Friday, 28 March 2014

Gullane to North Berwick with a stop at Archerfield Walled Garden: 22nd March 2014

This weekend the 1st Birthday celebrations for the Archerfield Walled Garden in East Lothian were being held, and that included those for the Archerfield Fine Ales/Knops Beer brewery that it houses (although Knops were 'cuckoo' brewing at Traditional Scottish Ales for a quite a while before). I hadn't seen Bob Knops since his 'Brewing 101' talk-and-tasting a couple of years ago and it had been ages since I'd been through to Gullane & North Berwick (Gullane Beer Festival 2005 ?), so I decided that a trip along the lovely East Lothian coast for a visit was definitely worthwhile.


View Gullane in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows :-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Edinburgh Waverley
  Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Longniddry (12, 43 on the hour)
  Bus: Longniddry to Gullane (First X24 - 10, 40 on the hour)

The X24 bus along the East Lothian coast was really busy, full of walkers getting off to start a section of the John Muir Way or bird spotters leaving at the Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve (the first in the UK). I stayed on until the first stop into Gullane and then walked back to the 1st tee of the Gullane #1 Golf Course. Having played the course once before I know that walk up the 1st fairway to the top of that huge dune (normally into the teeth of the prevailing wind, as per today) can be a really long one.

Since it was still fairly early I decided that I had time to walk down to the Gullane Bents, a sweeping Blue Flag beach only 5 or 10 minutes north of Gullane Main Street. It's a stunning beach with spectacular views both from the overlooking high green and along the beach itself.

Heading back into the town centre I went looking for lunch, and in particular The Old Clubhouse. This is set just off the main road, facing a small car park and some practice ground for the many golfers.

The name gives away its original use, that of clubhouse for the historic Gullane Golf Club, but the Club moved out in 1927, with the building being converted into its present day hostery from 1989 onwards. Obviously there are a lot of reminders of this heritage scattered throughout, with small snugs also available at the front to watch the golf.

The large main room comprises the long bar, with seats at the sides, in the centre of the room and at the windows, and another, more formal dining room further in and to the right-hand-side of the building. There is *a lot* of golfing memorabilia (old black-&-white photos, clubs, balls) and other bric-a-brac (caricatures of Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers, water jugs, radios, stuffed owls & ducks, box-brownie cameras, bottles, clocks, books, etc..) scattered around the place - thankfully it's just about spacious enough space to accommodate all of this without looking cramped. The wooden bar has a nice array of shiny fonts, with both keg and cask beers, today Knops Musselburgh Broke, Deuchars IPA, Taylor's Landlod and Thistly Cross Cider. I took a pint of Musselburugh Broke (quite a smoky, 80/- style dark ale), ordered my lunch and managed to get one of the last seats close to the front windows.

And it was busy. I got in just before 12noon and even then there were quite a few people in drinking coffee & tea and bagging the best seats, and then by 12:30pm it was packed out (both the bar & the restaurant). I can't often remember seeing so many people come into a place in such a short period of time and that included day trippers, golfers and groups of walkers (with a lot of dogs). Even with so many people around my Fish Finger Sandwich came in good time and was great - a crunchy batter and full of thick fish, with the chips absolutely superb.

It's all very relaxing, traditional and homely, so what in the world made them decorate the Gents like this I have no idea (this is a very rare toilet photo) - flaming golf balls anyone !

As I headed back to Gullane Main Street I noticed an interesting shop (with associated old-style delivery truck). This was for the Falko Kaffeehaus, an authentic German Coffeeshop and Konditormeister (or Master Confectioner); there's also one at Bruntsfield in Edinburgh. I took a closer look at the truck (immaculate) and inside the Kaffeehaus - it too was packed for lunch, and it had a pretty good selection of German bottled beer, but a quite incredible selection of German cakes and pastries. I'm not a huge Black Forest Gateaux fan but I'd have to admit that these looked amazing (or Ausgezeichnet!).

Further along the High Street is an impressive building, which I eventually noticed was the Scottish Fire Service Training College. However it seems this is due to be shut down, but hopefully they'll find some other use for the building (although I'm guessing luxury apartments are a likely possibility).

From here I left Gullane and walked along the busy A198 main road for a bit. This took me to a sign-posted path for the John Muir Way which led between a number of fields and to the start of the Archerfield House estate. I then had to double-back a bit along the main access road, but it wasn't too far (at all) before I came to the entrance for the Archerfield Walled Garden. There were a few balloons tied-up to the signposts and the gates to distinguish the Birthday celebrations, but nothing that ostentatious, and looking through the gates it was easy to spot the low-slung buildings of the shop, restaurant and brewery as well as the outside kids play area.

In the centre area of the buildings there is a large open-plan restaurant/bistro (again, really busy today), with a well-stocked shop/deli taking most of the right-hand side. It was good to see a number of displays for their own Archerfield Fine Ales given a prominent position in the deli.

On the left of the restaurant is the long flowing main bar, full of light wood and brightly lit from the brass downlighters, with seats at the bar and a number of tables and chairs opposite. It's a really nice bar, I just wish they could been a bit more explicit about what was available to drink - I had to search for the taps (set behind the bar) and the small pump-clip labels that were above them really didn't give much of a clue (to the non-beer geek) about what to expect from the beers. It's your own beers guys, be proud of them!

Today they had all the Archerfield Fine Ales on tap (IPA, Dark & Golden), with WEST St Mungo available as well, so I took a pint of the Golden Ale (way better than on bottle, some nice light lemon citrus bitterness and a bit of life & body) and asked the barman (when he had a moment) to see if head brewer Mr Bob Knops was around.

And thankfully he was. Bob was in the brewery today for (mostly) cleaning & setup purposes and was more than happy to show me about (as always, beer people are great). First impressions as I entered were that the brewery was really quite well laid out - there was a lot of space between the pieces of shiny kit and it all seemed to flow really well from the front observation windows to the casks at the loading bay and far door. Bob mentioned he has been limited with respect to the kit he can use, the brewery can't be any higher than the walls around the Archerfield Walled Garden which means tall and narrow are mostly out. He uses an ~12bbl kit from S.Im.A.T.eC in Italy, designed by Davide Zingarelli who has a couple of microbreweries/brewpubs in 'La Bel Paese' (see SorA’laMa’ Brewery, some 'interesting' beer names there). First of all is the combined steam powered mash-tun/copper/whirlpool, with recipes programmed from a control panel, which then feeds a small hop-back for (predominately) aroma purposes.

In tandem with this there's a large filtration unit, as wide as possible to extract the spent and/or unused solids...

... which then leads to a large Heat Exchanger. This isn't operating quite operating as efficiently as it should be so Bob's (reluctantly) going to have to disassemble this with his own fair hands. At the moment there's only one dedicated Fermenting Vessel...

... and one dual use fermenting/bright-beer vessel (although a couple more are set to be 'plumbed' in soon) which has limited the number of times he can brew a week (really only once or twice). However there are a number of Conditioning Tanks in which the beer can stay for a number of weeks before being either racked-off or bottled.

There's also a really impressive, fully automated 8-head bottling and labelling line, which is needed for the in-house deli/shop and for the large number of outlets in-and-around Edinburgh. From talking to Bob there's no doubt that they (he and his assistant Keith) have faced a number of challenges in the 1st working year of the brewery, both in the operation of the brewing kit and the smooth running of the bottling line, which has resulted in a lot of 12-18 hour days, 7 days a week, but he now thinks they're over the worst and can start planning some interesting and new things. First amongst these is a couple of barrel aged beers - one of these has Musselburgh Broke in it, the other the fabulous Black Cork, and they are due to age for a couple more months before (hopefully) being decanted into a limited number of elegant bottles.

A couple of other possibilities he's mulling over are using the British hops which are growing like wildfire in the actual Archerfield garden, and also the long fabled Cock Ale recipe (no - I won't believe it either unless I see/taste it). It might be that some of these will be trialled in the old pilot kit (made out of spent casks) hidden away in a corner of the brewery.

It was great talking to Bob and seeing how proud he is of his own brewery and I left him planning the 1st Birthday Open Day on the Sunday. Heading out from Archerfield I rejoined the John Muir Way and followed this into the nearby village of Dirleton. The John Muir Way forks off to the coast here but I kept straight on until I could glimpse Dirleton Castle and Gardens in front of the well looked after village green.

Also with great views over the green and to the castle is the nearby hostelry of the Castle Inn, a coaching inn in its previous life and dating back to the 1800's.

It's setup to be very much a food-led place, with a bistro are on the left (complete with exposed brickwork and centre fireplace) and a restaurant further into the back, but there's also a nice dark wood bar, an incredibly precise geometrical array of champagne & whisky bottles set out on shelves behind the bar, with some stools and quite a few tables situated in front and to the right of the bar. On hand-pull were the ubiquitous Deuchars IPA and also Caley's latest seasonal, Port of Leith, so I took a pint of that (OK, but there needed to be way more hops in it) and went to sit at one of the tables in front of the bar to relax and read the papers for a bit.

If I had taken the John Muir Way along the coast there would have been quite a few interesting features to view, but instead I decided to save time and head straight along the flat, straight main road and into North Berwick. On the outskirts of the town are a lot of large houses, some of which have been converted into small hotels and B&Bs, and one of these is the Nether Abbey Hotel.

The original building contains the hotel lobby, lounge and all the accommodation, whereas the Fly Half Bar & Grill extension contains the main bar and the majority of the seating (both inside and outside).

And what a bar it is. Seriously long and marble topped, a huge mirror behind, lots of colour-coded wine bottles in racks and on the shelves, and bright downlighters highlighting the 2 sets of shiny metal fonts (with a grand total of 14 in all). They actively try to support & promote local breweries with Alechemy, Tempest, Knops, Williams Brothers and Thistly Cross (OK, it's a Cidery) on today, and I was more than happy to take a pint of light, citrusy Alechemy Starlaw to quench my thirst.

It can certainly hold a good number of people - there are plenty of stools in front of the bar and a large number of tables in the extension itself. At this time of day Scottish tapas (chips, chorizo, olives, cheese board, scotch eggs etc...) was the main food being ordered (really just to graze on), but they also do lunches, a la carte meals and a whole hog roast if you can get enough like-minded people together. I would have been quite happy to stay for a while, but I needed to set off on a bit of a trek through the winding streets of North Berwick and into the centre of town to get to The Ship Inn.

I quite liked the bustling feel of the place, a long dark-wooden bar at the right, plenty of standing space in front of the bar, and a lot of tables & chairs at the far side. There are more seats further back, out in the beer garden and under the canopy at the front. As well as the array of keg fonts there are 3 hand-pulls, with only 2 on today, dispensing Kelburn Jaguar (a fair distance from home) and Broughton Jeddart Justice, a couple of more than decent beers.

I really had to almost speed-walk back to the train station, but I had just about enough time to drop into one of the local off-licences, Lockett Bros. What caught my attention was the full range of Elixir Brew Co. beers in the window, and anyone who stocks these must know a thing or 2 about good beer. Here I was able to get some Baird Brewing beers and (according to the World Beer Awards) the world's best stout, Minoh Beer Imperial Stout - I guess we shall see.

I just didn't have enough time in North Berwick (I didn't even manage to climb North Berwick Law or get some decent pictures of the Bass Rock), so I'm hoping it won't be too long before I can make a return journey to this part of the East Lothian coast.

Return travel:-
 Train: North Berwick to Edinburgh Waverley (21, 50 on the hour)
 Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen St.

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