After my mixed bag in Glasgow, again after a hospital visit, I took the train to Helensburgh. Now I always like trains and for reasons which will become clear, I like this line most of all. I grew up beside it and it holds a lot of memories. My late father was a Station Master on this line and I lived in a Station House in Dumbarton for many years. I well remember as a child looking out of my bedroom window at the platforms below and steam trains chugging by or patiently waiting as passengers got on and off. The smell of steam was a daily rotine for me when a small child. When the line was electrified in the early 60s I had the privilege to "drive", from one end of the platform to another, new Bue Train as we called them, sitting with my hand on the "dead man's handle" on the knee of the driver. Railways are in my blood- but I digress.
There are two real ale outlets in Helensburgh that make an easy little two pub trip. The Henry Bell is a Wetherspoons with a clean, modern, good looking interior and on the ball staff who always seem interested in what they are doing - which goes to show that generalisations, while understandable, don't tell the whole story. The HB also benefits I feel from a large influx of English customers - Helensburgh seems full of English people- and of course, the nearby presence of the HM Naval Base Clyde - Faslane - home of the strategic nuclear deterrent and its submarine delivery system guarantees that the lesser interest in cask beer in this neck of the woods is leavened by those that grew up on it. Beer quality is invariably good.
The pub was busy on my arrival and ordering a pint of Purity Gold, which was in excellent condition, I found a bench seat (tick) with a good view and surveyed the scene. Clearly a boat was in and there was a large mixed age naval presence, with little groups of different types setting up homes on different tables, while nipping over occasionally to chat to each other. The younger end were putting the booze away at a far lick, but the atmosphere was pleasant, with the assorted naval types a credit to the service. I moved on to try an Amber Ale from Birkenhead's Peerless Brewing and while not my favourite style, I rather enjoyed it. Again it was in excellent condition and sometimes it pays to step outside your usual style and remind yourself that variety is a good thing.
It was time to move on, so turning left, then stepping over the road and walking a few yards, I entered the Ashton, CAMRA's West Dunbartonshire Pub of the Year (not sure which year mind you) and an old haunt of mine almost forty years ago. My luck was in. In addition to the usual Greene King/ Belhaven offerings was Fyne Ales Jarl. Now I have been a bit sceptical of this beer recently, feeling on the few chances to try it, that it wasn't the knockout of old. Well, on this form, I was clearly wrong. This was in stunning condition, with Citra hops shining through and making the beer extremely swoopable. I was tempted to stay for several in this convivial local, but after a couple I left for the train. The service too was excellent with the barman temptingly reminding me that there are trains every half hour. I resisted his blandishments, though when I arrived at the station and found I'd miscalculated my train time and had twenty minutes to wait, I bitterly regretted my decision.
There was no choice. I crossed the road for a swift half of Tennents in the Station Bar. No appalling music this time as there was football on. I have written before about how the Tennents in here was excellent. This was too. Coming straight after Jarl, this was no mean feat.
So there you have it. Two out of two getting ten out of ten real ale and service wise. Add in an excellent cheeky half of TL and it was a great night all in.
Next time I'll make a return visit to Glasgow CAMRA's Pub of the Year the State Bar. Again I know this place of old. I'll let you know how I get on.
I also intend to resume my Sam Smith's wanderings. It's been too long.
The photo above is where our house once stood. I remember the day that bridge was built, replacing one from the 1890s.
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.
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