Wednesday, 4 December 2013

St Andrews on St Andrew's Day: 30th November 2013

I normally head to St Andrews in the Christmas/New Year period when I'm back in my home city of Dundee but I'd recently seen some social media chat about a new 'craft beer' pub about to open up in the town, a joint venture between Bob Phaff of the St Andrews Brewing Company (who brews some really good beers) and local businessman Tim Butler (who runs an award winning restaurant). It was therefore 'put into the diary' for a visit in few weeks time. However I then I noticed that this St Andrews Brewing Co. pub had actually opened last week and since this weekend just happened to coincide with both St Andrew's Day and the St Andrews Food & Drink Festival I decided that a spur-of-the-moment trip to St Andrews was worth the effort.


View St Andrews '13 in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Haymarket
             Haymarket to Leuchars
  Bus: Leuchars to St Andrews (Stagecoach in Fife 99, every 10 minutes)

After the tragic events at The Clutha bar the evening before it was in a pretty sombre mood that I started out from Glasgow on St Andrew's Day morning. I love the town of St Andrews but it's not the easiest place to get to from the west coast and even when I managed to get both my connections by mere minutes it was still almost 2 hours before I alighted at Leuchars train station. The frequent bus from Dundee then took me past Eden St Andrews Brewery in Guardbridge and although I was tempted to get off and see what they were doing for St Andrew's Day possible time pressures meant that I stayed on until St Andrews bus station. I first of all went up to 177 South Street to check on the St Andrews Brewing Co. pub premises (it was where I thought it would be, hooray!) and its opening times (1pm to 11pm this Saturday). This meant I had at least a bit of time to wander back down to the magnificent West Sands Beach area of St Andrews.

Of course the world famous St Andrews Old Course starts & finishes here with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club clubhouse located just behind the 1st Tee and the 18th Green.

It's normally only open to Club members (and male members at that, but I won't go there), but they've had a recent tradition of opening the clubhouse to the public on St Andrew's Day. Since it was St Andrew's Day and I was a member of the public I decided that such an opportunity had to be taken. As I entered the main foyer of the clubhouse pride of place in the trophy cabinet is a certain 'claret jug', also known as the Open Golf Golf Champion Trophy.

This is the original trophy (all the others including the one the winner keeps for a year are replicas) and I did check that Phil Mickelson's name was engraved on the base of the trophy. There were a couple of other rooms available to peruse, as expected they were full of portraits of famous golfers and not-so famous captains of the club, and there were lots of golfing memorabilia on display.

However it is the view out of the main drawing room windows down the 1st fairway with the Old Course Hotel in the background which is the most spectacular part of the building (and look at all those binoculars for use by the members).

As I left the R&A Clubhouse I went past the red-bricked Hamilton Grand building just up the street. This used to be a hotel and thereafter was part of the St Andrews University student residences. I remember some years ago that when Nick Faldo refused to play a shot to the 18th green due to fog, some students hung out a banner the next day asking 'SEE THIS ONE NICK?' - Mr Faldo was supposedly not amused. However the building was purchased by an American billionaire in 2009 and now the 26 luxury apartments with 'the best view in golf' can go for more than £7million each.

By now I was looking for somewhere to eat a lightish lunch and I did contemplate The Seafood Restaurant which just happens to be owned by none other than friendly local restaurateur Tim Butler (director in the St Andrews Brewing Co. pub).

The view at the water's edge almost persuaded me but I decided instead to head to the Scores Hotel at the top of the raised beach which as part of the St Andrews Food and Drink Festival was running a 'Pie Fest' as well as their normal menu.

The lower Chariots Bar was closed for the winter, but the upstairs Coffee Shop & Champions Grill Restaurant was open for business (if a bit quiet). The actual bar area is fairly small with only a few draught beer taps, with the walls covered with lots of pictures of golfers & celebrities who have obviously stayed at the hotel...

... but the main selling points for me were in the form of the view out to the beach from the windows and also the availability of bottles of beer from Eden St Andrews Brewery ('Would you like a lager, Sir', 'No - I'll have a local beer, thanks').

Pie Fest consisted of menu 5 different types (Mixed Game, Steak & Ale, Chicken Ham & Leek, Seafood & Roasted Winter Veg) so trying to be as local as possible I went for the East Neuk Seafood Pie with Savoy Cabbage & Bacon. As pies go it was certainly pretty good, full of smoked haddock & large prawns and topped with cheesy mashed tatties.

After quite an in-depth technical chat with one of the staff about Android phones and Operating Systems (a real first for me in a restaurant!) I headed back up to the town centre and popped into St Andrews Wine Company shop on Bell Street. This has only been open for just under a year (and the owner used to be a manager at Luvians, so must know what he's doing).

The have a reputation for always having a bottle of wine or beer open and today was no exception. The lovely Siobhan from Eden Brewery St Andrews was giving out samples of their 600th beer, celebrating 600 years of St Andrews University. This was a light golden beer flavoured with lime honey and also meadowsweet (a traditional flower used in beer making) from nearby Little Herb Farm. It was certainly very interesting with a floral aroma, an initial tart lime taste and then a very dry bitter-sweet finish. It certainly didn't take much persuading from Siobhan for me to buy a bottle.

The opening of the St Andrews Brewing Co. pub seemed to have been delayed for a bit (there were still boxes littering the floor, a dead give-away), so I decided that a visit to Aikman's Cellar Bar just down from the St Andrews Wine Company Shop would be a more than acceptable diversion.

On the ground level it's more of a bar/bistro type of place (the downstairs Cellar Bar doesn't normally open until past 6pm) and it seems to have been modelled somewhat on a cosy Dutch/Belgian café-bar. There's a lot of small tables, photos of St Andrews & some literary figures on the walls, gig posters, books & games on a number of shelves and on the wooden bar a good selection of draught continental beers (Bitburger Pils, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Duvel Green and Velkopopovický Kozel) and 3 hand-pulls (with only 2 available this afternoon, Black Sheep Bitter and Kelburn Red Smiddy). I actually went for the Duvel Green as I hadn't tried it on draught before and I quite enjoyed it as a somewhat easier drinking option to a normal Duvel so early in the afternoon.

Unusually there is also a separate pâtisserie counter next to the main bar, with loads of tempting cakes, cream-filled pastries, flapjacks, slices of gateaux etc... but I did (somehow) manage to hold myself back from buying anything.

By now the St Andrews Brewing Co. pub had opened their doors (hooray!). In its previous life it was Chillies Indian Restaurant, but now the windows are full of malt, hops and lots of bottles of St Andrews Brewing Co. beer.

First impressions are of a fairly wide front area at the windows which then extends into a quite long & narrow ground floor space reaching out a fair distance back into the rear of the building. There's a lot of wood here - the polished floor, the sweeping bar counter, the panels below the bar, wooden barrels being used as tables, wooden stools and a dense mass of dark wood beams, but it all works well with the exposed brick-work walls and the bright halogen spotlights.

It's only when you get closer that you see how stunning that oak(?) bar counter actually is. Originally part of the same tree it's now 5 pieces (I think, because of the hatch) and it just flows wonderfully along the length of the bar.

I wasn't the first one in that afternoon, a large group celebrating a Birthday had beaten me to it and were ordering quite a few 1/3rds of beer, but that allowed me to peruse the really quite substantial beer board consisting of 8 cask and 8 keg beers (and I didn't even get to the 70+ bottled beers in the fridge). To be honest I don't think there's anything like this in Scotland outside Edinburgh (and in particular The Hanging Bat), and they also have also decided to go with the Bat's policy of not supplying full pint measures, it was 2/3rds or 1/3rds only (although I'm not sure about 1/2s, I didn't ask). It would perhaps have been good to have both a small description/style and a price on the blackboard (probably another one would be required), but you can get around the first by asking the more than patient bar-staff for some help and a sample, and the second by buying either 3x 1/3rds for £5, or 5x 1/3rds for £7.50 (under 7% beers only) and if you don't want them all at once you just get your receipt marked up as you go. (You can now follow @STABCoTaps for details of what's on the taps).

I recognised a lot of the breweries & beers on tap since it's the New Wave people who supply a fair amount of these (as they do for the Hanging Bat, the Fuller-Thomson pubs, as well as Munro's and Inn Deep in Glasgow), but there's (doh!) a lot of St Andrews Brewing Co. beers available (and some pub-only specials forthcoming) and also some beers from other Fife microbreweries. Today Beeches Brewery Bock Biere was available and John Reade from the Abbot Brew House in Dunfermline was bringing a cask of his Adventuress over that afternoon. First off I decided to go with the St Andrews Mocha Porter, a lovely dark chocolate & cocoa porter with a hint of chilli heat that went really well on keg, and with drink(s) sorted I asked permission to take a few photos and headed off to explore the rest of the pub whilst it was still relatively quiet (by 8pm the place is meant to be totally stowed). There's a fair amount of more comfortable seating at the front windows (and a chessboard table which I liked) with all the tables having converted beer bottle candle holders and lots of artwork from Susan McGill who does the distinctive label design for the St Andrews Brewing Co. bottles.

And then upstairs opens out into an almost Bier-Halle type of place, long and narrow again with wooden benches and a huge fireplace, although from what I was told the halogen spotlights give out a fair amount of heat themselves.

There's also a more secluded room upstairs, which is planned to be used for functions, tastings, meet-the-brewer events etc...

At the moment they don't do any food, but it seems they will be trying out Scottish/Spanish Tapas style bar snacks in the next few days or so (a good choice and something that will make people drink more beer). The man himself, Mr Bob Phaff was at Kirkcaldy Farmer's Market today so I couldn't speak to him directly but he is planning to move his brewery out of Glenrothes in the New Year and into far larger premises in the Bassaguard Industrial Estate close to the centre of St Andrews (probably less than a mile from the pub). So that really will be the St Andrews Brewing Company brewing in St Andrews, great to see! In the couple of hours that I was there I was mightily impressed with the place and the concept - there's been a lot of thought and hard work involved and within a short amount of time the St Andrews Brewing Co. pub could easily turn out to be one of the best pubs for beer lovers in Scotland.

After a few more excellent beers from Lovibonds and Moor (both keg and cask) I needed to start heading back to Glasgow but had just about enough time to walk up to Luvians Bottle Shop past a small fairground, a market and a stage being setup for the Christmas lights switch-on at 6pm. As always in Luvians there was a great selection of bottled beer and I also managed to snag a few 'craft cans' for the train journey home.

Return travel:-
  Bus: St Andrews to Leuchars (Stagecoach 99, every 10 minutes but beware the roadworks in St Andrews at the moment)
  Train: Leuchars to Haymarket
             Haymarket to Glasgow Queen

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