This Saturday heralded the welcome return after a 2 year absence of the Auchentoshan Whisky Festival, see my blog earlier in the year regarding some beer related aspects of this from the last time it was held, and of my 'association' whisky in general. Instead of going directly to the Festival this year I decided to walk along the start of the Forth-Clyde canal from Bowling until Old Kilpatrick and then head up to enjoy the Festival in the Auchentoshan Distillery site situated just before the Erskine Bridge.
View Auchentoshan in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Westerton to Bowling
I left the train at Bowling station and immediately came across an interesting view down the Clyde to the old Bowling Harbour and the Erskine Bridge. Truth to be told the harbour is a bit of a mess, muddy with some rusting, derelict ships - I think there are plans ongoing to regenerate this but nothing seems to be happening at the moment.
Within a stone's throw of the station is a pub, The Railway Inn, but I'd been in fairly recently and although it's a decent enough place for something to eat (the conservatory is pretty good) this time I didn't really have time to stop.
I therefore turned into Dumbarton Road and after a couple of hundred yards came across an establishment I hadn't been in before, the Bay Inn - with the distinctive pub sign indicating that it had been around since 1790.
I hadn't found any recent reviews about the place so I was expecting a fairly dark, old fashioned place, but it was nothing like that all. Instead it was bright, modern & welcoming and full of flags for the Euro2012 football and the Jubilee (and the Bowling Gala Day) as well as lots of pictures of ships and other nautical memorabilia.
The beer choice was pretty well as I'd expected - lots of Tennents, Stella and Guinness so I went for a 1/2 of the Caledonian Best since I hadn't tried it before (cold & fizzy, not tasting of much), but I managed to overlook the fact that bottles of Spitfire were available. The owner indicated that he sells a lot of them (served cold and at room temperature), but not enough to justify a cask of real ale - a definite shame. As I chatted away with the owner and one of the locals I noticed that on one of the columns at the bar a Ship's Figurehead looks down over the rest of the pub - I don't know if this is meant to ward away evil spirits but it's certainly very distinctive (and honest - it's not an apparition in the photo!)
It's always good to find a place which exceeds your expectations so I left this really friendly local with a bit a spring in my step and headed further along Dumbarton Road to the entrance of Bowling Basin and the start of the Forth-Clyde canal. There are quite a few moorings available both at the entrance of the River Clyde and slightly further up the canal.
There's also a cycle hire ship here under the arches of the old railway bridge, Magic Cycles, which I always seem to forget about on the (very) infrequent times when I need to hire a bike - I normally use the cycle hire at Loch Lomond Shores. At the first lock gate there's a huge old canal house which is now a private house (or 3) and I remember it well from being used in an episode of Taggart.
I walked along the canal path for a while passing the entrance to the Saltings - an inland water nature reserve for birds and other wildlife, before heading back onto Dumbarton Road for The Ettrick, a large detached building with what seemed to be very separate bar and lounge areas.
I went into the large bar and found an eerily similar selection of draught beer - Tennents (x2), Stella, Guinness etc..., but also a tap for McEwans Export which I hadn't tried for some time (I did spy a couple of hand-pulls (and I'm sure I'd had a Deuchars IPA here before), but they were only being used to hang charity collection boxes from!). The Export was OK (and certainly a lot more interesting than the Best) but still had that almost artificial smoothness which was one of my reasons for starting to drink real ale in the first place. Whilst I was drinking this a lot of the 'older' gentlemen were ordering their 1/2 and 1/2's - so there's definitely still a market for this.
The place has more of an old fashioned look to it than the Bay Inn with some great dark orange lanterns hanging from the ceiling, nautical prints on the walls and (strangely) a cuckoo clock above the door into the Gents. There were also a couple of impressive mirrors - a huge Johnnie Walker one (no pic - too many people sitting below it), and the other a great Bass 'Our Finest Ale' one (although possibly a reproduction).
It was then time to find my final pub before heading up to the Distillery. Still further along Dumbarton Road (which eventually leads almost all the way into the centre of Glasgow) is The Glen Lusset.
It really is situated in the shadow of the Erskine Bridge and I don't think I'd realised what a height the road platform actually is at - it definitely is a bit disconcerting.
The Glen Lusset also has 2 separate sections - a bar/lounge and a Steak House restaurant. The large bar is setup almost like an American diner with long benches, lots of neon and a pool table area with a great view over the canal. I didn't find any real ale but there were bottles of Furstenburg and Erdinger which were a significant improvement on anything I'd had so far this afternoon.
Somewhat to my surprise there was the occasional screeching noise coming from near the entrance. This was the house parrot Jakey, who, it was explained to me, actually has a Twitter page and *tweets* - double ouch!
Immediately opposite the Glen Lusset is a short expanse of woodland called Lussett Glen which follows the path of a burn coming off the Kilpatrick Hills - it was really quite tranquil and unexpected after the noise of Dumbarton Road.
The Lusset Glen path led me to the main A82 and Erskine Bridge intersection and I then followed this past Dunottar Cemetery to the Auchentoshan Distillery
By now it had started to rain (a lot), so it became a necessity to get my entrance ticket and then leg it to the Ale Bar as quickly as possible.
On at the bar was Williams Brothers Draught from keg and also bottles of the Auchentoshan Festival Ale 2012 - hooray! This was the new batch of Williams Brothers pine/spruce-based Christmas ale Nollaig matured in Burbon Casks at Auchenoshan for 3 months with the alcohol going from 7.1% to over 9% and then being pared down to 4.5% for bottling. Quite surprisingly the pine taste from the Nollaig had almost completely disappeared - what was left was a slightly sweet vanilla and rye malt taste - very nice, with a slight bitter aftertaste, but quite light bodied and very drinkable - although I really would love to have tried the pre-bottled version(s).
By now I needed some food and went in search of something non-burger related at the Farmer's Market. I managed to get a quite fantastic pot of spicy beef chilli from one of the vendors and ate this under the cover of one of the spare market stalls as the rain poured down.
I then had a quick look around the rest of the festival site - there were a number of marquees with cooking/drink mixing demonstrations and talks, a band playing, someone with a chainsaw 'sculpting' from wood and you could 'fill' your own bottle of whisky from a couple of special casks, but the weather was really putting on downer on things - a real shame given all the time and effort involved in setting things up. Thankfully I'd manage to time things fairly well and didn't have long to wait for the only Whisky & Ale Masterclass of the day in one of the many warehouses. This was really well attended (I ended up chatting away to Frank Murphy from The Pot Still) and was being taken by Jeremy Stephens, formerly of Fuller's Brewery, and now Head Blender at Auchentoshan.
Just about managing to give a talk and presentation above the noise of the rain on the warehouse roof, Jeremy went through the different processes for brewing and distillation in a brief but very informative way. He also had various examples of light & dark malted barley to sample and hops (Bramling Cross) to rub & inhale. He ended up with leading us through a couple of whisky and beer matchings. The first being Auchentoshan Classic with the Auchentoshan Festival Ale that I'd just tried - both very light and they seemed to enhance the vanilla tones in each other. The second was Auchentoshan 3 Wood with Williams Brothers March of the Penguins - this time both were heavier and the smoky sweetness from the 3 Wood seemed to bring out more of the dark malt and chocolate flavours of the beer - or so it seemed anyway. It was certainly very interesting to try but I think my own personal preferences lean to only beer or only whisky (with the latter only on very special occasions).
I managed to get a few words with Jeremy before he had to shoot off to another part of the Festival but he indicated that the proposed in-house Auchentoshan brewery was still 'On the 5-year Plan' so hopefully there still the possibility of another (almost) Glasgow-based brewery in the next few years.
Train: Kilpatrick to Partick (for the Three Judges and some Ilkley beers!)