Showing posts with label scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scotland. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Homeward Bound!

I am going home next weekend.

One of the delights of working from home in an IT based world is that "home" is a relative term. Usually it is central Virginia, but sometimes it is South Carolina, Florida, or in this case my proper home, Scotland. Have laptop and internet connection will work, and keep my leave allowance for times when I want to not think about work at all, like Christmas.


Going home has become a semi-regular occurrence since moving to the US, when I lived in Prague I rarely bothered, probably mainly because I couldn't afford to go home for an extended period of time every couple of years. This year we'll be home for most of July, and only a couple of days off will be required. This trip will be the twins' first jaunt to their ancestral home, and first opportunity to be fawned over by members of my family other than my parents.


Being something of a CAMRA fellow traveller, the thought of having decent real ale always fills me with excitement. Yeah I love my local craft breweries, especially those that don't fanny around with daft ingredients, but there is little in the beer world to compare to a well kept pint of ale, pulled through a sparkler, served at perfect cellar temperature, carbonated not fizzy.


I have a list of places that I will visit at least once while I am home. The Cromarty Arms is always reliable for a quality pint of the magnificent Cromarty Brewing Happy Chappy. The Castle Tavern in Inverness often has an excellent selection of real ales from across the UK, and hopefully a cask of Timothy Taylor Landlord will be in situ in July, even we agnostics need a spiritual moment from time to time. The Phoenix Alehouse, sister to The Castle Tavern, is a haven down by the Inverness bus station if you have a few moments before your bus leaves.


When Mrs V and I were last home there was a new pub in Inverness in the throes of being decked out, but it opened after we had come back to Virginia. The Black Isle Bar and Rooms, owned and operated by Black Isle Brewing, is a place I really want to get to as I don't think I have ever seen their beer on tap, though have enjoyed plenty of it bottled.

There are several breweries that I had not heard of on our last trip whose beers I want to hunt out and try, Speyside Brewery and Spey Valley Brewery for example, so I am planning to drink beer mostly from the west Highlands and Moray for the duration of my trip. Sure I'll make a exception for the likes of cask Landlord, but when in Rome and all that jazz.


One beer that I know will be a regular tipple, whether bottled at the end of a day of work, or pulled through the beer engine in a pub, is the aforementioned Cromarty Happy Chappy, a beer I have adored from the moment I first had it at the Cromarty Arms. It is a beer that I come back to time and time again when I am home, and on the occasions when friends of mine go to the Highlands they are often gracious enough to squirrel me a bottle back to Virginia.

So here's hoping to a stress free first flight with the twins, Mrs V picking up the driving on the left quickly (I have total confidence in her driving skills), proper Scottish summer weather, and that first pint...you know it'll make me a Happy Chappy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Railroad to the Isles

As I mentioned in my previous post, Mrs V and I had planned to climb Ben Nevis the day after completing the West Highland Way. That plan had to be put to one side as my feet were something of a state, and also the weather decided not to cooperate. Minor interesting fact, there is apparently a gale at the summit of Ben Nevis every three days on average! Thankfully, we had a back up plan, a day trip to Mallaig.

I have only ever been to Mallaig a handful of times, usually as an alternative to the Kyle of Lochalsh way to Skye when heading home to Uist. I have a lingering memory of the greatest steak sandwich in all of human civilisation being available from a van on the quayside (shocking that food trucks existed before the urbanites got the notion in their heads, eh?). There were no juliennes of this, coulis of that, or salsas of the other, just perfectly cooked steak between two pieces of buttered bread, delightful.

Bear in mind when I say this that Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth, yes I am biased I know, but the railway line from Fort William to Mallaig is one of the most stunning I have travelled. Oh, and we took the steam train.


Although we had this as a back up plan, we hadn't bought tickets for the train, so we took our chances and joined the queue on the platform. Happily we managed to snag the last pair of first class seats, and when the time came duly took our seats in the 6 seater carriage. Our fellow travellers for the trip were an English mother and daughter, and a Swedish couple. The Swedes were over mainly to check on a cask of whisky they owned at a distillery, and doing a few trips to other distilleries. Naturally with a shared interest in the things that can be done with malted barley, we got to chatting. The English folks were very much looking forward to crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct as they were huge fans of Harry Potter.


After a few hours of trundling through the Highlands, with steam billowing alongside the carriages, we pulled into Mallaig itself. With just a couple of hours to wander and grab something to eat, Mrs V and I made a bee line for the Chlachain Inn on account of there being a 10% discount on food in a brochure on the train. Stepping into the public bar my heart almost leapt for joy, not only were there handpulls, but the beer was from the Isle of Skye Brewery. I went straight for the Skye Red, a beer I had thoroughly enjoyed in 2014. In many ways it reminds me of O'Hara's Red, but with the added benefit of being cask conditioned.


With time ticking away, thoughts turned to food, and being in Mallaig means one thing, and one thing only, seafood, plucked from the cold waters of the Scottish west coast. While trying to decide on a main course, Mrs V decided to break out of her usual culinary safe house and try haggis. Mrs V is not a big fan of offal in general, much to my chagrin sometimes, so I was understandably rather shocked when she ordered the tempura battered haggis with a peppercorn brandy sauce. I was even more surprised, and somewhat delighted, when she wondered aloud where haggis had been all her life, she loved it, absolutely loved it, a fact further confirmed a couple of weeks later in Glasgow when we had haggis pakora in an Indian restaurant. When it came to main courses, Mrs V took the seafood platter, which featured a veritable raft of locally caught fish and crustacea, while I went for langoustine and chips....


Drenched in a garlic and herb butter, by the time I got through all 6 of the langoustine and most of the chips, the bottom of the bowl was filled with garlicy, butter, mushy chips that were decadent in the extreme. If we didn't have to head back to the train station, I could happily have had another serving. Fresh seafood, landed that morning on the quayside just yards from the front door simply cannot be matched. That fact may explain why I rarely eat shellfish when I am not at the coast.


The train back to Fort William seemed to go much quicker than the ride out, again we were sat with our Swedish and English friends, and this time we availed ourselves of the bar in the restaurant car with cans of McEwans, a step down from the Skye Red for sure, but still a perfectly good beer, a phrase I once thought I would never say.

If you ever find yourself in the West Highlands, and I thoroughly recommend you go, a trip to Mallaig on the train is something well worth the money, and when there make sure to stop in the Chlachain Inn. Whether just for a pint, the Skye Red was in fine form and excellent both sparkled and unsparkled, yes I am that sad that I asked for a half pint of unsparkled to see the difference and unsparkled didn't shine next to sparkled, or for a meal. It was superb.


Friday, August 12, 2016

#WestHighlandWay - A Drinker's Guide Part 2

Now....where were we? Ah yes that's right, Inversnaid. Having breakfasted at the superb Top Bunk Bistro, a fry up that included the world's greatest black pudding (from Stornoway for the unsure), we got a lift back down to the West Highland Way and continued our venture north.

The section of the Way from Inversnaid to the end of Loch Lomond was probably the single most trying part of the hike. It's not steep, it's not difficult to follow, it's not even a study in uninspiring countryside, nope it's just a narrow gauge rollercoaster with trees to the right and Loch Lomond to the left. It's almost claustrophobic, so that when you come out into the open expanse around Ardleish it's quite liberating to be done with the Loch, and then a few miles on you come to Inverarnan.

As you walk along the Way you can see The Drovers Inn from about a mile away, it teases you as the path drifts away and you wonder if you will ever arrive at the village, and then you arrive at Beinglas Farm and see this sign.


Suddenly all thoughts of walking an extra couple of miles for a pint and a feed go right out of your head and your feet throb just enough to say something along the lines of 'sod it, let's eat here' and you fall into a cozy little lounge bar, pretty empty, and you rejoice because a beer you love is on tap, and it will be the first time you have had it on draft.


I refer of course to Harviestoun's magnificent Bitter & Twisted, which is one of the inspirations for Bitter 42, the best bitter that I designed for Three Notch'd Brewing here in Virginia. Sure I've had it from the bottle many a time, but never before fresh from the tap, and what a revelation it is stripped of the abuses of bottling and long distance haulage, cleaner, crisper, hoppier, more delightful. So I had a couple with which to wash down my food, while Mrs V and I struck up a conversation with a Czech girl called Zuzana and the English guy she was hiking with, whose name escapes me.

By the time you are happily refreshed, the rain is looking ominous again, but when you aren't camping and have a B&B room waiting for you in Crianlarich, you just have to keep on going. The hike along the River Falloch was lovely going, despite the rain, and the mud, and the sheep shit, and the Mrs V suppressing her inner urge to hug on every form of livestock along the way whilst simultaneously being unnerved by the size of the sheep. The constant distant buzz of the A82 reminds you that civilsation isn't all that far away, and after another 4 hours plodding along, playing leap frog with families and couples that you end up on nodding terms with, you come to the side trail down the hill to Crianlarich, the Gateway to the Highlands.


Being Mrs V and I's 8th wedding anniversary I had naturally booked the smallest room in Crianlarich, old charmer that I am. Said room was at the inestimable Craigbank Guest House, a place I happily, and heartily, recommend to anyone looking for a room in Crianlarich. Obviously, being our anniversary I took Mrs V for a slap up meal to mark the auspicious occasion, to the pub next door, The Rod and Reel, where I saw a tap I had not seen in many a year, for Younger's Tartan Special.


I ignored the Tartan Special and went for the bottled Bitter & Twisted while Mrs V stuck with her cider, and eventually a hot toddy because she was starting to feel crappy. On a tip from Paul at Craigbank Mrs V had the chicken curry, while I went for an treat I loved at school, macaroni cheese and chips. Little side story, when I was a kid at school back home in Uist, the canteen had a weekly vegetarian day, it was on those days that discovered the delights of macaroni cheese and chips, with chips drenched in salad cream, I guess we all have weird things we loved as kids. Anyway, while it may have been the smallest room in Crianlarich, it was also a damned comfortable one, and the breakfast in the morning was a belter.

The next morning, Mrs V's birthday no less, we trudged back up to the trail, my right foot was starting to develop a magnificent blister, right on the tip of my pinky toe, which made getting going a little uncomfortable. Once momentum was gained though it didn't bother me all that much, and the walking was simply glorious as we made our way toward the Tyndrum Hills and the eponymous village, which has long been a stopping off point for my family on the drive north.

The Tyndrum Inn is a large yellow building that is simply impossible to miss, and it's public bar is an annex to one side. It was practically empty when we arrived, and so we leaned out packs against the bar and took seats facing the tap handles. I was in the mood for lager, I know you are shocked dear regular reader, and so ordered the Caledonian Three Hop, whose tap was beading profusely, and the dark golden liquid came in a branded mug. The beer itself was pretty good, though it became flabby as it got warmer, but I was drinking slower than usual so maybe that didn't help. However, the sweet potato and carrot soup was a corker that stoked a warming glow ahead of another 7 miles as we headed to Bridge of Orchy.


Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy was probably my favourite 7 miles of the hike to be honest, beautiful scenery and a good track underfoot so that my blister didn't bother me too much. We didn't go anywhere for a drink during our stay in Bridge of Orchy. The B&B we stayed in, Taransay Cottage, also did an evening meal by request in advance and so we shared a couple of bottles with the owners before turning in for the night.

There were three more days of hiking to come, and not one of them promised a midday pint, though plenty of evening drinking, so we'll leave that for next time....

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Happy Chappy

Driving along the A9, north of Inverness, out past my parents' place in Alness, beyond Invergordon, and eventually to Nigg, there is a ferry. Having driven on to the ferry, been turned round on the turntable so you can get off again in a couple of minutes, you set off across the Cromarty Firth to reach the eponymous village on the Black Isle.

Cromarty is in many ways the archetypal small Highland town, picturesque sea front, cottages, a handsome church, the house of the local worthy, a couple of hotels with public bars. I liked it immensely, especially when strolling around I noticed magical words on a chalk board outside the Cromarty Arms Inn...'real ale', but we had a date with the cheesemonger first. Suitably stocked up with dairy delights it was time to sit away from the beautiful sunshine and enjoy a quick drink, cider for Mrs V, Irn Bru for Dad, and tonic water for Mum. The Cromarty Arms only has a single hand pull, and on that pump was Happy Chappy from the Cromarty Brewing Company.


Described on their website as a 'New Wave Pale Ale', Happy Chappy is made with a selection of New World hops, from both the US and New Zealand. I have to admit I was kind of craving some citrusy zing on the day we went to Cromarty, and Happy Chappy satisfied that need, perfectly, especially as to me it was more lemon and lime that generic New World grapefruit. So I had another. The second pint lasted slightly longer than four mouthfuls, so I enjoyed the biscuity malt base, the touch of toffee, and the long, lingering finish. So I had another. Number 3 was sheer delight, the body belying the 4.1% abv, and the hops shone through, making me almost regret that we were going on to other locales this day, I could have sat and drank Happy Chappy all afternoon.


En route to Fortrose in an abortive attempt to go to the Anderson (stupid me didn't check their opening hours), we stopped into the brewery itself, picked up some bottles, some t-shirts, some swag, you know the kind of thing you do. They only had three beers in bottles that day. Kowa Bunga, Red Rocker, and Wild Bush. Stocked up, we moved on with the rest of our road trip on the Black Isle.


That evening back at my parents, I drank a bottle of each of the three I bought. Unencumbered with a pen and notepad, I didn't take notes, but each of the beers was excellent, and thankfully lacking the dominant grapefruit thing that sometimes seems to be de rigeur with New World inspired beers.


Not normally one for Belgian inspired beers, the Wild Bush had me wishing I had bought more than just a pair of bottles. As well as more of the lime/lemon thing from the hops, there was a noticeable coconut flavour, which I assume is from the gorse flower, which worked well with the honeyed sweetness that never quite got into cloying territory.


From this point on, whenever I saw a Cromarty beer in the pub, my mind was made up, from the amazing Atlantic Drift in the Castle Tavern, to Hit The Lip in the Bon Accord, every single beer was magnificent, and all the more so for being cask conditioned. I have heard, and read, people waffle on about how hops from the US, Australia, and New Zealand are not suited to cask conditioning, and based on my experiences drinking Cromarty ales on cask, such notions are clearly bollocks. I would go so far as to say that the absence of fizz actually elevates the flavours of New World hops.


It's fair to say that I am a fan of Cromarty Brewing Company's beer. Flavourful, balanced, drinkable, and moreish....everything I look for in a pint. The only downer is that they aren't available in the US, so I guess I'll just have to go home again, and not wait 9 years to do so.

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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Get Off My Kilt!

There are times, when I am in my more grumpy and sarcastic moments admittedly, that I get annoyed by some of the naming choices and subsequent marketing efforts that breweries put in to promoting their beer.

One of my favourite websites highlighting the horrors of sub-par naming and branding is the magnificent Pump Clip Parade, a veritable litany of the ribald, obscene and downright offensive. Were a visitor from outer space to visit that website to get an idea of British drinking culture, they would likely conclude that British drinkers are only interested in third rate puns, naked women and frequent references to World War 2.

Sadly, the American craft brewing industry is not averse to indulging in national stereotyping in order to sell beer. As you quite possibly are aware, I am Scottish and happily so, though I feel no compulsion to run around in a Tam o'Shanter with bits of ginger hair sticking out the side, whilst swinging a Claymore and yelling '' at all and sundry. Forgive me then if I am being a tad touchy at the number of beers sold in this country which have some form of kilt elevation in their name; Kilt Lifter, Kilt Flasher, Kilt Raiser, Naked Under Me Kilt, Lift Your Kilt and so on and so forth. It simply bugs my head that many brewers of 'Scottish' ales have decided that the one part of Scottish culture to focus on for their naming conventions is the kilt, and I say that as someone who loves wearing his kilt, often just around the house when trousers simply don't go the job.

There is far more to Scotland than a few metres of worsted wool and the legendary absence of undies, so brewery marketing departments, how about engaging in some innovative thought (rather than just thinking that chucking the word 'innovative' in your marketing copy makes you beer 'awesome') when branding your 'Scottish' ales? How about making reference to the many aspects of the modern world that have their roots in Scotland? How about referring to eras of Scottish history other than William Wallace?

So while beer is supposed to be fun, resorting to lazy national stereotyping is the mark of ultimately crap marketing and detracts from the beer itself.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Love the Brethren

As you most likely know, I lived in Prague for ten years before moving over to the States in 2009. During that decade, I made it home to Scotland all of 4 times, the last trip being in 2005. Those were the days of drinking the smoothflow ales I wrote about a few posts ago, although I also managed to develop a taste for Fraoch. I enjoyed it because had the flavours that I liked in an ale coupled with the drinkability of a lager.


Coming closer to the present, I have been on something of a William Bros Brewing jag of late. During my trip to Wine Warehouse, where I picked up the cans for the smoothflow tasting, I also got a couple of bottles of their Heavy and Midnight Sun porter as well as a new beer for me, Scottish Session.

I have long liked the Heavy, which I believe in the UK is known as 80/-, it's deep russet colour and fluffy white head reminding me of drinking with friends on the Byers Road in Glasgow on the way from Birmingham when I was a student. Aromas of toffee, cocoa and a little grassiness with flavours of caramel nicely balanced with a delicate bitterness and only 4.2% abv, making it insanely drinkable. Likewise with the inky blackness of Midnight Sun, a porter brewed with ginger. Lots of roasty aromas and flavours abound, with a spicy zing in the finish. It's fair to say that I had great expectations for the Session.

I was not to be disappointed, and admittedly I was thrilled to see the abv was "only" 3.9%. Thrilled because I actually enjoy drinking beer rather than needing an age to get through a single 12oz bottle of something stronger. The Session, which I think is called "
On Friday I swung by
Beer Run in the hope of getting some altbier to compare my homebrew version with something commercial, but they didn't have any so I picked up some other stuff, including their Joker IPA. My introduction to Joker came when Beer Run had it on cask, and what a delight it was. The bottled version is just as good, packing a hefty hop punch but with a solid malty backbone and a mouthfeel that suggested the silkiness of a touch of oats in the grist, this is just lovely, lovely beer.

I can see this Williams Bros jag carrying on for quite some time to be honest. Packed with flavour and balanced beautifully for drinkability rather than sensory abuse, the guys in Alloa are getting things right and are, in my as ever unhumble opinion, probably brewing the best Scottish beers that are available in the States right now.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Brewheart

Scottish beer. You know all about Scottish beer I am sure. Sweet, malty and not very hoppy because it was so expensive to ship hops from one end of the United Kingdom to the other. You know that Scottish beer has a peaty element because of the water, although using peated malt is something of a no-no, but then you also know that an awful lot of craft brewers add a dash, just in case. Oh, and of course, Scottish beer has to involve kilts in the name, Kilt Lifters abound - you could say kilt lifting is the American craft brewing scene's equivalent of the abominations to be found on Pumpclip Parade.


The last few weeks have been a pleasure seeing these daft stereotypes ripped to pieces by the double team of Shut Up About Barclay Perkins! and I Might Have A Glass of Beer. Through a series of maps and analyses, the myth of Scottish brewing has been laid bare and savaged.

The highlight for me though has been the recipes that Ron has been posting, all from the 19th century and all of them with significant IBU ratings, ranging from 47 to 113. As a reference, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has 37 IBU, Pilsner Urquell 40 and Devils Backbone's 8 Point IPA 60. At 113 IBU, the No. 3 from Wm Younger in 1868 was more potent in the hop department than Starr Hill's Double Platinum, which weighs in at 90.

You know that thing about Scottish ales being unhoppy (according to the BJCP guidelines the tops a Scottish ale can be is 35 IBU) because of the expense of moving hops from one end of the United Kingdom to the other? Well, that's also complete bollocks. 

The majority of the hopping in the recipes from the 1860s were Saaz, from Bohemia, as in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time. Now, unless there was some special deal between Scotland and Bohemia on the basis of the Winter Queen, I am pretty sure import tariffs, transportation and logistics in the 19th century would have made copious amounts of Saaz hops somewhat more pricey than copious amounts of East Kent Goldings. Did we mention the copious amounts of hops going into Scottish beer in the 19th century yet? Oh, yes we did, 3rd paragraph for those that missed it.

From the work that has gone into a series of superb posts, I think it is a pretty clear that the myth of Scottish brewing seems to have been dreamed up by the same guys that did the historical research involved in Braveheart.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Scotland the Brew

Despite the fact that I haven't lived in my home country in more than a decade, I still keep a keen eye on developments in Scotland, and not just from a beer perspective. My brother lives just north of Dingwall and I still harbour ambitions of one day going home to the Highlands, settling properly, raising a family and all that good stuff.

Naturally then I do like to keep myself abreast of what is going on in Scottish brewing, and so I can draw up lists of beers that I need to try when I get to Europe on holidays in the meantime. As I mentioned the other day, my parents now live in France, but when they go to visit the family back home I am always tempted to get them to stock up on beers from various breweries for this Christmas. The same is also true with my eldest brother that lives in Kent, when next he goes to visit our parents I will be asking him to take a case or two of Kentish brew down with him. Of course if Scottish brewers want to send cases of beer to my parents' place ahead of Christmas, just email me and I will provide an address.

Anyway, back on topic. In my regular trawls through the various websites and blogs about Scottish brewing one thing comes back to me time after time - there are a  lot of breweries in Scotland that deserve more attention than they get.

One of my beer highlights of this year was finding in Greenville, South Carolina, Arran Dark from the Arran Brewery. Perhaps drinking it with heavy doses of nostalgia sweetened the experience, but what a gorgeous beer that is. I am avowedly not a hop head, preferring a balanced beer that I can drink with abandon and Arran Dark is just such a beer. When next we head to South Carolina, which should be around Thanksgiving, I am hoping to get hold of a case of said delight.

Heading back over to the mainland brings us to that mecca of Scottish brewing, Alloa, and Williams Brothers. Perhaps best known for their range of historic ales such as Fraoch, Kelpie and Grozet, they are  also brewers of the lovely Midnight Sun, a simply delicious 80/- Heavy and of course the inestimable Joker IPA, which Beer Run had on cask a while back and was wonderful.

Some of my favourite beers for drinking in the depths of winter come from home as well, simply, utterly sublime Old Engine Oil for starters, not forgetting Bitter and Twisted, which I rather enjoy in the summer months. Traquair House make great beers that are ideal for supping next to the fire while warming your frost nipped toes. Both will hopefully again be making appearances in France at Christmas.

I know this is just scratching the surface of all the great beer being brewed in Scotland, and the likes of The Beer Monkey and Barm are far better placed to bring the latest in Scottish brewing to our attention. However, one thing I would like to see is more praise of the rest of the Scottish brewing family, more attention in the blogosphere for the likes of West, Tryst, Inveralmond, Fyne Ales, Isle of Skye Brewery and the Black Isle Brewery.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...

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