Yesterday after visiting my poorly mother in hospital on the outskirts of Glasgow, I was at a bit of a loose end. I could have gone back to Dumbarton or go into the City Centre. I chose the latter and hopped on a handy train to Glasgow Central.
Where to go? Now I always used to go to Nicholson's Drum and Monkey as a handy stop between Central and Queen St stations, but gave it up as a bad job after having too much sub-standard beer. "Let's give it a go again I thought" and nipped in. Now it has to be said that it is a fine looking traditional pub with a horseshoe bar, a lot of dark wood and a general feel of being spick and span. It's history as a bank while not obvious, can readily be discerned. It was though at around 4pm, ominously empty. I ordered a pint of Inveralmond Thai IPA, a beer that I've had and enjoyed before. It felt warm in my hand and was slightly cloudy. It was clearly end of the barrel stuff and I took it back. Exchange was slightly reluctant, but done with speed. I was offered instead, Palmer's Trawlerman, which while warm and unsparkled was a decent enough beer underneath. So not a great return and I can see no reason to go back other than in a minor victory of sorts, as I left, the faulty Thai IPA had been withdrawn from sale and the line was being cleaned. Now I know I'm being a tad unfair, but the measure of a pub's beer quality must be that even at quiet times, it is good.
Another haunt - and I am not sure why - is the nearby Shilling Brewery. Again it was quiet when I entered and again - speaking from past experience - the staff seem curiously reluctant to engage customers in conversation. It almost seems to be part of the staff rules. I ordered a half of a rather coconutless Teleporter Coconut Porter which was so way over gassed as to make it tasteless. Now in stouts and porters I'd say put in on nitro rather than CO2 as at least you'll enjoy the texture a lot more. A bit better though was the oddly named Machine Gun Lager which boasted German and New Zealand hops though when I asked what hops were employed, it took a bit before agreement could be reached. Still, the beer was decent with fragrant and floral hops, so lose one, win one.
I had to get home, but there was just time for a couple in the massive Counting House, a JDW on George Square and handy for my train. My beer of choice here has been Williams Brothers hybrid lager/IPA, Caesar Augustus which I find is a delightfully refreshing beer. Alas after one pint, it ran out, as did my second choice, Joker IPA. I have to say the barperson that served me was a delight in helping me choose from the many keg beers available. In a busy pub, she took her time to get it right. Well done for an excellent bit of customer service. My final pint was a Rye IPA, Ax Man, from Drygate, which was complex and unusual. A bit of a sipper, but none the worse for that.
So there you have it. Two quiet pubs and two moderate experiences and one rammed one which had not only atmosphere, great beer, but great service. Still all a bit of a lottery in the pub game.
I must say that I did have a good time not so long ago at Shilling Brewery, which I wrote about here. The beer is generally very good.
A bit late I know, but I've been busy. Manchester Beer and Cider Festival doesn't arrange itself and I've had an unexpected urgent trip to Scotland, to visit my ill and elderly mother. Nonetheless, the greetings are heartfelt.
We'll come back to Manchester Beer and Cider Festivalshortly, but since I've been in Scotland, a few thoughts about the land of the loch and the glen. Firstly, if you didn't know it, while Barr's Irn Bru - is allegedly Scotland's "Other National Drink" (reformulated or not and yes, in my short visit, I have met Scots who have bought and hoarded cases of the really sugary version, pending the usurping launch of the not quite so sugary version), Scotland's other National Drink is undoubtedly Tennent's Lager. it is everywhere and it is drunk and revered everywhere. While John Smith's Smooth may be the go to beer of the early morning Wetherspoon's soak in England - in Scotland it is TL they line up when most of us have scarcely breakfasted. In the hotel bar - and there are lots of them in Scotland - it is Tennents on the bar. In the noisy public bar with inappropriately loud and shite music - another West of Scotland trait - Tennents is the drink of choice. Even in craft beer bars like Shilling Brewery, they sell Tennents. In other words, unless you sell Tennents, get out of town. With very few exceptions, you must sell Tennents or die as a business.
Now there are other lagers available. Sometimes. Wetherspoons have lots of them, but they are, frankly, a sideshow. It is the big red T that dominates, but it wasn't always so. Back in my days in Scotland, Skol, Norseman, Harp, Usher's Golden Lager and of course, McEwan's Lager were all readily available. All gone - and while nowadays Stella and Kronenbourg pop up here and there, plus the odd foreign beer, in the standard lager department, Tennents is yer man. I used to drink it myself many years ago, usually in pint screwtop bottles and quite possibly as an affectation. I sort of liked Skol better, but that was then and in McEwan's houses, I drank McEwan's Pale Ale, also in pint screwtops, or if feeling flush"A big Whitbread". (I think they were first to abandon pint screwtops in favour of the crown cap. But I digress.)
So what does it taste like? Well, at its best, not bad at all, but over carbonation and sub zero temperatures can wreck it. On Friday last week in the Abbotsford Hotel in Dumbarton, it was over-carbonated and utterly tasteless. Last night when I missed my train, in the Station Bar in Helensburgh, it was full bodied, subtly hopped, not over gassed and very enjoyable. You can't depend on it sadly, though that seems not to matter to most of its customers. While the quality of the drinking establishment and the eardrum busting music in the Station Bar can be questioned, I can vouch, from no little experience, that they keep a decent pint of Tennent's Lager.
Sadly I missed out on the GBG entry, the Ashton, but Loch Lomond Brewery beer was top notch in the Henry Bell, though nudged aside by a torrent of gin.
I do miss these old standard lagers too. Pint of Alloa brewed Skol? Yes please.
I'll do @Mancbeerfest tomorrow. This train is a bit shoogly.
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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