This weekend I wanted to head back to Dundee to visit family & friends and just coincidently (yeah, right) there happened to be one of the larger Beer Festivals taking place in the Dundee area for quite some time - the 1st Alba Real Ale Festival Festival at the Royal Tay Yacht Club in the leafy suburb of Broughty Ferry. In addition I hoped to make a quick visit to a new microbrewey, MòR Brewing, which had recently opened up just outside Dundee and which was providing some of the beers for the Alba Festival.
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I'd badgered the guys at MòR Brewing by e-mail a few weeks back and they'd very kindly let me visit on Saturday morning - as always, beer people are great. MòR Brewing (Gaelic for 'big') really only consists of 2 people - Commercial Director Ross Niven and Brewing Director Jim Hughan (an ex-RNLI coxswain) and it is in a converted outhouse at the back of Jim's home in Kellas, just outside Broughty Ferry in Dundee, that MòR Brewing is located. It's an idyllic setting in what used to be an old mill.
Jim met me, introduced me to his wife Sue (who got us both a cup of tea - many thanks!), and we went down some steeps steps to the brewery. The building itself is an old stables, and the guys converted it on their own over a period of a couple of years with help from Jim's son (a joiner) and various friends. The only real bugbear with it is that you can't drive up to the brewery door to load or unload a van or truck - this can't be fun at all with a full pallet of casks to deliver.
Jim then showed me around his pride and joy - a brand new 2.5 BBL plant consisting of Mash Tun, Copper, Hot Liqor Tank and 2 Fermenting Vessels - all manufactured in China.
They've been brewing since April 2012 and now have 4 core beers - MòR Tea, Vicar? & MòR ish! (both bitters), MòR Please! (a golden ale with some honey) and MòR The Merrier! (a stronger amber coloured best bitter). I'm not normally a fan of these punning beer names, but these work quite well (and are memorable, which is the whole point) and I like the brewery tag line (Ale with an Accent) and the simple, but brightly coloured pump-clips.
Kellas is in the middle of the Angus & Perthshire soft fruit growing area (I used to pick berries every summer when at school - easy when you're a kid!) and Jim would like to do a 'real' sour Framboise with local raspberries, but he admits he would need another fermenter for this due to the long fermentation time and any possible cross-contamination.
At the moment MòR are selling all the beer they can produce to local pubs, clubs & festivals, but are starting to see problems with the 5.5% abv MòR The Merrier - the market for this strength of beer doesn't really seem to exist in and around Dundee (maybe the Fuller Thomson bars are an exception), quite a difference to what you find around Edinburgh. So instead this is more likely to be bottled in future along with a couple of the other beers - the capacity of the 2 Fermenting Vessels = 1400 bottles, a good day's work when you only can only bottle 4 at a time, but worthwhile if you can sell this to a local chain of convenience stores. These are all bottle conditioned & I left with one of his bottled specials (leaving a holiday beer of my own) so I'm intrigued to see how well these translate to bottled form.
There's increased competition in the local area with Angus Ales as well as the newly expanded Burnside Brewery in Laurencekirk, Inveralmond in Perth and 2 new breweries in Fife (St Andrews & Eden) - hopefully the market is large enough for all of them. Jim was a great host, really friendly, knowledgeable and chatty and here's hoping that MòR can continue for many years yet (and I really want to try that Scottish Framboise!).
Since it was still fairly early on Saturday morning I decided to head down to the Alba Real Ale Festival in the Royal Tay Yacht Club, a large former Victorian shipping magnates holiday home located (obviously) almost on the water's edge with great views out to the Firth of Tay and across to Fife.
I hoped to get a few pictures before the Festival officially opened & the mass hoards of people came in and I have to say the staff working there were more than welcoming about this (thanks especially to Steve Flack in charge of the beers). The beer tent had been setup in the car park at the front and there were over 40 beers available, all from Scottish breweries, with local beers from MòR, Inveralmond and Burnside as well as lots of others from further afield.
In addition there were some ciders from Thistly Cross and a couple of keg lagers from those nice people at WEST with super shiny fonts.
It was to be a ticket-only event and they'd sold out weeks ago so I was glad I'd bought tickets for myself and a friend some time ago. We eventually headed into the Festival at just past 6 o'clock, were greeted by the friendly & very helpful staff, given our wristbands, bought some tokens (the same £3 tokens were used for beer and food), and made our way to the beer tent. All the beers were on, but I hadn't clocked that they were only being sold in full pint measures - no halves at all (there wasn't even a 1/2 pint line on the glass). This was surprising - I spoke to Steve about this and he said that it was just an easier system for them to manage for their 1st Beer Festival, and that no-one had complained about it (I officially entered my complaint at that time). To be honest it wasn't too much of a problem since it was only the MòR and Burnside beers that I hadn't tried before, but it would have been nice to try a few more old favourites. Of the MòR beers I probably enjoyed the MòR Please! more (try saying that quickly!) with its slight honey sweetness and the Burnside M-Pire was a decent Best Bitter with some dark fruit tones, and (since it was there) I also had to quality check the Fyne Ales Jarl and it was superb as always.
There was entertainment going on inside the main clubhouse where a lot of (fairly merry) people had decamped to get out of the slight mizzle. When I popped my head in everyone was having a great time singing along to the 'Braes o' Killiecrankie' so I took a photo and left fairly quickly.
There was also a stage on the outside balcony and a decent covers band came on to play AC-DC, ZZ Top and some Beatles numbers - phew!
We spent a most enjoyable few hours chatting away to some old & new friends, listening to music and drinking a lot of nice beer. With the Yacht Club supporting a couple of local charities with the proceeds, I certainly hope they make it an annual event (with 1/2 pints please!).