Sunday, 9 October 2011

Ayr to Troon Beer Festival: 8th October 2011

I lived on the Ayrshire coast (in both Ayr and Prestwick) for almost 10 years and still really enjoy going back to visit friends & old haunts. So although there were 3 pretty decent beer festivals in central Scotland this weekend (Troon, Bo'ness and Dunfermline) as well as the Wetherspoons ale festivals and the Carlisle Beer Festival just across the border, the Troon festival with its wide-ranging and interesting beer list was the one I was going to. The fact that I could have a walk along lovely Ayrshire cost (well - except the part around Ayr harbour) and see if some of the pubs I used to frequent were still selling decent beer was an added bonus.

View Ayrshire in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
 Train : Glasgow Central to Ayr

It takes longer to get to Ayr than to Edinburgh by train, but it's a far more interesting journey (well at least after Irvine). Sit on the right side of the train and you get great views of the Firth of Clyde, Arran and a number of historic golf courses (Royal Troon and Old Prestwick - where the British Open Championship started). Once in Ayr, it was only a short walk through Burns Statue Square to the GlenPark Hotel, nicely restored and moderenised from its previous incarnation, the ramshackle Meteor Hotel. The GlenPark is also the home of the fairly new Ayr Brewing Company, and you can see the fermenting vessels from the side windows - though I've never managed to get inside to have a good look around.

The bar area's nice and open plan, and it was quite busy with regulars having lunch and the occasional beer festival tourist (myself included). On hand-pull are only Ayr beers and this time it was Rabbies's Porter, Jolly Beggars & Lizzie Lundie. The Porter was quite thick and liquoricy and in great condition (as it should be considering the zero beer miles) and went well with my tuna crunch sandwich and soup.

I'd liked to have stayed longer, but there were lots of places to visit. Next was Wellingtons basement bar (or Wellies) - easily picked out in Wellington Square by the large eponymous boot outside. I've always liked the place - the owner, Naan, is really friendly and chatty and I've been to quite a few great music nights here. For a basement bar it's actually bright and well lit, and the food seems to be great value. On hand-pull were Kelburn Pivo Estio and Red Smiddy.

Next it was a walk over the Ayr bridge to Newton-on-Ayr and the institution that is Geordies Byre.

For quite a few years this used to always be my final port-of-call before getting the last bus back to Prestwick and I'm still welcomed by the owner Evelyn (no sign of her partner, Eddy, this afternoon). They've been at Geordies for a long time (probably more than 20 years) and have won a lot of local and national awards. There are a number of somewhat quirky things here - the beer list blackboard is at the door (not sure why), the tables are re-furbished Singer sewing machines, there's a large stuffed fox in a display cabinet at the front of the bar, and if your ask for some peanuts Evelyn uses a pair of scissors to snip the packet open (never seen this anywhere else!). It's really a great place to have a chat or have a flutter on a horse race with the regulars. The beers are all dispensed from tall fonts (a rarity on the west coast these days), which I think (when done well) gives a smoother, more consistent pint. On today were Harviestoun Wild Hop IPA, Hop Back Summer Lightning and Timothy Taylor Ram Tam - my pint of the really hoppy Wild Hop IPA was £2.58 - why this specific amount to the penny, I have no idea,

Now it was definitely time to head to Troon and the beer festival. I decided to walk to Prestwick along the Esplanade and then take the train to Troon to save some time.

This was the 12th Ayrshire Real Ale Festival held in Troon Concert Hall and I think I've been to all of them. They have a balance of about 50% Scottish to 50% English/Welsh/Irish beers and that's excellent to have from a choice point-of-view. Come Saturday afternoon the place was still pretty busy and there were not a lot of the trendy/better/more difficult to find Scottish beers left (Fyne, Harviestoun, Highland, Tempest were all finished), but I was more than happy to try a number of the English beers. Highlights were the Dervinto Cleopatra with a definite tang of apricot (goes quite well with hops), the Bottle Brook Columbus, which was very dry and hoppy and also the Ayr Brewing Company special, CAMRA 40th Birthday Ale, which was dark red, quite spicy but with a nice matly finish.
After a good number of halves of interesting new beer (and the dispensing of quite a bit of hopefully useful advice), it was most certainly time to head back to Glasgow-land.
Thanks to Dougie for allowing me up to the balcony to take this photo

Return transport :-
 Train : Troon to Glasgow Central

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