The end of the year normally means a dearth of local beer festivals, the Alloa Octoberfest is normally the last one I get along to, but this year I'd found out about a beer festival in the small village of Methven, just to the west of Perth, that I thought was worth a bit of a walk out to.
Outward travel was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen St to Perth (41 on the hour + some others)
I first of all zig-zagged from Perth station through a fair number of Perth housing estates to the A85 Crieff Road close to St Johnstone FC's McDiarmid Park. Although there was a Scottish Cup game being played later in the day, at this time in the morning it was still relatively quiet (St Johnstone would later go on to win against Ross County - I seem to be a bit of a lucky totem for them, see here). I then went past the Glover Arms (a decent enough Mitchells & Butlers Vintage Inn located next to a Travelodge just off the A85/A9 junction) before turning right up towards Huntingtower Castle, dating from the 15th Century and originally 2 separate towers but now a combined palace/castle with links to a lot of Scottish Jacobite history.
After the castle there's a bit of drop towards what used to be a row of worker's cottages (Tarry Row) which were built in the 19th Century for the bleaching industry. Here huge sheets of textiles were stretched out on the surrounding flat fields (possibly these ones outside the cottages) and bleached or dyed with various ashes and chemicals.
This took a fair amount of water & power and I came across one of the water mills that was used for the bleaching industry at the side of the road just opposite someone's house (albeit it was now, unfortunately, looking a bit the worse for wear).
I headed through the small village of Ruthven and then along the River Almond for a bit before arriving at Almondbank. After crossing a sodden playing field I was able to find the start of East Drive (not signposted at all, it almost looked like the entrance into a park), between 2 largish gate-post stones and this was the path that would take me most of the way to Methven. Not far along from the entrance are a number of seriously impressive houses with what must be amazing views over a small body of water, Methven Loch. It was a bit misty & mizzly this morning but it only added to the great atmosphere around the place and although I would have liked to have had a walk around the diminutive loch it was clearly marked (in quite a few places) as a private loch and private grounds.
The tarmac'd drive eventually turned into a far muddier path, with quite a few gates and stiles to negotiate, but it was never that difficult to follow (OK, I take that back; I took a wrong turn once and had tramp along the edge of a field of curious sheep). However I eventually came out into the extensive grounds of Methven Castle. Both the castle (which does 'luxury' B&B stays) and the gardens were starkly impressive in winter, but I'm guessing they must be stunning in the warmer seasons.
I then came back out on the A85 road half a mile or so before Methven. I thought this might involve walking along the verge of a busy main road, but no, there was a decent enough path (hooray!), and the sign that I encountered just at the village limits suggested that I was probably in Methven on the correct day.
First of all I wanted something to eat, but with the Methven Arms closed (boarded up and shut) and the award-winning Chatni Indian Restaurant closed until 5pm, that left either the The Little Acorn Café (which looked nice enough) or The Bell Tree Inn, close to each other on Methven Main Street, and I, of course, chose the pub.
There's a lounge/restaurant on the left of the building and a split-room bar on the right with a number of tables at the front and then more bench type seating (with a large screen TV today showing the football) at the back - there's a lot of dark wood in here, at the bar, the beams, the tables & chairs, but there are a fair amount of small down-lighters which brighten up the place. The small bar has a number of different macro keg beers (and I think they did try real ale a while ago but it didn't work out), but at the bottom of the fridge I spied new branded bottles of Brewdog Punk IPA, and I wasn't going to shy away from taking one of those.
They do some interesting pub grub, lots of home baking and the friendly staff were quite happy to provide 'custom' paninis for the group of 4 that were sitting next to me. I wanted something that could be made up fairly quickly, so I went with the Bell Tree Three Egg Omelette which was firm but still gooey, full of smoky mushrooms & bacon and very good indeed.
Since the meal was served quite quickly this meant I could leave the Bell Tree and make it the short distance up to the Community Centre (I'm assuming it's a converted church, or at least a church hall) for the 13:06 opening time of the Methven 1306 Beer Festival. The 1306 date refers to the Battle of Methven which took place near Methven Den Woodland between Robert the Bruce and an English army, with Robert the Bruce heavily defeated after a dawn attack (he and a few followers would escape and eventually win at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314). Although the battle occurred in June, the beer festival takes place in November, normally around St Andrew's Day.
To signify the start of the beer festival a lone piper played for a few minutes outside the centre, it's certainly a novel way to let a good part of the village know that something is happening.
Inside I picked up my 1/2 pint glass, beer tokens (and ink stamp) at the front desk and then entered the Community Centre's main hall. It's an interesting mix of old & new - all exposed stone walls, bricked-up archways, brightly lit with some additional hanging twinkling lights and (interestingly) a collection of about 50 bar towels on one wall. The beer was on stillage on one side of the hall with lots of tables on other, a stage at the front and more space & tables around the back if you wanted to get away from the music. I think this is the 5th year of the beer festival and it all seemed very well organised with the proceeds going to local Methven projects.
There were beers available from local breweries Strathbraan & Inveralmond, from further afield breweries such as Windswept & Valhalla (Shetland!), ciders from Cairn O' Mohr & Thistly Cross and this from Pilot Beer in Leith - Ultravilot (previously Parma Violence) a cloudy wheat beer made with the addition of a crazy amount of parama violets manually de-packetised. I wasn't expecting to see this at all as I thought it would only be found in & around Edinburgh, but it turns out that Strathbraan brewer/owner Mark Procter had picked it up from Leith whilst on a delivery run - nice one Mark! It was certainly cloudy, sweet and floral with a sour blackcurrant/lavender finish, I actually quite liked it.
There were also a couple of 1306 Festival specials from Strathbraan and Inveralmond, both (I believe) blends of current beers, with the Strathbraan special having an almost coffee-like bitterness which I preferred.
However the best beer of the festival (only IMHO) was Inveralmond's new De Mons golden Belgian ale. Initially starting off light & lemony, this then developed some sweet fig & dark fruit tones before finishing off with a definite Belgian yeast spiciness combined with an big alcohol hit - very smooth and very impressive for a UK Belgian-inspired beer.
I managed only a couple of further lovely Windswept beers before having to head off to try and find the bus back to Perth, but it was interesting (as always) to try some different beers and to chat to some of the local guys & gals (and I believe the festival got very busy later on). The bus service from Comrie/Crieff to Perth is a good one, we made it past McDiarmid Park with hardly any delay and the bus dropped me off in the centre of Perth. I picked up a couple of bottles from Ellies Cellar and then decided to try a new (to me) pub recommended by one of the local guys at the festival, Dickens on South Street.
It's a nice traditional, single-roomed pub with a long dark wood curved bar complete with a magnificent high gantry and lots of little partitions, alcoves and snug-type areas dotted about the room. They promote themselves as Perth's 'premium malt whisky bar' with lots of whisky bottles & sleeves set on high and whisky barrels as tables, but there is also an Inveralmond beer available on hand-pull, this weekend Ossian. This is a lovely citrusy golden beer which I enjoy a lot, but today I'd definitely been spoilt by that De Mons that I'd had earlier in the afternoon at Methven.
Bus: Methven to Perth (Stagecoach 15, 35 on the hour)
Train: Perth to Glasgow Queen St (13 on the hour + others)