Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Ethical Ales in the land of Honest Men: 15th August 2015

A new Scottish brewery is always an interesting event (there's 'only' ~110 of them), so I was intrigued to see that fledgling brewery Ethical Ales were operating out of East Ayrshire where there is a definite dearth of decent (well, progressive, shall we say) pubs. I'd spent a number of years on the Ayrshire coast and made quite a few trips out to the long-lamented Windie Goat Brewery in the East Ayrshire hamlet of Failford (brewster Michelle is now operating the Offbeat Brewery in Crewe), so this was a welcome chance to head down that way again (into the land of Honest Men, according to Robbie Burns) to visit Ethical Ales on their Brewery Open Day.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Newton-on-Ayr (often)
  Bus: Newton-on-Ayr to Mossblown (Stagecoach West 43/43A, 08, 21, 38, 51 on the hour)

The way the trains had worked out I'd just managed to miss the bus from Newton-on-Ayr out to the centre of Annbank so instead I had to wait for the next bus out to the not quite so handy village of Mossblown (I've always though this is a great name, it should really be in the American mid-west!). I walked down the hill, past a church & a school before reaching the 3-way junction before Annbank proper. Instead of entering the village I kept on walking further down the hill and within 5 minutes I had come to the narrow bridge over the River Ayr which connects into the River Ayr Way. Even from here I could see the arches of the long Enterkine Railway Viaduct slightly upriver.

This line takes used coal to the nearby Killoch Disposal Point and as I got closer I could see the huge length & height of the viaduct as it spans the River Ayr and its wide flood plain.

I headed east on the narrow River Ayr Way which is really just a footpath, and certainly not a cyclepath, at this point. I'd worn shorts that morning (thankfully long-shorts, not short-shorts), but even so managed to get my knee-regions quite impressively red with a number of scrapes/stings from various brambles, thistles and other stingy plants & insects. The narrow path of the River Ayr Way eventually opened up into the edge of a huge field of golden wheat that had just been harvested - I did think about hitching a ride on the combine harvester but decided against it.

The path along the field took me took me past a small farm and then onto a narrow road at a stone bridge over the River Ayr at Stair.

Just up a slight incline from here I came across the welcoming sight of the Stair Inn with a large car park at the rear and tables out front.

I went inside, ordered a glass of water and a beer (Strathaven Summer Glow was the only choice, with the other hand-pull turned around) and contemplated the food choice. They don't do light-bites (sandwiches, paninis etc...) at lunchtime so I decided on the soup of the day (Cream of Mushroom) and some chips; it wasn't a problem at all to order these rather than a main course. I had these outside on one of the tables at the front and they were very good indeed (and really hot-very-hot).

It was outside at the table where one of the strangest things that had ever happened to me around-abouts a pub/bar occurred. I was waiting for my soup & chips when I noted that a car had pulled up outside The Stair. I thought it was a bit strange that the car had parked immediately outside the front of the pub rather than in the car park at the rear but later found out that that is supposedly a normal thing-to-do by some of the locals. A few people got out of the car, entered the pub and (I assume) ordered some lunch. A good few minutes later I heard a bit of a creaking sound (I was facing the Stair and so had my back the car to block out the sun) but didn't think anything of it. About 30 seconds later I heard another loud creak and decided that it could be that something was wrong with the car's handbrake. I got up, walked into the pub and went to find the owner of the car. This must of taken all of about 10 seconds, but when I eventually got the guy off his mobile phone and told him about the creaking sound, we looked outside the window of the pub to see his car starting to trundle down the hill! Cue absolute panic and 'where the f**k are the keys'. By the time we got out of the pub the car was half way down the small hill and there was no way it was stopping... except when it ploughed into a wall before a bridge over a small burn. The left front wheel of the car was totally buckled and I'm guessing it had to be towed back to a garage. Thankfully no-none was hurt, but maybe if I'd only been a bit quicker in going to find the guy... it really was just one of those bizarre occurrences.

After the drama at the Stair Inn I headed out into the countryside almost due east on a narrow single track road (with passing places) taking a curved route around Stairhill Farm until reaching a number of crossroads. It was here that I spied a laser-printed notice for a Brewery Open Day; this was definitely promising. As I took the road downhill even more promising was the sight of an Ethical Ales sign in front of a collection of buildings called Roddenloft House (the official name of the actual brewery is Roddenloft Brewery).

Out in the courtyard between the various buildings the Ethical Ales mobile bar had been setup (it does look a bit like a double-glazing stand with fold-out glass windows & advertising signs), and in front of it there was a scattering of tables, chairs and additional bales of hay to sit on. There were 2 sets of double-keg fonts connected up on the bar with all 3 beers that they currently brew (future beers are listed on their website) available to try-and-buy, these being Horny Cow classic IPA (with 3 new-world varieties of hops), Hoppy Daze pilsner (with Saaz hops) and Stag Do stout (with Willamette hops). I'd had the Horny Cow in the Allison Arms in Glasgow's south-side a few weeks earlier so went for the Hoppy Daze pilsner (slightly sweet, but then loads of smooth, earthy bitterness, not bad at all), for the special thanks-for-getting-here first pint price of £1 - can't say better than that.

I sat down on one of the hay bales, grabbed a sausage roll to nibble on, and chatted away to the brewery owner (and owner of Roddenloft House), George Hammersley. It seems that after starting up in April of this year they will be initially targeting the outdoor event & show market (such as the Doune & Dunblane Show and the Moffat International Sheep Dog Trials) but in this first year of operation are finding a bit of resistance from supplier tie-in from the 'big' breweries, however they are also supplying their beer to a number of 'local' pubs that have the correct keg lines, currently the Allison Arms (this was the IPA but is now the pilsner), the Quarter Gill on Dumbarton Road (pilsner), the Foxbar Hotel in Kilmarnock (IPA), and (when the keg line gets fixed) the nearby Stair Inn that I'd just visited. I also asked George about the name itself, Ethical Ales, and it seems they want to be as environmentally friendly as possible, with a carbon-neutral brewery and an Ethical Fund whereby 15p in every pint goes to support good causes connected with wildlife & the countryside (this is their 'mission statement' on the side of the mobile bar).

There was a steady flow of people into the courtyard and so the guys decided to run a tour of the brewery with head brewer Michael Sullivan (he also owns part of the company) taking the lead. The brewery building itself used to be a cottage but was converted into a 2-level brewery in 2014-2015. Inside there's a brand new 4 barrel system with hot-liquor-tank and mush tun...

...and also a copper and heat exchanger close to which Michael had placed various types of malt & and hops for us to try. From the choice of these there's no doubt that Michael prefers the more intense flavours & aromas of new world hops from the US and Australia/New Zealand.

In a separate section of the ground floor are the 2 fermenting vessels and some filtration equipment which lightly filters the beer...

...and also the 4 conditioning tanks; since they're brewing a 'real' pilsner in Hoppy Daze, this takes a significant time to lager/condition and so the tanks are well used.

Once finished the beers end up in the bright beer tank where they are carbonated and dispensed into to kegs (and mini-casks/kegs which can be picked up from the brewery or bought at the mobile bar).

Michael indicated that currently Ethical Ales don't plan to produce real ale in cask form (although bottled beer is still a possibility); Michael's personal preference is for a cooler, slightly carbonated style of beer and they're happy to go down that route at the moment, perhaps to distinguish themselves from a number of nearby West of Scotland real ale breweries. I thanked Michael for the tour and headed back into the courtyard for a pint of the Stag Do stout, full of dark chocolate, spicy blackcurrant and with a bitter-fruit finish (a lovely hoppy stout). On a fairly hot afternoon outside in the courtyard these were all great - good luck indeed to Ethical Ales in the future. I next had to find my way into Mauchline itself and walked north along some more narrow roads for 45 minutes of so before reaching the town limits. Due to the vagaries of the Stagecoach bus service I didn't have time to visit a number of interesting Burns-related places in Mauchline, the Burns House Museum or the turret-like Mauchline Castle where Burns was married, but I did at least pass Poosie Nancie's Inn where the Bard was meant to 'socialise'.

Instead I took the bus into Kilmarnock bus station where I got off and walked through the town centre towards the train station. Immediately opposite this is the magnificent restored 19th Century façade of Fanny by Gaslight, a 'Victorian Saloon Bar'.

Since I was first here back in early 2013 the interior seems to have become even more cluttered (in a good way) but they've also introduced a couple of hand-pulls on the fantastic island bar as well as a selection of bottled (mostly Drygate) beers. Even better this week they were celebrating Kilmarnock Food and Drink week with a number of additional real ales and so I took a pint of Deeside Swift and, before having to cross the road for the train back, contemplated a very interesting day out in East Ayrshire.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Mauchline to Kilmarnock (Stagecoach X76, 08 on the hour)
  Train: Kilmarnock to Glasgow Central (27, 57 on the hour)

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