Sunday, 14 April 2013

A beery walk around Pitlochry: 14/15th April 2013

We'd decided to stay in the lovely town of Pitlochry for a few days away - Perthshire is definitely one of my favourite places to visit. I think I'd been to the town a couple of times as a kid, and once for a fleeting visit a few years back, but it seemed like a fairly interesting place for a short break. It was always going to be quite touristy, but I was assuming it wasn't going to be as chaotically busy in April as it would be in the height of summer. From a beer point-of-view the Tayside CAMRA website was invaluable when deciding which of the numerous eating & drinking establishments in the town to possibly visit over the course of a couple of days.


View Pitlochry Town in a larger map

On our first night we decided to splash out a bit and eat at The Auld Smiddy Inn, literally only 20 metres from where we were staying (definitely no need for a taxi then!). The main entrance is in the centre of two buildings, with the larger bar & bothy restaurant at the front and the more formal restaurant in an out-building at the rear, and to top it all off there's a beer garden at the front.

It's quite a long central bar (though with no bar stools), with a fair number of tables at the front and also some comfy chairs and tables dotted about if you're only in for a drink. The bothy restaurant is quite modern & informal, with a decent fireplace and a blackboard displaying all the specials - these were slowly rubbed-off as the evening progressed (which I always take as a good sign that it's worthwhile choosing them).
(Interior pic from the Auld Smiddy web-site)

There are 2 hand-pulls at the bar, though only one was ever available this weekend. Initially this was Inveralmond Thrappledouser, but this tasted only just about OK (and never really cleared) and finished soon after I had ordered my first pint. Thankfully Inveralmond Lia Fail came on immediately afterwards, a lovely dark amber, dark berry ale in (hooray!) great condition. The food was excellent as well - I had the Flat Iron Steak (from the specials board, not too tough at all), and then the Poached Pair with some fabulous Passion Fruit Ice Cream. And the service was excellent - attentive, chatty, very good indeed.

I decided to go on a (vaguely) circular tour of some of the pubs of Pitlochry and headed directly south from the High Street under a very narrow railway bridge and came across a large amusement arcade and an impressive putting green - there aren't too many of these about nowadays in Scotland and this seemed to be very challenging (i.e. not flat!).

I followed the road towards the river and this took me into a large park-type area and then onto the high section of Pitlochry Dam. Here only the main spillway was open (but with still quite an impressive flow), but on Sunday morning (after a lot of overnight rain) the main blue sluice gates were also open and the noise was incredible.

On the other side of the river is the Fish Ladder built to allow salmon to return to their breeding drounds further up the River Tummel. It was definitely the wrong season for them today.

Following the path on the other side of the river I came to the Pitlochry Festival Theatre, fairly quiet at the moment, but in the late spring & summer they put on a quite amazing number of plays, concerts, musicals and other productions - it's justly world-famous.

The large bar area in the theatre does have a single hand-pull available dispensing an Inveralmond beer (here Thrappledouser) - a vast improvement on the majority of concert or gig venues that I've been to.

Slightly further on is a stunning riverside restaurant & pub, the Port Na Craig Inn & its associated Fisherman's Bar (and another contender Scotland's Oldest Pub). This was being set-up for a private function when I walked past so I didn't get the chance to have a look around - in the sunshine this must a fantastic place for a few beers.

I then walked across the pedestrian bridge over the Tummel (there was a nice 'bounce' to this bridge but I'm not sure I'd want to be on it with too many other people) and headed back up to Pitlochry High Street. Just before yet another narrow railway bridge is Drummond's with a cracking terraced beer garden and some Cairngorm bottled beers.

Back on the High Street there are a huge number of other place to eat and drink. For our final night we chose Café Biba where the Chilli (with extra jalapeños) was great, as was the home baking (a huge sticky Rocky Road) and it was all washed down with a bottle of Inveralmond Ossian.
(Exterior pic from the Cafe Biba web-site)

I'd heard that the bar of the Fisher Hotel had a hand-pull, but there were always too many people hanging around the entrance (smoking & not smoking) for my liking, so instead I went further up the High Street and into a small side lane to the Old Mill Inn.

On this Saturday evening the place was absolutely packed, it was easily the busiest place I went into. There were people still having food at tables near the entrance, and a large crowd had gathered to listen to a decent covers band playing The Who, Led Zep and the like - they were pretty good. On at the bar was certainly the best selection of beer I'd seen in Pitlochry - Cairngorm Winter Flurry, Orkney Dark Island and Strathbraan Due South - the latter being a real bonus since I'd only had their Due East before. This was a nice bitter Pale Ale with a good bitter/sweet balance and very welcome indeed. There was also Old Mill House Lager on keg, but I couldn't find out who had brewed this for them. It was just a bit too busy for me (at least on my own) so I left after a single pint, but I did manage it make it back the next afternoon. By now it was somewhat (a lot) quieter and they'd also added Orkney's behemoth of a beer, the award-winning Skull Splitter to the range on the hand-pulls. I sensibly took only a 1/2 pint of this (at £2.25 for a 1/2, not bad for 8.5% beer) and initially sat on the comfy seats next to the fireplace.

However I quickly decided it was a decent enough day to sit outside on the terracing next to the quietly spinning water mill - there are not too many opportunities when you get to do this!

Almost next to the Old Mill Inn is an excellent off-licence, drinkmonger, run by the same people who own Royal Mile Whiskies. As well as the obligatory selection of standard and rare whiskies they have a very nice selection of interesting and differnt bottled beer, both from the UK and abroad. I was able to pick up bottles of Ilkley Stateside IPA, Wild Card Jack of Clubs, Kernel Pale Ale Columbus Tomahawk Zeus and others - definitely recommended if you're in Pitlochry.

That was about it for Pitlochry itself but on Sunday afternoon I decided to walk the short distance up the hill to Moulin. About half-way is the fairly large Craigvrack Hotel, blessed with great views over Pitlochry. I'd hoped for a couple of different ales here, but there was only one beer on the two possible hand-pulls, Timothy Taylor Landlord, so I gave it a miss a resumed my climb up the hill. It wasn't too long before I came into Moulin where the whitewashed Moulin Hotel and adjoining Moulin Inn are located in the centre of the small village.

I really only wanted to visit the Inn so I entered the low arched door to find the warm, cosy bar. This really is a nice, welcoming, traditional place, busy on a Sunday afternoon with lots of people out for food, and others happy to (mostly) stand in the bar and chat away. The most striking feature of the bar is the large painting of Moulin and the surrounding countryside just above the roaring fire (it was putting out an incredible amount of heat!) at the back of the bar. (Note that I took these pictures on Monday afternoon after visiting Moulin Brewery across the road.)

There's also a mass of old, new, foreign (and I assume) counterfeit notes displayed around the bar - on walls, in display boards, hanging up above & behind the long bar, as well as water jugs, whisky bottles and the odd gold club and dishing rod - these (and the occasional dog) all add to the atmosphere of the place.

Food is available all day and is meant to be very good, with lots of specials available and plenty of tables available in rooms adjacent to the bar.

As for the Moulin Brewery beers (all 4 are available on the bar) - I was tad disappointed with some of them (see my comments here), but they're quite OK and more than drinkable as traditional Scottish beers and, in any case, there is a superb pub to drink them in.

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