Thursday, 24 November 2011

Loch Lomond Brewery and Cameron House Hotel: 26th November 2011

It's always great to have a new microbrewery open in the local area. Glasgow doesn't really have too many - Kelburn Brewery, The Clockwork brewpub, WEST Beer and Houston Brewery (and I think that's it). But now there's another - Loch Lomond Brewery situated in Alexandria, just south of Balloch on the River Leven at the edge of Loch Lomond.
Their beers have only recently started to appear in pubs in Glasgow and beyond (Bon Accord, Ben Nevis, Pot Still, Arrochar Village Inn) and they've now also opened a shop in the brewery building selling bottles and providing the odd sample.
I had thought it would be a good idea to combine a visit to the shop with a walk over the Carman Muir to Cardross and the Coach House Inn, a pub I've been to quite a few times and which I like a lot, however the atrocious weather on Saturday stopped any possibility of that. And with the Balloch trains being delayed or cancelled I couldn't even be sure that I'd be able to get back to Glasgow at a sensible time, so it was definitely going to have to be a car journey this Saturday.

View Loch Lomond in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Car from Glasgow: A82, B537 through Renton and turn at Alexandria Outlet Mall

The brewery premises are in the midst of an industrial estate, but a couple of signs helpfully pointed out the way (and the great smell was also a definite give-away).

Fiona the brewster and her husband Euan welcomed me when I entered the shop and I also bumped into the Alesela guys - always good to see them.

Fiona was in the midst of brewing Kessog Dark Ale (and looking after the kids), so Euan gave me a really informative look around the brewery and talked about their test brews, use of English and American hops, malt types, Scottish Enterprise help and how their plans had all come together in the last year or so - I could probably have stayed and chatted until they closed for the day.

The equipment's all brand-new and made especially for them.
Mash tun and copper.

Fermenting vessels and Conditioning Tanks

I then had to be really persuaded by Euan to try a couple of samples of the beer - not!

They obviously have had to start with a core set of beers which must appeal to the widest range of customers. The Bonnie'n'Bitter is a light bitter but still pretty hoppy, the West Highland Way somewhat less hoppy, the Ale of Leven a more dark bitter, perhaps heading to 70/- territory, the Bonnie'n'Blond a golden ale, bearing comparison with perhaps Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted or Fyne Ales Avalanche, and the Kessog a darker, more porter-like ale. It's a really good initial range of beers (with some really great names and pump-clip images as well, including a styleised reference to the Luss fleur-de-lys). Euan's palette tends to more intense hopping, with Fiona trying to keep him in check, but perhaps Euan will win out with some more 'experimental' beers in the New Year.

They've had some issues with the Loch Lomond name, in particular with the European trademark of Loch Lomond by the Loch Lomond Distillery, just down the road in the industrial estate, but Fiona's been able to broker an agreement with them.
This is great - hopefully we might be seeing a whisky-cask aged beer from Loch Lomond at some time in the future!

There's no doubt it's difficult to get a microbrewery up and running - Fiona's working in the brewery full time, Euan at weekeneds, but probably only 20% of their time is taken up by brewing, the majority of the rest is sales related. Getting past the existing brewery/distributor tie in pubs is a problem - I guess one thing the 'beer enthusiasts' amongst us can do is ask in our local pubs why they haven't at least tried a beer from the newest local brewery - word of mouth is pretty powerful sometimes. But it's great to see the enthusiasm and resourcefullness that they've brought to the brewery so far - hopefully it'll have a long and prosperous future.

Having torn myself away from brewery with my selection of bottles, I'd hoped to at least be able to make the short walk from Loch Lomond Shores to either Duck Bay or Cameron House, but it just didn't make sense in the unrelenting rain. I therefore decided to drive straight to the Cameron House Hotel for something to eat. I'd checked out the web-site beforehand and decided that the Great Scots Bar was the place I wanted to go. After sluicing the water from my jacket, I was directed to the bar along a very long, narrow set of corridors - and a most impressive sight it was.
Away from the bar there were a number of comfortable low-slung tables with sepia pictures of historical figures and modern sportsmen/women - a bit strange!

When I asked for an 'interesting' beer, the Maitre D' sent a barman over to my table to talk to me - no pressure then! I was worried they might only have Bud, Peroni etc..., but thankfully there was a cask ale called Cameron House Ale, brewed by Harviestoun - good news! It seemed to be very similar to Bitter & Twisted, perhaps with a tad more bitterness, but it was certainly a decent enough beer (which it should have been for £4.95). I did mention the Loch Lomond Brewery, but it seems the De Vere chain is tied into a particular distribution group, but no harm in trying.
The food was tasty and well presented, the Arran Ham and Mustard sandwiches were really good.
There's no doubt it's an expensive place, but I must admit the service was extremely good - up there with some of the hotels I've been to on business in Europe and the 'States.

On the way out I stopped to take in the view across Loch Lomond. This was at ~3:15pm down at the lochside - a great West Coast afternoon!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Cyprus - Coral Bay to Oniro By-the-Sea: 16th November 2011

Hooray - a whole week away in sunny Cyprus!
However there is always the opportunity for a walk to a bar, and when I was in Cyprus last year I 'discovered' this recently opened beach shack/bar a couple of miles out of Coral Bay - Oniro By-the-Sea (facebook link only). It was was perfect for watching the sunset, relaxing whilst having a beer, and then walking back to the villa in Coral Bay (hopefully before it got completely pitch-black).
This year I was back in Coral Bay, but on the the other side of town in comparison to Oniro. So a slightly longer walk, but I guess I could always take an additional 'comfort-break' stop on the way.

View Cyprus - Coral Bay in a larger map

Coral Bay is ~10km north of Paphos on the coast road, and still pretty busy in November. As I started off on the walk at just after 2pm, the bars and restaurants on the main drag were still serving late lunches to both tourists and locals. My recommendation for anyone looking for food - The Palm Grove for the best Cypriot food in town (hmmm - time to minimise this travel magazine speak).

After the main strip ends there's a bit of a drop towards the coastline - this is the start of the Coral Bay 'blue-flag' beach. As a beach it's not quite St Andrews, Ayr or Lunan Bay, but it's decent enough and (I hate to say it) the temperature of the sea is still more than acceptable even at this time of the year.

After the main beach the road splits of off - right goes back to the main road, left heads out to the huge Coral/Coralia Beach Hotel complex and onwards to Oniro. Just at the split there's a number of bars and restaurants and I was hoping for a seat at O'Solomans Irish Bar, last year's main haunt.

However it wasn't open - strange - although a sign stated that it would open at 4:30. OK - I'd try again on my way back.

I therefore carried on out past the Coral Bay town limits. Even out here there were still a number of signs to isolated tavernas and glimpses of larger villas for rent - some quite impressive with what must be great views. And there's also fields of banana plantations - the best villa name I saw combines these: Bananarama!

After 30 minutes or so from Coral Bay I came to the sign for Oniro and turned down towards the sea.

The place was pretty well as I remembered from last year, a few more tables perhaps, but that was it.

Beer-wise I was given the choice of either a bottle of Keo or a draft Carlsberg in a frosted glass. This induced a moment of definite brain paralysis. The Keo's a better beer, but the cool, frosted glass sounded great - but I couldn't order a Carlsberg, could I ? Well obviously my hindbrain decided that I could, and I heard the words I never thought I'd utter - "I'll have a Carlsberg, please" - without much conscious thought.
As expected it didn't taste of much, but it was cold and pretty satisfying at that particular instant in time and space.

The view from Oniro is still tremendous. I was a little early for the sunset, but the view out to the shimmering Mediterranean past the sea caves was still great.

Chatting away to the really friendly staff, the place seems to be doing very well. It's obviously closed when the weather's bad, but this year those days have been few and far between, so business (especially at weekends) has been good. The kitchen's been added since last November and they provide light bites such as soup, brushetta and mussels at a decent price - actually a very good price compared to some of the restaurants in Coral Bay. I think it's a great place and hope it continues for a long time.

There was only time for one beer before starting the (fairly rapid) walk back to Coral Bay. You can walk all the way from Oniro past the sea caves and along the shoreline to the Coralia Beach Hotel, but it gets pretty rocky in some places and is only worthwhile doing when you have the time.
I deliberately made sure I went past O'Solomans at well past 4:30, but it was still not open (and there no sign of it opening). I had a look through the windows, noted that all furniture was still present, but also found the following notice - not good.
(a Google afterwards has indicated that the place can be yours for 885,000 Euros - a bargain when I win the Euro millions !)

Since I was thirsty I took a short walk up the road to the Frog and Toad, which I hadn't been in before.

It's most definitely an ex-pat bar with an array of regulars propping up the bar, but a friendly enough place. I had a pint of Keo and a packet of Bacon Flavour Fries whilst the twilight fell - great.

I then wandered back to the centre of Coral Bay. The rain that's been following me all year started to fall fairly dramatically and so I took shelter in Hector's Bar, another ex-pat bar just off the Coral Bay main strip. It seemed to be a Spurs bar, but the WiFi was free and the beer cheap so I stayed until the rain stopped.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Kilbarchan and Houston: 5th November 2011

I'd decided on another relatively quiet weekend - this time a walk to some pubs in Renfrewshire followed by a beer at the Fox and Hounds in Houston, where there was to be a presentation for CAMRA's Scottish Pub of the Year. In addition Houston Brewery were celebrating their winning of CAMRA's Champion Best Bitter of 2011 for Peter's Well with an open afternoon at the brewery, including a free pint - cannae say fairer than that.

View Houston in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train : Glasgow Central to Milliken Park

Milliken Park is really only a commuter halt, so it was a short walk over the main A737 road into Kilbarchan, a conservation village where weaving was once the dominant industry.
The first pub I came to was The Trust Inn (Facebook page).

It's a large single room pub and a bit of a barn of a place when quiet, but the staff were efficient and friendly. There were 3 real ales on today - Deuchars, Old Speckled Hen and Strathaven Fiery Cauldron - I had the latter (nice, but needed a bit more in the way of fire/spice, sigh...), and left all my change in the Poppy Appeal collection 'box' (good to see them in pubs).

I then hiked up a steep incline to the Glenleven Inn which I'd never been into before.

The place was totally deserted when I first went in and the barmaid and I chatted away for ages (she must have been really bored). On hand-pull were Tetley's Cask (I struggle with this after a night on the smoothflow many years ago) and Sharp's Doom Bar - it's a decent enough bitter but I'm not quite sure why Molson Coors paid so much money for it earlier in the year.

Inside the Glenleven's a nice place - a separate restaurant area and a pool table at the back - hooray - don't see many nowadays, and they have music on Sundays (trying not to conflict with the Trust Inn).

It was then a bit of a walk to Houston via Brookfield and Crosslee. The lovely clear weather had allowed the farmers to work all hours - this was towards the end of the day just outside Brookfield.

After Crosslee there's a new path around the modernised primary school which takes out a few bends and a roundabout, so it was only after 45 minutes or so before I came to the Fox and Hounds, an old coaching inn on Houston Main Street.

I've always liked the place since I first came here close on 15 years ago. OK - it's by no means Scotland's best beer bar, but it's a nice pub (better than nice - it's a great pub) doing all the basics right (beer (5x Houston, 1x guest), food, multiple bars/restaurants, live music, beer festivals), and sometimes you just have to go with financial and customer-base realities. I must admit the place would be great to have as my local.

Today the downstairs Vixen Lounge was mobbed with people looking for a pint before the presentation and others hoping to win (stuff of some sort) during the draw for using Houston's Ale Passport scheme.

After the ceremonies a number of us trooped into the brewery for a pint (Killellan - v. nice) and a look around. I don't think it's changed too much in the 15 or so years, possibly a few more fermenting vessels.

Carl Wengel (the owner, head brewer and generally nice guy) came in, accepted our congratulations for Peter's Well, chatted for a bit, and showed us the next batch of Pioneer, fermenting away nicely in FV4.

Houston have a core range of all-year round beers and also a new range of space-themed monthly beers with new pump-clips. Image-wise it's a real improvement on the almost sea-side humour of the previous monthly range of beers, but they've still left some toe-curling puns in there! I've felt that some of the lower abv beers can be a little bland, but the Juno I had at Troon Beer Festival was really good, lots of chocolate and fruit, and quite spicy. Hopefully some of the others can be just as good.

Return transport:-
  Bus : Houston to Glasgow Bothwell St (X7 - McGills Transport) - a long, long journey with a breakdown stop somewhere in Linwood