Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Going Medieval in Dunfermline: 8th December 2012

I have to admit that I like the occasional cask or even kegged lager - Harviestoun Schiehallion, WEST St Mungo, Inveralmond Sunburst to name but a few, but there really aren't too many brewed in Scotland to my taste (I much prefer bitter to sweet). So when I found out that the newish Eden Brewery St Andrews had brewed an interesting lager for St Andrews Day (fittingly called St Andreas 1882) I really wanted to give this a go. With most of Eden's outlets being in Fife, Dundee & Edinburgh it looked as if my best opportunity was going to be at a Medieval Winter Festival being held in the town of Dunfermline, a place I'd only ever visited a couple of times, and one of those for a job interview!

View Dunfermline in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Haymarket
             Haymarket to Dunfermline Town (23, 53 on hour)

The train station is situated at the south-east side of Dunfermline and it was a bit of an icy uphill climb to the bustling town centre. At the end of the pedestrianised High Street is the impressive Scottish/Gothic-style City Chambers and Clock Tower (you can even get a jigsaw puzzle of this).

I continued further along Bridge Street to the Glen Gates area in front of Pittencrieff Park (or The Glen), where the Fife Farmer's Market was being held (from 9am to 1pm), and although not part of the Medieval Winter Festival this was certainly interesting enough to warrant a short diversion.

There definitely was a nice festive air (and aroma) around the market stalls with chestnuts and a hog roast, and in amongst all the great organic meat & veg (and the lethal Cairn O'Mohr wines) I found the engaging figure of Bob Phaff from the St Andrews Brewing Company, (not to be confused with the completely separate Eden Brewery St Andrews) wrapped up against the cold and selling his wares.

St Andrews Brewing Company has only been going since January of this year but have built up a core selection of 7 bottled beers (with some really great bottle designs) and a number of seasonal specials. I was really hoping to get his winter special, Warm yer Cockles (a Dark Ale with chilli & chocolate) but all 750 bottles had already been sold - damn & drats! Instead I took a bottle of Fife Gold and chatted away to Bob for a while. He certainly has great plans for 2013 including a move to St Andrews (he currently brews in Glenrothes), availability of cask beer and a series of monthly specials (I think a Red Rye and a Belgian Ale were mentioned) in larger 750ml bottles - good luck to him.

I left Bob to his line of thirsty customers and walked down the cobbled streets of Kirkgate and into Maygate where the distinctive Abbot House Heritage Centre is located. The building was originally part of the adjacent Abbey but went through years of being private dwelling places and even a doctor's surgery before finally ending up as a Heritage Centre in 1995. Today they were having their December Medieval Winter Festival complete with Mulled Wine, Medieval Mince Pies, Weaponry Displays, Costumed Re-enactors and (most importantly, of course) a Beer Tasting from the Eden Brewery St Andrews.

As usual I had to be really careful going through the doors in such an historic place (some were well below the 6 foot mark) but after wandering through the café & some seating areas I came to the side room where the Eden Brewery St Andrews had set-up for the afternoon. Inside were head of brewing John Reade, his glamorous assistant from Abbot House, some casks of Eden St Andreas 1882, Clock Brew & Seggie Porter and lots & lots of bottles.

John's a really interesting, knowledgeable guy - not only head of brewing at Eden St Andrews, but a real beer/brewery historian (especially on the breweries of Fife) and he regularly gives talks and lectures on the subject. The basis of St Andreas 1882 was originally his homebrew recipe and consists of lager malt with Saaz & Halletauer Mittlefreu hops from Bavaria & Bohemia, the use of which was supposedly happening in the long closed Newton of Falkland Brewery as late as 1882 (hence the name). John poured me a pint of the St Andreas 1882 and this had a nicely balanced bitter/sweetness (although I would still have preferred increased bitterness) but what stood out was the incredible smoothness, probably from the 5-6 weeks lagering time that this first batch had gone through. This lovely pint cost me all of £3 with proceeds going to the proposed on-site Abbot Brew House - a plan to renovate one of the outhouses into a brewery brewing beer based on 17th Century techniques and recipes (the project has already secured some funding from Tennents Caledonia Seed Fund). John's now gone part-time with Eden St Andrews to help with this and hopes to have a brewery that people can look into from the outside street and then enjoy traditional beers in the picturesque gardens of Abbot House.

I left John with a promise to return and try the Seggie Porter and headed to the Abbot House café for some nourishment. This is a really nice café staffed by friendly volunteer staff with a extensive selection of light meals (soups, rolls, Marconi etc...) and some great home baking. I went for the tomato & lentil soup along with a bacon & egg roll to help finish off my St Andreas 1882 Lager.

The Facilities for the Abbot House are in a separate building in the grounds (and were damned chilly today) and there's also an entrance to the magnificent Dunfermline Abbey where Robert the Bruce is buried.

I went back to annoy John once more and found out that the Seggie Porter is based on a traditional Fife porter recipe with pale, chocolate, black, brown and Munich malt as well as roasted barley - there was certainly lots of lovely bitter chocolate in the taste and it didn't drink like a 5.5% abv beer. The Seggie part of the name refers to another old Fife brewery, and as a nice modern twist, spent grain from the Eden St Andrews brewery is fed to cattle on the farm which used to house the Seggie brewery, which then provides meat to the nearby Guardbridge Hotel, which also takes Eden brewery beers - so steak and beer from the effectively the same source!

I then took my beer and went to have a look at the rest of Abbot House. As well as the downstairs gift shop there were a surprising number of different 'historical' rooms upstairs - a sewing room, a music room, a chapel and (most interestingly) an armoury. In here were some brilliantly enthusiastic people dressed up in period clothes and happy explain how to use and wear all the swords, axes, longbows & arrows, helmets & chain-mail - great, informative fun.

I really enjoyed my couple of hours at the Abbot House but eventually dragged myself out of the door in search of some pubs in Dunfermline. The Old Inn was just across the road but didn't seem to have any hand-pulls available that I could see, the next-door Creepy Wee Pub is interesting as a one-off experience but pales after that, and the huge cavern of the Seven Kings had only Belhaven IPA & Old Speckled Hen on today, so I pinned all of my hopes on the Commercial Inn, located just outside the busy entrance of Kingsgate shopping centre.

I have to admit the Caley signs outside did have me worried, but inside was a really outstanding pub, complete with 8 hand-pulled beers set in the centre of a long bar stretching almost the complete far end of the pub. The choice included a beer from the nearby Loch Leven Brewery, and since I hadn't tried a beer from there for years I was happy to try their Once Bittern (ouch!), a more than decent hoppy, bitter pale ale. The staff here were great - friendly, chatty, and so were the locals - 3 of us at the bar eventually agreed to disagree on whether the new or original version of Old Speckled Hen was better (I went for the older/original). There are loads of pump-clips at the back of the bar (including a full Alechemy set) and they also have on show the pump-clips of the beers about to go on next (today a lot of Arran beers and also Loch Leven Raven Mad).

All around the pub was a lot of panelled, weathered wood as well as old fashioned red bar stools, lots of tables for the decently priced pub grub, a couple of flashing puggies and a TV screen or two. There was also a good selection of Belgian beer and anywhere that displays a large Duvel sign has got to have my vote.

Thankfully they were quite happy to give out tasters so I decided to try the 2012 variant of TSA Turkey Stuffing as the locals had somewhat of a mixed opinion about it. And it certainly was different - loads of sage & onion and a very sweet backbone, and so it does exactly what it says on the tin (or pump-clip). It really was a bit too weird for me in a beer, but fair doos to TSA for trying it.

My final stop on the way back to the train station was Reuben's Deli & Wine StoRe on New Row, just off the High Street.

It seems as if the Café-Deli has been a fixture in Dunfermline since 2009, with the adjoining Wine StoRe opening late in 2011. The majority of the shelf space is set aside for wine, but there are a number of shelves of beer (including boxes of St Andrews beers that Bob had just dropped off), as well a fridge full of mostly foreign stock (with a large amount of OctoberFest beers available at the moment). Since I was in a Lager mode it seemed only appropriate to take a God Lager from Nils Oscar.

They also supply their own bottled beer, the De Brus Blond Ale, currently brewed at TSA, and named after the ancient family name of Robert The Bruce. I managed to get this a couple of months ago from the Bridge of Allan Brewery and it's a pretty decent, citrusy & light pale ale (also see this review here). In the shop I found out that there had been 2 more variants of the De Brus which had only been made available for tasting in the StoRe and at both The Bruce Festival in August and the Dunfermline Beer Festival in October - a Lager and a Brown Ale (both of which should be available in bottles in 2013). I also found out that the shop owners are planning to open their own nearby micro-brewery in the New Year (red tape permitting) - another new micro-brewery in the same town should make it an interesting 2013 in Dunfermline.

Return transport:-
  Train: Dunfermline Town to Haymarket (02, 34 on the hour)
             Haymarket to Glasgow Queen St


  1. looks like a busy day, great beery news!

  2. Thanks Steve. Seems like both projects have some money behind them so here's hoping we can drink some local Dunfermline beer by next summer