Sunday, 30 December 2012

Golden Pint Awards 2012

These are my Golden Pints for the beers I've drunk & the pubs I've been to in 2012 with links to various blog posts or untappd checkins.

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer:
Mauldons Blackberry Porter - Blackfriars, Glasgow

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer:
Cromarty AKA IPA - bought from Good Spirits Co, Glasgow

Best Overseas Draught Beer:
Weihenstephaner Korbinian - Paisley Beer Festival

Best Overseas Bottled Beer:
Emelisse Witbier

Best Overall Beer:
Cromarty AKA IPA

Best Pumpclip or Label:
Loch Lomond Brewery Silkie Stout

Best UK Brewery:
I'm going to say Fyne Ales (as per last year). An amazing amount of new, great ales again this year. There was always a buzz when each new IPA Project beer came out

Best Overseas Brewery:
Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan

Pub/Bar of the Year:
Large scale - The Grove, Huddersfield and The Hanging Bat, Edinburgh
Small scale pub - Feuars Arms, Kirkcaldy

Beer Festival of the Year:
Edinburgh Independents Beer Festival. Just my type of thing - great beer and walking & crawling around some of Edinburgh's best pubs

Supermarket of the Year:
Sainsburys, specifically for the GBBH. I quite liked the winner, Batemans Mocha Beer

Independent Retailer of the Year:
Inn Beer Shop, Southport and the HDM Beer Shop, Huddersfield

Online Retailer of the Year:
AleselA - still the best packaging for beer bottles I've seen (and their beers are pretty good!)

Best Beer Blog or Website:
The Beercast - The 'Scottish Beer' website, especially now with the Edinburgh Beer Weekly

Best Beer Twitterer:
The @glasgowbeer community of people, pubs & the Perl script

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year:
Mushroom & Tarragon soup, Tuna Mayo sandwiches and Torbrex Red Ale (Williams Brothers) - Inn at Torbrex, Stirling

In 2013 I’d Most Like To…
Go to the Munich Oktoberfest (still the same as last year then!)

Happy New Year to everyone!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Around the perimeter of Penrith: 21st December 2012

For the last couple of years I've used my final day off in the year to have a walk around a number of the breweries and pubs surrounding Carlisle. This year I wanted to go slightly further afield and as a new brewery had started production this year in Penrith, the Eden Brewery (not to confused with the admittedly, confusingly similarly named, Eden Brewery St Andrews!), I'd contacted them and hoped to try some of their beers in or around Penrith.

View Penrith in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Penrith
  Bus: Penrith Train Station to Stainton (105 or X4/X5)

The way the train & bus times had worked out I had 3/4 of an hour or so before my connection to Stainton, just to the south-west of Penrith, so decided on a very short walk around Penrith. Almost overlooking the train station car park is the ruined Penrith Castle, which played a prominent role in the defence of England against the Pictish hoards.

I then found a good selection of interesting craft and food shops at the bottom of Brunswick Road towards the west of the town centre including this eponymous Deli - the special today was turkey, stuffing, chipolatas & cranberry sauce - all of Christmas in a single baguette!

Back up towards the train station I battled my way through the shoppers on full auto-pilot in Morrisons car park and decided to try the next-door Agricultural Hotel for a quick pre-noon half.

The hotel used to host Penrith's cattle auction in years gone by (which has re-located just out of town at the M6/A66 junction) and is now a Jennings pub (and as such part of the Marstons empire). The main bar is dominated by a fantastic high bar canopy/gantry complete with glass panels and this gave a nice intimate feel when at the bar. Available today were the Jennings regulars, Sneck Lifter, Cumberland Ale & Lakeland Bitter as well as Ringwood Old Thumper, English Pale Ale & Wychwood Bah Humbug, (all Marstons), so I got into the festive spirit I tried the Bah Humbug (just a bit too over-the-top spicy for me).

It's a nice place - they do lots of 'lite-bites' (Cumberland Sausage, Barms (floury buns with fillings) etc...) hold pub quizzes & raffles, have lots of papers available as well as a juke box and a real fire. However there was a definite sense of anticipation from the bar staff - they were on edge and waiting for the influx of diners for their sold out Christmas Lunch session. I also learnt that the staff call this Friday before Christmas 'Black-Eye Friday' (for obvious reasons) and were getting specific instructions on who not to serve. Hanging above the seating area for the Lunches were some serious saws & other bits of agricultural paraphernalia as well as a pretty scary Father Christmas!

Half pint finished I then walked back down to train station to wait for the local bus. Given the amount of traffic on the roads I though this could be fairly late, but I only had a wait of a few minutes before it turned up. This took me onto the A66 for a short distance and then into Stainton before dropping me off (very conveniently) almost at the door of the long Kings Arms public house.

The pub has been extended recently with the lower section now housing the local Post Office and newsagent - it's part of the Pub is the Hub initiative and seems to have the support of the entire village and further afield. Even though the Post Office was closed for lunch when I was around there were still people dropping off mail into a box in the pub - it's a great way to help out-of-town pubs stay open.

As I expected the Kings Arms was also set-up for a large number of Christmas meals (the restaurant certainly seemed fully booked) so rather than take up an entire table on my own I took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer and some food. The 3 hand-pulls were dispensing Black Sheep, Doom Bar and Brains Fir-King Good so I took a pint of the festive Fir-King Good (a pretty decent malty bitter) and waited for my meal. The bar was a mixture of old and new with lots of brass farming equipment & pictures of Ullswater in amongst a more modern dart-board clock and some sensible tables. The beams were interesting - covered with pump-clips (from Tirril, York and I spotted an Eden Best one as well), old paper currency, glass tankards from the Stainton Beer Festival in the summer and also lots of Christmas Cards in amongst the twinkling Christmas lights and tinsel.

Although I had the choice of a number of different soup-and-sandwich deals for lunch I went 'local' for the Cumberland Sausage & Chips, complete with massive onion rings and runny fried egg - absolutely superb.

The 2 young members of staff (kids, almost) were great - friendly, helpful and they were so pleasant & patient in dealing with the customers ("Usual table", "Remember your discount" etc...). In amongst all this the owner flitted about keeping things ticking over - it really is a very well run true community pub.

I then needed to walk off my huge lunch (at least to some extent). I first of all took a look at a hotel just down the road from the Kings Arms, the Brantwood Country Hotel. This seemed a classy & decent enough place but my worry was that if I went in I'd probably just sit at the bar and wait for the next bus back to Penrith Railway Station - not really what I wanted at that time, even though the mizzle was starting to make its damp appearance.

So instead I walked out of Stainton in the direction of Penrith. After passing the fairly large Lakes Free Range Egg Company premises I came to a road junction close to the A66. The impressive structure on the other side of the junction is the Rheged Discovery Centre, the largest grass covered building in Europe - somewhere in there are shops, a kids castle playground and a multi-screen cinema as well as a half-hidden petrol/service station for the A66.

Just to the south of the Rheged Centre I found a sign-posted path which eventually led me down to the banks of the River Eamont. This was very muddy, leafy & slippery in places, especially in the downhill sections close to the river - Wellie Boots would probably have been a better choice of footwear. However I eventually came to the 'Ironbridge' over the River Eamont - this was damaged by debris back in the floods of 2009 and a new elevated bridge put in place in 2011. Just as well since there wasn't another crossing for some miles in either direction.

I crossed the bridge and tramped my way over the sodden common ground (minding the sheep) into the village of Sockbridge and then further on to Tirril and the welcoming sight of the Queens Head Inn where I was hoping to take shelter from the increasingly persistent mizzle.

I'd been to the Queens Head before when visiting The Lakes quite a few years ago - back then it had been an independent free house with an attached microbrewery, but now it is a Robinsons establishment and the Tirril Brewery which used to be behind the pub has moved to Appleby. There's a large restaurant on the left of the building and a separate entrance for the bar on the right. The bar still has a nice traditional feel to it - really solid walls, a number of separate little alcoves, masses of dark wood, low beams with pewter tankards, a roaring fire and lots of books around the fireplace.

On at the bar were Robinsons Unicorn, Dizzy Blonde, Tom & Berry and Hartleys Cumbria Way - not a 'true' guest ale (again), although kegged Hawkshead Lakeland Lager was available. The Tom & Berry (ouch!) was really quite nice, a blend of their Old Tom with a rich tang of winter berries, and definitely one of the better winter ales I've had this year. The staff were welcoming and polite, but just seemed to be a bit too formal compared to the banter at the Kings Head.

Somewhat warmed up (inside and out) I headed up the road to the bus stop. This was situated opposite a very distinctive building - The Tirril and Sockbridge Reading Room and Library.

The bus to Penrith came dead on time, and would have dropped me back off at the Railway Station but because of the traffic jam going back into the centre of town I decided to get off early and walk through a housing estate to the Cranstons Cumbrian Food Hall, located on busy Ullswater Road on the south-west side of town.

Cranstons were originally formed as a butchers but have now expanded to provide a large range of local food and deli produce over a number shops. The Cumbrian Food Hall is huge - I don't think I've ever seen a more comprehensive selection of meat products - just the number of different types of sausages and cold meat were incredible.

In amongst all this was Jason Hill, co-owner of Eden Brewery - he'd been manfully holding a tasting in the Food Hall since 11:00am and I caught him just before he was due to clock off at 4:00pm.

Eden Brewery are another very new microbrewery - started in 2011, their beers are brewed on brand new 5 BBL plant at a former brewhouse in Brougham Hall, just outside Penrith. Since their beers appeared early in 2012 they've built up a nice range of cask and bottled beers with some interesting specials. Jason's a really enthusiastic guy with some great ideas and we chatted for quite some time whilst Jason led me through a tasting of all of their beers which were available today. The Eden Gold had a nice light citrus aroma & taste (Jason thought it had lost a bit of bite from the cask beer) whilst the Emperor IPA was an all-English dry & bitter IPA without too much of a floral flourish. The Raspberry was one of their special editions - with a sourish raspberry aroma & taste this was a great first-off attempt at the much neglected UK fruit beer style. Jason wants to do a real sour fruit beer, but is going to wait until next year's fruit crop since it seems to take an incredible amount of fruit to do this properly (and it's a pain to clean the brewing kit). Lastly there was the Route 66 Lager (the name works out well since they're just off the A66) which Jason had just collected the day before. I needed a first sip to clean my palate from the Raspberry but then I got a taste of a dry, crisp and bitter pils - really nice! This certainly had more bitterness than the St Andreas I tried a couple of weeks ago, but was perhaps not quite as smooth. Nonetheless both were were great lagers and it is so good to see more of this style of beer. Jason explained that this was a true bottom fermented pils, lagered for 5-6 weeks, with lots of Saaz hops and it had also been also dry hopped. It's only available in bottles at the moment, but Eden plan to keg it in the New Year where their competition will be in the serious form of Hawkshead Lakeland Lager - that's nothing if not ambitious. It was great to try Eden's beers and I left Jason to his final customers of the afternoon. I obviously had to take some beer away with me so I bought 3 bottles of Eden beers and also one from Hesket Newmarket on the recommendation of Jason from the large choice at the Food Hall in Cranstons - Cumbrian Legendary bottles & mini-kegs were also available.

With a small amount of free time still available I did try the Royal in Penrith (for a half of Otter Bitter) and drop back into the Agricultural for a quick Jennings Sneck Lifter (dark, malty - not bad) but by then Back-Eye Friday was definitely in full swing and I was happy to get out of the town centre and grab a coffee for my train journey back.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Tirril to Penrith (108)
  Train: Penrith to Glasgow Central

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Going Medieval in Dunfermline: 8th December 2012

I have to admit that I like the occasional cask or even kegged lager - Harviestoun Schiehallion, WEST St Mungo, Inveralmond Sunburst to name but a few, but there really aren't too many brewed in Scotland to my taste (I much prefer bitter to sweet). So when I found out that the newish Eden Brewery St Andrews had brewed an interesting lager for St Andrews Day (fittingly called St Andreas 1882) I really wanted to give this a go. With most of Eden's outlets being in Fife, Dundee & Edinburgh it looked as if my best opportunity was going to be at a Medieval Winter Festival being held in the town of Dunfermline, a place I'd only ever visited a couple of times, and one of those for a job interview!

View Dunfermline in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Haymarket
             Haymarket to Dunfermline Town (23, 53 on hour)

The train station is situated at the south-east side of Dunfermline and it was a bit of an icy uphill climb to the bustling town centre. At the end of the pedestrianised High Street is the impressive Scottish/Gothic-style City Chambers and Clock Tower (you can even get a jigsaw puzzle of this).

I continued further along Bridge Street to the Glen Gates area in front of Pittencrieff Park (or The Glen), where the Fife Farmer's Market was being held (from 9am to 1pm), and although not part of the Medieval Winter Festival this was certainly interesting enough to warrant a short diversion.

There definitely was a nice festive air (and aroma) around the market stalls with chestnuts and a hog roast, and in amongst all the great organic meat & veg (and the lethal Cairn O'Mohr wines) I found the engaging figure of Bob Phaff from the St Andrews Brewing Company, (not to be confused with the completely separate Eden Brewery St Andrews) wrapped up against the cold and selling his wares.

St Andrews Brewing Company has only been going since January of this year but have built up a core selection of 7 bottled beers (with some really great bottle designs) and a number of seasonal specials. I was really hoping to get his winter special, Warm yer Cockles (a Dark Ale with chilli & chocolate) but all 750 bottles had already been sold - damn & drats! Instead I took a bottle of Fife Gold and chatted away to Bob for a while. He certainly has great plans for 2013 including a move to St Andrews (he currently brews in Glenrothes), availability of cask beer and a series of monthly specials (I think a Red Rye and a Belgian Ale were mentioned) in larger 750ml bottles - good luck to him.

I left Bob to his line of thirsty customers and walked down the cobbled streets of Kirkgate and into Maygate where the distinctive Abbot House Heritage Centre is located. The building was originally part of the adjacent Abbey but went through years of being private dwelling places and even a doctor's surgery before finally ending up as a Heritage Centre in 1995. Today they were having their December Medieval Winter Festival complete with Mulled Wine, Medieval Mince Pies, Weaponry Displays, Costumed Re-enactors and (most importantly, of course) a Beer Tasting from the Eden Brewery St Andrews.

As usual I had to be really careful going through the doors in such an historic place (some were well below the 6 foot mark) but after wandering through the café & some seating areas I came to the side room where the Eden Brewery St Andrews had set-up for the afternoon. Inside were head of brewing John Reade, his glamorous assistant from Abbot House, some casks of Eden St Andreas 1882, Clock Brew & Seggie Porter and lots & lots of bottles.

John's a really interesting, knowledgeable guy - not only head of brewing at Eden St Andrews, but a real beer/brewery historian (especially on the breweries of Fife) and he regularly gives talks and lectures on the subject. The basis of St Andreas 1882 was originally his homebrew recipe and consists of lager malt with Saaz & Halletauer Mittlefreu hops from Bavaria & Bohemia, the use of which was supposedly happening in the long closed Newton of Falkland Brewery as late as 1882 (hence the name). John poured me a pint of the St Andreas 1882 and this had a nicely balanced bitter/sweetness (although I would still have preferred increased bitterness) but what stood out was the incredible smoothness, probably from the 5-6 weeks lagering time that this first batch had gone through. This lovely pint cost me all of £3 with proceeds going to the proposed on-site Abbot Brew House - a plan to renovate one of the outhouses into a brewery brewing beer based on 17th Century techniques and recipes (the project has already secured some funding from Tennents Caledonia Seed Fund). John's now gone part-time with Eden St Andrews to help with this and hopes to have a brewery that people can look into from the outside street and then enjoy traditional beers in the picturesque gardens of Abbot House.

I left John with a promise to return and try the Seggie Porter and headed to the Abbot House café for some nourishment. This is a really nice café staffed by friendly volunteer staff with a extensive selection of light meals (soups, rolls, Marconi etc...) and some great home baking. I went for the tomato & lentil soup along with a bacon & egg roll to help finish off my St Andreas 1882 Lager.

The Facilities for the Abbot House are in a separate building in the grounds (and were damned chilly today) and there's also an entrance to the magnificent Dunfermline Abbey where Robert the Bruce is buried.

I went back to annoy John once more and found out that the Seggie Porter is based on a traditional Fife porter recipe with pale, chocolate, black, brown and Munich malt as well as roasted barley - there was certainly lots of lovely bitter chocolate in the taste and it didn't drink like a 5.5% abv beer. The Seggie part of the name refers to another old Fife brewery, and as a nice modern twist, spent grain from the Eden St Andrews brewery is fed to cattle on the farm which used to house the Seggie brewery, which then provides meat to the nearby Guardbridge Hotel, which also takes Eden brewery beers - so steak and beer from the effectively the same source!

I then took my beer and went to have a look at the rest of Abbot House. As well as the downstairs gift shop there were a surprising number of different 'historical' rooms upstairs - a sewing room, a music room, a chapel and (most interestingly) an armoury. In here were some brilliantly enthusiastic people dressed up in period clothes and happy explain how to use and wear all the swords, axes, longbows & arrows, helmets & chain-mail - great, informative fun.

I really enjoyed my couple of hours at the Abbot House but eventually dragged myself out of the door in search of some pubs in Dunfermline. The Old Inn was just across the road but didn't seem to have any hand-pulls available that I could see, the next-door Creepy Wee Pub is interesting as a one-off experience but pales after that, and the huge cavern of the Seven Kings had only Belhaven IPA & Old Speckled Hen on today, so I pinned all of my hopes on the Commercial Inn, located just outside the busy entrance of Kingsgate shopping centre.

I have to admit the Caley signs outside did have me worried, but inside was a really outstanding pub, complete with 8 hand-pulled beers set in the centre of a long bar stretching almost the complete far end of the pub. The choice included a beer from the nearby Loch Leven Brewery, and since I hadn't tried a beer from there for years I was happy to try their Once Bittern (ouch!), a more than decent hoppy, bitter pale ale. The staff here were great - friendly, chatty, and so were the locals - 3 of us at the bar eventually agreed to disagree on whether the new or original version of Old Speckled Hen was better (I went for the older/original). There are loads of pump-clips at the back of the bar (including a full Alechemy set) and they also have on show the pump-clips of the beers about to go on next (today a lot of Arran beers and also Loch Leven Raven Mad).

All around the pub was a lot of panelled, weathered wood as well as old fashioned red bar stools, lots of tables for the decently priced pub grub, a couple of flashing puggies and a TV screen or two. There was also a good selection of Belgian beer and anywhere that displays a large Duvel sign has got to have my vote.

Thankfully they were quite happy to give out tasters so I decided to try the 2012 variant of TSA Turkey Stuffing as the locals had somewhat of a mixed opinion about it. And it certainly was different - loads of sage & onion and a very sweet backbone, and so it does exactly what it says on the tin (or pump-clip). It really was a bit too weird for me in a beer, but fair doos to TSA for trying it.

My final stop on the way back to the train station was Reuben's Deli & Wine StoRe on New Row, just off the High Street.

It seems as if the Café-Deli has been a fixture in Dunfermline since 2009, with the adjoining Wine StoRe opening late in 2011. The majority of the shelf space is set aside for wine, but there are a number of shelves of beer (including boxes of St Andrews beers that Bob had just dropped off), as well a fridge full of mostly foreign stock (with a large amount of OctoberFest beers available at the moment). Since I was in a Lager mode it seemed only appropriate to take a God Lager from Nils Oscar.

They also supply their own bottled beer, the De Brus Blond Ale, currently brewed at TSA, and named after the ancient family name of Robert The Bruce. I managed to get this a couple of months ago from the Bridge of Allan Brewery and it's a pretty decent, citrusy & light pale ale (also see this review here). In the shop I found out that there had been 2 more variants of the De Brus which had only been made available for tasting in the StoRe and at both The Bruce Festival in August and the Dunfermline Beer Festival in October - a Lager and a Brown Ale (both of which should be available in bottles in 2013). I also found out that the shop owners are planning to open their own nearby micro-brewery in the New Year (red tape permitting) - another new micro-brewery in the same town should make it an interesting 2013 in Dunfermline.

Return transport:-
  Train: Dunfermline Town to Haymarket (02, 34 on the hour)
             Haymarket to Glasgow Queen St

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Amongst the Hillfoots towns from Dollar to Alva: 1st December 2012

On a lovely crisp December day I decided that a walk up one of the more picturesque Glens in central Scotland seemed like a good idea. I therefore set-off on a trip to Dollar, one of the Hillfoots towns at the southern base of the Ochil Hills just outside Stirling. This would hopefully also give me the chance to try the Scottish Pub of the Year, the Woolpack Inn, in nearby Tillicoultry.

View Dollar in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Stirling (18, 48 on the hour)
  Bus: Stirling Bus Station to Dollar (09:10 then every 2 hours, 23 Stagecoach in Fife)

The connecting bus on the Stirling-Dollar-Kinross route bus was over 20 minutes late at Stirling bus station, and as we eventually drove into Tillicoultry and then Dollar I could see why - a light snow fall had occurred during the night dusting the streets & pavements and giving a nice festive cap to the Ochil Hills.

The walk to Dollar Glen is well signposted and starts at Dollar Museum just to the north of Bridge Street and alongside the Dollar Academy playing grounds.

I decided to take the pain of climbing the steep side of the Glen at the start and headed up the steps and paths of the west side for 15 minutes or so before gently coming back down to reach the gushing waterfalls and wooded canopy at the Burn of Sorrows.

Further on the wooded Glen peters out somewhat with trails extending to the King's Seat summit - today I was more than happy to leave that to odd hardy sheep.

Heading back downhill on the other (east) side of the Glen there were some great clear views of Dollar & the River Devon valley as well as the dramatic 15th Century Castle Campbell (aka Castle Glume), now a ruin torched by The Marquis of Montrose in 1645.

The steps back down the Glen from the Castle were pretty treacherous in places but eventually I came to another set of waterfalls and John Knox's Pullpit.

The whole excursion had taken a fairly active hour and a half so I was then more than ready for a beer and some nourishment. First of all I made for the elegant Castle Campbell Hotel at the east end of Bridge Street.

I passed the more formal restaurant areas and headed to the lounge bar situated on the left side of the building. This consists of a bar area with half a dozen or so tables and a more relaxed 'sitting room' with lots of comfy sofas as well as papers & guide books open to read. On the 2 hand-pulls at the bar were Deuchars & Doom Bar so I ordered a Doom Bar (to which the barman paid a serious amount of attention) and went to sit in the lounge/sitting room. This reminded me a bit of a Habitat showroom, but it was nice & relaxing and I especially liked the huge canvas print of a parrot.

They were only serving food until 2pm (and I hate ordering too close to the end-of-service), so I made my way a couple of doors along Bridge Street to the King's Seat.

Thankfully here they were serving food all day, both in the restaurant on the left and bar on the right, so I ordered the soup (Scotch Broth) along with a pint of Scottish Borders Foxy Blonde (Bitter & Twisted, Deuchars & Scottish Borders Game Bird were the other choices). The Foxy Blonde is normally a decent citrusy golden ale but this started quite yeasty & not very pleasant, although it did improve (a lot) further down into the pint (I do seem to pick this characteristic up in quite a few golden ales). In the bar itself there's only a small serving area with a few bar-stools, but there are a number of additional tables dotted around the wall to sit and have a meal or watch the Football. It's all done up with lots of light wood, modern prints, clocks and books (including a nice collection Good Beer Guides).

The Scotch Broth really was lovely - meaty, spicy, thick with barley & pulses and very, very hot - just what I needed.

There's an an excellent Deli across the road (Reids of Dollar), with a good selection of interesting cheese, olives, pâté & with coffee & sandwiches to go, but the beer selection is fairly minimal (really only Williams Brothers, all of which I'd had before). I therefore headed out with a fairly empty rucksack to the Devon Way cycle/footpath and my walk to Tillicoultry. However my first look at this seemed to present a serious problem - the path had completely frozen over and was covered by a thin sheet of solid hard ice.

I was seriously thinking of going back to the town centre and waiting for the next bus, but because of the dearth of public transport from Dollar this would have meant a wait of an hour or so for the return journey back to Stirling (although the Kings Seat would have been an attractive alternative). So I decided to give the path a go and it wasn't too treacherous - keeping to the very edge of the path meant that I could walk in the loose earth & leaves which gave a decent enough grip. And there were quite a few other people out walking that afternoon - although the guy with the bike was really taking a chance on that surface. After 45 minutes or so of fairly slip-free walking I went past the Sterling Mill Outlet Mall in Tillicoultry and then headed up to Glassford Square and the Woolpack Inn

I'd put my head around the door of the place 3-4 years ago but decided against staying for a beer since I was also looking for something to eat (and I think there was also only a single hand-pull). In the meantime the pub has changed hands a couple of times, been awarded the most improved pub in the CAMRA Forth Valley region and has just become CAMRA Scotland Pub of the Year. There are quite a few rooms to the place - what looked like a snug/games room on the left (I think I spied a shuffleboard table in there), the main bar, a large lounge/TV room showing the rugby (again this looked a bit like a sitting room) and a function room upstairs where they have live music. The main bar is a bit cramped, but there was a nice fire going, lots of pump-clips on the wooden beams and it seems a very dog friendly place. On the hand-pulls today were Greene King IPA, Belhaven St Andrews and Cairngorm Trade Winds so I settled back with a 1/2 of the Trade Winds, a blond beer that I've always liked (I think the high proportion of wheat definitely helps in the body of the beer).

It's difficult to judge a place from a short visit but it definitely seems to be an excellent pub - friendly & welcoming, a good atmosphere and someone behind the bar who knows how to keep and pour a real ale. The beer choice wasn't great today, but from the pump-clips on the beams it seems as if they are rotating through a large number of guest beers and sometimes outwith the large cities you have to accept that choice can be somewhat limited.

By now it was getting fairly dark so I decided to save some time (and be sensible) and take the bus to Alva, a couple of miles along the main A91 towards Stirling. This meant I missed out on looking at Harviestoun Brewery, but with the time heading towards towards 4pm on a Saturday it wasn't likely to be open - hopefully I'll make it back some other time. The bus dropped me off in Alva main street and I walked up to No 5 Inn, almost at the entrance to Alva Glen.

It seems to have built a bit of a reputation for good food, with the large restaurant area on right-hand side of the building, but the bar was also looking very festive & welcoming with some tasteful Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling. I also liked the prints & large-scale faded newspaper cuttings from the Famous Alva Games, surprisingly now the last Highland Games event in Clackmannanshire. They were serving Belhaven St Andrews (unsurprisingly sales of this must rocket during St Andrews Day week) and also Arran Blonde (complete with Isle of Arran pump-clip), so I took a 1/2 of the latter, watched the rugby on the TV, and joined in the discussion regarding the respective merits of Rugby against American Football.

Twilight was now starting to fall so I wasn't going to be able to get to the next Hillfoots town, Menstrie (and also Menstrie Castle), before the light gave out - I think I'll probably try that when it's slightly warmer.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Alva to Stirling Bus Station (11, 31, 51 on the hour, 63 First in Scotland East)
  Train: Stirling to Glasgow Queen St (23, 53 on the hour + some faster trains)