Saturday, 23 February 2013

Looking for Craft Beer in Glasgow's West End: 16th February 2013

I try hard not to use the 'Craft Beer' term - as far as I'm concerned there's really only Beer which (thankfully) everyone has a different subjective opinion about, but there's no doubt the term is seeping into the mainstream beer/bar/pub culture. This week in Glasgow saw the opening of munro's on Great Western Road, a self-proclaimed Craft Beer Bar, so I thought I'd take the opportunity of visiting it and also some of its brethern of a similar nature in and around Glasgow's West End.

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Outward Transport was as follows:-
  Subway: St George's Cross

I normally find that an SPT Roundabout ticket is the best way to get in & around the West End - travel by low-level (or high-level) train into Glasgow then get an 'almost free' day-pass Subway ticket (and then try the SubCrawl if you are young and have an iron constitution). From St. George's Cross subway station it's only 3 blocks or so (where did that come from - obviously too much NCIS) to the corner of Rupert Street and the site of munro's (the lower-case is deliberate) on the always busy thoroughfare of Great Western Road.

This used to be a pub called the Captains Rest which specialised in local music gigs most nights, but it was bought by Maclay Inns late last year and transformed into munro's over the course of 3 months and approx. £400,000. This first Saturday lunchtime the place was really quite busy - all the retro diner-type window tables at the front and at the left side were taken and there was a steady stream of customers at the centrally located super-shiny bright bar.

A blackboard lists the 4 craft beers (Harviestoun Schiehallion + 3 guests (today WEST Munich Red, Williams Cesaer Augustus & Magic Rock Cannonball), for between £3.80 - £4.80) and 4 cask ales (Caley Deuchars IPA + 3 guests (today Stewart Pentland IPA, Taylor's Landlord and a cask cider (Thatcher's Heritage), for between £3.20 - £3.80). It would perhaps have been good to have had no permanent beers at all, but this is a (more than) reasonable choice and if 1 or 2 are a bit too ubiquitous then there's no reason to choose them. They also do 3x 1/3rd tasters of the keg or cask beers so I chose the 3 guest kegs, ordered a sweet-chilli chicken sandwich and sat down at a small table in the centre of the bar area to peruse the bottle menu and look at the rest of the bar. It's definitely the right hand side of the bar that's a bit more interesting - complete with persian rug, large mirror, lampshade, stripped-back bare-brick walls & fire, it's almost like someone's extended living room! They've also used a couple of huge round cable reels as tables and a number of car tyres to hold some of the ceiling light fixings - this seems to throw back to the fact that the building used to be a car salesroom called Munro’s Motors back in the 1960's - I really quite like how this has all been done.

Also on some of the other shiny keg taps was the lovely Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier, WEST St Mungo, Estrella Damm, Tennents & Caledonian Best - I'm not sure if the £2.60/pint cost of the latter is a reflection of its popularity or (more likely) due to the supplier relationship Maclay Inns now have with Tennents. The bottled beer selection included Brewdog Punk IPA and Macbeth Deeside (good to see) and a fairly OK selection from Europe and the USA, but nothing completely outstanding. What was outstanding though was the Magic Rock Cannonball - lots of citrus bitterness and a really bitterfruit aftertaste so I'm glad I had it after the other 2 beers. And the 3 1/3rds with a decent sandwich is just a perfect lunch for me.

It's a nice place and I enjoyed the visit - the staff were more than friendly, they show the big rugby & football matches, will be having a quiz night and it's already got a nice busy vibe. Give it a couple of more interesting beers on at the same time and it should turn out to be a must-stop venue along Great Western Road.

Next I wanted to head further out west along The Boulevard. There's still a good & diverse selection of local, independent shops here, including cafés (standard & internet), delicatessens, organic fruit-and-veg shops and the odd off-license (including The Cave). In addition a couple of the local butchers were doing a fantastic trade due to the on-going horsemeat scandal (and were making sure everyone knew about it).

I walked over the actual Kelvinbridge (or Great Western Bridge) and could see my next port-of-call, Inn Deep, tucked in below the bridge on the banks of the River Kelvin (Subway stop - Kelvinbridge).

Previously this was the Big Blue Italian restuarant but was taken over in September of last year by the Williams Brothers Brewing Company and is run by the younger generation of the Williams Brothers family and friends. From Great Western Road I descended down a number of levels of multi-coloured flights of steps until I reached the lower level at the Kelvin. There is still the same 2 room layout as the Big Blue - a dining area on the right (I'd have to recommend the spicy 3 meat pizza - fantastic) which is also where the DJs spin those tunes on Friday & Saturday nights (Brian Stillwater tried his hand at this when he was over for a Williams Brothers collaborative beer project). They've recently had murals painted on all the walls by The Too Much Fun Club - lots of friendly creatures are depicted drinking beer - it's certainly distinctive!

In the main bar area on the left you can see the effect of the archway - long and narrow with a number of tables opposite the bar but still room enough to stand, chat to the staff and peruse the great selection of beer. The Williams Brothers people know their beer, so it's not surprising that the selection here is pretty impressive and has been since the opening day. On today from cask were Fyne Sanda Blonde, Red Willow Wreckless & Tempest Emanation Emanation Pale and as guests on keg Moor So'Hop, Marble Dobber (cue some 'hilarious' Glasgow twitter comments) and Williams Double Joker IPA. All of these are in addition to the permanent beers amongst which are Williams Black Ball Stout, Caesar Augustus, Draught & Maisel's Weisse and a decent amount of interesting UK and US bottles - it's just a really good selection of beer for the beer geek (amongst others). Just to be consistent I went for the 3 1/3rds of the guest kegs (more expensive than munro's) with the stand-out being the Double Joker IPA - a lot smoother than I remembered and very drinkable (read lethal) for 8.3%. However I do remember that they had the Marble Earl Grey IPA collaboration with Emelisse on a couple of weeks ago - it really was lovely stuff. It's also great to talk to the staff - they love their beer (and actually drink it) and if lucky, you also get a bit of an insight about what the Williams Brothers will be up to next.

I decided to leave Inn Deep through the windowed doors to the Kelvin walkway and passed a number of their outside tables (which I knew about) and also another archway full of tables, chairs and sofas (which I didn't know about) - these seem to be used mainly by cyclists and dog walkers.

I'd hoped to walk along the Kelvin walkway until the main section of Kelvingrove Park, but there's currently no direct access due to on-going maintenance and the building of ramps... I decided to head up to Gibson Street and then turn into University Avenue, the location of the Glasgow University Union. Although I went to Dundee University there were always a number of 'away' days to the GUU and I remember (most of them) fondly.

I rejoined Kelvin Park on Kelvin Way and having managed to miss a group of kids having scooter races down the hill I crossed the Kelvin yet again with the sight of the front of Kelvingrove Museum (i.e. the Kelvin Park side) just visible through the trees.

From here it was only a couple of minutes along the end of Sauchiehall Street and into Argyll Street to the modern glass, dark paint & brick facade of BrewDog Glasgow (Subway stop - Kelvinhall).

I do like pubs with views over the sea, lochs or mountains, but if you have to sit in a pub in the middle of a city then the view from BrewDog Glasgow opposite the Argyll Street entrance of Kelvingrove Museum is hard to beat - I could probably sit here all day and watch the world go by.

Inside the first impression is definitely one of sparse modernism - exposed brick, industrial metalwork & mirrors with lots of bench seats at the left hand side, sofas and tables at the front and they've also added in some more separate booth-type tables at the right hand wall where all the beer books & retro games are shelved (with a couple being in use today). The bar at the back right-hand corner is full of dark BrewDog keg fonts but it's brightened up with drawings on the BrewDog & Guest blackboards, Beer-of-the-Week notices (Maui Coconut Porter), a long-and-winding display of empty BrewDog bottles and lots & lots of bottled beer in the backlit fridges. It was an all female staff today and they really were fantastic (I blame Mr Bruce Gray's enduring influence on this). They were enthusiastic and quite happy to chat about the beers & any forthcoming events, and I just love the way they deal with new customers; a typical dialogue goes as follows - 'Gis us a beer' - 'What type of beer do you like' - 'Oh, just any beer' - 'Why don't you try this light beer, then perhaps this fruity one or this maybe this dark one and see which one you like' - 'Yeah ? Go on then' - glug, glug, glug... 'Brilliant - pint of that first one cheers, doll' - and so another possible convert is recruited.

I don't come in too often (even though I'm an original BrewDog shareholder), but when I'm here and by myself I tend to try the newly released Brewdog beers and now go through an 'order one ahead' routine for the 1/2 or 1/3rds glasses. This means the 2nd beer has slightly warmed up by the time I get to it and also had a bit of the fizz knocked out of it - it's just the way I tend to prefer kegged beer.

Today I tried the Lichtenstein Pale Ale (which had a good balanced bitterness, but was just a tad fizzy, note it was the 1st beer I had), Jack Hammer IPA (a good bitter/citrus aroma and initial taste, but an extremely bitter aftertaste) and then there was also the new version of Hello My Name is Ingrid to try. This Scandinavian Cloudberry-based beer was one of my favourites from a couple of years ago (I put this in my Golden Pints Best Bottled Beer of 2011) and I was really looking forward to trying it again. I'd have it say it had possibly a tad sharper fruit-flavour than before with a slight fizzy marzipan aftertaste which was quite interesting - really nice but perhaps not as superb as before (at least compared to the bottle - I'll definitely have to look out my last bottle of the first revision of Ingrid for comparison). It's also good to see that BrewDog are starting to take a lot more British (and Scottish) guest beers - on today were Mikkeller Porter & Schneider Weisse TAP7, but also Magic Rock Clown Juice and Brodies Hackney Red, and sightings of Cromarty AKA IPA & Williams Double Joker have also been made in the last few months.

On leaving BrewDog Glasgow I made my way further along Argyll Street, past the Kelvin Hall and across (yet another) bridge over the Kelvin heading for Partick Cross. Just over the bridge is the Rank Hovis factory, the last of Partick's many grain stores & mills, which still houses those amazing shaking machines for milling the grain.

At Partick Cross I found the resurrected Bruadar (see my blog from last year for details), looking very similar to the previous incarnation (although it seems to have acquired the moniker 'Newadar'). This afternoon it was quite busy, full of people trying out the 2 for 1 offer on the diverse burger choice that is advertised - hopefully a good sign for the future.
**See end of blog for Update**

It's no longer managed by the Fuller Thomson group but is operating independantly under a lease from Belhaven. There are still pretty well the same fixtures and fittings, but upstairs is closed and is likely only to be used for functions. The beer choice has certainly been limited compared to that in the old Bruadar's heyday, but it was quite OK today - Punk IPA, West Hefeweizen and a Bruadar (read Belhaven) House Lager on keg, with Williams March of the Penguins, Joker IPA, Black Sheep Bitter and Greene King Yardbird Crafted Ale on cask.

I decided to try my first cask beer of the day and went for a 1/2 of the Greene King Yardbird Crafted Ale. This is the first in a series of Crafted Ales from the brewer in Bury St. Edmonds (and parent company of Belhaven) and there's also meant to be a US music tie-in in these (this time Charlie Parker etc...). The Yardbird is meant to be a US-style Pale Ale, but it's not all that pale and it really only tasted like a less smooth and more bitter version of Greene King IPA, slightly chalky, perhaps with some added citrus and not very pleasant at all. What I can't be sure of is how much the Bruadar cellar has affected it - a lot of cask ale from old Bruadar and one of the first beers I had from this new Bruadar did have a variable quality (to say the least) and as the Yardbird did improve slightly as I finished the glass, I'll probably have to try this again to be sure.

It's definitely good to see Bruadar back (it's good to see any pub selling decent beer in these continuing difficult economic cirumstancs) but hopefully they can build on what they have at the moment to provide some more interesting beers. However it may be that there's just not the appetite from the management for this - sometimes playing 'somewhat' safe it is what is required to keep the cash-flow in the positive column.

Although I was tempted to finish my afternoon in the comfortable & familiar surroundings of the great Glasgow institution that is the Three Judges I decided instead to walk up Byres Road and further on to a small cluster of shops in the middle of Queen Margaret Drive to hopefully pick up a few interesting bottled beers at the recently opened Hippo Beers, the first specialist beer shop in Glasgow.

It's owned by beer enthusiasts Derek Hoy & Alec Knox and has only been open since late last November. From reading their blog, following their twitter feed and actually talking to the guys it's clear that opening up the shop of their dreams has been a time consuming, frustrating and expensive business but I have to say that I'm certainly really impressed about what they've achieved.

And the beer choice is by far the best in Glasgow as befits such as specialist shop (sorry Good Spirits Co & The Cave). There are some more expensive (and higer abv) beers from Thornbridge, Black Isle, Odell, Nøgne Ø, Mikkeller etc... at the front opposite the desk where I assume the guys can keep a look out for the odd Glasgow 'tea-leaf'...

... with a huge selection from Scotland, the rest of the UK, Belgium, Germany, the US & 'Everywhere Else' on the other shelves around the walls. The guys are quite happy to either offer advice or just stay stumm and let you make your own choice(s), but to-be-honest there are really no bad/boring beers on those shelves. They are certainly able to get a lot of the beers that are currently 'being talked about' on the various beer web-sites & blogs, and they're also a delivery stop for the majority of the new Scottish breweries (Cromarty, Tempest, Alechemy, Fallen, St Andrews etc...) when deliveries are being made to pubs in Glasgow.

Today I took away bottles of Red Willow Heartless, Old Dominion Oak-aged Stout, Bristol Beer Factory Seven, Arbor Motueka and a can of Snake Dog IPA for a forthcoming train journey - 5 really interesting beers that I'd never tried before.

And the best beer of the day? That actually came in the evening, Red Willow Heartless. A fantastic Chocolate Stout, with masses of cocoa powder on the aroma, and then a serious hit of dark chocolate & espresso coffee on the taste - lovely stuff and thanks Hippo Beers.

Beer choice and beer quality (esp. the cask) at Bruadar is getting a lot better - this was the blackboard on a busy Friday evening...
... and the Magic Rock High Wire was quite superb.

Bruadar closed in late April 2013 but has now re-opened under new management as the Inn @ The Cross. The beers are pretty well the same, but food will be changing to add more non-burger related meals (i.e. standard pub grub). They will also be opening te upstairs for Functions. Its twitter name is now @InnAtTheCross.

The Inn @ The Cross closed in September 2013; their last Tweet was a cry for help regarding 'bad treatment' for 'a lease from Iona' (Iona Pub Parternship/G1 I assume). Some might say that part of Partick Cross is 'cursed' but the site has now re-opened as of late October 2013 as The Butterfly and the Pig (West End). The decor has changed somewhat to match their city centre establishment, and the food choice/selection has certainly improved (lots of nice cakes too), but the beer choice was fairly (very) limited when I popped in one Saturday in early November, with only Punk IPA standing-out. Hopefully that will improve as all the draught taps are still present.

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