I have a lot of sympathy for my CAMRA colleagues in the South West of Scotland. Real ale is rather thin on the ground around these parts and it must be difficult, in a sea of Tennents, to keep the cask beer flag flying.
I was in Dumfries and Galloway a couple of weeks ago and though my friends and I didn't try all the pubs that sold real ale, we had a go at quite a few of them. Some, it has to be said, even though they were listed in the Good Beer Guide were less than enthralling quality wise. The most common fault being tired beer and warm beer, probably indicating turnover wasn't all it could be. There was exceptions though and hats off to the Cavens Arms in Dumfries for spot on beer - though dining pushes drinkers rather to the side here - and the Selkirk Arms in Kirkcudbright whose beer was immaculate and, as we were the first customers of the day, was carefully pulled through to ensure quality. The resulting pints of Kelburn Pivo Estivo were well up to snuff and the beer garden, in unscheduled sunshine, was quite a bonus too. So it can be done.
One thing we did notice was the dominance of beers from Greene King, supplied no doubt through their Scottish subsidiary, Belhaven. Fair enough, but not once in the half dozen or so pubs that sold Greene King, was a single cask ale from Belhaven available. Shame that. It was sad too to see that beers in the local Wetherspoon in Dumfries were dominated overwhelmingly by Greene King and Marstons, though in fairness here, quality of what we had was good.
Now of course where there is a brewery tap, one can breathe a sigh of relief and relax in the knowledge that here at least will be a friendly welcome and beer as the brewer intended. Well you'd like to fondly imagine so wouldn't you? Sadly in the visit to the local brewery and tap, in my second Scottish home town of my youth, Castle Douglas - my grandparents lived there - that wasn't to be. The beers were lifeless and warm and frankly near enough undrinkable. A quick look under the bar showed that the casks were not temperature controlled in any way and when this was mentioned to the barman, we were advised that real ale was meant to be served at room temperature.
We made our excuses and left.
Yes, I will be dropping a note to my CAMRA colleagues in South West Scotland about the brewery tap. Brewery taps should be a beacon of real ale excellence. After all if you can't get cask beer there in the best form possible, then where can you? The only other bar in Castle Douglas purporting to have real ale, didn't have. We beat a hasty reteat to Dumfries for liquid sustenance.
The photo isn't beery, but shows Dumfries railway station at night. I spent many a time there with my Mum and sister waiting for the train to CD. Alas the line was axed by Beeching.
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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