Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Forth Inn, Aberfoyle, goes 'forth' again: 11th May 2013

There's no doubt that it can be pretty tough running a pub, especially outwith the main cities & towns when you are very dependant on an uncertain mixture of seasonal, tourist, and weekend trade. Offering food is pretty well a necessity nowadays and if you want to provide some great real ales or even the odd 'craft keg' then it can be difficult to get deliveries and difficult to turn over beer during weekdays. The Forth Inn at Aberfoyle in the centre of the beautiful Trossachs always struck me as one of those 'country' pubs that was trying to do as much as possible right - friendly welcoming staff, good food for walkers & for restaurant dining, a number of local hand-pulled local beers, a good sized function room, regular events (karaoke, live music, food & beer festivals), big football matches live on the TV, inventive & regular use of social media etc... The last time I had been at The Forth Inn was in late September 2012 and I had really enjoyed my visit, but then last November they got hit by a 'once in a 100 years' flooding of the nearby River Forth. Thankfully I don't think they were ever close to packing-it-all-in, but re-decorating and re-opening must have been an incredibly difficult time for everyone concerned. So when The Forth Inn opened its doors again this week I thought the least I could was make the effort to go to Aberfoyle and see how they had got on.

View Aberfoyle in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Car: A81/A821 from Glasgow

It was on the 19th November last year after days of torrential rain that the normally quiet and meandering River Forth flooded - I don't think I'd realised how close the river and the flood plain are to Aberfoyle Main Street, the public car parks and the car park for The Forth Inn.

The river broke its banks just to the west of the town centre, flooded Aberfoyle Primary School and then continued all the way into Aberfoyle Main Street. This meant that that a large proportion of Aberfoyle was under up to 5 feet of water. Sand-bags were used, boats were required, people had to be rescued and when you see pictures such as those below with the car park of the Forth Inn full of dirty water you realise how serious this was.
(Pic from the Forth Inn Facebook pages)

After the waters had receded The Forth Inn put up a regular pictorial diary of what was happening and the progress they were making on their Facebook page. Obviously all the carpets throughout the building had to be replaced...
(Pic from the Forth Inn Facebook pages)

...as had all the majority of the tables & chairs. This was the main Wallace Bar during the drying-out phase.
(Pic from the Forth Inn Facebook pages)

They'd planned to re-open for Easter, then May 4th, then eventually opened again (for drinks only) on Tuesday May 7th. After a bit of a hiccup in re-connecting the gas supply, foods was then available from all menus on May 9th and the weekend of May 11th/12th was to be their first weekend of 2013. When I arrived just after midday on Saturday it seemed as if almost nothing had changed from my last visit (although after some overnight rain there did still seem to be a small amount of water pooling in the car park!).

The Forth Inn is a large two storey building with a slightly sloping roof and takes up most of a whole 'block' of Aberfoyle Main Street. They have a number of rooms available and some of these will have impressive views of Craigmore hill which stands guard over Aberfoyle from the north-west.

Also on the outside of the same block are a couple of interesting antique & curio shops.

The Wallace Bar occupies most of the front facing section of The Forth Inn. It's a bright, rustic bar with exposed brickwork walls, solid stone floors, lots of tables set around the outside (and a couple based on whisky barrels in the centre of the floor), an arched dividing doorway, old pictures dotted around the walls, pump-clips on the wooden beams and 2 separate serving arched serving areas for the bar. Quite a few of the tables today were being occupied by an Anglo-Danish wedding party about to depart for the magnificent Duchray Castle and they were certainly in high spirits, but there was also a steady stream of locals, tourists & walkers (& their dogs) - really good to see.

The last time I had been at the Forth Inn it was to seek out the first appearance of Loch Lomond Brewery's lovely Silkie Stout and I'd chatted a bit with landlord Phil Crowder about it and his other beers.

Phil was behind the bar again today and he mentioned a few things about the re-refurbishment, in particular how Belhaven had helped them by supplying new hand-pulls, fonts and new cask & keg beer lines to the cellar so he's keeping to Belhaven beers and those on the Belhaven guest list for the moment. Today there was Harviestoun Schiehallion, Belhaven 80/-, Cairngorm Wildcat & Inveralmond Indepedence available on the 7 hand-pulls, but they did lose 1 or 2 more as the afternoon wore on.

However Phil did mention that he'll certainly be holding another Forth Inn Beer Festival in the near future when there's time to plan this. There are now 7 hand-pull behind the bar and with plans to install another one, Phil thought a Beer Festival based on the 'Gallon-Drunk' principle would probably be a good idea. He's still keeping to his Scottish-only draught beer list so provides Belhaven Black in place of Guinness - it's another good way to interest/engage with the customers. There were also bottles of Thistly Cross Cider and probably the only non-Scottish beer I could spy were bottles of Budweiser Budvar & Corona.

The lunchtime bar food menu is more than acceptable with lots of pub standards, fresh fish and burgers as well baked tatties & paninis. I chose the 'famous' Forth Inn Steak Pie with meat supplied from the local Aberfoyle butcher's and both the steak & the gravy were certainly some of the tastiest I'd had for some time.

As I left I had a quick look at some of the other rooms. The other side of the front of the building splits into another fairly large restaurant area which was also full of hungry diners (service is really good considering the amount of people they must serve) and further into the centre of the Inn is a large room called 'The Gathering' - a seriously impressive function room which can hold 120 people in some style.

I left The Forth Inn thinking that everyone involved in its re-opening deserved a great Saturday night (there was some (probably messy) karaoke planned that evening) and here's hoping for a long, sunny summer for not only for The Forth Inn but all pubs & hotels in the Scottish countryside.

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