Thursday, 20 February 2014

Along the Shore at Leith: 15th February 2014

As always it's great to see beers from a new Scottish brewery. I'd had a lovely spicy lemongrass-infused wit beer called Iced Tea Ale from the very new Leith-based Pilot Beer a couple of weeks ago, been well impressed, and so decided it was worthwhile seeking them out whilst in Edinburgh this weekend (see the Beercast for further details on their initial setup). This would also let me visit a few (more) pubs down on the waterfront between Leith and Granton/Newhaven, a partial update of a blog from a couple of years ago.

View Leith Shore in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Waverley (every 15 minutes)

It was a bit of a dreich trudge down from Waverley Station to the foot of Leith Walk (I could have taken the bus, but that would be cheating and the wind was at least blowing me in the right direction). I had some spare time before I was going to meet the Pilot Beer guys so I decided to head to the Vintage, recently listed as one of the Top 50 Gastropubs in the UK (and 2nd in Scotland) - congrats guys!

Gastropub or not, the Vintage also has a fantastic selection of beer and have been very supportive of Pilot Beer, their 'very' local brewery. They took Pilot's first cask and now have a permanent line from them on. Today this was dispensing their Vienna Pale, a lovely smooth lager brewed with Vienna malt, finishing dry, bitter & slightly sour from the copious amounts of Saaz hops (so that was 2 from 2, good batting so far). I could only try a 1/2 of this before heading off but I did manage to enter a competition that the Vintage were running to win a brewday at the new Drygate Brewery in Glasgow where the Vintage (Glasgow) is also due to be located - interesting times as well at the western end of the M8. On leaving the Vintage it was only a 5 minute walk to the unit on busy Jane Street Industrial Estate where Pilot Beer are currently operating out of. The outside of the unit is a bit non-descript (to say the least) but leaving casks (or anything else) lying about would probably not be a good idea.

One half of Pilot Beer, Pat Jones, met me and showed me inside (and many thanks for opening up on a Saturday; as usual beer people are great). At the front there's a small office, some beer signs, a whole load of beer casks from the wholesaler they're giving some storage space to (and who will help distribute their own beer) but this gives way to the appealing sight of the 5BBL brewkit from McCowans, originally setup and used (though not in the recent past) at Fountainbridge. I remember walking past this many times and thinking ("why is this not being used"), and it seems that someone in the Spirit Pub Co. empire finally took notice of this anomaly as well. Pat and his business partner Matt were able to get wind of the sale of the kit and having made an initially low-entry offer were still able to pick up the full kit-and-kaboodle for a more than decent price. After some 'slight' re-engineering (all performed by their own fair hands) they were able to get the combined Mash Tun & Hot-Liquor-Tank (2nd from the front) connected to the Copper (nearest the camera)... well as the 3 Fermenting Vessels (which they've had to partially insulate to keep the temperature stable during fermentation) and the Bright-Beer Tank.

They dry-hop in the Fermenting Vessels with some of the particulates accumulating in the conical bottom (which can harden to concrete like consistency), even with the help of these pieces of technical equipment (spotted on their twitter feed, which initially confused me immensely until Pat explained their use).

Finally there's the chiller and the cask washer, the latter 'on loan' from their alma-mater of Heriot Watt.

So far they've only done 10 brews resulting in 4 different beers (the 2 I've mentioned and the addition of a spicy IPA and a Moccachino Milk Stout) but they've also been looking at 'historic' recipes from the Scottish Brewing Archive Association and a beer using 'local' foraged ingredients (scurvy grass, laver/seaweed, crab apples, a herb called black loveage, juniper branches & sea buckthorn) - interesting ! With a lot of their distribution being done by their neighbouring wholesaler it means that they've been able to concentrate on the actual brewing and also think about future plans, in particular adding more Fermenting Vessels and also getting their beers bottled (there are a number of bottling lines in larger breweries nearby). I did ask about the 'other' Leith brewery which has been teasing the twitter timelines, Liquid Brewery, but apart from a short visit last year Pat had no real further information (a crowdfunded 12BBL plant has been mooted). It was great to see a couple of guys 'living their dream' and I look forward to trying a lot more of their beers. On leaving Pilot Beer I headed past the Vintage (again), the Malt and Hops (normally an impressive beer selection) and down towards the Leith shore. The amount of restaurants & bars set in and around the converted warehouses of Commercial Quay is incredible, but I guess they must do a good trade from the new residential developments and the nearby extensive offices of the Scottish Government.

Walking in amongst these I did (briefly) think about trying either The Kitchin (Williams Brothers, Stewart & WEST beers) or Bond No.9 (Blue Moon, cocktails) for lunch but decided I just didn't have enough cash; Christmas was still being paid off.

Instead I decided on Teuchters Landing, just outside the Quay at its very east end. I'd spent a lot of time at their William Street sister establishment (just plain old Teuchters) before and after Scotland rugby games in recent years and I was sure I was going to be able to get some decent beer and some good food.

And here was an interesting feature outside their front door - an Innis & Gunn oak-aged barrel (really?). Actually I was quite surprised it hadn't been set on fire (or at least been graffiti-ised) by certain members of the Edinburgh beer fraternity.

Inside there's a small bar area on the right-hand side primarily for ordering and standing, with the bar layout & gantry setup in a similar fashion to Teuchters in William St. with a brightly-lit, twinkling backdrop, lots of bottles of malts & liquors set behind, fridges full of interesting bottled beer and the cask & keg fonts lined up in front. On the left-hand side there are a few tables & a sofa (just the one I think), lots of whisky barrel ends & rugby paraphernalia on the bare walls (& ceiling) and then there are a lot more tables & benches in the nooks & crannies further into the building, with the furthest away having great views over Leith harbour and the 'pontoon' beer garden. There is also a more formal large restaurant across the courtyard which must be relatively new since it seemed to confuse a lot of people this afternoon.

On the taps today were Alechemy Citra Burst on keg and Inveralmond Ossian, Deuchers IPA, Taylor's Landlord, Fyne Ales Jarl, Highland Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout and Scottish Borders Flower of Scotland all on hand-pull, the latter beer re-named as Red Rose for trade south of the border, a nice marketing ploy. And the Flower of Scotland was just fine, a well-bodied citrusy Best Bitter. They cater for hungry people all day, with breakfasts from 10:30am, have a 'Mug Menu' for snacks and also a range of more standard pub food, but today I was happy to just go with a large mug of Beer Mac-n-Cheese, complete with smoky bacon bits.

I actually like both the Teuchters places a lot, they serve good food, have a great selection of beer and the staff know how to operate the bar (even when absolutely packed), but rather than feed my Fyne Ales Jarl habit, I decided I needed to head to my next destination. Instead of walking along the industrialised part of Leith waterfront I decided to head up the Water of Leith for a bit. It's far more tranquil than the main road, although the new residential & commercial developments are still present for some distance.

However there are a few interesting features, in particular I found a couple of inscriptions set into the pathway, including this one which seemed fairly apt in relation to our incredibly wet winter of 2013/14.

I eventually took a steep set of steps up to a small park/play area and then further onto the main thoroughfare of Ferry Road. Just off here, at South Fort Street, I hoped to find a beer at The Village, but although it seemed a decent enough place with lots of music & quiz nights forthcoming, the single hand-pull was unused and in fact 'broken' when I enquired about it - sigh...

This meant a walk all the way down North Fort Street until I reached the main road between Leith and Newhaven. Here I passed a couple of interesting places (The Annfield and the Famous Peacock Inn), but I decided I could wait until the Harbour Inn, (unsurprisingly) set directly across from the harbour and the old fishmarket at Newhaven.

It was a pretty quiet place mid-afternoon but at the dark wood panelled bar there was Inveralmond Ossian alongside Belhaven IPA on hand-pull, as well some draught Fürstenberg (which is definitely becoming a more frequently seen sight).

The bar area is pretty small, has more dark wood and sanded floor-boards, with only 2 tables at the window and 3-4 bar stools, but there's a lounge/function room which seems to extend a fair distance into the rear of the building. I sat down at one of the tables with my Ossian and took in all the nautical bric-a-brac - sepia pictures of clippers & steamers, lighthouses, displays of knots, a couple of steering wheels and lots of coloured glass. In particular I liked all the maps and nautical charts on the ceiling and the olde-worlde atlas-type maps on the tables.

Across the road from the Harbour Inn the long, extensive buildings of the old fishmarket were initially turned into a massive Harry Ramsden's, but they are now (mostly) a Loch Fyne Seafood Bar and Restaurant. Whilst I was there a fishing boat had come in to land its catch and it's also good to see that Welch Fishmongers still operates out of the old museum building in the complex.

I headed further west, now exposed to a strong wind coming off the Forth, and bypassed the Starbank Inn (great views) since I wanted to make it to the sanctuary of the Old Chain Pier.

It used to be the ticket office for ships moored at the pier alongside, but the pier was wrecked in a storm and never rebuilt and the last time I was here the place was closed (with its reputation pretty well wrecked as well after years of mismanagement). However it has been completely refurbished and re-opened in May 2012 to some excellent reviews. I headed in through the main door and noted the 3 distinct sections - a mezzanine area at the left filled with seats and tables (which can also be hired out), a fairly narrow bar area with a ceiling covered with nautical charts (similar to the Harbour Inn), long hanging lights, lots of clocks, a couple of centrally located whisky barrel tables and more seats & tables at the large windows facing the Forth, and finally a large conservatory restaurant further through into the right-hand section of the building. At the bar I was really glad to see a good selection of beers on the hand-pulls, including Alechemy's Onyx, a strong Black IPA with a lot of dark chocolate, an almost stout-like body and a very piney, bitter finish - lovely, but lethal stuff indeed.

Also at the bar were lots of very tempting cakes & biscuits, bags of popcorn & crisps, a serious looking coffee/espresso machine and something called Amarri on a shiny keg font, which I thought was going to be some sort of Italian lager, but actually turned out to be a sparkling Prosecco wine - which just shows how much (read, little) I know about wine.

Even mid-afternoon the place was really busy; I managed to snag the last table sandwiched away at the side and there was a steady stream of meetings-and-greetings, with small children, babies in buggies (and their parents) in and out of the conservatory. The food here is now meant to be very good (with lots of fish specials) but one of the main attractions is the panoramic view out to the Forth and across to Fife - it must be great at sunset and even today the vista out to the huge Western Harbour development at Newhaven was impressive.

Struggling somewhat after my 6.5% pint of Onyx I headed back inland and up to the Canonmills area of Edinburgh where the BeerHive awaited. As usual there was a great selection of interesting beer available (I managed to get a lot of new Tryst & Alechemy bottles) but thankfully their fabled keggerator wasn't operating - I don't think I would have made it back to Waverley Station if it had been.

Return journey:-
  Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street (every 15 minutes)

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Linlithgow to Bo'ness: 25th January 2014

It's always good to see pubs and hotels either opening up or being refurbished, not at all an easy or risk-free proposition in these tough economic times. This weekend, on Burns Night (OK, it was actually daytime), I decided to head to Linlithgow and Bo'ness where there were a number of relatively new establishments to have a wander between.

View Linlithgow 2014 in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Linlithgow (15, 45 on the hour)

It didn't take me long to come to the first of said establishments - at the bottom of the hill from Linlithgow train station I found the restored Star & Garter Hotel. This 18th Century former townhouse & railway workers dormitory was engulfed by fire in 2010, with the interior completely destroyed and really only the shell of the building remaining.

Since then it has gone through an almost £1Million rebuilding & refurbishment and opened (after some teething Council-related issues) last November. As well as the main bar and the updated hotel rooms they've added a more modern coffee shop to the rear of the building.

I went in and really wanted to sit down for lunch and a beer but the 5 hand-pulls were substantially depleted, with only Deuchars IPA and Taylor's Landlord available, so was I going to stay and have lunch ? I decided not; there were too many other options in Linlithgow. However on the way back from Edinburgh the next weekend I stopped off in Linlithgow to try The Star and Garter again. This time they had 4 beers available on the hand-pulls, with Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Arran Blond available alongside a couple of Caley beers.

The main area at the front is really quite big with enough space for groups of people standing up at the bar and there's also a large number of tables at the front windows. The left side is quieter and more setup for food, whereas the right side leads off into a smaller section with a number of comfy sofas.

Upstairs there is a small room with a cracking pool table and what was that up on the wall? Only a signed shirt from Liverpool's Steven Gerrard - c'mon The 'Pool!

Their web-site does make reference to a proposed on-site micro-brewery but I'm guessing they want to get established first as a profitable concern before branching out in that direction. On the whole I was impressed about the way the place has been refurbished and I certainly couldn't fault the friendly service. Back on my search for lunch on Burns Night/Day I decided to wander along Linithgow High Street to another newly renovated pub, the Auld Hole In The Wall.

However a quick look through the window here indicated just Deuchars IPA available; so far this wasn't turning out to be that much of a successful trip. I could have gone into The Four Marys, a more than decent Belhaven pub which I'd been into quite often, but decided instead to walk along to the west end of the High Street. By now a mizzly cold rain had started and so I decided that my next and probably final possibility in Linlithgow was going to be the refurbished West Port Hotel. It's now owned by Maclay Inns who had spent £400K on a re-vamp of the place in August.

Again I managed a quick look through one of the windows and although the beer choice didn't seem that great the huge shards of half-frozen rain/sleet coming down drove me inside. It's a very long, narrow place with lots of different seating areas (some separated by frosted screens) and the bar at the very far end. The decor, the stripped back bare walls, the black-and-white pictures and the lighting very much reminded me of another Maclay's place, DRAM! in Glasgow, and I certainly liked the large hanging downlights at the bar.

I took a pint of Taylor's Golden Best (Caley 80/- and Taylor's Landlord were the other choices), a decent light citrusy bitter, ordered from the Burns Night set menu and waited on my main course. The staff were attentive, knew how to seat people and just generally nice and chatty. When it came my haggis, neeps & tatties was a bit of a surprise from a presentation point-of-view, but the haggis was peppery & had a great texture and the thick onion gravy really went well with it.

And since it was Burns Night/Day I decided to push-the-boat-out and try dessert; well it was Cranachan with loads of tart raspberries, sweet honey, oat flakes and masses of thick double cream (no skooshy stuff here) - it was pretty (OK, very) fabulous.

All told I was really quite glad that I'd stopped here for lunch (apart a couple of foibles with the bill, it's always worth checking and querying). When I emerged blinking from the West Port it had just about stopped raining/sleeting, but I decided that walking to Bo'ness via a couple of wet B-roads and muddy farm tracks was probably not a good idea. Instead I got onto the 46 bus opposite the side entrance of the West Port and stayed on until the Kinneil Estate stop on Bo'ness' Provost Road. From here I walked up the long driveway towards Kinneil Museum. It's open all year round with interactive exhibits about the area's long & colourful history and a small (but perfectly formed) gift shop. Today they were having an RSPB event, with the kids (and parents) tasked to identify as many species of avian life as possible (I think there were really only gulls, lots of low flying gulls about - see the next few photos).

Further on into the estate is Kinneil House, a mansion used by James VI of Scotland. The place is not occupied and now under the care of Historic Scotland, but there are certain days when the interior rooms and restored paintings can be viewed.

After circling the House I managed to cross a small burn by the walls of a flooded bridge and then squelched my way through some common parkland and away from the attentions of some (admittedly cute) young greyhound pups to the remains of a Roman Fort. Only the entranceway to the fort has been uncovered, the other markers really only show the extent of it. The fort was situated in the lee of the Antonine Wall which ran through what is now the Kinneil Estate but there are no real visible signs of the Wall anywhere in the Estate.

On leaving the Kinneil Estate I was able to clean my boots in one of the many large puddles and headed down to the main road into Bo'ness. After 15 minutes or so of walking I came to the Corbie Inn. I've been a few times now and it always looks inviting - food & beer boards out on the pavement, hanging baskets of flowers outside and it just looks generally well maintained and somewhere you'd want to spend a few hours.

Since I was last in they've managed to get a beer garden installed at the back of the pub (I don't think there will be views of the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway Line through the trees, but you should certainly be able to hear the trains and smell the smoke & steam). The restaurant extension at the front is still to be done (and will be a big job) but hopefully they'll manage that in the next few years.

I arrived at the end of the lunchtime service and the staff were just getting their breath back (it does seem to be very busy, good to see). They always ask if you want to sample the beer first, so I tried the Tryst Cascade Pale Ale and it was fine (as I fully expected) - light and mouth-puckeringly dry & citrusy. It was also good to see the old style Alechemy Cairnpapple IPA pump-clip; the landlady supposedly prefers these (and so do I - sorry, James).

For some reason it's a complete EE/Orange/T-Mobile blackspot but WiFi access & automatic configuration is available through a QR code (which worked first time) and I spent a bit of time talking to the staff and some of the locals before Stuart Simpson, the brewer for the adjacent Kinneil Brew House, came along. Over a beer he told me all his water issues were now in the past (he now filters and adds salts as required) so the head retention of his cask beers are now fine. As well as his core range he's done some specials - Katie Wearie's was done for a Linlithgow festival (and is sold as CorbieHa' Pale Ale in the Corbie Inn - it's a Linlithgow/Bo'ness thing) and he's also had a car club come along and brew their own beer (or 2 or 3). As well as the Corbie Inn (where there should almost always one of his beers on, but not today obviously), he sells to the Station Hotel in Larbert, the Four Marys in Linlithgow and the Railway Tavern in Kincardine and normally has casks at the Alloa, Larbert and SRAF beer festivals. He also sells bottles through Ellies Cellar and Gift Packs (bottles and glasses), Minicasks & Growlers from the Corbie Inn.

It was good to catch up with Stuart but I eventually has to leave the Corbie Inn and walked along the shore to the town centre. There really are quite a number of wonderfully interesting buildings in Bo'ness and in particular I liked the A-listed Hippodrome Cinema with its circular auditorium which is meant to be the oldest purpose built cinema is Scotland. It closed in 1980, but has been restored and re-opened in 2009 after £1.8Million of work.

I took the bus back up to Linlithgow and managed to miss my train connection by only a few minutes. Thankfully there is another pub within hailing distance of the station, Platform 3. I'm assuming at one point it was probably part of The Star and Garter buildings, but it is now completely independent and the winner of a number of recent SLTN Awards.

It's a pretty small but popular place, with the bar at the top of the narrow room, ample standing room at the bar, a number of tables leading down to the front door, lots of exposed brickwork and a great McEwans mirror above the fireplace, but they also manage to have Deuchers IPA and 2 guest beers available (normally one from Stewart Brewing, this time the lovely NZ citrus of Ka Pai).

It seemed a really friendly place with the added bonus of a working model railway up high on the back wall near the ceiling any time anyone made a donation to the charity box (YouTube video clip here if so interested, not mine!).

Return travel:
  Bus: Bo'ness Stance 2 to Linlithgow (Service 45/46, 15/40 on the hour)
  Train: Linlithgow to Glasgow Queen St (04, 34 on the hour)