Showing posts with label trips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trips. Show all posts

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Perfect Partner

For the best part of a decade my Black Friday tradition of walking 7 miles to the Columbia Flying Saucer and spending the afternoon on the bevvy has been something I looked forward to immensely. This year though Mrs V and I decided to leave the twins in the care of her parents and sister overnight and head down to Charleston for a night out. It was the first night in just over 2 years that both of us slept away from the kids.

The highlight of the trip was having dinner reservations at a restaurant called The Grocery. When I was in the city last year for a conference, I went there twice as a result of my bosses making arrangements without consulting each other, though given the wonderful food, especially the bone marrow br?lée, I really wasn't complaining.

Rather than having the standard 3 course meal of starter, main, and dessert, we picked and chose from various dishes, and ended up sharing between us, among other dishes:
  • bone marrow br?lée
  • roasted autumn roots
  • South Carolina Yellowfin tuna crudo
  • churros with salted caramel, chili chocolate, and creme anglaise sauces
Every dish was an absolute delight, especially the tuna crudo and bone marrow br?lée, rounding out the meal with the churros and a nice glass of calvados was just the icing on the cake. What though has this to do with beer, after all Fuggled is a blog about beer. Fear not dear reader, I haven't become a wine drinker, and my meal at The Grocery was certainly accompanied by beer, to be precise.

Paycheck is, having actually only just now checked the Fullsteam website for details, an American style pilsner, made with, horror of horrors, flaked corn as well as 2-row malt. Side question, why is it ok for craft brewers to use "cheap adjuncts" like corn in their beer but not the likes of Miller and Coors, in whatever configuration they are this week?

Anyway, the beer, it was just what I wanted to drink, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Knowing that it uses corn will in no way affect the fact that I will drink it again in the future, in fact I'll probably hunt it out. It's a good beer, end of story.

The corn discovery though makes no difference to the thoughts behind this post. Driving home to Virginia yesterday I said to Mrs V that my experience of drinking Paycheck with all these fantastic dishes on Friday made me think that celebrity chefs who own that they drink American style pale lagers rather than whatever is this week's rage in the tasting rooms of the US might actually be on to something.

Dinner at a place like The Grocery is always going to be primarily about the food, as it should be, and so I want the beer to take a back seat, but still be an enjoyable experience in its own right. Enter pilsner, German, Bohemian, or American. Give me a glass of well brewed pale lager, reasonably well hopped, showcasing the clean snap of a good lager fermentation, and you have a beer that complements almost any food you have it with.

I am fairly sure that had the pilsner in question been Rothaus or Albrecht 10° the overall experience would have been similar, great food, supported by good beer, in supreme company, making for a wonderful night out with the inestimable Mrs V.

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.

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.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

#WestHighlandWay - A Drinker's Guide Part 4

The last two days of Mrs V and I's West Highland Way hike covered the 26 miles from Glencoe to Fort William, with an overnight stop in Kinlochleven. 26 miles of some of the most dramatically beautiful scenery anywhere on the planet. Rugged, moody, mountains, innumerable streams tumbling down the hillsides, lochs reflecting the ever changing sky, and, in the distance, the great hulk of Ben Nevis.

Before setting out from Glencoe, there were things to be dealt with, namely the blister that had been slowly building over the previous few days. It had got to the point where I couldn't actually get my boot on that morning, something had to be done. Given that hacking the entire toe off wasn't really an option, I made an incision in the blister and drained it thoroughly before Mrs V went into full on nurse mode and taped it up. Suitably booted we went up to the centre's cafe for a bacon roll, to discover to my joy that they had a full fry available, and so it was back to plates of protein and a pot of tea for breakfast. There really is no finer start to a day of hiking. Re-fuelled we headed out past the Blackrock Cottage, toward the Devil's Staircase and Kinlochleven.


The weather was perfect for hiking, cool, overcast, with the ocassional shower. Once I got going, the toe was fine, but if we stopped for more than a couple of minutes, getting going again was a pain that bordered on masochism. Sometimes though, you have to forget the pain and just revel in the countryside.


I have always loved this part of Scotland, and whether travelling home from university, Eastern Europe, or wherever I had been, it was when I got to Glencoe that I really felt back in my element. I love this part of the world, and still have a vague notion that one day I'll stop my wandering and find a place to settle among the mountains, preferably near the sea as well. The big challenge on this particular day would be scaling the Devils Staircase, which takes you to the highest point on the West Highland Way, about 1800ft above sea level, and affords you one hell of a view.


The rest of the day's hike is literally downhill, an almost dis-spiriting downhill at that as you follow the switchbacks into the valley with just tantalising glimpses of Kinlochleven itself. It was on this downhill trek that we ran in to S?ren again, bedecked with new hiking shoes and as happy as the day was long having found an English chap to walk the way from Rowardennan with. As we continued on our way, Mrs V commented that she was glad to see S?ren again and that he had found someone to walk with, soppy moment alert, but Mrs V really is a wonderfully compassionate soul.

Eventually we reached the bottom of the hill and headed for the centre of Kinlochleven in hopes of remembering where our guest house for the night was. Having failed miserably at the memory game, we popped into the Tailrace Inn to use the free wifi, and naturally slake the inevitable thirst that had built up. The Tailrace is a cozy little pub, just off the main drag, opposite the chippy, and with a draft selection that didn't really appeal in the moment, so I broke with my tradition and joined Mrs V on the cider, Bulmers I think it was, with an unnatural orange glow to it.


I drink much quicker than my lovely wife, so having located Tigh-na-Cheo, our room for the night, I went back to the bar for a closer inspection of the bottled selection, and joy of joys my old friend Bitter & Twisted was there. We would head back to the Tailrace that evening for food and another couple of pints, Bitter & Twisted being available in half litre bottles, before turning in for the night.

If ever you find yourself staying in Kinlochleven, Tigh-na-Cheo is a fantastic guest house, comfortable, a cracking fry in the morning, superb service (again with an Eastern European flavour, this time I think the staff were mostly Czech), and with an excellent range of bottled beer available on an honesty box basis, If you've spent the day hiking, they have absolutely massive baths, which are positively luxuriant after 6 days of just showers. Safe to say, Mrs V and I enjoyed our stay there.


The final 16 miles starts with a steep climb to make the Devil's Staircase weep, then on to the Lairig Mor pass that goes through yet more stunning countryside to Fort William. My feeble words can't do justice to the magnificence, so here's a few pictures instead.




It was walking through Lairig Mor that we needed our rain gear for the first time since Conic Hill as finally the famed Highland weather smashed into us, lashing us with driving rain and a stiff breeze that made limping along almost miserable, but for the growing sense of achievement of being on the final leg. Eventually you scale the last hill, just shy of Dun Deardail, and start the descent into Glen Nevis, with the Ben looming over you. We had originally planned to climb Ben Nevis the following day, but the state of my feet and the weather forecast put pay to that idea.

Coming down into Glen Nevis you are jarred back into civilisation as the final couple of miles are on a tarmac path into Fort William, past the original end of the hike, and along the high street to the official end. After 94 miles of mostly well maintained mountain trails, walking on tarmac again is a brutal return to the real world. Thankfully right next to the end of the West Highland Way there is a Wetherspoon's pub called The Great Glen. It seemed only apt for my first beer having completed the West Highland Way to be the Devils Backbone IPA, brewed specifically for Wetherspoon's.


My memory of the IPA is somewhat hazy now, and note taking wasn't really a priority with an aching body, and trying to decide where to have dinner that night, as well as the thought of the extra mile uphill to come in order to get to our accommodation for the night, an excellent place called Braeside House. I remember that it was very much an East Coast style American IPA, and that was just fine by me. We would return to the Spoon's that evening, having sat on a bench eating a fish supper, and a pint of Innis & Gunn's Craft Lager was downed with some disappointment, it was pretty dull stuff to be blunt, before taking ourselves off to the Grog and Gruel for a nightcap couple of pints from their beer engines. I don't recall what they were, but the condition was excellent, and the spot was duly hit.

When you take into account the getting to and from various guest houses, microlodges, and B&Bs, we must have walked close to about 110 miles in the 8 days we spent on the West Highland Way. The vast majority of pubs were exactly what I would expect from a Scottish boozer, and it was great to see beers from the likes of Harviestoun readily available pretty much everywhere we stopped. One thing that this trip reminded me of was that a good pub is not defined by its beer selection, its number of taps, or the hipness of the breweries they stock. Good pubs are places of banter, relaxation, and shared experience, good beer can help, but it's not a requisite. The night at the Climbers' Bar will stick in my memory for a long time as an almost perfect pub session, and they had all of 2 handpulls besides the more generic big brewery offerings, and the two hot toddies seemed to do the trick for Mrs V's sore throat.

Of course there was more drinking to be done while I was home, but we'll get there.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

#WestHighlandWay - A Drinker's Guide Part 3

Our stay in Bridge of Orchy made a nice break in more ways than just a comfy bed to rest our heads after a day among the hills. The folks at Taransay Cottage are vegetarians, and so breakfast didn't come replete with black pudding, bacon, and other sundry pork products, which was actually a welcome change despite being an unreconstructed meat lover. We had also spent the evening talking about hiking, music, and other stuff, so while I had a couple of bottles of beer, the only throbbing the morning after was the ever expanding blister on my toe.

I was really looking forward to the day's hike, we would be crossing one of my favourite places in Scotland, Rannoch Moor. Prior to our hike I had only ever seen the Moor from the A82, usually from the heights of a Skyeways bus (showing my vintage there!) to or from Uig heading to or from home, and I had always been enchanted by the expanse of empty moorland. Before reaching the moor though we had to cross Ben Inverveigh and pass the Inveroran Hotel too early in the day to be open. Having wandered past, cursing the time (as lovely as yoghurt, fruit, and bread is for breakfast, I was famished and wanted to keep my packed lunch a bit longer), we eventually came to Thomas Telford's drove road.


For those not versed in Highland history, the drove roads replaced the old military roads in the late 18th/early 19th century, and their primary purpose was to provide a better way for Highland farmers to drive their cattle to market in the south. It was on a remnant of that road that we would cross Rannoch Moor, and it was a bitch of a hike with my feet starting to scream with pain from my blistered toe, and a hot spot developing on the sole of the same foot. Still, the scenery was stunning and the actual hike not wildly difficult, but the relief as we started our descent into Glen Coe was palpable, and we noticed that there were still pockets of snow high up on the mountains.

We would spend the night in a microlodge, aka 'hobbit house', at the Glencoe Mountain Resort, where there is a cafe that sells beer, but we decided to drop our bags, shower in the converted shipping containers, and stroll off to the Kings House Hotel's Climbers' Bar. For those unversed in Highland hotel lore and custom, most hotels have a couple of bars, a lounge bar and a public bar. Lounge bars tend to be carpetted, upholstered chair affairs, while public bars tend more to the wooden floor and furniture. If you know me, you know where I much prefer drinking. Hotels also tend to insist that us grubby hikers of the world drink in their public bar, also known from time to time as a 'boots bar'.


Having wandered round the back of the hotel, for that is where hotel public bar doors usually are, I found myself looking straight into pub heaven. No carpets, solid wooden furniture, a hole in the wall bar with a couple of handpulls, and a bar back laden with single malt. Mrs V snagged a small table practically in front of the bar, next to a trio of climbers who had spent the day Munro bagging, while I got the drinks in, cider as usual for the wife, and a pint of Cairngorm Black Gold stout from one of the handpulls for me.


My previous experience of Cairngorm beer was when I was home in 2014, and while it was perfectly acceptable bottled, I wasn't left with any urge to find more of their beers. Black Gold though was in absolutely tip top nick this time, and it shone, The highest praise I can give it is that if you took my much missed Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout at its peak in around 2014, subjected it to proper cask conditioning, without the silly fripperies of bullshit additions, you would have Cairngorm Black Gold. It was divine, roasted coffee, dark chocolate, a silken mouthfeel, and as the drizzle floated in the glen outside, it was just the beer I wanted. The plan was simple, a couple of pints, a feed, and head back up the road to the hobbit house for an early night.

Well, that was the plan. The reality turned out rather different, though we did get the feed, and a bowl of whatever soup of the day was on certainly warmed the cardiac cockles. The plan, though best laid, started ganging agley while I was getting a second pint and Mrs V got talking to one of the chaps sat on the adjacent table, for some reason the bar staff were fannying about with the TV looking for football. As I mentioned in the previous post, Mrs V was starting to get ill and had taken a hot toddy in Crianlarich in an attempt to head off a sore throat, to little effect. I only caught snatches of the conversation as I stood waiting on the barmaid to give up with the TV, including advice to the effect that Irish whiskey is best used in hot toddies. A few moments later, with bread mopping up the remains of the soup, a toddy was placed in front of Mrs V, the lemon studded with cloves, something I had not seen before in a toddy.

Thus started a evening of banter, round buying, and being in a Highland bar at it's finest. With a few pints inside me, I decided it was time to indulge in my other barley based love, single malt. Behind the bar was Balvenie Caribbean Cask,a 14 year old whisky matured in rum casks, which goes very very well with cask stout you know. Rounds of whisky ensued, and eventually we had to head back out into the gathering gloom of a drizzled Highland summer night.

Weaving our way up the hill, easier said than done walking into the wind, the drizzle turned to rain, heavy and backed by a reasonable breeze, that made the final few hundred yards up the hill a struggle, honestly it was the wind and the rain, not the beer and whisky. Soaked and blootered, I passed out and slept like a bairn.

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, 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, November 7, 2014

Session 93 - Of Trips and Travels


One of my rare incursions into the world of The Session today, this month hosted by The Roaming Pint, on the theme of beer tourism.

If you take a quick look at my label list, down there to the bottom of this page, you'll notice that 'trips' is the 7th most commonly used on Fuggled, totalling 52 posts, well 53 now I guess. It would therefore be thoroughly reasonable to assume that I go on plenty of 'beer trips'. However, looks can be deceiving, and deceived you would be if you thought that beer trips were something I engage in regularly. I simply do not travel for beer. Heck, I don't even go pubs in Charlottesville just because they happen to have the latest, greatest, imperial black IPA randalised on gorilla snot.

A dig into those other 52 posts would reveal stories about the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, parts of the Czech Republic, and other places that escape my recall at the moment. Practically none of those trips were taken with beer as the driving factor.


Mrs V and I went to Ireland in 2008 because I had always wanted to visit the country, and Mrs V is good friends with Tale of the Ale Reuben's wife (this trip was in his pre-Tale days). We drank excellent beers, in excellent pubs, but beer wasn't the aim of the trip. There are still some of my friends who find it inconceivable that we didn't go to St James' Gate while in Dublin.

When Mrs V and I travel it is to discover a place, and yes that often involves pubs and beer, but they are not the focus. I can't think of any brewery I am interested in visiting, when you work in one and give tours of the stainless steel, you get to point where a mash tun is a mash tun, and a kettle a kettle. Meeting the people that make the beer is a different question altogether, I would love to meet the guys at Kout for example.


Next year Mrs V and I are hoping to get to Prague for the Christmas holidays, which nicely coincides with my turning some daft age. I look forward to sitting around tables in pubs with my friends, the likes of Evan, Max, and Rob, and drinking lots of good local beer. But one thing that will be very unlikely is my having a session on a Czech made American style IPA, simply because I can have that style of beer any time I want, and what is the point of travelling across the globe to drink the stuff I can find in my own back yard? One thing for sure though, that first mouthful of proper Czech pale lager will be worth the cost of the air tickets alone.

Travel for beer? Nah, never going to happen. Enjoying local beer on my travels, yup, all the time.

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.

Friday, August 15, 2014

To The Castle!

After our little sojourn in the realms of Virginia beer, time to head back to Scotland, and wandering along the banks of the River Ness. If you've never been to Inverness, and I thoroughly recommend you do, spending a Sunday morning strolling along the Ness toward Bught Park, through the Ness Islands, and back up the other bank, culminating in reaching the pub at opening time, is pretty much as good as it gets. Especially when the pub in question is the Castle Tavern.


Located behind Inverness Castle, the Castle Tavern was one of the places that I had researched before our trip. The primary attraction was simple, real ale. While I am not a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, you could happily describe me as a fellow traveller. The time we went by, it was still an hour to opening time, and we had to be elsewhere. So the next time, we got there right at opening time.



Walking past the rather fetching collection of tables and benches outside, Mrs V and I decided to grab a seat at the bar and I ordered a pint of Cromarty Atlantic Drift, a 3.5% pale ale which was moreish beyond words, and Mrs V had a cider. As you can see from the pictures, the bar is in many ways, classic British pub, it was love at first sight as far as I was concerned, especially as the beer was in fine fettle. One thing I particularly appreciated was the option to have three thirds of a pint, to try multiple beers, for the price of a pint. I took the offer, but decided to stick with the Cromarty, which was a theme in many a pub we went to on our trip.



A few days later we were back, this time with my nephew in tow, and to my consternation the Atlantic Drift had kicked, as had all the casks from the previous visit. Ah well, Windswept Blonde more than filled the gap, and I discovered that a double dark rum and ginger ale is rather nice, strange things these youngsters drink.


With a good selection of real ales, staff that clearly knew their stuff, and an atmosphere that was friendly, laid back, and generally welcoming, the Castle Tavern would be a regular haunt if I lived in the Invernes area, and probably my local in Inverness itself. A great place.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Down the Isle

The Black Isle is neither an island, nor black, being a rather fetching shade of green most of the time, and always a peninsula. The Black Isle Brewery is on the Black Isle, and is most definitely a brewery. A long time ago now, I lived on the Black Isle, in Fortrose to be precise, and I remember seeing the signs to the then newly opened Black Isle Brewery. I don't remember ever trying their beer back then, being more of a Caffrey's drinker in those days. Thus, correcting that particular fact was very much on the cards while I was home.

I wasn't expecting to correct that fact quite as soon as I did. Mrs V and I spent the first Sunday of our trip mildly jet lagged, wandering along the banks of the River Ness while my parents went to church. We arranged to meet my parents outside the Marks and Spencer, and so I popped into to pick up some beer to see me through the afternoon and evening. One of those beers was a heather honey beer brewed at Black Isle, I enjoyed it muchly. On the day we also went to the Cromarty Brewing Company, which I wrote about last time, we swung into the Black Isle Brewery.


The brewery has free samples in the shop and does tours of the brewery, though as I work in a brewery and have access to as much stainless steel as a chap could possibly need I really didn't feel the need to go on a tour. I did though feel the need to pick up some bottles and a rather natty bottle opener, which I used in anger that very evening.


Yellowhammer poured a golden straw with an inch or so of pure white head. Having been described to us as an "ale that's like a lager" by the girl in the brewery store, I was expecting something in the realm of k?lsch, which it would have been but or the Cascade derived grapefruit flavours. Either way it was a perfectly drinkable thirst slaker that I wish I had seen on cask in my pub adventures.


Goldeneye Pale Ale does exactly what it says on the tin, or bottle in this case. Pale, plenty of New World hoppy flavours and aromas, berries, tropical fruit, you know the thing. Add to that a good malty backbone to balance everything out and you have a beer that would more than pass muster on this side of the Atlantic.


Going a little darker, Red Kite pours a rich garnet, with a thin slightly off white head. This really was like drinking dessert, with aromas of caramel and creme brulee, whilst tasting of dates, toffee, and spicy hops, think sticky toffee pudding and you're pretty close. Did I mention that sticky toffee pudding is one of my favourite desserts yet?



As the evening wore on I opened a couple of heavier hitters, a porter and Scotch ale, both beers were solid examples of the style which I would be  more than happy to drink again when next I head home, though I would love to try them on draft rather than in the bottle.

There's something wonderful about sitting in the garden, as the evening sun sets slowly into the northern sky, with a glass of well made beer. Life's simple pleasures at their finest...I was beginning to realise just how well endowed in the good beer department the Highlands are.

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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