Showing posts with label kelburn. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kelburn. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

#WestHighlandWay - A Drinker's Guide Part 1

I spent most of July back home in Scotland.

For the first eight days of the trip Mrs V and I hiked the 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William along the West Highland Way, it was the first long distance hike we had ever done. We spent most weekends in the first half of this year training on the Appalachian Trail with friends of ours, one of whom has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. It became something of a tradition for us to hike in the morning and then head to the pub afterwards, and to a certain extent our trail choices were informed by whatever breweries and bars were nearby. There really is nothing quite as satisfying as that first pint after hiking for for several hours lugging a 30lb backpack with you.

If you've been reading Fuggled for any length of time you'll know that I love pubs, sure the beer is important, but I'd rather have a pint of Guinness in a good pub than drink some innovative IPA in bar full of crafties and trendies. All along the West Highland Way I found good places to drink, most with great beer, some with poorly constructed swill, but all nice places for a bevvy, a feed, and a rest.

Starting at the beginning, quite literally as it is just a few dozen yards from the official starting point of the Way, Mrs V and popped into the Talbot Arms the night before we started our hike. I will just say now that there are 2 magic words that will get me into pretty much any pub and I saw them as we walked past the Talbot Arms on a reccy mission, they are of course the words 'real ale'. Sadly, for all the buzz around beer here in the US, finding properly cask conditioned ale (without the addition of silly shit) is like finding a needle in a haystack. For most of the trip Mrs V was drinking cider, but seeing Kelburn Jaguar on a hand pull, I knew what I was getting, and it was everything you expect from a Kelburn beer, magnificent.


The Talbot Arms is in many ways my kind of pub, a good selection of beer, both keg and cask, staff that are friendly and efficient, and a good atmosphere - that hum of a friends talking, disagreeing, comparing notes, if you're a pub go-er you know what I mean. With a couple of pints of Jaguar in my belly, we wandered back to the Premier Inn to get some kip ahead of the first day's hiking, 12 miles from Milngavie to Drymen.


The first day of the West Highland Way, going north, is not particularly challenging. Of course it helps if your guide books haven't gone north in your dad's car and you have to buy a map before heading away from the obelisk that marks the start of the trip. The weather was ideal for hiking, never warmer than about 16°C (60°F), mostly overcast, and the occasional shower, though only twice did we actually need rain gear. That number would have been three if after 7 miles on stone paths we hadn't come to the Beech Tree Inn and taken the opportunity for a welcome pint. I tried a couple of beers, Loch Lomond's West Highland Way seemed apt, and rather tasty, then Jaw Brew Drop, which was likewise a fine beer, so I had another one. The rain had turned to hail by this point, so we sat under the shelters in the garden watching the clouds, chatting with other hikers and just waiting for the rain to pass on by.


With the rain easing and the clouds parting to reveal patches of blue we headed on to Drymen, and being a little early for checking into our B&B for that night, we wandered on the Ptarmigan Bar in the Winnock Hotel. We were the only people in the pub, so we dropped our packs and sat at the bar, where the hand pull had Leeds Brewing Vienna Lager on, naturally I ordered a pint, and it had gone to vinegar. On pointing this out to the barman the cask was pulled and an interim pint of Belhaven Best ordered, no questions asked, no attempts at telling me it was supposed to taste like that, no attempts at insinuating that I didn't understand what I was drinking, just simple, efficient, service. Bravo to the Ptarmigan, they will be held in high esteem in my world for that very reason. The replacement cask that eventually appeared was an absolutely smashing pale ale from the Home Counties that I can't remember the name of, or the brewery, oops.

Having successfully checked in to our bed and breakfast and enjoyed an afternoon tea with fresh scones and homemade jam, we set out to the Clachan Inn for dinner. I was looking forward to the Clachan, it had a good reputation online, is mentioned in the stand up of one of my favourite comedians, and is apparently the oldest licensed premises in Scotland. Maybe we caught them on a bad night, but the beer was flaccid, not bad per se, but in poor condition, again I don't recall what I was drinking, but I was starting to get into something of a funk because of the seemingly half arsed lamb burger I was eating. Now, I am perfectly willing to accept that I have been spoilt here in Virginia, but a burger in a dry bun with a single lettuce leaf and slice of tomato was something of a let down, especially for £15, that and lukewarm chips. Thank goodness the stunningly good pale ale was still on at the Ptarmigan Bar for a night cap.

Day two of the hike was our shortest day, but also our first decent climb, about 6 miles from Drymen to Balmaha, climbing Conic Hill on the way. Balmaha, it would seem, has a single boozer, the Oak Tree Inn, which was also where we were staying the night - rather handy as you can imagine. Again arriving before check in time, and this time getting slammed by a hail storm that blew in off Loch Lomond, pints were ordered and taken to an outside table to watch a married couple worry and faff over a finch hopping around near them. Again I was looking forward to Oak Tree Inn, but this time because they are part of the same concern as the Balmaha Brewing Company, again I was disappointed. The only Balmaha beer available was called Kiltwalker as they are in the process of building a bigger brewery. To be blunt, if Kiltwalker is representative of their beer, they should save their money, it was dire, with a distinct taste of cigarettes. Thankfully though the Dragonfly American Amber from Fallen Brewing was very good and in good nick from the handpull, and Belhaven Best was quickly becoming a reliable back up.


While I was not impressed by the Balmaha Brewing Company's beer, everything else about the Oak Tree Inn was excellent. The food, the service, the bedroom, absolutely top notch in my book, especially the bar staff, lead by a Polish guy called Marcin. A quick side note, but the number of times the service was superb and said service was provided by Eastern Europeans was astounding, it would seem the life blood of the hospitality industry at home is Czech, Polish, Slovak, or similar. I spent a good couple of hours at the bar that evening, enjoying a couple of shots of 12 year old Balvenie Doublewood and more of the Dragonfly.

Having breakfasted on a full Scottish fry up, with the added bonus of haggis, Mrs V and I set out towards Inversnaid, picking up a Danish hiker called S?ren on the way who had got a bit confused with the route. Much of this section of the hike follows the shore of Loch Lomond, with all the midges that implies, by now I had the beginnings of my first blister of the trip. As the morning came to a close we arrived at Rowardennan, and decided to stop in the Clansman Bar, which is part of the Rowardennan Hotel. Having removed wet boots and dumped packs in the corridor the three of us snagged a table and I limped a tad to the bar and the sight of a WEST Brewing tap pouring St Mungo Lager brought much cheer to my heart as it was the first time I had the opportunity to try anything from a brewery I have heard much about. What a lovely lager it is too, I may have had three pints while Mrs V did the sensible thing of eating lunch.

Leaving Soren behind in Rowardennan we continued along the banks of Loch Lomond until we reached Inversnaid, where we would spend the night in a self catering apartment and go to the Inversnaid Bunkhouse and Bistro for a feed and a bevvy. My eldest brother, who did the Way last summer, recommended the Bunkhouse to us, and we would pass on that recommendation to all and sundry, the food was superb, the hospitality magnificent, and they have a very good bottled beer selection. As the evening was coming to a close I spied a bottle of Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted, which played the perfect foil to more Balvenie before bed.

That's where we'll leave it for now....more pints, pubs, and people to come.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Beers, Breweries, and Pubs of 2014

I toyed with the idea of following the format of the Golden Pints this year, but almost pissed myself laughing at the thought of nominating an 'American Cask Beer' of the year, such is the parlous state of beer's finest, and most natural, form of presentation on these shores. So, I figured I'd stay with my tried and tested categories of pale, amber, and dark, further divided by region - Central Virginia, the rest of Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the World. I am also including brewery and pub categories this year. So without further ado.....

Pale
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Grey Ghost American Pale Ale
  • Rest of VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Rest of World - Cromarty Happy Chappy
  • Honorable Mentions - Timothy Taylor Landlord, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted, Three Notch'd 40 Mile

This year was really difficult to decide from the two front runners here, both of which I drank plenty of, though on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Three Notch'd are pretty much my go-to brewery these days, their core lineup is excellent and that always makes me sure to try their more experimental stuff, because I have trust in the quality of their beer overall. When we were in Scotland over the summer, I think I drank more Cromarty Brewing beer than any other, as they blend the hopping of the New World with the sessionability of the British tradition to make beers which are the best of both worlds. As such, the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2014 is Cromarty Happy Chappy, a simply magnificent beer that I am still working on producing a decent clone of so I don't have to wait until I next get to Scotland to enjoy more of.

Amber
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Hydraulion Irish Red
  • Rest of VA - Ardent American Mild
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Rest of World - Kelburn Dark Moor Mild
  • Honorable Mentions - Greene King The King's English IPA, Skye Red, Cromarty Atlantic Drift, McEwan's Scotch Ale
Much easier this year was choosing my amber beer of the year, even though it is more of a dark amber than some beers, but there we go. I polished off several pints of Kelburn Dark Moor while sat in the Bon Accord one afternoon in Glasgow. There is only one word to describe this beer, delicious.

Dark
  • Central VA - Devils Backbone Schwartzbier
  • Rest of VA - Lickinghole Creek Enlightened Despot Russian Imperial Stout
  • Rest of US - River Rat Hazelnut Brown
  • Rest of World - Skye Black
  • Honorable Mentions - Isley Brewing Tall, Dark, and Hopsome, Black Isle Oatmeal Stout
If you are a regular Fuggled reader, I hope you are sat down. My dark beer of 2014 is something that most people I know wouldn't even consider me liking. Enlightened Despot is a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Pappy van Winkle barrels. One day in early summer, Mrs V and I went to Lickinghole Creek Brewing and sat with a large block of farmhouse Cheddar, freshly baked crusty bread, and we sat and drank this unctuous potent brew in the peace of the Virginian countryside. It was quite simply, divine.

Fuggled Champion Beer

My overall best beer of 2014 was a revelation, a beer that I just wanted pint, after pint, after pint of, and several times on my trip home to the Highlands I did exactly that. Whether sat in the Cromarty Arms, the Castle Tavern, or the Phoenix, the very site of a Cromarty Happy Chappy pump clip was enough to make up my mind.


Breweries
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd
  • Rest of VA - Port City
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada
  • Rest of World - Cromarty
  • Honorable Mentions - Hardknott, Fullers, Lickinghole Creek


This is actually pretty simple, even though there are some great breweries on that list, producing magnificent beers. It is simple because it all comes down to which brewery I trust the most to produce the kind of beers I like drinking, flavourful, balanced, moreish. That brewery is Three Notch'd.

Drinking Holes
  • Central VA - Whiskey Jar, Charlottesville
  • Rest of VA - Mad Fox, Falls Church
  • Rest of US - Flying Saucer, Columbia, SC
  • Rest of World - Bon Accord, Glasgow
  • Honorable Mentions - Tin Whistle (Charlottesville), The Brixton (Washington DC), Castle Tavern (Inverness)


I was only at the winning pub for a matter of hours, but it was love at first pint. I wrote about the Bon Accord here.

So there we go, that was the highlights of my drinking in 2014, not a bad way to mark my 900th post on Fuggled.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Where Good Fellowship Reigns

It was a glorious day, as many of the preceding 20 had been. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and we were sat on the early morning bus from Inverness to Glasgow. It was time to make the long trek back to our little corner of Virginia, and after 4 hours of beautiful Scottish countryside drifting past the window we were in Glasgow. Minor side note, while the A9 has an atrocious, and thoroughly deserved, reputation as something of a death trap, it is also one of the most stunningly beautiful roads I have ever travelled on.

I have always had something of a soft spot for Glasgow, I love the architecture, the vibrant city centre, and I have loads of Glaswegian friends. Although I have never spent more than a few days in the city at a time, I have enjoyed many an excellent drinking session in the city's pubs. When we were planning our few hours in Glasgow city centre, I tweeted for advice on the best places near Buchanan Street bus station for a feed and a drink. I had originally wanted to make it out to WEST, but decided that I would rather spend the time downing pints of real ale. Several answers came back, but I knew pretty much straight off where we would be spending our afternoon. We wandered to the edge of the city centre, through the crowds for the Commonwealth Games, under the M8, and having proven again that navigation by pub is a universal, into pub heaven.


The  Bon Accord is unassuming, unpretentious, wood laden, and clearly a place for serious drinkers, who know their onions when it comes to the delights of malted barley, whether as beer or whisky. Mrs V and I found a couple of seats at the bar, and got our first drinks in, Cromarty's Hit the Lip for me, and Kronenburg 1664 for her, in her defense she hadn't noticed the Budvar in the fridge, once the Kronenburg was done she was Czech for the afternoon. I would have stuck quite happily with Hit the Lip had I not polished off the last of the cask, did I mention yet that there we 10 hand pulls arrayed on the bar? With no more Cromarty beer to keep me company, a Caledonian Brewery Summer Valley filled the gap while I pondered what to have next.


One of the things I love about pubs is the people you meet, the random conversations with folk you are unlikely to ever meet again, whether the older gent doing the crossword next to Mrs V, the Patrick Thistle fan with whom I discussed the upcoming independence referendum (a conversation I pointedly avoided with my family), and most of all, with Paul, the owner. It's difficult, if not impossible, to describe Paul as anything other than a man of the world, urbane, sophisticated, and a mine of knowledge of whisky and beer. It was fantastic to just sit and chat the many pleasures of the demon drink. It was Paul that recommended I try the Kelburn Dark Moor. Oh. My. Goodness. What a beer Dark Moor is, served in tip top condition, a wonderfully complex, irresistible mild.


We ended up spending the best part of 5 hours at the Bon Accord before heading back to the bus station to pick up our bags and head out to Renfrew and our hotel for the night. 5 hours of superb, well kept, beer, supreme service, stimulating conversation, and an all day breakfast to die for. The Bon Accord is a must visit when in Glasgow, and the kind of pub that if I ever had my own, would be the role model.

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