Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Kirkcaldy to the Glenrothes Beer Festival: 12th May 2012

I've been living on the West Coast of Scotland for some years now and so don't get (or take) as many chances to visit Fife as I did previously. St Andrews is probably one of my most favourite places on the planet, and I like visiting all of the Fife East Neuk villages and towns. Kirkcaldy is probably the biggest town, but although it may not have the charm of St Andrews, it's still got a great long beach & esplanade and also some tremendous buildings. This weekend my plan was to visit Kirkcaldy for the first time in a while on the way to the Kingdom of Fife Beer Festival in Glenrothes, just north of Kirkcaldy.

View Kirkcaldy in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Haymarket
            Haymarket to Kirkcaldy
  Bus: Kirkcaldy to Glenrothes (Stagecoach East, X40)

The train station is slightly out from the centre of town, but there are some great buildings to crane your neck at on the way in. The Museum & Art Gallery was surrounded by scaffolding and not exactly at its most picturesque, but the Adam Smith Theatre was certainly impressive enough and attracts a lot of prestigious touring groups (I remember seeing the RSC here quite a few years ago).

My first port-of-call was to Mostly Wine to see if there were any local bottled beers available.

There's a door entry system there now at all times due to theft in the past, which is a real shame, but looking at the extent of wine bottles and straight from the cask wine I guess it's a sensible precaution. Beer wise there was only Williams Brothers, Coopers and (thankfully) the full-house of beers from the recently opened St Andrews Brewing Co - a nice set of branded bottles. I was hoping to also try a couple of these at the Beer Festival, but at least I now had some back-up.

By now I needed a beer and so headed down to Kirkcaldy High Street. There's definitely been a bit of money spent on the town centre - outwith the main shopping complex the place always used to look a bit drab and run-down but now it's a lot cleaner and modern. First off I headed to Betty Nicol's at the east end of the High Street (by coincidence also surrounded by scaffolding) which has had a licensed premises on site dating back to 1742.

The place has a bit of a schizophrenic nature with a nice old fashioned dark wood pub/bar area, partially tiled sections at the back and some interesting painted glass features and then there is also a trendy, modern lounge bar (called Bleu) out the back, mostly used in the evening. I stayed in the main bar and let my curiousity order me a Kozel, rather than a Deuchars IPA or a Bitter & Twisted. It wasn't too bad, a slightly bitter pils, with the beer choice further enhanced by bottles of Weihenstephan Hefe & Dunkel and Black Sheep Bitter. Also available were good value lunches (including the Betty's Hot Pot for £6.49) and some cracking well-filled, full slice sandwiches. It's a nice place - the staff were great and I really liked the chairs and long, high bench/table at the front windows so that you can look out at the passing trade.

Next a 2 minute walk east along the coast road brought me to the Harbour Bar, which although it may not look too inviting, once you get past the doorway it's a fantastic place to have a couple of great beers.

It's the home of the Fyfe Brewing Company which has been going for 17 years and I was hoping that there would be a couple of their beers on, but unfortunately not. The engaging owner told me that he now only brews a maximum of once a week and has also recently been having problems with his Nottingham yeast, so the in-house beers have been a bit less frequent. A shame, since I think I'd only ever had 2 of their beers (a long time ago), but I was more than mollified by the impressive line-up available that afternoon.

I think I'd only ever had a Buxton beer on cask down south, so the Kinder Downfall was a great surprise - some light citrus with a bitter, spicy hop kick at the end, and if anything the Brodies Hoxton IPA was even better - slightly hazy with an almost oily taste of deep bitter citrus hops - lovely, but lethal! The place wasn't busy at lunchtime (pies only for food) so I had a quick look around - the lounge is pretty basic but I liked the tables and benches at the back of the bar with books available and a view out to the back of the yard. When looking up the place up on the Internet I'd seen that it had seemed to be up for sale for some time, but the owner indicated that this was because of an on-going issue with the lawyers and that the price he was looking for was substantially more than that stated on the web-site (of course he would say that!).

After leaving the Harbour Bar I took a walk slightly further along the coast. On the way I encountered this enterprising piece of marketing for the pub at the top of the road called The Path Tavern - different!

Further along the coast, hidden away in the midst of a housing estate away from the main road, is something which looked a lot more inviting from the outside - the Feuars Arms, a Victorian gem dating back to 1859, although re-modelled in 1890 and 1902 in an almost quasi-Jacobean fashion.

If the outside hinted at something more interesting, the inside was just amazing. An incredibly long U-shaped bar with brown art nouveau-type tiling, these huge decorative lanterns on the bar counter, a tiled mosaic floor, stained, coloured and painted glass all over, a Laurieston Bar-style pie heater and an elaborately dark wood-paneled side-room - all told, quite stunning.

The barman came over, gave me a minute to pull myself together and then asked me what I wanted. I couldn't see a pump-clip on the hand-pull, but the barman explained that it had just been changed and went down into the cellar to make sure it was OK. After washing his hands he then poured a great pint of Scottish Borders Foxy Blonde making sure that the head was perfect, wiping the glass constantly to make sure there wasn't a single drop of beer or condensation on the outside of the glass - serious attention to detail! As I sipped my beer and contemplated the rest of the pub, the barman then wrote the beer name up on the back of a tray (!) and placed it above the till for all to see, and then got the pump-clip from the safe (a serious bank-style safe!, full of pump-clips!) below the till and attached the Foxy Blonde pump-clip to the hand-pull.

Traffic through the pub was certainly steady enough whilst I was there with good a mixture of couples, friends out for a chat & a few drinks and younger lads watching the TV tuned to the sports headlines (one of the few modern touches). I chatted away with the barman for a while about beer and breweries and mentioned the new St Andrews Brewing Company and he indicated that he would take a look at it since he already picks up some casks from the nearby Loch Leven Brewery himself on the way to work. As I left I headed to the Gents in the corner of the bar - now I don't normally take photos of toilets, but this had something I hadn't seen before - a Doulton glass cistern still with the "London, Paisley and Paris" markings.

Since I was still in a bit of a daze it was just as well that by chance (ha - good planning for once) the bus stop for the X40 bus to Glenrothes was less than a minute from the Feuars Arms. The route we took was perhaps not the most direct to Glenrothes Bus Station but it was only just over 20 minutes before I was walking around the outside of the Kingdom Shopping Centre to the Rothes Halls and the Glenrothes Beer Festival.

The Rothes Halls confounded my expectations a bit by being a bright, modern venue complete with art galleries and a classy cafe - I took a wander around for a few minutes and was most impressed by the place. Today the main hall was fairly full, but there was a considerably more relaxed vibe than the Paisley Beer Festival I'd been to a few weeks ago. I got my glass and was told that the St Andrews beers had all sold out (therefore a good decision to get the bottles beforehand) and also Ascot Ales Anastasia’s Imperial Stout, a definite shame. However there was still a great selection available and I chose local(ish) beers from Loch Leven and Deeside and others from more far afield breweries such as Saltaire and Black Iris. Probably my favourite of the day was the Wylam Galena which had a nice hint of almost sour blackberries from the Galena hops. I chatted away to staff regarding pubs in St Andrews & Kirkcaldy and also met Alan Lawson from Angus Ales who was quite happy to keep me informed regarding what was happening beer and pub-wise in and around Dundee. Although it had been a fair hike by public transport to get to Glenrothes (and it would be another couple of hours to get back) it had definitely been worthwhile trip - I enjoyed it a lot.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Glenrothes to Kirkcaldy (Stagecoach East, X40)
  Train: Kirkcaldy to Haymarket
            Haymarket to Glasgow Queen Street


  1. The Feuars Arms sounds almost too good to be true - I bet if you ever tried to find it again, you'd arrive at the corner and there would be just a blank wall and eerie silence...

  2. Yeah - it definitely had the feel of one of those Harry Potter Platform 13 things ;-) It's in the CAMRA National Inventory but not the GBG (due to the only 1 hand-pull I assume) so I guess doesn't get the passing 'traffic'.

  3. Just checked the Stagecoach X26 bus goes from Buchanan Bus Station to Kirkcaldy, Ravenscraig Flats , a supposed 3 minute walk away. Not quite the Hoqwarts Express but this looks like a must see. ( X27 goes close ) Road trip !! ( http://www.stagecoachbus.com/PdfUploads/Timetable_23883_X26%20X27%20Fife%20.pdf )

  4. Did think about the bus, but my worry is always my bladder after a few beers - at least on the train the toilet (normally) works ! You'd def get some decent pano shots on quiet weekday.