Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Eden Brewery in Penrith and 2x Moos in Cumbria: 21st November 2014

I'd not been to the Cumbrian market town of Penrith for a couple of years (my previous trip is here), and had also been looking for an opportunity to visit the nearby Eden Brewery (not to be confused with the Eden Brewery/Eden Mill in Guardbridge, St Andrews) for a quite some time. With the very recent opening of a new craft-beer/real-ale orientated Moo Bar in Carlisle this seemed like to good time to visit the original Moo Bar in Penrith, drop in to see Eden Brewery and then have a look at this new Moo Bar 'up-the-road' in Carlisle.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Penrith (08:40 Virgin Trains - Advance to Carlisle and then Day Return Carlisle-Penrith was cheaper in this case)

Eden Brewery is located on the southern outskirts of Penrith and so when I left Penrith Station I first of all turned left past the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School buildings and then onto Wetheriggs Lane which took me south out of the town centre. I then found a narrow path through some playing fields before coming out at the A66 trans-Pennine route. This is a really busy road, connecting the M6 to the A1(M) but thankfully there are now traffic lights and a pedestrian crossing at the first roundabout from the M6. Navigating this took me into Eamont Bridge where a footbridge crosses the river alongside the old 15th Century single-lane arched bridge. There are a couple of interesting historical sites in Eamont Bridge, the first of which is known as King Arthur's Round Table.

This sadly has nothing (at all) to do with King Arthur, but is a pre-historic round earthwork somewhat destroyed by an adjacent road, however slightly further on is the seriously impressive Mayburgh Henge, a huge bowl-like henge with a high cobblestone bank and a large standing stone set in the very centre.

The bank is up to 15 feet high, is close to 400 feet in diameter and made up from 5-million+ cobblestones taken from the nearby rivers. The single stone monolith is 9 feet high (there were meant to have been another 3 of these) with the whole place having the imposing feel of a huge dawn-of-history amphitheatre - definitely well worth a visit.

I then back-tracked to the main road, this time crossed the River Lowther and went into up the hill to the Brougham Hall estate buildings. There is an access road all the way around the walls but the direct route through the (extremely) low entrance arch in the larger wooden door is far more entertaining.

Inside the large walled courtyard there are a number of small arts, crafts & leisure businesses and workshops (including Café Eden, specialising in home-made food & lovely cakes) but nestling at the far end were a number of tell-tale casks (and also a ton of malt on a pallet) indicating the location of Eden Brewery (and I think that's a pot-plant in a brewing vessel out there!).

The main brew-house is in the centre of the 3 units that Eden now occupy, with the admin and partial stores areas upstairs above the brewery floor (actually really quite high above the brewery floor).

Upstairs were head brewer & co-owner Jason Hill, with new recruit Linda Stanton (ex-UK/Commonwealth pole-vault record holder in a previous life!) in the midst of sparging a new brew in the mash-tun. Along with co-owner Steve Mitchell and delivery man/driver Tony, Eden are still pretty small, having started off operations in late 2011 with the first beers produced in the spring of 2012. Having found the large Brougham Hall premises they decided to change plans from a 1BBL plant to 5BBL and haven't really looked back since, adding a couple of 10BBL fermenters with the help of a Rural Development Programme grant in late 2013. Jason was then kind enough to take an hour out from his busy schedule and show me around the brewery setup. The rear of the original building still contains the main brewing kit - the Hot Liquor Tank, and the 5BBL mash-tun and copper.

The wort is then pumped through the heat exchanger to an adjacent room where the fermenters are located. These are mostly 5BBL vessels but the 2 new 10BBL fermenters are also located here; when these are being used it's normally a double brew-day, pitching the yeast at the end of the 2nd brew, which means a long 14 hour day for the guys. Although hop flowers are solely used in the main brewing process in some cases the beer is 'dry-hopped' by liquidised hop pellets in the fermenters, just to give an added depth of flavour and bitterness.

Cask beer is then racked off and stored in a temperature controlled out-building (along with all the cask samples), whereas bottled and kegged beer is sent off to their local sub-contractor. In some cases the beer for bottling must be over-hopped/'flavoured' since the cold-filtering does seem to strip away some of the intensity, but Jason thinks he's now got that right for most of the Eden beers.

Most bottles are delivered back for packaging and onward shipping with another adjacent unit being used to store all of these. Jason indicated that 'at some point' there will be a brewery tap in here but this is still very much in the early planning stages (outside tables here on a sunny day would make this a great place to drink some fresh, local beer).

It's an interesting (and extensive) range of beers that Eden now produce. From 'traditional' core beers such as Eden Gold (their best seller), Best, Fuggle and Emperor IPA (full of spicy English hops), Route 66 (ha!), a true bottom fermented kegged lager (really smooth with a bitter kick - hooray!), to some newish 'craft beers' full of US, New Zealand and European hops (although Jason has been using most of these hops before) that can be cask or keg and, quite recently, a number of branded beers for the wonderful Tebay Services on the M6 (easily the best Motorway Services in the country). In addition Eden have been producing their 'Withnail and I' themed beers since November 2013 (I think I must have bought one of the first gift-packs). The film was shot on location in Cumbria, in part just up the River Lowther from Eden Brewery, and with this being one of Jason's and Steve's favourite films, they thought - why not ? (The beer names associated with the film and the film quotes work well too - 'I demand some booze' etc...). Currently 7 beers are in the range (with another 'interestingly named' beer coming next year) comprising such diverse beers as those below (Antifreeze is included in the now infamous Best of British Beer Christmas Tree Advent Calender)... well as Black Jake (a fantastic Seville Orange porter tasting of dark chocolate jaffa cakes), Scrubbers (a very light coloured US pale ale) and Terrible C (with a spicy green chilli kick at the end). Jason has definitely made some interesting and very tasty beers here, and knows what he wants - sessionable beers, but that doesn't have to means 4 pints in a row, just 2 or 3 bottles to savour at a time is fine, as something new will always be picked up. Many thanks to Jason for the look around and the great chat and I departed with a couple of Eden beers (and had brought down an Alechemy one for Jason), leaving Brougham Hall through the wooden door (again) before walking through the remainder of the Brougham estate to the moor road out of Penrith. Just where the rivers Eamont and Lowther meet are the ruins of Brougham Castle, standing guard over the rivers and (when open) there must be great views down the river valleys from the top of the still accessible castle keep.

I then turned back towards Penrith, found an underpass under the busy A66, and walked up a fairly steep incline into the Carleton Village area of Penrith. At the top of the hill is The Cross Keys, located where a number of paths from England and Scotland used to meet.

I headed into the main bar at the front left of the building and found a light wooden central bar supported by masses of bricks, with the interior full of exposed stone walls, low ceilings and some fantastic gnarled wooden support columns.

There were 2 beers on hand-pull that I could see, one from nearby Tirril Brewery and Merlin's Oak from Brains (a malty & sweet honey beer that I'm quite partial to), so I ordered a pint of the latter and some food, and sat down at one of the tables dotted around the windows of the bar. There is a cracking, slightly sunken games room adjacent to the bar (with a pool table and darts board) and the owner was quite happy to show me the large restaurant upstairs - this is almost medieval banqueting room in build and scope with a huge wooden canopy, flickering candle lights, an outside balcony and large windows giving a fantastic view over the river valleys & hills (but I couldn't really take a photo - damn!). I was shepherded back to the bar where my food was almost ready - a nice tuna-mayo sandwich & salad with some chips (hey, it was cold out there and these were piping hot).

Happily fed I headed out of The Cross Keys as the place was starting to fill up with Friday lunchers and walked further up Carleton Road and then towards the town centre of Penrith. Just before the actual market square is the tastefully understated frontage of Moo Bar, which used to (in the 19th Century) house & shelter various types of cattle bound for the nearby market (and hence the name).

The front bar is fairly small and basic, with a couple of wooden tables opposite the bar, bench table seats on the other side and some seats at the bar. But the beer choice at the polished mahogany bar was excellent - 6 hand-pulls (mostly from Cumbrian breweries, though it was great to Cromarty's lovely Red Rocker there as well) & 4 interesting kegged beers/ciders and there were lots & lots of bottled (and canned) craft beer in the fridges. I went for 3x 1/3rds of AAA by Fell Brewery, Esthwaite Bitter by Cumbrian Legendary and Obsidian by The Hop Studio, the latter a seriously good roasty, bitter (and thin) Black IPA, just what it should be.

They do live music downstairs at weekends and there's a lot more space & seating upstairs with a plenty of comfy seats, the odd beer barrel table and a wide screen TV showing mostly sport on one of the walls (I think upstairs has been nick-named the Udder Room - ouch!).

The Moo Bar was conceived and is owned by Nigel Tarn, who already part-owned a couple of eating/drinking establishments in Penrith and who had sold a drinks business (Turbo Drinks) for a more than decent sum in 2012 (he's also a beer writer with a couple of books published, nice to see). After opening in early 2013, Moo Bar Penrith seemed to be working out very well and Nigel applied to have a premises in Carlisle developed into a similar concept, and with this now open I headed back to Penrith train station to catch the next train to Carlisle (only 15 minutes away). Normally if I had to stop or change trains in Carlisle there was only the choice of a couple of Wetherspoons down Botchergate, but with the new Moo Bar Carlisle open on Devonshire Street, only 5 minutes from the station, it really is an easy decision to head there instead. Moo Bar Carlisle has a similar understated, but perhaps more elegant frontage in comparison to the Penrith premises...

...but inside things are on a completely different scale. The sweeping, wooden canopied bar is the most obvious difference - it seems chock-a-block with evenly spaced hand-pulls, all 24 of them, with no space left on either side. There's no doubt that you are initially completely bamboozled by this amount of choice, so the best thing to do is either start from one side or ask the friendly bar-staff for some recommendations; I did both.

As in Penrith, the majority of the beers are Cumbrian (I knew some of them - Hardknott, Hawkshead, Stringers etc..., but not that many) and there have also been cask beers from Siren, XT, Arbor and others. And that list doesn't include the 16 shiny keg fonts at the back of the bar with Camden, Beavertown, Buxton, Tractor Shed, Bernard etc... beers available, and then add an even more extensive bottled & canned beer choice than in Penrith; there really is an impressive selection here, especially at £3.00/pint (cask) and £3.50-4.00/pint (keg). I took a number of 1/3rds (again) and sat down with a beery acquaintance for a chat and a look around the fairly large downstairs space. There are a lot of larger wooden tables & benches, this afternoon mostly occupied by a good range of people (young and old) trying out the beers (and it supposedly got really busy by the 5-o'clock (beer o'clock) Friday klaxon) and as with the Penrith bar there are some interesting features including a high throne-like wooden chair...

...and some sofa-seats, a huge mirror and cow-hide pouf cushion/seats at the back of the room.

I also liked the glass window in the floor through which you could see the casks being changed...

...but thankfully this wasn't quite as high as the Blackpool Tower glass floor I'd been to a couple of weeks previously.

It was almost all Cumbrian beers that I sampled in Carlisle and interestingly enough the revamped Carlisle Brewery Flaxen golden ale was the best brew I tried that afternoon, it certainly had a depth of orangey-lemon bitterness that had been slightly missing from some of their first-off brews last year. One thing that is missing from both of the Moo Bars is food, but the Carlisle Moo Bar also encompasses the upstairs floor, and plan to provide food to complement the beers; meat & cheese platters and other nibbles would definitely go down a storm here (and probably get you asking for another beer). Hopefully that should happen in the New Year and I'll certainly be back to give it a go. Carlisle as a beer destination ? Who would have thought it !

Return travel:-
  Train: Carlisle to Glasgow Central (16:02 Virgin Trains + many others)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Stirling to the Alloa Octoberfest: 1st November 2014

The end of October normally means a trip out to Alloa for the Alloa Octoberfest and this year was no exception (I'm way too predictable/boring at times). I've been doing this for a few years now and I've still not run out of surrounding places to visit - this time I was going to criss-cross the River Forth a number of times and walk from Stirling to Alloa via the small town of Cambus.

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Stirling (18, 41 on the hour - fast trains cancelled this w/end)

On leaving Stirling train station I headed across the steel & glass pedestrian bridge over the mass of railway tracks and on towards the Forthside area of Stirling. There's a old footbridge here over the Forth to Cambuskenneth and (as almost everywhere in Stirling) you can get a great view of the Stirling Castle (here from the far side of the bridge).

Just across the bridge are the ruins of the 12th Century Cambuskenneth Abbey - only the high bell tower remains, probably having being used as a lookout tower over the Forth river plain.

I then walked past the Abbey Inn up towards the main road out of Stirling towards the Ochil Hills. There are some great views of the Wallace Monument here, showing how it's set atop a long sloping volcanic escarpment.

I crossed the railway line onto the main road and then headed almost due east out of Stirling. This led to a quieter cycle route (Sustrans 76) which brought me more than half way out to Cambus. The Sustrans route headed straight on but I'd had a look at the map and it seemed as if there was a path through/around the sign-posted industrial estate. This took me back over the train line and then alongside the huge acreage of Diageo bonded warehouses. The smell of whisky was certainly prevalent in the air and it's not surprising that they even have their own fire vehicles just-in-case of an emergency.

I eventually found the path at the end of the industrial estate and followed the narrow (and muddy) track as it skirted more of Diageo's buildings until reaching the Forth shoreline. It's here that the River Devon empties into the Forth with a noisy weir changing the level of the Devon just before the 2 rivers meet.

At the footbridge over the River Devon is the new Diageo Cambus Cooperage, which is meant to blend traditional skills & experience with state-of-the-art productions skills (including robotics) to provide up to 250,000 casks year - there was certainly quite a number stacked up outside today.

It was here that I connected again into the official Sustrans 76 route and this took me the short distance into the small village of Cambus. On the main road I found the brightly coloured front of The Tearoom at Cambus (I think this was formerly the Cambus Inn).

I went in the central door and found myself almost immediately in front of the light-coloured wooden bar area set away in the corner of the main room, which along with all the light wooden floors and associated chairs & tables certainly gave the place a bright & spacious feel. Also set all around the room were masses of colourful Halloween decorations - bats, pumpkins, ghouls, ghosts, black & white balloons - it really is incredible how popular Halloween is nowadays.

There was a bit of a racket coming from one of the larger parties of adults & kids in the front room so I asked the young staff if I could be shunted off into one of the side rooms and it wasn't a problem - it was a lot more peaceful at the back of the building near the entrance to the rear beer garden. In amongst the decorations they have quite a lot of interesting pictures on the walls - I liked the 'Irn Bru' cat and the multi-coloured goldfish frieze, and there were also quite a few smaller pictures for sale, mostly wildlife originals featuring cows, robins etc...

Unfortunately the beer choice at the Tearoom was not that exciting - on draught Belhaven Best, Guinness or Tennents (I went for this, I was thirsty after my ~6 mile walk), with Miller or Corona in bottles, which is a shame since they're only a few miles from some great Scottish breweries, namely Williams Brothers and Harviestoun. They do snacks from 10am and main meals from 12noon, but I was quite happy just to get a tuna mayo baguette with cheese, and when it came *that* was definitely how you do a baguette properly. Cut it in half, add masses of tuna mayo, cover with cheese on both halves of the baguette (not just one side/or the middle), and then toast it so there are some nice crispy burnt bits.

The tearoom is an excellent place for a stop on the way from Stirling to Alloa (or even further afield to Kincardine and Fife), I just wish they would do some more interesting/tasty beer (I guess that's what tripadvisor reviews are for). I headed out from the tearoom and continued east towards Alloa and could have just gone straight on into the centre of town but decided to take a slight diversion to the bank of the Forth. There's a tarmac'd path part of the way and then a right-of-way track along a disused railway line (yet another one - I could be catching a slight case of 'trainspotting'). I followed this across a couple of gates, past lots of curious sheep and up an incline to where the old Alloa Bridge across the Forth used to be. It was dismantled back in 1971 but the pillars & supports are still present showing how it curved slightly over to the south (Thorsk) side of the Forth.

I then back-tracked to the path, went down to a farm and climbed over another couple of gates before coming to the Kelliebank area of Alloa. The Williams Brothers brewery at Forthbank is here, but since there were a number of security guards milling about I didn't wander into the industrial estate but continued on into Alloa itself. Here my curiosity did take me into the Thistle Bar just off the High Street...

...although there was only Caledonian Flying Scotsman available on one of the 2 hand-pulls, and I also passed the newly opened JD Wetherspoon pub (The Bobbing John) on Drysdale Street...

... before coming to Alloa Town Hall, the site of the Alloa OctoberFest (extending to November 1st this year).

It's a nice small festival in a compact enclosed venue which doesn't change too much year-on year-out and is never that busy (at least on Saturday afternoons), and it was great to meet up with some regular festival goers, real-ale Ronnie (enjoying retirement from The 3 Judges) and some talented brewers (Stuart from the Kinneil Brew Hoose & Dave from DemonBrew). There's normally an excellent selection of Scottish beers and some from further afield, but this year I'd somehow tried all of the English beers that were available before (Oakham and Saltaire). Instead I had pinned my hopes on the solitary Welsh brewery present, The Waen Brewery from deepest, darkest central Wales, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. They had 3 beers on hand-pull, Pamplemousse (a nice orangey pale ale), Landmark (a stronger resiny bitter) and their Chilli Plum Porter (full of dark chocolate, red fruits and a definite spicy chilli kick in the finish) - all were good but the Chilli Plum Porter was superb, a brilliantly balanced chilli beer - nice one brewster Sue from Waen!

The trains from Alloa aren't brilliant on Saturday afternoon and I had to rush off without trying a number of interesting Scottish beers - drats! However this allowed me to get off the train at Stirling and head to a relatively new pub/bar just past Stirling's main pedestrianised shopping street, the Curly Coo Bar, only 5 minutes or so fast walk from the train station.

There used to be a Curly Coo Bar in Crieff but the owner/landlady Mandy had decided to relocate to Stirling in December 2013 (there's simply a lot more tourists (and locals) in Stirling than Crieff). It's styled as a Whisky Bar (with more than 120 of them in stock & on display) but there are also keg fonts for Williams Brothers Joker IPA and Harviestoun Schiehallion and Bitter & Twisted and there's just been a single hand-pull installed with a cask of Orkney Dark Island going on on Friday afternoons. Add a fridge stocked with great bottled beer (including that from local Fallen Brewery, high seats at the bar, comfy bench seats & tables around the walls, some large wooden barrels and it's well worth a visit.

Owner Mandy normally sits in the middle of the dark wood panelled bar at the back of the single large room and chats away with everyone who comes in - she has a bit of a fearsome reputation but really she is more than polite and welcoming to absolutely everyone. I only had time for a bottle of Fallen Odyssey (lovely & g/fruity bitter), but from what I saw of the place it's by far the best pub in Stirling - beer wise and just in general as a welcoming and interesting pub.

Return transport:-
  Train: Alloa to Stirling (45 on the hour)
  Train: Stirling to Glasgow Queen St. (23, 44, 53 on the hour)