I was in Scotland week before last and as usual, in the land of Tennents Lager, was wary about choosing cask beer where there was any. My experience, even in high turnover places like Wetherspoons, is that it can be hit or miss and more often than not, it misses. As it happens, my first opportunity, fresh off the train was in the Counting House off George Square and it was hot, so looking at the pump clips with an array of dark Scottish beers, I decided, given the heat, that I wasn't chancing it and enjoyed instead - and I did - a couple of pints of keg. More of that later.
That night in the Captain James Lang, another JDW house, I thought, having spotted that Loch Lomond Brewery's Southern Summit was on the pumps, that I'd give it a go. It was only £1.79 and actually fairly good. Alas when I returned to the bar, it had gone. I chose Skye Blonde and was immediately, before I'd go it to my mouth, assailed by a distinct whiff of vinegar. I pointed this out to the barperson who had obviously read the Book of Barkeep Excuses. "I think" she posited "it's meant to taste like that". Moving on to page 2 of the tome she added "I don't drink beer myself". I was though given an exchange and turned down the offer of a whisky flavoured 7.8% beer from Strathven - despite it also being £1.79 a pint - in favour of a bottle. Minimum pricing? Take that Scottish Government.
I was in Helensburgh next day meeting an old pal. Alas in the Henry Bell, there was no cask I wanted to drink. All were around 4.8% and brown. As the barmaid herself, a Northern Irish lass of some character, noted "They could do with something pale and hoppy on, that's what I drink". Put her in charge of the cellar I say. I did take her wise words on board as I stood wondering what to have. "Don't have the Tennents" my sage advised, "it's really shite." This lass will go far or at least, ought to.
The day after my sister took me out for an hour. We went to the Balloch Hotel on Loch Lomondside, me having noted that it has a wide choice of real ales. Of course it wouldn't be a Tandleman day out if some idiocy hadn't occurred. The bar as you enter is L shaped with a bank of five handpumps immediately on your left. On the wall facing is the sign in the photo. My sister sat and I surveyed the wickets. "I'll have the Adnams" I thought. A few moments passed and I looked up the bar to the corner of the L. No barperson appeared but an old soak on a barstool shouted along the other angle of the bar and after a while a barmaid appeared. She seemed annoyed. "You should have come up to where the tills are quoth she." "Are there more cask beers there then? I enquired. "No" she said "but I stand up there." This was getting interesting, but she had the last laugh. Only two handpumps were on. I chose London Pride which was a little tired but OK. This place is owned by Mitchell's and Butlers as a matter of interest.
On my return to Glasgow Central I had a pint in the Counting House again. This time I went for cask in the shape of Oakham JHB. That distinct whiff and then taste of vinegar again. On pointing this out the server called a colleague, presumably the cask beer champion or something along these lines. He took a straw out, dipped it in my beer and allowed a drop to roll onto his tongue."Hops" he pronounced. "And something else." I agreed and pointed out the something else was vinegar. My duff pint was exchanged for, yes you've guessed it. Keg.
Right I'm getting a bit fed up of reading this myself, but I am sure you get my drift by now. Dodgy beer and dodgy bar staff don't make for a great combination. It's the offer Stupid. If that isn't up to snuff, then you are on a loser.
I rather liked the beer pictured above from Jaw Brew whom I haven't even heard of. Really decent, though you do have to knock a bit of the CO2 out. I had it both visits and despite the murk, it didn't disappoint. Oh and I'm not losing confidence in cask really, but rubbish cask makes others do so.
For those that know Glasgow, I understand, Camperdown Place, another JDW just 50 yards away from the Counting House, has now closed due to Queen St Station redevelopment. Shame, as for the traveller with a suitcase, its ground floor toilets were a boon even if the beer choice was less extensive.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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