Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Larbert to the Behind The Wall/Falkirk Beer Festival: 18th February 2012

Ah - the first beer festival of the year - it heralds the coming of spring, the end of short days etc..., well perhaps not quite, but it's still a more than welcome event! For me this is normally this is the Larbert/Alloa Beer Festival in March, but this year it would be the return of the Behind the Wall Beer Festival in Falkirk after an absence of a few years.

I had been to Behind the Wall a few times last year (blogged here) and was still a bit confused about which (if any) beers were being brewed in-house, but I'd seen a blog about a coffee infused porter that Barney's Beers were producing for the Festival, so I thought it might be possible that I would get a few answers this time. On my various train journeys into central Scotland I'd also noted that the Station Hotel in Larbert was displaying a 'big sign' with 'Real Ales' writ large, so a visit to there and a walk to Behind the Wall seemed like a good afternoon's outing.

View Behind the Wall in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Larbert (18 & 48 on the hour - slow train)

The Station Hotel is large whitewashed building which I believe has been around as long as the railway has been going through Larbert. It's about as close to the railway track as it's possible to be (apart from some of the on-platform pubs), so it was really just a matter of picking out the correct door (right hand side) to the lounge bar.

It was fairly quiet inside the large bar with a number of Rangers supporters waiting for the train to Glasgow and a few other people supping beer. They were giving the barman a good natured hard time for not having the heating on - he eventually relented after about 5 minutes of this. I liked the large Larbert railway sign at one end of the bar, the mirrors behind the optics & whisky bottles and the large pool room out the back (with all areas being displayed on in-house CCTV equipment). On hand-pull were Spitfire, Deuchars and Over the Bar, Caledonian's rugby ale - a sort of watered down 80/-, not really to my taste. Unfortunately the kitchen was being renovated so there was no food on at all (not even soup), so it was a packet of Mini Cheddars for me. All told a bit of a disappointing visit - I'll perhaps try there again if I go to the Larbert Real Ale Festival at the end of March.

Now I had to make a decision about which way to get to Falkirk. I could either take the main road through Stenhousemuir, pretty boring, or try to find my way there via a few paths along the River Carron. The possible problem here was that I wasn't 100% sure that all the paths were walkable and from Google Maps, it seemed there might be gates on some of the paths close to a industrial complex. Anyway I'd always rather walk along a river than a road so I decided to give it a go. First off I had to get to the River Carron and that was accomplished by walking down Carronvale Road past Carronvale House, a former mansion, now the Headquarters of the Boys Brigade in Scotland (and a grade A listed building, although deserted today and looking a bit like something the gang from Scooby Doo would investigate).

The end of Carronvale Road led me to the River Carron and I then followed a well sign-posted path (the Mill Lade path) along some marshy ground for about 20-30 minutes until a filled-in quarry and a huge industrial plant of some sorts. This is where I was worried that there might be an impassable gate, security, dogs etc..., but thankfully there was not - just a low anti-vehicle gate. I came out on Stenhouse Road at the site of the old Carron Works - a demolished Iron Works (history here). All that remains of the old works is an archway called the Grahamston Gate made for the Edinburgh International Festival of 1886...

... and also a Clock Tower with 2 cannons in the base.

The reason for the cannons is that the Carron Works were famous for developing a new type of longer range canon called the Carronade, and local brewery Tryst have named their IPA after this.

Just down from the old works past the crossing over the River Carron is the Carronbridge Inn (right next to a church - coincidence ?).

From the outside there wasn't much of a clue what the place would be like, but it seemed well maintained so I went in for a look around. I've already blogged about some 'rules' when going into these types of places, but there's another - let the person in front of you get served first. I was quite happy to do this, asking the elderly gentleman in front of me if he had been served once, twice, then a third time. It was then that someone across the bar said - 'it doesn't matter what you say - you'd have to jump up and down in front of him to get a reply' - at which point I noticed the flesh coloured hearing aids in each ear, felt myself go a nice shade of red, and the bar erupted in laughter, including the guy in front of me and myself - a classic moment. Eventually I did get served - for a Stella Artois 4 (cringe), but I was more interested in looking around the place - noting that the door to the Gents was only about 5 foot 6 high and all the fishing & pool trophies above the optics (there must be a pool table somewhere but I didn't go searching for it). The place is known as 'The Soo Hoose' - I asked about this and it seems to be a pig farming (as in Sow) reference, but no-one could be absolutely sure.

After this it was a straight walk down through Grahamston to the Falkirk inner ring road - actually I take that back - I did have to stop for some sustenance - a couple of the local sausage rolls, healthy perhaps not, but tasty - definitely. Behind The Wall is conveniently situated just across from Falrirk Grahamston railway station and I was sure the Beer Festival would be in the upstairs 'Ale and Whisky Bar' so as before, went in through the entrance in the back alley-way.

The beers were setup in the main bar - only 8 at a time (I guess I could live with that!), and they weren't applying the £3 charge for a souvenir glass (hooray - I didn't need another one). They had chosen a good mixture of Scottish (Barneys, Border, Highland, Fyne, Tempest,Tryst & Houston) and English (Butcombe, Bue Monkey, Coniston, Crouch Vale, Dancing Duck, Dark Star, Dent, Thornbridge & Straithes) beers - someone definitely has very good taste! On this afternoon were Tempest Citra (I had a pint of this, a pleasant mistake), Barney's Papua Coffee Porter, Crouch Vale Yakima Gold, Houston Killellan, Blue Monkey PG Sips, Fyne Ales Avalanche, Ey Up from Dancing Duck and Boulby Dark by The Straithes Brewery (completely new to me). Standouts for me were the Tempest Citra (a lot more alcohol than the similarly all citra Fyne Ales Jarl, but just as good) and Barney's Coffee Porter which had a lot of strong coffee upfront & in the initial taste, but wasn't at all overpowering, leaving a great malty, chocolatey after-taste.

The place was fairly quiet when I first went in (although it had supposedly been really busy on Friday evening) so I was able to have a wander about the large adjoining room with the projection TV (where the bands would play later in the evening) and also managed to spy some of the brewing kit. I asked a couple of people what the situation was with the in-house brew plant and was told that both the Eglesbrech beers (Ochil Mist, Jubilation Ale) and Barney's Beers were being brewed on it by ex-Heriot Watt graduate Andrew (Barney) Barnett - good to find out.

I then spent a most pleasant hour or so having a few halves of beer, watching the FA Cup games and chatting on & off with the knowledgeable barman (who was also due to play in one of the bands in the evening) before hauling myself away for the short walk across to the train station.

Return transport:-
  Train: Falkirk Grahamston to Glasgow Queen St (43 on the hour - an even slower train)

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Williams Brothers Fraoch 22 - Auchentoshan Vintage Cask

I don't normally do 'beer reviews', but decided this was a special case for a special beer. There's a bit of history here between myself, Fraoch and Auchentoshan, so bear with me (or skip way down to the bottom for the actual review).

I first 'discovered' Fraoch in my formative beer drinking days in the Fisherman's Tavern in Broughty Ferry. This was such a popular place (having won the Pub of the Year award in 1993) that on Friday or Saturday nights the 'decent' cask ale could easily run out and they wouldn't necessarily put on new casks until the following morning (the place was simply too busy). Bottled Fraoch Heather Ale was a great alternative - quite sweet, floral and just brilliantly 'different' (see the Williams Brothers site for some history), so my pals and I hit upon the trick of asking the bar-staff to put a number of bottles of Fraoch in the fridge about ~30 minutes before we thought we might want to have them - we just had to make sure than they were in the bottom of the fridge where no-one else could see and order them - normally this worked out pretty well!

Skip forward to 2010 and I decided to go to the Auchentoshan Whisky Festival at the Distillery near Clydebank at the end of August since I had heard that they would be having some whisky aged beer (as they had had in 2009). I'm not a whisky lover - I wish I was since I appreciate that there is (conceivably) something there to be admired and appreciated, but I just find the amount of alcohol up front to be almost gagging. I get serious amounts of stick for this from a lot of my friends, but surprisingly I quite like some whisky cask aged beer so long as the whisky aroma and taste isn't too prevalent.
At the Festival there was (as is normal) a beer tent where 2 types of whisky cask-aged beers were being sold - a light beer based on Williams Ceilidh and a Dark beer based on Williams Red - both had been left to age in Auchentoshan casks at the Distillery for 3 weeks before the Festival. (Interestingly enough this was a change compared to the previous year - Auchentoshan had actually brewed their own beer in-house, but this policy changed for 2010 due to the time involved in the brewing process - see here for details.)

Both of the beers were really great, especially the lighter beer with the whisky giving it great vanilla aroma and taste, without being too sweet or overtly whisky toned. So it would seem that Auchentoshan casks would be a good choice for beer cask-aging.

At the same Festival I also went for a tutored whisky tasting to see if I could finally break through my whisky 'phobia'.

And right until the last dram I was still struggling (and giving away most of the other samples) - until the Auchentoshan Three Wood. This was different - it was very smooth and the alcohol was masked by the slight fruit sweetness of the sherry & bourbon casks. OK - I think the Three Wood is seen as an 'entry' whisky by the real whisky buffs, but I was happy to find a whisky that I could actually drink without gagging - hooray!

Note that the Auchentoshan Festival wasn't held in 2011 - the quote from the Distillery was that 'following the success of recent Auchentoshan Festivals, we are delighted to announce the festival will be back next Summer (2012) and will run bi-anually thereafter. We're already in the planning stages to make it even bigger and better' - so hopefully more details will be forthcoming and that some sort of Auchentoshan cask-aged beers will be available.

Shorty after the Auchentoshan Festival, in October 2010 at the Queens Hall Beer Festival in Edinburgh I managed to try the Fraoch 20th Anniversary Ale in cask format - this is Fraoch matured in Macallan Speyside casks. My memory of this was that it was wonderfully smooth, still had some floral and spicy tones, and then a very strong whisky aftertaste with the alcohol quite well hidden - really nice. So Fraoch in a whisky cask could also work.

Review (at last)

So this brings things up-to-date with the launch of Fraoch 22nd Anniversary Ale, Fraoch Heather Ale matured in Auchentoshan casks for a year, then left for a further 6 months in a conditioning tank. There was a limited release of ~60 bottles in September 2011, for one review see here, but the majority went to the USA for marketing purposes. These were all filled & labelled by hand taking a lot of time & effort, so Williams Brothers decided to wait on the necessary star wheels and 'other bits' to allow the bottles to be filled by machine. The official release then happened in January 2012, see the Williams Brothers Press Release, with the bottles now available on the Williams Brothers website and in various Off Licenses and proverbial good beer shops.

I bought my 2 bottles from The Cave in Glasgow. One is now hidden away in the depths of my beer cupboard for 'a special event' (the Best Before date is 2021, so there's a fair amount of time to decide on what this constitutes !) and the other (bottle 00584) I'm going to drink over the course of this weekend - 17th/18th February.

It comes in a very elegant 750ml/1pint 9.4fl oz (US) Belgian Ale bottle with a re-sealable super-fancy cork (or zork !) and tops out at 11% abv. The label has the Fraoch graphical 'cross' as on the standard Fraoch bottle and is a nice stand-out shade of heather purple. It's definitely marketed for the American market with the US Importer Name and Refund Values (all of 5 or 10 cents !) on a separate label on the back.

For old times sake I decided to go with my 30 minutes in the fridge, getting the temperature down to 10-12C or so I guess (I'm not at the beer geek stage of having a a beer thermometer - yet!). The zork is a bit of a pain - it's fine coming off but it takes a decent amount of force to re-zork it, but it seems as air-tight as possible. I decided to pour it into my Williams Brothers glass from the Queens Hall Beer Festival - really must invest in a decent stemmed glass.

It pours a really deep golden red with a small thin head which stays for a while then retreats to the sides of the glass. The initial aromas are of vanilla and sherry, but there's definitely that spicy, floral Fraoch in there as well - some whisky, but not too much at all. A swirl of the glass (whisky tutoring here) gives even more vanilla and sherry which quickly goes away and also indicates that the body is quite thin. On first sip the taste is of the spicy, sweet Froach - that's good, it is a beer after all - and then a lot of vanilla and oakiness with some carbonation. It is very, very smooth and easy to drink. There's definitely a slight bitterness in the aftertaste and a lot of spice tingles your throat. In that aftertaste there's also a strong whisky alcohol heat (as expected), but it's so well balanced that it's not at all harsh. It's very much like the aftertaste from an Auchentoshan Three Wood, great from my point of view, and even minutes later you still know that you've had a strong, warming drink. As the glass warms up there's more and more sweetness prevalent (sherry and heather) and less bitterness, so my recommendation is definitely that it should be served slightly chilled (it's only a recommendation - honest, guv).

In summary an absolutely superb beer and now I'm really looking forward to the release of Williams Brothers Alba 23rd Anniversary Ale matured in Bowmore casks.

Whilst writing this I also found out that Fullers Brewers Reserve No 3 has also been matured in Auchentoshan casks (for 800 days this time !), so I'm definitely going to try to obtain a bottle of that (for comparison purposes, naturally).

See also my blog on the Auchentoshan Whisky Festival of 2012 here - and the Auchentoshan Festival Ale 2012.

*The above information is correct as far as I know it - any possible mistakes or inaccuracies are solely my responsibilty. Feel free to leave any comments or e-mail me if there's anything wrong about this - after one or 2 beers some confusion is always possible!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Glasgow, West End - North: 11th February 2012

I could only manage another (very) local walk and crawl this weekend, so decided to try some pubs at the northern end of Glasgow's West End at Great Western Road/Byres Road. There are some great panoramic shots of the interiors of Glasgow pubs here, so I'll just stick to some descriptions of what's available from a beer point-of-view and some more detailed shots of the bar area.

View Glasgow - Byres Road North in a larger map

Outward Transport was as follows :-
  Glasgow SPT Subway to Kelvinbridge

When you come out of the subway at Kelvinbridge you have 2 choices - up the long set of escalators to Great Western Road (avoiding anybody running the wrong way up/down as part of the Subcrawl), or exit at the lower level beside the River Kelvin. I'd never done the latter, so today was the perfect opportunity since I thought this could be a short-cut to The Doublet and I was correct - straight onto South Woodside Road and then onto Park Road. I didn't end up back-tracking my steps and looking like a tourist - hooray !

The Doublet's a nice olde fashioned pub - a whitewashed front/bar room with mock-tudor beams and an upstairs lounge/function room with lots of wood panelling. In the bar there's a number of whisky and brewing mirrors, cooking utensils and crockery on the walls giving it a quirky, lived-in look, but the 'interesting' jukebox is unfortunately no more. There's normally at least one decent beer on - today there was the very sweet Williams Brothers Brotherly Love golden ale, a more than acceptable alternative to the safer Belhaven/GK options - Abbot Ale and Belhaven Grand Slam.

Heading back up to Great Western Road I popped into The Cave - probably the best beer shop in Glasgow (AleSela don't have a shop - damn).

They've definitely improved their range in the last few months - there have been new beers from De Molen, Brooklyn, Stone and Nøgne Ø and the staff are also pretty clued up, for example I was told that the bottle conditioned Nollaig would keep and mature for years, but the other Williams Brothers beers should be drunk before the best before date - good advice.

During this afternoon's crawl I wanted to try at least one place I'd never been in before and so went into the Big Blue, situated down on the Kelvin riverbank. There are entrances both from the riverside and from Great Western Road down a number of steep sets of steps.

It's owned by the same people who have Paperino's so the Italian food is fairly prominent, but the bar area is really nice - an arched ceiling, mosaics, and decorative bottles on the wall (although some of these Coors and Budweiser - where are the Peroni bottles ?). It was way, way too early for one of their special cocktails so I had a half of WEST St Mungo and watched the walkers and joggers trek up and down the Kelvin footpath.

Further along Great Western Road is The Wise Monkey, formerly Hubbard's, just below the infamous Viper Rooms nightclub (still known by most people that I know as Clattys (the previous name was Cleopatra's)).

It's now an Urban Pub Company place (as per 1901 and The Lincoln) and looks a lot better inside (still think the outside seems a bit temporary). There's loads of food deals and the selection of bottled foreign beer is definitely a cut above most places (Erdinger, Paulaner, Krucovice and some Belgian beers I didn't pick up). On hand-pull were Bitter and Twisted, Hobgoblin, Spitfire, Deuchars and 80/-, a pretty OK, but safe choice and I'm sure this was the same line-up as the last time I was in. It's a not bad place at all and a table at the window (or outside on the pavement) is a great spot to people-watch.

Heading further along Great Western Road past Achilles Heel (an excellent sports/running shop) I went into The Belle.

It's not the biggest place around (it's almost like someone's extended living room) but that just adds to its charms and all the mirrors/hub-caps on the wall certainly help give a bit more light into the back of the place. It was also playing by far the best music of anywhere this afternoon reflecting the younger clientèle. On tap are Brooklyn Lager and Anchor Steam Beer (both £5/£2.50 pint/half, so expensive but worthwhile) and there are a couple of decent bottled Hefeweizens.

At the south east corner of Great Western Road and Byres Road is the impressive Òran Mór, a converted church which took almost £6 million and 3 years to re-develop before opening in 2004 (supposedly just-in-time for owner Colin Beattie's daughter's wedding).

The venue hosts concerts, gigs and plays and I've always wanted to go along to a lunchtime 'A Play A Pie & A Pint' but have never done so - no excuses, especially since they now stage these on Saturdays. Today the main auditorium was being used for another wedding with kilted 'bouncers' on the main auditorium door, so I could only go into the Whisky Bar - a large, fairly dark chamber with a central island bar. On the ceiling are murals and the walls are full of painted portraits and tapestries - it really is well done and I like it a lot - sometimes it's nice to have no music, no TVs, and really efficient staff. They have 2 house beers - Òran Mór Gold brewed by Kelburn and Òran Mór Dark brewed by Houston. I chose the Dark today and it's an OK malty, dark ale, although nothing special, but there is always the choice of bottled St Mungo or Leffe.

The northern end of Byres Road was pretty busy by now so I made my way slowly down the road until Curlers Rest - recently modernised by the Mitchells & Butlers people.

It's far larger than you would expect from the outside with a lot of tables at the front, comfy sofas and low tables at the back with a single TV showing the rugby, and a large restaurant area upstairs, so they really are trying to cater for all possible customers. I liked the staff height pillar - from a quick check I noted that only one of the guys was taller than me - I should have been wearing my Docs!

They normally have some interesting guest beers and today there was Thornbridge Pica Pica - a great coffee infused Porter - probably my favourite beer of the day. Hopefully I managed to persuade the 'taller than me' barman that it would be a good idea to have further darker guest beers available in the future.

Ashton Lane is the place people most think of when going out in Glasgow's West End and one of the most prominent and long established premises is the Ubiquitous Chip - a great place for both food (especially Sunday Lunch) and a couple of beers.

There are now 3 separate bars in the building - the Wee Pub around the corner, a small downstairs bar in the actual Lane and the larger main bar upstairs.

They have a house beer called Chip 71 (the year the Chip was established) brewed by Fyne Ales, a excellent golden ale sort of mid-way between Pipers Gold and Avalanche, and they have also been doing a month long trial of Loch Lomond Ale of Leven, which I hadn't tried in cask before so was more than happy to give a go (a nice 70/- type ale). The main bar was pretty packed (a lot of coffee was being ordered and consumed) so I climbed the next set of stairs to the roof-top, covered and so sheltered slightly from the wind and mizzle - a great way to get some fresh air (smokers permitting).

In order to catch the 2nd half of the Italy-England 6-Nations game I crossed over Byres Road at University Avenue and went into Tennents, probably my favourite place to go when there is International football or rugby on - the atmosphere is normally great.

It was busy (as always) with the majority of people standing and the TVs tuned to both the rugby and the late football kick-off. They have a set number of regular beers (8 I think including Orkney Dark Island and Harviestoun Natural Blonde), and normally 2-3 guests and today I chose the Acorn Barnsley Bitter - a decent quite bitter(!) bitter, but not a patch on the Oakwell Barnsley Bitter that I had had at the Mapgpie in Carlisle.

A while ago Mitchells and Butlers had plans to modernise Tennent's into a bistro-type bar (see here), but these were thankfully shelved and as far as I could see the only significant change for some time has been was the addition of a small, quieter snug/table area at the side of the premises.

Hopefully at some point I'll manage to get a look at some of pubs at the southern part of the West End, at Byres Road/Dumbarton Road, an area which has changed considerably in the last 12 months.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Edinburgh on a 6 Nations Rugby Day: 4th February 2012

I've been going to Scotland's home matches in the 6 Nations (and previously 5 Nations) rugby tournament for close on 2 decades now (scary!). Irrespective of the score and the weather it's still a great day out with friends that I've known for ages. Today it was the Scotland-England Calcutta Cup game in the late afternoon kick-off match and this would let me try a few pubs in Edinburgh city centre, attempt to get a few beers in the packed pubs & bars and then meet up with my pals nearer Murrayfield. On a day like today there was no way I would be able to get the hi-res photos and pub descriptions that I would normally try for, but hopefully these iPhone camera images will suffice.

First off was the problem of trying to get to Edinburgh by train. With four trains an hour from Glasgow Queen Street this is not normally too difficult, but on Rugby Days it can be a real test of patience and endurance. I've seen (and been in) queues which can snake all the way from the Queen Street concourse, around 3 sides of Queen Street car park and then back up North Hannover Street to almost Bath Street - a waiting time of an hour or more. However as of last year there is a 'secret' route if you come from the west of Glasgow - a direct train from Milngavie to Edinburgh through Queen Street low-level on the Airdrie/Bathgate line. It's maybe 15-20 minutes longer than taking 2 trains on a 'normal' day, but today it was by far the best option.

View Edinburgh Rugby in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Westerton to Edinburgh Waverley (Airdie/Bathgate line)

First stop after leaving the south/rear exit of Waverley Station was the Half Way House, situated approximately 'half-way' up the steep steps of Fleshmarket Close.

It's a really, really small pub, and difficult enough to find elbow space in at the best of times, but today it was nigh on impossible. A group of England fans had encamped on most of the seats since opening time (probably since last night) and were quite happy to get involved in some banter (and some singing - not so good). There's normally a decent selection of Scottish or North-East England beers - today there was Tempest Into the Light, Kelburn Red Smiddy, Inveralmond Independance and Wells Bombardier(!?) - it seemed as if most of the England fans were taking the Bombardier - more fool them with all the other offerings available!

I decided that some sustenance was required to start the day and went for the Cullen Skink - nice and filling with all that cream, tatties and fish. However it was a bit of a pain to eat standing up and almost wedged into the coatstand (only slight exaggeration!).

After this I climbed the rest of the steps, crossed the Royal Mile and descended down to the Cowgate, past tourists waiting for their 'free' walking tour and into Brewdog Edinburgh.

I had high hopes that this might be 'relatively' quiet since there wouldn't be any TV screens for the early 6-Nations game (France v Italy) and it's not really the type of place for throwing masses of pints down your neck, and I was right - it was very quiet - in fact there was almost tumbleweed blowing through some parts of the bar (not likely to be the case come the evening I suspect).

The staff here are still great - dealing informatively with the people who knew what they wanted to drink and more patiently with those who didn't. Say what you want about Brewdog's marketing, occasional crass pronouncements etc... but Mr Bruce Gray really does train the staff well. I was given a sample of the Evil Twin The Talented Mr. Orangutan and then went for a 1/3 pint - a great orange sherbertiness to go with the dark chocolate base stout.

Next I walked along the Cowgate to the start of the Grassmarket and up to the Bow Bar which was almost at the end of its Winter Beer Festival (preview here).

My guess was that the Bow was going to be completely stowed out and that was proved to be completely correct. The 5 minutes or so that it took me to get to the bar meant that I could peruse the beer board and try to make my choices from the great selection available.

I went for the Deeside Talorcan, a great chocolatey, amazingly smooth stout (think they use whey in this) and the Brodies Hoxton IPA, very bitter and almost oily - both were great beers. I managed to persuade a couple of guys to also try the Talorcan - a few pints of their original choice (Profanity Stout @ 7% abv) would have meant they would have probably missed the game! I could have quite happily stayed in the Bow all afternoon, but eventually had to leave, for some fresh air if nothing else, making my way slowly through the very polite clientèle to the door.

I gave the rest of the bars in the Grassmarket area a miss and headed out through the West Port - past guys kicking rugby balls high into the sky, fast food stalls, pipers & drummers busking their trade and (very) confused tourists to Blue Blazer.

It was busy, but not completely packed out, with space in both the main bar and the large adjoining room. They normally have a good selection of Scottish beer and today was no exception with 3x Stewart, Orkney, Cairngorm and 2x Knops Beers on. I chose a half of the Knops 3 Threads, a blend of his first 3 beers in a cool, heavy stemmed 1/2 pint glass and it tasted really smooth up-front, but seemed to have a slightly tart after-taste - it was possibly close to the end of the cask - damn!

I then crossed Lothian Road (somehow managing to resist the temptations of Cloisters up the road) and headed vaguely towards Haymarket and William Street via 4 cash machines (3 having no money). A couple of the pubs in William Street are very good, Bert's Bar (now a Maclays pub) & Teuchters, but I was meeting my friends in The Melville because the place has a child license until 8pm and one of my friends was bring was bringing his son along to the game.

The Meville was really busy due to the 4 large screen TVs and the fact that the France-Italy game had just started. There's only Caledonian Deuchars IPA and 80/- on hand-pull and they go through an incredible amount of it. My friends and I are now well known to the main barman and some of the staff that are in for the 6-Nations games (they coo over my friend's son) so we can normally get served fairly easily when one of us eventually percolates to the front of the bar - not queue jumping, just good non-verbal communication.
On days like today the place is so busy that you're forced to go on a different route to try to get to the tolilets. Instead of elbowing past the mass of people in the main pub it's far easier to go back out the right hand entrance door into William Street and then re-enter the pub by the left hand door and make your way to the toilets at the back. Either that or go down to Bert's Bar and hope that the fire escape door is open on the side of the building.

Between about an hour or 45 minutes to go before kick-off everyone leaves the pubs and heads out to Murrayfield. There were a lot of roadworks to dodge today but it was still like a human wall of people heading out past Haymarket Station and the Donaldson's College building to Roseburn Street. Normally the traffic stops, but sometimes you get a lone car or bus attempting to make it against the pedestrian flow - with panic on the poor driver's face!

Today all the turnstiles were open at the stadium and the crowd flowed in without too much of a problem. I had a quick look at the huge temporary bars in the ground but could only see Carling, Guinness or Caffreys (didn't know this still existed) and some sort of cider - an absolutely stunning choice - not! I went for Bovril because it was a more palatable alternative and because it kept my hands warm for a few milliseconds at a time.

We had seats high, high, high up in the East Stand, but there's still a great atmosphere when the National Anthems are sung and you get involved in the singing between the different supporters. One of my friends also referees the match somewhat differently to the match officials which can cause a few heads to turn!
The result today - well a fairly lucky win for England with some debatable decisions not going Scotland's way (whinge over).

After the game it was even more a crush to get out of the ground and back to the city centre, not helped by the roadworks and diversions today (for the semi-mythical trams).

When we arrived back in William Street the pubs were far busier than earlier and people spilled out onto the street for the best part of a couple of hours.

After a couple of additional Deuchars's (Deuchari ?) I bade my friends farewell and made my way to Haymarket Station (note that the main entrance into the station was closed for over an hour after the game), but had just enough time to drop into the newly revamped Haymarket Bar, now a Mitchells & Butlers pub. The line up of 12 hand-pulls in a row is pretty impressive, but I only had time for one very swift half and went for my first ever Moor beer, the Amoor - a great coffee'n'hazelnuts porter.

I'd definitely recommend this as a day out experience to try at least once - it's expensive (but most 'events' are nowadays), but a great deal of fun and the memories stay for a long time.

Return transport was as follows:-
  Train: Edinburgh Haymarket to Glasgow Queen Street