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)

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