I'm hopefully going to try a few longer journeys in the next 6 months or so, not that I've exhausted the 'nearer' pubs and beer festivals by-any-means, but just that it's good to try some different pubs, serving beers from breweries that I've never heard of before. Cumbria will certainly be one of those destinations (for some reason I've yet to visit the Hawkshead Beer Hall at Staveley), but today there were 2 beer festivals taking place within walking distance of each other in Kendal which gave me an easy excuse to visit this South Lakes Market Town.
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Outward journey was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Central to Oxenholme (Lake District) - 08:40, 09:40 more...
Bus: Oxenholme Station to Kendal - 41/41A, 32, 58 on the hour
On getting off the train at Oxenholme I did think about just walking into Kendal town centre (probably a good 35-40 minutes hike), but the bus was due in less than 5 minutes so it wasn't really worthwhile. I got off at the Shakespeare Inn (a couple of stops before the main bus station) and it was easy to spot the entrance archway for The Brewhouse at Burgundy's along Tanners Yard across the road (there is also a less enticing entrance to Burgundy's Wine Bar on the busy main road).
The cobbles were fairly wet & slippery today, and there's also not that much room in the corridor between The Brewhouse and the high stone wall for the car-park (deliveries must certainly be interesting!).
It was probably just before the noon opening time, but the door to The Brewhouse was open so I entered the bright modern bar, complete with gleaming brewkit set pride-of-place behind the bar and 12 hand-pulls providing the beers for their latest Cumbrian Beer Challenge (there were also 8 more upstairs in the Wine Bar).
Burgundy's was initially setup as a Wine Bar in 1986 but they've been serving real ale & continental beers for quite a number of years. Owner Mike Pennington then opened up The Brewhouse at Burgundy's in the adjacent buildings behind the Wine Bar in 2011 and the in-house Kendal Brewery with help from Peter Goldsborough (ex-Moorhouse Brewery) and Hans Krüger (ex-Derwent Brewery). Now it is run by head brewer Vernon Seymour and he was busy setting up today when I came in, but he happily welcomed me, and was able to chat a bit whilst serving, cleaning, taking bookings and also doing some of the lunchtime cooking for The Brewhouse (a man of many talents). Vernon was good enough to unlock the brewing room to let me see the shiny kit up close - it's a 2.5BBL plant with 4 main vessels: Mash Tun, Copper, a dual use Fermenter/Conditioning Tank and another separate Conditioning Tank.
This setup means they can only brew twice a week at most, with ~75% of the beer being consumed in-house and the reminder mostly going to various beer festivals around Cumbria. They've tried to recreate some of the historical recipes from the last Kendal brewery, Whitwell, Mark & Co., which closed in the 1970's (and who were based in the Kendal Brewery Arts Centre buildings), but Vernon admitted they've had to use their best judgement for some of the quantities involved. They've also gone with some more modern hop-forward type beers such as the hoppy Webster's Amber Ale and this Eleven Bells - a nice light citrusy, lemon-sherbety pale ale.
There are quite a few different areas in The Brewhouse - as well as the main bar with lots of bistro-style seating (also eggs for sale on the bar (£1.85/6, free range) and paintings for sale on the walls), there's an area at the back with comfy seats and a fireplace...
... and then there are more seats in a separate room at the front with a tempting FussBall Table (and that doesn't even include the original Wine Bar and another mezzanine area associated with it upstairs and to the front of the building).
As well as the Cumbrian Beer Challenge they were also promoting this weekend as a 'Beer and Sausage Festival' and I was really looking forward to trying either the Watson & Woollard Pork & Kendal Brewery Grisleymires Stout sausage or the Higginsons '9 inch' sausage, both made by (competing) local butchers, but unfortunately these were only available after 6pm when more staff are available - drats! So instead I could have gone with a number of the bar tapas selections, but eventually decided on the Brewhouse Beef Goulash, with lovely brown bread and all washed down with a very good Goodhew's Dry Irish Stout from Barngates Brewery (coffee, dark chocolate & liquorice with a long, slightly bitter & dry(!) finish).
I did manage a few other 1/2's from some more breweries that I'd never heard of, with my favourite being this light & citrusy Welly Blonde by Healey's Brewery (the pump-clip is slightly unusual as well, a good marketing ploy).
After thanking Vernon for his time (and dropping off an Islay Ales beer for him) I headed off to join the busy throng of people in Kendal town centre. I wouldn't normally have done this on a Saturday afternoon but there was a Booths supermarket just up the road from Burgundy's, and this was worth a flying visit, both for a train beer and for some to take home to Glasgow. Their bottled beer selection really is very good (supposedly 200+), especially for Cumbrian, Yorkhire & Lancashire beers (Saltire, Little Valley, Hawkshead, Hardknott etc...), and it puts most of the Scottish-based supermarkets to shame.
I then started to make my way out of the town centre, but stopped by the Kendal Brewery Arts Centre. It's a lovely setting and this was where the old Kendal brewery, Whitwell, Mark & Co., was located with the buildings now containing a theatre, exhibition rooms and a cinema, as well as a bar/restaurant. However with only a couple of Greene King beers on in the bar I decided I wasn't going to stay there when there were lots more interesting beers available elsewhere.
Instead I headed though some more archway passageways to a park down by the River Kent, over a footbridge...
...and then up Sunnyside road to a stile where Kendal Castle and its grounds could be glimpsed on the hilltop.
The 13th Century castle is very much a ruin (although it is a really well preserved & cared-for site), and there's a high path that circumnavigates it completely (I'm assuming there was originally a deep moat between the path and castle) giving great views of the ruins.
I then half walked/clambered down off the hill, past some football pitches and up under the railway line to the main road out of Kendal to the M6 motorway. One of the entrances to the Castle Green Hotel is here but it's the delivery and leisure club entrance so instead I walked up the road a hundred yards or so, crossed over and entered hotel by the main entrance. It's a pretty big, classy hotel with the detached stone-clad Alexanders The Pub situated at the very northern edge of the sprawling site.
The staff were really friendly & helpful and shepherded me past all the diners at the front of the pub to the small bar area at the back. With 4 (fairly) local beers available on hand-pull I took a 1/2 of Bowness Bay WWW (named after William Wavell Wakefield; British Lions rugby player and politician), another light, lemony golden ale.
By now it was just past the 2pm opening of the beer festival so I headed out of Alexanders, up some steps and into the main Function Room of the Castle Green Hotel where it was being held.
It was all very quiet, calm and echoey inside (not at all like the start of a normal Beer Festival), but then I think it had been a long night for those concerned and the band weren't due on until ~7pm. In fact all the hand-pulls were still turned off and it needed some good natured coaxing to the staff to get them turned back on again. I then needed to buy a (refundable) glass for £1, but decided against a scratch-card of 8 beers for £12 (I didn't think I'd have time to try that many, but looking back I think I came quite close) and just paid-as-I-drank.
Bowness Bay Brewery seemed to be the main festival sponsor with a 2-litre bottle of their Waterbird Wheat up for grabs through a raffle (the beer itself perhaps needed a bit of texture but had loads of lovely spicy ginger, lemongrass & lime flavours), and it was great to try beers from Marlpool Brewing, Tigertops Brewery and Lancaster Brewery. However a couple of the more interesting beers came from a really new and really small 'nano'-brewery, Brewshine in Kendal, who were making their first public appearance this weekend and for whom the term 'garage' brewery is literally true. They had a couple of small casks almost hidden away from sight with Silly Billy (a lovely balanced bitter, malty, really crisp with a nice red fruit bitter finish) and Billonde (light, lemon/lime with a grapefruit bitter finish) available. It's obviously difficult to scale up an almost homebrew setup to 'commercial' levels but at least these guys have the base beers to give themselves a great starting point.
As the place filled up I chatted away with the staff and some of the customers about local breweries, festivals and pubs to visit, and I also gave my recommendations of places to visit in Scotland (look out Fyne Ales Brewery Tap Room); it was a certainly a nice, friendly place to spend an afternoon trying some new beers. However I did need to leave and just to be sure I'd catch my specific train back up-north I'd booked a taxi from outside Alexanders to Oxenholme Station. It was a tad late, but it still managed to get me the couple of miles or so to the Station with some time to spare (I had thought about walking it, but there were no paths at all on the fairly narrow roads, grrr...). This and the fact that the train was running late meant that I could drop into the Station Inn at the top of the hill from the Station.
There's a large beer garden and a lot of child-friendly apparatus available outside (swings, slides, climbing frames and even some inquisitive alpacas(!) to look at) but I really liked the Crazy Golf at the far end of the car park (which must be fun after a few pints!).
The pub was an interesting mixture of new/modern & old/traditional with a large conservatory-style dining area with loads of tables and a nice dark-panelled bar complete with 4 hand-pulls, today with Hawkshead Bitter, Moorhouse Blond Witch, Brains Bitter and Taylor Golden Best available.
For some unknown reason I'd never had a Hawkshead Bitter before so I managed a quick half of that (a really well-balanced *bitter* bitter) before walking down the hill (there were footpaths here, hooray!) to the entrance of Oxenholme Station. Since my train was being further delayed I headed into the yard of the small number of industrial units at the east side of the station entrance and found a great takeaway coffee shop & bakery, Lovingly Artisan. They were just closing but I managed to quickly order a mocha and a seriously tasty piece of homemade crumbly shortbread (no Kendal Mint Cake), and also found out that the following week they were just about to set up some permanent outside seating for the summer season. Good luck to them - it's certainly a far more appealing option that waiting for a train on one of the station platforms.
Train: Oxenholme (Lake District) to Glasgow Central (frequent...)