I'd heard good reports about a new pub in Bo'ness in West-Lothian, the Corbie Inn, which has only been open for a couple of months - a largish cask range, decent food and nice decor (I must be getting old - I'll soon be mentioning soft furnishings!). That's always great to see, but in addition there now seems to be a small microbrewey called the Kinneil Brew Hoose in a separate out-house behind the pub. Since they were due to 'out' their first brew this weekend I decided a visit to the pub and (weather permitting) a walk to Falkirk via Grangemouth seemed a good idea.
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Outward transport was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen St to Linlithgow
Bus: Linlithgow Cross to Bo'ness Bus Station (46 First in Scotland East)
A slight covering of snow and freezing fog had made the east of Scotland look really festive (if somewhat Baltic) today. This was Linlithgow Loch in the morning waiting for the bus.
From the 'bus station' at Bo'ness it was only a couple of hundred yards or so west along the shoreline past the railway track of the Bo'ness & Kinneil preservation railway to the Corbie Inn. I'd been to Bo'ness a few times (mostly for the BRAAS Beer Festival) and I think I'd noted the site of the Corbie Inn before. The transformation to the bright, modern Corbie Inn is quite impressive.
Inside it's just as welcoming (and new - that helps!). At the moment there's only a combined bar/dining area, but a separate restaurant is planned in the New Year. There were 6 beers on hand-pull, mostly from Scottish micros (Tryst, Inveralmond, Stewart, Kelburn), but also a token beer from south of the border as well (Rudgate Honey Stout). The prices for the beer and the home-cooked food were certainly great value to my Glasgow city centre mindset.
I found what I was looking for straight away - the Pennvael Amber from the Kinneil Brew Hoose (the name's a Pictish derivation from Kinneil, the Bo'ness local area). I had assumed it would be a fairly standard Scottish-style 70/- and initially it was. But then a definite load of bitter hops kicked in - surprising and very welcome.
I ordered some of the chicken and vegetable soup and got talking with the landlady Gail. The brewer, Stuart Simpson, wasn't around but (without any prompting on my part) she volunteered to give him a call - really nice of her. When it came the soup was great, thick and really spicy. 99 times out of 100 I need masses of pepper in my soup, but not this time - supposedly this is normal for the soup of the day and I really started to like both the place and the chef.
At this point Stuart the brewer arrived, and asked me if I wanted to have a look around the brewery - great - and we must have spent the best part of an hour chatting away (I must admit I'm sometimes quite amazed at the generosity and helpfulness of brewing people!). Stuart's Kinneil Brew Hoose has been 3 years in the making and is pretty compact and bijou (only ~2 BBL), but has all equipment necessary to make great cask ale. Access to the brewery is through a door in the corridor leading to the ladies toilets - only the corridor mind, not the toilets themselves!
Stuart explained the reason for the bitterness of the Pennvael Amber - a significant amount of Saaz hops are used as he deliberately didn't want a standard 'boring bitter' type ale. As well as the Pennvael Amber he's hoping for a golden summer beer and, more interestingly, a non-hop based gruit beer, based on local herbs - great to see the inventiveness. Whilst he was showing me around the place, Stuart was also at the brewery to check on the condition of the beer. He thought the beer wasn't producing a 'perfect' head, and was trying out a couple test changes - one with additional yeast and another with additional priming sugar - not really required as far as I was concerned, but he's such a perfectionist that he absolutely had to get it 100% right - damned impressive.
He'll be targeting the cask-only market at the moment (no bottles) and delivering within ~30 miles of Bo'ness if at all possible, all of which means Edinburgh and the mass of pubs (new and old) which currently sell cask ale are within range. There will be an official launch of the beer and the brewery in mid-January and here's hoping it goes well - he's certainly put a lot of time and a lot of effort into the fledgling business.
When I left the Corbie Inn I had a partial-walk, partial-bus journey to Grangemouth. After the Kinneil Estate (Museum, Mansion, Roman Fortlet and park gardens) which overlooks the main road just out from Bo'ness, there's only the huge number of petrochemical works until you get to the centre of Grangemouth - these are really, really, really big and must cover the coastline and the mud/salt flats up to the Forth for 3-4 miles.
The bus dropped me off in Grangemouth almost at the front door of the Earl of Zetland - a JD Wetherspoon's church conversion (original name - The Free Church of Zetland (Shetland))
I always like church conversions - they seem to force the Wetherspoons people slightly out of their corporate monoculture to work around the church features - here the organ pipes are used to great effect.
I was hoping for a decent Christmas beer at the Earl of Zetland, but both the Highgate Stocking Filler and the TSA Turkey Stuffing were 'Coming Soon', so I had to make do with a TSA Festive Blond - not too much winter spice in this one.
It was then a pretty straight road back into Falkirk. The route took me past Falkirk FC Stadium - Falkirk were playing Hamilton today and the place seemed to be fairly busy.
When I reached Falkirk I sought out Behind the Wall. It's both a trendy restaurant/wine-bar and also a self-styled 'Ale and Whisky House' upstairs. Rather than fighting my way through the wine-bar I made use of the sneaky wee back door around the alley way to get to the Ale House.
Inside it's a bit of a cavern with lots of wall mounted TVs in addition to a huge projected screen - all tuned to the football results. On hand-pull were Ruddles (GK), Herok & Howell’s Tantallon Sunrise (GK/Belhaven) and Eglesbrech Ochil Mist. The last of these is pretty confusing (at least to me and to the barmaid when I asked). It seems to be a throw-back to their own beer brewed on the on-premises microbrewery, but that (supposedly) closed down a few years ago. Barney's Beers are now (also supposedly) brewed on that equipment, but there were definitely no Barney's Beers to be seen anywhere on the premises. So the Ochil Mist is a bit a mystery - I'd be interested to know if anyone has any information about it. It wasn't great today, perhaps a bit yeasty, but I had the same beer 6 months or so ago and it was a nice, well balanced amber ale - whoever brews it should definitely keep on doing so.
Train: Falkirk High to Glasgow Queen Street