Saturday, 30 August 2014

A Stirling, Thornhill & Kippen cycle loop visiting Fallen Brewing: 30th August 2014

This weekend I wanted to get out and go for a cycle around the Forth Valley area (or western Stirlingshire, or the eastern edge of the Trossachs - I'm not sure what the correct name would be for the actual geographical area). It's fairly flat and, get on the right roads, fairly quiet and my proposed route would also allow me drop in to see Fallen Brewing, who had just recently started brewing on their own brand-new kit just outside the lovely village of Kippen.

View Kippen in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St to Stirling (18, 41(fast), 48 on hour)

There's now a really convenient place to hire a bike in Stirling, the Stirling Cycle Hub located adjacent to the Stirling train station buildings. It's an initiative supported by Transport Scotland, Scotrail and Sustrans to promote cycling in the Forth Valley, help organise cycling events and hire out bikes, and it seemed as if they'd just recently celebrated their 1st year of opening ('birthday' cards were still up on the wall!).

The people inside were really helpful, showed me some of the best off main-road routes on their fantastically fast, wide-screen computer setup and then let me get on my way. To-be-honest the most difficult part of my route was finding my way through the centre of Stirling but when I made it through King's Park and onto the road to Cambusbarron I knew I was heading in vaguely the right direction. The road out of the Cambusbarron, the Touch Road was fairly undulating at first, but then settled down to be flat and quiet until I reached the main A811 road through the Forth Valley. I had to head along this for a couple of miles before crossing the River Forth and turning up the long, straight and traffic-free road which connects up to the A84 Callander road. From here I could see the occasional rain squall which partially whited-out the Trossachs hills in almost a snow-storm manner, but these thankfully managed to stay somewhat north of me.

Luckily I only had to be on the A84 for a hundred metres or so before joining the quieter A873 which took me all the way through the green Stirlingshire countryside to the small village of Thornhill, and not too far into the village I came across the white-washed long set of buildings that is the Lion and Unicorn Hotel.

I locked the bike and entered into the corridor to the lounge, found the modern teak panelled bar area on the left side of the large room (I think there was also a bar/games room which serves drinks further on to the left) and ordered a pint of Belhaven IPA which was available on the single hand-pull. This is probably Belhaven's best beer, an OK lemon-citrusy golden ale (there was also a Belhaven 'Lion and Unicorn' House Lager and a couple of other kegged beers (Tennents, Belhaven Best, Guinness) to go with a decent whisky selection), but it was a shame not to see any relatively local beer.

The Lion and Unicorn is definitely a food-led place during the day (Thornhill is not a large place) with lots of tables in the dining section, spread over a number of areas with mostly wooden beamed low ceilings and exposed brick walls.

On the walls were a number of pictures of the Lion and Unicorn in days gone by, features of the Stirlingshire countryside and also some modern artwork for sale - I actually quite liked this original of Balmaha Bay for £95.

The menu is good quality Scottish country-pub food with some interesting local meat dishes, and since I needed more than a sandwich today, I decided on the Chicken, Leek & Mushroom Puff-Pastry Pie, with the veg really nicely done slightly 'al dente' and the creamy, spicy sauce really very good - a excellent meal indeed.

On a sunny day it would be great to eat out in the beer garden facing the hills, and on the lower part of the beer garden it seems you can even put your washing (or sweaty cycling top) out to dry!

Next I needed to head due south and thankfully this was somewhat across, rather than into, the blustery westerly wind. After 20 minutes or so I eventually re-crossed the meandering River Forth and just down from the bridge I found the lovely old Station House, where in the grounds Fallen Brewing has sprung into life. This place used to be the station for Kippen on the Forth and Clyde Junction Railway which operated between Balloch and Stirling until the 1950's; the original signal box is still standing next to the house and I think the main brewery building was originally an old railway goods shed.

Paul Fallen was cleaning up in the brewery before attempting to make a start on building a treehouse for his kids but was kind enough to show me around the brewery and chat a bit. Incredibly enough Paul's beers have only been around since the middle of 2012, initially cuckoo brewing at TSA, then at Tryst and now finally at his own place since April of this year. Almost all of Paul's beers such as Blackhouse (Smoked Porter), Dragonfly (US Amber), Grapevine (US Pale Ale) and Odyssey (Blonde/Pils) are quite hop forward and 'modern' and all have definitely improved in reliable quality and intensity since he's been brewing in his own premises. The main construction work for this only started in February (although he had begun the administrative/red-tape processes for this back in 2012) with a new concrete drain floor, lined walls and a new frontage all required before being able to brew for the first time at the end of April. The new 10BBL kit is obviously still super-shiny bright and after less than 6 months he's now almost up to full capacity in the mash tun...

...with some of the more recent brews likely to spill over the top of the fermenters. Paul (and one other person, Matt) brew once or twice a week at the moment, but with another fermenter on order (bringing this up to 3 in total) that's likely to change to at least 2 times a week. The new kit means he has been able to brew some new beers and they now all seem to have railway/station related names (Platform C, Just The Ticket, Local Motive - Paul did cringe a bit at this, but then he does live in the Station House, so why not?).

Paul also dry hops in the conditioning tanks, and uses hop pellets for this which are not bagged. He feels that being able to physically 'swirl' the hops throughout the tank allows the aromatic oils from the pellets to be more evenly distributed and definitely helps the viscosity and intensity of flavour of the beers, and this is something he was never really allowed to do at TSA (or to the same extent at Tryst). Fallen 1703 is the house beer he does for the Cross Keys in Kippen - it's a nicely balanced low abv bitter, but Paul has just recently dry-hopped this with loads of mosaic and, as well as a fantastic tropical aroma, now has an almost tangy, mango-orange finish - it seems a completely different beer (and will be called Local Motive).

He also still hand-bottles all the beer with 1 or 2 people helping out, taking a good day out to do this (as per a lot of brewers he'd rather not send the beer away to be bottled, it's definitely becoming a trend). Outside there's a separate store for the casks & kegs, with a new order of 200 casks having just been delivered. Paul also tried to get a delivery of Euro-kegs but it seems they are just very difficult to get hold of at the moment so he'll be concentrating on cask beer for the next few months. He also mentioned that his keg beer is not filtered or pasteurised, it's the same beer as cask beer with some priming sugar added and then left to settle.

It's great to see that things have worked out for Paul and Fallen Brewing - the brewery is up-and-running & already expanding, he's happy with the beer quality and he can't supply enough beer at the moment to keep up with demand - definitely a good situation to be in. I left Paul to supervise his kids building the treehouse and headed just a hundred meters or so down the road to the roundabout on the A811 where the modern Woodhouse Farm and Coffee Shop has been open since the middle of last year, with the left of the building comprising the farm shop & deli and the right side the circular coffee shop/restaurant.

Inside the bright farm shop are all sorts of tasty treats - a full meat shelf and cheese counter, lots of home-made cakes, ice cream & chocolates, as well as fresh fruit & local eggs - it's a really well stocked, interesting shop to browse in. Paul rents shelf space from the Woodhouse and in addition to selling his own beers (both new & old labelled bottles were present, plus some mini-casks) he chooses the other bottled beers - I saw Alechemy, Highland, Loch Lomond, BrewDog, Cromarty, Thornbridge, Thwaites and even some Kernel bottles - I never thought I'd ever see Kernel beers in rural Stirlingshire!

I tucked a couple of bottles into my rucksack and headed across the roundabout and although I'd forgotten what a climb it is from the roundabout to Kippen village itself, I just about managed it without getting off (in the lowest possible gear). For such a small village there are two good pubs in Kippen, the Inn at Kippen is more than decent, but my favourite is definitely The Cross Keys.

They always have Fallen 1703 (their house beer, the Cross Keys was founded in 1703) on, sometimes with another Fallen beer, sometimes with a guest beer (today Belhaven IPA, sigh...) and there's also Erdinger Weißbier on draught. I got a pint of 1703 from the lounge downstairs, but then walked up a few steps to main bar. It's a nice cosy place, slightly smoky from the first fire of the season that was lit the night before, the day's papers are normally on a table somewhere, there are all sorts of interesting maps of the Trossachs on the walls and books & games are available on the window shelves.

Yet again I wasn't able to get a decent photo of Ben Ledi from the outside beer garden (too hazy) and so after finishing my pint I headed away from the A811 and down some side roads towards 'Burnside'. From this high-up vantage just outside Kippen there were great views down the length of the Forth Valley with the Ochil Hills in the distance and the Wallace Monument just visible as a narrow man-made object.

The minor road eventually petered out to a grassy path through a field and then a rocky track across a small burn, all of which form part of an old military road connecting Stirling to Balloch & Dumbarton.

Although this was good fun to cycle along it really was quite rocky & gravelly in places and about a mile out from Gargunnock I came to a bit of a bumpy halt. The back tyre was completely flat and when re-inflated only lasted 2 minutes before giving up again. A passing farmhouse-holder did take pity on me and even though we managed to find the puncture hole using the bubbles-in-a-bucket-of-water technique and get it patched up, it only lasted less than half a mile before failing again, arghhh...! I then gave up and called the Stirling Cycle Hub who said they would send someone out with a new inner tube and although I managed to walk the bike into the centre of Gargunnock, try another puncture repair (which failed again), I eventually decided to wait for Tony to cycle out from Stirling (he took all of 28-minutes from starting off, damned impressive). With the quick release levers on the back wheel it didn't take long for the inner tube to be switched over and Tony was then able to shepherd me back to the Stirling Cycle Hub along the main A811 road (now fairly quiet) and directly through Stirling city centre - many thanks indeed for all the help. Due to the time lost because of the puncture around Gargunnock-way I wasn't able to drop into any pubs in Stirling (I've still to try the newly opened Wetherspoons (The Crossed Peels) or the Curly Coo Bar nearer the station), but later on in the week I was able to pick up a couple of new Fallen Brewing beers from Hippo Beers in Glasgow's West End. Named Kiboko Pils (after the wide nostrilled genus of hippo) they are the same base Fallen Brewing Sleeper Pils but dry-hopped with different hop combinations as chosen by the co-owners of Hippo Beers, Alex & Derek (one with Citra & Centennial the other Simcoe & Chinook). They're running a 'friendly' competition to see which one their customers prefer and having tried them both I've put my vote with the Simcoe & Chinook camp (I prefer the additional bitterness in a pils).

Return travel:-
  Train: Stirling to Glasgow Queen St (19, 49 on the hour + others)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Festival Times in Edinburgh: 16th August 2014

Edinburgh throughout The Festival time and during almost all of the summer months is busy, just incredibly busy, but it's also great fun. I normally try to spend at least one weekend in The Capital to take in a Fringe show or two, walk around the centre for a bit of the street theatre and also drink some great beer. This year was going to be no different with a couple of newly opened 'craft beer' bars to visit and then a beer-related show to round the afternoon off.

>View Edinburgh Festival 2014 in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Edinburgh Waverley (every 15 minutes)

I thought first of all that I'd nip along to the Royal Over-Seas League who were holding a small Beer Festival this weekend (casks from Stewart, Eden St Andrews, Knops, Barney's and Belhaven were available). It's a lovely building, slap-bang in the middle of Princes Street, with the views of Princes Street Gardens & Edinburgh Castle from the drawing-room bar, the restaurant and (I'm assuming) some of the hotel bedrooms rooms quite spectacular.

However their Beer Festival was being held at the back of the building in The Princes Suite with no real view out front at all, definitely quite disappointing (it may have been that you could wander throughout the building with your beer, I didn't ask). So instead I decided to take my leave without trying any of the beers on offer and headed back along Princes Street to somewhere where I could be sure of getting an even better view, The Scott Monument.

This is supposedly the largest monument to a writer on the planet, with 287 steps to the very top and the stairs between each level getting narrower & narrower. Faced with a large party of (exceedingly polite) Japanese tourists coming down from near the top as I was going up, it really was a matter of literally hanging onto the centre section of the staircase with both hands for dear life. However when I got to the very top (and managed to avoid being blown over by the strong winds) the views were definitely worth it, both towards Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish National Gallery and the West-End...

... and towards the east to Leith, North Bridge and Arthur's Seat.

Coming back down to earth I followed the tourist hoards (I include myself in those numbers) past the pick-up point for the Tour Buses and onto The Mound, with most of us heading up towards the Royal Mile. At the bottom I did pass this guy, decided I had better quickly deposit some loose change before I was assimilated, and walked on.

On the way I came to a fairly new bar/restaurant about half-way up North Bank Street, The Crafters Barn, specialising in Belgian/Scottish food and beers.

Even just around midday it was almost completely packed inside; I didn't really want to take up the last free table (or even part of it) and it was a bit blowy for the outside terrace, so I went past the long central bench table to sit at the high-up bar at the back (thankfully there were a few high stools here, phew). The staff were busy, but efficient, providing pots of mussels, pizzas and Belgian/Scottish tapas which seemed to be going down a treat. They have a nice selection of kegged beers (including Drygate Outaspace Apple Ale and one Belgian tap that changes frequently, sadly 'just' Hoegaarden today) and Eden St. Andrews seem to be providing the cask beer at the moment. There's also a descriptive & illustrated bottled beer menu with such Belgian delights as Gouden Carolus Classic, Tripel Karmeliet & St. Bernardus Prior, but I was pretty sensible and went for a Vedett Extra White - dry, lemony & cloudy and very tasty. And if you are feeling really, really flush it seems they can even provide the most famous Belgian beer of them all here, Westvleteren 12 (although there is hardly any change from £40 for this).

From talking to the barman they'd been really busy since opening for breakfast at 8am and would be open all the way through to 3am, an incredibly long time, but obviously worthwhile during The Festival. I liked the place and the excellent bottled beer choice, but I'll definitely only come back again when it's a bit quieter. Next I traversed the Royal Mile (as quickly as I could), and headed down George IV Bridge to the Edinburgh University area. There's a huge Fringe setup here in Bistro Square amongst the University campus buildings, including all the BBC at The Fringe broadcast pavilions.

On the other side from this is Potterrow and here I was happy to enter the relative oasis of calm & tranquillity that is The Potting Shed, a new 'Café Bar & Kitchen'.

There's no doubt that inside they've really gone to town on the rustic, stripped-back, ramshackle allotment-look but then why not go the whole hog? The front is all low throw-covered sofas & coffee tables with shelves of empty wine bottles, the lovely long bar has masses of stripped down wood panelling, large columns, light-shades made from old metal buckets & flower-pots and in front there's some standing tables, large whisky barrels and a huge long & wide banquet table...

...whereas at the back are lots of double seats & tables, some park-benches and almost anything you could imagine gardening wise hanging up on the walls.

The allotment look continues to its ultimate conclusion with herbs being grown on one of the walls (chives & basil in this case) complete with the odd watering can for proper hydration.

There are 14 keg beers on the shiny fonts and 3 cask ales behind the bar and it was great to see a couple of Kernel beers on draught (their Zeus hop-based beers seem to be the favourite of the barman at the moment), with local beers from Pilot, Carbon Smith and Alechemy available as well. I took a pint of the Alechemy Saison D'Etre (light, earthy & refreshing, but maybe missing a bit of spiciness), ordered some food and watched the place fill up as the morning shows across the road started to finish. My chilli & rice didn't take too long, had loads of sour cream (and some lovely crunchy deep-fried tortillas), perhaps need a bit more chilli heat, but was still very good indeed.

Well-fed I walked around the corner from The Potting Shed and onto the cobbles of West Nicholson Street, home to the great beer garden of The Pear Tree (with large stage setup in the garden), the Blind Poet and now (since July), right next door, Usher's of Edinburgh, named after the Edinburgh spirits & brewing dynasty.

It's definitely a bit surreal heading down the neon-lit staircase to the fairly dark basement bar, especially with the overhead portrait of Thomas Usher to greet you.

But then you are welcomed by the sight of a long bar with a serious amount of shiny keg fonts, 15 in total, with 5 cask beers also available.

They have a twitter beerbot (@UshersBeerBot) which indicates that there's normally a mixture of beer from local & further afield breweries, but today there was the surprise of a couple of beers from the Franciscan Well brewery in Cork, Friar Weisse and Shandon Stout, which I hadn't seen before in the UK. I took a pint of the Friar Weisse (lots of sweet bananas and a good texture in this) and had a look around the rest of the sprawling basement area. It's in 2 main parts, the upper with the bar, a few tables at the back and the wide-screen TVs, and further into the lower basement is a large seating area and also the space for a planned in-house microbrewery (behind the 'Usher's Ales and Stouts' signage). Hopefully this will go into operation later on in 2014 but there's always that local authority red-tape to get through.

It was certainly a bit quieter than the previous establishments that I'd visited but it too started to fill up a bit as I sampled the seriously aromatic ginger & lemongrass concoction of Outlaw Brewing's Eight Legged Groove Machine and then exited after examining all the ancient bottles and brewing paraphernalia displayed on the walls.

By now I was happy to take a walk amongst some greenery and headed towards The Meadows. There were a number of cricket matches on today and also a Fairtrade Tent setup close to one of the paths; it was good to see Thistly Cross cider giving out samples and selling bottles.

The area on the other side of Melville Drive looks like a continuation of the Meadows, but is actually a large pitch-and-putt golf course, or to give it its more formal name, Brunstfield Links short hole course. Golf has been played over this land since the 18th Century with, nowadays, 2 courses situated here - a 36-hole course in the summer and a 9-hole course in the winter; both are free if you have your own clubs (and balls), and both give great views of Edinburgh and Arthur's Seat.

I didn't want to interrupt anyone's game so I headed along the outside of the course to the pub that is associated with, and looks out on, the golf course, The Golf Tavern, resplendent in floral hanging baskets.

It was used as the clubhouse for the golf course (before clubhouses existed) and nowadays still hires out golf clubs for those who don't have their own (£3.50/person, photo ID required, I assume some of this is returned as a deposit). They also help run an annual Golf in the Park event on the course (this year August 23rd 2014).

Downstairs the main lounge was packed out today, possibly because it was the first day of the English Premier League football season with games on the large screen TVs and possibly because there was a function on upstairs. I was just about able to get to the long curved bar with it high wooden gantry to see that there were three hand-pulls, with only 2 being used today to dispense Deuchars IPA and Orkney Red MacGregor. I took a 1/2 of the Red MacGregor and found a space to take in all of the golf memorabilia, old mirrors, ornate lighting, musical instruments strewn about the walls & ceiling and occasional bookcase - it's a very busy place but still with a nice traditional feel. When I emerged blinking out of the Golf Tavern I needed to start walking back up Lothian Road and into the city centre but I did manage to stop off at Cloisters for a Pilot Tropical Blønd (matured with 'real' tropical fruit) and The Hanging Bat for a Thornbridge Cherry Brown (both of these were superb)...

...but I couldn't stay too long in either place as I had to get to St Andrews Square for a pre-booked Fringe show. Sometimes it's just pot-luck with the shows, but this time as I wanted something (vaguely) beer related I thought about Al Murray's latest Pub Landlord show (his face was splashed about a bit over town)...

...but this was scheduled for a bit later on in the day, so instead I had decided to go with Ben McFarland & Tom Sandham's The Thinking Drinkers' Guide to the Legends of Liquor (the guys have written a number of beery articles and also books such as the Good Beer Guide West Coast USA). They were holding their 2-man show in the Famous Spiegeltent in St Andrews Square, and the place seemed pretty busy with the good-natured queue snaking around the fencing at the outside of the Square.

When we were ushered into the Spiegeltent it had been transformed into a giant 'traditional' pub, complete with wooden fixtures & fittings, pseudo-stained glass windows and lots of booth seats at the back; quite nicely done. Up on the stage the guys arrived in a mass of billowing dry ice and proceeded to tell us about their top 10 historical (and sometimes admittedly bizarre) figures who were heavily involved in either discovering, or partaking in, their associated alcoholic beverages throughout the mists of time.

I won't spoil anyone's future enjoyment of the show, but suffice to say this involved various free alcoholic drinks (Blue Moon for beer, but it could have been worse), a number of dramatic audience participation interludes (over 18's only), trolley pushing, bad puns, some interesting sound effects, and, yes, I think did mention those drinks.

It really was funny most of the time (obviously the alcohol helped), quite educationally interesting in places, and well worth the price of admission, but I definitely shouldn't have had those additional vodka shots (I was at the end of the row where the drinks seemed to end up). Apologies to the guys in Vino Wines afterwards where I think I just about managed to buy some train beers. So all told just another great day out at the Edinburgh Festival - roll on the Festival 2015.

Return travel:-
  Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen St (every 15 minutes)

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Beyond Beer in The Borders: 2nd August 2014

The Traquair House Brewery based in the heart of the lovely Scottish Borders just outside Innerleithen is the oldest microbrewery in Scotland, but for some reason or other I'd never visited. I've certainly had quite a few of their mostly strong, dark beers; both on cask (they've recently started to appear at a few beer festivals), but far more often from their small batch bottle runs, and in fact I think the Traquair 1000th Brew sitting in the dark recesses of my beer cupboard from about 2001 (labelled Best Before 2010, oooops...) is probably the first beer I decided to 'age' for a rainy day. This weekend Traquair House were holding their first ever 'Beyond Beer' event with beer from local breweries, music all day, interesting food and a number of beer related talks, so although it was going to be a bit of a hike from Glasgow (especially with the Commonwealth Games on and the Edinburgh Festival starting), I decided to it was worthwhile making the effort to get there for at least a few hours.

View Traquair in a larger map

Outward transport was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Queen St. to Edinburgh Waverley (every 15 minutes)
  Bus: Edinburgh Waterloo Place (Stop ZH) to Peebles (X62; 00, 20, 40 on the hour)

After such a great summer so far today was definitely going to be wet, the question was going to be, how wet? On the way down to Peebles the bus went through sunshine, driving rain and some mist shrouded moorland, but it had stopped raining long enough for me to risk getting off at Peebles instead of continuing on to Innerleithen and waiting for a shuttle bus to Traquair House. I therefore headed along Peebles High Street to BSpoke Cycles, located in a converted garage, to hire a bike (booking wasn't a problem, there was no one else mad enough to do that today).

The staff here were really helpful, knocked some cash off a day's hire but couldn't find me a mudguard for the bike so I was really glad that I'd brought 2 changes of clothes with me. Suitably attired & be-helmeted I then went in search of the new cycle-path that links Peebles with Innerleithen. This starts just after the far entrance for Peebles Hydro and follows an old railway line under the main road, continues along the bank of the River Tweed and then through part of a golf course to the new housing estates of Cardrona. The Cardrona Village Store looks like a decent place for a refreshment stop and was previously the ticket office on the old station platform.

I got off the cycle-path here and took the minor B7062 road on the other side of the river towards Traquair. This was still pretty flat (and quiet thankfully, no-one overtook me with the spray that would have generated) and after passing a couple of small farms I came to the main entrance for Traquair House. The gates here were locked, (although these weren't the famous Bear Gates which are said to be locked until a Stuart is back on The Throne), and I was directed to a car-park in the grassy field nearby. Hooray - I'd arrived probably a good 3 & a 1/4 hours after leaving the West End of Glasgow, a long way by public (and self-powered) transport.

Now it was a matter of getting my glass & program, locking the bike in front of the tea room, drying off & changing clothes and then heading into the lovely walled garden/orchard where a number of marquees had been setup for beer, music, talks and food - I can't think of many better things to do on a dreich summer's day.

The largest of the marquees held the 'stalls' for the breweries, the music stage and was where money was exchanged for beer tokens - early on there were lots of people milling about just chatting to the brewers including Roger Protz (& Pete Brown there in the background). These guys were doing talks & food matchings, Jane Peyton & Sophie de Ronde were encouraging Women in Beer and there was a Beer Banquet in the evening that I'm sure would have been really good fun to attend.

Booking in advance gave me the chance to try Traquair House's new beer, Referendum Ale, for free (at 4% it's also the lightest beer Traquair have brewed). This slightly sweet red-berry Scottish Ale was dispensed from 2 hand-pulls, one 'A Strong Ale for A Strong Union' and the other 'For the Independent Drinker'. I ho-hummed between them but then decided on the... (sorry - you'll have to wait until after September 18th for that). There was also the chance to try the strong Traquair Ale on cask, but at 8% and having to ride a bike (safely) afterwards, even a 1/2 of this would not have been a good decision - damn!

Also at the event were probably all of the small breweries & the one cidery in the local Borders/East Lothian area (deep breath - Broughton, Scottish Borders, Tempest, Top Out, Freewheelin', Knops, Stewart, Thistly Cross and, from slightly further afield, Arran) and almost all the brewers/owners were present as well, gamefully manning their pop-up bars. This is great and allows a bit more interaction than a 'standard' beer festival or a busy meet-the-brewer event normally allows. I had spoken to Gavin Meiklejohn from Tempest at the BrewDog Presents... event back in March and had thought the new expanded brewery premises would be up-and-running by now, but Gavin is still being beset by sub-contractor issues - you can tell he one seriously frustrated man. However he had brought a new Saison with him, Border Raspberry & Cardamom which was really fresh, earthy, full of tart berries with a slightly sour finish - very nice indeed, Tempest are certainly doing some excellent low abv Saisons at the moment.

The young guys from Top Out Brewery (Michael and Moo) seem to be doing well - it's still mostly bottles that they produce but more cask beer is available, even appearing in the West of Scotland. Their strong The Cone IPA was on in the Bon Accord recently, flew out of the door in record time and today they had brought a new bottled Wit beer, Elderflower Beer. There was certainly a distinct floral elderflower aroma in this, for some reason I picked up more blackcurrant in the taste, but it was great to see an interesting Scottish fruit beer. Michael indicated that this isn't likely to go into cask, it definitely needs some carbonation - now if only they could keg their beers...

I'm sure Bob Knops from Knops Beer arrived late and sneaked into the marquee ninja-like to setup all his casks without anyone noticing, but he had also brought something interesting, the new wheat beer he and Keith had brewed (and tweeted about) a couple of weeks ago (now named Crazy Wrangel, after I believe, the first Weiss beer brewed in Nurnburg in the 1600's). I sometimes despair of finding a decent British wheat beer, but this was superb - cloudy, loads of texture, masses of sweet oranges, and a definite coriander finish - I'd quite happy drink a few pints of it in a sunny beer garden at the Edinburgh Festival. When I visited the Archerfield Estate in March, Bob had some barrel-aged beers 'almost' ready to decant but it now seems these won't be available until close to the end of 2014 - with almost 12 months in the barrels these are certainly going to be interesting.

The newest Borders brewery is the Freewheelin' Brewery Co, setup in Pebbles last year by Richard White (and named after Richard's love of cycling). The setup is a bit unusual as Richard has obtained some of the necessary start-up funds by sharing out the equity in the brewery between 35-40 members of family, friends and local interested parties, but that does give an instant word-of-mouth chain. Since starting he's brewed a number of cask and bottled beers, with cask being available at the nearby Leadburn Inn and at the Gordon Arms in West Linton as well as appearing at number of beer festivals. I had a 1/2 of the Allsorts Blonde and it was a nice aromatic citrusy summer beer, but there's a Double Blonde which is meant to be even more citrusy bitter.

There was also an additional brewery 'stall' out in the Walled Garden, a late entry from Black Metal Brewing. Run by Jaan Ratsep he's currently cuckoo brewing at Top Out Brewery and had only officially launched his beers at the Cask & Cork in Edinburgh the previous evening. These are a bit different to your standard launch beers - Yggdrasil is a 6.6% Pale Ale, but tasted more like a Double IPA to me and Will O' The Wisp a 6% Juniper smoked ale. Both are really quite intense in flavour & aroma and it's a bold move by Jaan to start out with them, but he's brewing beers he loves and it'll be interesting to see what he comes out with next. Both should still be available in bottle from AleselA (I'd completely forgotten I'd had them added to my last order and I'm looking forward to trying more than a small taster).

Chatting away to the brewers kept me occupied until the 1pm Traquair House Brewery Tour which was going to be hosted by the 21st Lady of Traquair, Catherine Maxwell Stuart (I suspect she had a (smallish) number of things to do today). She led us Pied Piper-like out of the Walled Garden and up to the main buildings of Traquair House itself, the longest continuously occupied house in Scotland.

The Brewery is on the left hand side of the building in the basement area and when we got there Catherine gave us a short overview of its colourful history. It dates back to the 1700's (Jacobite Rebellion times) and used to brew beer solely for the consumption of the estate & the staff, so part of their hard-earned wages was effectively put back into the Laird's hands, a nice deal. From some time in the 1800's it was then left disused and filled with junk until being 'discovered' in early 1960's by Peter Maxwell Stuart, Catherine's father. He enlisted the help of the owner of Belhaven Brewery, Sandy Hunter (Sandy Hunter's Ale etc...) to help in the restoration of the equipment and the establishment of 'traditional' recipes and in 1965 started brewing on the original equipment. At first this was purely as an experiment, but then after becoming the first domestic brewery in Scotland (and the UK) for many years to be granted a commercial brewing licence, he started selling hand-labelled beer in the Traquair House tea-room & shop and then further afield and then eventually abroad.

The Brewery is now managed by Catherine, there are 2 full time brewers and was expanded in 1993/4 into the adjoining stables with (I assume) some more modern equipment. However this is original Mash Tun, really quite small, complete with wooden mash tun fork...

... and this is the combined copper and Hot Liquour Tank, covered with thick brick cladding. If this had been discovered in the First or Second World Wars it would almost definitely have been melted down for scrap.

The hot wort used to be cooled naturally, but that took an incredible amount of time so this heat exchanger was used to dramatically reduce the required time. Legend has it that it was left on overnight by a Heriot Watt Brewing & Distilling student and hence the bulges in the base of the unit.

The oak fermenters in the next room definitely are still being used, with some being over 200 years old, and give the beers its characteristic sweetish, spicy aromas & flavours. Replacement wood for these now comes from Canada.

It would have been great to see the new brewery room & kit but all this was certainly more than interesting enough for one day - many thanks to Catherine for patiently showing us round. We then all traipsed back to the Walled Garden (I completely forgot about the incredible maze on the other side of the Traquair House building, really annoying) and I, for one, was certainly looking for something to eat. There were some entrepreneurial kids wandering around selling cookies & cup-cakes but also lots of food stalls - I went for The Juicy Meat Co...

...and their slow roasted pork in a roll with a mixture of jalapeno salsa & apple sauces, all washed down with a pint of Tempest's Armadillo pale ale, liltingly-light but with a 'totally-tropical-taste' - really very good indeed.

And that was really about all of the time I could spare for the Beyond Beer event - not even a brief look-in at any of the interesting talks. I therefore got back on the bike (amazingly enough 2 other cyclists had also braved the weather) and took the narrower easterly exit from Traquair House. It wasn't long before I was crossing the River Tweed just before Innerleithen and it seemed I wasn't the only person out for some exercise today.

At the top of Traquair Road just before Innerleithen High Street I came to the elegant former coaching inn of the Traquair Arms Hotel.

Entering through the heavy front door (it needs a good push) into the bustling main lounge I was happy to take a 1/2 of Traquair Stuart Ale - the Traquair Arms Hotel is one of the few places to have Traquair beers available on cask, with Deuchars IPA and Taylor's Landlord the other beers available on hand-pull.

As it was so busy in the main lounge I went to sit in the spacious dining room at the left hand side of the building; on even a vaguely sunny day it would have been my preferred choice to relax in the fantastic sheltered beer garden to the back.

Another place I would love to have tried in Innerleithen is Caldwell's Ice Cream parlour, just along the High Street from the Traquair Arms Hotel. Their award winning ice cream is meant to be superb but this just wasn't the day for it.

Instead I got back on the bike and headed down Traquair Street to the start/end of the new cycle-way. I took this all the way back through Cardrona, including a new bridge over the Tweed, to the centre of Peebles.

After yet another change of clothes at BSpoke I had just about enough time to have a (very) quick look around Peebles town centre. My walk down the long High Street ended at the old Parish Church and just down from this is The Bridge Inn, sharing its mock-tudor frontage with an Italian Restaurant.

Although it seems at some point it was definitely called something else.

It's a nice friendly place, busy this afternoon with the Commonwealth Games being shown on the TV. The long bar is located at the back with a large wooden gantry, lots of standing space in front, a sort of semi-circular set of seating opposite the bar at the curved front windows, and with the high ceiling, hanging lights & pictures just generally gives an air of old fashioned hospitality. On the 4 hand-pulls were Arran Sunset, Inveralmond Inkie Pinkie, Deuchars IPA and Scottish Borders Game Bird, so I was happy to continue the Borders theme, take a 1/2 of the Game Bird and retire to the snug/alcove area to the left of the bar. There are books & board games tucked away in here, but I was content to try to catch the attention of this guy - he could easily have starred in the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.

By now I really needed to head back to get my bus but managed to drop into a bakers for a fruit flapjack and into Villeneuve Wines, located directly opposite the main bus stop on the High Street.

In the back they have a nice selection of Scottish bottled beer and also a separate shelf for bottles from the local Freewheelin' Brewery.

I went for a couple of bottles of their stronger beers, Double Blonde and XXXBitter, and look forward to them and also to any future instalments of Beyond Beer; apart from the weather it was a really great day out in The Borders.

Return transport:-
  Bus: Peebles to Edinburgh South Bridge (X62; 05, 25, 45 on the hour)
  Train: Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen St. (every 15 minutes)