Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Bruadar: 19th December 2011 - 29th July 2012*

(*Although see end of blog...)

I was surprised and disappointed to find out that Bruadar, the only Fuller Thomson bar in Glasgow, located at the bottom of Byres Road, was closing on Sunday 29th July. The staff were only given a week's notice and even when I was there on the Thursday you could see that they were still shell-shocked. I've been in that situation myself and it's (obviously) not a great place to be.

Bruadar hadn't even been open for a year - see a couple of blogs on the opening evening just before last Christmas here and here, and followed a similar format to some of the other Fuller Thomson 'Craft Beer' and 'Gourmet Burger' bars in Edinburgh and Dundee. Although I'd heard that it had had some initial management problems and some definite beer quality issues at times, I knew for certain that these had been addressed recently and the last few times I'd been in both the beer and the staff had been really great. It's not the first bar to go bust on the same premises - The Millhouse, The Byre and The 500 Club have all failed there so perhaps there's something inherently wrong about the location or the costs involved in doing business there.

On a sunny final weekend there was a lot of light coming in through the large front windows in the afternoon and although the downstairs area was fairly big, with a number of different split-level areas, it certainly wasn't as large as some of the Edinburgh bars (especially Holyrood 9A) - also see a panoramic view here. Perhaps it was just slightly too spread out and not focused enough from a dining point-of-view.

There were a couple of pool tables on the upstairs level (which could also be used as a function room), however I don't think this was ever that busy but I assume there was still a significant additional cost in the rates and utilities for having the room.

They had to run the beer down and by the weekend not a lot was still on (the Tempest Into the Light was off by early Saturday evening).

Interestingly a quick check on Untappd indicated that I'd consumed more different beers at Bruadar since it had been open than at The Threee Judges across the road. I think that was because I went into Bruadar to try the different beers that were on (probably in 1/2s or even 1/3s) whereas I probably go into the Judges to meet people or to have a chat with Ronnie behind the bar, and when there almost always drink full pints and stay for quite some time.

Looking back I would have to say that I did have a number of really outstanding beers in Bruadar (and it's unlikely I would have found these elsewhere in Glasgow) - Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, Williams Double Joker DIPA & Black Isle Chilli Porter to name but a few, and I guess that's what I'll probably remember most about the place.

Bruadar re-opened on 21st December 2012, but is not being operated by Fuller-Thomson. There are new Facebook and Twitter accounts but no activity at the moment.

I've now visited Bruadar a couple of time since it re-opened. For more details see my Looking for Craft Beer in Glasgow's West End blog here.

Unconfirmed rumours suggest that Bruadar will be closing again - still to be verified

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Kippen & Gargunnock to Stirling: 21st July 2012

It's always great to try beer from a new Scottish brewery and I'd been wanting to try some from the recently de-cloaked Fallen Brewery just outside Stirling - see the Beercast for more details (although note that at the moment their beers are being brewed at the nearby TSA plant). By lucky chance I'd never been to most of the pubs in the Forth Valley where some of the first Fallen beers were likely to be found so a nice afternoon searching for beer in country pubs in rural Stirlingshire beckoned.

View Forth Valley in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Stirling
  Bus: Stirling to Kippen (12 First in Scotland, 00 on the hour)

The way the train & bus times had worked out I would have had a half hour wait for the bus out to Kippen from Stirling bus station so I decided to make use of the time by walking out to the newly opened Inn at Torbrex on the south-west side of Stirling.

It's owned by the same people who have the the Birds and the Bees on the north side of Stirling and since that place has been very successful (DRAM Gastropub of the Year 2011) they've kept to a similar family-friendly, food-led format for the Inn at Torbrex. Although it dates back over 300 years it's only been open in its latest incarnation for about 4 weeks and this definitely shows - everything was incredibly shiny & new! Thankfully they've kept to their 'tradition' of having a Williams Brothers house ale and the Torbrex Red Ale was very nice indeed - extremely malty with lots of berry flavours, and quite a bitter, spicy finish (I'm not sure if this is the same as the 'normal' Williams Red - I'll have to try this again sometime soon). In addition there was Fraoch and Deuchars IPA on hand-pull at the bar as well as Caledonian Best, Estrella Damm & other 'standard' draught beers and a decent whisky selection as befits a 'Malt and Ale Bar'.

It's certainly less rustic and more modernly minimalistic than the Brids and the Bees with a backlit bar, lots of spotlights, some candles & lanterns dotted about (which I almost knocked off some shelves), lots of tables for dining and an upstairs function room. The only slightly incongruous part of the decor (listen to me speak) was down in the corner where the round mirror, lamp-stand and high backed chair took me back to my granny's sitting room! The service was certainly prompt & helpful, there was a good amount of banter between the staff, and my soup and sandwich (again!) was an excellent lunch-time deal - the mushroom & tarragon soup was quite excellent.

I think I must have been in and out of the place in about 40 minutes, and then walked up past the Kings Park to the main road out of Stirling to wait for my bus connection. I had hoped to have a look around The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, but it was undergoing a serious renovation, although I think the cafe and some exhibition(s) were still open.

In any case I decided to get a few shots of Stirling Castle, the Kings Knot gardens and the Trossach hills across the Forth and Teith valleys.

It's a very flat road out to Gargunnock & Kippen following the River Forth and today it was incredibly busy with cyclists (shouldn't they have turned right at the Eiffel Tower !?). The bus dropped me off in the centre of Kippen and I went in search of a couple of pubs, the first of which was The Inn at Kippen.

This is another food-led modern place with lots of tables at the front of the building for diners and a small bar at the back. There was a tap dispensing Houston Peter's Well so I took a half of this and went out into the well appointed beer garden further out through the back of the building. This has a superb BBQ/grill/oven built into one of the walls and a large number of seats, but was very empty today.

There's a small convenience store on the main street in Kippen and also a great deli & cafe called Berits & Brown, one of a number in central Scotland. They have a nice selection of cheese, meats etc... and also a more than decent beer choice with a number of bottles from Fyne Ales and (lurking in one corner) bottles of Fallen Brewing Blackhouse smoked porter - excellent - a good back-up in case I didn't find any cask beer.

I paid for a bottle and stashed it in amongst the complete set of dry clothes that I was being forced to carry in my ruck sack during the Scottish summer and headed down the main street to the other pub in Kippen, The Cross Keys.

As soon as I stepped into the upper lounge I could tell that this was going to be a cracking pub. It looked very traditional - lots of darks wood panneling, exposed stonework, low ceilings & wooden beams, with the lounge, bar & restaurant all on different levels with fairly steep steps between them.

And when I asked about local beer I was told there was a Fallen Brewing beer on hand-pull down in the bar - hooray! This was the cask version of the Blackhouse smoked porter and it really was quite impressive - chocolate, coffee, a nice feel to it and quite a lot of smoky peat in the aftertaste - great for a first out beer.

Interestingly it seems as if The Cross Keys is about to select a house ale, which will also be brewed by Fallen Brewing, and they've decided to get people involved with the selection process by hosting a series of tastings - a very smart idea for both the pub and the fledgling brewery.

As I headed out one of the staff mentioned that I should sneak a view from the beer garden - and what a fantastic view there is out to the Trossachs (I think that is Ben Ledi out past Callandar in the distance).

I'd seen that there seemed to be a decent trail connecting Kippen to Gargunnock, about 4 miles to the east. This actually turned out to be the path of an old Military Road which linked Stirling all the way to Dumbarton (connecting 2 military garrisons).
It was well kept in most places, with just a single field of cows to negotiate, so much so that that there were a couple of kids (who looked about 5!) on petrol driven buggies having fun on what they obviously considered to be their own private racetrack.

It was only a walk of an hour or so (no rain - for once) when I came in sight of Gargunnock village and the Gargunnock Inn

This is one those interesting places which has separate main entrances on 2 different parallel streets with the dining areas, private rooms & bar connecting the 2 entrances - confusing! When I came in they'd just had a short/sharp influx of diners so one of the locals (and I assume a barmaid) came around from the customer side and served me! Again Fallen Blackhouse was on (not a bad hit-rate today) so it was an easy decision to try this again whilst I waited for my bus back to Stirling (Caledonian Golden Son was on the other hand-pull).

The bar itself has a pool table as its centre-piece, unusual nowadays, with loads of pool, snooker and ten pin bowling trophies on display - I also loved the fact that there is a 'Granny-board' to shame those who get completely white-washed at pool. There were also masses of pump-clips on the beams, whisky containers on the shelves, Belle & Sebastian on the juke-box and some great panoramic photographs of Gargunnock and the surrounding hills and crags.

And this is only my 2nd photograph in a Gents (honest) - there were some nice whisky prints in there and this great Becks Bier mirror - I didn't check to see what was in the Ladies!

And as a nice end to the afternoon the Gargunnock Village Shop had a Wine & Beer Cellar with a number of bottles of month out-of-date Black Isle Porter - a definite steal at £1.85.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Gargunnock to Stirling (12 First, 40 on the hour)
  Train: Stirling to Glasgow Queen Street

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Biggar to Broughton Ales: 16th July 2012

After the experiment and fun of LiveBlogging at the Edinburgh Indepedents Beer Festival it was going to be back to a normal walk & beer on the Glasgow Fair Monday. I'd been impressed by both the PR savvy and by some of the newer beers from Broughton Ales, one of Scotland's older (and possibly more 'unfashionable') microbreweries, so I decided on a trip to the Borders visiting Biggar and then Broughton.

View Broughton in a larger map

It's certainly not easy to get to the beautiful Borders by public transport, which is a real shame. I had decided on a long trip by low-level train to Lanark and then a bus to Biggar but thought I'd just check on the timetables because of possible changes due to the Glasgow Fair holidays. Just as well - I found out that the bus service from Lanark to Biggar was being suspended due to contract issues (at least outwith the rush hour times) so the only way to directly get to Biggar was from Edinburgh. This was just going to be tooooo long a journey, so I (reluctantly) decided to drive to Biggar, park the car there and then walk to Broughton.

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Car: Glasgow to Biggar (M74, A702)
  Walk: Biggar to Broughton

I'd only been to Biggar once before - it's a fairly large town and you could easily spend most of a day there. There are a number of decent cafes, including one in the Gillespie Centre built into the front of the impressive Biggar Kirk.

There's also a number of interesting local food and craft shops including The Olive Tree Deli which stocks some great UK & continental cheeses as well as most of the Stewart Brewing beers.

And then last, but not least, there are a surprising number of Museums in Biggar - see the Biggar Museum Trust for details. I was only able to visit one - the Gladstone Court Museum and what an incredible place this is.

Inside are a number of 'streets' which give you access to recreations of old shops of the past - there is a schoolroom, a cobblers, a photographic studio, a bank, a joiners, a chemists and many more. Inside the shops are the tools of that particular trade, the clothes worn, old pictures etc... - I must admit the chemists (below) smelled absolutely incredible! This is far, far more interesting than the Old Street at the recently opened Glasgow Transport Museum and well worth a visit.

There are, of course, a number of pubs in Biggar but it was a bit early in the morning to go banging at their doors so I started off on my walk to Broughton, hoping that the rain wouldn't come (it did, but to no great extent - phew!). Just on the outskirts of Biggar is the Puppet Theatre, which gives Victorian-style Puppet Shows which are meant to be seriously impressive (they're also on at the Edinburgh Festival).

The road was pretty quiet all of the way and it wasn't too long before I was officially crossing into the Scottish Borders.

Coming into Broughton I could see what I thought was Broughton Ales from high up on the road, but surely, that couldn't 'just' be a towering mass of beer casks sitting outside the brewery, could it ?

At the junction of the Biggar road and the main road through the village to Edinburgh is the Laurel Bank Tea Room, but it's also a bistro & bar, so I decided to stop there for lunch before heading to the brewery (just beware of the *really* low door into the bar - ouch!).

The place is the hub of the local community and was busy when I arrived, even very early on a Monday afternoon and certainly caters for all tastes. There are lots of tables in the front room for coffee-and-scones, a smaller bar area, a large lounge for dining and also a nice outside beer garden.

The bar definitely is small, only 2 tables (1 round a corner) and 4 seats at the bar, but I liked the exposed brickwork & fireplace, beer/whisky prints on the walls and natural light coming from the skylight. A sign was up on the single hand-pull indicating 'Real Ale not available tonight', but I knew that would be the case after looking at their web-site - they normally only make the beer available on the Wednesday assuming that they will then have enough for the busy weekend - this makes sense in such a small community. As an alternative there were a couple of bottles available from Broughton (Border Gold & Exciseman's 80/-) in the fridge, so I was quite happy to try the Border Gold. With regards to food anything & everything from baked tatties & paninis to full meals were available, so I went for the soup of the day and some sandwiches. The soup (carrot and courgette) was fresh, spicy & thick and made with vegetables from the local greengrocer - quite, quite superb.

After paying at counter in the centre of the building (you can also see into the open-plan kitchen from here and give instructions on how you want your food cooked!) I headed into Broughton main street and followed my nose down to the brewery entrance - the boiler vapour was blowing from the brewery almost directly into the village and the malted barley aroma was great.

I chatted away to the engaging Kate & Rhonda in the front office for a while whilst waiting for the Sales Manager, Brett, to arrive. I didn't know too much about the history of the place so I was really surprised to find out that it had originally been a slaughterhouse before being converted into a brewery in 1980, and that one of the original owners was a descendant from the William Younger family of brewers. Brett then arrived, an incredibly enthusiastic guy originally from Portland, Oregon, who's only been with the company for a year or two (they've had a couple of long-serving staff retire recently), and he was kind enough to spend more than an hour or so giving me the guided tour and chatting away about beer.
We started off at the malt mill, a monster of a machine, which I have to admit I thought was a serious piece of antique farm machinery, but no, it was still being used in the brewing process today (and when I thought about it, similar to the milling machines I'd seen at Fuller's Griffin Brewery).

We then headed off into a couple of really large rooms, and this is where the scale of the place started to hit me - it really is big, ~40-45BBL type of big, comparable I guess to Harviestoun, Williams Brothers & Inveralmond in Scotland. These are the Mash Tuns and Coppers.

And this is one of the more interesting Hot Liquor Tanks that I've seen.

In another room are the 5 (I think) large Fermenting Vessels - some of the yeast was being skimmed off one of these and the smell was amazing. They brew 5 times or so a week and normally leave the beer in the FVs for anything between 10 and 16 days depending on the type of the beer. Ian the brewer has been with Broughton for close on 30 years and has 'seen-it-all' and so can cope with the ambient temperature extremes that can happen down here. They've also been experimenting with dry-hopping to give some of the beers that additional up-front aroma, but due to the scales involved in doing things to their production runs they are still to put that into effect for one of their core beers.

The internal cask storage area is also huge (and this was supposedly 'fairly empty' after shipping had taken place) both with their own casks and those from Ecasks.

I'm not sure what percentage of their beer is bottled but I'm guessing it's pretty high - this is a heck of a lot of bottles with the bottling process being sub-contracted at the Robinsons factory in Stockport. They have a nice bottle gift pack tie-up with John Lewis which is great for Christmas sales.

We then headed back to the front office where there is a interesting collection of new and somewhat older Broughton bottles, awards and other memorabilia on display. There was also some Whim Ales material, which the current owner had started before taking the then Broughton Brewery out of receivership in 1995.

I noted some (probably) long forgotten beers such as Aberdeen Winter Ale, Carmichael Ale etc... and I also have vague memories of these - pull-top bottles!

Brett has plans to perform some investment in new equipment, try out some different recipes with New World hops (the Willacade is a prime example) and update the marketing/image (the new Dark Dunter and Willacade pump-clips are great), but he's obviously wary of alienating their core market in and around southern Scotland and into England - a lot of production goes down south where they expect a 'traditional' Scottish beer. However the market is becoming increasingly crowded and it's good to see that one of the more established microbreweries is willing and able to 'up their game' and take some steps to modernise accordingly. Broughton also have the rights to the Edinburgh Brewing Company (EBC) name after Belhaven walked away from it, and produce Coulsons Edinburgh Pale Ale as (it must be said) a tastier alternative to the current Deuchars IPA (not surprising since since the man who developed the recipe invented the original Deuchars IPA), so expansion with this brand is possible. One other new initiative is the 'Born in the Borders' venture to provide a 3-way Borders package in conjunction with Scottish Borders Brewery and Thistly Cross Cider. I also hadn't realised that Broughton own 2 pubs, including the excellent Tam O'Shanter in Dumfries so I must get down that way again sometime soon.

I had a fantastic time (as always - beer people are great), and left with a gift pack of Broughton beers (and dropped off an interesting beer of my own) after winning one of their Tuesday Trivia twitter quizzes. Thankfully the bus back to Biggar was running (hooray!), and after a 15 minutes journey dropped me off in the centre of town.

After a final wander around the town taking a few photographs, I decided that I had to try one of the pubs and (obviously) went for the only one I was pretty sure would have some real ale, The Crown Inn.
(note the pathway to the Glasdstone Court Museum immediately at the right)

Inside the low ceilinged bar they were selling WEST St Mungo & Munich Red on keg and also, on hand-pull, Inveralmond Lia Fail & Broughton Summer Ale - a light golden, citrusy beer, perhaps not as dry as the Willacade but very drinkable.

The bar had a nice feel to it - some exposed stonework, stein glasses hanging from the overhead gantry, a great stained glass snob screen with the St Andrews cross & Lion rampant and some nice faded photos - plus there was Bombay Mix at the bar which I simply can't resist when I encounter it in a pub. There also seemed to be a more modern lounge at the back, a dining area up and around a corner and a cracking central beer garden - empty today of course - if only it (and other beer gardens) could get a bit more use during this particular Scottish summer.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Broughton to Biggar (91, Borders Council Transport - see timetable)
  Car: Biggar to Glasgow

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Edinburgh Independents Beer Festival: 14th Jul 2012

I was really looking forward to the Edinburgh Independents Beer Festival - 8 really great Edinburgh pubs putting on a serious amount of interesting, incredibly rare & completely new to Scotland beers over the space of 3 days (I actually almost put down the awe***e word there!).
Lots of credit must be due to the people at Craftcentric for setting this up - see their blog for more details, the breweries for giving us such great beer and of course, for the pubs for putting this on. Judging by the amount of beer that had been consumed in the first 2 days, I was going to miss a lot of the very rare high abv beers (my liver thanks me!), but thought as a bit of a challenge, I could *try* to visit all of the pubs during a single Saturday afternoon, blogging in (almost) real-time - technology (especially the 3G/WiFi connection) and weather permitting of course.

View Edinburgh Independants in a larger map

Outward transport:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Waverley

10:20 On train
Now to try & determine the order to walk around in. I wanted to work around the launch of Moor Grockle Grog in The Caley @2pm & the new Tempest beer @5pm in the Bow Bar so decided to get off at Waverley, start at Holyrood 9A & walk (vaguely) clockwise. This would mean Holyrood 9A -> The Southern -> Cloisters -> Red Squirrel -> Caley Sample Room -> Stockbridge Tap -> Cambridge Bar -> Bow Bar and rest...

11:15 Holyrood 9A
It was pretty busy with breakfasters but I was really only interested in the beer selection

I decided on a Kernel Black IPA VI and a bacon & egg roll - one of the more diverse breakfasts I've ever had, but very tasty!

11:45 Great Grog Shop
A slight diversion here to pick up some bottles that don't seem to ever make it to Glasgow - sigh...

That Thornbridge/Odell Pond Hopper just made me buy it - honest!

11:55 The Southern
First time in the place - most impressed - classy place. Lots of Magic Rock beer still on - Clown Juice was lovely & understated, with the Kernel Summit IPA just going on.

12:20 The Meadows
Still soggy here but dry enough to allow a gorilla to play the drums (although this seems to be a standard spot for him/it).

12:30 Cloisters
Relaxing in the lovely ambience of Cloisters with a Bristol Beer Factory Acer - a great low abv best bitter. Great chat with the guys at the bar about beer in general and how they're reverting back to more cask ale.
Also - BBF Seven just about to go on.

12:50 Red Squirrel
Met Ronnie from The 3 Judges & dragged him back into the Red Squirrel. Lots of Red Church, Lovibonds, Alechemy & Red Willow on here. Being so close to Princes St this is probably the most 'touristy' of the FT pubs, but still a great place for beer.

1:45 Caley Sample Room
We had a good walk along FountainBridge since we just missed the 34 Bus. In the Caley met the (in)famous Craig Garvie & his lovely family as well as @StravAle (David).

The guys from CraftCentric arrived with Andy from SWB (what a amazing guy - he brought a beer (Dr Paracelsus) up with him on the train!) for the Moor Grockle Grog launch.
This had lots of liquorice, aniseed & some sweet oakiness - it's lethal stuff!

2:30 34 Bus outside the Caley to Princes St
Now en-route to Stockbridge Tap. Lots of hills to come!

On the way from Princes St to Stockbridge there are lots of amazing private gardens, some with interesting/weird signs.

3:00 Stockbridge Tap
Lots of Moor beers still on, including the 9%+ JJJ Double IPA, but *yay* the 10%+ Magic Rock Bourbon Aged Bearded Lady is still there and it is divine - lots of boozy bourbon on a great stout base - only a 1/3 pint is required here.

3:45 Cambridge Bar
Met Rich from the Beercast - we both had steep walks from Stockbridge.

The Cambridge is perhaps a bit more of a food orientated bar comp to a trad boozer, but there is still a great selection of beer from Tempest, Camden and the Kernel. The Kernel Amarillo on keg was cold, but really nice - very bitter indeed.

4:45 Bow Bar
It was then a walk to the Bow Bar (via the Red Squirrel) where we were looking for a new Tempest beer (World of Pain) to be on @ 5pm. It was slightly late, but it doesn't matter when the staff are so friendly to talk to. However eventually Chris Mair stood up to extol the virtues of the new beer.
There was certainly lots of rye malt in there, with loads of hops, perhaps just a tad cold, but still a great way to finish the afternoon. And what a fantastic beery afternoon - days like this don't happen too often.

5:30pm Back on the train to Glasgow.
Outward travel:
  Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street