Thursday, 19 November 2015

A food (and beer) stop at Born in the Borders: 4th November 2015

I'd managed to wangle a few days out of Glasgow, on a short break in the beautiful Borders, and since I had the car decided to take the opportunity to visit one of the area's breweries which is located in a fairly rural setting, the newly re-branded Born in the Borders Brewery just outside Jedburgh.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Car to Lanton Mill, TD8 6ST: Take the A68 to 2 miles north of Jedburgh, turn onto A698 west and then follow signs.

From the A698 connecting road there's a narrow single track road leading down to the Born in the Borders visitor centre, set almost on the River Teviot. Part of this collection of buildings used to be a working farm for the Chesters Country Retreat estate, but in 2011 local businessman and Chesters owner, John Henderson, set-up the Scottish Borders Brewery here in a small farm outbuilding, dedicated to the ethos of making beer from 'Plough to Pint', and in particular utilising in-house grown & locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. After operating successfully and establishing their beers over a number of years, John decided that 'just' an expansion to an off-sales shop or even a dedicated brewery tap wasn't a feasible commercial proposition in such a relatively rural setting, and so brought in significant funds to develop the more ambitious Born in the Borders concept. This would provide the best in all types of Borders food & drink, as well as adding arts, crafts & the famous Borders textiles on a single site, making it a one-stop tourist destination for the whole of the Borders area. After the successful opening of the Born in the Borders visitor centre in June 2014, it made sense that a re-branding of Scottish Borders Brewery to use the Born in the Borders name and all the associated positive publicity and media coverage should happen, and this change has been rolling out during 2015. As we approached the Born in the Borders visitors centre on a fairly dreich Autumn day, the low-slung, stone-clad buildings definitely seemed welcoming, modern but with traditional features, and they all seemed to blend in well with the surrounding countryside.

The brewery (of more later) and gift shop are on the left side of the main courtyard, whilst on the right are the food hall and the café/restaurant and there's a handy large-scale map in the centre of the site depicting what they each provide.

From our base at Peebles it had taken almost an hour along the A- & B-Roads to get to the Born in the Borders centre so first port of call was definitely the café/restaurant. There's a small bar area at the entrance here with no seating (that I could see), but there are plenty of wooden tables & chairs towards the back of the room as well as a lot of seating outside within the walled-off terrace area which would be great on a sunny (and preferably warm) day. Even though there was still a lot of bright, natural, light in the room there was very much a deliberate autumnal look & feel about the place with yellow/orange leaves on the small decorative trees and I liked the flowers & acorns on the tables which I assume change with the season.

Food in the café/restaurant can be anything from coffee & scones, brunch specials, some interesting sandwiches, a small selection of main meals and a lot of seriously impressive looking cakes & home baking (displayed temptingly in glass stands near the main entrance). We went for a couple of the sandwiches and they were quite stunning; mine being ham-hock off the bone with creamy farmhouse cheddar and a spicy vegetable pickle, all on thick, slightly toasted sour-dough bread. The intensity of fresh flavours from the local produce probably made this the tastiest sandwich I've had for a long time.

And yes, that is a cup of tea that I had with the sandwich. I was driving and it's simply not worth taking the risk of any beer at all whilst driving. As far as I could tell the café/restaurant does provide some cask beer in the summertime, but at present, only bottles of Born in the Borders beers and Waulkmill ciders were available in the fridge behind the bar. Service was also great and happily fed, we walked across to the main food & drink hall which includes a long deli-style food counter, lots of well-stocked display shelves and a scattering of empty casks being used as promotional stands. Amongst the produce in here (that I can remember) were a range of soft & alcoholic drinks, crisps, biscuits, sweets, honey & condiments, butter & cheese, charcuterie and bread - it's an impressive local selection at pretty decent prices. Unsurprisingly there was also a back wall full of beer with the Born in the Borders bottles & gift sets prominent, but also bottles available from Broughton Ales, Tempest Brew Co., Traquair House and the close-to-the-Borders Top Out Brewery. I purchased a couple of the Born in the Borders beers, a Traquair House 50th Year special and a Waulkmill cider that I had been looking for for a while, the infamous Clan MacFannie, an Irn Bru (!) flavoured cider. When I tried this later on in the day this concoction turned out to have a striking Irn Bru aroma, with the initial bubblegum sweet taste thankfully tailing off somewhat into some flat, sweetish cider - it was certainly different!

The majority of the display fittings & shelf units in the food hall are on casters so they can be easily moved about when promotions are being run and the same methodology is used in the adjacent building. This houses a gift shop specialising in Borders textiles & all sorts of soft furnishings, but there are also candles, jewellery, local artwork, toys, beauty products and pretty well anything non-food & drink related. I liked the fact that the supplier of the goods has a description and also that it is labelled with the number of miles away from The Born in the Borders centre that it was made.

Occupying the final building across the courtyard is the Born in the Borders Brewery, although I did note that the outside sign & logo still depicts the Scottish Borders Brewery (which is probably still the legal name). There's a bit of a lack of other brewing paraphernalia around the outside of the building but there is the all-important basketball hoop; perfect for those sunny Borders days when you're waiting for the boil to finish.

Upstairs is a well presented self-paced guide to brewing and the history & development of the Born in the Borders Brewery. There are samples of different malts and hops to try (and smell) and also a home-brew kit which helps to bring across the general brewing process (I wonder if this was John's original kit !?).

There is also a showcase of all the Scottish Borders/Born in the Borders beers, including one-off specials that had been brewed for local events and the awards that the beers have won. Comparing the old and new bottle labels side-by-side there's no doubt that the new label design is way more modern, but it seems they have lost the approximate colour of the beer on the front, maybe not such a good thing for the relatively novice beer drinker (although to-be-honest their beer names are pretty self-explanatory). As well as going through the brewery name/label change they've decided to reduce the number of core beers, instead producing more seasonal beers and continuing with their foraged beers (nettles, measdowsweet and sea buckthorn have been recent interesting ingredients). For me Foxy Blonde is still their best beer, having significantly improved in quality and earthy-citrus intensity recently and there are not too many beers with those interesting Green Bullet hops in them.

The next room upstairs is the malt store with the malt chute at the far end feeding the mash tun...

...and there's also a view downstairs into the main brewery floor where one of the Born in The Borders guys was hard at work digging out said mash tun.

I went downstairs, stuck my head into the gap in the sliding door and tried to get the guy's attention away from the digging-out process by jumping up-and-down a bit (OK, a lot). Once he had decided that I was (relatively) harmless we chatted away about the brewery set-up (they were brewing Foxy Blonde, their mainstay, today with the first bittering hops having just been added). As well as the 10-barrel mash tun & copper, there are also 5 fermenters in the temperature controlled room behind the partition and also more conditioning tanks. They brew 2-3 times a week with the latest foraged beer having just been brewed in the past week. This was the 2015 variant of Hop Scotch whereby the majority of the hops used were grown in John's garden at Chesters Country Retreat (hops from Scotland are a definite rarity). There were only enough hops for 1 brew of Hop Scotch, and so it'll be a lucky establishment indeed to see this, with one of the most likely being John's pub in nearby Ancrum, The Cross Keys. Other local pubs taking Born in the Borders beers include Burt's Hotel in Melrose, Rutherfords (the new scottish Micropub) in Kelso and also many, many pubs in Edinburgh and the north of England.

As well as eating, drinking & retail therapy (and beer), Born in the Borders also caters for kids activities in the form of this wooden pirate-themed play area...

...and there are also a number of 4x4 driving packages that can be booked. We decided on the somewhat cheaper, if perhaps less adrenaline pounding, proposition of one of the walks beside the picturesque River Teviot, only a minute or so from the Born in the Borders site.

It was definitely worth a visit out to the Born in the Borders visitors centre; I liked the way the centre has been set out, the food was outstanding and it's always great to have a chat about beer and the local brewing & pub scene.

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