I was in Scotland last week to see off my late mother's flat - you know - help my sister with all the remaining bits and pieces and discuss old photos of goodness knows who, as not only are the subjects of the photos all deceased, everyone who knows who they were are too. Very sobering and a reminder - hardly needed - that all paths lead ultimately in one inexorable direction.
Sounds like an excuse for a drink eh? Well I certainly thought so. I started off on the first night with a visit to the Captain James Lang, our local Dumbarton JDW. Cask to me has been hit and miss in there, despite its Good Beer Guide status, but they had Adnams beer on. I like Adnams. Proper beer it is. Adnams Nut Brown Ale and rather good it was too. Typical Adnams taste and more complex than I'd reckoned on it being. A beer that made you think. Chatting with my non drinking sister, I found three pints weren't a hardship. For a proper description of the beer, see the Beer Nuthere. I concur with his findings, even though these days, I'm more of a "good or shite" beer describer and as a rubbish blogger, I rarely take notes; rather I rely on my phone for photos of what I drank and my memory for how much I liked them. Not an entirely reliable modus operandi. Trust me on that one.
Due to an unexpected funeral which I wasn't involved in, family plans were put aside the next day. I decided a little trip to Glasgow would fill the hiatus. Charing Cross area was just a hop away on the train, chosen mainly for the State Bar and the Bon Accord - where - and I have mentioned this before - I had my first ever cask beer in 1974. But firstly the Griffin opposite the Kings Theatre. Years since I've been in there - all wood and glass with an old and comfy interior and a horseshoe bar. One other customer in only, reading the paper and drinking a pint of Tennents, so at least I knew it had been recently poured. Duly ordered from a silent barmaid - no warm welcome there - it was cold and gassy, so I swirled to release some carbon dioxide, knowing that if the pipes are clean, there was a chance to get something good from this Scottish standard. It wasn't bad after an atmosphere of CO2 was dismissed, but not hitting the mark. My solitary drinking companion left with no goodbyes exchanged. I entertained myself by watching a glum faced stocktaker, take all bottles down from the gantry and solemnly inspect by eye before noting the contents on a sheet. It was soothing stuff as he tutted his way around the bar. Finally, my pint finished, I slunk out casting my eye without success for the now disappeared barmaid. Like my erstwhile fellow imbiber, I too, left unnoticed for pastures new.
Just up the road is Henglers Circus, a large, bright L shaped Wetherpoon bar, which although it has a fair bit of low level chairs and tables, would be much improved by some bench seating. It was quite pubby with plenty of folks of varying ages dotted around, chatting, eating, reading the paper or just watching passers by through the large windows looking out to Sauchiehall St, where, and this happens a lot, they were digging up the street in my honour. The greeting was very warm and friendly and unbidden the barman after ascertaining I wanted beer, rattled through the offerings. By way of compare and contrast, I had a very decent pint of St Mungo from West Brewing in Glasgow. I took in the pleasant atmosphere and enjoyed a leisurely people watching. I didn't have the cask, but some did and I know from past visits it is reliable enough to deserve its GBG entry.
A mere hop and a skip away is the State Bar, renowned in real ale circles. Well Glasgow ones anyway. I used to regularly sup there in 1976 when I did my Supplementary Benefit training in nearby Pitt St. Then it was an all chrome and black keg bar and looked nothing like the traditional pub it is now. Odd if you think about it. Only half a dozen in and again not much of a greeting, but GBG form Fyne Ales Everyone Loves Simcoe made up for that as did bumping into an acquaintance of mine. The beer world is small really.
My intended final stop was the Bon Accord just over the M8. Busy and welcoming - big smiles and hellos - and beer from one of my favourite breweries, Stringers. Yellow Lorry was in Good Beer Guide form as I was drawn into a discussion on an inadvertently locked down laptop. This widened with plenty of people offering solutions, but it still wasn't working when I left 45 minutes later. This pub never disappoints even if Hewlett Packard laptops do.
Now I know you are asking yourself. "What about the Tennents?" I had intended to go back to Dumbarton at that point, but seeing a pub sign down a side street by the Mitchell library,I couldn't resist. The Avalon is odd. Just check out the reviews. Inside, like a souped up scene from Still Game, a few denizens chatted to each other by the simple process of bawling in jokes and asides at a volume wholly incommensurate with the size of the pub. The barmaid was friendly enough and as the range of beers on offer was more than limited, I opted for Tennents Lager. It was a cracking pint. Clean, fresh and very enjoyable. CO2 levels were good and as I surveyed the slightly down at heel boozer, I felt content, swigging mouthfuls of TL and listening to the patter.
Resisting the temptation for more I headed for home. Back in Dumbarton as I left the station I entered what used to be McCafferty's Railway Tavern. I was a regular there many moons ago when it was actually run by Hugh McCafferty. Many a pint of McEwan's Export was consumed in there back in the day. Now it is a recently opened Indian Buffet Restaurant called Haveli having been closed for a number of years. Now I'm not the biggest fan of this kind of eating, but it was handy and five minutes walk from home. Apart from four women it was just me, but I had one of the best lamb bhunas I have ever had and one of the best pints of, you've guessed it, Tennents Lager. The welcome was great too from the waiter and his dad who had cooked the bhuna.
Tennents Lager is no Augustiner Helles, but when not over gassed it is a full bodied, clean beer with a slight ting of hops. Sadly too often it is not sold at its best.
I met with a pal the next night in the Henry Bell in Helensburgh. This normally reliable GBG entry offered me two pretty undrinkable pints, though both charmingly exchanged. I reverted to gin and when the crew from RFA Fort Victoria arrived mob handed from HM naval base at Faslane, we avoided the hordes at the bar by using the JDW app. Brilliant.
My last disappointment was on the way home when the Smoking Fox just outside Central Station had swapped the delicious Heidi-Weisse from West for Blue Moon. WTF?
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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