Showing posts with label highlands. Show all posts
Showing posts with label highlands. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

To a T

I spent my formative teenage years living in the Outer Hebrides, in particular for the geographically challenged the bit in the red box in the picture:

The blue bit to the west of the islands is, obviously, the Atlantic Ocean. That blue bit stretches all the way to Canada with nothing between. It is not for nothing that the islands are often referred to as being on the edge of the world. I loved living there, and there are still times when I have moments where I think it would be good to go home and raise my boys the relative peace and safety.

Like most teenage kids growing up in isolated communities drinking started at a relatively early age, I think I was 14 when I had my first sneaky can of beer, nicked from a fridge at someone's house during a party at which parents were free to bring their kids along. I am not counting here the cider my parents would give us as younger kids, or my dad's homebrew that we would drink from time to time. There is something about that first illicit beer, as I say taken from the fridge when the adults weren't looking, that means more than all your parents' enlightened attitudes toward booze.

Most definitely among those first ill-gotten cans of nectar was Tennent's Lager, at a time when the cans still featured the , scantily glad models that were probably many a teenage beer filcher's first crush. With said cans safely hidden in coat pockets we would head out to the garden and sit behind a dry stone wall, in the lee of the wind, and pretend like we knew anything about beer.

Such memories came flooding back when
Boak and Bailey posted a story about them drinking Tennents when in Scotland recently, and so I resolved that on my trip home in July to do likewise. Thus it was that on the first Friday night in the Highlands, Mrs V and I left the bairns with their grandparents and wandered up to one of my favourite institutions, the public bar of a Highland hotel, the Station Hotel in Alness.

Entering through the hefty, weather beaten, teal blue doors you land practically on the bar. In keeping with public bar tradition there is no carpet, old school wooden floorboards are the order of the day. There is no fancy furniture, a few barstools, well used wooden tables around the periphery of the room, and equally well used wooden chairs. My kind of bar.

Dotted around the bar are groups of working men, ignoring the barstools entirely, standing just shy of an arm's length from their pints. At a table in the corner, a mixed group of Polish seasonal workers, in many a Highland public bar when there are ladies present in your group, you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar. Mrs V and I took up station at the short end of the bar itself, I like to be at a bar when I am drinking, next to the gaming machine, flashing with promises of paying your drinks bill for the night if you are lucky enough.

The Station doesn't do craft beer, doesn't really do local beer either if I remember rightly. I am not sure it would matter anyway, basically everyone was drinking Tennent's, which apparently accounts for 50% of all lager drunk in Scotland. I didn't bother with pictures of my pints, perhaps for fear of being called out as the metropolitan middle class softie I have become, or because it was irrelevant to being out with my wife on a rare trip sans enfants.

The first thing that strikes me is just how fizzy the pint is, though given the laser etched nucleation points on the base of the branded glassware, is it always that carbonated? Given the never ending stream of bubbles, the head pretty much stayed put, it was actually a rather alluring sight, and possibly the first time I had drunk Tennents and been able to see it.

Taking a first mouthful, my initial reaction was that if I was served this at an American craft brewery, either as a pilsner or helles, I would be pretty happy. Sure it is no Port City Downright Pilsner, but it is not a bad pale lager by any stretch of the imagination. The flavour is mostly a grainy crackeriness, somewhat similar to a Jacob's Cream Cracker, with a similar subtle sweetness as well. Am I allowed to say that it actually tasted of barley? That's a thing right? Hops are not a major component of the brew seemingly, but what was there gave enough of a clean bitterness to snap the malt to attention, as well as wisps of floral lemoniness that reeks of classic noble hops, you know, the ones from Central Europe.

Four mouthfuls in and the pint was gone, a fresh one on its way, then another, and another as we settled into the buzz and banter of the bar. At some point a pair of young girls came in, one with ID and one without, dolled up for a night on the town and pre-gaming before heading into Inverness. The gathered older folks, which Mrs V and I have accepted we are now part of, shared looks of recognition of days gone by, while the barman gave the IDless girl short shrift, and soon they were gone, while hands reached out for pints and the drinking continued.

I don't recall how many pints I had, maybe 8, but I did wonder, perhaps out loud and a tad overly loud as Mrs V and I walked back to my parents' place whether an avowedly craft bar is capable of such an atmosphere? Merrily buzzed and with no regret whatsoever for drinking Tennent's all night, I fell into a happy slumber that thankfully the twins didn't disturb until about seven thirty the next morning. I would drink Tennents again several times on the trip, each time knowing that I would miss it when I got back to Virginia.

Maybe it is the Tennents I miss, maybe it's public bars in Highland Hotels. Either way, that session will live on in the memory, despite no pictures.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Great Cheer

I may have mentioned, in one of my various social media outlets, that my recent trip to the Highlands was the first time I had been home since May 2005. Back then, in the dark days of Liverpool having only won 4 European Cups, I tended to drink stuff like Caffrey's, John Smith's, Boddington's, or Staropramen whenever I was visiting home from the Czech Republic. I enjoyed the occasional bottle of Fraoch, Bishop's Finger, or something a little less 'mainstream', I liked drinking beer, but wasn't overly fussed about what the beer was.

Fast forward then to last Friday afternoon, sat in the Bon Accord in Glasgow, polishing off multiple pints of Kelburn Dark Moor, Caledonian Brewing Summer Valley, and to my delight Cromarty Hit the Lip. Up to that point I could count the number of non-cask conditioned beers I had drunk on the fingers of one hand. In those three weeks at home I drank a lot of good beer, in some wonderful pubs, while meeting some fascinating people. In short, it was almost the perfect beer fueled holiday.

In the next few posts, I will tell you about some of the breweries and pubs I enjoyed, and no doubt flesh out some of the thoughts that pottered their way through my mind as the pints flowed. Perhaps the beers were there in 2005, but it seemed to me that the brewing world in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is blossoming, and that brings great cheer to my heart.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Beer Hero of the Week

With my going off to Oxford this evening I decided to post up this week's Beer Hero of the Week today - thus saving me the hassle of leaving the pub tomorrow to find an internet cafe.

One of my favourite animals is the squirrel, in particular the red squirrel which is native the British Isles and under threat of extinction, due to destruction of habitat and encroachment by the imported grey squirrel, practically the only area which still has red squirrels is the Highlands of Scotland.

This week the Atlas Brewery in Kinlochleven released a new ale, called Red Squirrel. Part of the profits from this new ale are to be donated to the Highland Red Squirrel Group who are working to ensure that the British Isles don't lose our native squirrel.

So I would encourage everyone who can to go out and buy Red Squirrel ale, so here we are ladies and gentlemen, my beer hero of the week:

The Atlas Brewery

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