I don't get down to the south-west of Scotland too often, it's not the easiest place to get to by public transport and, to-be-honest, there are some, but not that many interesting pubs selling 'good' beer. However this weekend one of the better ones, The Blue Bell Inn in Annan, was hosting its annual Beer Festival which meant I could visit a nearby microbrewery (Andrews Ales) and also drop into The Blue Bell for 1 or 2 (or more) festival beers on the way back.
View Annan in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Central to Carlisle
Carlisle to Annan
Annan is on the train line from Glasgow Central through Dumfries to Carlisle, but this journey from Glasgow somehow takes over 2 hours to complete. Instead it's far quicker to take the high-speed Virgin train to Carlisle and then head back to Annan via Gretna Green. Arriving at Annan train station I'd just missed the hourly bus to Dumfries so I decided to follow National Cycle Route 7 and walk to the village of Cummertrees where Andrews Ales is based. This took me across the River Annan via the new footbridge south of the town centre, well used today by a steady stream of runners out in the midday sun.
After this I followed the cycle path under the railway bridge when I should have turned right onto a minor road. I retraced my steps fairly quickly and although this B-road was eventually re-joined by the Cycle Route 7 there was no pavement for virtually all of the 2 mile walk (grrrr...) and I had to jump onto the the grass verge on a number of occasions. The pavement returned at Cummertrees primary school on the outskirts of the village and just along from the school I came across an astonishing row of houses at Queensberry Terrace.
These reminded me of holiday homes I had seen in Southport last year - they were all on 3 levels (with up to 7 bedrooms), had huge windows, large gardens (some with hanging lanterns), ornate balconies and all faced faced due south with (I assume) fantastic views over to the Solway Firth. I later found out that they were part of a development that was planned to stretch right up to the Solway foreshore (including a Blackpool style Esplanade), but the developers simply ran out of money. A couple are now B&Bs catering for sports activities (in particular fishing) and one was offering freshly caught salmon for sale (tempting, but it would never have lasted the journey back to Glasgow).
Andrews Ales is located at the residence of owner & brewer Andrew Emmerson, the give-away being the number of empty casks sitting outside on the driveway.
Andrew met me and was kind enough to spend quite a bit of time showing me around his setup - as always beer people are great. Having started brewing in 2010 the majority of the brewkit has been installed in Andrew's spacious garage - it's compact & bijou and has grown organically from his early homebrew days. The Mash Tun was bought from PBC but Andrew added the sparge arm himself.
The copper is/was part of an old metal chocolate container into which Andrew has installed the dual heating elements.
After the boil the wort is transferred through a heat exchanger to either a large Stainless Steel fermenter or one of the smaller plastic fermenters.
Andrew only uses hop flowers for all of his beers and for a couple of these he dry-hops at the end of the fermentation - interestingly he thinks this adds a fair amount to the bitterness (a bit of bite) as well as to the aroma.
After fermentation the beers are then left to condition for a week. He has experimented with longer conditioning times, and the beer is meant to taste better, but it's just too expensive and time consuming to do all the time. Bottling is done by hand (brown bottles only) and his recommendation is to leave any bottles in a dark cupboard for a month or so before drinking (difficult to do with any bottled beer).
A further shed (1 of 2) stores the casks and the bottles - with all the shiny insulation it's fairly easy to cool or heat this smaller space to the correct temperature.
Andrew explained that there are not many outlets (at all) in the local area so most of the casks and bottles go to Northern England, in particular the free-holds of Cumbria. At the moment it's all still part time, but in a few years Andrew thinks it might be feasible to go full time (but he's not sure if actually wants to do this). He produces 4 or 5 regular beers, he's been experimenting with fruit beers (these take a lot of real fruit) and this year he's collaborated with Waulkmill Cider to produce a couple of varieties of Snakebites. He's an interesting, knowledgeable guy (who has also been helping out at the Beer Festival at The Blue Bell Inn), and it was a pleasure to chat to him for such a length of time.
I then took my leave of Andrew, had a bit of a wander around Cummertrees and waited for the hourly bus back into Annan. I would really have liked to have had a walk down from Annan town centre to the River Solway estuary, but time pressure meant that I couldn't really afford it. Instead I had a look at the imposing Town Hall...
...where in 2010 a statue of Robert the Bruce was finally installed to watch over the town holding both Sword (representing the Soldier) and a Scroll of the Declaration of Arbroath (representing the Statesman).
Just along from the Town Hall and before the road bridge over the River Annan is The Blue Bell Inn, with the eponymous bell in distinctive contrast to the dark red sandstone building (I wonder if it still works ?).
I went in from the main road and found a large building with lots of interior wood panelling, a long central bar at the back wall with 4 hand-pulls, quite a number of shields & medals proudly displayed above the bar...
...seating areas at the front right with lots of photos & prints of old Annan...
...and a games area (with pool table & dartboards) at the front left.
It was pretty quiet in the bar itself so I took the steps down to the the large courtyard area at the rear of the building which had been setup for the Beer Festival over the weekend.
This was fairly busy even mid-afternoon (without both the Annan Athletic football supporters and the bands that would be playing later on), but it wasn't a problem to exchange cash for laminated beer tokens and then head to the 2 serving 'windows' which were separately dispensing both (a lot of) cider and a choice of about 20 casks of beer.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were allowing the beer to be purchased in 1/3rd pint taster glasses so that meant I could sample more than I thought before having to rush off for the train. There were a couple of local beers (Andrews Ales Sporran Lifter and Strathaven Ginger Jock), but most were from Lancashire or Yorkshire, with the Fyne Ales Feast Collaboration Black Ale also available. I certainly enjoyed the Worsthrone Old Trout (a slightly peaty red rye ale) and the biscuity, sherbety citrus of Arkwright's Tarquin Fin tim lin bin whin bim lim bus stop F’tang F’tang Ole Biscuitbarrel (crazy name (from Monty Python), not a bad beer).
I also managed to try an Elderberry Ale from the Glebe House Winery in Ecclefechan (between Lockerbie & Gretna). They normally only produce wines made from seasonal ingredients (and sell the bottles at the local South-West Farmers Markets in Dumfries and Moffat), but in addition have provided a beer for the Blue Bell Inn Beer Festival for the last few years. The Elderberry Ale was very sweet, almost completely flat, and had some definite red wine tones (not really my type of beer) but it certainly was interesting to try. I did manage a quick chat with the owner and it seems there will be a Nettle Beer available in the next few weeks so I took the opportunity to mention a couple of up-and-coming Beer Festivals (Paisley and Troon) to him. As a final act I purchased a couple of bottles (PET, not glass) of the aforementioned Andrews Ales/Waulkmill Cider collaborations for later consumption (both very nice indeed). As I walked back down to the train station I could tell the train hadn't arrived by the large throng still drinking outside the Station House pub, but since the choice was (extremely) limited I decided I could wait until Carlise for a beer.
Bus: Cummertrees to Annan (79 Stagecoach Cumberland, 40 on the hour)
Train: Annan to Carlisle
Carlisle to Glasgow Central