate in Livingston with (at present) very little to mark itself from the surrounding buildings except a small Alechemy sign.

Inside the place is really quite large with lots of room for expansion (it's certainly bigger than Loch Lomond Brewery & Angus Ales where I've been to recently). The brewing kit is all brand new stainless steel, with a mash tun, fermenting vessels, and conditioning tanks taking up one corner of the premises. The cold store is just being built, with the filled casks of beer quite happy to settle at the current ambient temperature this springtime and there is also a teensy pilot plant for some experimental brews.

Upstairs (on the mezzanine level - cool!) there's the office, a lot of malt and bags & bags of hops (especially Chinook & Citra) but it's about as organised as I've seen seen a brewery to be. His bottling equipment is currently with Dave from DemonBrew and James also mentioned the help and advice he'd had from Dave and from John McGarva at Tryst Brewery (and especially from his Father!).

James used to work in the pharmaceutical industry, has some seriously technical knowledge about yeast cultures and has ploughed everything into this business when moving back up to Scotland from Loughborough. As I've said before I am in awe of the some of the beer people I've visited recently - it really takes vision, some guts, not to mention a lot of hard work (James mentioned 100+ hour weeks recently) to get his type of venture up and running from nothing, so here's hoping the 'Official Launch' of the beers at Cloisters this Wednesday (see the Beercast for more details) goes really well. In addition all of his beers including the Cockleroy Black IPA (and possibly a special) should be available at the Scottish Real Ale Festival in June.

Return Transport:
  Train: Livingston South to Glasgow Central (15 (express) & 57 (very slow) on the hour, not Sundays)

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