Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Aberfeldy, Fortingall, Kenmore loop: 26th September 2011

For the Glasgow September long holiday weekend we'd decided to get out of Glasgow and rent a cottage/lodge/caravan (to be honest I wasn't quite sure what it was going to actually be *) just outside Aberfeldy in Perthshire. Thankfully the weather wasn't too bad and this meant we could hire some bikes and get out to see the stunning Perthshire countryside in early autumn.

View Aberfeldy in a larger map

After collecting the bikes it was a short ride over the Wade Bridge up to the B846 road (National Cycle Route 7) which heads out to Glen Lyon. It's a fairy flat route with some dramatic houses old and new, and also some interesting sign-posts.

After turning off the B846 at Keltneyburn, the first stop was Fortingall, both for the Hotel and the Yew tree in the adjoining Church. The Yew tree is meant to be the oldest tree in Europe, c. 5000 years old - it's impressive but a good proportion of it was taken away in the 19th century by 'souvenir' hunters.

The Ewe (ha!) bar in Fortingall Hotel was very small & cosy, but the the house beer, Yew Ale from Inveralmond, was not available and the barman/manager seriously abrupt and touchy at my mentioning it - really not impressive. We decided to get on our way as soon as possible and it must have clicked to the barman that he had lost some custom, so he did come over and explain that they had just changed contracts for the drinks supply, but by then we really just wanted out of the place.

We then cycled down to the shore of Loch Tay heading back east, and after a couple of miles came to the Kenmore Hotel, said to be Scotland's oldest Inn (although I think the Sheep Heid in Edinburgh has an earlier claim). It's in a stunning setting at the very head of Loch Tay, with the conservatory and outside bar area looking down a good part of its length.

The hotel bar is called The Poet's Bar, after Robert Burns who composed Taymouth here on the chimney-breast, with the framed poem being the centrepiece of the bar. The only real ale on offer was Thrappledouser from Inveralmond, but it was well kept, with the barman pouring a few pints away to allow the new cask to settle down.

We took a short detour on the south bank of Loch Tay to the Acharn Falls, a 20 minute or so clamber from the shoreline to the head of the falls, but definitely worthwhile after the rain of the previous day.

We then headed back to Aberfeldy on the B846 road. The last port-of-call was the Weem Hotel a mile or so before the town centre. It's claim to fame was that the (in)famous General Wade (who lead the government armies in the Battle of Culloden) lived there, although his part of the dwelling was not in the best state of repair. The rest of the hotel was nice and welcoming, with the staff full of banter. Inveralmond Ossian and Thappledouser were on the bar and the Ossian was a great refreshing beer at the end of a cycle.

Back in Aberfeldy, the only place in town that seemed to be selling real ale was the Black Watch Inn. This was a nice place to spend an hour or so - a long, narrow bar with dart-board and pool table, a decent amount of whiskies, Belhaven IPA (better than the GK equivalent, though it's a low starting point) and Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted on hand-pull, and extremely good food served in the lounge restaurant.

* - it was a cottage!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Edinburgh New Town to the Forth, 17th September 2011

I go to Edinburgh fairly often for sporting events (rugby, cricket), "the culture" (gigs, museums, The Festival) and also for beer. There really are a lot of decent real ale pubs (and craft beer bars - did I really say that ?) in Edinburgh. It's not really possible go through them all in a day (not even close), so I normally have to plan for a certain area of the city. Today I decided to go the New Town and then walk down to Newhaven and Leith on the shore of the River Forth.

View Edinburgh - New Town in a larger map

Outward travel:
 Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Haymarket

The main reason for the New Town today was the beer festival at The Stockbridge Tap. I remember when the place was a Bert's Bar (similar to the one in William St) with an OK choice of beer, but now it's owned by the same people who have Cloisters and The Bow Bar and the choice is normally very good.
After the hike up and down the roads/lanes from Haymarket, The Stockbridge Tap was a welcoming sight at a busy corner of Raeburn Place.

There was a nice relaxed atmosphere to the place, the staff were smart and chatty and most of the tables taken in the front of the bar. As well as selling cask real ale it was also selling kegged 'craft' beer - I really don't have a problem with that so long as it's a good quality, tasty alcoholic beverage. On cask for the festival today were a Wheat Beer from Highland, Cheers from Roosters, Infamy from Empire, Moramer from Deeside and Hawkshead Bitter- a really good choice (although I was too early for the Magic Rock beers - sigh). After the excellent Highland Wheat Beer I tried the Brave New World on keg from Tempest - it was tasty but just far too fizzy - it kept frothing over the top of the glass. For food I'd been following their twitter feed and I knew exactly what I wanted for lunch - Sausages and Mash with Black Isle Vanilla Porter gravy - and it was outstanding - easily worth a picture on its own.

When in Edinburgh I normally try to go to at least one pub I've never been to and this time it was The St. Vincent, 2 minutes from The Tap. It's one of those strange places where you have to go downstairs to enter, but you can sit at tables almost level with the outside pavement - so it's a basement bar, but you're not really below ground - confusing.

It's fairly spacious inside, with the bar staff attentive and chatty - there was even an offer of a Tunnocks Tea Cake, which I declined. Beer wise there was Knops IPA and Musselburgh Broke - great - I'd been trying to find the IPA on cask for a while, but it was definitely a bit lower down the hop scale compared to the Brave New World at The Stockbridge Tap - nice pint though.

Afterwards I started off for the riverside. I walked past The Botanic Gardens, Heriots rugby ground (playing away this week) and some seriously expensive houses before I reached the shoreline. I thought I might have a look in The Old Chain Pier, but it was closed and up for lease, definitely a shame since the views across the Forth are absolutely stunning.

Not too far further along was The Starbank Inn - a Belhaven/GK pub.

I'm not sure if it was a Belhaven/GK pub the last time I visited (probably 5 years or so ago), but again (as per The Waverley, Callander), my memories are of a far better beer range than now - currently 4x Belhaven/GK, 4x guests. I still had an OKish pint of Blonde Bombshell from TSA (although it did seem very similar to their own Lomond Gold), so I'll limit any repetitive moaning.

Now it was a somewhat longer walk along the newly developed Leith dockyard area (and the really incredible amount of new condo-style apartments going up there) to the Malt and Hops.

Walking in I was struck by how little the place has changed. Still quite dark, tables at the back, dangling bunches of hops, papers, leaflets etc... However (shockingly) the masses of pump-clips on the ceiling had gone, with only a small amount left at the bar - what a shame (due to theft, I guess). I remember being there one time when they were about to put on Wychwood Hobgoblin, no-one could find the pump-clip on the ceiling (even for the reward of a free pint), but I saved the day with a torn-out advert (what's the matter lagerboy etc...) from my What's Brewing newsletter - no free pint though! Today the pump-clips were displaying beer from Tryst (Antonine Amber), Highgate (IPA), Stewart and also Blue Bear (White Boar) which I certainly had not seen before.

After finishing my pint, rather than walk back to the city centre up Leith Walk, I decided to wimp out and take the bus back up to Princes Street to have time to try the new Brewdog beer, Hops Kill Nazis. It was a good, spicy, strong amber beer - shame about the name.

Return transport:
 Bus: Leith to Princes Street (22, Lothian)
 Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street

Monday, 12 September 2011

Inverkeilor to Montrose: 10th September 2011

I love walking along the seashore - harbours, beaches, cliffs, but don't get (or probably take) too many opportunities nowadays. Since I was on the east coast of Scotland this weekend I decided to go to Lunan Bay (where I think I'd been to once as a kid) and then walk up the coast to Montrose to try a couple of pubs I'd never visited before.

View Montrose in a larger map

Outward travel was by car to The Chance Inn, Inverkeilor.

The Chance Inn is a cracking small pub in the middle of the village. There's a pretty small bar with about 6 chairs to every table and a quite large modern restaurant to one side. I stayed in the bar, and after making sure the fish had been caught in Arbroath, devoured the fish'n'chips'n'peas in record time. No real ale unfortunately (* see comments), but I was hoping my luck would change in Montrose.

I then set off to Lunan Bay to walk my meal off. It's about a mile and a half to the beach on a narrow, but seldom used road which eventually connects to National Cycle Route 1.
Before I reached the beach I walked past the ruined Red Castle, close on 1000 years old but still pretty imposing in spite of its condition.

After that it was a short walk through the car park to Lunan Bay beach. It really is a stunning beach - classic golden sand, stretching out for a couple of miles until a set of cliffs and sea stacks drop into the North Sea - all with the waves crashing noisily due to the brisk wind - and today it was practically EMPTY!

I decided to retrace my steps back to the beach entrance rather than trying to go cross-country through various fields, and I was soon back on National Cycle Route 1 marching through a couple of small hamlets into Montrose.

I crossed the new bridge over the River South Esk and my first shelter from the squally rain was the Market Arms on the High Street. This afternoon it was busy, bright and noisy with multiple TVs tuned to the football results and a mixture of guys watching this and girls chatting after shopping. The 2 hand-pulls had on Lia Fail from Inveralmond and GoldenX from nearby Burnside Brewery in Laurencekirk. I went for half of the GoldenX and it was very good indeed - a smooth best bitter with some nut and almost oak-like tones - easily the best I've had from Burnside.

The George Hotel is completely different. The photo probably doesn't suggest it, but inside is a classy bar area with high stools and a neat, modern restaurant area. There was only the one hand-pull on, Theakstons XB, but it was well kept and the staff polite and helpful, letting me use the hotel WiFi.

All told an enjoyable afternoon out, a decent walk, stunning beach and good beer at the end.

Return travel:
 Bus: Montrose to Inverkeilor (39, Strathtay)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A visit to Angus Ales, Carnoustie: 9th September 2011

I was brought up and lived in Monifieth, a genteel suburb of Dundee, for close on 30 years and still go back to visit family pretty often. In that time there's not been a local brewery closer than probably Inveralmond in Perth. However in late 2009 I'd noted that a new microbrewery called Angus Ales had been setup and started to sell real ale to both stalwart real ale pubs and completely new local outlets - great news. I'd therefore been annoying the owner & brewer, Alan Lawson, to let me visit for a while now, but he's now basically a one man band and he'd never had the spare time available on the occasions when I'd been in the area. I'd pinged Alan again this week when I was going to be up for a beer festival in a local pub, The Milton Inn, and this time Alan had some time to spare on Friday afternoon - hooray!

The brewery's located in the middle of a small industrial estate in Carnoustie, probably only a short iron shot away from the famous Carnoustie Championship golf course.

When I arrived Alan was getting a couple of hand-pulls ready for a wedding on Saturday. So from his point-of-view it's not just a matter of delivering the beer, but sometimes also supplying the hand-pulls, lines, drip-trays etc... and then picking them up afterwards and (more annoyingly) cleaning everything. He's good company, keeping up a commentary as he gets everything ready, finding the requisite parts from various parts of the unit.
Afterwards I get the tour of the brewing equipment which is located in one half of the unit - mash tun, copper (both spotless) and fermenting vessel - and in another corner - Alan's temporary office!

At the moment Mashie Niblick is on day 4 (of 7) of the fermenting process and it smells great, seriously nutty and quite sweet. Alan puts in some additional finings at this point to further clarify the beer - everything is seriously clean and fully documented.

After the beer is racked into casks Alan puts them into a chill-room out the back, which is temperature controlled to 11C, approx. the same temperature as a decent pub cellar. So casks which are delivered to customers can (depending on how quickly they settle) be put on very quickly, especially if they are local deliveries. In a nice piece of re-cycling, spent malt & grain is picked up by the local garden allotment association.

Alan estimates he spends ~60% of his time away from the brewery and it's the selling that is the time consuming part. Unless it's a special occasion he's not going to be able to sell into the pub chains, so it's the smaller, independent pubs and special functions (weddings, fund raisings) that Alan's tried to target, with a fair amount of success. It's uncertain if he's going to try to expand further, with regular deliveries to Edinburgh or further afield, but here's hoping that he continues for the foreseeable future.

Alan's currently brewing 4 core beers - Birdie 3 is a fairly standard bitter, Mashie Niblick a more malty Scottish 70/-, Gowfer's Gold a pale, citrusy summer ale to which Alan has recently started to add some Citra hops, and Driver Dark which Alan defines as a stout, but I think is a fair bit lighter, has some Amarillo hops added for a definite bite at the end - probably my favourite Angus Ale. He's also done a special brew for the 200th Anniversary of the Bell Rock lighthouse (located on a reef just offshore of Arbroath) called Bell Rock Light and this has managed to get him valuable column inches in the local papers. He currently hand bottles the beers (it's not his favourite part of the job) and the local Spar shops sell them all at a decent price.

I had a great time chatting with Alan and I went away with definite admiration for what he's achieved, a far better understanding of how a small microbrewey operates and how much sheer hard work is involved.

*Update January 2013*
I'm sad to say that following a personal accident in late Dec. 2012, Alan has had to take the decision to cease trading as Angus Ales. A definite shame - I'll certainly remember enjoying the beers he crafted for quite some time.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Callander to Lade Inn: 3rd September 2011

Today I had to juggle between getting to a couple of mini-beer festivals in The Trossachs and watching the Scotland - Czech Republic game (or at least some part of it). So it was an early start to get to Callander, again not the easiest place to get to by public transport from Glasgow.

View Callander, 3rd September 2011 in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train : Glasgow Queen Street to Stirling - Alloa train
  Bus : Stirling to Callander (59, First in Scotland). Had to run for this!

The bus to Callander from Stirling takes an interesting detour through Deanston, really not much more than a distillery, a primary school and a row of houses built for the distillery workers. The riverside setting is stunning and I've always wanted to get off the bus and take a look around, but the distillery tours have to be pre-booked and it's another hour for the next bus so I've never actually done so.

I got off the bus almost at the door of the Waverley Hotel.
It's a nice building - the bar in the lounge is long with 8 hand-pulls, there are a fair number of tables for food and a separate TV lounge next door. It's got a lot of touristy scottish decor, but then (doh!) this is a tourist town. Unfortunately the beer choice during this mini-festival was not too great - it's probably been going downhill since Belhaven/Green King took over a couple of years ago and leased out the place. Previously where there had been, for example An Teallach beers and some printed tasting notes, today there were only 3x Inveralmond, 1x Houston and 4x Belhaven/GK beers - none at all interesting. The soup & sandwich deal is still good value, but I left with a slight sense of disappointment.

The walk to the Lade Inn is only about half an hour (I need to do some longer walks very soon!) and goes through Callander Meadows and the route of an old railway line - complete with 'old' railway signposts.
At the Lade Inn they at least had some decent beers on - their own 3x beers (brewed by TSA - Lade Back, Lade Out, Way Lade) and also TSA Double Espresso, Williams Roisin & Tryst Blathan. It's a busy place this lunchtime, there's a coach party in and the staff are rushed off their feet. Once I've finished my Blathan I head off to the Scottish Real Ale Shop next door where they used to brew their own beers but now have probably the widest selection of bottled beer is Scotland
I always ask when I go into the place if they have anything new available. This time they have some Oban Bay beers (which I don't really fancy - I'll probably be up in Oban in the next few months) and also a couple of Islay beers including an bourbon aged stout - interesting. I also take a chance on the Arran Milestone Reserve although I've heard conflicting reports on this. What the hell - it's my birthday this month. It's not a bad haul, not quite to @cagarvie standards, but enough to seriously weigh my rucksack down
Return transport:-
  Bus : Callander to Stirling (59, First in Scotland)
  Train : Stirling to Glasgow Queen Street - Aberdeen train

I arrived back in Glasgow to just catch Scotland go ahead in their match and then be denied by a pretty dubious penalty. Oh well - at least I have some decent beer to drink.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Manchester City Centre to The Star Inn, Salford: 31st August 2011

I was in Manchester for the Arcade Fire gig and had to make a decision about which pubs/bars to visit. I was going to try the obvious City Centre establishments, both more established (Marble Arch) and newer (Port St Beer House), but also wanted somewhere slightly different to try. I think I was skimming  through one of the CAMRA newsletters when I saw that there was a pub in Manchester called The Star Inn which had been bought by the community in 2009. I'd been to a couple of these before (Old Crown @ Hesket Newmarket & Shoemakers Arms near Brecon) and found them to be really thriving pubs with great staff and great beer, but The Star Inn was meant to be the first such pub in an urban area. Finding out that the pub had just had a brewery installed (The Star Inn Brewery, formerly Bazens' Brewey and quite well established) made my choice fairly straight-forward.

View Manchester, 31st August 2011 in a larger map
I was a bit pushed for time after a latish lunch at The Knott just off Deansgate so decided to take the bus up to the Star Inn and walk back.
Outward travel:
 Bus, Blackfriars St to Knoll Rd (98 First Manchester)

The Star Inn is well hidden from the main road, certainly living up to the proverbial back-street boozer tag.
Inside there's a pretty small bar with a few seats and then a larger room with a dart board, a load of board games and a comunity notice board, and another smaller snug-type room leading off from this. There's also a fair amount of outside seating, although calling this a garden would be stretching things.

The beers on were the in-house Starry Night (all of £2.10) and a couple of guest beers from Boggart. The Starry Night was actually a fairly standard bitter - it was OK but had the slight yeasty after-taste I've sometimes had from smaller microbreweries. The Boggart Cascade was thin & lemony, again OK but nothing special.
I couldn't really tell what the atmosphere was like since I was the only person in the pub for a while. The barmaid did say that the place gets really busy on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons (for the quiz). They've also just had a beer festival a couple of weeks ago when the staff worked 16 hour shifts (with breaks!)
It was definitely a worthwhile place to visit and really great that the place seems to be thriving. Hopefully next time I'll visit during an evening and manage to have a chat with some of the regulars and probably get (well) beaten at darts.

I walked the couple of miles or so back into the City Centre through the rush hour traffic (and mad pedestrians) stopping for a beer at The Mark Addy on the river-side. They were at the tail-end of a Bank Holiday Beer Festival with a mass of casks under the quayside arches and I was happy to get a pint of Kooky Gold from Offbeat Brewery. This was the first beer I'd had from Michelle Kelsall's new brewery (ex-Windie Goat in Ayrshire) and she's still certainly got her touch with pale'n'hoppy beers.