Thursday, 7 May 2015

Luckie times in the Kingdom of Fife: 2nd May 2015

I've been going to the Kingdom of Fife Beer Festival in Glenrothes for the last few years but hadn't really clocked that the fantastic Luckie Ales is situated on an industrial estate just off the nearest train station at Markinch (though I would have done if I had remembered this post from The Beercast). And now with a new, interesting pub/bar situated in the centre of Markinch this meant that today I could hopefully plan to visit Luckie Ales, have some lunch (and a beer) and then head into Glenrothes for a few (more) beers at the Beer Festival.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Perth (41 on the hours + others)
  Train: Perth to Markinch (02 on the hour)
  Bus: Markinch to Glenrothes Bus Station, 46 Stagecoach (00 on the hour + others)

It's quite an expensive trip to get to anywhere in Fife from Glasgow, but for today I'd managed to snaffle one of the Free Scotrail tickets that new Scotrail franchise operator Abellio had given away at the start of April; like most people I won't say no to something that’s free. It was late morning when I left the train at Markinch station and crossed the track using the high, modern footbridge from which vantage point a small part of the red-bricked Haig Business Park could easily be seen.

Luckie Ales have been operating from here since 2011 (after initially brewing at Daubs Farm in nearby Dunshalt) but there's no indication of this from the unit plan at the front of the Park.

The site of the Business Park used to be the huge bottling plant for the Haig Whisky distillery and it's a sprawling, disjointed complex, with some of road-facing units quite well maintained, but with others in out-of-the-way locations looking a bit more run-down.

Luckie Ales is situated next to a gym/fitness studio which today was blasting out 100dB hi-NRG music from its open doors & windows, so it was easy enough to sneak up on owner/brewer Stuart McLuckie as he went about today's brewing duties (I've decided not to put up a pic of the outside of Stuart's actual unit). This morning Stuart was brewing the Locura Pale Ale that he brews with French Aramis hops (there was both a citrus and a nice spicy aroma from these), with the 300 litre brewing kettle on the boil supplied from the gas canister in the corner and the exhaust tube coiled out of the rear window.

I think Stuart definitely finds this a bit of a necessary commercial evil, he'd rather be brewing something a lot more interesting, but he has to pay the bills and it seems to be the Pale Ale that mostly does this (he's not even a Fyne Ales Jarl fan, he finds this a bit bland from a taste and a bit thin from a body point-of-view, which we had to somewhat disagree on!). There's no doubt Stuart is far happier brewing to a 'classic' recipe from yesteryear and he does this brilliantly well - some of these Luckie beers that I've had (he now names these the Resurrection Series) such as Cobb's 1823 Amber, Usher's 1885 68/-, Younger's 1841 XXXP Porter and Whitbread's 1896 Porter have been outstanding, with a depth of complex flavours, intensity and smoothness that is simply not found in many beers being brewed today. After bottling (his wife helps out with this) these are normally left to mature for months, if not years, before being delivered in small quantities to various independent Beer Shops in Central Scotland where they can sell out in days, possibly even hours. Some of the first-off runs of these can generate the Luckie Ales 'gusher' effect since the beers are racked directly from the (mostly) plastic fermenters and then primed into 500ml bottles (if they could mature for months in conditioning tanks that would be great, but it's just not possible for Stuart to do that). Pretty well all the cask beer he brews nowadays goes to the most excellent Hanging Bat Beer Café in Edinburgh (co-owner Chris Mair is a big fan); whereas in the recent past some could be found in The Phoenix in Dundee or dotted around the rural pubs of Fife, that doesn't seem to be the case anymore, it's perhaps just a bit too much of an effort and Stuart would simply prefer to spend his time brewing. Even his excellent Midnycht Myld and the Bitter/Best Bitter are becoming more infrequently seen in cask (really only at The Bat and the occasional specialist pub/beer festival), a definite shame, and I hope they don't disappear entirely (there were still quite a few casks on the floor of the unit today which surely must be ready for filling).

Stuart's still brewing once or twice a week, still hand-bottling (and now using the converted, but still be-signed 'Cloakroom' as a warm bottle store) and then with cleaning and paperwork that's pretty well the whole of the working week occupied. There's no doubt that he will scale back at some point in the future, with even less casks and (perhaps) more bottles, but before then there are likely to be more Resurrection ales (I was very kindly given a bottle which may/may not have had some of the phrases 'Simonds Brewery Reading', '1880 Bitter' and 'needs another 4 weeks' associated with it) and also a proposed series of Belgian-style beers which have got to be worth looking out for. I had a great time chatting away to Stuart about the beers he's been brewing and the state of Scottish brewing in general but I finally had to leave and asked him about the relatively newly re-opened & re-furbished pub/hotel just up the road, Banner's House Hotel (this was previously the Townhouse and seemed to attract some 'interesting' reviews). Stuart had delivered some bottles there quite a few months ago but it seems as if they hadn't taken anything new for a while so he wasn't sure if there would be anything at all available (he's a bit particular about best-before dates). I was quite happy to give the place a go (and I was hungry), so I bade Stuart many thanks indeed and headed back out of the Business Park. It wasn't difficult to find Banner's - it was the first premises on Markinch High Street and the large sandstone building offered a few tables, chairs and chalkboard signs on the front-facing small terrace.

Deciding that inside was a slightly better idea on this dreich day, I entered through the main doorway and found a large, more formal (but still unusual) dining area on the left hand side, and then a lot of differently styled wooden tables, chairs and benches on the right in front of a light, bright, curved bar, with some more tables and chairs as the room turned the corner back towards the windows at the front. I quite liked the informal, colourful layout in there with lots of hand-made decorations & soft furnishings, painted crockery, books and stacked games & toys. They do a lot of their own baking and there were clear stands of bread, cakes and scones on the bar as well as loads of sparkling glasses, kegged Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (yummm...), Black Wolf Coulis lager (hmmm...) an empty hand-pull (sometimes with a Black Wolf beer available) but also a fridge full of some interesting Belgian beers and (hooray!) a couple of bottles of Luckie Ales Pale Ale.

It really was only 2 bottles, so I took the penultimate bottle (maybe they'll now take another case from Stuart), sat down at the seat at the window/fire escape at the front and ordered my lunch. They're open early for Breakfast, and then do Lunch/Brunch and Evening Meals and the food's quite quirky & interesting as befits an owner who has previously operated a restaurant in Crouch End in London. I'm way too boring for anything like that at lunchtime though, and just went for the cuppa-soup & sandwich deal, in this case smoky cream of mushroom, a BLT baguette and some side salad - very nice indeed and it went well with the subtle lemon citrus and peppery finish of the Luckie Pale Ale.

Full of mushroom soup and crispy bacon I left Banner's and headed further up Markinch High Street where I noticed what seemed to be well stocked, interesting Wine Shop (to those interested in wine) that I'd not noticed before, The Markinch Wine Gallery, even though it’s meant to have been on that site for a good number of years.

It's more than possible to walk from Markinch to Glenrothes via numerous new-town style roundabouts & underpasses, but there’s also a frequent bus service. Today I headed around the corner into Commercial Street to get the 46 Stagecoach from Leven (either that or the 43 are the best choices) which heads directly to Glenrothes Bus Station and not via a far more circuitous route. As always the Kingdom Shopping Centre in Glenrothes was packed on a Saturday afternoon, but it wasn't long before I was at the entrance to the Rothes Halls at the far west end of the centre.

The Kingdom of Fife is a nice relaxed beer festival, not as hectic as Paisley or Troon, it's always well-staffed and they have an interesting selection of beers from local breweries (however no Luckie Ales), other Scottish breweries and from further afield. There was also an impressive choice of ciders & perries (actually quite large in comparison, about 45 beers to 22 ciders/perries which is unusual) with the Waulkmill Clan MacFannie cider (fermented with Irn-Bru!) supposedly going down a storm the night before.

I can't really remember any music in the afternoon at this festival in previous years, but this time they had decided on a single young piper playing some classic Scottish refrains - she was quite brilliant.

Even though I was probably earlier into the festival than last year all the Champion Beers of Fife had finished, which was annoying as I had wanted to try the winning beer, de Brus Scottish Lager. I'd had this from bottle a couple of years ago when it was being brewed at the Allanwater Brewhouse, and although it was OK, I didn't think it was a patch on the 2 beers it had beaten, Abbot BrewHouse Heritage Mild and the St Andrews Brewing Big Red Rooster. I guess now I'll never know unless I see it on cask again (perhaps at The Bruery, perhaps at the Dunfermline Charity Beer Festival, normally held in October). So the best beer I tried (I'd had the fantastic Fallen Brewing Chew Chew salted caramel milk stout a number of times before and so made myself give it a miss this time) was the Hopcraft/Pixie Spring A Good Rodgering (sigh...). It was a lovely roast coffee, dark chocolate, thin, high-abv, piney-bitter Black IPA, but there really can't be a need for that name, why not call it something far more witty as a 'rebuke' to Roger Protz (who thinks this style of beer is 'absurd').

Return travel:-
  Bus: Glenrothes Bus Station to Markinch Train Station, 43 Stagecoach (02 on the hour + others)
  Train: Markinch to Perth (19 on the hour)
  Train: Perth to Glasgow Queen St. (13 on the hours + others)

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