Thursday, 10 October 2013

Ayr to the Ayrshire Real Ale Festival 2013: 5th October 2013

I try to go down to Ayrshire a few times every year - sometimes to meet some old friends, sometimes to take in the sea air, but also for the Ayrshire Real Ale Festival in Troon. Normally there's also a new pub to try in either Ayr, Prestwick or Troon and today wasn't going to be any different with a recently opened interesting pub in Newton-on-Ayr to visit.


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Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Ayr (00, 04, 30, 34 on the hour)
  Train: Newton-on-Ayr to Troon (07, 38, 52 on the hour)

First port of call (as always) just out of Ayr train station and down to the bottom of Miller Road was the GlenPark Hotel, home of the Ayr Brewing Company.

The bar/lounge on the right hand side seems to have changed into a bar only room, certainly I couldn't see any menus and there weren't any signs for a lunchtime 'beer-and-a-bite' which I'd seen before, but good food is definitely still available in main restaurant on the left.

The pump-clips for the 'traditional' Robert Burns-inspired Ayr Brewing beers have recently been given a modern make-over - I've noticed this happening from breweries such as Alechemy, Stewart and Harviestoun (increased appeal to the 'craft' market ?). Also available on the bar today were Ayr's summer beer (Scuar O'Doon) and the recently released Hiphopopotamus, a lovely crisp, dry US-style Pale Ale, available for the ridiculously great price of £2.50/pint.

On leaving the GlenPark I headed north past Wellington Square (resisting the temptation to pop into Wellingtons) and then into the Sandgate area of Ayr. There's an old fashioned specialist Whisky Shop and Off License here called Robbie's Drams that's been around for close on 30 years.

They sell a huge selection of single & blended malts, other spirits, cigars and an increasingly impressive selection of bottled beer. There's local beer from Ayr, Arran, Okrney & Fyne Ales, as well bottles from further afield such as Castle Rock & Everards and some from across The Pond (Bear Republic Red Rocket & Big Bear Black Stout).

I also picked up this special that Ayr Brewing have been selling to help raise funds for Ayr United Football Club - Somerset Boab's Black & White, aka The Boaby(!), named after their best known fan. These types of beers can be a bit of a gimmick, but I had this in the evening and it was great - full of dark chocolate, milky, with a nice slightly bitter liquorice aftertaste.

I then made a quick detour into Ayr High Street and crossed the River Ayr by the Auld Brig, a lovely, 4-span, cobbled bridge dating back to 1470 and immortalised in Robert Burn's poem 'The Brigs of Ayr' (I back-tracked to take this photo from the 2nd New Bridge downriver).

The other side of the river is technically Newton-On-Ayr and on a corner position of the Main Street is the newly refurbished Newton Arms. Resplendent with outside spotlights & hanging baskets, helpful WiFi & coffee signs it certainly looked very welcoming.

Inside it's bright & light, with the left side setup mostly for food with a number of four-place tables, the right side having more casual sofas & lounge seats, 2 large-screen TVs and a long central dark wooden bar. It definitely gave a good first impression with the only slightly incongruous effect being the sections of books & book-shelf wallpaper on the far side which I've always found a bit strange. On the bar they have 2 hand-pulls, with only 1 on today dispensing Taylor's Landlord although MòR -ish! and others has been sighted previously.

I took a pint of Landlord & the local CAMRA magazine, went to sit at one of the higher tables at the window and didn't have long to wait for my Chilli Nachos (it was a tough choice between that or the full blown Texas Red Chilli Bowl). These were very good indeed (and really quite hot & spicy!), especially with the light, burnt nachos.

I definitely needed another beer after those Nachos and thankfully, almost literally across the road from the Newton Arms, is the institution that is Geordies Byre.

My prayers were answered as amongst the selection on the Tall Fonts (there are not many of these on the West Coast) was the pale-and-hoppy refreshing citrus zest of Fyne Ales' Avalanche - perfect.

This time I managed to get a couple of pictures of the amazing interior complete with stuffed fox guarding the front door...

...other stuffed animals & birds, musical instruments, old military portraits and tables which are old Singer sewing machines.

After a quick chat with the lovely Evelyn behind the bar I then (just) managed to get the train from Newton-on-Ayr station, a good 6-7 minutes fast walk from Geordies Byre, to Troon. The Beer Festival has been held in Troon Concert Hall/Walker Hall for quite some years and this large neo-Georgian red-bricked building is located just off the South Beach promenade.

As always come Saturday afternoon quite a lot of the beers had finished, but there was still a decent selection to be had, especially of the more 'obscure' English beers and I enjoyed all of my choices including Little Valley Moor Ale, Vale Wychert and Loddon Hoppit. I did manage a couple of Scottish beers though - it was the first time I'd had the Traquair Stuart Ale and I didn't think it was quite as good as their other beers, but the Burnside Stealth was really lovely - lots of liquorice, dark chocolate, a slight sweetness, then more liquorice in the aftertaste - very nice & certainly my beer of the Festival (and the Official one as well, I think).

As per normal the Festival was well staffed, there was a nice selection of interesting beers and it was good to chat to some of the Ayrshire guys about certain articles that I'd read in their branch magazine. Far too soon it was time to catch the train back up to Glasgow, but as a definite bonus Fyne Ales' new beer, Wee Jaggy Gruit, brewed with nettles and bog myrtle was available in The Laurieston Bar (see here for some great pics of the bar), which was a good way to finish off the afternoon.

Return travel:-
  Train: Troon to Glasgow Central (01, 16, 34, 47 on the hour)

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