Tuesday, 28 August 2012

MòR Brewing and the Alba Real Ale Festival: 25th August 2012

This weekend I wanted to head back to Dundee to visit family & friends and just coincidently (yeah, right) there happened to be one of the larger Beer Festivals taking place in the Dundee area for quite some time - the 1st Alba Real Ale Festival Festival at the Royal Tay Yacht Club in the leafy suburb of Broughty Ferry. In addition I hoped to make a quick visit to a new microbrewey, MòR Brewing, which had recently opened up just outside Dundee and which was providing some of the beers for the Alba Festival.

View Alba in a larger map

I'd badgered the guys at MòR Brewing by e-mail a few weeks back and they'd very kindly let me visit on Saturday morning - as always, beer people are great. MòR Brewing (Gaelic for 'big') really only consists of 2 people - Commercial Director Ross Niven and Brewing Director Jim Hughan (an ex-RNLI coxswain) and it is in a converted outhouse at the back of Jim's home in Kellas, just outside Broughty Ferry in Dundee, that MòR Brewing is located. It's an idyllic setting in what used to be an old mill.

Jim met me, introduced me to his wife Sue (who got us both a cup of tea - many thanks!), and we went down some steeps steps to the brewery. The building itself is an old stables, and the guys converted it on their own over a period of a couple of years with help from Jim's son (a joiner) and various friends. The only real bugbear with it is that you can't drive up to the brewery door to load or unload a van or truck - this can't be fun at all with a full pallet of casks to deliver.

Jim then showed me around his pride and joy - a brand new 2.5 BBL plant consisting of Mash Tun, Copper, Hot Liqor Tank and 2 Fermenting Vessels - all manufactured in China.

They've been brewing since April 2012 and now have 4 core beers - MòR Tea, Vicar? & MòR ish! (both bitters), MòR Please! (a golden ale with some honey) and MòR The Merrier! (a stronger amber coloured best bitter). I'm not normally a fan of these punning beer names, but these work quite well (and are memorable, which is the whole point) and I like the brewery tag line (Ale with an Accent) and the simple, but brightly coloured pump-clips.

Kellas is in the middle of the Angus & Perthshire soft fruit growing area (I used to pick berries every summer when at school - easy when you're a kid!) and Jim would like to do a 'real' sour Framboise with local raspberries, but he admits he would need another fermenter for this due to the long fermentation time and any possible cross-contamination.

At the moment MòR are selling all the beer they can produce to local pubs, clubs & festivals, but are starting to see problems with the 5.5% abv MòR The Merrier - the market for this strength of beer doesn't really seem to exist in and around Dundee (maybe the Fuller Thomson bars are an exception), quite a difference to what you find around Edinburgh. So instead this is more likely to be bottled in future along with a couple of the other beers - the capacity of the 2 Fermenting Vessels = 1400 bottles, a good day's work when you only can only bottle 4 at a time, but worthwhile if you can sell this to a local chain of convenience stores. These are all bottle conditioned & I left with one of his bottled specials (leaving a holiday beer of my own) so I'm intrigued to see how well these translate to bottled form.

There's increased competition in the local area with Angus Ales as well as the newly expanded Burnside Brewery in Laurencekirk, Inveralmond in Perth and 2 new breweries in Fife (St Andrews & Eden) - hopefully the market is large enough for all of them. Jim was a great host, really friendly, knowledgeable and chatty and here's hoping that MòR can continue for many years yet (and I really want to try that Scottish Framboise!).

Since it was still fairly early on Saturday morning I decided to head down to the Alba Real Ale Festival in the Royal Tay Yacht Club, a large former Victorian shipping magnates holiday home located (obviously) almost on the water's edge with great views out to the Firth of Tay and across to Fife.

I hoped to get a few pictures before the Festival officially opened & the mass hoards of people came in and I have to say the staff working there were more than welcoming about this (thanks especially to Steve Flack in charge of the beers). The beer tent had been setup in the car park at the front and there were over 40 beers available, all from Scottish breweries, with local beers from MòR, Inveralmond and Burnside as well as lots of others from further afield.

In addition there were some ciders from Thistly Cross and a couple of keg lagers from those nice people at WEST with super shiny fonts.

It was to be a ticket-only event and they'd sold out weeks ago so I was glad I'd bought tickets for myself and a friend some time ago. We eventually headed into the Festival at just past 6 o'clock, were greeted by the friendly & very helpful staff, given our wristbands, bought some tokens (the same £3 tokens were used for beer and food), and made our way to the beer tent. All the beers were on, but I hadn't clocked that they were only being sold in full pint measures - no halves at all (there wasn't even a 1/2 pint line on the glass). This was surprising - I spoke to Steve about this and he said that it was just an easier system for them to manage for their 1st Beer Festival, and that no-one had complained about it (I officially entered my complaint at that time). To be honest it wasn't too much of a problem since it was only the MòR and Burnside beers that I hadn't tried before, but it would have been nice to try a few more old favourites. Of the MòR beers I probably enjoyed the MòR Please! more (try saying that quickly!) with its slight honey sweetness and the Burnside M-Pire was a decent Best Bitter with some dark fruit tones, and (since it was there) I also had to quality check the Fyne Ales Jarl and it was superb as always.

There was entertainment going on inside the main clubhouse where a lot of (fairly merry) people had decamped to get out of the slight mizzle. When I popped my head in everyone was having a great time singing along to the 'Braes o' Killiecrankie' so I took a photo and left fairly quickly.

There was also a stage on the outside balcony and a decent covers band came on to play AC-DC, ZZ Top and some Beatles numbers - phew!

We spent a most enjoyable few hours chatting away to some old & new friends, listening to music and drinking a lot of nice beer. With the Yacht Club supporting a couple of local charities with the proceeds, I certainly hope they make it an annual event (with 1/2 pints please!).

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Rosyth to Culross: 18th August 2012

For some reason I've never walked along the Fife section of the Firth of Forth coast west of the Forth Road Bridge. I think it's a combination of some perceived public transport issues (no train stations) and the fact that I drove that route as part of my journey from Glasgow to Dalgety Bay for over 2 months a good few years back - every day, back & forth, and didn't enjoy the journey at all. However now that the Fife Coastal Path was fully open and since I'd seen some good reviews of pubs along the coast, I decided it was time to make the effort.

View Culross in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Haymarket
             Haymarket to North Queensferry
             North Queensferry to Rosyth

I had a bit of time to wait for my connection to Rosyth, so decided to do this at North Queensferry rather than Haymarket - I think the views from North Queensferry station are most definitely easier on the eye.

My reason for getting off at Rosyth was to minimise my time walking along that busy (and boring) main road between the Forth and Kincardine Bridges. Instead I was able to take an almost diagonal route along Primrose Road and then continue on the traffic free path along Primrose Lane to the entrance of Douglas Bank Cemetery. Here I crossed the main road and joined the Fife Coastal Path heading towards the shoreline. From an elevated position on the Path I was able to get a great view of the Rosyth Naval Base complex with the huge crane that was going to assemble the aircraft carrier sections which had been built at Govan and then transported around the northern coast of Scotland to Rosyth.

I followed the Coastal Path towards the shoreline and after about an hour's walk from Rosyth I came to the small village of Limekilns with its quiet harbour and sandy beach.

At the start of the Main Street in Limekilns is The Bruce Arms, a quite elegant building, and today both customers & the owners were soaking up the sunshine on the outside tables at the front.

Inside was a single room bar and lounge area, common to many small hotels, and I think there was a beer garden out the back for use in the evening. I was happy to spy Black Sheep Bitter on the single hand-pull and they also do old fashioned bar snacks at lunchtime (soup, sandwiches, toasties, etc...).

Across the main corridor from the bar/lounge was something I hadn't seen before in a pub - a full size table tennis table! Now I don't mind playing darts or pool during an evening out, but I think I would struggle with something as coordinated as table tennis after a couple of pints.

I finished my Black Sheep out on one of the benches and then headed along the Esplanade, past where a 'Raft Race' was being setup for later in the afternoon, to the white-washed Ship Inn

The place has a definite reputation for food and with this being the height of lunchtime the dining area was packed. However I was quite happy to sit at the bar, order some soup and quaff my pint of hoppy Stewart Edinburgh Festival (Kelburn Misty Law & Deuchars IPA were the other choices), with the pump-clips on the ceiling giving the indication of a lot of changing guest ales.

They certainly have gone to town with the nautical theme in the place - lots of prints of ships & seascapes, model boats, all sorts of knots, steering wheels, clocks, bells, a vintage Hudson's soap box and a brass ship's engine order telegraph bolted to the bar - it all works really well, especially in the (very snug) snug.

Whilst slurping my strongly favoured Broccoli & Stilton soup (very nice) I found out from the friendly bar staff that the Raft Race consists of a paddle out to a couple of buoys in the Forth and then a paddle back again, normally in Pirate fancy dress, and with some likely skulduggery between the rival Limekilns and Culross teams. Then everyone heads to the Ship Inn for beer, BBQ food and live music - well deserved after a soaking in the Forth!

I left the Ship Inn & the preparations for the Raft Race and headed further along the coast and up a short incline into the centre of Charlestown. This is an 18th Century equivalent of a New Town with the cottages for the workers of the adjoining limekilns and coal mines being constructed by one Charles Elgin to further his own wealth, rather than by the State. In fact the initial groups of cottages were laid out in capital 'C' and capital 'E' formations, quite visible from the tops of the surrounding hills or (nowadays) from the air. The photo shows the row of single-level cottages along the bottom line of the 'E'.

I headed down a signposted path to the harbour and the site of the limekilns at the base of the cliffs above Charlestown. The path was partially overgrown with thistles & brambles and, since I was only wearing a T-shirt & shorts, probably wasn't my most sensible decision of the day (I have the scratches to prove it). The 14 limekilns were finally closed down in the 1950's, but there's been some restoration recently and you can get a slight sense of the scale involved and what the claustrophobic, hot and and filthy working conditions must have been like.

I clambered back up the the village (wearing my long cagoule this time - why didn't I think of that before), and decided to go into The Elgin Hotel (named after - you guessed it!).

They were playing 1973 by James Blunt when I entered and I think that was quite appropriate for the place - it's somewhat old fashioned with lots of dark wood tables & chairs, patterned carpeting, a small bar with Carlsberg, Guinness & Belhaven Best on draught and a somewhat elderly clientèle in for a late lunch. Having said that the view from the bright conservatory restaurant across the Forth to the Pentland Hills is great, the staff were more than welcoming & my imported bottle of Birra Moretti quite acceptable.

Charlestown was certainly an interesting place to visit and I'm glad I had the chance to have a wander about. The Fife Coastal Path next took me back to the main road and the village of Crombie before returning to the Forth and the low greens & mud-flats of Torryburn and Newmills. Just past Newmills Bridge I came to a footbridge over the railway line which led me to the partially man-made Preston Island. This was originally used for both coal and salt pan mining, but the works are now being filled in with waste ash from the nearby Longannet Power Station. It's a bracing 2 mile circular walk around the island with views of some derelict mine buildings, lots of wildlife, the Lothian coast across the Forth and land in the process of being reclaimed from the sea.

After this it was a short walk into the conservation village of Culross, with its historic buildings and cobbled streets. On the main street is the brightly coloured 'Palace' or Merchants House which was visited by James VI.

Whilst slighter further up the hillside is Culross Abbey, where St Mungo (Patron Saint of Glasgow) was educated.

There are a couple of craft shops & cafes (with some great local ice cream) in the village centre and also the Red Lion Inn.

This is a really low ceilinged place with wood clad walls & ceilings and consisting of a couple of dining rooms and a busy, efficient bar area with Inveralmond Inkie Pinkie on the single hand-pull. I ordered a pint of this and sat down in one of the corner tables to take in all of the Scottish prints, murals and bric-a-brac on the walls.

This was all quite impressive but the stand-out features are the incredible painted ceilings done by local artist Douglas Cadoo. In the bar the ceiling is covered with images of old (and more modern) beer and whisky labels, pump-clips and adverts. Because the ceiling is so low it's really quite distinctive & attention grabbing.

In the dining room the images on the ceiling tell the story of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped with short descriptions on the beams, whilst in the Gents (I can't believe I've taken a photo in the Gents - again!) there are some more biblical images.

I eventually ended up out in the beer garden adjacent to the car park with a Staropramen and a packet of Bacon Flavour Fries taking in the view across the Forth in the afternoon sunshine with a gentle breeze coming off the water - can't argue too much about that to end the day.

And in contrast to my travelling woes of last week, the bus from Dunfermline to Falkirk came right on schedule at Culross and dropped me off with enough time (after a somewhat lung-bursting fast walk up the hill) to get the express train at Falkirk High back to Glasgow.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Culross to Falkirk (Stagecoach in Fife 28, 17:12)
  Train: Falkirk High to Glasgow Queen Street

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Tarbet to Luss - West Loch Lomond: 11th August 2012

Hooray - at long last it was going to be a bright, sunny weekend and on days like this you need to get out to the beach and/or the countryside. There wouldn't be too many days like this left this summer so I decided to head up to the west side of Loch Lomond, a sort of companion to my east side of Loch Lomond blog which would allow me to visit the newly renovated and recently opened Loch Lomond Arms Hotel in Luss.

View Lomond - West in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Westerton to Balloch Central
  Bus: Balloch to Tarbet (Citylink)

My journey didn't start out well (at all). A delayed train meant that I couldn't make my connection to the Oban-bound train at Dalmuir, and with no direct connection to Arrochar/Tarbet until mid-afternoon this meant a change in strategy. OK - my next plan of attack was to get to Balloch train station, walk to the Loch Lomond Shores complex and then hire a bike at Can You Experience, a great outfit renting out out pedalos, kayaks, canoes and mountain bikes. However today they weren't allowing any bikes to be rented at all (I didn't catch the reason) so that left me scratching my head somewhat. The best option I came up with was to head out to the A82 road, catch the Fort William bound Citylink coach and after a really slow journey up the A82, I got off outside the stately Tarbet Hotel just after the A82/A83 junction. Phew - and relax!

All of this meant that I didn't think I had enough time to head out to Arrochar and visit the Village Inn or Ben Arthur's Bothy, but instead had to content myself with a short walk up along the A83 to Rustlers Restaurant and Bar next to the Arrochar/Tarbet train station.

This is (pretty obviously) a converted church and I think has only been Rusters since the start of the year (previously it was the Ben Lomond Restaurant) - they also have plans for a Craft Centre and a Museum Of Highland Life upstairs. At lunchtime it's setup mostly as a food operation, but thankfully there's a small bar with some high stools at the front with a couple of Fyne Ales on - the most excellent Avalanche & Hurricane Jack. It's a big place (it can cater for coach parties) with the tables laid out on 2 different levels, pictures of the nearby spectacular scenery & Highlanders in full battle dress on the walls and the option of eating or drinking at the tables outside. The cakes and desserts were set out for display at the back and looked seriously tempting, but I really didn't want anything interfering with the lemony citrus and dry bitterness of my Fyne Avalanche.

I then really had to start my journey back south. I walked past the Tarbet Tea Room giving their speciality Empire Biscuits a miss and then onto the main Loch Lomond cycle and footpath (Sustrans Regional Route 40). The path is at times very adjacent to the main A82, but at other times follows an old military road and also some extended lay-bys. In almost all of these lay-bys were masses of cars, camper-vans & motorbikes, especially when there was direct access the the lochside (there were a lot of pitched tents near the shore), and almost everyone seemed to have set up a Bar-B-Q for lunch causing a local greenhouse & smokehouse micro-climate.

About an hour and a quarter after leaving Tarbet I came into sight of the Inverbeg Holiday Park which extends a fair distance into the Loch - it's obviously a haven for those who want a water-sports style holiday.

On the other side of the main road is the multi-award winning Inn at Inverbeg (please, please use the under-pass here to get across the road).

This was a very busy place throughout my short stay, full of diners inside, lots of people arriving to check-in for holidays and cyclers & walkers stopping off for a drink or a coffee - the front of house directs all this with quiet efficiency. I went through the foyer and into the modern bar and was quite happy to see Fyne Avalance, Orkney Dark Island and Orkney Northern Light available on hand-pull. The weather had hazed over slightly but I didn't see why everyone had de-camped inside so I walked out to the decking area at the front of the hotel and sat outside with my nice bitter Northern Light and a great view of the Loch.

They have an interesting system for food here. You unfold the menu for Mr C's Fish & Whisky Bar, enter your table number & tick the appropriate boxes on the menu with the supplied pencil, and hand in your order to the staff - it all seems to work pretty well. My soup and sandwiches certainly arrived in very good time.

I do like the place - there's good food, decent beer & great views - from a selfish point-of-view it would be great if it were 20 miles closer to Glasgow, but then it simply wouldn't be the same place.

Next to the Inn are the Inverbeg Galleries hosting a seriously impressive collection of original paintings, prints of Loch Lomond & the surrounding area and lots of artists' material. There are a number of large rooms here and I could quite easily have spent the best part of an hour wandering about.

Unfortunately the ferry which used to cross the Loch in the summer from the pier at Inverbeg to Rowardennan hasn't been running this year so the only real way to get to the most southerly of the Munros, Ben Lomond, is from the east side via Drymen and Balmaha (although a ferry does operate from Luss to Balmaha).

After Inverbeg it was less than an hour's walk to Luss, a small village which swells considerably in size during the summertime, especially on a sunny day. I first passed the Lodge on the Loch on the outskirts of Luss, a fantastic setting for all sorts of functions (just bring the credit card), and in the centre of the village the main Visitor Centre car park was choc-a-bloc with people taking advantage of the sun and the nearby sandy beach. Slightly further along the main street I eventually came to the newly renovated and extended Loch Lomond Arms Hotel, which had only opened on the Wednesday before, and where I planned to meet up with Rob, who had bussed it in from the Fyne Ales brewery tap.

First impressions are that the place certainly has had some money spent on it (reports of £3million+ from the local clan chief) to make it a cut above a standard Vintage Inn type place. The signage sort of guides you gently into the bar and it was great to see 3 hand-pulls on - Loch Lomond Kessog & Ale of Leven (and lots of bottles) as well as Belhaven IPA.

The bar was packed (and seemed to stay that way which was great for an opening weekend), quite narrow (and probably not all that conducive to being propped up), but there are a lot of tables available. The staff really were excited, chatty & very polite, if a bit confused about what to do at the end of the cask of Kessog, but I'm sure they'll pick it up pretty quickly. For sit-down meals there are at least 2 dining rooms on either side of the bar - lots of solid wood, brass fixtures, candles (& antlers!) are present and it's all very classy indeed.

There's a small interior courtyard area and also an excellent beer garden well located to get the last of the day's sun. Even here I could easily pick-up the WiFi connection for which I was handed a one-off key after making a chance remark to the staff - very nicely done. The place seems to have got off to a great start and here's hoping it continues to do well and provide some great local real ales.

Unfortunately the travel issues that had plagued me at the start of the day came back to haunt me again - Rob will probably never travel with me again! None of the local buses from Luss to Balloch seemed to be running so (after more than an hour's waiting about) we headed out to the A82 bypass and caught the Citylink back to Glasgow - hopefully that's my 'bad' travel day over for this year.

Return Travel:-
  Train: Luss to Glasgow Drumry Roundabout (Citylink)

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Glasgow Merchant City Festival: 28th July 2012

This was to be the 11th Glasgow Merchant City Festival, which had moved from a September date to a July one back in 2010 and hadn't looked back since in terms of popularity. It now perfectly ends the Glasgow Fair holidays and prefaces the month-long Edinburgh Festival at the other end of the M8. In the time that I've been living on the West Coast the Merchant City area itself has come on in great steps, huge bounds & quantum leaps and now takes on an almost continental feel at the weekend - great buildings, pavement cafes, street markets & entertainers. I think it's been the redevelopment of the City Halls, the Old Fruitmarket and the Merchants Square buildings which has helped a lot in this - it's a great environment for families during the day & also for evenings out with friends. The Festival was a great excuse to head out and try a number of Merchant City pubs in an afternoon - I think I would most definitely call this more of a crawl than a walk.

View Merchant City in a larger map

Train: Glasgow Argyle Street

My first stop was probably on the outskirts of the Merchant City proper just before the expanse of Glasgow Green, Café Source in St Andrews in the Square. This is part of a fantastic restored church and since it is slightly off the beaten path remains fairly untrampled by the mass hoards.

They were setting up for an afternoon concert in the main church hall so I entered the basement Café Source from the right hand side of the building down steps from the outside terrace.

It's a basement bar so it's always going to feel quite enclosed, but it's lit by a whole load of halogen lights on what seemed to be rails so that it's really quite bright and modern. There are a number of diner-style bench seats around two sides, smaller tables in the in the centre of the room, old black-and-white pictures of cars & musicians on the walls & pillars and the bar set along one entire side of the room. It's a place you'd be quite happy taking the In-Laws to!

This afternoon there was a single hand-pull with Belhaven St Andrews available, but I didn't really fancy that with my lunch and so went for a Pilsner Urquell instead (WEST St Mungo, Peroni & Belhaven Best were also on draught). They had soup, fish, pork & lamb specials on the blackboard but I decided on the Cullen Skink which was full of smoked fish & tatties, but the liquid was probably just a bit on the thin side for my taste - though the bread was superb.

Having had my fill of fish soup I headed back into the heart of the Merchant City passing a number of Glasgow Walking & Ghost Tours encamped around the Mercat Cross and the Tollbooth Steeple. By now the the stalls around the City Halls & the Old Fruitmarket were packed and selling all sorts of clothing, jewellery and 'exotic' food from around the world.

A small stage had been setup outside Blackfriars alongside a large number of outside tables - a plastic glasses only outside edict was enforced by the 'security'.

Blackfriars is normally always busy and today it was even more so. I fought my way to the bar to see that (at first) only 3 hand-pulled ales were on - Tryst XL5, Inveralmond Independence & Barney's Ordinary Pale Ale, so I took a half of the dry, bitter Pale Ale. However a few minutes later Inveralmond Ossian & Tempest Unforgiven came on - I like that in this pub - the staff are always happy to put on new casks even when it's really busy. They also have some decent draught beer and one of the best selection of interesting bottled foreign beers in Glasgow, normally all written up on the blackboard beside the huge mirror opposite the bar.

The bar area in Blackfrairs isn't the biggest and I don't really like standing amongst the tables in the 2 raised sections, but where I do like standing (if I can't stay at the bar) is at large cylindrical pillars. Sometimes I feel pillars in a pub don't feel right mostly because you keep getting jostled at them (I don't like the ones in Tennents, for example), but for some reason the pillars in Blackfriars work well - maybe they simply aren't in the line of the passing flow of people. There's also a lot of look at in Blackfriars - flyers for music and the comedy downstairs, posters for old gigs, the beers that will be on next, but until I walked out of the door I somehow managed to miss the flyer which would have told me that Weihenstephan Dunkel was on draught - it would have gone down well with their German curried cheese.

On my way out of Blackfriars I was almost accosted by this - a woman who was taller than me (OK, on stilts), wore lots of makeup (blue admittedly) and had horns growing from her head (I think I would have to draw the line at this). Thankfully I was saved by a young lad brandishing a light-sabre and she tottered away parrying furiously with her broadsword.

Across the road from Blackfriars is what used to be called 'The bar with no name' but which now (after a competition) has signage which has christened it The Libertine.

There's only the one hand-pull in here but it is normally Fyne Ales Jarl, and today I managed to get the first pour off the top of the new cask & it was superb - lots of sharp grapefuit bitterness in the aroma & flavour. They were setting up for a BBQ outside (all fancy burgers were £5) and a DJ inside, but the piped music was currently set way too loud. Apart from that it's a decent place - nice comfy seats, a high ceiling and a huge huge screen for the football, Olympics etc...

I then headed up past more market stalls and into Candleriggs towards Bar 91.

It's an OK 'trendy' bar with an extensive wine & cocktail selection but since it was so busy inside the bar and with only Deuchars IPA on hand-pull to compensate me (although I was almost tempted by the WEST Hefeweissen), I decided to head across the road to the Beer Café.

Normally I take a bottle of something continental & cold in here but today there was a pleasant surprise - Isle of Skye Red Cuillin on handpull, and very impressive it was indeed. At a great temperature, a slight spicy sweetness with some nice red berry tones and no acidic after-taste at all which I sometimes pick up in the Red Cuillin.

Chatting to the barman it seems they've had a hand-pull in for several months now after getting the required cooling in the cellar, and after a bit of a shaky start with some Arran beers they seem to have settled on those from Isle of Skye - a welcome addition to choice in the Merchant City. As expected they still have an excellent selection of draught beers (Kriek, Leffe, Franziskaner, Staropramen and others) and there's also a great central stacked tower of bottles on display - your choice from the numerous German, Belgian, Czech, Polish & others available then comes out one of the many fridges). I also like the selection of pies that are available and which are described on the large blackboard, including a goats-cheese, sweet potato & spinach variety called the Heidi Pie.

I left the Beer Cafe from the direct exit into the Merchants Square, a large enclosed atrium space with lots of restaurants & bars set around the outside, a number of art & craft displays, performance areas and a large projection TV tuned to the Olympics for the next few weeks.

It's a nice place to wander about for a bit but I decided there wasn't much point in trying any other other bars in the Merchants Square and headed out to Blackfriars Street and Babbity Bowster.

This is an excellent pub, restaurant & hotel with probably the best beer garden in the Merchant City. Unsurprisingly the outside benches were mobbed, but thankfully there was actually a fair amount of free space inside even though it's not the largest of places. It's very white and light inside, enhanced by a huge mirror with a tiled surround behind the bar, with some Glasgow prints, olde maps & lots of cacti around the walls & shelves. I got my pint of Jarl (in a Tennents glass!) and stood just inside the doorway listening to the impromtu session of Scottish folk music from an ever changing line-up of musicians.

Back out in Blackfriars Street there was a large blue robot (or puppet or robot/puppet) which a group of students seemed to be trying to revive - I think they did manage to do this for Sunday.

Finally I wanted to head to Committee Room No. 9, another impressive building at the west side of the Merchant Square area.

They were having a few 'Craft Beer' events as part of their 'Swallae Fest' (only in Glasgow!) promotion during the Festival and this afternoon Harviestoun Brewery were participating in a craft beer & curry tasting/pairing session - 2 of my favourite things. Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted and Schiehallion were available at the bar, kegged but not too fizzy, as well as a superb curry taster platter from the kitchen of Committee Room No. 9. I'd have to say that I probably preferred the more bitter(!) Bitter & Twisted with all of the more spicy curried food over the more floral Schiehallion except for the lentil curry, but both were very good. I would have been intrigued to try a stout such as Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout with such a platter but then I could always try that at home sometime - given a couple of weeks of preparation! The Harviestoun people were great - informative, chatty and (very) patient - well done to them and to the kitchen staff at Committee Room No. 9 for this.

Never having been in Committee Room No. 9 previously I took the chance to have a look around. They have a lot of diner style tables at the windows to attract people looking for food, a couple of large tables in the centre of the room for bigger groups and there's an upstairs balcony area set above the bar gantry hosting a few tables - the view down to the rest of the bar is quite impressive.

All told it was a really enjoyable wander around the Merchant City - there certainly was a nice buzz about this part of the city, and afterwards I also managed to take a final look at Bruadar in Partick before it closed down for good that weekend.