Monday, 29 December 2014

Golden Pints 2014

These are my Golden Pint 'Awards' for the beers I've drunk and the pubs, bars & beer festivals I've been to in 2014 with links to various blog posts & untappd checkins.

Best UK Cask Beer:
Dark Star Green Hopped IPA - State Bar, Glasgow. That floral aroma & resiny body enhanced an already great IPA. Superb!

Best UK Keg Beer:
Alechemy Utopia - Craft Beer Rising, Drygate Glasgow. Strawberry jam on toast, pretty hazy, masses of tropical fruit, bitter finish, great balance, great IPA and better on keg than in the bottle.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer:
Buxton Ace Edge, bottle from AleselA. Sweet tropical fruits with a real bitter edge, kiwi, mango, lime & a coconut-ice sweetness to round it off. Really love that Sorachi Ace hop and this was done brilliantly.

Best Overseas Draught Beer:
Gigantic Brewing Company The Future Is Now - Brewdog Glasgow. Red fruit, quite smooth, long bitter finish, but I've not really had that many overseas draught beers this year.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer:
Elysian Brewing Dragonstooth Stout - bottle from Brewdog Glasgow. Sugary coffee, dark chocolate, bitter, almost BIPA-like finish, but a great rich body (hooray!).

Best collaboration brew:
Bad Seed and Northern Monk Salted Lemon Wit - bottle from Good Spirits, Glasgow. Lemon, bergamot, slight toffee popcorn, bit of texture, not too fizzy, very nice.

Best Overall Beer:
The best beer I had this year was the Dark Star Green Hopped IPA, but the best beer available all year round IMHO is/was/continues-to-be Fyne Ales Jarl.

Best Branding, Pumpclip, Label or Beer Name:
Well (cough-cough!) that has to be The Missing Dwarf, the beer I brewed with a couple of friends at the Craft Beer Kitchen. The cask raised £227.95 for charity so something must have gone right.

Best UK Brewery:
Brew By Numbers. All of their beers that I've had this year have been consistently good & increasingly innovative and I just like the concept - you have a good idea of what the beer's going to taste like from the title/description and then once tried it's normally far better & far more interesting than the expectation.

Best Overseas Brewery:
Elysian Brewing, Washington USA. I took a quite a few of their beers home to help me stay up whilst watching the Superbowl and they were very good indeed.

Best New Brewery Opening 2014:
Drygate, Glasgow. Their core beers are pretty good, but some of the small batch specials (Strawberry Mosaic, Chimera) have been excellent.

Pub/Bar of the Year: (note - this is for pubs that I've visited for the first time in 2014)
Large scale - The Taps, Lytham. A great beer selection, friendly, busy, just a comfortable and interesting place to drink beer in. Almost unbelievably this is a Greene King pub, but they've left the place well alone.
Small scale pub - The Curfew micropub, Berwick-upon-Tweed. Brilliant conversion of a bed-sit, both inside & out.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2014:
Drygate, Glasgow. Beer from the in-house brewery & more, food from The Vintage, World Cup football, Craft Beer Rising - all really good stuff.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year:
Bute Brewing Wickedly Hopped Bitter and a piping hot & very tasty Seafood Pie, Kingarth Hotel, Isle of Bute

Beer Festival of the Year:
BrewDog Presents... at the SWG3 - I do like these beer and meet-the-brewer talk events, even though in this case the beer was all keg ;-)

Supermarket of the Year:
Booths (I visited Lytham and Penrith this year). Great support of local beer.

Independent Retailer of the Year:
Hippo Beers just edges it in Glasgow for me.

Online Retailer of the Year:
AleselA - beer choice, flexibility and service you can't beat.

Best Beer Book or Magazine:
Boak and Bailey - Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer. Simply a really interesting read.

Best Beer Blog or Website:
The Beercast - The Scottish Beer Website, please keep this going, Richard!
Rob's post about visiting The Black Country was the best thing I read all year (and makes me want to go back, which is what a beer/travel post should do).

Best Beer App:
Untappd is pretty well the only one I use.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer:
I'm wimping out here to say just Twitter in general.

Best Brewery Website/Social media:
Pilot Beer. Pass the stapler!

Happy New Year to everyone!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

A south Edinburgh bypass before Christmas-time: 13th December 2014

I don't really head out on too many long walks during the wintertime, but since I had an invite to Stewart Brewing's Christmas open-day/party this Saturday (as a 2014 Craft Beer Kitchen customer) I thought I could include that in a shortish walk between a few Midlothian 'country' pubs just south of the Edinburgh bypass.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Edinburgh Waverley (every 15 minutes)
  Bus: Edinburgh Waterloo Place to Penicuik (X62, every 20 minutes after 10:00am)

It took a fair amount of time for the X62 bus to make it through the mass of Christmas shopping traffic around IKEA, Asda and Sainburys at the Straiton retail park, but we eventually arrived into a slightly snowy and still icy Penicuik just before noon. I went past the impressive Town Hall and a number of local shops before finding myself at the bottom of Bridge Street, the location of a set of astonishing, almost gothic-like, soaring tenements called the Parkend flats. These were built in 1862 by renowned church architect Frederick Thomas Pilkington and originally occupied by single girls working at the nearby Penicuik paper mills.

I headed back to the High Street and then off to West Street where a turn in the road led me to another interesting building, Navaar House.

Originally a family house, this is now a hotel & restaurant and from the outside looks almost part Bavarian alpine chalet (there are a number of self-catering rooms), which then leads to a 3-storey high central tower complete with weather vane and then finally to a bistro restaurant & Bavarian gasthaus pub at the rear of the building, where there is also ample outside seating. It's certainly an impressive and quite unusual building set in the midst of a more sedate housing estate.

I headed into the bar and found a single large open-plan room with the bar counter at the far left, small round wooden tables & chairs dotted about the sides, an exit off to the beer garden, a number of large screen TVs and a lot of sporting photos & prints. More importantly there was also a large wood burning fire giving off a serious amount of heat on this chilly day.

On at the bar were a couple of hand-pulls with Inveralmond Ossian and Highland Orkney Best available, and since I hadn't tried the Highland beer for a some time (a really nicely balanced session golden bitter) I took a pint of that whilst the barmaid went to the bistro to pick up a menu for me. I probably shouldn't really have been eating in the bar, but I was now encamped next to the fire and the barmaid was quite happy take my order and bring me some cutlery through from the bistro. The only other person in the bar at the time actually happened to be the delivery driver for the fish supplier that Navaar House use, and after chatting to him I was 'persuaded' to order their battered haddock with some chips & peas. This was a good, warming choice on a day like today and I was really quite impressed with this and Navaar House in general (definitely a place to come back to in the summertime).

On leaving Navaar House I managed to navigate through a couple of back streets and bypass busy Penicuik High Street before coming back out on the main road again. I went past a couple of garages and some superstores and also the distinctive frontage of The Tower chippy (not that I could have ordered my fish-and-chips here, it doesn't open until 16:30).

I then took a left turn up Mauricewood Road and out into the countryside. The pavement past the housing estate wasn't great in places, but there was at least still a definite kerb, and this eventually took me up to the main A702 Biggar/Abbington road junction (which in turn connects to the M74/M6). On the far side of the A702 is a decent pavement/footpath and I was able to follow this until a dip towards the Glencorse Burn and just here is The Flotterstone Inn, almost hidden from view from the main road and looking particularly festive with the snow-covered Pentland hills in the background.

The Flotterstone is a long, low slung building with a fairly small bar, but also a number of adjacent rooms for eating & drinking and a large central courtyard beer garden. It was a busy place even mid-afternoon, with a large car park for passing traffic (there seemed to be a lot of people wanting to eat before getting into Edinburgh) and also a fair amount of walkers and climbers out today. Judging by the posters it looks like they provide a couple of Stewart Brewing beers, with Pentland IPA likely to be a regular and a seasonal beer, in this case the lovely spicy Belgique Gold also available. I ordered a pint of this (and it was topped up without my asking, always good to see) and just sat down for a while whist the efficient bar staff managed to serve everyone at the bar and bring a load of meals out.

I wasn't sure about the state of the footpath further up from the bus-stop just past the Flotterstone, so instead I back-tracked to the top of the dip, took my life in my hands and managed to cross the busy road. From here I followed a dog-legged farm track until reaching a paved road and then re-crossing the Glencorse Burn. Somewhat in the middle of nowhere I came across the elegant Glencorse Parish Church...

...which then pointed the way back down to the main road out of Penicuik. In warmer times I might have decided that a slight detour to the lovely Roslin Glen Country Park and the steeped-in-history Rosslyn Chapel would have been worthwhile, but in the depths of a Scottish winter I decided to get on one of the frequent buses back up the road to Straiton/Loanhead. From the bus stop just before the Asda it was only a short walk to the far end of Bilston Glen Industrial Estate to the premises of Stewart Brewing (unsurprisingly there was no one outside playing table-tennis this afternoon).

After a chat with 'our brewer' Craig who was manning the shop, I headed into the brewery where there was a small bar setup in front of the Craft Beer Kitchen multi-purpose vessels manned by some of the other brewers and staff (with a few resplendent in colourful Christmas jumpers!). Available were generous samples of Hopriciot, Weiss Christmas Noire, Belgique Gold, 80/- and Pentland IPA - a very nice selection indeed.

I decided on a Hopricot (loads of sweet/sour apricot followed by a real bitter hop-kick) and fortified by some haggis, neeps & tatties (they swap their beer for haggis with the people from Macsween in the same industrial estate - nice!) we had a quick tour of the premises. This was interesting & informative (as always), many thanks for this, guys, and I also noticed that the array of beer filled whisky casks was now in a far more prominent position in the brewery than a couple of months ago - they're not likely to be opened until well into 2015 but it's certainly an intriguing departure from Stewart Brewing.

And since I had the opportunity it would have been just plain wrong to leave without buying a couple of bottles from the shop. This included the new Elysium imperial stout, a flip-top bottle of Cauld Reekie stout from one of Stewart Brewing's first batches which had been maturing since 2008 (wow!), and a Craft Beer Kitchen beer dreamt up by one of the in-house brewers (Richard) who had brewed a Raspberry & Seaweed beer, with seaweed collected locally from Roslin. As I've only ever had one seaweed beer before, the lovely Kelpie from Williams Brothers, it'll be interesting to see how this one turns out.

With more people coming in all the time I didn't want to outstay my welcome and so left the brewery whilst there was still some dreich daylight outside. I headed into the centre of Loanhead and from there it was less than a half hour walk along the edge of the main road to another smallish Midlothian village, Lasswade. At the outskirts of the village, just before the bridge over the River Esk, is The Laird and Dog Inn (complete with striking outside pub sign, we don't have enough of these in Scotland) which I reached in the shimmering twilight.

It's a large, modern, bright place (now owned by Maclays), with a central polished bar splitting 2 large rooms almost in half; lots of nooks & crannies on one side, the other dominated by a pool table (today surrounded by more people in Christmas jumpers starting a night-out), and also an open-plan conservatory restaurant towards the front of the building.

On the 2 hand-pulls at the bar were Isle of Skye Black and also Stewart Brewing Weiss Christmas Blanc, which I was happy to order after trying the Noire at the brewery only half an hour ago. Having said that I actually thought that the Noire worked better, with the Christmas spices complementing the chocolate/coffee backbone, but the Blanc was still a nice unfined Weiss. By the time I had finished my 1/2 pint it was pitch black outside and a perfect time to leave the Laird and Dog and get the bus back inside the bypass to Edinburgh, with the bus-stop conveniently located immediately outside the front door of the pub (this should happen more often!).

Return travel:-
  Bus: Lasswade to Edinburgh Salisbury Place (31, every 10 minutes)
  Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen St (every 15 minutes)

Friday, 5 December 2014

Methven 1306 an' a' that: 29th November 2014

The end of the year normally means a dearth of local beer festivals, the Alloa Octoberfest is normally the last one I get along to, but this year I'd found out about a beer festival in the small village of Methven, just to the west of Perth, that I thought was worth a bit of a walk out to.

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Perth (41 on the hour + some others)

I first of all zig-zagged from Perth station through a fair number of Perth housing estates to the A85 Crieff Road close to St Johnstone FC's McDiarmid Park. Although there was a Scottish Cup game being played later in the day, at this time in the morning it was still relatively quiet (St Johnstone would later go on to win against Ross County - I seem to be a bit of a lucky totem for them, see here). I then went past the Glover Arms (a decent enough Mitchells & Butlers Vintage Inn located next to a Travelodge just off the A85/A9 junction) before turning right up towards Huntingtower Castle, dating from the 15th Century and originally 2 separate towers but now a combined palace/castle with links to a lot of Scottish Jacobite history.

After the castle there's a bit of drop towards what used to be a row of worker's cottages (Tarry Row) which were built in the 19th Century for the bleaching industry. Here huge sheets of textiles were stretched out on the surrounding flat fields (possibly these ones outside the cottages) and bleached or dyed with various ashes and chemicals.

This took a fair amount of water & power and I came across one of the water mills that was used for the bleaching industry at the side of the road just opposite someone's house (albeit it was now, unfortunately, looking a bit the worse for wear).

I headed through the small village of Ruthven and then along the River Almond for a bit before arriving at Almondbank. After crossing a sodden playing field I was able to find the start of East Drive (not signposted at all, it almost looked like the entrance into a park), between 2 largish gate-post stones and this was the path that would take me most of the way to Methven. Not far along from the entrance are a number of seriously impressive houses with what must be amazing views over a small body of water, Methven Loch. It was a bit misty & mizzly this morning but it only added to the great atmosphere around the place and although I would have liked to have had a walk around the diminutive loch it was clearly marked (in quite a few places) as a private loch and private grounds.

The tarmac'd drive eventually turned into a far muddier path, with quite a few gates and stiles to negotiate, but it was never that difficult to follow (OK, I take that back; I took a wrong turn once and had tramp along the edge of a field of curious sheep). However I eventually came out into the extensive grounds of Methven Castle. Both the castle (which does 'luxury' B&B stays) and the gardens were starkly impressive in winter, but I'm guessing they must be stunning in the warmer seasons.

I then came back out on the A85 road half a mile or so before Methven. I thought this might involve walking along the verge of a busy main road, but no, there was a decent enough path (hooray!), and the sign that I encountered just at the village limits suggested that I was probably in Methven on the correct day.

First of all I wanted something to eat, but with the Methven Arms closed (boarded up and shut) and the award-winning Chatni Indian Restaurant closed until 5pm, that left either the The Little Acorn Café (which looked nice enough) or The Bell Tree Inn, close to each other on Methven Main Street, and I, of course, chose the pub.

There's a lounge/restaurant on the left of the building and a split-room bar on the right with a number of tables at the front and then more bench type seating (with a large screen TV today showing the football) at the back - there's a lot of dark wood in here, at the bar, the beams, the tables & chairs, but there are a fair amount of small down-lighters which brighten up the place. The small bar has a number of different macro keg beers (and I think they did try real ale a while ago but it didn't work out), but at the bottom of the fridge I spied new branded bottles of Brewdog Punk IPA, and I wasn't going to shy away from taking one of those.

They do some interesting pub grub, lots of home baking and the friendly staff were quite happy to provide 'custom' paninis for the group of 4 that were sitting next to me. I wanted something that could be made up fairly quickly, so I went with the Bell Tree Three Egg Omelette which was firm but still gooey, full of smoky mushrooms & bacon and very good indeed.

Since the meal was served quite quickly this meant I could leave the Bell Tree and make it the short distance up to the Community Centre (I'm assuming it's a converted church, or at least a church hall) for the 13:06 opening time of the Methven 1306 Beer Festival. The 1306 date refers to the Battle of Methven which took place near Methven Den Woodland between Robert the Bruce and an English army, with Robert the Bruce heavily defeated after a dawn attack (he and a few followers would escape and eventually win at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314). Although the battle occurred in June, the beer festival takes place in November, normally around St Andrew's Day.

To signify the start of the beer festival a lone piper played for a few minutes outside the centre, it's certainly a novel way to let a good part of the village know that something is happening.

Inside I picked up my 1/2 pint glass, beer tokens (and ink stamp) at the front desk and then entered the Community Centre's main hall. It's an interesting mix of old & new - all exposed stone walls, bricked-up archways, brightly lit with some additional hanging twinkling lights and (interestingly) a collection of about 50 bar towels on one wall. The beer was on stillage on one side of the hall with lots of tables on other, a stage at the front and more space & tables around the back if you wanted to get away from the music. I think this is the 5th year of the beer festival and it all seemed very well organised with the proceeds going to local Methven projects.

There were beers available from local breweries Strathbraan & Inveralmond, from further afield breweries such as Windswept & Valhalla (Shetland!), ciders from Cairn O' Mohr & Thistly Cross and this from Pilot Beer in Leith - Ultravilot (previously Parma Violence) a cloudy wheat beer made with the addition of a crazy amount of parama violets manually de-packetised. I wasn't expecting to see this at all as I thought it would only be found in & around Edinburgh, but it turns out that Strathbraan brewer/owner Mark Procter had picked it up from Leith whilst on a delivery run - nice one Mark! It was certainly cloudy, sweet and floral with a sour blackcurrant/lavender finish, I actually quite liked it.

There were also a couple of 1306 Festival specials from Strathbraan and Inveralmond, both (I believe) blends of current beers, with the Strathbraan special having an almost coffee-like bitterness which I preferred.

However the best beer of the festival (only IMHO) was Inveralmond's new De Mons golden Belgian ale. Initially starting off light & lemony, this then developed some sweet fig & dark fruit tones before finishing off with a definite Belgian yeast spiciness combined with an big alcohol hit - very smooth and very impressive for a UK Belgian-inspired beer.

I managed only a couple of further lovely Windswept beers before having to head off to try and find the bus back to Perth, but it was interesting (as always) to try some different beers and to chat to some of the local guys & gals (and I believe the festival got very busy later on). The bus service from Comrie/Crieff to Perth is a good one, we made it past McDiarmid Park with hardly any delay and the bus dropped me off in the centre of Perth. I picked up a couple of bottles from Ellies Cellar and then decided to try a new (to me) pub recommended by one of the local guys at the festival, Dickens on South Street.

It's a nice traditional, single-roomed pub with a long dark wood curved bar complete with a magnificent high gantry and lots of little partitions, alcoves and snug-type areas dotted about the room. They promote themselves as Perth's 'premium malt whisky bar' with lots of whisky bottles & sleeves set on high and whisky barrels as tables, but there is also an Inveralmond beer available on hand-pull, this weekend Ossian. This is a lovely citrusy golden beer which I enjoy a lot, but today I'd definitely been spoilt by that De Mons that I'd had earlier in the afternoon at Methven.

Return travel:-
  Bus: Methven to Perth (Stagecoach 15, 35 on the hour)
  Train: Perth to Glasgow Queen St (13 on the hour + others)